Sunday, March 28, 2021

Review: The Last Reunion

Title: The Last Reunion
Author: Kayte Nunn

Publisher: 30th March 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 368 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 4.5 cups


Five women come together at a New Year's Eve's party after decades apart, in this thrilling story of desire, revenge and courage, based on a brave group of Australian and British WWII servicewomen

Burma, 1945. Bea, Plum, Bubbles, Joy and Lucy: five young women in search of adventure, attached to the Fourteenth Army, fighting a forgotten war in the jungle. Assigned to run a mobile canteen, navigating treacherous roads and dodging hostile gunfire, they become embroiled in life-threatening battles of their own. Battles that will haunt the women for the rest of their lives.

Oxford, 1976. At the height of an impossibly hot English summer, a woman slips into a museum and steals several rare Japanese netsuke, including the famed fox-girl. Despite the offer of a considerable reward, these tiny, exquisitely detailed carvings are never seen again.

London and Galway, 1999. On the eve of the new millennium, Olivia, assistant to an art dealer, meets Beatrix, an elderly widow who wishes to sell her late husband's collection of Japanese art. Concealing her own motives, Olivia travels with Beatrix to a New Year's Eve party, deep in the Irish countryside, where friendships will be tested as secrets kept for more than fifty years are spilled.

Inspired by the heroic women who served in the 'forgotten war' in Burma, The Last Reunion is a heartbreaking love story and mystery by the international bestselling author of The Botanist's Daughter and The Silk House. It is also a tribute to the enduring power of female friendship.

My Thoughts

All of Kayte's books have been winners for me, so I could not wait to delve into her latest offering. On this occasion, Kayte provides a selection of timelines and themes that she melds beautifully together for an all up fascinating read. Whether it be the mysterious opening with the theft of a rare Japanese artifact, to the jungles of Burma during WWII with the women serving on the frontline, to their reunification fifty years on - this book is loaded with stories of courage and female friendships that are inspiring and make for a most satisfying story. 

‘What about the men? They’ll want their jobs back,’ said Plum. ‘Then what will we do?’ Bea asked. ‘One thing I know for certain,’ said Joy, her mouth firmly set. ‘I’m not going to go back to being a wife.’

I was unaware that women were so close to the frontline in Burma during WWII as they served the fighting forces as best they could. The stories these women would live to tell were truly inspiring.  To go from afternoon tea parties to fearlessly facing the terrifying scenes of frontline fighting is really quite incredible. 

‘... as recently as her mother’s generation, in order to survive the punishing jungles of the East, white women hadn’t been expected to lift a finger, instead they were cosseted by servants who saw to their every need. Now, look at them all.’

The modern day timeline - some fifty years on - see these women meet up again in Ireland and face some underlying issues from the past. This ‘reunion’ will certainly test loyalties that were forged all those many years ago. I also really enjoyed the character of Olivia as a side story - an Aussie trying to live and work in London - her story is more than just a support to Bea.

‘Are you excited about the reunion?’ she asked when they’d settled themselves in the bar, a tumbler of Irish whiskey in front of each of them. ‘I’m not sure excited is exactly the word I’d use ...’

Kayte is a superb writer both in the research she undertakes and the story she then weaves from that, inclusive of characters that you really come to care for. The fact that so much of this story is based on and/or inspired by real life events certainly adds a richness of appreciation to events. This is historical fiction at its best. 

All up this a wonderful read that truly opened my eyes to the role women played in Burma during the war. To daily confront such challenging circumstances, one would need to form  bonds of support to be able to face it day after day. To find love and friendship amongst such danger and death is what makes this story so incredibly moving. 

‘The country had been changed forever; its peaceful people caught in the middle of a war started such a long way from here, in the name of avarice and power. It all seemed so senseless.’

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

Monday, March 22, 2021

Review: While Paris Slept

Title: While Paris Slept
Author: Ruth Druart

Publisher: 23rd February 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 488 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, world war II, cultural France

My Rating: 4 cups


A family's love is tested when heroes-turned-criminals are forced to make the hardest decisions of their lives in this unforgettably moving story of love, resistance, and the lasting consequences of the Second World War.

