Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Review: The Paris Affair

Title: The Paris Affair
Author: Melanie Hudson

Publisher: 16th September 2022 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 376 pages

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 5 cups


Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone. Nurse Edith Cavell, on the eve of her execution, 1915

Scarred by his experiences in World War I, German doctor, Sebastian Braun lives a quiet life tending to his patients and his beloved garden. Until Sophie Hathaway bursts into his life and challenges his dearly-held beliefs. And just at the moment Sebastian discovers love for the first time war is on the horizon once again, threatening not just his peace of mind…

As the Germans approach the Channel Islands, Sebastian has to make choices: be the peace-loving man he has become or stand up and fight for his principles? When he and Sophie are separated, Sebastian is left realising love may have eluded him forever. Until a chance meeting in Paris sets the wheels in motion for a dangerously devastating love affair.

Set against the backdrop of World War II, The Paris Affair is a poignant story, beautifully told of love, loss and the resilience of the human spirit.

My Thoughts

The Paris Affair is a brilliant read for many reasons - Melanie’s books just keep getting better and better! Her writing has gone to the next level with prose and ideas that really touched me. I was swept away by her research told through a main character that was so unique for this genre and time. 

‘What once brought so much joy, peace and a sense of completeness, was lost to me, perhaps because I knew–oh how I knew–that my little place of paradise would be lost to me soon, and that one way or another, my freedom and my absolute sense of being home would be gone.’

Set in WW2 Sebastian is in prison awaiting execution. During this time, he tells his life story to the prison priest, which transports the reader to many places - the Channel Island of Sark, the Cornwall coast and, yes Paris, but how I wish the book had been titled something different as I believe it does not do it justice and could steer potential readers away. To my mind, this is not a book about Paris or an affair. This is a book that spoke to my soul - Sebastian, spoke to my soul!

‘… in Sark I had been the ‘Good Doctor’ and then Sophie had called me ‘the Generous Gardener’, but to the authorities, none of this mattered because my place of birth marked me as the enemy, and so my life was reduced to nothing. I was reduced to nothing.’

Narrated from the first person perspective, Sebastian Braun is a German veteran of the First World War and has made a new life for himself on the island of Sark. You quickly become his advocate with his endearing nature and incredible understanding of life and the people in it. He is a complex man who, changed by the horrors he witnessed in WWI, wants nothing to do with this new war. His wish is to stay in his remote refuge and tend his garden - a well-educated doctor and deep thinker. Yes, there is romance that develops Sebastian’s character arc but the mysterious Sophie and invading Nazis are about to turn his life upside down.

‘You must also know how angry I am that a wonderful, kind man who wants and knows only peace, who would never hurt a soul, is forced to choose either one awful situation or the other.’

The Paris Affair is quality WWII historical fiction - something special. If you are looking for that something extra, that next level -  a story within a story - look no further. Philosophically flavoured for quiet contemplation, a dash of mystery and romance, with an ending that I simply did not see coming is what sees me recommending that this is a book not to be missed. 

‘My life, looked at in such a way, has been hell. But speaking with you, I have found that if I write my story in another way, if I spin the yarn with a lighter thread, I can only conclude that I have been blessed.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Review: Becoming Beth

Title: Becoming Beth
Author: Meredith Appleyard 

Publisher: 7th September 2022 by Harlequin Australia, HQ and Mira

Pages: 400 pages

Genre: contemporary

My Rating: 4.5 cups


Beth has forgotten the core truth of her own life. In a cruel move, her dead mother is about to remind her. A wise and ultimately warm-hearted story about self-discovery, family and community for readers of Tricia Stringer and Liz Byrski.

Since adolescence, 58-year-old Beth has lived her life with blinkers on, repressing the memory of a teenage trauma. Her mother, Marian, took control of that situation, and of all else in their family life - and as much as she could in the small town of Miner's Ridge as well.

Now Marian is dead, and Beth, unemployed and in the middle of an embarrassing divorce, is living with her gentle-hearted father in the family home. Beth feels obliged to take over her mother's involvement in the local town hall committee, which becomes a source of new friendships, old friendships renewed, and a considerable amount of aggravation.

