London Bound by CJ Duggan

london bound

Title: London Bound

Author: CJ Duggan

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th March, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 322

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: Like so many of her university friends, Kate Brown is London bound, but unlike her friends – who had the chance to enjoy the beer, sights and attractions of the UK – Kate is instead visiting her grandmother (who may or may not be the devil).

Wanting nothing more than to be a normal, independent twenty-something living it up in ol’ London town, Kate finds herself a prisoner in her grandmother’s Kensington terrace, daydreaming about the holiday that could have been. But when Kate is almost run over by the ridiculously good looking Jack Baker, it leaves her wondering if being out and about is such a good idea after all, especially when she catches herself laughing at his jokes.

One thing Kate knows for sure is that she has to avoid Jack at all costs. But with her balcony facing his, you can pretty much guarantee Kate’s London adventure is going to be anything but boring . . .

~*~

aww2017-badgeNovels that centre on a romance aren’t usually what I enjoy reading, but C.J. Duggan has managed to balance the romance aspect with character and plot development well. In London Bound, Kate Brown has moved to London to experience the city for herself, and work on her blog. Living with her grandmother, who seems to be the devil incarnate to Kate, she has several encounters with neighbour, Jack, who holds back much of his life as he gets to know her. When Kate stumbles across her grandmother’s secret room, she is inspired and begins to flesh out her blog, showing it to Jack and watching it grow. Inevitably, a romance develops and they hit a rocky moment, that is quickly resolved, and like many romance novels, results in a happy ending.

Whilst the romance factor in this book didn’t capture my interest, it was the London setting and Kate the writer that made the book enjoyable for me, even though I could guess how things would be resolved at the end. Jack was a more interesting character than I anticipated, and he was rather entertaining in the bar and at other moments, and during his interactions with Nana Joy.I found that each character had their own growth within the story – whether it was realising something about themselves or other people, or a combination of both, and to me, that made it more than just a romance, it had a romantic love but also a familial connection and love and a friendship.

Kate and Jack’s romance and subsequent relationship didn’t happen as soon as they met, or as soon as the novel began. Instead, it slowly developed along with the plot and Kate’s imagesblogging plans, and her desire to see more of London than the rooms she occupied.

The refreshing thing about this book was the meat to the plot and characters. The mysterious male figure was a bit of a trope but at least Jack had a pleasant side, which made him likeable. I’m still not a total fan but it was an enjoyable and quick read, and suited for fans of the author and genre.

Booktopia

Tattletale by Sarah J Naughton

tattletale.jpg

Title: Tattletale

Author: Sarah J Naughton

Genre: Ficiton/Thriller

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 330

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: One day changes Jody’s life forever.

She has shut herself down, haunted by her memories and unable to trust anyone. But then she meets Abe, the perfect stranger next door and suddenly life seems full of possibility and hope.

One day changes Mags’s life forever.

After years of estrangement from her family, Mags receives a shocking phone call. Her brother Abe is in hospital and no-one knows what happened to him. She meets his fiancé Jody, and gradually pieces together the ruins of the life she left behind. But the pieces don’t quite seem to fit…

~*~

After a mysterious beginning, the reader is introduced to Mags and Jody, the sister and the fiancé of the victim, Abe. Beginning where they meet at the hospital following Abe’s fall, Mags meets Jody as the fiancé she never knew about, and a myriad of stories and reasons for her brother’s injuries that are explained away as an accident. Frustrated, Mags starts digging deeper into the lives of the other residents of the charity home her brother has been living in to uncover what really happened. As the story unfolds, secrets of each character are revealed, and one character’s past is cleverly revealed through third person flash backs amidst the first person narrative that do not directly identify whose story is being told. The big question hanging over this novel: Was Abe pushed and murdered, did he fall or did he commit suicide? And who will find out and reveal all?

