The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

the flatshare.jpgTitle: The Flatshare

Author: Beth O’Leary

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Quercus/Hachette

Published: 23rd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 394

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A quirky love story from a fresh new talent. The MUST READ book for 2019

‘The new Jojo Moyes … This has all the ingredients of Me Before You‘ COSMOPOLITAN

‘Funny and winning … a Richard Curtis rom-com that also has its feet firmly planted in real life. A real treat’ Stylist

Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly-imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

~*~

When it comes to rom-com movies and books, I find that I enjoy the clever ones, and the light-hearted but real ones – where the characters have unapologetic flaws, and are quite human, or that almost satirise the traditional elements of romance in a fun way. I like it when it does so in a way that the tropes are present, yet can sometimes be revealed for how silly they are and this leads to the romance having more oomph for me, where the lead characters don’t have to change for the other, have their in jokes and are shown to be human.

Movies that come to mind that do this are the Bridget Jones films, and several English ones – where sacrifice might be made yet not at the expense of losing a sense of oneself. So when I received a copy of Beth O’Leary’s book, The Flatshare, I was intrigued as to how a rom-com between two people who don’t meet until well into the book (let’s face it, this was inevitable from the get-go, but when it happened, it was no less amusing) would happen. But happen it did.

When Tiffy breaks up with her boyfriend, Justin, she has to move out – and when she sees Leon’s offer on Gumtree – a flatshare where she has it nights and weekends, and he has it in the day – she jumps at the chance. And so begins a strange friendship, where Tiffy and Leon communicate through a series of Post-It notes as they navigate the strange life they lead – sharing a flat but not knowing each other.  At first, the notes are awkward requests, as they try to negotiate terms and space – and each chapter is told alternately – one by Tiffy, the next by Leon, each chapter revealing something about each flatmate, and unfurling a growing friendship, that becomes cheeky and eventually, flirty.

It has the humour of good British  movies like Love Actually, Bridget Jones and a fast paced wit that comes from Gilmore Girls, yet is a uniquely formed story and cast that all have their own strengths, and flaws – and the way that they all come together when someone needs help is lovely – it has a real feel of family and friendship to it, and I felt that having Tiffy and Leon’s relationship grow from awkward strangers to a friendship, and eventually, to love, gave the book a realistic and well-rounded feel that many readers will relate to.

The Bad Mother’s Book Club by Keris Stainton

the bad mothers book clubTitle: The Bad Mother’s Book Club

Author: Keris Stainton

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Trapeze/Hachette

Published: 23rd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 266

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: This book club only reads wine labels – the laugh-out-loud novel from ebook bestseller Keris Stainton

Since moving to the Liverpudlian seaside after her husband’s career change, Emma Chance’s life consists of the following: long walks on the beach (with the dog), early nights (with the kids) and Netflix (no chill).

Bored and lonely, when Emma is cordially invited to the exclusive cool school-mums’ book club, hosted by Head of PTA and footballer’s wife, Jools Jackson, she thinks her luck may finally be about to change. She soon realises she may have made a grave mistake when she realises it’s all about books, and less about wine and gossip – but it’s always better to stick things out, isn’t it?

Or not.

After a few months and a few awkward moments involving a red wine on white carpet accident and a swear-word incident involving Jools’s daughter, Emma is ungraciously kicked out of the book club. Exhausted and exiled, she decides it’s about time she fights back against the shame and humiliation. Enlisting the help of some similar-thinking mums, Emma sets up her own book club – no cleaners, polite conversation or reading required: this is the BAD MOTHER’S BOOK CLUB.

