Tag Archives: #AWW2015

Review: Sweet Wattle Creek

sweet wattle creekSweet Wattle Creek by Kaye Dobbie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

The image of discovering an old couture wedding dress really appeals to me. There’s an air of something very romantic –not only of the fact that it’s a wedding dress but of the possibilities of its story or rather the original owner’s story. As a reader, I think, you’d be able to relate in the similarities of finding an old book –the potential of what it has seen since it’s been printed. The smell of its history is practically irresistible.

Sweet Wattle Creek is the story of two women across time, connected by the tenuous thread of a wedding gown, in rediscovering oneself. Both Sophie (current) and Belle (past) have experienced grief / trauma that practically incapacitated them but something has happened in each their lives that reminded them what living is all about. Whilst Sophie is running from her dangerous past, Belle insisted on knowing her mysterious past despite the threats she’s felt against her identity of self. They must both decide whether happiness is worth fighting for or not.

Throughout the tale, there is a slight sinister air about the past of both women. Whilst one secret was no surprise, the mystery of other was well concealed until near the very end. It was not as sinister as it could’ve been and in a way, it was a relief! It was, however, a fairly good mystery that kept me guessing. Overall, Sweet Wattle Creek is a lovely story that kept me reading as I cheer these women on.

Thanks Harlequin (Australia) MIRA for eARC via NetGalley in exchange of honest review

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Review: Tower of Thorns

tower of thornsTower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Source: paperback copy courtesy of publisher

Please note this is a review of Book 2 in Blackthorn & Grim series.  You may wish to read review for Book 1 instead, Dreamer’s Pool.

Aaah… I can’t believe that it’s here and that I’ve finished reading it. One of my most anticipated release this year and I don’t particularly want to move on just yet. It has been a wonderful immersion into a fantastical world full of magic, mystery, and of course, true love. Why would you not want to read it??

Blackthorn and Grim weren’t like the usual pairings. They were bound by a deep understanding that could only be reached when you have suffered terribly together; a need to cling together in order to survive each day, weathering the storms of bad memories. Blackthorn is prickly as her name and Grim, despite his visage, is a very patient one. As such, they complement each other and their interactions entertain me so much. They feel so real that I have all my heart invested in these two. If you’ve read Dreamer’s Pool then you’d read that what their relationship is platonic and whilst I did hope for some romance, I was fairly content with status quo as this relationship was just so unique. In Tower of Thorns, we get to see this relationship deepened as their bond was tested by the past coming to the present.

The fairy tale spin of this instalment was both beautiful and horrific. The novel begins with Geiléis setting the scene of the curse and her preparation to break it. Immediately, I was filled with a delicious tension which was maintained right to the very end. The sad tale of the curse was told a little bit at a time in an enigmatic way to make you wonder how exactly this will turn out.

’Can true love triumph over the odds? The only answer I have for that is sometimes yes and sometimes no.’

Let me just say that I was surprised at the ending –it was a heart-pounding climax both lovely and sad. Juliet Marillier is a very talented writer in interweaving historical fiction/fantasy/fairy tale -so meticulous in details and terrific characterisation. This fairy tale is not Disneyfied; in fact, it is rather Brothers-Grimm-like though with that additional dimension / perspective.

I must say, Blackthorn [Marillier] summarised it well herself, at the end of the book:

What happened felt too big to take in. It was a tale of cowardice and courage, intrigue and simple goodness, choices that were complicated mixtures of right and wrong.

Thanks Pan MacMillan Australia for copy of Uncorrected Proof in exchange of honest review

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Review: I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes

pancakesI Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes by Jaclyn Moriarty
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Source: purchased own paperback copy

This was another cover crush for me… I just couldn’t resist hot air balloon on cover, for some reason, and since I loved Jaclyn Moriarty’s The Colours of Madelaine series, I had certain expectations of this book.

As always, there are good reviews and bad though they all agreed that the writing is quirky. The Colours of Madelaine books were quirky and I loved it though I found it hard to sell to my book-club mates (most of them think she tried too hard) so I don’t have an issue with quirkiness. I was really looking forward to this, actually, and as I began reading, really enjoyed it… I even nearly snort-laughed which was a pretty good effort.

