Sunday, October 27, 2019

Review: The Last Letter from Juliet

Title: The Last Letter from Juliet
Author: Melanie Hudson
Publisher: 23rd August 2019 by Harper Impulse and Killer Reads
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, WW2, romance
My Rating: 5 cups

Inspired by the brave women of WWII, this is a moving and powerful novel of friendship, love and resilience.
A story of love not a story of a war
A daring WWII pilot who grew up among the clouds, Juliet Caron’s life was one of courage, adventure – and a love torn apart by war. Every nook of her Cornish cottage is alive with memories just waiting to be discovered.
Katherine Henderson has escaped to Cornwall for Christmas, but she soon finds there is more to her holiday cottage than meets the eye. And on the eve of Juliet’s 100th birthday, Katherine is enlisted to make an old lady’s final Christmas wish come true…
Me Before You meets The English Patient in this stunning romantic historical novel from award-winning author Melanie Hudson.
My Thoughts

 ‘I shook my head. ‘... I’ve never wanted to become focused on any big goals or aspirations. I’ve seen too many men forget to live in the moment because all they can see are the goalposts ahead of them. I live for today, right now. No promises. No expectations.’ 

What a little gem this book proved to be. I absolutely loved it! I have not read any of Melanie Hudson’s books before, but the appeal of a dual timeline historical fiction adventure was a no brainer. I am happy to say that both writing and story delivered. 

Dual timelines are difficult to deliver and I worried about Katherine in the present timeline initially, but so strong is Juliet’s story (from the historic timeline), that she swept us all up in her story and reflections of days gone by. The writing is so engaging and easily transfers between past and present. Bring into the mix Melanie’s research undertaken regarding the bravery of the A.T.A. girls (Air Transport Auxiliary) during World War II and it makes for quite a tale. Where Melanie truly delivers is how she ties modern day Katherine to Juliet’s reminiscing - brilliant! 

‘She would have walked with the same image painted in her mind. I liked that, it peeled away the years. The field where she landed the Tiger Moth would be just up the road, too, and I suddenly wanted to stand there, in the place where she stood, to find the exact place she met Edward, the place she fell in love, to absorb myself in someone else’s love story for a while.’

Although I did not feel as much for Katherine, her interactions with Juliet were priceless, the ending pure poetry. There are many characters to engage with here, from romantic interests, to the other ‘Attagirls’, to those fighting the Nazis on continental Europe. I loved so much about 'The Last Letter from Juliet', and highly recommend it. It’s new and interesting take on WW2 events, tied together with such a  heartwarming and moving story is sure to impress. 

'Some days come along in life that are so significant they stay with you for eternity. Such days remain as bright and clear in my mind’s eye now as on the day itself and usually fall into two categories–days so terrible I would rather forget them, or days so wonderful I want to remember them forever.'

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.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Review: The Boy with Blue Trousers

Title: The Boy with Blue Trousers

Author: Carol Jones

Publisher: 13th June 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia/Head of Zeus
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 4 cups
On the goldfields of 19th-century Australia, two very different girls are trying to escape their past.

1856, China.
In the mulberry groves of the Pearl River Delta, eighteen-year-old Little Cat carries a terrible secret. And so, in disguise as a boy in blue trousers, she makes the long and difficult passage to Australia, a faraway land of untold riches where it is said the rivers run with gold.
1857, Australia.
Violet Hartley has arrived off the boat from England, fleeing scandal back home. Like the Chinese immigrants seeking their fortunes on the goldfields, Violet is seduced by the promise of a new frontier. Then she meets Little Cat, a woman who, like her, is trying to escape her past.
As their fates inextricably, devastatingly entwine, their story becomes one of freedom, violence, love and vengeance, echoing across the landscapes of two great continents
My Thoughts

The Boy With Blue Trousers set in China and Australia during the 1850s is highly engaging historical fiction. From paddy fields to goldfields, this is the story of two young women who, for differing reasons, are escaping one life in search for a new one. When the rules of two culturally different societies force these women to rise above the life often dictated to them at the time. 

There are some interesting issues going on, testament to Carol certainly having done her homework. With themes of race, family, societal expectations, gender status, starting anew - there is much on offer for the reader. I very much enjoyed both the European and Chinese gender role descriptions for both male and females as they play out between the four leading couples. I also found Carol’s writing of place and time to be very evocative - whether it be a village in China or the Victorian desert - the reader is transported easily through the detail and imagery provided. 

Both female leads are given over half the novel to develop their characters which works well. As Little Cat and Violet face their own dilemmas, you are given a complete picture of their motivations and struggles. Although I appreciated Violet’s story, I was not a fan and far more enjoyed Little Cat with both the literal and inner journey she found herself on. There are also many well developed secondary characters who play crucial roles, even if in the initial stages, they play an important role in the story as a whole. I particularly enjoyed Young Wu and how cleverly Carol gave us crucial insight into his thoughts that assisted us appreciating his evolution throughout the tale. 

If you are looking for a unique immersion into a classic goldrush story, then The Boy With Blue Trousers will certainly capture your attention. With an in depth look into two cultures history surrounding the event, I definitely recommend this book. 

‘This thought threatened to bring tears to her eyes but she squeezed the lids tight and fought them back. She could not afford to draw attention to herself. She needed to blend in, to become just another boy in blue trousers bound for New Gold Mountain.’

