Book Review: A French Wedding by Hannah Tunnicliffe

A French WeddingA French Wedding by Hannah Tunnicliffe

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Pan Macmillan, April 2016

Synopsis- Max is turning forty. All he wants for his birthday is for his six oldest friends to come to France to eat, dance, drink and laugh for one weekend. And to finally declare his secret, undying love for his best friend, Helen.

Juliette gave up her dream of owning an acclaimed Parisian restaurant to return to her tiny coastal village and nurse her aging parents. But she finds her home much changed, even the boulangerie where she first learned to love baking has fallen upon hard times. Now, as she tries to find her way to a new future, Max’s birthday weekend may just provide the new beginning Juliette is wishing for… but at whose cost?
Review- New Zealand born Hannah Tunnicliffe has once again created a character-driven story centered around delicious food and a wonderful exotic location. When I pick up a Tunnicliffe novel I know i’m going to get a novel with deeply flawed and strong characters, scrumptious food influences and a beautiful setting.

Quite different from her previous two novels The Colour of Tea and Season of Salt and Honey; A French Wedding brings together a group of college friends who reunite for Max’s 40th birthday. While it is Juliette whose POV we delve into first, Max really steals the show in the novel as his past and present collide. They meet up in his country house in France where Juliette is the interim cook. He’s well and truly in the midst of adulthood and yet he can’t seem to let go of all the habits that has kept him feeling young; alcohol, drugs, women and non-commitment. His friends are facing very real issues; marital problems, identity issues and health problems.

This is a very character-driven novel and I feel the author really succeeded in stripping away the layers of the underlying issues Max faces, but I was a little disappointed in the role played by Juliette. She’s painted as a very driven and focused woman who is determined to put her career above else and yet she’s very much invisible in this story. She’s in the background, watching everything unfold before her and I’d have liked to see her really take charge of her life. Her character could have been fleshed out further and pulled her to the forefront of the story to really give it a big impact.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this story and I look forward to reading more by this author in the future.

Overall Rating

3.5/5

“I really liked this”

A French Wedding can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

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Book Review: Under Italian Skies by Nicky Pellegrino

Under Italian SkiesUnder Italian Skies by Nicky Pellegrino

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Hachette, April 2016

Synopsis- Stella has life under control – and that’s the way she likes it. For twenty-five years, she’s been trusted assistant to a legendary fashion designer, but after her boss dies suddenly, she’s left with nothing to do apart from clear the studio.

It seems as though the life she wanted has vanished. She is lost – until one day she finds a house swap website and sees a beautiful old villa in a southern Italian village. Could she really exchange her poky London flat for that?

But what was intended as just a break becomes much more, as Stella finds herself trying on a stranger’s life. As the villa begins to get under her skin, she can’t help but imagine the owner from the clues around her. She meets his friends, cooks the local food he recommends and follows suggestions to go to his favourite places. But can an idea of someone ever match up to the reality?

As Stella wonders if she can let go of the safety of her past, perhaps there’s a chance for her to find a way into her future…

Review- This novel was such a pleasant surprise. I was initially attracted to the setting (Italy) and the premise (house swap) but was a little wary after a few pages in when I realised the protaganist was in her late 40’s; almost two decades older than me. I wasn’t sure I could relate, but this was such a lovely, well written book with a fantastic cast of characters, that I was very quickly swept away and found it difficult to put the book down.

In Under Italian Skies, Stella is stuck in a rut. Her long-term employer has died as has her assistant job in fashion design. Stella hadn’t ever considered doing anything else, she was happy and content; comfortable. When her best friend Birdie suggests she place her little flat in Camden, London on a house swap website and take an ‘adult gap year’, Stella is hesitant but goes along with the plan. It’s not long before she’s swapping keys with the mysterious Leo, a landscape designer from Southern Italy and is packing up her life to venture into the unknown. She stays in Leo’s summer holiday home, Villa Rosa in Triento. It’s outside of tourist season in this small town and it’s not long before Stella befriends Francesca the local linen store assistant, Rafaella a widow who runs a restaurant in summer and the local celebrity Tosca; three women who, like Stella, are trying to redefine their identity and find their place in the world.

Though Stella’s character doesn’t jump out of the pages, I did feel connected to her. As the reader I wasn’t sure where the story would lead me, just as Stella was stepping into murky waters, unsure where her journey would lead her. The women in the story are all strong, opinionated and sometimes Stella became swept up in their dramas, but after some time it was clear that Stella was also the catalyst for each of the women to change their lives.

