Thursday, 24 September 2015

Book Review


The Milliner's Secret by Natalie Meg Evans


(Pub: Quercus Publishing, 2015)

**I was provided with an ARC copy of this in exhange for an honest review**




The Milliner's Secret surprised me. I didn't think I was going to like it - how wrong I was.

Cora Masson works in a hat factory in England; her life holds few pleasures. She works long hours to save money and invariably has all that she has earned taken by her drunken violent father. 

During a rare day out at the races with her friend Donal, she encounters a handsome stranger, Dietrich von Ebling; to escape her home life she travels to France with him. Once there she reinvents herself as Coralie de Lirac, fabricating an aristocratic background to launch herself as a fashionable milliner.

Set in Paris from 1937 through to 1944 the Evans weaves in the political turmoil of the war years, black market gangsters, conspiracies, revenge and love into a detailed multifaceted novel. She successfully creates a story that is bigger than just the relationship between Coralie and Dietrich and engages the reader thoroughly with the secondary characters.

The real surprise for me was that when I started this book I thought I was going to hate it. The book opens in a seedy, smoky, French nightclub complete with sleezy bar owner (who's a criminal), the requisite SS and other German military. There is nothing wrong with beginning like this, but it reminded me of so many movies and clichéd ridden books that already exist, that it had me worried for what was to come.

I KEPT READING and I am so glad that I did. This became a book that I couldn’t put down and I wound up loving it.

Evans writes great characters. They are complex. They make mistakes. Coralie is impetuous and, at times, appallingly naive, and this often causes her great problems. There were moments when I wanted to scream at her and times I just loved her – all because Evan’s writing hooked me. Dietrich himself is a flawed hero who is, however, endlessly forgiving of Coralie. (The number of times they break up and get back together must be some kind of record.)

What I really liked is that, romance aside, the subplots and detail of the other characters is excellent. Very occasionally I was aware I was being "told" information, which lifted me out of the story – namely historic details, which perhaps were needed for some readers. However those moments were very brief. The horrendous political events of WWII – arrests, concentration camps, starvation and daily struggle to survive, the rise of the resistance, courage, endurance and inevitable loss are all very skilfully woven together. Evans covers a lot here and it doesn’t feel like she’s trying to do too much in one story.

I was well aware as I read what direction story was going to take in regard to its end point, but I HAD to finish and when I finished I felt a profound sense of sorrow that the journey was over. I haven’t felt that way about a book in long while.

Thank you Natalie Meg Evans.

Four Stars!




Friday, 18 September 2015

Book Review


The Last of the Firedrakes 

by Farah Oomerbhoy


(Pub: Wise Ink Creative Publishing, 2015)



The Last of the Firedrakes by Farah Oomerbhoy is a rollicking adventure with something for everyone. 

The Last of the Firedrakes follows the tale of Aurora Darlington.  Aurora is an orphan whose adoptive parents are dead. She has been in the care of their relatives – her not so loving aunt and uncle.  Aurora is a pariah at school and at home.  A sudden family visit to the country estate of Lord Oblek, sees Aurora betrayed by her aunt and uncle.  Here is where the story really begins – Aurora is transported to the land of Avalonia.  Once in Avalonia,  Aurora’s life is under threat by an evil queen – Morgana.  Aurora slowly discovers her heritage and her powers in a series of adventures involving fairies, magic, a pegasus, sword fights, a dashing hero/love interest.

None of what I’ve described sounds unusual in this type of novel – and it’s not. Oomerbhoy has taken a tried and true formula and executed it well. Initially I wished some of her character names had been different – they are unoriginal and a bit twee. However, I then wondered if her usage of the names Aurora and Morgana (and Avalonia – one can’t help thinking of Avalon) was a tribute to stories of the past.

Oomerbhoy's story allows for a great deal of emotional growth in regard Aurora's character -which in light of the target audience is a particularly good thing.  Initially I found Aurora to be a naïve protagonist and a passive individual with victim almost stamped on her forehead.  At this point she was in dire need of saving – something which made me particularly irritated with her from time to time.  Throughout the novel she, fortunately, gains confidence in her own abilities, starts to take an active role in shaping her own destiny and becomes a more interesting heroine. 