 

~*~

 

Living near Liverpool after moving for her husband’s new job as a football manager, Emma Chance finds herself in a new environment to navigate – school parking politics, the PTA and managing to be herself whilst at the same time, putting a good face forward for her husband as he works with the footballer husband of Jools Jackson, who invites Emma to her exclusive book club. However, this book club turns out to be more than what Emma bargained for, and an incident involving Jool’s daughter sees her kicked out. So with fellow mum’s – Beth and Hanan – they start their own book club – The Bad Mother’s Book Club as they all try to navigate school, being a mum and the delicate politics of the PTA and surviving Jools – that is, until something Jools has been trying to hide comes out and she finds that letting Emma in is only going to help her.

In a refreshing story about female friendship, this novel combines light-hearted elements and humour with the struggles that we don’t always want others to see, but that we can’t always hide and eventually, need to ask for help with. It is not depressing, though has a few moments of gravitas that hit home that anyone can be vulnerable and imperfect – but it shows that these moments are okay because whoever we are, we all have them.

It is a great read for anytime – for sitting at home, a holiday or just a touch of light reading – there are many layers in this book to be enjoyed and it is nice to see imperfect characters of all types who acknowledge their flaws and where characters are allowed to be themselves and have concerns, and talk them out without being dismissed. Between mystery appointments and school, the women of the book club, Emma Beth and Hanan must also manage to find a way to raise their children and ensure each child is not ignored. For Emma, this means doing whatever she can to help her son settle in at school, ad watching him struggle, whilst her daughter, Ruby, pushes herself with more work and stress than Emma first realises until each family joins together for a trip for a school project and barriers are broken down and they come together to help each other – another element of the book I enjoyed, showing that everyone is different and has a different path, but no matter what these differences in race, gender or sexuality, friendships can be formed through common bonds of parenthood and hobbies – in the case of this novel.

I enjoyed taking a break from my usual hefty reading in historical fiction, fantasy and literary fiction to explore this world, where friendship is the key to the story, and it is something that we need more of for all readers – whatever their age or gender, and wherever they are at their stage of life.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames

7 OR 8 DEATHS.jpgTitle: The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna

Author: Juliet Grames

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Published: 23rd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 438

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A perfect book club and holiday read that crosses from mountainside Calabrian villages in the early 20th century to Hartford, Connecticut after the immigration boom and will appeal to fans of Elena Ferrante, CAPTAIN CORRELLI’S MANDOLINALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE and BROOKLYN.

When I tell you Stella Fortuna was a special girl, I hope you aren’t thinking small-town special. Other people would underestimate Stella Fortuna during her long life, and not one of them didn’t end up regretting it.

Hundred-year-old Stella Fortuna sits alone in her house in Wethersfield, Connecticut, crocheting blankets and angrily ignoring her sister, Tina, who lives across the street. Born into abject poverty in an Italian village, Stella Fortuna’s name might mean Lucky Star, but for the last century, her life has been defined by all the times she might have died. Up until now, Stella’s close bond with her sister has been one of the few things to survive her tumultuous life, but something has happened, and nobody can understand what it might be. Does the one life and many (near) deaths of Stella Fortuna have secrets still to be revealed, even to those who believe they are closest to her?

By turns a family saga, a ghost story, and a coming-of cranky-old-age tale, Juliet Grames’s THE SEVEN OR EIGHT DEATHS OF STELLA FORTUNA lays bare the costs of migration and patriarchal values, but also of the love and devotion that can sustain a family through generations, in a sprawling 20th century saga of a young woman with a fire inside her which cannot be put out.

~*~

Books with this kind of title seem to be a kind of trend right now – The Seven Lives of Evelyn Hardcastle, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (by different authors), and now The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames, which covers one hundred years of a life that begins in a Calabrian village, and finishes the story in Hartford, Connecticut. Stella Fortuna’s many near death experiences are a mystery – how she survives being eviscerated, being crushed by a door, bleeding out and many other near misses including fate intervening to ensure she does not board a ship that goes down at sea with no survivors, to the final almost death as a very old woman. So what causes them? Does her name – Stella Fortuna, which translates to lucky star suggest something more than just pure luck? Is there something keeping her from dying, like a ghost?  Throughout the novel, there is the sense that something is always going to coming, with long lulls that lead into each near death – some very long ones that whilst interesting, perhaps could have been divided up or shortened for ease of reading. However, I can see why each chapter was the length it was as well, so it did work for the story, but page breaks are always nice, so you know when you can set it aside temporarily and come back to find out what is going to happen.

