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review 2018-01-02 06:00
The Peach Keeper
The Peach Keeper - Sarah Addison Allen

I've thoroughly enjoyed all the Sarah Addison Allen books I've read, but I stayed away from this one for a long time because, frankly, I don't like peaches*.    

 

As reasons go to not read a book, it's a pretty stupid one, so when I saw the title at a library sale for $1 I did the mature thing and bought it.  

 

I LOVED this book!  It was SO good.  It had shades of Practical Magic in it, and a cameo by Claire Waverly from Garden Spells and a small but very important murder mystery.  The only thing it needed to make it perfect was Claire's apple tree.

 

The Peach Keeper felt like Allen crossed from Magical Realism into straight magic; there aren't a lot of logical reasons (or any) for why the strange events in Walls of Water were happening.  The character development felt a lot richer too; limiting the plot to only 4 people, and really focusing on the 2 female protagonists made it feel like a much tighter story.  The romantic tension was intense (although the sex scenes were almost non-existent).

 

Is this Pride and Prejudice good?  No, of course not (nothing is that good), but it is Practical Magic (the movie, not the book) good.  If you liked that movie, or you enjoy good stories about the power of friendship, I think you'll enjoy this.

 

* It's a tactile thing; peach fuzz = fingernails on a chalkboard.

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review 2017-05-26 08:17
The Last Light of Day: A Gay Gothic Romance
The Last Light of Day: A Gay Gothic Romance - Rachel Kane

This is a 'new to me' author. It appears they have released 10 books since Dec 2016 which always makes me wonder if it is another writing collective. Anyway, regardless I'm here to review this book not the entire back catalogue. 

 

The cover of this book is deceiving, I thought this was an historical. Then when I first started reading I did wonder if maybe it was a paranormal and Cornell had actually gone back in time. What it is really is a contemporary about a family stuck in the past and clinging to its former glory by its finger tips. For some its about the money, for others it about the prestige and legacy. For our MC, Hayes, it's about protecting the land.

 

As the subtitle (which is a self-publishing marketing technique that I hate btw) tells us, this is styled on gothic novels of old and brings it up to date. The tone of it is moody, atmospheric, and creepy.

 

I liked that we got most of the story (in 1st person) from Cornell's pov, the outsider pulled by circumstances into the strange atmosphere of the house. However every so often we get a 1st person pov from Hayes, the broody son and heir of the house. These chapters are important in our sympathy for Hayes' situation, without them some readers may find Hayes a difficult character to like. 

 

There is a degree of suspension of disbelief required, the whole family seems stuck in another century with no internet/mobile phones etc.

 

I really enjoyed this book. It was fascinating watching the family reach breaking point as Hayes 30th birthday approached and terms of a will needed fulfilling. And honestly those chapters in Hayes pov quite often broke my heart, this man trapped in his upbringing, and tied up in his desire to protect his property, and fighting his true desires.

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review 2017-03-07 06:15
The Curse of the Kings
The Curse of the Kings - Victoria Holt

This was another difficult read to rate properly.  I couldn't put it down, but there was so much eye-rolling too.

 

The description on the book record is terribly simplistic, but it's as close or closer to anything I could come up with.  Honestly, Holt packed a lot into this book.  The first half is taken up with Judith's background and childhood; it isn't until page 174 that we even get to Egypt.

 

Judith's ridiculous obsession with Tybalt got on my nerves; I'd say someone should have smacked some sense into her, but she never let on to anyone in her world just how insanely besotted she was, she saved all those confidences for the reader.  But the rest of the book was compelling and incredibly readable.

 

The story itself is pretty trope-tastic; it's got the imaginary love triangle, mistaken for cheating, lack of communication, rags to royalty... not to mention the whole Egyptian theme; likely quite a few more I haven't even thought of, but it was first written in the 70's when some of these things weren't tropes yet, or were all the rage.  That somehow made it easier to roll with.

 

The writing kept me coming back.  It had all the qualities of a mid-century gothic that appeals to me, in spite of some the silliness coming from Judith.

 

I'll definitely check out more of Holt's work.

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review 2017-03-04 05:15
Maggie's Kitchen
Maggie's Kitchen - Caroline Beecham

I wasn't sure how to rate this one.  I bought it on a whim, thinking it would be a typical British historical/chick-lit type read; the kind I really enjoy once in awhile when I need a break from my regularly scheduled genres.

 

It's exactly what I expected, except it's written by an Aussie author.  Aussie authors and I tend to have an on-again-off-again kind of relationship and my last fling with The Dressmaker left me, frankly, bitter and jaded.  So I went into this one feeling defensive and ready for confrontation, which might have coloured my perceptions a little.

 

This is a lovely story about a woman who applies to run one of the British Restaurants, created during WWII to offer hot, nutritious, and affordable meals to Londoners struggling under food rationing.  Maggie's struggle to keep her restaurant going in spite of food shortages and diverted allotments runs parallel to her attempts to help a young boy find his father and her very slowly developing relationship with a Polish refugee.

 

The author really brought home a tiny glimpse of what life must have been like living in London during the axis air raids of WWII; she didn't shy away from scenes of Maggie and her neighbours huddled underground during a bombing; the alternate neighbourhoods that sprung up in the Underground stations, or the way homes and business disappeared overnight after a bombing raid.

 

What she didn't get quite right, I don't think, is the gap-tooth style of the narrative overall:  unknown quantities of time pass unexpectedly without acknowledgement and relatively significant events are never fleshed out.  

 

From the beginning the reader is told that one of Maggie's brothers died when they were kids.  A tragedy; hints that Maggie was involved and that her mother abandoned them in large part because of this tragedy...and then nothing.  

 

Janek belongs to some Polish resistance organisation that may or may not be spying, but has the need to hide mysterious shipments of something at Maggie's restaurant without her knowledge.  We never find out if Janek is a bad guy or a good guy, nor whether or not that shipment was ever hidden at the restaurant; the whole thing just gets dismissed near the end with a vague line or two.  As Janek is the romantic interest in the book, a reader can't really be blamed for expecting a bit more information about him and his possible shenanigans.

 

Small things too, like details about the British Restaurant scheme, are never explained.  Does Maggie own the restaurant?  Is she leasing it from the government?  We're told Maggie received grants for renovations and equipment, but then she's put on probation with the possibility of being removed and replaced... so is she an owner or an employee?  Information was spotty and vague and at least some of it was central to the plot's crisis.

 

I don't know if I'm being hypercritical or not, but I can't help but think that even though I enjoyed the story as-is - and I really did - it could have been utterly fabulous with a more insightful editor and some restructuring.  There is a lot here that could have been removed and never missed, and plenty that wasn't here, but very much missed.

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review 2017-03-01 07:27
Wild Strawberries
Wild Strawberries - Angela Thirkell

This was really good!  I'd read High Rising last year and enjoyed it; enough to buy the next couple of books, obviously.  But then they languished on the pile for awhile, because High Rising wasn't that good.

 

But this was great!  If you like family pandemonium (the kind where you sit back and wonder at the chaos as each member lives in their own orbit, occasionally bumping up against each other, while all somehow working as one eccentric unit), a smattering of light romance, a lot of tongue-in-cheek stereotyping and a story line that really meanders and goes nowhere in particular, this is a book worth checking out.

 

It's a historical piece, so there is at least one cringe worthy use of language, but in the context of the time it was written it, it doesn't come across as painful or nasty.

 

Mostly, it's just a wonderfully silly book.  I closed it thinking "that was fun!". 

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