What strikes me about this book is that while it has many elements that suit a YA audience, I think it could easily suit Tween readers as well (9-12yo). There is nothing overly difficult in the language of the text and there is certainly nothing inappropriate for that age group.

While there were no surprises in the narrative, I wound up enjoying The Last of The Firedrakes.  Oomerbhoy writes well - the story is carefully constructed and the pacing excellent. It is a fabulous escape into a well-constructed fantasy world and leaves you wanting to read the next book.  There is nothing to complain about with this story and it hits all the marks for its intended audience.

I’ll will be buying the next in the series.

Four stars





Friday, 11 September 2015

AUTHOR INTERVIEW


Patricia Leslie

Patricia Leslie is an Australian author from Sydney. 

Her debut novel The Ouroborus Key has been described as a "hidden gem" and a blend of "mystery, fantasy and religious myth." 


Please tell us a little about yourself
Basically, I’m a daydreamer. The problem with dreams is their tangibility, so I decided to start writing so I could hold on to them a little longer. This way I get to keep the best of both worlds – dream to my heart’s content and give those dreams life in the pages of books that I hope other daydreamers will relate to. My interests are varied and range from feminism and women’s history to history in general, mythology, travelling around, taking photos, reading, and sharing life and stories with my family and friends.

What types of books did you enjoy reading when you were young?
Pretty much the same genres as now – fantasy, crime, and historical fiction and non fiction. Books and series I read were Lord of the Rings, Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Thornbirds, anything by Stephen King though The Stand, The Dead Zone, Firestarter and The Dark Tower are absolute favourites, Thomas Covenant and the Belgariad – just to name the few I can remember. I have always been an avid reader.

Had you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes. Creative writing was my favourite part of school and expression of self through writing has always been my release whether it was stories, bad poetry, articles, book reviews or research notes.




"The Ouroboros Key is more than just the title of this novel; it is the centre of it. A myth-riddled ring passed down from the time of Adam and Eve, the ring epitomises the book – a blend of mystery, fantasy and religious myth.”
Jenna, Goodreads.



Please tell us about The Ouroboros Key
This is a quest adventure/urban fantasy tale about a group of friends who, while supporting one of their number, find themselves involved in mysterious, supernatural occurrences. There is a car chase, attacks, a murder or two, people vanishing, a trek under the mountains, and several magical incidents. Along the way, our brave questors discover that the world is more than the reality they’ve always lived in and that the door between mundane life and “real life” is opening.

At times it seems to follow a Dan Brownish bent, in that it looks at the conspiracy of truth around early Christianity (that is the bloodline of Christ) – however, where The Da Vinci Code dives into clues and modern day conspiracy, The Ouroboros Key centres on magic, myth, and fantasy. The magical beings in this story are derived from Sumer and are a mix of Sidhe, Annunaki, and very early Christian myth.


What inspired this story?
I started this story a long long time ago. It’s a melding of my favourite aspects of history and mythology and set in some of my favourite areas of the USA. It was originally going to be set in Australia however I needed really big mountains and wanted a real Snake River (Little Snake River winds through the Rockies along the border of Wyoming and Colorado). I was already doing the research for this when I found the germ of a story idea that linked everything I was reading about (it was something I read about all cave systems being potentially linked).

How much research did you have to do for this novel?
Heaps. Beside the historical research there was also a lot of geographic research (including a 3-week road trip to New Mexico and Colorado) and character research. Each of the main characters has a family history going back three generations. For instance, Dan's mother, Meg has almost enough back story to warrant her own tales of adventure, Finn Shaw and Simone Lang first met during a case Simone was working on at Finn's university (he's an historian and expert on historical books and bookbinding), Irene Flemming spent her life exploring the world for artefacts that gave meaning to human history, and so on.

Is mythology an area that you’ve always been fascinated with?
I've always have been fascinated by mythology and the way it intertwines with the real world. What is mythology really but someone else’s religious beliefs? If you read enough you find that a lot of the stories are similar across a broad section of belief systems from around the world. And then there’s the cultural approbation and exchange that occurs over time as cultural dominance of one race over others grows and wanes. Besides that I’ve always wanted to have magic powers and fly….