One of my favourite elements of the story, was the sub-plot friendship that develops between Stella and Leo via emails. We never see Leo’s POV but he is so alive from the emails and this is a great credit to the author for developing his character so well that the development of their relationships felt completely natural and realistic. I finished this book with a big smile on my face and even said aloud “that’s nice” because I just loved how some of the plot was left open-ended while others were tied up neatly. Highly recommend this book!

Overall Rating

“I loved this book!”

4.5/5

Under Italian Skies can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

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Book Review: Second Chance Town by Karly Lane

Second Chance TownSecond Chance Town by Karly Lane

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Allen & Unwin, April 2016

Synopsis- The town of Bundah is dying, with many of its young people fleeing for jobs in the city. A desperate plan to revive Bundah’s fortunes – with generous incentives to attract new businesses – results in a flood of people coming to the town to set up shop.

As Bundah begins to come to life with the new arrivals, a spate of teenage drug overdoses starts to divide the locals. Many are convinced the narcotics trade has been brought to town by one of the newcomers. It doesn’t help that the mysterious new owner of one of the local pubs has a dark past.

Lucy Parker is a single mother doing her best to support her teenage daughter, Belle, through her last year of high school. It’s long been Belle’s dream to go to university, so when she starts to stray, hanging out with the wrong kids and experimenting with alcohol and possibly drugs, her mother is deeply troubled.

The very last thing Lucy needs is for a man like Hugh Thompson to mess with her heart and disrupt her life. However it seems fate has other ideas.

Review- As soon as I pick up a Karly Lane novel I know I’m in for a great read! Her rural romance novels are always packed with mysterious and likeable characters, a slow-building romance and a ripple of suspense that just simmers beneath the surface until the ultimate plot climax. What more can I say? I love that she reliably delivers exactly what I want to read:-)

A quick recap on the plot; Lucy Parker likes to play it safe, with a long-term reliable job and a clear plan for financially securing her daughter a place at University there’s nothing else on her sights until a leather-clad biker named Hugh Thompson turns up in her small country town. Hugh moves into Bundah and renovates the old abandoned pub in the hopes of creating a stopover destination for weekend (motor) bike riders. There’s instant chemistry between the two, and Hugh’s mysterious past only heightens the attraction. As their romance develops, the town that Lucy has always felt safe in is expanding, there’s new faces and a rising drug problem. An interesting plot, great chemistry and characters, plus the suspense adds to the page-turning element of the story. Highly recommend it!

Overall Rating

4/5

“I loved this book!”

Second Chance Town can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

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Book Review: Call to Juno by Elisabeth Storrs

Call to Juno (Tale of Ancient Rome, #3)Call to Juno by Elisabeth Storrs

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Lake Union Publishing, April 2016

Synopsis- Four unforgettable characters are tested during a war between Rome and Etruscan Veii.

Caecilia has long been torn between her birthplace of Rome and her adopted city of Veii. Yet faced with mounting danger to her husband, children, and Etruscan freedoms, will her call to destroy Rome succeed?

Pinna has clawed her way from prostitute to the concubine of the Roman general Camillus. Deeply in love, can she exert her own power to survive the threat of exposure by those who know her sordid past?

Semni, a servant, seeks forgiveness for a past betrayal. Will she redeem herself so she can marry the man she loves?

Marcus, a Roman tribune, is tormented by unrequited love for another soldier. Can he find strength to choose between his cousin Caecilia and his fidelity to Rome?

Who will overcome the treachery of mortals and gods?

Call to Juno is the third book in the Tales of Ancient Rome saga, which includes The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice.

Review- Call to Juno is the third and final installment of this epic saga set in ancient Rome. When I picked up The Wedding Shroud (the first book) back in 2011 I was absolutely enthralled. It’s probably still one of my all-time favourite novels. As far as historical novels go, this series is so unique. It’s set in Italy (big thumbs up!) and it introduced me to an era that is much earlier than many of the books I tend to read in this genre. I liked how Storrs expanded the character viewpoints to include two other women in the second book and that this continued on in the third.

The heroine of the story is Caecilia, Roman born but adopted by Veii when she married Mastarna, the now King of Etruscan Veii. Following on from the last novel, there’s a war brewing between the city and Rome. Their strength, love and values are tested at every turn in Call to Juno. It was great to see this pair continuing to stay strong and fight together no matter what hurdles that come their way.