I think if you’re not an Aussie and specifically, Sydney-sider, you’d miss the references to ‘Banana Bar’, frozen chocolate coated banana, ‘Pie in the Sky’, etc. But as I happened to be one, I can understand her wistfulness in each of these things and wishing for them too! Time for a family road trip, methinks.

Halfway through the book, however, I started to be disillusioned with the book. Yes, it was fun but oh, there was too many secrets and betrayals that the whole story felt fractured. There is “the secret” which was supposed to be the twist but I didn’t even enjoy it… Did not like “the secret” and it didn’t catch me by surprise either.

On the book cover, this is marketed as “a fairytale for grown-up”. I’m sorry, this isn’t much of a ‘fairytale’… I could not pin point true-love and what was the moral of the story again? Hhhmmm, I’m just not convinced. In summary, as my 1 year old would say, ‘Beh!’

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Review: The Beast’s Garden

the beasts gardenThe Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

I loved Beauty by Robin McKinley and I adore Kate Forsyth so I thought that The Beast’s Garden would be a wonderful magical retelling. Despite the horribleness of the setting (I meant the nasty gruesome war rather than the actual place), I thought that this would be an excellent foil for Beauty’s courage and generosity. In the end, whilst I have very much enjoyed the story, I’d say that The Beast’s Garden is inspired by (rather than a retelling of) ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, the Grimm Brothers’ version of Beauty and The Beast.

‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ is quite a bit different than the well-known tale of Beauty and The Beast and if you know your literature, you’d know that Grimm Brothers’ version will be much darker. This means that our heroine must be very determined, intelligent, brave, and persistent in order to win a life with her love. Ava was young but bounteous in courage. Her courage carried her to Leo, sustained her through turbulent times, and brought her to her destined future.

It’s very clear that Kate Forsyth has done her research and I loved knowing that most characters are real historically (the exception being Ava & Leo and their family). The novel was just intricately woven together into a seamlessly stunning love story amidst destruction. It’s just like how that red rose on the cover stands out! My only grievance was the lack of magic. I’ve always associated Kate Forsyth with magic and I kept expecting something magical to pop up but aside from some hint of the gypsy, I drew a complete blank.

The Beast’s Garden has a lot to offer the readers. The friendships cultivated by Ava were true and lasting. Both Ava and Leo were bound by a force neither could fight off and by embracing love, they found a little safe haven in a dark world. As with all war fiction, you’d always wonder how you yourself will act and we are shown just how courageous some can be in fighting for humanity whilst others sought only to destroy. A smashing read and highly recommended to historical fiction fans.

Thanks to Random House Australia via NetGalley for eARC in exchange of honest review

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Review: The Peony Lantern

the peony lanternThe Peony Lantern by Frances Watts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: purchased own copy

I had the privilege of a read along of this book with some girls from Read3r’z Re-Vu on Whatsapp featuring the lovely Frances Watts, the author. I was deliriously ecstatic and probably, then, read it so very closely so I can come up with ten thousand more questions than I would have if I read normally. However, Frances was so very gracious and answered them all with aplomb. I’ll be posting some of these Q&A in the next couple of days.

I have this fascination of the Japanese culture since my early teen years. I still remember vividly waiting for what feels like forever for the first volume of Sailor Moon and when the day arrived, hurriedly left school to get my hands on a copy. I’ve never since looked back though I have extended my tastebuds to include other Japanese flavoured literature. Nevertheless, I found that I still had lots to learn about Japan from my reading of The Peony Lantern.

Kasumi is a wonderful heroine. Born as a peasant, she lacks education and yet, she has the natural ability of observation. Needless to say, this often gets her into trouble. Her parents (we must believe, out of concern of her wellbeing) continue to remind her that

“the stake that sticks up gets hammered down.”

As the novel is told from Kasumi’s perspective, the readers are treated to her insights. And this ranged from her search of own identity to some hilarious conspiracy theories. Kasumi does not kick ass but is much fun to be with and with whom readers can identify with ease.

Fireworks festival (woodblock print)
Firework Festival (ukiyo-e / woodblock print)
An inspiration to write this story was a woodblock print (not necessarily this one)

The plot itself was truly enjoyable. The first half wasn’t slow but the pace was ramped up in the second half and it really became un-put-down-able then. You just want to keep going to find out what the secret really is (I guessed correctly for this part) and then, you want to find out the answer to the mystery (this was a twist I appreciate). The Peony Lantern engaged my interest from the beginning and had me enthralled to the end.