Both Mags and Jody come from troubled, broken backgrounds – and show how each has dealt with them – where one is completely broken and child-like, the other is assertive and overly confident, even a bit pushy. It was an interesting way to illustrate the outcomes of abuse, and how people are treated based on biases and perceptions of them, and in a subliminal way, how wealth and money can influence outcomes and ensure the victim feels at fault – unless the truth comes out.

It was the kind of novel where as a reader, I was constantly at odds with whom to like and believe – which is the purpose of a psychological thriller. In a way, all the characters were playing games and hiding secrets, and most, such as Jody, appeared to have a reason to, and past horrors that impacted their current story line.

Following a path of twists and turns to the conclusion, the story shows just how flawed the act of manipulation of people and the law can be, and that people can move past a trauma, and show that they are more than who people assume they are based on a few stories of hearsay to protect the reputation of those who have the power.

It leaves much open to interpretation as well – and you may find your thinking about whom the victim is and who the suspect is will be questioned at some stages. Why would some characters be hiding the truth? As these facts are revealed, the path towards those who did not commit the crime but are merely witnesses becomes clearer, though the suspect is left as a shadowy figure for quite a while. It is cleverly done, as is the finale of the novel, and the ending that feels hopeful for both Jody and Mags.

An intriguing novel, that slowly reveals the true nature of the main characters and how they interact with each other, and what makes them who they are. If you enjoy thrillers, this is an intriguing novel to pick up.

Booktopia

Booktopia

The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

the uncommoners.jpg

Title: The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence

Author: Jennifer Bell

Genre: Fantasy/Fiction

Publisher: Corgi

Published: August 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: An uncommonly good and magical tale of Ivy’s adventures in Lundinor, a spellbinding city underneath London where ordinary objects have amazing powers. Welcome to a world where nothing is quite as it seems . . .

Dive head first into the world of Lundinor in this magical adventure story for anyone with a Hogwarts-shaped hole in their life.

When their grandmother Sylvie is rushed to hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her annoying big brother Seb cannot imagine what adventure lies in store. Returning to Sylvie’s house, they find it has been ransacked by unknown intruders – before a mysterious feather scratches an ominous message onto the kitchen wall. A very strange policeman turns up on the scene, determined to apprehend them . . . with a toilet brush. Ivy and Seb make their escape – only to find themselves in a completely uncommon world, where ordinary objects have amazing powers. The forces of evil are closing in fast, and Ivy and Seb must get to the bottom of a family secret . . . before it’s too late.

 

~*~

The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence draws the reader in from the first page. With their parents away at work, Ivy and Seb Sparrow are staying with their Granma Sylvie. When an accident lands her in hospital, Ivy and Seb are drawn into a world that lies below London, an uncommon world where common objects do extraordinary things. They are intrigued and scared, and accompanied by Ethel Dread, and Valian Kaye, are thrown into the chaos of a group of uncommoners in search of something that is claimed to be linked to their family – and Granma Sylvie. Soon, Ivy, Seb and Valian have lots of people chasing them, from those who wish to see justice done and find out what really happened on the Twelfth Night 1969, when Granma Sylvie disappeared, to those who wish to harm their family. They only have a few days to fix things and save their family, so Ivy and Seb are up against the clock – an uncommon clock, that is.

The Uncommoners evokes the tradition of hidden fantasy worlds that sometimes mirror our own, or that can be hidden in plain sight such as Narnia, or the wizarding world of Harry Potter, or even Neil Gaiman’s London Below, yet Lundinor still has a charm of it’s own that is separate from each of these other worlds, a place where magic enhances the every day and where you never know what kind of race of the dead you will meet – will they be good or bad, or somewhere in between? Ivy and Seb must navigate this world after being thrust into it, much like the Pevensie children in Narnia or Harry Potter in the wizarding world when he first finds out he is a wizard. I feel like this is just the beginning of a series of books that will hopefully become as well loved as Harry Potter or Narnia – any books that invite children into a magical world are lovely and this is no exception. Whilst it may be in good company with Harry Potter and Narnia, it has distinct differences and the world of Lundinor has a Victorian England feel to it, evoking nursery rhymes, and the old markets and streets that populate the world of Charles Dickens. It is a world that I enjoyed visiting and that I hope to return to soon if this is indeed a series, as it ended with that sort of feeling.

