Source: Publisher

Jazz & Friendship: Wonderful Feels Like This by Sara Lovestam

Posted May 15, 2017 by Hannah in Reviews, Young Adult / 0 Comments

Jazz & Friendship: Wonderful Feels Like This by Sara LovestamWonderful Feels Like This by Sara Lovestam
Published by Allen & Unwin on 29th March 2017
Pages: 318
Format: Paperback, Finished Review Copy
Source: Publisher
BoffinsDymocksBooktopiaPublisher
Goodreads

A celebration of being a little bit odd, finding your people and the power of music to connect us.

For Steffi, going to school everyday is an exercise in survival. She's never fit in with any of the groups at school, and she's viciously teased by the other girls in her class. The only way she escapes is through her music--especially jazz music.

When Steffi hears her favourite jazz song playing through an open window of a retirement home on her walk home from school, she decides to go in and introduce herself. The old man playing her favorite song is Alvar. When Alvar was a teenager in World War II Sweden, he dreamed of being in a real jazz band. Then and now, Alvar's escape is music--especially jazz music.

Through their unconventional friendship, Steffi comes to realise that she won't always feel alone. She can go to music school in Stockholm. She can be a real musician. She can be a jitterbug, just like Alvar.

But how can Steffi convince her parents to let her go to Stockholm to audition? And how is it that Steffi's school, the retirement home, the music and even Steffi's worst bully are somehow all connected to Alvar? Can it be that the people least like us are the ones we need to help us tell our own stories?

Wonderful Feels Like This was a beautiful coming of age story, and something completely different from what I’ve been reading recently, and turned out to be a refreshing contemporary about an unlikely friendship between retiree Alvar and schoolgirl Steffi after they discover their mutual love for all things jazz.

Steffi Herrera is a fifteen year old who loves jazz – especially Pavel Romel and wants to be a great musician one day too. Her quiet demeanour doesn’t fit in with the other kids at school, who torment her relentlessly with name calling, slut shaming and more. It’s in her music that she finds solace, and the power of words and lyrics that gives her strength day in and day out. On the way home from school one day, she hears her favourite piece of jazz, and meets Alvar, a resident in a retirement home in her small town of Bjorke. The pair quickly bond over their shared love for Pavel Romel, and Alvar delights Steffi with tales of his adventures growing up in neutral Sweden during World War Two.

The dual narration in this story was one of my favourite parts. Learning about a country I know little about – both historically and in general, was completely refreshing in a spate of generic reads over the past couple of weeks. It was interesting to see and recognise the parallels between both Steffi’s and Alvar’s life growing up – albeit at two very different periods of time. Alvar’s story of a young, nervous country boy moving to the big city of Stockholm at the age of seventeen at the height of World War Two was adorable and heartwarming all the way through, and really touching.  From Alvar’s stories, we get to see Steffi shine as she comes into herself. His stories give her the hope she needs to continue with her music, and to stand up against her bullies. Despite the doubts that every teenager gets, Steffi was able to persevere, knowing that there was something more for her than small town life and that knowledge she carried with her throughout the whole novel.

A surprising (but completely commendable and lovely aspect) was the understated message of diversity throughout the novel. I love reading about different cultures, and don’t do it nearly enough. Steffi might be a Swede, but her father – or Pappita – is Spanish, and it was interesting to see his cultural influence on his family and in Steffi’s life, especially from a non-English speaking perspective. I need to read more novels like this!! Another theme of the novel was identity. Steffi’s bullies often used lesbian as a slur, and this was something Steffi struggled with throughout the book. Because she didn’t find any of her classmates attractive, does this make her a lesbian? And what’s so wrong about that? The way Steffi draws her own conclusions was empowering to say the least.

As much as enjoyed this novel, I found aspects of it lacking at times. I felt like was on the outside looking in – never really connecting with the story. I wish there’d been a bit more depth and exploration between the characters – most of it seemed surface level, never really getting any deeper. I just liked it – I didn’t love it. I wanted so much more – more from the relationship between Alvar and Steffi. I felt that the ending was a little bit too quick, and then it was over. But in saying that, Wonderful Feels Like This was a heartwarming story that all ages will be able to enjoy.

