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BOOK REVIEW: Beyond the Orchard by Anna Romer

Tuesday, March 21, 2017




Beyond the Orchard – Anna Romer 


BLURB (from GoodReads)


A haunting story of yearning, love and betrayal from the bestselling author of Thornwood House


Lucy Briar has arrived home in turmoil after years overseas. She’s met her fiancé in London and has her life mapped out, but something is holding her back.

Hoping to ground herself and find answers, Lucy settles into once familiar routines. But old tortured feelings flood Lucy’s existence when her beloved father, Ron, is hospitalised and Morgan – the man who drove her away all those years ago – seeks her out.

Worse, Ron implores Lucy to visit Bitterwood Estate, the crumbling historic family guesthouse now left to him. He needs Lucy to find something– an old photograph album, the very thing that drove Ron and his father apart.

Lucy has her own painful memories of Bitterwood, darkness that has plagued her dreams since she was young. But as Lucy searches for the album, the house begins to give up its ghosts and she is driven to put them to rest.

And there, held tightly between the house, the orchard and the soaring cliffs, Lucy uncovers a long-hidden secret that shattered a family’s bond and kept a frightened young girl in its thrall ... and Lucy discovers just how fierce the lonely heart can be.


MY THOUGHTS:

A story that moves between the past and the present, with intrigue, passion, betrayal and the metafictive use of a dark fairy-taleit’ll be no surprise to anyone that I loved Beyond the Orchard, the first novel of Anna Romer’s that I have read.
 

I loved the name of the heroine – ‘Lucy Briar’ - and the name of the house – ‘Bitterwood’. Names are always very important to me, and I love it when an author takes care in crafting their names. I also loved the setting – an old house set on cliffs with a creepy ice house in the gardens. The scenes set in the 1930s were particularly powerful, and I loved the us evocation of the Australian landscape.

The story is a complex one, with a great many characters and numerous different time periods, but I thought the numerous narrative threads were woven together with a light hand, and I never got confused about who was who and when was when. 

The mysteries hidden in the past were truly suspenseful, and I found myself turning the pages faster and faster, really wanting the secrets to be revealed

All in all, Beyond the Orchard is a tantalising mix of mystery and romance – Anna Romer weaves together the past and the present with a deft hand, creating a compelling page-turner with a shadowy fairy-tale-like atmosphere.

Love parallel narratives? Lots more reviewed here!


ANY RECOMMENDATIONS OF SIMILAR BOOKS FOR ME? Leave them in the Comments below :)

BOOK REVIEW: Kumiko & the Dragon By Briony Stewart

Sunday, March 19, 2017




Kumiko and the Dragon
– Briony Stewart
Kumiko and the Dragon’s Secret – Briony Stewart
Kumiko and the Shadow-catchers – Briony Stewart


BLURB of Book 1 (from GoodReads)


Kumiko doesn't like going to bed. She can't sleep, and the reason she can't sleep is because of the giant dragon that sits outside her bedroom window, every single night.

So one night she plucks up the courage to ask the dragon to leave, not knowing that the truth she is about to discover is more thrilling than anything she could ever have imagined.


MY THOUGHTS:

This delightful story will take the young readers on a soaring dragon adventure, as Kumiko discovers a strength she never even knew she had.

A trilogy of charming fantasy books for very young readers, inspired by the tales that Briony Stewart’s Japanese grandmother used to tell her. Kumiko is frightened of going to bed because a dragon spends each night perched outside her bedroom window. One day she plucks up the courage to write the dragon a note … and so begins her adventures with the many different dragons who live in the clouds above our world. 

Some really beautiful writing.


BOOK REVIEW: The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwaller

Saturday, March 18, 2017




The Anchoress – Robyn Cadwaller

BLURB (from GoodReads):

England, 1255. What could drive a girl on the cusp of womanhood to lock herself away from the world forever?

Sarah is just seventeen when she chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman shut away in a cell that measures only seven by nine paces, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing a much-loved sister in childbirth as well as pressure to marry the local lord's son, she decides to renounce the world--with all its dangers, desires, and temptations--and commit herself to a life of prayer.

But it soon becomes clear that the thick, unforgiving walls of Sarah's cell cannot protect her as well as she had thought. With the outside world clamoring to get in and the intensity of her isolation driving her toward drastic actions, even madness, her body and soul are still in grave danger. When she starts hearing the voice of the previous anchoress whispering to her from the walls, Sarah finds herself questioning what she thought she knew about the anchorhold, and about the village itself.