An ideal read for anyone aged nine and older who enjoys fantasy and new worlds and magic, Ivy and Seb are awesome characters and I liked their growth over the novel and the way they cared about each other.

Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock

murder in midwinter.jpg

Title: Murder in Midwinter

Author: Fleur Hitchcock

Genre: Fiction/Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Nosy Crow

Published: 23rd November, 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 254

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: When Maya takes a photo from the top of a bus, she has no idea of the trouble it will bring. The bright shop window is gorgeous but the couple arguing in front of it look as though they want to kill each other. And when the flash goes off, they look as though they want to kill her too…

Then a body turns up. The police suggest Maya should go away for a while – somewhere remote, somewhere safe. Her aunt’s farm in the Welsh mountains is a perfect place to hide, and soon it’s snowing hard enough to cut them off completely. No one can get in and n one can get out. But does that mean there’s nothing to fear? 

~*~

A murder mystery for children ages nine and up, Murder in Midwinter introduces future fans of crime fiction and the possible future authors within this genre to a world of solving crimes. As it is aimed at children aged nine and older, there is no blood and gore, thus it fits into the cozy crime genre, like the works of Agatha Christie, Vaseem Khan, Alexander McCall-Smith and the recent Anthony Horowitz novel, Magpie Murders. Through Maya’s eyes, the reader experiences the crime, and the fear of having criminals after them, and not knowing what to do. Using their own initiative though, Maya and her cousin will find a way to get through the next few days and a way to help the police solve the crime.

Maya’ world is turned upside down when she sees the body pulled from the Thames and her sister doesn’t show up for a school concert. With the identifying streak of white in her black hair, Maya is going to be easy to find. She is sent away after her sister is found, but the fear is still there. Hours, and a long distance away from her family, Maya feels isolated in Wales, and having to deal with a cousin who hates her, and a sense of isolation from being trapped inside. When the huge snowstorms come and block people in the village and farm, and block anyone form using the roads, Maya feels a false sense of security, and hopes that this means that everything will be over soon and she can go back home.

A delightful and quick read, Maya’s adventure in crime solving for children is a great way to introduce eager readers to the genre. In the midst of a charming winter and Christmas setting, the reader and characters are thrown into a fast paced plot that takes exciting twists and turns to reach the resolution and revelations at the end of the novel. It is also a journey of finding new friends an family coming together. A story where Maya stands alone when she can abut receives help when she needs to – a wonderful heroine for young girls to identify with. Written from her point of view, it is much more accessible for the age group than other crime novels, depending on the individual reading level.

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee

amostmagicalgirl

 

Title: A Most Magical Girl

Author: Karen Foxlee

Genre: Children’s/Fantasy

Publisher: Bonnier/Piccadilly (Allen and Unwin)

Published: 28th September, 2016

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Magical machines, wizards, witches, mysterious underworlds, a race against time – and two most magical girls

Annabel Grey has been brought up to be a very proper Victorian young lady. But being ‘proper’ isn’t always easy – especially when you can sometimes see marvellous (as well as terrifying) things in puddles. But parlour tricks such as these are nothing compared to the world that Annabel is about to enter…

 

After the rather sudden departure of her mother, Annabel is sent to live with her aunts. They claim to be Shoreditch witches, and from a very old family line of them too. They’re keen to introduce Annabel to their world of transformation, potions and flying broomsticks (which seem to have strong personalities of their own) but are horrified when Annabel announces not only does she not know any magic, young ladies shouldn’t believe in such things. But before Annabel has time to decide whether she does or not, she is swept into an urgent quest.

