Thursday, May 31, 2018

Review: The Sapphire Widow

Title: The Sapphire Widow
Author: Dinah Jefferies
Publisher: 5 April 2018 by Penguin Books (UK) Viking
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance, womens fiction
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Ceylon, 1935. Louisa Reeve, the daughter of a successful British gem trader, and her husband Elliot, a charming, thrill-seeking businessman, seem like the couple who have it all. Except what they long for more than anything: a child.
While Louisa struggles with miscarriages, Elliot is increasingly absent, spending much of his time at a nearby cinnamon plantation, overlooking the Indian ocean. After his sudden death, Louisa is left alone to solve the mystery he left behind. Revisiting the plantation at Cinnamon Hills, she finds herself unexpectedly drawn towards the owner Leo, a rugged outdoors man with a chequered past. The plantation casts a spell, but all is not as it seems. And when Elliot's shocking betrayal is revealed, Louisa has only Leo to turn to...
My Thoughts

‘I told him if Ceylon was where his heart belonged, it was where my heart would belong too.’

I was happy to read another Dinah Jefferies novel as you are guaranteed to be transported to some exotic location and time.  The Sapphire Widow is set during the British occupation of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and vivid descriptions of the town of Galle are given. Dinah has this wonderful capacity to truly capture the feel and essence of times long gone. Her descriptions of everything from the bustling Colombo, to being lost in the jungle - you will experience it all: warm rain falling, splashing in the surf, watching fireflies and the inviting aroma of the spice trade.

This book is full of evocative detail about what life would have been like for expats living there and I truly enjoyed this aspect. Sadly, I did find the story itself surrounding Louisa and Elliot to be quite predictable. So whilst it reads wonderfully well in time and location, there are no real surprises here. The plot is straight forward and characters are lacking in depth, as little investment was provided to them - even the swindling bad guys came and went inconspicuously - connections were lacking.

The story is well constructed and I recommend escaping to Galle for a few hours. Credit has to be given to to the research undertaken with the atmosphere being palpable. Sadly though, with characters lacking emotional depth and no strong storyline, it is left as a pleasant escape alone. I wanted to feel the betrayal and hope that are the main themes of this story but it never really goes beyond the simplistic, only ever scratching the surface.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Review: The Last of the Bonegilla Girls

Title:  The Last of the Bonegilla Girls
Author: Victoria Purman
Publisher: 23rd April 2018 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, womens fiction
My Rating: 4 cups

For readers of The Woolgrower's Companion and The Three Miss Allens… Their friendship transcends nationality and background, but can it overcome the horrors of the past?
A post-Second World War story of strong female ties and family, secrets and lies, set in the multicultural Australia of the fifties. Can the Bonegilla girls defeat their past? Or will it come to claim them?
1954: When sixteen–year–old Hungarian Elizabeta arrives in Australia with her family, she is hoping to escape the hopelessness of life as a refugee in post–war Germany. Her first stop is the Bonegilla Migrant Camp on the banks of the Murray in rural Victoria, a temporary home for thousands of new arrivals, all looking for work and a better life. There, Elizabeta becomes firm friends with the feisty Greek Vasiliki; quiet Italian Iliana; and the adventurous Frances, the daughter of the camp's director.
In this vibrant and growing country, the Bonegilla girls rush together towards a life that seems full of promise, even as they cope with the legacy of war, the oppressive nature of family tradition and ever–present sorrow. So when a ghost from the past reaches out for Elizabeta and threatens to pull her back into the shadows, there is nothing that her friends wouldn't do to keep her safe.
But secrets have a way of making themselves known and lies have a way of changing everything they touch...
My Thoughts

‘They had been friends when they were young, when they were able to celebrate the freedoms of a new life in Australia, thrown together by the circumstance of being at Bonegilla at the same time.’

The Last of the Bonegilla Girls is the tale of four girls from different backgrounds and their friendship over a lifetime. It is a heartwarming, yet at times, heartbreaking tale which spans not only their generation, but introduces the next as well. It begins at the Bonegilla migrant camp and then follows them through their lives after their departure, as they embark on a new post war life in Australia. These girls remain friends and, apart from letter writing, share a few reunions over the years as well.

What I appreciated most about this story was the research. I have not read a great deal about this time period in Australia and really appreciated not only the history of migrants to Australia at this particular time period, but I felt that the author conveyed a fairly accurate  portrayal of life in Australia for everyone especially during the 1950s. Even with time period jumps to the 1970s and later, although briefer, there was still a true representation.