Wet nurse and servant to the King and Queen, Semni tries to overcome her past betrayal to her employers while creating a future life and family with her partner Arruns. She was probably the least likeable female character in my opinion, but she did grow up a lot more in this novel and made some brave choices.

On the other side of the battle, we gain further insight into Pinna a former prostitute who has become concubine to the Roman general Camillus. She grew further as a character in this story and became a strong female influence on the Roman front without compromising her values and sense of justice.

We are also shown the viewpoint of Marcus, Caecilia’s cousin who is part of the rise against Veii. He has many emotional and physical challenges to face as he works toward bringing down his cousin’s family and power.

As in the previous two novels, there’s a lot of spiritual and religious influence that plays an important role in each of the characters in the novel and realistically reflects the era in which they are making decisions. The author did a wonderful job at moving forward with the women in the story as well as the plot and tying up many of the loose ends that were left unanswered in earlier books. I must say, I was a little teary at the end, as the story took an unexpected (very unexpected!!) turn. However, I was left with a thread of hope that perhaps a spin-off series could be in the works by the author! This is an epic series and I’d highly recommend it.

Overall Rating

4.5/5

“Fantastic!”

Call to Juno can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

You can read my earlier reviews for The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice here.

 

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Quick Aussie Author Q&A- Kayte Nunn and Rose’s Vintage

A big welcome to Kayte who has stopped by The Australian Bookshelf for a chat. Kayte Nunn is the author of Rose’s Vintage, a love story set in the fictional winemaking region of the Shingle Valley. It was released today by Black Inc Books.

Kayte portrait 1Hi Kayte, can you tell us about your journey to publication.
I had always harboured a secret desire to write, but always doubted myself. One winter, I found I had about a six-week gap between freelance editing projects. I’d read a couple of what I thought were fairly ordinary ‘chick-lit’ books and thought ‘well I can do better than that’ (little did I know just how hard the process was!), and a friend had recently finished a novel. I’d written a couple of short stories and loved how writing them made me feel. They’d also been shortlisted in a couple of competitions.

With all that in the back of my mind and a big case of the ‘now or nevers’, I sat down and began to write. Nearly a year later and I had a very rough draft and began querying agents and publishers. Several asked to see the whole manuscript, and one agent offered me plenty of feedback and took me on.

I worked on a second draft for several months – changing the nationality of the protagonist and her name – and then my agent began sending it out. Several publishers liked it but said it was too close to a couple of their other authors, and one gave me more feedback, which I took on board and wrote a third draft. All of this took the best part of a year.

Then, Black Inc, which was starting a new women’s contemporary fiction list, read it, loved it and offered for it, and a second book which I had begun writing. Rose’s Vintage, and a follow-up – The Angel’s Share – have also both sold to Piper verlag in Germany. I remember I was filthy from scrubbing out cupboards when the call from my agent came through!

How did you choose the setting for Rose’s Vintage and where did you get your inspiration?Rose's Vintage (online)-2
I was sitting in a Bondi café one miserable, rainy day and began to wonder what it might be like if you rocked up from the other side of the world but found that it was nothing like you’d expected. For a number of years I edited a wine magazine – Australian Gourmet Traveller WINE – and got to visit many of this country’s incredible wine regions and meet plenty of the characters and communities that make up the industry. They say ‘write what you know’ and it seemed obvious to set the novel in such a beautiful setting.

How can readers relate to your heroine, Rose?
She’s hopefully a well-rounded character with plenty of faults – she’s superstitious, impulsive and occasionally grumpy and overreacts when pushed too far, but also generous, loyal, kind and patient. She’s the sort of women you’d want to be friends with I hope.

How would you describe Rose’s Vintage in 5 words?
Delicious, fun, absorbing, entertaining.

And just for fun, a quick Q&A (brief answers) when writing do you prefer…
Coffee, tea or hot chocolate? Tea – Twinings Australian Afternoon (even in the morning)
Plotting, pantsing or both? A bit of both.

Quiet solitude or background noise? I can work with either. Years of working in a busy magazine office has meant that I am easily able to shut out background noise, even if it is my kids yelling for me!

A warm, sunny day or a rainy day? For writing: a rainy day. That way I don’t feel I’m missing out by not being outside. I also love the moodiness of rainy days.