Each event is intricately written – with the reminders of each previous near death forming physically and emotionally for Stella and her family as they see her through her life and deaths, especially her sister Tina, with whom her relationship is constantly changing. At the heart of this rather unique and highly unusual novel is a family saga of immigration, life and death, and secrets that family keeps or questions that do not always have an answer.

I read this in over the course of four hours – so it is engrossing and intriguing, but I’m in two minds about it. On one hand, it is not one I am likely to revisit – despite the intriguing storyline, there were times when I felt like too much was happening to lead up to the death, and perhaps things could have been condensed. I felt like the first births of her children meandered a little, and then the rest were a brief run down to fit them all into the story. For me, whilst a very good chapter, this was one area where I felt some more balance between each child would be useful. However, I can also see that some of them were to play a more significant role towards the end than others, and that is why more time was spent on them.

My other thought it that this is the kind of book that someone might need to read a couple of times to fully appreciate it and understand – to peel back the layers, so to speak. Given there are many books like this out there, I may not have the chance to revisit this one and take everything in for a second time, but I do believe there is an audience out there for this book.

A work of fiction, it is written as though by a relative, a grandchild of Stella, who is never truly identified as Stella recounts her long life and all the strange and intricate events to her as a family history, so it almost reads as a biographical piece throughout. The flow was good – maintained by very little intrusion of the person putting Stella’s story to paper, apart from the beginning and end, where the story is introduced and concluded.

I hope other readers enjoy this book and find something interesting in it.

Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley

Eliza Rose.jpgTitle: Eliza Rose

Author: Lucy Worsley

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:The captivating debut children’s novel from popular television historian Lucy Worsley is an exciting and charming glimpse behind the scenes of the Tudor court.

I would often wonder about my future husband. A knight? A duke? A stable boy?
Of course the last was just a wicked fancy.

Eliza Rose Camperdowne is young and headstrong, but she knows her duty well. As the only daughter of a noble family, she must one day marry a man who is very grand and very rich.

But Fate has other plans. When Eliza becomes a maid of honour, she’s drawn into the thrilling, treacherous court of Henry the Eighth …

Is her glamorous cousin Katherine Howard a friend or a rival?

And can a girl choose her own destiny in a world ruled by men?

~*~

The Tudor years were fascinating, grim and violent, and the stories that are told don’t always reveal everything that happened behind the scenes of court – but rather, what Henry VIII wanted people to see and how the court projected itself. Eliza Rose Camperdowne – a fictional character who will become caught up in the intrigue and deception of court under two queens – Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, whose untimely fate concludes the book. Eliza’s world is changed when a marriage falls apart and she is sent away to train to be a lady in waiting, and then assigned with her cousin, Katherine Howard to become ladies in waiting to Anne of Cleves. Yet over the years of that marriage, the king, Henry, is taken with Katherine and divorces Anne to wed Eliza’s cousin.

What follows is the court and its intrigues seen through the eyes of Eliza, as she watches rules being broken, where for some, this can have harsh punishments, but for others, seems to have very few consequences until it is too late. Woven throughout is Eliza’s desire to break free of tradition as much as she can – and marry for love, not duty, as she has been trained to do her entire life.

In this sense, Lucy shows the headstrong, and feminist ideas of women throughout the ages, even though they may not have had the words to describe it, the feelings were still there for some of them. She effectively contrasts this with the demure women like Anne, and those who cling to tradition, like Katherine, but who use their wiles and some trickery it seems to reach the goals they have been aiming for: to marry King Henry VIII and become his queen. Katherine was wife five of six – the second to be beheaded for adultery, so the charges went. And after her death, fears are that Eliza could be tainted and tarred with the same brush and she must find a way to change her fate.

