The Shadow of the Fox – Julie Kagawa

#book-review #book-reviewer

Synopsis

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.

Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.

Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.

There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.

With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself.

My review

Shadow of the Fox is imaginative, humorous, creativite and well researched.

Yumeko, raised in a temple by monks, is faced with a mission once the temple is burnt to the ground and her family is brutally murdered. As she sets out on her journey she meets Kage, a Shadow Clan Samurai who has been raised to feel no emotion and do whatever it takes to complete his missions. He has killed for his clan and will again if he has to. Tatsumi and Yumeko attempt to help one another as they travel to the capitol. Their adventures are filled with interesting places, people and life threatening decisions. Upon meeting the bad mannered ronin, Okame, I found myself chuckling at his attitude, sarcasm and actions of his character in general. The three together are entertaining and this drew me in.

Prior to Okame being introduced I felt that the Japanese folk tales and legends were being recited rather than worked into the plot, however this soon changed. I loved the introduction of yokai, dragons and kitsune. All of these are familiar to me and I found myself reaching for my book of yokai, which has images of them. The author’s knowledge and research into Japanese legends and folk tales is evident in her writing. This became better and better as the novel progressed.

I’ve heard of stories of wild dogs who would defend a stranger on the road to their last breath, simply because that person threw a crumb instead of a rock.’ Yumeko has a beautiful view of life, even after all that has happened to her she has a positive spin on everything. She attempts to maintain her connection with the monks who raised her, by ensuring that she does not forget their teachings, which keep her grounded. The Buddhist teachings and references in the novel are lovely, including that of attachment. Yumeko understands the essence of positive relationships with those around her, whereas Tatsumi has been brought up to fear attachments, without an understanding of love for others. His character growth in the novel, due to Yumeko is beautiful.

This is a fantasy novel that had me feeling the magic within. Kagawa not only provided an interesting read, with entertaining characters, but also grately added to my prior knowledge of Japanese legends, along with creating an imaginary world that feels real. I am looking forward to reading the next book in this trilogy.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant – Kayte Nunn

Synopsis

A cache of unsent love letters from the 1950s is found in a suitcase on a remote island in this mysterious love story by top ten bestselling author, Kayte Nunn

1951. Esther Durrant, a young mother, is committed to an isolated mental asylum by her husband. Run by a pioneering psychiatrist, the hospital is at first Esther’s prison but soon becomes her refuge.

2017. Free-spirited marine scientist Rachel Parker embarks on a research posting in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast. When a violent storm forces her to take shelter on a far-flung island, she discovers a collection of hidden love letters. Captivated by their passion and tenderness, Rachel determines to track down the intended recipient.

Meanwhile, in London, Eve is helping her grandmother, a renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs. When she is contacted by Rachel, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to reveal secrets kept buried for more than sixty years.

Thank you to @hachetteaus for hosting this giveaway and sending me this novel.

My review

This was the perfect winter read, as I snuggled up under a blanket and read this delightful novel on the first day of the cold season. The Scilly Isles was the perfect setting, as I imagined the island with it’s beautiful beach, wild flowers and gardens surrounding the residence. As I curled up with this novel it was raining outside, yet Kayte Nunn managed to transport me to the sunshine and wild mountain terrain in an instant.

The novel follows three strong women. Eve helps her grandmother after she has a fall, moving in with her and assisting her to write her autobiography. Her grandmother was a famous mountaineer in her day and hopes to share her adventures with future readers.

Rachel’s work as a marine scientist takes her to the Scilly Isles where she finds love letters that are the essence of what true love is. Rachel’s character matures as the novel progresses and she enjoys the company of those on the island, from Leah the island hermit to Jonah who welcomes her. Leah has her own secrets and must discover herself, just as Rachel. They help each other in the process.

My absolute favourite character is the protagonist, Esther Durrant. Her story is one of great historical significance. Esther’s husband sends her to an isolated island where she is to be treated for depression. It is heartbreaking as she is away from her young son, Teddy.

It is 1951 where people are treated for mental health via shock treatment and locked away. Dr Richard Creswell’s methods are beyond that of his time. His treatment is wholistic. It includes counselling sessions, treatment of mind and body, whilst taking time to concentrate on self care. The location allows patients to enjoy the outdoors and nature. Esther is fortunate to have been sent to such a place in comparison to the alternative, although she doesn’t feel it at the time. The people she meets on the island will change her life forever. They help each other in many ways, especially as they share their thoughts and feelings. Wilkie shares some important life lessons; ‘Find a way to dream again, to believe, believe in the beauty of life, however fleeting.’