Wonderful Like This by Sara Lovestam is published by Allen & Unwin and is now available from all good bookstores (support your local!) for RRP$29.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life, Amongst Other Things: Girl in Between by Anna Daniels

Posted May 13, 2017 by Hannah in Adult, Reviews / 2 Comments

Life, Amongst Other Things: Girl in Between by Anna DanielsGirl in Between by Anna Daniels
Published by Allen & Unwin on 1st May 2017
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher, Finished Review Copy
DymocksBooktopiaiBooksPublisher
Goodreads

Lucy Crighton has just moved in with some gregarious housemates called Brian and Denise . . . who are her parents. She's also the proud mother of Glenda, her beloved 10-year-old . . . kelpie. And she has absolutely no interest in the dashing son of her parents' new next-door neighbour . . . well, maybe just a little.

When you're the girl in between relationships, careers and cities, you sometimes have to face some uncomfortable truths . . . like your Mum's obsession with Cher, your father's unsolicited advice, and the fact there's probably more cash on the floor of your parents' car than in your own bank account.

Thank goodness Lucy's crazy but wonderful best friend, Rosie, is around to cushion reality, with wild nights at the local Whipcrack hotel, escapades in Japanese mud baths, and double dating under the Christmas lights in London.

But will Lucy work out what she really wants to do in life and who she wants to share it with?

Girl in Between is a warm, upbeat and often hilarious story about life at the crossroads. Featuring an endearing and irrepressible cast of characters, it will have you chuckling from start to finish.

There’s something wonderful about connecting with a character and her story, and for me, that’s what Girl in Between was –  a novel of my own heart.

Lucy has just moved back home to her parent’s house in Rockhampton, one failed relationship and a career in journalism behind her. She’s at a crossroads in her life, and figuring out the next step is proving a lot harder than it looks. Throw in romance, friendships and family, Lucy is caught, almost quite literally, as new chapters of her life begin and end – she is the ‘girl in between.’

The Girl in Between was filled with great Aussie humour and witty charm. Lucy’s a country girl at heart, though having spent years in the big city developing her career in TV journalism. A failed attempted at following her ex boyfriend back to Queensland lands her at home with her Mum & Dad, two hilarious characters in their own right. Lucy’s unsure about her next move, or where her path is leading – something that resonates with any twenty or thirty something yet to find their place in the world. With that uncertainty brings a lot of different choices and highlight’s Lucy’s indecisive nature, as well as that worry about whether or not she’s choosing the right path. connected really well with Lucy; she’s the type of person I’d be friends with in real life. We also share the same fears and worries and a lot of her story resonated with me on a personal level.

The supporting cast as well are fantastic – as mentioned, Lucy’s parents are a barrel of laughs as they navigate retirement. I love how supportive of Lucy they are as well, but still encouraging her to find her feet. Lucy’s best friend, Rosie, was a character and bounded off Lucy beautifully. Then there’s the romance – it wasn’t over done, but rather subtle, and I loved that it didn’t eclipse Lucy’s self discovery. Oscar of course, was a dish, and I also enjoyed that the romance wasn’t straight forward, but they were still able to find their way back to each other.

From country Queensland to the bustle of London, Girl in Between was a charmingly funny novel about finding your place in the world – no matter how long it takes you to get there.

Girl in Between is published by Allen & Unwin and is now available from all good bookstores (support your local!) for RRP$29.99

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Full of Hidden Potential – But Not Quite: The Hidden Hours by Sara Foster

Posted April 2, 2017 by Hannah in Adult, Reviews / 0 Comments

Full of Hidden Potential – But Not Quite: The Hidden Hours by Sara FosterThe Hidden Hours by Sara Foster
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia on 1st April 2017
Format: E-ARC
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
DymocksBooktopia
Goodreads

Keeping her secret may save her family.

But telling it may save her life.

Arabella Lane, senior executive at a children’s publisher, is found dead in the Thames on a frosty winter’s morning after the office Christmas party. No one is sure whether she jumped or was pushed. The one person who may know the truth is the newest employee at Parker & Lane – the office temp, Eleanor.

Eleanor has travelled to London to escape the repercussions of her traumatic childhood in outback Australia, but now tragedy seems to follow her wherever she goes. To her horror, she has no memory of the crucial hours leading up to Arabella’s death – memory that will either incriminate or absolve her.

As Eleanor desperately tries to remember her missing hours and uncover the events of that fateful night, her own extended family is dragged further into the dark, terrifying terrain of blame, suspicion and guilt.

Caught in a crossfire of accusations, Eleanor fears she can’t even trust herself, let alone the people around her. And soon, she’ll find herself in a race against time to find out just what happened that night – and discover just how deadly some secrets can be.

