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BOOK REVIEW: The Juliet Code by Christine Wells

Wednesday, June 13, 2018



The Blurb (From Goodreads)

1947. The war is over, but Juliet Barnard is hiding a secret. While her family believed she was helping the war effort from the safety of England, in truth Juliet was a trained wireless operator, dropped behind enemy lines in Paris to spy on the Germans. But the mission went critically wrong when Juliet was caught and imprisoned in a mansion in Paris's Avenue Foch. Now she can't - or won't - relive the horrors that occurred there, and the people she betrayed . . .

The last thing Juliet wants is to return to France, but when ex-SAS officer Mac begs Juliet to help him find his sister, another British agent who is still missing, she can't refuse. And in retracing her past, Juliet begins to realise that in wartime, the greatest enemy isn't always the one that you're expecting to fight.


My Thoughts:

Australian author Christine Wells has been making a name for herself writing intelligent, suspenseful historical novels. Her latest offering, The Juliet Code, begins in 1947 when a young woman named Juliet Barnard is being interrogated about her role as an undercover wireless operator in Nazi-occupied France during the war. She is wracked with guilt and remorse over the disappearance of a friend and colleague of hers, and so agrees to help to her friend’s brother track down what happened to her.

The narrative moves back and forth between Juliet’s interrogation and subsequent return to France, and the events of 1943 when Juliet was first parachuted into France. She is young and naïve, but acutely aware of the danger if she should be caught by the Germans. Eventually her luck runs out and she finds herself a prisoner. Unable to escape, drugged and tortured, Juliet cannot help but betray her friends. This disloyalty haunts her. She blames herself for the deaths and disappearances of other secret operatives, and so when an ex-SAS officer named Mac begs for her help, Juliet reluctantly agrees – even though she is afraid of the horror of the memories it will rake up ... and the chance she may find herself in danger again.

I love books about resistance fighters and spies in World War II, and The Juliet Code is a fine addition to my collection. I really liked the fact that Juliet was not a particularly good secret operative, but determined to do her part. Her bravery, resolution, and quick wits prove to be more valuable than strength and ruthlessness. The tender love story at the heart of the book adds poignancy and warmth, without crowding out the true narrative arc – a story of an ordinary young woman who does her utmost to help and save those whose lives are torn apart by cruelty and war.

I also loved reading Christine Wells’s ‘Author’s Note’ at the end of the book which reveals the true-life inspirations for Juliet, Felix and Mac.

You can read my review of Christine's earlier book, The Traitor's Girl, here.

And I was lucky enough to interview Christine for the blog this week! You can read it here.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.

INTERVIEW: Christine Wells

Wednesday, June 13, 2018



Today I welcome Christine Wells, author of The Juliet Code, to the blog.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
While in the process of researching The Traitor's Girl, which was about World War II spies, I came across the story of Noor Inayat Khan. Noor was a wireless operator who worked for the British Special Operations Executive in occupied Paris during World War II. Everyone thought she was too gentle to survive such dangerous conditions but she managed to elude the Germans and operate effectively for months until she was betrayed. When German counterintelligence kept her prisoner in a mansion in Paris she made several attempts to escape and fought her captors so viciously that they deemed her a dangerous prisoner and kept her handcuffed in solitary confinement.

I wanted to tell a story about an unlikely spy, a woman who is flawed and makes mistakes, but who struggles and ultimately prevails.

How extensively did you plan The Juliet Code?
For this novel, I began with the premise, the inciting incident and an idea of the key turning points, but I didn’t plan Juliet extensively. In fact, it took a different direction from the one I intended when I began.

What were some of the major challenges and obstacles that you overcame while writing this book?

A major challenge for me was getting my head around ciphers and coding—in particular, the Playfair Cipher used by the Special Operations Executive during the war—and trying to then simplify and explain the process in the book. I didn’t want to let The Juliet Code get bogged down in detail because first and foremost, readers are interested in the story. Hopefully, I struck the right balance.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

I was keen to match up an SAS officer with a former Special Operations Executive agent in The Juliet Code but at the time I began the book I didn’t realise that the Nazi officer on whom I based the character of Kieffer had not only incarcerated Noor Inayat Khan but he had also ordered a group of SAS paratroopers to be executed and their identities obliterated in a manner contrary to the Geneva Convention. One SAS man escaped execution and it seemed a perfect way to give Mac, the SAS officer, a personal stake in hunting Kieffer after the war.