 

The trees of Highgate have been whispering to Kitty – an extraordinary urchin of a girl, who Annabel’s aunts seem very fond of – and so have the fairies. They talk of a terrible, dark magic that wants to devour all of London. And of a most magical girl who might be able to stop it…

 

This sparkling and enchanting story is sure to bewitch you, so curl up in front of the fire, and prepare to be swept away…

~*~

 

Karen Foxlee’s latest offering for children is The Most Magical Girl. Set in Victorian London, Annabel Grey is sent to live with her great-aunts, the Shoreditch witches, away from the world she knows. Away from her friend, Isabelle Rutherford, and away from the school she knows at Miss Finch’s Academy for Young Ladies, she is thrust into a world of magic. It is a world that her mother abandoned, and a world that is in danger from Mr Angel and his shadowlings. Together with the betwixter girl who visits her aunts, Kitty, Annabel must journey to Under London and along a perilous journey to find the Morever Wand, also known as The White Wand.

This journey is fraught with danger, danger that Annabel is unprepared for and that she must learn to cope with as she goes. Like Ophelia and The Marvellous Boy, Karen Foxlee has created a world of wonder and magic that parallels the real world, and both exist seamlessly alongside each other. Annabel’s journey from the life she knew to the life she was destined for. Together, Kitty and Annabel find their way through the dangers of Under London, and to a climax that reveals more about Annabel than she had ever wished to know.

Aimed at ages nine to twelve, this book is suited to anyone who enjoys magic in their stories. A quick read, it kept me enthralled and entertained to the last pages, and had me wishing for the answers Annabel was waiting for at the end. The absence of her mother throughout the novel gave Annabel the drive she needed to unlock her powers. The Victorian London setting was just as magical as the real magic of the Great and Benevolent Magical Society in the pages.

This is an excellent read for lovers of magic and fantasy.

The Safest Place in London by Maggie Joel

I received a copy from the publisher for review

 

safest place

Title: The Safest Place in London

Author: Maggie Joel

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Published: 24th August 2016/September 2016 release

Format: Paperback, also available in eBook

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Two frightened children, two very different mothers, and one night of terrifying Blitz bombing during World War Two. And when the bombs stop falling, which families’ lives will be changed forever?

On a frozen January evening in 1944, Nancy Levin, and her three-year-old daughter, Emily, flee their impoverished East London home as an air raid siren sounds. Not far away, 39- year-old Diana Meadows and her own child, three-year-old Abigail, are lost in the black-out as the air raid begins. Finding their way in the jostling crowd to the mouth of the shelter they hurry to the safety of the underground tube station. Mrs Meadows, who has so far sat out the war in the safety of London’s outer suburbs, is terrified – as much by the prospect of sheltering in an East End tube station as of experiencing a bombing raid first hand.

Far away Diana’s husband, Gerald Meadows finds himself in a tank regiment in North Africa while Nancy’s husband, Joe Levin has narrowly survived a torpedo in the Atlantic and is about to re-join his ship. Both men have their own wars to fight but take comfort in the knowledge that their wives and children, at least, remain safe.

But in wartime, ordinary people can find themselves taking extreme action – risking everything to secure their own and their family’s survival, even at the expense of others.

~*~

The Safest Place in London is beautifully written, evocative and yet another wonderful look at the home front of World War Two, and what ordinary people did just to survive. Part one of the book is title “Underground”, and explores the night two mothers and their children from vastly separate parts of London, seek refuge in an air raid shelter in the East End. As the night wears on, the chapters flick seamlessly back and forth between each mother and how they are experiencing the night. For Nancy, this has happened before and has been a part of her life for much of her daughter’s life. For Diana, lost with her child and away from the safety of Buckinghamshire, this is the first time they have been in this situation. As the night unfolds, each woman flashes back to the days, weeks and months that have led them to this situation, and they reflect on what they have had to do to ensure the survival of their respective children whilst their husbands are away fighting the war. As the night wears on, fear grows and unexpected guests appear, resulting in an unforeseen disaster the changes the course of the novel.

In the second part, titled “Overground”, the journeys of the Levin and Meadows husbands – Joe and Gerald – are related, and take the reader up to the tragic ending to part one, and the ensuing consequences of the choices made by one mother in light of what had happened that night in London.