After. Santa Cruz, California, 1953. Jean-Luc and Charlotte Beauchamps have left their war-torn memories of Paris behind to live a quiet life in America with their son, Sam. They have a house in the suburbs, they've learned to speak English, and they have regular get-togethers with their outgoing American neighbors. Every minute in California erases a minute of their lives before -- before the Germans invaded their French homeland and incited years of violence, hunger, and fear. But their taste of the American Dream shatters when officers from the U.N. Commission on War Crimes pull-up outside their home and bring Jean-Luc in for questioning.

Before. Paris, France, 1944. Germany has occupied France for four years. Jean-Luc works at the railway station at Bobigny, where thousands of Jews travel each day to be "resettled" in Germany. But Jean-Luc and other railway employees can't ignore the rumors or what they see on the tracks: too many people are packed into the cars, and bodies are sometimes left to be disposed of after a train departs. Jean-Luc's unease turns into full-blown panic when a young woman with bright green eyes bursts from the train one day alongside hundreds of screaming, terrified passengers, and pushes a warm, squirming bundle into his arms.

Told from alternating perspectives, While Paris Slept reflects on the power of love, loss, and the choices a mother will make to ensure the survival of her child. At once a visceral portrait of family ties and a meditation on nurture's influence over identity, this heartbreaking debut will irreversibly take hold of your heart.

My Thoughts

This is a dual time narrative, a war time historical fiction but with an enticing twist. It begins in  1953, Santa Cruz, California with Jean-Luc Beauchamp and his wife Charlotte living a peaceful life with their nine year old son Sam. The family escaped Paris toward the end of World War II. One day Jean-Luc is then confronted by two men who bring him in for questioning for certain events that occurred during the war. What are these events and how will they threaten their current peaceful lives? 

The book then goes back to 1944 when Jean-Luc is a railroad worker, meets Charlotte and falls in love. They are unhappy with their personal lack of resistance to the Nazi occupation but all is thrown into disarray the day a Jewish mother places her infant son into Jean-Luc’s arms at a rail station. 

‘Everyone buried their chins in their collars and hurried home. Wasn’t that collaboration? Pretending that nothing had happened?’

This is a heartbreaking story about family, love and sacrifice. Yes, there is some focus on the Holocaust horrors with it taking up to half the novel to set things up, it is to my mind,  the second half of reading that is new and uniquely engaging. The focus then is more on the aftermath from the war and the events that transpired from the fallout of that fateful day. How will lives alter due to decisions that were made from that spur of the moment action, one based solely on survival? 

The strength of this book lies in the heartbreaking questions it presents to its readers with really, no easy answers. This book would make a great book club selection. With narratives from multiple perspectives and a clear indication of their personal struggles and motivations, it makes for captivating reading. This is not your run-of-the-mill WWII story. This is a story about a child and the ramifications of decisions made - all through love - regarding the welfare of this child. 

The first half of the book is your standard WWII historical fiction.  The second half of the book is an entirely different story and it shines a light on something I am sure occurred but was rarely discussed or brought to light. 

‘We all felt complicit in some way, though we never voiced it. After all, what could we do?’  

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

Friday, March 19, 2021

Review: The Rose Code

Title: The Rose Code
Author: Kate Quinn

Publisher: 3rd March 2021 by HarperCollins Australia

Pages: 620 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, world war II

My Rating: 5 cups


1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.

1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter--the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger--and their true enemy--closer...

My Thoughts

“It’s the most important commodity of all, isn’t it?” “What, codes?” “What the codes protect: information. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re fighting a war with swords, with bombers, or with sticks and stones - weapons are no good unless you know when and where to aim them.” 

Kate Quinn is an undisputed master storyteller of historical fiction. Her latest offering, The Rose Code, is right up there with her previous reads of The Huntress and The Alice Network.  Her research and attention to detail is phenomenal. Being a time period many authors of historical fiction favour, readers look to be enticed to familiar events through fresh eyes. This Kate does by the bucket load. With many characters based on actual historical figures and with the focus on female codebreakers, this was bound to be a fascinating read.

With two timelines covered - 1940 during the war and 1947 days before Princess Elizabeth’s royal wedding - this book is jam packed with suspense and intrigue that will lead you on an emotional ride.  This is a tale rich in detail of the codebreakers who worked at Bletchley Park as told by three women who became firm friends. Yet it is also a story of each woman’s personal struggles and growth during this demanding period of history. To then skip forward to 1947 and a mystery that brings them back together on the eve of a royal wedding ... well, it is ‘edge of your seat’ stuff. There will be love and loyalties to cheer for, there will be fear and fallouts to tear up for. Towards the end the pace quickens and your reluctance to put the book down heightens as you become so immersed in discovering how things went so horribly wrong. 