Researching town hall history, Beth finds photographs that show Marian in a surprising light; sorting through Marian's belongings, she realises that her mother has left a trail of landmines, cruel revelations that knock the feet out from under her supposed nearest and dearest. Beth struggles to emerge from the ensuing emotional chaos ... in middle age, can she really start anew?

A deeply felt, acutely observed novel about mothers and children, about what people hide from themselves and each other, about the richness and difficulties of community, and about becoming your own person.

My Thoughts

Becoming Beth is the emotional and challenging story of a middle aged woman’s journey following the breakdown of her marriage and the death of her mother. Set in a small South Australian town it tells the story through the revelation of family secrets, the forging of new friendships with the support of the local community. 

‘I’m in my late fifties. I'm single again. I don't have a social life as such. I don't have a job any more, and even if I wanted one, it's unlikely at my age - and with the pandemic - that I'd get one. Sure, I have money in the bank and superannuation, but I could live for another thirty years? Imagine that. Thirty more years ….’

As a middle aged woman, Beth finds herself having to navigate these life changes, however, it forces her to look for a new direction and purpose in life. Returning to her country home town, Beth comes across the usual characters and the fun interactions from living in a small community. It was Beth’s relationship with her father that I found to be most endearing. Together they confront the past with its secrets and a future that will forge a new path for both of them. 

‘I loved my dad, but more to the point, I liked him. He was perhaps the kindest man I'd ever known. Which probably went part way to explaining why the few relationships I'd had in my life had been so bitterly disappointing: the bar had been set high.’

This is not a plot driven tale, rather a gentle character analysis that many readers will undoubtedly relate to - I know I did! It’s much like sitting down over a cup of tea, around the kitchen table and listening/watching as events unfold. A story of families, dealing with grief and finding your own new identity. Meredith delivers this gentle tale with a wonderful sense of time and place of the ups and downs in life that we can all surely identify with.

‘Standing there, suddenly it all seemed so simple. I would forgive myself, and then actively pursue what I wanted for the remainder of my life. If I didn't, I would deserve what I ended up with. Maybe that's what making the most of the life you had left meant.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Review: Reg Pascoe - The Vet They Called God

Title: Reg Pascoe - The Vet They Called God
Author: AZ Pascoe

Publisher: 16th August 2022 by PascoeInk

Pages: 290 pages

Genre: nonfiction, biography


‘Don't look now... but God's in the front row.'

This was a frequent refrain at both Australian and international veterinary conferences for decades. And there Dr Reg Pascoe would be: watching and listening attentively, eyes glinting with wry humour behind his glasses. His brilliant mind and unyielding curiosity made him an international legend. His dedication to education and investigation made him a veterinary pioneer. And his passion and breadth of expertise earnt him a nickname no one gainsaid.

This is the story of how a young man from a poor rural Queensland family became the vet they called God.

On a rocky patch of ground in a small country town called Oakey, Dr Reg Pascoe built an internationally renowned veterinary clinic. From that quiet corner of the country, he served as a cornerstone of the Australian horse industry for over fifty years. His self-driven research illuminated shadowy corners of equine veterinary medicine and his commitment to developing professional veterinary organisations and mentoring junior vets enriched the Australian veterinary profession. But Reg Pascoe was far more than simply a vet.

This biography, rich with tales from those whose lives Reg touched, chronicles the life of a great Australian. Despite the challenges that met him during his journey, Reg never allowed himself to be constrained by his fears or the limitations others might have placed upon him. His life is an example of who we might be if we, too, pursue our dreams with fervour and with a genuine desire to serve those around us.

And how in doing so, we might quietly, generously, and humbly change the world.

My Thoughts

“People literally referred to him as God … they weren’t being cynical; I think it was a genuine reflection of their respect for him. Because he really was the leading light in equine work in a public sense.”

Having just farewelled the Queen, it was somewhat fitting to review a book about an iconic figure, a man they referred to as, ‘God’. For over fifty years Reg Pascoe proved to be an integral influence on the Australian horse industry in the advancement of equine medicine. Discoveries he made led to advancements that are felt up to this day. Here was a man who devoted his life to veterinary science, community and family. 