‘The Australians … they want us to come and do all the dirty jobs, to work in the dirt and the heat and the cold, to dig underground for the Snowy, to grow their food and work in their factories. But they don’t really want us to be Australians.’

With the book spanning decades, it was therefore difficult for a satisfactory amount of detail in both person and place to be conveyed to my liking. So after the initial detail of life at the migrant camp, things jumped around quite a bit and the depth began to diminish. With the underlying theme centred around how to compliment a life that brought together the old and new, the author did a good job. I felt how the European girls were torn in their attempts to placate both culture and family with trying to assimilate into a new society.

‘Some people just don’t like new Australians’

As mentioned, there is heartbreak in this read. Maintaining the old ways brought pain and sorrow with many a secret held onto. So whilst reunions brought some joy, especially with their children and then grandchildren, there was also resignation about what could never be for them. So from this point of view, it was sad, however, there was promise for a different life in the society their children were to grown up in. All up a worthy read, especially if you are interested in this particular time period in Australian history.

‘I can’t help but think … well, I can’t help but think about what might have been. Between the two of us. The time just wasn’t right, was it?’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

Title: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart
Author: Holly Ringland
Publisher: 19 March 2018 by Harper Collins (Australia)
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 5 cups


The most enchanting debut novel of 2018, this is an irresistible, deeply moving and romantic story of a young girl, daughter of an abusive father, who has to learn the hard way that she can break the patterns of the past, live on her own terms and find her own strength. An enchanting and captivating novel, about how our untold stories haunt us - and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive.
After her family suffers a tragedy, nine-year-old Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak.
Under the watchful eye of June and the women who run the farm, Alice settles, but grows up increasingly frustrated by how little she knows of her family's story. In her early twenties, Alice's life is thrown into upheaval again when she suffers devastating betrayal and loss. Desperate to outrun grief, Alice flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. In this otherworldly landscape Alice thinks she has found solace, until she meets a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.
Spanning two decades, set between sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart follows Alice's unforgettable journey, as she learns that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.

My Thoughts

‘Who were the people that sent flowers instead of words? How could a flower possibly say the same things as words? What would one of her books, made of thousands of words, look like in flowers?’

Having read the reviews and seen the incredible publicity surrounding this book,  I entered this read with cautiously high expectations. I was not disappointed, so much so, that if  there is one book you read this year, make it this one. I now fully appreciate the attention Holly Ringland is receiving as her book is a most worthy recipient. On these pages you will find complete heartbreak as secrets bring about such violence and regret. Yet through it all is hope and that is what you cling to. You can’t leave Alice’s side with all she seeks to be and do from such a young age, right through to adulthood.

I simply adore how each chapter opens with a drawing and detailed information of a particular native flower that would be pertinent to that chapter - each flower so clearly carefully selected. So whilst it may read like a guide to Australia’s native flora, it is so much more with the powerful links being made between the use of the flower and how it conveys or relates to the underlying theme of what you are about to read.

‘She might not know where or how to begin talking to the child, but she could do the next best thing. Teach her the ways of speaking through flowers.’

Then there are the array of characters - wow - so complex and engaging. Do not be misled though, this is not an easy read. In parts you will be confronted by terrible, horrific incidents of brutality and violence - but once again it is the flowers, the hope that you cling to. The settings are breathtaking - from coast to rural inland to remote desert. These locations add to the whole ambience of the novel.  Finally, the themes are almost as vast as the territory covered - heartbreak and incredible sadness, love and hate, secrets and betrayal, terrible trauma with the hope of survival. This is a tale of the lost and found, forgiveness and acceptance, renewal and the future. Huge isn’t it! Commanding it is!

‘Thornfield had always been a place where flowers and women could bloom. Every woman who came to Thornfield was given the opportunity to grow beyond the things in life that had trampled her.’

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is one of ‘those’ books, as it will captivate and consume you. It is such an incredible story and so deftly handled, that you cannot fail to be moved by all it presents. Do yourself a favour and take a journey into the world of Alice Hart.

'Her future glowed ahead of her, an ember waiting to be breathed to life.'

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Review: Let Me Lie

Title:  Let Me Lie
Author: Clare Mackintosh
Publisher: 13th March 2018 by Hachette/Sphere
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, thriller
My Rating: 4 cups

The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They're both wrong.
One year ago, Caroline Johnson chose to end her life brutally: a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to come to terms with their loss ever since.
Now with a young baby of her own, Anna misses her mother more than ever and starts to question her parents’ deaths. But by digging up their past, she’ll put her future in danger. Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie…
My Thoughts

“Some secrets shouldn’t be shared outside the family. Others shouldn’t be shared at all”.