I love the covers of your books. Do you get much of a say in how they’re designed?
I hear from readers that they love my covers and I feel very lucky because I don’t have much say in their design. I might give a physical description of the protagonist but that’s about the only input I have before the cover is sent to me. I am then able to comment but I haven’t felt the need to ask for changes in the three I’ve had with Penguin. The cover artist has done a wonderful job every time.

What are some of your favourite books that you’ve read recently?
Most recently, I read and loved Sally Hepworth’s The Family Next Door, a suburban mystery along the lines of Liane Moriarty’s books with that fine balance of sharp insight, humour and gut-wrenching sadness. I also enjoyed Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan, a thriller featuring a female barrister protagonist that I thought extremely well researched and authentic.

What are some of your favourite non-fiction books?
I absolutely love Of Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War by Leo Marks — Marks is a delightful storyteller who inspired the character of Felix in The Juliet Code. I totally fell in love with Leo when I read this memoir. I also devour Ben McIntyre’s rollicking tales of espionage and special forces, such as Operation Mincemeat and A Spy Among Friends.

Do you listen to music as you write, and if so, what?
I only listen to music as I write if I’m finding it difficult to block out other noise, and then I listen to Mozart.

Can you tell us more about your Author’s Note, and your true-life inspirations for Juliet, Felix and Mac?

I’ve spoken a little about the inspiration for Juliet above. As I’ve mentioned also, Juliet’s love interest, Felix Mortimer, is based on Leo Marks who was in charge of decoding wireless transmissions for the British Special Operations Executive during World War II. He wrote a poem for the agent Odette Sansom to use as a cipher key, called ‘The Life that I Have” which later became famous. He was the son of the owners of the bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road (made famous by a novel of that name) and after the war he became a playwright and scriptwriter.

My tough Scottish SAS captain, Steve Mcintyre (“Mac”) was inspired by a real SAS paratrooper who escaped the Nazis by using his watch spring to pick the lock on his handcuffs. I so admired the mix of supreme toughness, strategy and guile of the SAS men in World War II that I knew I had to write about one of these extraordinary men. Mac also serves as a foil to the more intellectual heroism Felix shows.


You can read my review of The Juliet Code here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Traitor's Girl by Christine Wells

Friday, August 25, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

'I think I'm in danger. It's a matter of some urgency. You must please come at once.'

After receiving a mysterious summons from her long-lost grandmother, Australian teacher Annabel Logan agrees to visit her home in the Cotswolds. But when she arrives at the magnificent Beechwood Hall, it appears abandoned and the local villagers have no idea where the reclusive Caroline Banks might be.

The one person who might know something is enigmatic journalist Simon Colepeper. He reveals that Carrie became a spy and agent provocateur for MI5 during the Second World War. But when British intelligence failed to investigate a dangerous traitor, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Concerned that her grandmother's secret past has caught up with her, Annabel stays on to investigate. But the more she uncovers, the more difficult it becomes to know who to trust. There are strange incidents occurring at Beechwood and Annabel must use all her ingenuity and daring to find Carrie before it's too late.

From the streets of Seville, Paris and London in the thirties and forties, to the modern English countryside, The Traitor's Girl is a captivating story of passion, intrigue and betrayal.

My Thoughts:

Another gorgeous cover & intriguing title made me very keen to read Christine Wells’s new book, The Traitor’s Girl, which moves between contemporary times and war-torn London in the 30s. I love novels with dual timelines, and really enjoyed Christine Wells’s earlier book, The Wife’s Tale. I also love books about female spies and resistance fighters, so this was always going to appeal to me.

Annabel Logan thinks she has no family, but one day hears from her long-lost grandmother begging for her help as she fears she is in danger. Annabel drops everything and rushes to Beechwood Manor, her grandmother’s old manor house in the Cotswolds. However, her grandmother is nowhere to be found and there are signs of a violent break-in. With the help of a handsome journalist, Simon, Annabel sets out to discover what has happened. She discovers that her grandmother was once a spy for MI5 during the Second World War, but that she was somehow betrayed and imprisoned.

Suspecting that the grandmother’s past may have something to do with her disappearance, Annabel races against time to learn her secrets and try and solve the mystery. Lots of intrigue, passion and betrayals made for a riveting read. The pages just seemed to turn themselves!

You can see my review of The Wife's Tale here. 

And to read my 2016 interview with Christine Wells, click here.

Don't forget to leave a comment with your thoughts!

SPOTLIGHT: My Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2016

Saturday, January 07, 2017

1.1


    Every year I take part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, in which readers all around the world do their best to read as many books written by Aussie women as possible. Last year I read only 10 books  by Australian women, and so I was determined to do better this year. I'm really rather proud of myself because I managed 28 books in total, and enjoyed them all.