Veterinary science in Australia was in its infancy at the time a young Reg took it up. He would see a growth that would witness the transformation from the unrecognised to the structure, regulation and professionalism we take for granted today. Reg gained international recognition for his skills and knowledge in animal medicine and teaching that would influence thousands of vets throughout Australia and indeed the world. 

Yet Reg’s story is more than that of a humble vet. Here is a story of a young man who inadvertently opened a letter not meant for him that turned the course of his life and many others from dream to reality. His granddaughter, AZ Pascoe, is a Queensland-born Australian writer who has done an incredible amount of investigation and research into this well informed book. She hoped to capture the essence of an incredible life and I believe she has done that and so much more. 

‘The death of someone we love is inevitably coloured by the fear that they will be forgotten – this book, a tribute to my grandad, is my effort to ensure Reg Pascoe never can be.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Review: The Night Tide

Title: The Night Tide
Author: Di Morrissey

Publisher: 13th September 2022 by Pan Macmillan Australia

Pages: 416 pages

Genre: contemporary, mystery

My Rating: 3.5 cups


After an election upheaval, Dominic Cochrane decides it's time to leave his twenty-year political staffer career behind. He opts to stay at a friend's converted waterside boatshed in a quiet bay in a Sydney backwater.

The long-time neighbours take Dom into their fold, but his peaceful retreat is quickly upended as he becomes embroiled in a tragic mystery.

As money sharks circle treasured family homes in the secluded community, tensions mount as their way of life is threatened, secrets are exposed and old wounds reopened. Can Dom unravel what really happened so many years ago, or have the secrets been swept away on the dark night tide?

My Thoughts

Di Morrissey is one of Australia’s most successful and prolific authors. Her latest, The Night Tide, involves a mystery with a family tragedy. Once more there is much on offer here to entice the reader with a variety of themes and stories - personal development, lifestyle, family secrets, small community living and of course, Di’s considered focus on the environment.

‘Life is full, complicated, busy . . . but when you look back, it was happy.’ She looked at him. ‘You don’t always realise it at the time.’ She glanced away, her lip trembling slightly as she added in a low, tight voice, ‘And now I feel so angry with him. How dare he . . . just leave us . . .’

This time Di gives readers an interesting male lead which makes for a nice change as he takes time out of the rat race to reflect and review on his life. As always there are a range of secondary characters and life in a small rural community. I appreciated not only the descriptions of the wonderful location but also the acknowledgement of land versus development debate. I did, however, find the mystery to be the weakest link. I kept waiting for some big reveal but much like the story, it was a gentle reveal - dare I say, a little disappointing? That being said, I would rather the book have had a central focus on the environment and corporate takeovers of the natural bush for development; or, on Dominic (lead character) and the search for a new start in life. The mystery reveal was insipid and fell flat for me.

‘So little was known. What was the point of dragging all this up again after a quarter of a century?’

A Di Morrissey book is always guaranteed engaging reading. A thoughtful story to lose yourself in for a few hours.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Review: A Song of Comfortable Chairs

Title: A Song of Comfortable Chairs
The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency #23

Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Publisher: 30th August 2022 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 256 pages

Genre: contemporary fiction, Africa, mystery

My Rating: 5 cups


In this latest installment in the beloved No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Grace Makutsi encounters a pair of quandaries that will require all of her and Mma Ramotswe’s cleverness and generosity to resolve

Grace Makutsi’s husband, Phuti, is in a bind. An international firm is attempting to undercut his prices in the office furniture market. Phuti has always been concerned with quality and comfort, but this new firm seems interested only in profits. To make matters worse, they have a slick new advertising campaign that seems hard to beat. Nonetheless with Mma Ramotswe’s help, Phtui comes up with a campaign that may just do the trick.

Meanwhile, Mma Makutsi is approached by an old friend who has a troubled son. Grace and Phuti agree to lend a hand, but the boy proves difficult to reach, and the situation is more than they can handle on their own. It will require not only all of their patience and dedication, but also the help of Mma Ramotswe and the formidable Mma Potokwani in order to help the child.

Faced with more than her fair share of domestic problems, Mma Makutsi deals with it all with her usual grace. That, along with the kindness, generosity, and good sense that the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is known for, assure us that in the end, all these matters will be set right.