With the lyricism of Nicola Griffith's Hild and the vivid historical setting of Hannah Kent's Burial Rites, Robyn Cadwallader's powerful debut novel tells an absorbing story of faith, desire, shame, fear, and the very human need for connection and touch. Compelling, evocative, and haunting, The Anchoress is both quietly heartbreaking and thrillingly unpredictable.



MY THOUGHTS:


I was on a panel with Robyn Cadwaller at the Perth Writers Festival a couple of years ago, and bought her book on the day as it just sounded so fascinating. An anchoress was a young woman who was walled up in a tiny cell in medieval times, living the rest of her life within that tiny space, praying, fasting and advising the women of the village. I have long been interested in stories of imprisoned women, and so I had read about anchoresses before. I was really intrigued to see how Robyn Cadwaller would bring to life a story of a young woman who voluntarily allows herself to be locked away from the world. 

Set in England in 1255, the story begins with 17-year old Sarah being enclosed within her cell. Her door is literally nailed shut. The cell is only seven by nine paces, with a small window to the outside world through which food and water is passed to her, and a narrow aperture (intriguingly called ‘a squint’) into the church. The only man she is permitted to speak to is her priest and confessor. She has two maids who serve her and guard her, who Sarah is meant to guide in a spiritual life.

Yet the world is not so easy to lock away. Sarah sees and hears glimpses of the life of the village, and is threatened by desire, grief, doubt and fear just as much as any other woman. 

She is haunted by the lives and deaths of the two women who were enclosed in this cell before her. One died, and one begged to be set free, much to the embarrassment of the church. Sarah wants to be good … but it is much harder than she could ever have imagined.

A beautiful, slow and thoughtful book with some really lovely pieces of lyrical writing, The Anchoress is a rare glimpse into a sliver of the almost forgotten past.

Love books by Australian women writers? Lots of recommendations here!

PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

BOOK REVIEW; Rose's Vintage by Kayte Nunn

Friday, March 17, 2017




Rose’s Vintage – Kayte Nunn

BLURB (from GoodReads):

British blow-in, Rose Bennett, is heartbroken, overweight, irritable and a long way from home. She isn’t sure what exactly she’s doing at Kalkari Wines in the Australian Shingle Valley – it’s the middle of winter and far from the lush, romantic vineyard setting she’d been expecting. 

Her brother thinks she’s spying for him, her bad-tempered new boss thinks she’s the au pair and the nanny can’t wait for her to clean the place up. 

Discovering pagan bonfire ceremonies, bizarre winemaking practices and a valley full of eccentric locals, Rose just wishes she’d ended up somewhere a bit warmer. But as the weather improves, the valley reveals its beauty, and Rose starts to fall in love: with the valley, the wines, the two children she’s helping to look after, and one of the men there. 

When her boss’s estranged wife returns and her brother descends, wanting answers, Rose is forced to make the hardest decision of her life.


MY THOUGHTS:


A warm-hearted and very readable contemporary romance set in an Australian vineyard, Rose’s Vintage throws failed-British chef-turned-au-pair Rose into the midst of a range of lovable, eccentric characters including two adorable children and their brooding, difficult but gorgeous father. I really enjoyed Rose’s journey as she rediscovered her love of cooking and negotiated her way through a host of troubles to find, at last, true love. 

 Perfect reading for a lazy summer Sunday!


Love contemporary romance set in the Australian landscape? Read my interview with Georgina Penny, author of A Summer Harvest

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS!

BOOK REVIEW: The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky

Thursday, March 16, 2017




The Waiting Room – Leah Kaminsky


BLURB (from GoodReads)

Leah Kaminsky’s powerful fiction debut—a multi-generational novel perfect for fans of The Tiger’s Wife and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena—unfolds over a day in the life of a young physician in contemporary Israel, who must cope with modern threats in the shadow of her parents’ horrific wartime pasts.

A young doctor in Haifa, Israel, must come to terms with her family’s painful past—and its lingering aftermath—as the conflict between Palestine and Israel reaches its height and the threat of a terrorist attack looms over the city....

Born to two survivors in the smoky after-haze of WWII, Dina has never been able to escape her parents’ history. Tortured by memories of Bergen-Belsen, her mother leaves Dina to inherit her decades of trauma. 

Dina desperately anchors herself in family—a cherished young son, a world-weary husband, and a daughter on the way—and her work as a doctor, but she is struggling to cope, burdened by both the very real anxieties of her daily life and also the shadows of her parents’ ghosts, who follow her wherever she goes. A witty, sensitive narrator, she fights to stay grounded in the here-and-now, even as the challenges of motherhood and medicine threaten to overwhelm her. 

