Her Time to Shine
Erica is traumatised and ready for a change of scene. Little does she know that her new job in the funeral home is going to bring back other repressed memories – including her brother’s death. Intertwined with her varied grief, Erica must find her new place in the world.
The novel alludes to the financial ‘disaster’ that Stuart has left Erica in, but don’t really discuss it. I honestly couldn’t understand why she didn’t just sell the Adelaide house where she had been so traumatised. She wouldn’t even need to set foot in it again! That’s what real estate agents are for! There’s a lot of ‘woe is me’ and ‘belt-tightening’ which I didn’t understand. Get it together woman! You’re still well-off if you can survive picking up and going to a new place.
It was also unclear to me how the two girls had any income, and how they managed to not get a lodger if it was such a big deal that they were short on funds. Had they not heard of Gumtree? Or FB Marketplace? It’s not THAT hard to find a tenant if you genuinely need one. Or maybe it is in Adelaide? But of course they keep saying it’s such a tightknit community in SA that it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t already have a place?
It seems like half way through the novel, the author realised that there was such a thing as a rescue animal that also worked as a service animal. Let’s have a random dog that is magically able to cure everyone’s PTSD. I think it’s unfair and unclear what Bruce’s future is. A life as a star isn’t easy for anyone!
The dialogue was often cringe-worthy and didn’t flow well. I felt like the plot stuttered also, and made huge issues of minor things. It also seemed to try to fit too much in, and so then failed to grab my attention with any of the ‘problem’s the main characters faced. Honestly, Erica’s best friends sounded like they were going to get a spin-off novel for themselves in future – and they weren’t that unique.
This novel is likely not aimed at me – instead it’s a living vicariously novel that people with a mid-life crisis are going to enjoy. I did find it refreshing that menopause was openly talked about by all the characters (male and female) but that was about it. I was hoping for a few more career details about the funeral home, but I also missed out on that. If I had my reading time again I wouldn’t have bothered reading it. I know there’s an audience for this sort of novel, so I won’t demote it to 2 stars.
Harper Collins | 30 March 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback
The Kitchen Front
Four women meet at a crossroads of opportunity in World War 2 Britain. All four are avid cooks/chefs, and all have their work cut out for them if they are going to win a place presenting on The Kitchen Front, a wartime BBC radio presentation. Two have a suffered as a result of romantic relationships, while two are struggling to keep their dignity and make the most of their talents in an increasingly women-dominated world.
The novel opens on Audrey, a wartime widow who is trying to make ends meet for her three young sons and literally keep a solid roof over her head. The author then pivots to her haughty sister, Gwendoline – and the reader suddenly feels berefit and unsatified (and perhaps even a little cheated). How dare Gwendoline make things hard for her sister? How dare she keep the young maid Nell on her toes from dawn past dusk? Yet as the novel progresses we start to see the side of each woman, and I honestly couldn’t decide who I wanted to win the competition!
Oh ouch. I could see that ending coming from a mile away! Who knew that you could make a Croquembouche under wartime limitations? I found each of the recipes included in the novel to be enjoyable, and quite illuminating for someone like me who hates/knows no history. If I knew where to get elderberries in Australia I’d be whipping up a batch of Nel’s elderflower essence in a heartbeat.
I couldn’t help myself and this was quite a compulsive read despite my initial reluctance to pick it up. I’ve been doing a lot of rereads recently for the comfort factor, and I wasn’t sure how this novel would pan out. I didn’t need to fear though! There are a couple of snigger points in the novel, and also just a feel-good vibe. I enjoyed it!
I don’t think this is a reread for me, but I have in mind the perfect person to give it to for Christmas. Anyone who enjoys cooking, ‘women’s fiction’ (I personally think the term is a little insulting; is there something called ‘men’s fiction’?) or just a lighthearted positive-ended novel is going to enjoy this feel-good novel. It could be the perfect gift for Mother’s Day 2022!
Pan Macmillan | 29th December 2021 | AU$32.99 | paperback
City of Girls
Vivian Morris is writing a letter to a woman who’s father she spent time with following the war. This letter and novel tells the story of her life and how it all leads up to her sexual and business freedom.
I didn’t feel very strongly about this novel. It all pretty much boiled down to ‘it was all a dream’. Not exactly, but that was the feeling I had – in that everything that had happened before actually didn’t have any impact or was anything that mattered. I knew she would survive everything thrown her way, and that she’d end up being happy regardless of the challenges.
I get that for its time, the protagonist is a daring and unusual heroine who is a paragon of sexual freedom. But the novel isn’t set up for me to actually enjoy her story. Vivian (even the name suggests she enjoys life) doesn’t endear herself to me at all and I never connected with her little asides about how she didn’t know anything at the time, but oh, looking back she was amazed at her naivety.
This is billed as a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Unique, yes, thrilling and enthralling, no. 3 stars, and maybe a different audience would be more suitable to read this (someone keen on the 1940s and the war times?).