My Thoughts

‘… to calm Mma Makutsi down with a few reassuring words and a cup of tea. Tea had remarkable calming properties when administered mid-crisis, and that, perhaps, was what was needed now.’

I cannot tell you the complete and utter joy I get in opening up a fresh new tale from the ‘No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’ series.  It is hard to believe this is the 23rd installment! Yes! You read correctly, twenty three .... and still going strong. Precious Ramotswe and her life in Botswana is a place I am always eager to curl up on the couch for. It is a pleasure to step out of the rat race and spend some time with old friends, intriguing mysteries and a journey to a satisfying conclusion. 

‘It was important, she felt, to keep your working life separate from your home life; she knew far too many people who allowed the cares of the job to intrude upon their home life, and these were the people who tended to become depressed or suffer from something that she had recently read about in a magazine - something referred to as burn-out.’

Followers of this series are in it for the long haul as it’s like catching up with old friends. More often than not, it’s not the gentle story/investigation unfurling that draws you in, but rather the keen observations that make you smile, the pearls of wisdom that cause you to pause and ponder. 

‘Most people longed for the day when they might tune into a news broadcast and hear the announcer say, 'I'm sorry, everybody, but nothing has happened. There is no news today none at all.' That day had never come to pass, as far as she knew, but you could still hope. That was what you could always do - no matter how bad things seemed to be - you could hope.’

Alexander McCall Smith has managed once again to write another wonderful tale where our leading lady, Precious, encourages us to slow down and express gratitude. To many it might seem simplistic, yet truly speaking, it is the superb craftsmanship of Alexander that provides devoted readers with a gentle reminder to be more open minded and extend warmth to those around us.

‘That was the problem, she reflected; that was the source of so much unhappiness - there were people who made it their business to stop other people from being themselves; who tried to make people be something they did not want to be. That led to swathes of unhappiness as wide as the Kalahari itself.’

Exuding gentleness and a philosophy many of us could learn from, Precious Ramotswe and friends remind us of the more important things in life. A Song of Comfortable Chairs is just that: time out in a comfy chair where the rhythms of Africa sweep over you. We could all do with a little more Botswana wisdom in our lives. I can’t wait for the next instalment - these books being an absolute treasure that I shall continue to read as long as Alexander writes them (please … keep writing them!)

‘The real art in going through life with dignity and with a modicum of happiness was to accept what you were, and, at the same time, to accept others and to love them all equally. That was hard, and for some people it was impossible, but you had to try.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Review: The Saturday Night Sauvignon Sisterhood

Title: The Saturday Night Sauvignon Sisterhood
Author: Gill Sims

Publisher: 6th July 2022 by HarperCollins Australia

Pages: 343 pages

Genre: contemporary, humour

My Rating: 3.5 cups


Claire’s family has gone nuclear. Her precious moppets keep calling Childline when she feeds them broccoli, she’s utterly Ottolenghied out at weekends, and her darling husband is having an affair with her best friend.

The question isn’t whether she needs a glass of wine, but is there one big enough?

Enter the Sauvignon Sisterhood, a new set of friends brought together by a shared love of liquid therapy. Together they might just be able to convince Claire that, like a good bottle of red, life really can get better with age. Or at least there’s more to it than the joy of an non-iron school uniform.

My Thoughts

‘A toast’, said Claire, standing up unsteadily. 'To us! The Saturday  Night Sauvignon Sisterhood. We're divorcees and widows and marrieds an' all, an' here's to us!’

I found The Saturday Night Sauvignon Sisterhood to be funny in places but the surprise was the underlying tones that contained messages that I found to be heartwarming. This book is, of course, a comical realistic tale of motherhood and marriage, yet it also deals with more serious issues and this was done with care and sincerity.

The story follows Claire as her life gets turned upside down, but aside from the laughter, it’s a journey of her reinvention as someone stronger and truer to self. Yes, there is much wit revolving around family, marriage, school, work and friendships with it often being the simple observations that we all come across. This is what makes it relatable and provides comic relief to so many. Whether it be the interactions between parents and their children, or the stereotypical playground parents, readers are sure to find many laugh out loud moments. 