Esther’s loss of her second child is devastating and her grief is raw. Kayte Nunn’s portrayal of a character with post-natal depression is subtle, delicate and is to be commended. This novel emphasises the feelings of inadequacy as a mother struggles to bond with her child in the early stages of their life. This novel brings about awareness to such a sad and truly unimagineable time in some women’s lives. The importance of talking to a trusted professional is also emphasised. Women should not have to face these challenges alone. Within my community, I felt that there is an endless amount of support for women post natally. I hope that all women around the world will oneday have the help they deserve.

The romance in this novel is honest, sweet and realistic based on the time period.

This book is a romance, historical fiction novel that I would highly recommend. It is breathtakingly beautiful. I look forward to reading more of Kayte Nunn’s novels.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Strawberry Thief – Joanne Harris

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Synopsis

The compelling new novel from the author of the bestselling Chocolat.

Vianne Rocher has settled down. Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become her home. With Rosette, her ‘special’ child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.

But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies, leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray. The arrival of Narcisse’s relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal of its own – all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even, perhaps, a murder…

My review

There’s always a moment before a storm when the wind seems to change its mind. It plays at domesticity; it flirts with the blossom on the trees; it teases the rain from the dull grey clouds.’

Joanne Harris has an enchanting way with words; her vivid descriptions in the first instance allow me, as the reader, to feel as if I am in the moment and truly experiencing the characters’ world. ‘The Strawberry Thief’ is a mysterious novel that touches on the challenges of motherhood, what childhood should be and what it is to feel different in society.

I was very grateful to @booksontherail and @hachetteaus for providing me with this beautiful copy of ‘The Strawberry Thief’. Once I found out I had won the giveaway, I returned to the world of ‘Chocolat’, which I had only experienced on film. As you can see from my review prior to this one, I absolutely loved it. I was also very glad I read it prior to reading this novel, as there moments in the characters’ lives that are referred to in ‘Chocolat.’ If I had copies of books two and three in the series, I would have loved to read those too. In saying that, ‘The Strawberry Thief’ would definitely be a good stand alone read too.

Vianne Rocher is now settled in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and is an accepted member of the local community. Vianne still owns the local Chocolatarie. Her daughter Anouk, has left home and is on her own adventure, whereas Vianne’s daughter Rosette is a child who prefers to sign and use sounds rather than speak and is happy to be in her own world. Rosette is my favourite narrator in the novel. When Narcisse, the town florist, passes away, he leaves Rosette his strawberry field. Narcisse’s biological children do not accept this and believe he must have been of unsound mind to make such a decision. Rosette’s narration is honest and she is always true to herself in the decisions she makes, along with how she lives her life. Seeing inside Rosette’s mind is beautiful. She has always loved being in the strawberry field and I loved the mystery and emotional story behind why it was left to her.

Reynaud, the priest, has opened his mind to the world, as a result of those around him who have challenged him, including Vianne when she moved to the town. His narration was intriguing and his character was much more likable than in Chocolat. In comparison, I did not enjoy Vianne’s narration as much. In this stage of her life Vianne is very scared of being alone and rather than her magic accompanying her zest for life, her use of magic is symbolic of her personality now; less care free and not as vibrant. This is a woman who is now challenged by motherhood in such a way that her mind is negatively impacted by her sheer need to hold her children close. In saying that, I love her relationship with members of the community and with Rosette. She still has the ability to calmly converse with those around her, whilst listening to her instincts.

After reading this beautifully written novel, I am looking forward to reading more of Joanne Harris’ novels. Her descriptions of chocolate and the processes of creating it have always interested me. To say that I love chocolate is an understatement. In particular, I enjoyed reading about Vianne’s process of scrying with chocolate ‘The hot dry reek of cigarettes has become the scent of burning leaves; the sweet and simle bonfire scent of autumn nights by the fireside.’

I would recommend this novel to those who enjoyed ‘Chocolat’ and if like me, you are a fan of chocolate, do not hesitate to read it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Chocolat – Joanne Harris

Synopsis

A timeless novel of a straitlaced village’s awakening to joy and sensuality – every page offers a description of chocolate to melt in the mouths of chocoholics, francophiles, armchair gourmets, cookbook readers, and lovers of passion everywhere.

Illuminating Peter Mayle’s South of France with a touch of Laura Esquivel’s magic realism, Chocolat is a timeless novel of a straitlaced village’s awakening to joy and sensuality. In tiny Lansquenet, where nothing much has changed in a hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows. Each box of luscious bonbons comes with a free gift: Vianne’s uncanny perception of its buyer’s private discontents and a clever, caring cure for them. Is she a witch? Soon the parish no longer cares, as it abandons itself to temptation, happiness, and a dramatic face-off between Easter solemnity and the pagan gaiety of a chocolate festival.

Chocolat’s every page offers a description of chocolate to melt in the mouths of chocoholics, francophiles, armchair gourmets, cookbook readers, and lovers of passion everywhere. It’s a must for anyone who craves an escapist read, and is a bewitching gift for any holiday.