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, October 10, 2019

Review: Confession with Blue Horses

Title: Confession with Blue Horses
Author: Sophie Hardach
Publisher: 13th June 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia/Head of Zeus
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: post WW2, Berlin wall
My Rating: 4 cups

Tobi and Ella's childhood in East Berlin is shrouded in mystery. Now adults living in London, their past in full of unanswered questions. Both remember their family's daring and terrifying attempt to escape, which ended in tragedy; but the fall-out from that single event remains elusive. Where did their parents disappear to, and why? What happened to Heiko, their little brother? And was there ever a painting of three blue horses?
In contemporary Germany, Aaron works for the archive, making his way through old files, piecing together the tragic history of thousands of families. But one file in particular catches his eye; and soon unravelling the secrets at its heart becomes an obsession.
When Ella is left a stash of notebooks by her mother, and she and Tobi embark on a search that will take them back to Berlin, her fate clashes with Aaron's, and together they piece together the details of Ella's past... and a family destroyed.
Devastating and beautifully written, funny and life-affirming, Confession with Blue Horses explores intimate family life and its strength in the most difficult of circumstances.
My Thoughts

‘She thought what a relief it would be to make a big bonfire and burn all this paper. Reading her file destroyed the past and poisoned the present. It was the Stasi’s language that did this. It distorted reality as she remembered it and covered it in dirt until she herself felt dirtied.’

I am of an age to remember East and West Germany in the Olympic Games and the stories of people trying to flee and cross over from one to the other. I remember the momentous occasion that was the fall of the Berlin Wall. From all of my reading, not often have I come across fictional stories that deal with this time. ‘Confession with Blue Horses’ is a highly engaging story set in different time periods, of one such family and the reasons and consequences - short and long term - of their life in the East and then later. 

It was eye opening to read of the experiences of living in a country where you felt that your every move was being watched. That seemingly those closest to you could, knowingly or otherwise, turn traitor and betray you. Whilst the Valentin family had a fairly reasonable standard of living, it was interesting to learn of how the stifling restrictions of the government impinged upon the three generations and how each dealt with it. 

Interspersed throughout is a later timeline of when the children, now adults, are living in London. How the daughter, Ella, is still drawn to the events of childhood and returns to Berlin to haplessly search the archives of the old GDR to look for any clues or answers to the events that had unfolded for her family. It is here that the book truly shines as the research undertaken brings to light many issues, including how the East German government removed children from families who did not support the party line. 

I was fully engaged with the heartbreaking story presented by Sophie. She genuinely captures multiple viewpoints and captures the voices from children to grandparents throughout this experience. Her writing is so insightful as to present the facts in such a way that you truly question and wonder how differing reactions could be to such a monumental, life changing occurrence. 

If you enjoy good historical fiction and desire a window into the life of East Berliners before and after the fall of the wall, you will surely appreciate everything that is, ‘Confession with Blue Horses’. 

‘All their sacrifices would be worth it in the end. Were they, Mama? Was it all worth it in the end?’

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.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Review: The Model Wife

Title: The Model Wife
Author: Tricia Stringer
Publisher: 23rd September 2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 512 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary fiction, women's literature
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Even a good woman can be pushed too far ... From bestselling author Tricia Stringer, this beautifully realised multi-generational family story looks at what happens when real-life betrayals and struggling relationships clash with outdated ideas of what a woman should be.
Natalie King's life is full. Some might say too full. With her teaching job, a farm to run, three grown daughters who have not quite got a handle on things, a reserved husband and a demanding mother-in-law, most days she is too busy to think about whether she is happy. But her life has meaning, doesn't it? After all, she is the one person everyone depends upon.
But when an odd gift from her mother-in-law - an old book in the form of stern and outdated advice for young wives - surfaces again, it brings with it memories she thought she had buried deep. Has this insidious little book exerted some kind of hold over her? Could it be that in her attempts to be a loving wife and mother, she no longer knows who she is?
On a day when it seems everyone is taking her for granted, and as the ghost of a past betrayal rises, it becomes clear that even this good mother and model wife can be pushed too far ...
My Thoughts

Tricia Stringer books always strike a chord with her faithful audience. On this occasion, it involves how we all at some stage of life (without a doubt), dreamt of running away. When it all gets too much for this ‘model wife’, that’s exactly what she does! This is a truthful story of family life and the daily struggles that all members face, however, a special focus on Mum, Natalie. It’s a journey of her soul searching and eventual evolution into who she is and her role with the people she loves. 

You know how it is ... looking after those in your life, putting everyone’s needs ahead of your own. Just once you’d like someone to listen and care for you. The realism of this situation brings a real authenticity to this tale. In fact, there are messages that are sure to ring true for the variety of multigenerational characters portrayed - from the grandmother, to Natalie, to her daughters struggling with their own issues and finding their place in the world. There is surely something to appeal to everybody in this story. Bring into this mixture a spotlight on the plight of farmers - issues of land ownership and entitlements - and the story delves much deeper than just a character analysis. 

A long read at the 500 page mark, it does however, provide an in depth look at how varying people deal with the stresses in their lives. Tricia sets everything up for you get a feel for each member of the family and what they are facing. This is realistic reading at its best as many have faced feelings or situations similar and familiar to you or those close to you. Undoubtedly there have been conversations about some of the issues raised (for any of the family members) that you have surely discussed over a cup of tea at the kitchen table with regards to how they were to be handled. 

I definitely recommend this book as a deep and true exploration of families and all the baggage that they come with and how this particular family deals with it. 

‘Outside the landscape was familiar and yet alien. Like the pieces of her life she thought she knew so well but that were shifting around her again.’

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.