Bloomsbury | 4th June 2019 | AU$32.99 | paperback
The Dinner List
Sabrina has invited one person to her 30th birthday dinner, yet when she arrives there are five people at the table. One is her best friend and another her college professor, but also three dead people. Over wine and conversation, Sabrina is invited to reflect on her life so far, and what she wants to do next.
I hated this novel. I finished it, but I completely skimmed the last half of it because I was impatient with the slow action and boring protagonist. Passing between the present dinner and past memories could have added some momentum, but instead just served to push me out of the narrative, and wonder why the dinner table format had been used if the novel was going to contain flashbacks anyway.
I get that this could have been a sort of thought experiment, but honestly why was Audrey Hepburn there? I could understand her ex being there, and her dead father, but ugh, the rest could have been the waiter talking for all I cared, interjecting with random suggestions of how to think about ideas.
How is that ending useful? I didn’t experience any closure, or any sense of why the ending was logical. I’ve tagged this novel under ‘romance’ because that’s what GoodReads advised me, but I don’t think it’s a romance. It’s a tragedy of a novel that had potential but failed to perform. 1 star from me.
Allen & Unwin | 29th August 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback
Life on the Leash
Cora is a successful dog trainer who thrives on organisation. Her rescue pit bull counts as the man of her life, and she’s content writing a blog about best-practice training techniques. However a run in with an incredibly sexy client who she just can’t seem to say no to, as well as a dog-in-need with a cute guy in tow means that Cora is starting to rethink her priorities.
This is a lighthearted romance with a spot of dog-loving thrown in! Cora’s a likable enough character who creates laughter with her descriptions of dogs-gone-wrong. There are sad parts to the novel too, but nothing particularly cry worthy. If you’re looking for a beach-side read, this novel could be it. This novel is decidedly chaste, so don’t go looking for sex scenes.
From the blurb, I expected that this novel would be all about how Cora copes with being a dog trainer on TV, but it’s not that at all. Most of the novel is taken up by her escapades with her clients and her friendship with the irrepressible Maggie. When I tried to explain the plot to my fiancee I found myself struggling for relevant details of the plot – because normally I wouldn’t go for a romance that doesn’t have a unique protagonist (eg. The Kiss Quotient).
Go into this novel expecting a light read that will take you around 2-3 hours. You might even get some dog training tricks out of it – the author is a well known dog health expert, so you can trust what is written here. I’m giving this 3 stars.
Allen & Unwin | 1st December 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback
We See the Stars
Kate van Hooft
Simon doesn’t say much. Anything, really. He’s quiet and has to count colours in order to keep the angries in. When his new teacher shows interest in him, and he makes friends with the peculiar Cassie he begins to speak. But will he choose the right things to say?
The blurb promises that Simon will have to hunt for his teacher, but the majority of the novel is really about getting to know Simon and understand his relationship with the world. I actually really enjoyed Simon’s unique perspective. It’s exactly how I would imagine thoughts to be of a mildly autistic child (in my limited, and purely academic knowledge that is). I liked each of the small parts that came together to understand his worldview, and how he saw other people and imagined his insides reacting to different situations.
What ended up frustrating me was that there were many unresolved questions and perhaps too many character relationships. I like that it is all through Simon’s perspective and therefore it wouldn’t be appropriate to expose everything, but I would have liked to know if his mother was even still alive!
I didn’t understand the ending. Up to that point, I had been able to take all of Simon’s quirks in stride and work out what was the ‘real world’ or just fantasy. But the last couple of (negative number) chapters confused me and left me feeling incomplete and unsatisfied with this novel.
The majority of this novel deserves 4 stars for its compelling and unique reading, but the ending takes down the novel as a whole to 3 stars. Please author, please consider writing me a better ending. I didn’t find solutions to all the problems I saw. A similar novel was The Sign which had an equally disappointing ending.
Allen & Unwin | 27th July 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback
The Shape of Us
The WON forums are a haven of fat women all desperate to lose weight to improve something in their lives. What starts as impersonal interactions online quickly turns into a fast friendship between four women – but will life get in the way of their happiness? Will the group be able to lose weight?
The author has managed to make four very different women all equally interesting to read about. The mix between internet posts and insight within each woman’s head is done well and doesn’t detract from the storyline. The internet posts hold the different perspectives together. I felt like I got to know them all as people and this made it easier to sympathise with them even when they made choices that I myself didn’t agree with.
The dialogue, particularly Mezz’s, feels stilted and awkward at times. It doesn’t seem to read like a real person would say it. At other times I felt like I wasn’t convinced by their interactions and insight when they were together. Somehow, they are almost saintly when dealing with each other’s problems and forgiving rude posts! The only breakdown of this was the Jewels-Josie interaction which felt rushed and unnecessary amongst the rest of the drama.
The end comes up very rapidly. I felt irritated by the fact that we didn’t see a lot of the character development that must have occurred between the climax of the novel and the final chapter (I can’t say more without it being a spoiler). It’s sort of like the author was told that the old ending didn’t have enough drama, and that a catastrophe needed to occur to sell the novel.