Filled with powerful women of all kinds and personalities, the male characters for the most part, are not heavily present in this book, but where they are, they definitely have an impact on the story and its outcomes. All the necessary characters perform their roles really well and it is a great historical read for those interested in Tudor history.

Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda

lake of tears.jpgTitle: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st April 2001

Format: Paperback

Pages: 120

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Lief, Barda and their unruly new companion Jasmine are on a perilous quest to find the seven gems stolen from the magic Belt of Deltora.

The golden topaz has already been found. But only when all the gems have been restored to the Belt can their land be freed from the dark power of the evil Shadow Lord. To find the second stone, the three heroes must travel through territory ruled by the monster-sorceress Thaegan.

Their journey is filled with treachery, trickery and danger, and at its end they must face the hideous guardian of the enchanted Lake of Tears.

~*~

Picking up soon after they have found the first stone for the Belt of Deltora, Lief, Barda and Jasmine are on their way to the Lake of Tears to discover the second one, and where they will meet the first of Thaegan’s children, Nij and Doj, who speak a strange, haunting backwards language that gives a false sense of security to the travellers, following a broken sign that is very misleading. This is just one more dangerous step on the adventure to reunite the stones of the Belt of Deltora. This time, Lief and his companions seek the ruby – and from there, the next five to complete the belt and restore unity to Del.

I’m zipping through these books rather quickly and am trying to review each one individually before writing a wrap up post for the whole omnibus series edition I have next to me so I can move onto the second and third sets in the series. Again, this is a fast-moving book, where Lief and Barda must quickly adapt to trusting Jasmine and her ability to help them navigate the land of Del to find the stones.

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Lief, Jasmine and Barda take charge from this book onwards, and we still haven’t met the future ruler of Del, presumably still in hiding with Endon and his wife, where those who tried to kill them sixteen years before cannot find them – I will be keen to see how this is uncovered later on in the series and where the next two Deltora Quest sets take us. The perils that Lief and his companions face are heart-stopping as they work to escape being eaten by Nij and Doj (or Jin and Jod as it turns out, once they realise the two are speaking backwards), and must then face the prospect of the rest of Thaegan’s children in later books.

This is a fun series, and filled with adventure, friendship and wonder. It is one that has been loved for over a decade, and will hopefully continue to be loved and read for many years to come, if my conversations with fellow readers are anything to go by, as well as the constant lack of it being out of the library when I was much younger. So I am experiencing it now for the first time, and the magic is having as big an impact on me as it would have done had I read it as a teenager or young adult. This is what makes a good book, in my opinion. One that can transcend age and time for all readers, and that will engage on many levels and entertain many.

I’m heading into book three, The City of Rats, and hope to have that review up soon.

The Forests of Silence (Deltora Quest #1) by Emily Rodda

Title: The Forests of Silence (Deltora Quest #1)

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 2000

Format: Paperback

Pages: 120

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Deltora is a land of monsters and magic …

The evil Shadow Lord is plotting to invade Deltora and enslave its people. All that stands against him is the magic Belt of Deltora, with its seven gems of great and mysterious power. When the gems are stolen and hidden in dark, terrible places throughout the kingdom, the Shadow Lord triumphs and Deltora is lost.

In secrecy, with only a hand-drawn map to guide them, two unlikely companions set out on a perilous quest. Determined to find the lost gems and rid their land of the tyrant, they struggle towards their first goal — the sinister Forests of Silence.

~*~

Opening with the death of a king, and the ascension of his son to the throne, Deltora Quest opens with a bang, introducing Jarred and Endon – as friends first. Yet when Endon is made king in light of his father’s death, Jarred learns that there is more to the removal of the Belt of Deltora than the history books tell. When he tries to warn his friend, Jarred is forced to run, and it will be seven years before they meet again and uncover a nefarious plot to take over the kingdom.