This is an incredibly complex and multilayered story that you will lose yourself in. Can the bonds of not just female friendship and understanding but also a fight for justice be enough to lay old grievances down in order to face a new enemy? This is, without doubt, historical fiction at its finest. Kate is an author you read without knowing any other details other than she is the author - you just know it will be that good! Strap yourself in, put the kettle on for your 600+ page immersion into the mystery that surrounds The Rose Code.

‘Where were all those women now? How many men who had fought in the war now sat reading their morning newspapers without realizing the woman sitting across the jam-pots from them had fought, too?  Maybe the ladies of BP hadn’t faced bullets or bombs, but they'd fought - oh, yes, they’d fought. And now they were labeled simply housewives, or schoolteachers, or silly debs, and they probably bit their tongues and hid their wounds ...’   

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

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Review: Just Like in the Movies

Title: Just Like in the Movies
Author: Heidi Rice

Publisher: 12th March 2021 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 400 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary, women's fiction, chick lit

My Rating: 3.5 cups


The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Ruby Graham’s verdict: I want to live in Oz, where danger is defeated by friendship, your dreams are always in glowing Technicolor and you can get a pair of absolutely gorgeous ruby slippers simply by landing a house on a hag!

Luke Devlin’s verdict: Flying monkeys? Seriously?

The late Matty Devlin was so much more than Ruby Graham’s boss. He was her best friend, her father-figure, and she is showcasing a series of his favourite classic movies at the independent cinema in Notting Hill which was his life’s work … and of which she is now part owner.

Matty left the other half of The Royale to his nephew, Luke, the elusive Manhattan property developer and rumoured son of a Hollywood icon.

It’s all beginning to sound like the plot of one of Ruby’s beloved films until it becomes clear Luke is no more interested in swooping in to save the crumbling Royale than he is in talking about his famous father. He’s bad-tempered, cynical, and he couldn’t care less about the cinema!

But saving The Royale is about far more than just Matty’s legacy. The Royale is the only place where Ruby gets to live in a world of dreams and happy endings, a place where there are no lost causes, and where falling in love is just like in the movies … or is Luke about to change all that?

My Thoughts

‘Movies are like life, if you look hard enough. A good movie can allow you to walk around in someone else’s shoes and also help you escape your problems, at least for a little while.’

Ruby has recently inherited half of The Royale movie theatre after the sad passing of her friend, mentor and father figure. Apart from badly being in debt, the other fifty percent beneficiary of the cinema is Luke - the son of two famous movie stars who has no time for the movies or movie lovers. Thus proceeds the tale of love/hate relationships with the requisite happily ever after. There are, however, certain endearing qualities to this read that make it stand out.

Of course there will be the predictable encounters (loads of explicit sex!), followed by numerous mullings and musings ... yet thankfully there are little snippets of something deeper and richer. It certainly is not all fluff as there are some painful and poignant themes. The strongest for me was the backstory of Luke and the life he led with famous parents and how that formed the man we see today. Tied into this is the mystery behind why he would be left part ownership of the cinema in the first place. Ruby was also a solid character and I really appreciated her story arc - one of strength tied in with her growth over present security - a win for me. 

All up you will read this if you love the chick lit genre full of romance and a cast of quirky yet loveable secondary characters. Yet, there is more to this tale with its themes of forgiveness and unconditional love and growth. 

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

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Review: The Codebreakers

Title: The Codebreakers
Author: Alli Sinclair

Publisher: 3rd March 2021 by Harlequin Australia & MIRA

Pages: 454 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, world war II

My Rating: 4.5 cups


A compelling story about tenacity and friendship, inspired by the real codebreaking women of Australia's top-secret Central Bureau in WWII. For readers who love Judy Nunn and Kate Quinn.