#bookish #book-review #book-reviewer

My review

‘We came on the wind of the Carnival.’

This wind is the same wind that draws Vianne Rocher and her daughter to the French village of Lansquenet. It is also the same wind that carries mouthwatering scents of all types of delicacies.

Vianne travelled from place to place during her childhood and as she raises her daughter, Anouk, she does the same. This novel is set in Lansquenet, where Vianne opens a boutique chocolaterie. The chocolatarie and its chocolatier are an unwelcome temptation. The townsfolk do not like change and many are devout church goers who see Vianne as a woman lacking morals, due to her non attendance at church, acceptance of new comers to the town, her spiritual beliefs and her store. This store is one that encourages people to take time out to enjoy such edible pleasures in life.

As Vianne and Anouk continue their stay in the rural town, they are up against the likes of an influential priest and a gossiping group of women. Vianne’s character is very likable. As a witch, her senses are heightened. She magically and spiritually has an ability to read people and understands how to help them. Her calm attitude and kindness encourages those who are struggling to accept help for their own happiness. Vianne is a wise character who lives for her daughter and values the road to happiness over all else.

This novel is not simply a story about a lady who opens a store. It is much more. It is about the changes that can be made to a community with a difference of opinion and someone who will stand up for what is right. There were underlying issues, including domestic violence, religious discrimination and racial discrimination. Each issue was dealt with in such a delicate manner, yet questioned society’s opinions. Unfortunately, these issies are still current today.

I particularly loved Armande’s character, an elderly lady who is disrespected by her daughter and made to feel irrelevant. Vianne encourages Armande to connect with her granson Luc and here a beautiful relationship emerges. The importance of our grandparents in our lives is emphasised in the novel. It made me truly consider the people in my life of an older generation. Our connection with our elders is of utmost importance. We must take responsibility to pass on the stories and teachings of those of an older generation to ourselves, respecting their knowledge and view points.

I look forward to reading The Strawberry Thief. I enjoyed the author’s style of writing and scrumptious descriptions. Her first person narrative style was interesting too, as there were two narrators. This gave further insight into the minds of the church and chocolatier.

As I consider the thought provoking nature of this book, I realise that I love the book just as I loved the movie. Winning the competition by @booksontherail and sent by @hachetteaus inspired me to read Chocolat. If you have a sweet tooth like me, read Chocolat – you will love this book.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Enchantee – Gita Trelease

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Synopsis

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns…

My review

Magical, historical, romantic. Seriously, this book had it all for me. Gita Trelease managed to take me to a Paris I could have never imagined. The magic is beautiful and intriguing, as is the setting.

The writing itself is reflective of Paris and the Parisian lifestyle; it is eloquent, raw, elegant and sophisticated. Each description of the setting allowed me to step into the streets of Paris and experience the world Camille does everyday.

The descriptions were tantilising and vivid, yet not too descriptive. One of my favourite descriptions was when I could actually taste the sweet air, ‘The warm air in the small rose and cream striped shop tasted like sugar.’ I look forward to reading more from Gita Trelease, to truly experience whatever world she takes me, as the reader, to next.

Camille Durbonne lives with her sister and brother. Her brother becomes addicted to gambling and drinking, becoming unrecognisable and violent. The underlying issues in this novel were emotional and thought provoking. Camille achieves what she sets out to do, finding a way out of the slums of Paris. She struggles to find her true self as she takes on the role of Baronness and uses her magic to gain a life, better than which they had. Without a mother and father, the girls must survive together and their courage and bond is strong. I loved the characters and particularly the romance that grows between Camille and the balloonist, who she meets as she courageously saves him. I wanted to ride in the hot air balloon. How romantic!

I haven’t read a fictional book in this time period before, so I was interested to read about the characters during the French Revolution. I also loved the historical facts at the back of the novel. Usually I find myself researching the time period after reading a novel of interesting historical significance. This was a nice addition to the book.

Overall, I would highly recommend Enchantee. The author writes in such a unique style that it is a portrait of the setting. If you love historical fiction, I would suggest reading this, as everyone needs a little magic in their lives at some point.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Kookaburra Creek Cafe – Sandie Docker

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis

Welcome to the Kookaburra Creek Cafe.

THE PAST

For Hattie, the cafe has been her refuge for the last fifty years – her second chance at a happy ending after her dreams of being a star were shattered. But will the ghosts of her past succeed in destroying everything she’s worked so hard to build?

THE PRESENT

For Alice, the cafe is her livelihood. After Hattie took her in as a teenager, Alice has slowly forged a quiet life as the cafe’s manager (and chief cupcake baker). But with so many tragedies behind her, is it too late for Alice’s story to have a happy ending?

THE FUTURE

For Becca, a teenager in trouble, the cafe could be the new start she yearns for. That is, if she can be persuaded to stop running from her secrets. Can Becca find a way to believe in the kindness of strangers, and accept that this small town could be the place where she finally belongs?