In taut, compelling prose, The Waiting Room weaves between Dina’s exterior and interior lives, straddling the present and the past—and building towards a profoundly dramatic climax that will remind readers of the fragility of human life even as it reassures them of the inescapable power of love and family.



MY THOUGHTS: 

Set in modern-day Israel, The Waiting Room tells the story of a single day in the life of a female Jewish doctor who is haunted by her parents’ tragic past. Born to Holocaust survivors, Dinah has always been acutely aware of the unspoken horrors of her parents’ survival. Struggling to build herself a new life in Haifa with her husband and child, she finds her internal life buckling under the pressure of her external life as she struggles to care for her family and patients in a world fraught with terror. 

Leah Kaminsky’s prose is simple, elegant, restrained, and shot through with moments of humour both bright and dark. Past and present, reality and unreality, are woven together until neither the narrator nor the reader can be sure exactly what is happening. A powerful and insightful book into the very black shadows the Holocaust continues to cast. 

Love books by Australian women writers? Try Nest by Inga Simpson

ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ME? Leave them in the Comments below!


BOOK REVIEW: The Locksmith's Daughter by Karen Brooks

Wednesday, March 15, 2017




The Locksmith’s Daughter – Karen Brooks

BLURB (from GoodReads):


In a world where no one can be trusted and secrets are currency, one woman stands without fear.

Mallory Bright is the only daughter of London’s master locksmith. For her there is no lock too elaborate, no secret too well kept. Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster and protector of Queen Elizabeth – the last of the Tudor monarchs – and her realm, is quick to realise Mallory’s talent and draws her into his world of intrigue, danger and deception. With her by his side, no scheme in England or abroad is safe from discovery; no plot secure.

But Mallory’s loyalty wavers when she witnesses the execution of three Jesuit priests, a punishment that doesn’t fit their crime. When Mallory discovers the identity of a Catholic spy and a conspiracy that threatens the kingdom, she has to make a choice – between her country and her heart.

Mallory, however, carries her own dark secrets and is about to learn those being kept from her – secrets that could destroy those she loves.

Once Sir Francis’s greatest asset, Mallory is fast becoming his worst threat … and everyone knows there’s only one way Sir Francis deals with those.


MY THOUGHTS: 

An absolutely gripping page-turner of a novel set in Elizabethan times, The Locksmith’s Daughter is told from the first person point of view of a young woman named Mallory Bright, the story starts a little slowly but the pace soon quickens, and the plot begins to twist and turn in unexpected ways. 

Mallory is the daughter of a master locksmith who has taught her all his secrets. One evening her father is visited by the Queen’s spymaster Sir Frances Walsingham and Mallory is asked to show off her skills. She finds herself being trained as a spy to work on Walsingham’s behalf, and is drawn deeper and deeper into a dark and violent world. 

The book is set during a time of intense religious strife, when Jesuit priests were being hunted down and hanged, drawn and quartered. Mallory finds herself caught with divided loyalties and in danger herself. The world of Elizabethan England is captured with all its myriad sounds and smells, and I particularly loved all the details about devious locks and how the Elizabethan secret service worked. It felt so real and authentic, it was as if I had actually slipped back in time myself – always a sign of meticulous research and attention to detail.

A gripping historical thriller that will quite literally steal your breath!

Love historical thrillers set in Elizabethan times? Try The Tudor Conspiracy by C.W. Gortner  


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I love your recommendations! 

BOOK REVIEW: The Family With Two Front Doors by Anna Ciddor

Tuesday, March 14, 2017




The Family with Two Front Doors – Anna Ciddor

Blurb (from GoodReads):


This warm and engaging story, inspired by the author's own family, offers a glimpse into a life rich with tradition, celebration and love.

Meet the Rabinovitches: mischievous Yakov, bubbly Nomi, rebellious Miriam, solemn Shlomo, and seven more! Papa is a rabbi and their days are full of intriguing rituals and adventures. But the biggest adventure of all is when big sister Adina is told she is to be married at the age of fifteen - to someone she has never met.

Based on the author's real family, the Rabinovitches dance, laugh and cook their way through an extraordinary life in 1920s Poland.

In the classic tradition, this highly readable story is fascinating, engaging and as warm as freshly baked bread.


My Thoughts:

Inspired by the real-life stories of Anna Ciddor’s grandmother, The Family with Two Doors is a charming and poignant account of the life of a family of Jewish children in 1920s Poland. The book revolves around the upcoming arranged marriage between fifteen-year-old Adina and a boy she has never met, and has all sorts of delightful details about what life was like in 30 Lubartowska Street, Lublin, in the years between the wars. 