I read this novel twice with a year gap in between! I hadn’t reviewed the novel right after I read it the first time, I think because I had read the mother’s promise and both novels came to similar conclusions. This is a light read, and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t recommend a reread. There isn’t enough substance – this is more of a poolside read. It is fiction after all, so I would suggest A.J. or Shauna’s novel/books for a realistic weightloss book. For an actual how-to guide, try Do you really want to lose weight? or Diet and Weight Loss Lies.
I’m giving this novel 4 stars, with the caveat that there are some things you need to overlook before you can enjoy it fully.
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake
Amy E Reichert
Chef Lou Johnson loves her restaurant, is relatively happy with her fiance and is lined up for a comfortable holding pattern for the rest of her life. When she bakes a Coconut Cake for her fiance but instead finds him naked with an intern. That night, a anonymous food writer comes to review her restaurant – where Lou is burning and destroying dishes left right and centre. His resulting review starts a breakup in Lou’s life – but the new man she’s met could be a catalyst for positive change.
This is the second novel in a row that I have read about food. Clearly I was feeling hungry when I went to the GoodWill to pick out some new holiday reading. The feel of this novel was quite different to the last one though, because here there are more secrets being hidden. Also the life of a small business owner chef is very different to that of a personal chef. When I go out to a meal, I want to order something I couldn’t make for myself – and the things described in these delectable pages were certainly of that nature.
I love the way that the secondary characters got some proper airtime and were fleshed out as characters. I could almost see the burly Harley in the kitchen delicately sculpting impeccable fragile desserts, and see John’s beard oer the writers’ cubicles! I could have had more airtime of them, and I wouldn’t even mind another novel focusing on John now that he is going to Paris. He’s a secondary character who deserves a life.
I appreciated the ending of this novel, and the nice little twist. I like it when things don’t work out neatly. It wasn’t too cloying, as long as you are ok with some fate and ending up with “the One” no matter what! I almost cried because I was so attached to the older couple in the novel.
3 stars from me. I have no strong urge to read it again, but it was an excellent escapism read that prompted me to keep reading it because of the suspense Devlin brought to the restaurant’s survival.
When in Doubt, Add Butter
Gemma Craig (no relative of Jenny Craig) is a private chef to a different household each night of the week. She’s sick of romance and has been warned off getting married by a teacher fortune teller in her childhood. When her jobs suddenly start falling out from under her and a one-night-stand has unexpected complications, Gemma is going to have to grow up.
This was a lighthearted romance that didn’t even vaguely begin to address the deep-seated problems that Gemma professed not to have. But! If you are just looking for a casual read that will carry your tired brain through two spare hours this novel is going to tick boxes for you. It didn’t ask me to think and it didn’t teach me anything either – sometimes that’s just what you need.
What upset/irritated me about this novel was the inclusion of the fortune teller. Honestly I wasn’t sure why the element was there, and it didn’t add any depth to the novel. I have not read any of the other novels by this author and perhaps the use of a mystic is a common theme. For me though, I would have rather heard more about the ingredients going into cooking.
I did enjoy the way that Gemma talked about her cooking. Who knew that you could have a egg/bee/”moo”-free Parmesan substitute? I could have heard more about the steps and how it would take a whole afternoon to cook in Mr. Tuesday’s apartment. Also, I’d love to know what she was spending her profits on since she didn’t have any money in the bank but it seemed like she had no time to do anything outside her cooking!
This blurb wasn’t accurate! When the weekday members are introduced in the text of the novel, I kept flipping to the back cover to see which one was Willa. But none of them were – the blurb actually depicted the action half-way through the novel. Never mind. Pick up this novel for a lighthearted read that actually reminded me of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake or Caramel Hearts just for the title, not the actual storyline!
I picked up this cheeky cheapie from GoodWill while on vacation for the princely sum of 50c. It was well worth it, even if it’s not going to follow me home. 3 stars from me for giving me a pleasant way to pass time sitting in a lovely park outside. I will now release it on Book Crossing.
See What I Have Done
A true mystery novel, Lizzie Borden took an ax and brutally murdered her father and step-mother. But is it true? This is what this fiction novel explores from the other people’s perspectives at the time.
The dust jacket is written as if a 32-year-old woman living at home is abnormal, but truly it isn’t especially for those days. She isn’t married. I also think her sister was a complete idiot. Ok, your mother has trusted you to look after your sister, but at some point you must get your own life. From what I learnt about the sisters in this novel, Lizzie should have been institutionalized.
I never connected with any of the characters, I got confused between all the time jumps and the ending was completely unsatisfactory. I get that its based on a true story, and so there is no resolution – but that’s what fiction is all about! Resolving storylines and helping the reader to understand what is going on. Instead I met a bunch of characters that I didn’t care about, including Lizzie’s parents, and thus I couldn’t care less that they had died, or had hope for someone to be punished for the crime.
I HATED this novel. I persevered to the end, but it wasn’t worth my time. It’s not worth your time either. I finished it, yes, but that is because I was hoping for deliverance at the end by the creepy guy in the shadows. So since I finished it, I should give it 2 stars, but I’m not. 1 star.
Hachette Australia | 1st April 2017 | AU$32.99 | paperback