‘Anyway, the important thing is that you've got to keep hold of who you are. You. Yourself. Not a wife, not a mother, not an employee, but you. Have you done that?'

What was pleasantly surprising was the wisdom wound around the wit from all these messy emotions. When this seemingly normal life begins to unravel, how do people work through it to come out the other side different but better? The central theme here is really one of support and friendship and having that ‘tribe’ of people surrounding you to hold your hand (and being reciprocative) as together you laugh, cry and set about, through much honesty, making  changes.

For me, whilst I was not that caught up in the humour, I did very much appreciate the story of growth and personal development. The strength and resolve Claire demonstrated in making the necessary adjustments (with support) to evolve into a new life was worthy. A much relatable tale that is both lighthearted and uplifting.

‘Claire felt a sense of peace that had been missing for a long time, and she also felt a new sense of pride that however sad it was that this life was now over, it was finishing on her terms, and at her say-so. She had let herself drift along at the mercy of other people's whims for too long, and now it was time to take charge of her own life again.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Review: The French Agent

Title: The French Agent
Author: Belinda Alexandra

Publisher: 7th September 2022 by HarperCollins Australia

Pages: 390 pages

Genre: historical fiction, mystery

My Rating: 5 cups


A world in chaos. Two very different women. And the mystery of the man who may connect them. The stunning new novel from beloved Australian storyteller Belinda Alexandra.

Paris 1946: Sabine Brouillette is a war crimes investigator with the French secret service. She lost her family, including her young son, when her Resistance circuit was betrayed near the end of the war. New evidence comes to light that the traitor was a British double agent who went by the codename 'the Black Fox'. Now her quest for revenge has a single focus: find the Black Fox and kill him.

Sydney 1946: Landscape designer Diana White has been waiting six years for her husband, Casper, to return from the war in Europe. Her son, Freddy, was only a baby when his British-born father joined the RAF. But Casper is a changed man when he returns from the convalescent hospital in England where he has spent the past year under mysterious circumstances. No longer the easygoing personality Diana fell in love with, he is now darker and more secretive.

Soon Sabine and Diana find themselves on a collision course - one seeking vengeance, the other willing to go to any lengths to protect her family.

My Thoughts

Can Belinda do it all? It would seem, yes she can! The French Agent is a stunning story that held me captivated all the way through. From plot twists and turns that I knew had to come and couldn’t wait to see how Belinda would ultimately place the puzzle pieces for her readers; to simply exquisite writing that was both lyrical and mystical; to research that ever so beautifully captured a love of the natural environment - this book has it all!

‘Investigating war crimes was like delving into the mind of evil. Every evening, when Sabine went home, she took a bath even when the water was freezing. She had to wash that evil off herself.’

Firstly the plot is ever so clever as readers weave through timelines with such sublime segues that Belinda made it look easy. Whether it be 1920s flashbacks, to during the war, to after the war - Belinda effortlessly guided her readers to collecting breadcrumbs towards the final revelation and action. Secondly, Belinda’s knowledge and obvious love of nature, art and music is rich and rewarding. Whether I was strolling through an art gallery or listening to a sonata, Belinda took me there. However, it was the delivery of Belinda’s knowledge, not only on horticulture, but also the importance of the natural environment that I lapped up.

‘Diana had learned to appreciate silence. The pauses between notes of music, the quiet of the stars, the way paintings spoke without using words.’

Other themes are pursued - espionage, war tragedies and trauma, PTSD, Sydney - housing crisis and town planning after the war, domestic violence and family drama - this certainly is a tale that is rich and highly engaging for its readers. So I state once more … can Belinda do it all …  yes she can! 

‘We are here to appreciate beauty,' she continued. 'When people forget that, they create strife and wars and all manner of ugly things. They destroy what is beautiful and precious instead of appreciating and respecting it.’

I have loved all Belinda’s books and she just seems to get better and better with each one. The French Agent being such a well rounded novel with love and loyalty, secrets and spies and a story that will sit with you long after turning the final page. I highly recommend this to not only historical fiction lovers but anyone who wants to get lost in a great story. 

“To honour her I try to live by her favourite proverb: "One today is better than ten tomorrows.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.