When I first saw the blurb for The Hidden Hours, I was extremely intrigued. Murder in a publishing house? I didn’t know I needed that! However instead of a thrilling cutthroat read that would put me off wanting to enter the industry, what I got instead was a bland, frustrating story that left me feeling unfulfilled.

In theory, The Hidden Hours was a great novel – however its execution was the biggest let down. The story follows Eleanor, who has moved to London to escape her traumatic childhood. There, she lives with her freelance architect uncle and his publishing industry bigwig wife, who is able to get Eleanor a PA position to one of the directors. Only a couple of weeks after Eleanor starts at Park & Lane, the marketing director, Arabella, is found dead in the Thames. And with the night of Arabella’s death a blank in Eleanor’s mind, it puts her directly in the crossfire as the mystery unravels, and accusations fly.

It’s hard to enjoy a book with a narrator like Eleanor. From the beginning, she’s a character that doesn’t do an awful lot but mope and whine. Which became old, fast. With this big chunk of her memory missing, rather than buckle up and take an active stance in trying to figure out her movements, she essentially just sat on her bum and complained about it. She blindly follows other peoples questions and manipulations. Basically, she doesn’t think for herself and that was what got me. The rest of the character set were about as uninteresting as each other. I never felt connected to any of them, and in the end I couldn’t really care who had done the crime. Even the little splash of romance felt mundane.

The Hidden Hours is essentially two stories. There’s what’s happening in the present, with Arabella’s death, and the past, which explains the traumatic childhood that has Eleanor fleeing Australia for the comforts of a new city. This seems to be a trend, I’ve noticed, in psychological thrillers. Dual narratives, one of which gives an insight into the main character’s past – and sadly, this doesn’t work for me. The chapters of Eleanor’s childhood were long and drawn out, too much information overload that was unnecessary at times, where you’re just screaming to yourself, Get to the point already! It made me less sympathetic by the end as well.

One thing I did love, however, was at the start of each chapter, you got to read a a snippet of all the different people connected to Arabella’s death – from hotel receptionists, strangers on a bridge, the police…it provided a unique insight into just how many different people were somehow a part of Arabella’s death.

Sadly though, I don’t think I’d be back for more. I’m craving edge of your seat, don’t trust anything, don’t read in the middle of the night psychological thrillers and this one missed the mark more than once.

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Sufficiently Twisty, But Not Much Oomph: The Girl Before by JP Delaney

Posted February 8, 2017 by Hannah in Adult, Reviews / 1 Comment

Sufficiently Twisty, But Not Much Oomph: The Girl Before by JP DelaneyThe Girl Before by JP Delaney
Published by Quercus, Hachette Australia on 31st January 2017
Pages: 361
Format: E-ARC
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
BoffinsDymocksBooktopia
Goodreads

A psychological thriller that spins one woman’s seemingly good fortune, and another woman’s mysterious fate, through a kaleidoscope of duplicity, death, and deception—and the hottest title at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair.

A damaged young woman gets the unique opportunity to rent a one-of-a-kind house. When she falls in love with the sexy, enigmatic architect who designed it, she has no idea she is following in the footsteps of the girl who came before: the house’s former tenant.

The eerie parallels in the two girls’ lives lay bare an enthralling story…and make this novel the must-read thriller of the season.

Imagine the perfect house. One that can be tuned to your every want and need. How do you like your showers? Housekeeper will find out for you so you never have to deal with the dreaded hot-cold-hot problem again.  Sleek, minimalistic, a house that encourages better habits, and in turn, makes you a better person. Kitted out with the full mod cons, all at the press of an app.

Sounds like a dream, right?

That’s 1 Folgate Street for you. But living at 1 Folgate Street isn’t like living in a normal rental. There are rules. No pets. No kids. No clutter. Housekeeper records all your data – your every move.

Cue our story. The Girl Before was an interesting read, although it did lack that heart thumping vibe you get from the cover and the blurb. Told from two perspectives, Jane – the Now, and Emma, the Then – there were many twists and turns that kept you wanting to read more, but ultimately, it was a story that failed to grip the reader.

What I did love about The Girl Before was the way the dual narration played out. It was easy to get complacent, as a lot of the narration falls into the same pattern as both girls explore their relationship with the house, and in turn the controlling, enigmatic owner and architect Edward Monkford. The exact precision of events was creepy enough in itself, but then at a certain point was flipped, and all of a sudden you find yourself not knowing who or what to believe. It was at that point that I decided to keep reading – a good chunk of the story at first is quite repetitive, which may not be for some, but I promise it’s worth sticking around just to figure out what the heck is going on.