If you’re a parent, let me assure you that this book is clean. There’s a bit of romance but Kasumi was quite the sensible girl to the end (and I just love her all the more!). There are many themes / topics for good conversation of gender, rank, education, culture, etc. I won’t hesitate in presenting this book as gifts to my nieces.

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Review: The Secret Years

the secret yearsThe Secret Years by Barbara Hannay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: paperback copy courtesy of publisher

I find that I’m fascinated by love story in war time… The preciousness of life, of happiness, are just so keenly felt that finding love is such a bittersweet experience. This is what drew me to The Secret Years… asides from my penchant for rural romance, of course 😉

The novel tells of a love story which spans three generations though the middle one is somewhat neglected. It tells of the glorious once-in-a-lifetime love of Harry and Georgina who found each other in the midst of great uncertainty but the fates were quite generous to them as proven by the existence of the next generations.

In the present times, we follow Lucy, Harry and Georgina’s granddaughter, as she returned home from being deployed in Afghanistan. Home, however, didn’t quite turn out the way she dreamed of. Being at loose ends and burdened by a great curiosity of her family’s mysterious past, she goes to England in order to unveil some of her family’s secrets.

Lucy and Georgina are two loveable characters. They are both courageous women; strong, intelligent, grounded, and just so easy to be with. Rosie, on the other hand, was a bit of a mess. Unfortunately, her perspectives is very limited in this novel. I found it a little strange that the “secret” weren’t more fleshed out the novel. The secret was revealed in an almost-dry voice and it was over very quickly. I am comparing it to Kate Morton’s works where the dirty secret hung over you right from the very first word and when it was all revealed, you’d have this stab-in-the-heart sort of pain. There’s no such pain in The Secret Years.

If you adjust your expectation to a good rural romantic novel, I think you will really enjoyed this book. It was so easy to get into and proved to be a delightful relaxation companion. This was my first Barbara Hannay though I just found out that she’s really a prolific writer so can’t you just see my tbr becoming ever more insurmountable?

Thanks to Penguin Australia for paperback copy in exchange of honest review

Pssst, there’s an excerpt that you can check out.

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Review: Evergreen Falls: A Novel

evergreen fallsEvergreen Falls: A Novel by Kimberley Freeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher

The Blue Mountains hold a special place in my heart. Asides for having been there numerous times in my teens for youth Christian camps, it is also where I met my husband (during one of these camps). No, it wasn’t insta love… in fact, we barely spoke and only really got to know each other afterwards. Nevertheless, this is one reason why I was drawn to this novel: the setting.

There were a few things which fascinated me in the novel: the era (the 1920s always drew me in), the area (I have visions of going on a bushwalk and seeing the falls), and the image of exploring an old ruin of a hotel. Evergreen Falls was a fairly easygoing read –an easy slow dip into another world for a leisurely stroll through other lives and to emerge, contented with life.

Neither of the two main protagonists really drew me, unfortunately, I was actually more drawn to (& very curious) about other minor characters (Lauren’s brother, Adam, and Flora, Violet’s love-interest’s sister). Violet I found to be to be frustratingly blind, sometimes due to naivety but sometimes, stubbornly and foolishly so! I also found that I just can’t make myself believe the insta-love moment she had with Sam. There were other insta-love moments I believe in but for some reason, this moment between Violet and Sam just didn’t register in the ‘believable’ spectrum. It may be that I’ve already guessed what Sam’s issue is right from the very beginning so everything he did / said is coloured by doubt on my part. Plus, reading it from Violet’s perspective (see blindness above), I was distrustful of her truth.

Lauren posed an interesting character at the beginning because of her background / family. And due to this background, she’s a bit hot and cold for me. Sometimes, she just plunges into a situation while other times, she’s so timid, you just wonder at it. Overall, Lauren is an average likeable character who sometimes amuses the reader by her actions.

Evergreen Falls is a story of courage –of braving oneself in stepping out of the mould as made by your family. There wasn’t much in the way of twists and the ‘tragic’ circumstance wasn’t really that bad but I was happy that the ending was not depressing.

Thanks to Touchstone via NetGalley for eARC in exchange of honest review

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