I believe you have another book coming out later this year, can you tell us a little about that?
Yes I do. It’s working title is A Single Light and it is another urban fantasy, not related to The Ouroboros Key and this time set in Australia. In fact, south of Sydney. Again, it toys with the whole “we are not alone or as dominant as we think we are” theme. This time, the evil is present and growing and likely to take over the world. However, evil and good are two sides of the same coin, and it is not at all hopeless. I like to work with ensembles and to have characters working together to protect and support each other, and it will be the same in this new story. There’s no quest as such, just a mission to stop the death and destruction.

What are you currently working on?
I'm currently working on a another story set in Sydney which may involve some time travel to the mid/late 1800s. I’m setting the scene now with characters emigrating to Port Jackson from the Isle of Skye. Strong female characters will dominate in this story with a family history that threads its way through the history of Sydney bringing past and future together in one climactic incident.

Do you have a writing routine?
Not so you'd notice. I write when I can and carry my Ipad and/or a notebook and pen around so that prolonged periods of waiting (usually on trains or planes) can be converted to valuable writing time. I have notes everywhere!


How do you juggle working full time, allowing time for the marketing we need to do as writers and writing?
My goal is to allocate early morning hours about 3 days per week to fiction writing. It has to be early as 1. there are less distractions, 2. it's quiet and 3. writing at night keeps me awake. Unfortunately, life often gets in the way, but I'm determined! Re the marketing, I have this organised quite well. I head off to work early and spend 30 minutes in a cafe with coffee and my Ipad, and work on maintaining my author platform. Ongoing, I share links to writing related articles and news, which feed into an online journal I produce. This can be labour intensive but keeps me active on Twitter. If you're not active nobody knows about you. I also write blog posts, scroll through LinkedIn and Facebook, answer emails, and do some online research. I follow up at night when I'm resting in front of the television. A couple of nights a week I will also update my website, work on graphics for bookmarks, posters and postcards, and write articles etc. If it's a really quiet night (that is everyone else has gone out and it's just me and my dog) I'll devote some time to fiction.




“I love finding hidden gems and this little (well, 300 + page) novel from an independent Australian publishing house definitely counts as one of them.” Elcheyno,Goodreads.


Find Patricia on:

Website:  http://www.patricialeslie.net/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Patricia-Leslie

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/PatriciaLeslieA

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/patricialesliea/





Friday, 4 September 2015

Book Review


Port of No Return by Michelle Saftich


(Pub: Odyssey Books, 2015)

**I was provided with an ARC copy of this in exhange for an honest review**


Port of No Return opens in January, 1944 in Fiume, Italy.  At this time Fiume sits on the border with Yugoslavia.  The Germans are still in Fiume, but the Yugoslavs under Tito are on their way. (There have been  long  territorial disputes over Fiume throughout history.) The taking of Fiume by the Yugoslavs was the result of days of heavy fighting.  Reprisals under the occupying forces were savage.
 
Initially we meet Contessa and Ettore, a young couple with two children and their indomitable Nonna.  Ettore, a mechanic, must work for the Germans in their submarine base in order to support his family.  When Tito’s forces invade he is automatically targeted , not only because he is Italian, but because he works for the Germans.  Such is the fate of many Italians in Fiume. 

The story follows their hardships during wartime, separation and subsequent escape from Fiume.   It is a survival story filled with courage, heartache, fear, yet ultimately happiness tinged with loss and grief.

Port of No Return was a real surprise for me as I wasn’t sure how much I was going to enjoy it.  This is historic fiction that “rings true” on many levels.  Saftich writes well.  There is a clear narrator’s voice throughout, something I usually don’t enjoy, however stylistically the tone of narration is easy going – at times, thanks to numerous colloquialisms, conversational .  This narration informs the reader of historical events  and tells the situation of the characters, but is interspersed with  fictionalised vignettes between characters.  This it what got me over my initial misgivings. It works brilliantly to give a feel of historical accuracy mixed with immersive storytelling to create a subtly addictive story.

As I read I wondered why certain plot points were not expanded to aid the storytelling. However, the more I read, the more I realised Saftich was showing a delicate restraint and by resisting the urge to sensationalise Port of No Return I suspect she was honouring the memories of family and the others she has interviewed in researching her novel - kudos to her.

Port of No Return lured me into its world.  I became attached to the characters and their struggles.  I found myself asking “What would I have done?” More importantly it made me think on history, its human toll and its repetition. That is part of the magic of books.

Four Stars