I did like how a lot of the novel was centred around mental illness. Edward’s grief for his loss turned into obsession with meticulous detail and perfectionism, Emma’s paranoia (and subsequently a lot of other issues I can’t mention without spoiling!) and Jane’s depression were something I keenly felt throughout the novel. I felt however that a lot of the time the story was too fast paced, too quick. There wasn’t nearly enough time to really get to understand the characters on a personal level. There was also too much of a fascination and concentration around Edward, the architect of the house himself, which meant that the ending fell a little flat and unexplored, the ending losing a lot of its momentum.

What could have been a deliciously creepy novel about obsession and technology taking over our lives sadly was not all that it could have been, but nevertheless, The Girl Before was still an enjoyable read. And would I live in 1 Folgate Street? Absolutely not. There were no bookshelves!

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Magical, Mysterious & Mesmerizing: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Posted February 5, 2017 by Hannah in Reviews, Young Adult / 3 Comments

Magical, Mysterious & Mesmerizing: Caraval by Stephanie GarberCaraval Series: Caraval #1
by Stephanie Garber
Published by Hodder & Staughton, Hachette Australia on 31st January 2017
Pages: 416
Format: E-Book, E-ARC
Source: Publisher, Netgalley
BoffinsDymocksBooktopia
Goodreads

Two sisters bound by love and a father they fear escape their tiny, secluded island for the wondrous performance of Caraval, where the audience plays along in a mysterious and magical game of determining what's real and what's fantasy. And where only one sister might be brave enough to win the ultimate prize of 'an impossible wish'...

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for lonely Scarlett, it represents freedom, an escape from her abusive father and from her own dark past.

Still, Scarlett is too scared of her father to leave Trisda. Until she is kidnapped by her wild younger sister Donatella and a dangerous yet oh-so-seductive sailor named Julian and taken to the mystical Isla de los Suenos, the site of this year's Caraval. When they arrive, her sister immediately disappears. Since protecting Tella is all she knows, Scarlett is forced to join forces with Julian and find her before the evil Master of Caraval does...

You’ll hear a lot of pretty words used to describe Caraval – spellbounding, mystical, magical, breathtaking, atmospheric – pretty much all are accurate and true. Caraval is one of those stories that is so visually stunning, that for a debut author, Garber has cemented herself as an author whose words truly leap off the page.

So what’s all the fuss about? What we have is our heroine, Scarlett, who haslonged to participate in Caraval, the legendary magical circus-come-scavenger hunt. When she is gifted three tickets – one for her, one for her sister Tella, and one for the fiancee she’s never met. But when Tella goes missing on their arrival and Scarlett is left with Julian, the enigmatic sailor who whisked them to the island, Scarlett must play the game – and win – in order to get her sister back, and alive.

Caraval is full of plot twists, which is part of what makes the book so delectable. If you think you’re getting the stock standard YA fantasy, then you’re wrong. I was so caught up in ‘playing the game’ with Scarlett and trying to second guess every next step and play that I was completely swept up in the book, and couldn’t put it down. Was it real or not real? Only a game or not? I’ll leave you in suspense and make you go read the book.

The relationship between Tella and Scarlett was amazing, and sadly, I just wanted more and more. As you can tell, Tella isn’t present for a lot of the book, popping every now and again but there was a such a strong sense of love and devotion between the two. They were two incredibly different characters, and at times I felt that there could have been more depth to both. At times I felt Scarlett to be quite a judgemental character, but I was impressed at her determination in never giving up in finding Tella. And a character with synesthesia? I’d never heard of that before now, and at first it was a little confusing, but once I begun to understand Scarlett, it made a great aspect of the novel. Speaking of relationships – I can’t not mention Julian, who was probably my favourite character. I loved the banter between him and Scarlett, and the way he pushed her to be a better person.

There were a few minor niggles that made Caraval a four star instead of five star read, and I hope that they’ll be explored more in coming books (oh please tell me there’s more books!). Firstly is the world building – you get a brief sense of the world that Scarlett lives in, a conglomerate of islands ruled by governors, but you don’t get much beyond that. And I always find fantasy worlds so fascinating, so this left me a little disappointed. I wanted to know more about the culture, the history – from my sense, I got a very Italian vibe, especially with the names and costumes. Look at me, always wanting more!

So if you are wanting a book that is visually rich as it is enchanting, then look no further than Caraval. And if you don’t do it for the story, those covers, am I right?!

A huge big thanks to Hachette Australia who provided me a copy in exchange for review. Caraval is out now in all major bookstores and retailers.