Maggie Joel’s novel shows that sometimes home is not the safe haven it usually is in times of war, and that the home front of a nation at war can sometimes be just as dangerous, deadly and fraught with trouble as the battlefields in far off countries that have been pulled into the ravages of war. The title made me both hopeful and wary – it made me hope for the safety of the innocent people hiding from the bombs, but filled me with trepidation and the possibility that something awful could happen at any moment. A remarkable novel that deals with the human condition in time of war, it allows the reader to experience this and had me reading late into the night to find out the motivations of each character, and if this would ever come out.

The Safest Place in London evokes a wide range of emotions, showing the flaws of the characters and what they feel they must do to survive the war. Exploring this side of the home front, where the bulk of the novel takes place on one night, Maggie Joel’s novel shows the reality of war from both sides – the home front and the battlefields, soldiers and mothers and children caught up in an air raid. It is a novel that evokes a wide range of emotions for the flawed characters who must make decisions to help their families and make a decision in the heat of the moment – a moment that can allow someone to act in a way they may never have acted before this night that was supposed to take place in the safest place in London.

Maggie’s Kitchen by Caroline Beecham

9781760293048

 

 

I received a copy from the publisher for review

 

Title: Maggie’s Kitchen

Author: Caroline Beecham

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 27/7/2016

RRP: $29.99

Format: Paperback

Pages: 391

Synopsis: They might all travel the same scarred and shattered streets on their way to work, but once they entered Maggie’s Kitchen, it was somehow as if the rest of the world didn’t exist.

When the Ministry of Food urgently calls for the opening of British Restaurants to feed tired and hungry Londoners during World War II, Maggie Johnson is close to realising a long-held dream.

But after struggling through government red tape and triumphantly opening its doors, Maggie’s Kitchen soon encounters a most unexpected problem. Her restaurant has become so popular with London’s exhausted workers, that Maggie simply can’t get enough supplies to keep up with demand for food, without breaking some of the rules.

With the support of locals, and the help of twelve-year-old Robbie, a street urchin, and Janek, a Polish refugee dreaming of returning to his native land, the resourceful Maggie evades the first threats of closure from the Ministry. As she fights to keep her beloved Kitchen open, Maggie also tries desperately to reunite Robbie with his missing father as well as manage her own family’s expectations. Until she can no longer ignore the unacknowledged hopes of her own heart, and the discovery that some secrets have the power to change everything.

 

~*~

 

Maggie’s Kitchen, another book set during World War Two, but this time in London, during the Blitz, tells the story of Maggie Johnson and her British Restaurant venture. As Maggie struggles with the conflict of following her dreams in the wake of personal devastation, it is following her heart and doing something to help the nation in a time of war. Though she is beset by a magnitude of problems related to getting the supplies she is supposed to receive, Maggie uses her initiative to find a way to boost her supplies, even if it means breaking some rules to do so.

Maggie is joined in her venture by a few friends from her former workplace, Tom, who is now in need of work following a tragic workplace accident, Janek, a Polish refugee who seems to have a secret that causes suspicion amongst some of the girls, and Robbie, a twelve year old boy searching for his father. Together, the manage to bolster the meagre supplies sent from the Ministry of Food and offer people a meal that has them lining up for more, and having to close early.

Through her fight to keep her restaurant open, Maggie strives to reunite Robbie with the family he should be with, and tries to please her family and help them: a situation that could backfire when her attempts to not only please her family but also let them know she cannot control a situation – the combination of all these conflicts against the backdrop of the war illustrates how every day people in London dealt with the war and what they might have gone through. When reading this book, I found I didn’t want to put it down, because it told a story about the home front of the war in London I had not been aware of before. The flow of the story works well, and it draws you in and pulls you along for the ride.

At the end of the book, the recipes Maggie used throughout are included for readers to try, and they would be interesting to compare with what we make today and our modern methods.

Another fantastic read set against the backdrop of war.