‘Let Me Lie’ by Clare Mackintosh is a psychological thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed. Slowly built up, the story is told between alternating points of view from main characters and then an unknown person, but somehow involved. Who is this mystery narrator? Your guesses will continue to change throughout the story! Clare Mackintosh's crime writing is sublime as she weaves the complex plot with it's many twists and turns.

Firstly, can Clare Mackintosh write! It flows so well with good, strong character descriptions. You cannot help but feel for poor Anna - new partner, new baby and both parents gone through suicide - or have they? On the anniversary of the deaths, a mystery note sends her slow healing world into a spin. Who would do this and why? Keep reading! Then there are the secondary characters and I state straight away how much I loved the retired detective Murray. He, along with his wife Sarah, provide a super side story to the main plot as the author deftly handles the issues of mental illness and suicide. Obviously dealing with his own personal issues, it is his tenacity in pursuing this cold case in an effort to assist Anna, that endears him to the reader.

Apart from those two main leads, add into the mixture Anna’s new partner and father to her child, Mark and what role he might play in handling Anna who was once his patient. Anna’s Uncle Billy, her mother’s godchild Laura, even the neighbour and you really are provided with a good strong ensemble of players in the tale.

I had previous read Clare’s ‘I Let You Go’ (review HERE) and was impressed. If you haven’t read her books before then you simply must. Unable to really cannot discuss the plot, I would still highly recommend this book as once again the complexity, depth of characters, vivid descriptions and killer twists all lends itself to a very entertaining read.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Friday, May 4, 2018

Review: Making Peace

Title: Making Peace
Author: Fiona McCallum
Publisher: 19 March 2018 by Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: general fiction, women's fiction
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Does one simple act of kindness have the power to completely turn someone’s life around?
It’s been a year since Hannah Ainsley lost her husband and parents – her whole family – in a car crash on Christmas morning. Despite her overwhelming loss, she’s worked hard to pull the pieces of her life together with the help of a group of dear, loyal friends. But while Hannah is beginning to become excited about the future again, she's concerned that her best friend and talented artist Sam is facing a crisis of her own. It's now Hannah's turn to be Sam's rock – can she save Sam’s dreams from unravelling?
When Hannah returns to work after her holidays, she can’t settle. She’s loved her job for a decade, and it’s been her lifeline during her grief. But something’s changed. She’s changed. And for all this time she’s avoided knowing the details of the accident or investigation – what would be the point, she’d thought, when nothing will bring her loved ones back? But after a chance meeting, it’s all there in front of her – and, like ripples in a pond, it extends beyond her own experiences. Could knowing be the key to her recovery? Could her involvement be the key to someone else’s?
From Australia’s master storyteller comes an uplifting story of new and old friendships, letting go of the past and looking to the future...
My Thoughts

‘Making Peace’ is the follow up to Fiona McCallum’s ‘Finding Hannah’ (which I have not read) and while it is a sequel, you can be assured that you will enjoy this as a standalone. This novel picks up one year after Hannah Ainsley lost her husband and parents in a tragic Christmas Day car accident. Hannah has spent the past twelve months moving through the process of grief, supported by her special group of friends.

This is the story of how Hannah has reached a point in her life where she attempts to move on. Her loss will always be felt in her heart, however, she is making a conscious decision to move on with life. You can therefore understand that this is a tale of dealing with grief and how people cope with it. Given the circumstances of Hannah’s tragic loss, I believe the central theme of this tale revolves around the capacity to forgive as the first step in moving on. The need of strong, supportive friendships is also presented as being essential. Fiona tries to stress what she calls the ‘ripple effect’ in how kind acts can be repaid over and over in others lives.

‘I think it’s good that people, especially those you care about, are using what’s happened as a catalyst for change in a good way’

If you are a person who has been struggling with loss, then you may find this tale to be a soothing balm. For me, I found it a ‘nice’ story but it does not really go anywhere. Everyone just seemed to be too nice and too accomodating, and Hannah would undoubtedly be one of the purest, kindest and most forgiving characters ever written. Yet, this may be the message Fiona is trying to convey, that to experience such a horrific loss, how does one move on? Maybe it does all come down to one’s forgiving nature to start the journey of healing and moving forward.  I also struggled with the amount of (what I believe was unnecessary) dialogue even from secondary characters eg. waitresses. It just dragged the story down to discuss every little detail or thought. I disliked the whole ‘stalking’ storyline - brushed aside too quickly for my liking.

Overall, however, this is indeed a lovely and uplifting tale providing a happy closure with a strong message of being kind and forgiving.

“It’s inside you. You have to find your reason for living and making peace with it all.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.