If you love children's books set in this period of history you may enjoy my List of Best Children's Books set in World War II

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

BOOK REVIEW: Enemy: A Daughter’s Story by Ruth Clare

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

THE BLURB (from GoodReads):

'I was born into the war still raging inside my father.'


Ruth Clare's father came back from the war a changed man: a violent and controlling parent and a dominating, aggressive husband. Through a childhood of being constantly on guard, with no one to protect her but herself, Ruth learned to be strong and fierce in the face of fear.

After escaping her difficult upbringing, Ruth went on to have children of her own. The challenges of parenting left her desperate for reassurance that she would not repeat her father's behavior. She met with other veterans and began learning about the effects of conscription, military training and post-traumatic stress disorder. The stories Ruth uncovered left her with surprising empathy for the man who caused her so much pain, and renewed her determination to stop the legacy of war passing down to the next generation. 

Weaving a striking personal narrative with a revelatory exploration about the effects of war, Enemy is a bold, compelling and ultimately triumphant memoir from a hugely impressive new Australian writer.


MY THOUGHTS:


I met Ruth Clare at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival, and was so intrigued by her story I bought her book – a memoir of growing up with a brutal and domineering father who had been damaged by his experiences in the Vietnam war. 


I’ve always been interested in the way violence done to one generation can warp and cripple the generations to follow, and the difficulties in breaking the cycles of harm. Ruth Clare’s memoir is a searing indictment of the shadow cast by the Vietnam war, and a timely reminder of the imperative to learn from the mistakes of the past.


The most poignant aspect of the novel, for me, was the way Ruth Clare’s mother was broken by her husband’s violence … and the fact that Ruth herself was able to survive and heal, and build a new life for herself. 


A powerful and heart-rending memoir, told with grace and empathy.

BOOK REVIEW: Hexenhaus by Nikki McWatters

Monday, January 02, 2017


THE BLURB (from GoodReads):

In 1628, Veronica and her brother flee for their lives into the German woods after their father is burned at the stake. 


At the dawn of the eighteenth century, Scottish maid Katherine is lured into political dissent after her parents are butchered for their beliefs. 

In present-day Australia, Paisley navigates her way through the burning torches of small-town gossip after her mother’s new-age shop comes under scrutiny.



MY THOUGHTS:


Nikki McWatters and I share two nephews, though we have never met. So when my sister-in-law told me that her other sister-in-law was writing a novel for young adults inspired by witch-hunts through history, I was intrigued. Tell her to send me a copy, I said. I’m very glad that I did. Hexenhaus is a gripping story of three different young women at different times of history who all find themselves persecuted in some way for witchcraft. 

Veronica lives in Bamburg in what is now Germany in 1628. Katherine lives in Scotland in 1696. Paisley lives in Bundadoon, Australia, in the present-day. They are linked by a kind of pagan sisterhood, with their names inscribed in an ancient book called the Systir Saga. All three suffer witch-hunt hysteria, with the first two inspired by real-life events in Germany and Scotland. 

Told in short yet evocative alternating chapters, the story follows each character’s struggle to escape the narrow-mindedness and cruelty of the societies in which they live. Aimed squarely for a teenage audience, the novel moves swiftly and yet does not shy away from depicting some of the horror of the historical witch-hunt. The modern-day narrative helps ground the story in the here-and-now, showing that prejudice and intolerance to other people’s belief systems still causes harm today. 

I gave Nikki an endorsement for the front cover: ‘A riveting novel inspired by the true history of witchcraft and witch-hunts. Unputdownable.’ 



LOVE FANTASTICAL YA FICTION? So do I!


I have heaps of other YA fiction reviews on my blog, including writers like Maggie Stievater, Belinda Murrell, Juliet Marillier, Helen Lowe and Kate Constable.  Click here to read them!


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!



AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS CHALLENGE! Make November the month to read as much as you can

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

It's been a really busy year for me, and much of my reading has been proscribed for me by research for my new work-in-progress Beauty in Thorns.  This means lots of neo-Victorian literature and gorgeous thick books on Pre-Raphaelite art.

Now the manuscript has been sent off to my publishers, I'm aiming to catch up on some reading for pleasure. And I've decided to make November the month I attempt to catch up with the Australian Women's Writers challenge. I really want to help and support the work of my fellow Australian women, and what better way than to read & review their work? 

Last year I only read 10 books by Australian women writers, and I am absolutely determined to do better this year!

So I've been on a shopping spree, and dug out a pile from my to-be-read bookshelf, and am eagerly wondering what I will discover.

Here are the books I'm going to try and read. I hope I get though them all!  

 



Why don't you give it a go too? See if you can read as many as I do. And let me know what treasures you discover. 




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