     Here is my list (in the order in which I read them). Most of them have longer reviews that you can read by clicking on the title.


    I hope you are inspired to try the challenge for yourself in 2017. You can sign up here



1. 1. Wild Wood – Posie Graeme-Evans

WILD WOOD is a dual timeline narrative that moves between the Scottish Borderlands in the 14th century and an unhappy young woman in the 1980s who finds herself compelled to draw the same Scottish castle over and over again 


2.  Summer Harvest – Georgina Penney

A funny, romantic story with lots of heart, set in the Margaret River wine region and featuring engaging characters and light-hearted encounters. 



3. The Wife’s Tale  - Christine Wells 
The Wife’s Tale is a dual timeline novel that alternates between the point-of-view of Liz Jones, a young Australian lawyer whose ambition and drive to succeed have put her marriage at risk, and Delany Nash, who was at the centre of an infamous scandal in the 1780s.  




4. Tower of Thorns – Juliet Marillier 
Juliet Marillier’s books are an enchanting mix of romance, mystery and historical fantasy. Tower of Thorns is the second in her new series ‘Blackthorn & Grim’ which tells the story of the damaged and disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her faithful companion Grim. 




5. Our Tiny, Useless Hearts – Toni Jordan
The fourth novel by award-winning Australian author, Toni Jordan, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is a clever, funny, wise-cracking novel about love, infidelity and divorce. 




6. Nest – Inga Simpson
Inga Simpson is an Australian writer and Nest is a rhapsody about the importance of being at one with the natural world.. 




7. Daughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier
This is one of my all-time favourite books, that I like to re-read every few years. A retelling of the ‘Six Swans’ fairy-tale, set in ancient Ireland, it is a beautiful story of courage, love, peril and wonder set in a world where magic is only ever a hairsbreadth away from us all. 



8. The Lost Sapphire – Belinda Murrell
I always love a new timeslip adventure from my brilliant sister, Belinda. In The Lost Sapphire, a teenage girl Marli is reluctantly sent to stay with her father in Melbourne. Things began to get more interesting, though, when she discovers an abandoned house with a mysterious past, and makes a new friend, a boy with his own connection to the house. 





9. Hexenhaus – Nikki McWatters
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. 




10. Enemy: A Daughter’s Story – Ruth Clare
A memoir of growing up in Australia with a brutal and domineering father who had been damaged by his experiences in the Vietnam war. 



11. The Good People – Hannah Kent
Dark, poetic, and intense, The Good People is a fascinating and atmospheric tale of the ancient fairy lore of Ireland and how it shaped the people who believed it. One of my best reads of 2016.



12. The Summer Bride – Anne Gracie
The last book in Anne Gracie’s delightful Regency romance quartet, ‘The Chance Sisters’. 



13. The Ties That Bind – Lexi Landsman
An engaging and heart-warming read that moves between the story of a modern-day woman’s desperate search for a bone marrow donor for her son, and the hidden secrets of the past.



14. Den of Wolves – Juliet Marillier
The final book in Juliet Marillier’s latest magical historical trilogy, Den of Wolves wraps up the story of Blackthorn and Grim beautifully. A wonderful mix of history, romance, and fairy-tale-like enchantment. 



15. Where the Trees Were – Inga Simpson
A beautiful meditation on the Australian landscape and the Aboriginal connection to it, Where the Trees Were is a must-read for anyone who has ever swung on a tyre over a slow-moving brown river or lain on the ground looking up at a scorching blue sky through the shifting leaves of a gum tree. 



16. On the Blue Train – Kristel Thornell
This novel was inspired by the true-life story of how Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days in 1926. A slow, melancholy, and beautiful meditation on failed love. 




17. The Dry – Jane Harper
Set in a small Australian country town, The Dry is a tense, compelling and atmospheric murder mystery, as well as an astonishingly assured debut from English-born novelist Jane Harper. 



18. Castle of Dreams – Elise McCune
A gorgeous cover and intriguing title drew me to Castle of Dreams by Elise McCune, described as an ‘enthralling novel of love, betrayals, loss and family secrets.’  



19. The Family with Two Front Doors – Anna Ciddor
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. 



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



21. The Locksmith’s Daughter – Karen Brooks
An absolutely gripping page-turner of a novel set in Elizabethan times. 




22. The Waiting Room – Leah Kaminsky
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. 



23. Rose’s Vintage – Kayte Nunn
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. 




24. The Anchoress – Robyn Cadwaller
Set in England in 1255, the story begins with 17-year old Sarah being enclosed within her cell. Her door is literally nailed shut. 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. 