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Five Reasons to Fall in Love: New York Nights by C.J. Duggan

Posted February 4, 2017 by Hannah in New Adult, Reviews / 0 Comments

Five Reasons to Fall in Love: New York Nights by C.J. DugganNew York Nights Series: Heart of the City #2
by C.J. Duggan
Published by Hachette Australia on 1st February 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher, Finished Review Copy
DymocksBooktopiaPublisher
Goodreads

Sarah Williams is a spirited, independent Aussie who has always dreamed of New York City. So when a job opportunity arises to become an au pair for a successful businessman in the heart of Manhattan, Sarah jumps at the chance to follow her dream.

What she didn't bet on was a beautiful newborn and a distant, abrasive man whose eyes hold a million anguished secrets. Determined to care for his daughter and face the challenges of the impossible Ben Worthington, Sarah was always prepared to follow her heart; she just wasn't prepared to lose it to a complicated man like Ben.

It’s not that hard to fall in love with a C.J. Duggan book. They’re always so perfect for any situation – perfect for a long, warm summer’s night with a glass of wine. Perfect for snuggling on a cold winter’s night – with a glass of wine. Perfect for, well, any occasion really. With a C.J. Duggan book, you know what you are getting – romance, adventure and that good fuzzy feeling at the end of it all.

As for New York Nights? Well, it’s definitely one of my favourites, that’s for sure. Okay, okay, I’m purely judging on my “Duggan Boys,” and Ben is Top 3, that’s for sure (what are the other two? Dean and Sean of course, and not necessarily in that order!), but New York Nights has many other qualities that we can discuss too. So if you’re looking for five reasons to pick this little gem up, here we go!

  1. New York, New York! What a Wonderful Town!

New York is one of my favourite cities in the world, and provides the most gorgeous & lush backdrop to Sarah’s story. We see the city through her eyes –  a first timer, fresh off the plane Aussie and it’s exciting to see her experience it for the first time. New York City is beautiful, and there’s a certain magic to it. Of course, it doesn’t help that the book is mainly set in the Village areas near Washington Park – I’d totally die to have a zipcode there!

      2. What’s Lacking in Plot is Made Up for in Characters

Look, not every book needs to have oodles of plot. And as with a lot of contemporary romances, there’s more of a focus here on the main characters themselves, and not necessarily the plot. With New York Nights, what you see is what you get, and what I love about C.J. is she doesn’t beat around the bush – simply, Sarah is an expat au pair for a broody, hardly-ever-present, single Dad with a newborn. While not exactly enthralling stuff for some, what C.J. does is give us characters that make something of it and turn the narrative into a gorgeous story. Sarah is compassionate, a little naive and stubborn. Which clashes perfectly with an equally stubborn Ben who is finding it hard to transition from workaholic into parent. The secondary characters are stars themselves, and you are left wanting just a little bit more so that you can spend time with them all.

        3. Small Town Aussie Girl, Big City Dreams

I can’t help it, I love it. People who seize their independency and seek the world beyond their sphere are my type of people. Don’t get me wrong, if this is not you, then that’s fine as well. But I see so much of myself in a character like Sarah, one who takes the opportunities that come their way with no bars hold and put aside their fears to grab on to it and make something of themselves. With every uncertainty, we saw Sarah’s sense of humour shine through, and her ability to take on any challenge made me so proud.

       4. Warm Fuzzies Galore

Have I said anything about the warm fuzzies this book gives you yet? Probably, but here it is again. New York Nights is full of cute little moments that have you squeeing and sighing all book long.

      5. Did I Mention Ben Worthington Yet?

HA. Of course I have. Maybe ten or fifteen times, but listen up, I’m going to tell you again. WHY ARE ARCHITECTS JUST SO DAMN ATTRACTIVE? There’s a running joke with my friends that “I’m going to find myself an architect.” Sadly, thus far in life they’ve all been in books. It must be because they’re creative and good at math. But man alive, Ben Worthington was swoon material to the max. He was that broody Alpha male without the over the top you get in a lot of romances. He was kind, he was caring, and why does a baby make guys 1456478% more attractive? I loved how Ben’s relationship with little Grace was adorable and sweet and swoon.

Basically? If you need a pick me up, C.J’s got you covered. I can’t wait to read the other Heart of the City books – Paris Lights is out now, and London Bound is due in March and there you have it, a trio of wonderful reads that will leave you lusting for more.

(legit an accurate representation of me after reading this book)

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