1943, Brisbane: The war continues to devastate and the battle for the Pacific threatens Australian shores. For Ellie O'Sullivan, helping the war effort means utilising her engineering skills for Qantas as they evacuate civilians and deliver supplies to armed forces overseas. Her exceptional logic and integrity attract the attention of the Central Bureau-an intelligence organisation working with England's Bletchley Park codebreakers. But joining the Central Bureau means signing a lifetime secrecy contract. Breaking it is treason.

With her country's freedom at risk, Ellie works with a group of elite women who enter a world of volatile secrets; deciphering enemy communications to change the course of the war. Working under immense pressure, they form a close bond-yet there could be a traitor in their midst. Can the women uncover the culprit before it's too late?

As Ellie struggles with the magnitude of the promise she's made to her country, a wedge grows between her and those she holds dear. When the man she loves asks questions she's forbidden to answer, how will she prevent the double life she's leading from unravelling?

My Thoughts

I have read all Alli's books and I think she just keeps getting better. The Codebreakers is a fabulous fictional tale based on extensive research. It provides a realistic portrayal of being female whilst living and serving in Australia during the Second World War. Reading about the Australian equivalent of Bletchley Park and the codebreaking that occurred at the Central Bureau was indeed a revelation to me. 

‘We can’t control things bigger than us.  What we can control, however, is our appreciation for what we have because it can change in the blink of an eye.’

Alli has done a fantastic job of putting a human face to a very factual tale. Her leading character Ellie - and indeed many of the secondary characters - come to life in this story of what life may have been like for young women who left their homes and took on roles many had never heard of before. Add to that the tragic realities of war - fear of Japanese invasion, loss of loved ones, rationing etc - and you really begin to get a feel for the stress and angst that must have filled the lives of many during this period. Throughout all of this Alli highlights the strength of female friendships  - loyalty, courage, inspiration - all in the line of duty for these young Australian women. 

The new and exciting component that makes this tale step up from other wartime stories is its continuation after armistice. How do you leave it all behind once the last shot is fired or message decoded? How hard it must have been to have the expectation of motherhood and being tied to the kitchen thrust back at you after all you had experienced. To have lost that female solidarity and being unable to share details with anyone, must surely have compounded their feelings of loss. I think Alli truly captured this desolate sense of isolation wonderfully well. For Alli to then continue the journey through highlighting the rights of women through Ellie’s flying journey and the RFDS truly added to what was already a well rounded tale. 

‘An array of emotions battled within---nostalgia for the friends she missed, the honour of being chosen to do such important and difficult work, and pride knowing she’d made a difference to many lives. It was all in the past, though. How long would she cling to it before it stopped her reaching for the future?’

With themes ranging from danger and stress, to fulfilment and friendship, Alli invites her readers to experience a well researched and fascinating part of Australia’s wartime history that very few knew about until recently (her Author Notes at the conclusion are most enlightening). I would love for Alli to consider continuing Ellie’s tale as she truly epitomised the life of many females of this era well beyond the war years. 

‘So, if you have the chance to do something you want, take it and don’t be apologetic. Women spend too much time bowing to society’s expectations instead of allowing ourselves to be who we truly are.’ 

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

Friday, March 5, 2021

Review: A Week To Remember

Title: A Week To Remember
Author: Esther Campion

Publisher: 23rd February 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 336 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary

My Rating: 4 cups


A converted stone farmhouse on the Irish coast is about to receive its first guests in this warmly captivating story for fans of Maeve Binchy and Monica McInerney

Whether it was the lure of the rugged coastline or the comforting image of the house, he wasn't sure, but he couldn't remember the last time he'd taken a holiday. . .

With its brightly painted front door, white-sash windows and garden path sweeping down toward the sea, Lizzie O's guesthouse promises a welcome escape from the world. Aisling and Mick Fitzgerald are travelling all the way from Tasmania to celebrate their wedding anniversary, but Aisling is burdened with a secret that could ruin their marriage. Declan Byrne, exhausted from an unhealthy routine of long hours, takeaway and too much red wine, has spontaneously taken the week off to visit the village of his childhood summers. Katie Daly returns to West Cork after an absence of 35 years to care for her ageing mother only to find she must confront her painful past. Finally, Mia Montgomery is taking this holiday without telling her husband.

Each of this group of strangers is at a crossroads. And one week in the middle of winter may change all of their lives.