25. Kumiko and the Dragon – Briony Stewart
26. Kumiko and the Dragon’s Secret – Briony Stewart
27. Kumiko and the Shadow-catchers – Briony Stewart
A trilogy of charming fantasy books for very young readers, inspired by the tales that Briony Stewart’s Japanese grandmother used to tell her. 



28. Victoria the Queen – Julia Baird
Described as ‘An intimate biography of the woman who ruled an empire,’ Victoria the Queen busts open many of the myths about both the woman and the era. 


Want more? Read my list of Books by Australian Women Writers in 2016 

INTERVIEW: Christine Wells, author of A Wife's Tale

Friday, May 27, 2016

Interview with CHRISTINE WELLS, author of "The Wife's Tale"



Are you a daydreamer too?
Oh, most definitely! I think you have to be as a fiction writer. Stories are always running through my mind. I must be difficult to live with when I’m working intensively on a first draft because I have the story in my head constantly and don’t hear people when they speak to me. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, I thought novelists were god-like creatures when I was a child. While I loved writing stories, I never thought having writing as a job was possible for someone as ordinary and uninteresting as I was. I wanted to be a brain surgeon until I worked out that I wasn’t great with blood. I loved the humanities and eventually gravitated toward the law. There’s a lot of reading and writing involved in a law degree and I enjoyed the commercial aspect of negotiating deals and all the excitement of settling a big transaction. It wasn’t until I had spent a few years as a lawyer that I wrote my first novel but very soon, writing fiction became an obsession. It was something I needed to do.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do? 
I was born, raised, and now live in Brisbane. I love traveling, mainly to England (for research, of course!) spending time with family and friends, baking and going to the beach. I love antiques, too, for the stories people tell about them as much as for their beauty. I’m a huge fan of The Antiques Roadshow. I’m also trying to get back into running because I love it, but it’s been a while. I’m working on it!

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for THE WIFE'S TALE?
I was having lunch with my editor, discussing a new direction, and the kernel of an idea for a story that dealt with a historical court case came to me. I’d always been interested in legal history, having done some very obscure research for one of my lecturers at university. I found the feminist legal theory I’d read when studying legal philosophy fascinating also. 



I decided to write about a woman caught up in a criminal conversation action, which is an old cause of action in which the husband sues his wife’s lover, basically for damage to his ‘chattel’, the wife. These cases became quite a spectator sport in the latter half of eighteenth century England and the equivalent of millions of dollars in today’s money was often awarded to the husband in damages. The wife’s character and sexual proclivities were openly debated in court and she was not allowed to testify or be represented because the action was between the husband and the lover. Both sides would present their stories and the wife never got to tell hers, even though she was the one who might well end up cast off and destitute when the trial was over. THE WIFE’S TALE is about giving the wife in one of these cases a voice of her own.


How extensively do you plan your novels? 
My process has evolved considerably over the years. I used to write with only a vague idea of how the story would go but now I use Scrivener to plot extensively. The plot is never set in stone and sometimes new threads emerge as the characters develop in unexpected ways, but usually I stay fairly true to my original plan.


Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration? 
No—sadly, the only dreams I remember these days are the ones where I am looking for something quite mundane that I need desperately and I can never find it—last time it was the coffee plunger! I certainly use daydreams, though, and I believe firmly in the subconscious working on the story while you sleep.


Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Oh, yes, there were several—perhaps not astonishing but serendipitous, at least! Because the Gothic novel grew up around the time I was writing and I wanted to give my heroine some believable means of supporting herself, I decided to make her a novelist. It then transpired that an early nineteenth century novelist, Caroline Norton, had actually been through a criminal conversation trial. Her struggles inspired me as I wrote Delany. 

The other incident was when I wrote a fictional tapas bar into the present-day town of Ventnor on the Isle of Wight and brought the chef from the tapas bar to cook paella at a garden festival on Seagrove, my fictional estate. I had based the Seagrove gardens on the Botanic Gardens at Ventnor, which have separate sections featuring plants from several subtropical regions. If you’ve ever been to Ventnor, you will know that it is a small, Victorian seaside town, where you would not expect to find something so exotic as a tapas bar, but I decided that I was Supreme Being in this story and I could make up a tapas bar if I wanted to. When I went to the Isle of Wight after writing the first draft, I found that in fact there is a tapas bar in Ventnor, called Il Toro Contento. Not only that, but on the restaurant wall is a newspaper clipping of the chef cooking paella at the Botanic Gardens. I wrote all of that before I ever set foot on the Isle of Wight, so it’s amazing how serendipitous writing can be!