One small town. Three lost women. And a lifetime of secrets.

My review

The Kookaburra Creek Café is a unique and powerful multi-generational novel.

The story follows the lives of three strong Australian women who have experienced loss, heartache, abuse, grief and tragedy. Their strength and courage is what allows them to lean on one another and learn to trust and love again. Hattie, Alice and Becca have their own stories to tell and gradually throughout the novel, pieces of their past are revealed. I loved each character and felt drawn into their world immediately. As the horrors and tragedy of the past are revealed, I was brought to tears. One minute I was laughing along with the characters, the next minute I had the tissues out. I think it says something about an author, when they can write in a way that allows the reader to have such an emotional connection to the story and characters.

The setting of the novel is lovely and by the end of the novel I wished to be a part of the small town community that support one another through the bad and good times. Kookaburra Creek is such a lovely portrayal of small town Australian life. The descriptions of the surrounding area were beautiful. I also felt this when I read Sandie Docker’s The Cottage at Rosella Cove.

I could smell the fresh bread and taste the sweet cupcakes described. I love a book that describes cooking and baking in a way that makes me want to eat what the characters are eating and moreover, a book that includes the recipes at the back! I actually want to make the strawberry and white chocolate cupcakes and choc-hazelnut and Frangelico cupcakes. Yum!

As a debut novel, I could feel the heart and soul of the author within each page that I read. I can only imagine the work that authors place into writing a novel. As a reviewer, I am aware of this and although I may not enjoy every novel I read, I truly appreciate the author behind each novel. As for The Kookaburra Creek Café, I absolutely loved it and would highly recommend it. I am so glad that Sandie Docker was able to share this story. Being multi-generational, it spoke to my past teenage self, my life now as a mother and my future self. People from all walks of life should gain something from this heartfelt story.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Land Girls – Victoria Pullman

Thank you to Harper Collins Publishers Australia for sending me a copy of The Land Girls for my honest review.

#harpercollinsaustralia #book-reviewer #book-review

Synopsis

A moving story of love, loss and survival against the odds by bestselling author of The Last of the Bonegilla Girls, Victoria Purman.
It was never just a man’s war…

Melbourne,1942

War has engulfed Europe and now the Pacific, and Australia is fighting for its future. For spinster Flora Thomas, however, nothing much has changed. Tending her dull office job and beloved brother and father, as well as knitting socks for the troops, leaves her relatively content. Then one day a stranger gives her brother a white feather and Flora’s anger propels her out of her safe life and into the vineyards of the idyllic Mildura countryside, a member of the Australian Women’s Land Army.

There she meets Betty, a 17-year-old former shopgirl keen to do her bit for the war effort and support her beloved, and the unlikely Lilian, a well-to-do Adelaide girl fleeing her overbearing family and theworld’s expectations for her. As the Land Girls embrace their new world of close-knit community and backbreaking work, they begin to find pride in their roles. More than that, they start to find a kind of liberation. For Flora, new friendships and the singular joy derived from working the land offer new meaning to her life, and even the possibility of love.

But as the clouds of war darken the horizon, and their fears for loved ones – brothers, husbands, lovers – fighting at the front grow, the Land Girls’ hold on their world and their new-found freedoms is fragile. Even if they make it through unscathed, they will not come through unchanged…

My review

Lest we forget. I am thankful to the men and women who sacrificed everything for our freedom. I am proud to be Australian.

From the moment I saw the cover of The Land Girls, I was compelled to read it. As we pay our respects each Anzac Day, we remember the strength of those who fought for our country. The Women’s Land Army were among those who made great sacrifices. This is a story of three women who through determination and courage, worked for their country, in a time of need. They did not back down when times were tough. They laboured physically challenging work whilst worrying about their loved ones at home and away at war. Their hard work helped those at war and at home.

The Land Girls is a novel that pulled at my heart strings, allowing me to feel a range of emotions. I consider any novel that can do this a powerful read. The novel is beautifully written. Victoria Purman’s characterisation enabled me to love each character, along with the personal letters shared with the reader. Flora, Betty and Lily all decide to leave their homes in order to help with the war effort. They expect hard work and are determined to be a part of The Australian Women’s Land Army until the war is over. Their personal stories of love, laughter and loss portray strong women whose lives are changed in unimagineable ways.

As a lover of historical fiction, I particularly enjoyed learning more about the work of the Australian Women’s Land Army. I appreciated the research undertaken by the author and due to the personal stories created, this gave further insight into the time period and how the women would have felt as they gained freedom in their work. What courageous women to have left everything known to them, to live and work like they had never before. The Womens Land Army provided them with a sense of place and community. The three girls’ stories are silently bound.

I loved this novel. I would recommend The Land Girls for it’s historical significance, romance and power to make the reader feel proud to be Australian.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