My Thoughts

With all the Maeve Binchy feels, Esther invites you to spend a week at an Irish B&B where a random group of guests arrive to partake in everything from relaxing to cooking classes, hikes and poetry pub nights. With glimpses of the rugged Irish coastline, these people will rediscover or emerge from the weights everyday life has placed on them. 

‘How strange it felt to be in a West Cork kitchen, chatting with women she hardly knew but felt connected to by some sort of divine sisterhood. There was no one judging her here.’

Setting and the various plots make this an enjoyable read as the guests congregate and share the proverbial crossroads they find themselves at. In-between beach walks and baking, these incidental interactions will bring about revelations, whether wished for or not, that Esther invites you to be part of. There is also the mother-in-law minding the children back in Tasmania who also confronts her own ‘meaning of life’ epiphany. 

This is a lovely escapist read with its Irish flavour and down to earth characters. Speaking of which, there are quite a few to wrap your head around at the beginning. However, once you work out who is who, their tales of tragic past events, unfaithfulness in marriage or caring for aged parents will see the reader engaged and hopeful for the requisite happy ending. 

A Week to Remember  with its Irish charm and engaging locales and liaisons, will fill the readers longing for escapism into another life and problems satisfyingly solved for one and all. 

‘... if he’d learnt anything from his week at Lizzie O’s, it was that everyone had their troubles. And wasn’t that why they needed each other?’

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

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Review: Other People's Houses

Title: Other People's Houses
Author: Kelli Hawkins

Publisher: 3rd March 2021 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Pages:326 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: General Fiction (Adult) | Mystery & Thrillers | Women's Fiction

My Rating: 4 cups


The perfect house. The perfect family. Too good to be true.

Kate Webb still grieves over the loss of her young son. Ten years on, she spends her weekends hungover, attending open houses on Sydney's wealthy north shore and imagining the lives of the people who live there.

Then Kate visits the Harding house - the perfect house with, it seems, the perfect family. A photograph captures a kind-looking man, a beautiful woman she knew at university, and a boy - a boy that for one heartbreaking moment she believes is her own son.

When her curiosity turns to obsession, she uncovers the cracks that lie beneath a glossy facade of perfection, sordid truths she could never have imagined.

But is it her imagination? As events start to spiral dangerously out of control, could the real threat come from Kate herself?

My Thoughts

Admit it! We all dream about living in a fancy house and wonder what the life of its occupants to be. Well, put that premise on steroids by mixing in a mystery thriller and you have a super crime debut from Kelli that kept me turning the pages to the very end. 

‘The front door loomed, with all its promises. Promises of lives lived, of children growing and grown, of nightly dinners around a kitchen table. Of scuff marks on walls and broken light fittings and empty picture hooks. Everyday stuff. Family life.’

Set in Sydney, the plot follows Kate each weekend as she trudges around to open homes often ‘lifting’ a small memento from each. Kate is suffering terribly after the ‘tragic accident’ that occured ten years previous with the death of her then five year old son, Sascha. With one particular home, she becomes obsessed not only with the house but also the people and the seemingly perfect lives of the father, mother and son. It could have been her. Should have been her. What she does find upon further investigation, however, upsets her and sets her on a path of no return. There are flashback chapters that slowly deliver the life Kate led before the accident and puzzle pieces that Kelli invites you to move around in your minds eye. 

‘Entering that house, I’d  experienced an actual burst of real happiness for the first time since Sascha died. There was something about it that was so open and welcoming I immediately pictured what it might have been like to live there. What my life might have been.’

In many ways Kate was a difficult character to like despite the tragedy she had to endure. Everything from her alcoholism to irrational actions - often driven by drink - could leave the reader perplexed. I found myself questioning the state of her overall health, for example, if her drinking and bad diet had been that prolific for ten years - yet I suspended it all in favour of a mystery that engaged me and challenged me to read to the very end in an afternoon. You will, of course, have your suspicions, yet Kelli delivers a writing style with a plot full of twists and turns that you cannot help but rush to find out exactly how things will end up with Kate’s obsessive behaviour. I definitely recommend reading Other People’s Houses for lovers of this genre. 

‘People make mistakes, Kate. We forgive them. We move on with our lives.’  ‘You make it sound so simple.’  ‘It is. Look, I’m not saying it’s not hard. It’s bloody hard. But we make choices. The people in your life are in it because they want to be. It’s that simple.’ 

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