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Fast forward sixteen years, and Lief, Jarred’s son, heads off on a quest with a former palace guard, Barda, to find the stones of the Belt of Deltora that have been flung throughout the land. Whilst seeking the first stone, a topaz, they meet Jasmine, Kree and Filli, who join them on their quest. But will Lief and his companions succeed?

The start of a promising series for children aged eight to twelve, I have come to this several years after it was published, having recently stumbled across the omnibus editions in the bookstores. For me, it was a quick read, but enjoyable all the same. Each character has strengths and weaknesses that enable the plot to move forward, and it is the start of an epic adventure series that will have readers of all ages enthralled.

Introducing readers to Jarred and Endon first leads into the quest that Lief goes on, and gives a much needed, brief yet important background to the story that is to come. Of course, the main story is about Lief and his quest across the next seven books, which I am looking forward to exploring as I read the rest of the series. A friendship forms between Lief, Jasmine and Barda as they venture through the Forests of Silence in search of the first gem. But whilst Lief and Barda know they need Jasmine’s help, with the state the kingdom has been in for over twenty years, they do not know who they can trust, apart from each other.

As they traverse the forests to uncover what they seek, and then had off towards The Lake of Tears and more dangers and uncertainty that lie ahead, the troupe will no doubt encounter more challenges, and become closer as they head off on a quest to save the kingdom and restore the rightful monarch to the throne of Del.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of these books and will review each novel on its own, and finally, a wrap up post for the entire omnibus once I have done this. Look for more exciting Deltora reviews from me!

Book Bingo Eight – Double Bingo: A Book Set in an exotic location and a book by an author you’ve never read before 

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Hello, and welcome to week eight of book bingo with Amanda and Theresa. This week, I’m taking on another double bingo, and ticking off a book set in an exotic location, and a book by an author I have never read before. In all honesty, both books could fit into the second category, and one could also fit into the science fiction category, but it’s still only April, and I still have many books to read, review and that will hopefully fit into what I have left on my card. Next fortnight, I will be posting another double bingo about a book with a place in the title, and a book set on the Australian coast after both the posts have gone live for the blog tour that it they are part of.

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Here are the rows in the card this week’s choices come from:

Across

Row Four:

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Outback:

Book set on the Australian Coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Mountains: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – AWW2019

Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

Row Five:

Written by an Australian Man:

Written by an Australian Woman:Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35:

Written by an author over the age of 65:

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

Down:

Row Five:

Prize winning book:

Book written by an Australian woman more than ten years ago:

Themes of fantasy: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni – AWW2019

Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

Comedy: Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

Square One: Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

four dead queens

Okay, so I may have cheated a tad here, but to me, an exotic location is anything – real or imagined – that is either not my every day or that I have never experienced, something that is new to me and has a sense of the unusual, or the unknown but to be revealed and learned about. Quadara to me fits this, the setting for Four Dead Queens, because each Quadrant is different and therefore, not only exotic to the reader, but also to the characters, who never really venture into each other’s quadrants or meet each other but rely on information and supplies passed to them through those involved in trade. This is also a debut author, and like many books this year, would have fitted into the author I’ve never read before as well, and also had touches of science fiction mixed in with the fantasy, but I am hoping for a different title for that book.

Square Two: Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

the dof runner

Bren MacDibble is another new author to me, and I had plenty to choose from for this category. It was one that didn’t fit into many others, which is why it has found its home here. Looking at an Australia devastated by a germ that wipes out many of the food sources, a brother and sister – who have different mothers but the same father, set out to find Emery’s Indigenous family for help. It brings diversity together in many ways – race, and personality types and the way people unite in times of difficulty or turn on each other. Coming to Bren’s writing for the first time, this one held my attention completely and is one I recommend to people to read.

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I’m planning another double book bingo for next fortnight, and that should hopefully knock off all the squares I have ticked off so far, or be getting close to that stage. See you then!

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