Typing or pen and notepad? Typing. But pen and notepad for middle-of-the-night inspiration.

Thanks for stopping by! Rose’s Vintage is available from all good bookshops and Target, Big W etc, and online at http://www.booktopia.com.au, ibooks and at http://www.amazon.com. For more information about Kayte and her writing, go to http://www.kaytenunn.com.

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Aussie Book Review: The Doctor Calling by Meredith Appleyard

The Doctor CallingThe Doctor Calling by Meredith Appleyard

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Penguin Random House, February 2016

Synopsis- What Laura was about to do wasn’t easy. To become embroiled in a family’s grief, their anger, their secrets, wasn’t safe, or clever.

Rebuilding her life again after unexpected tragedy, GP Laura O’Connor flees Adelaide, and her medical career, for a quiet life in rural Potters Junction. She’s looking to escape her own family dramas. The last thing she expects is to become caught up in another’s.

Jake Finlay is a man with a troubled past and a passion for risk-taking. After years away from his small home town, he’s hell-bent on keeping his distance. But his father is dying and this could be the last chance they have to make amends.

As Laura and Jake come together over the care for the frail man, they experience an irresistible attraction. Will facing death help them both to grab hold of life? And might love be just what the doctor ordered?

Review- Meredith Appleyard has quickly made it onto my list of fave Aussie authors in the rural romance genre. I enjoy her writing style, the small town communities, the medical influence on her stories, but most of all the character development. She really draws me in as a reader and the internal/ external conflict of the hero and heroine is very well fleshed out.

I won’t say too much about the plot, but I did really connect with the storyline. Appleyard very sensitively explores the issue of end of life, grief and loss. Laura has taken a break from her GP practice and moved out of the city to Potters Junction. She befriends her elderly neighbour and his son Jake. It was a strange experience reading this story at the same time as my husband’s grandfather was living his last weeks in palliative care. So, for many reasons I really connected to this story as it deals with very real issues. Laura and Jake are an unusual couple but I enjoyed their developing friendship and how it naturally evolved to more. Both Laura and Jake grow as individuals in the story which helps to give them a chance as something more. I found it really hard to put this book down and I’ll definitely be reading more from this author!

Overall Rating

4.5/5

“Fantastic!”

The Doctor Calling can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

 

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Aussie Book Review: Summer Harvest by Georgina Penney

Summer HarvestSummer Harvest by Georgina Penney

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Penguin Random House, February 2016

Synopsis- English dog trainer Beth Poole is having trouble getting her life back together after beating a life-threatening illness and divorcing her husband. When her Aussie-soap-obsessed grandma sends her to Australia to recover, it seems a great opportunity for some rest and relaxation while she figures out what’s next.

But when Beth arrives in Australia things get off to a rocky start. To begin with, she’s on the wrong coast and there are deadly creatures everywhere. And if that weren’t enough, her neighbours are driving her crazy. She’s staying in the beautiful Margaret River wine region, right next door to a family-owned vineyard. It should be perfect, but the boisterous Hardy clan just don’t seem able to leave her alone. The usually reserved Beth is soon reluctantly embroiled in their family disputes and romantic entanglements. And eldest son Clayton Hardy is proving surprisingly persistent.

The more Beth gets to know Clayton and the Hardys, the more she sees what she wants for her future. But as the end of summer approaches, her past comes back to haunt her and will test her newfound relationships to the limit.

Review- Set in the beautiful Margaret River in Western Australia, Summer Harvest is an enjoyable read by Australian author Georgina Penney. The heroine, Beth Poole is an English dog trainer who arrives in WA on a two month holiday, a trip gifted to her by her grandma who wants to treat her. Beth has had a hard time with a serious illness and a divorce in recent times and taking off to the other side of the world on a whim isn’t usually her style. But it’s not long before she ditches her shapeless modest clothing and her solitary habits for a new appearance and new friends. She’s particularly taken by Clayton Hardy who lives on the adjacent winery; there’s an instant attraction and the relationship that develops is packed with chemistry and plenty of obstacles. It was an easy and enjoyable read, a book I could pick up and take off where I left off in between running around after my 5 month old daughter. My only criticism for this one is the resolution of the relationship at the end. It’s a pet hate of mine when the hero/ heroine take months to get their act together. It annoys me, but that’s just a personal thing. Good read!

Overall Rating

3.5/5

“I really liked this”

Summer Harvest can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

 

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