Where do you write, and when?
When I’m on deadline, I write in two places—in my study at home from 4am to 6am each morning and then later at a cafe, after I’ve dropped the boys off at school. I find if I’m not home during the day, I am less often disturbed, either by thoughts of domestic chores that need to be done or by the phone or people coming to the door. 


What is your favourite part of writing?
When I’m in what I call ‘the zone’ and the words are flowing freely. I love that feeling when you don’t even notice the hours flying by. There’s nothing like it.


What do you do when you get blocked? 
I’ve never suffered from true writer’s block, thank goodness, but there are times when it’s very hard to make myself write. When this happens, I sit there at the same place at the same time, day after day, not letting myself do anything else, until I start writing again. After a few days of this, I find the words start flowing. Another trick is to try to analyse the story so far and see if there’s something in the structure that is not working, although that analysis often convinces me that I should throw it all out and start again! For me, the best way to avoid blockage in the first place is to get up from the computer before I've written to the end of a scene or chapter. It’s easier to begin again when you return and see that unfinished train of thought than it is to write into the unknown every day.


How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I read a lot of research books before and while I’m writing a novel. I watch movies set in the same era or with the sort of feeling I’m trying to evoke. I watch The Antique Roads Show and read wonderful novels and listen to workshops on writing craft. I love going to art and museum exhibitions although I don’t go often enough. I also love to bake and I find that very relaxing, if not too kind to the waistline!

Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 
My best practice is to have a clean desk and no mess in my line of sight. I get up, make a cup of coffee, go straight to the computer in my study and write with the curtains drawn and the door shut. 

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
(I am deliberately choosing writers I don’t know personally here!) Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Liane Moriarty, Ian McEwan, Lisa Gardner, Katherine Webb, Kate Morton, Elizabeth Peters, John Le Carre, Jojo Moyes



What do you consider to be good writing?  
Good writing, to me, is first and foremost about creating characters with that spark that makes them come to life and go on to live in the reader's mind even when she's not reading. The most beautiful prose in the world does not make up for flat characters. However, I appreciate careful word choice, an author who can encapsulate an idea in an original, perfect simile or metaphor, as well as those authors who have a knack of putting into words the things we think but never say. 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too? 
I am laughing at myself, giving writing advice but here is the best I have heard and am happy to pass on--Institute a writing practice so that it becomes a habit, like brushing your teeth and make it your job for those one or two hours, whatever you can spare, every day you can. This will stand you in good stead when you sell a book and have to write under pressure. And don’t worry about how good the first draft is. I once heard someone say, “You’re not a brain surgeon. You don’t have to get it right the first time." I think that is excellent advice.

What are you working on now? 
I’m working on a dual timeline novel set partly in the 1990s and partly in World War II in England. It’s about a young Australian woman whose long lost grandmother invites her to stay at her Elizabethan house in the Cotswolds, but when she gets there, the grandmother has vanished. It’s tentatively called THE SECRET HOUSE and is slated for release in May 2017.

Love interviews with authors - I have plenty more!

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

BOOK REVIEW: The Wife's Tale by Christine Wells

Wednesday, May 25, 2016




The Wife’s Tale  - Christine Wells 


The Wife’s Tale is a dual timeline novel that alternates between the point-of-view of Liz Jones, a young Australian lawyer whose ambition and drive to succeed have put her marriage at risk, and Delany Nash, who was at the centre of an infamous scandal in the 1780s.  Most of the action is centred on Seagrove, a grand old house on the Isle of Wight, as Liz becomes fascinated with Delany’s story and begins to dig deeper. However, the secrets she uncovers puts at risk her newfound relationship with the owners of Seagrove, and indeed her own future.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love a dual timeline novel, yet they can be difficult to write. Often one storyline works and the other doesn’t, or there’s a slippage between the two distinct voices that jars. Christine Wells has pulled it off brilliantly. Both story lines are intriguing, and the suspense builds steadily. The two women are very different, yet both have hidden strengths that make them very appealing. And I loved the romance!

I was given an advance copy of The Wife’s Tale to read, in case I liked it enough to give it an endorsement. And I did! So the cover has my thoughts on it: ‘A captivating story of love, secrets and obsession – I enjoyed every word!’ 

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

I have lots of other reviews of parallel narratives, if you love them too - check them out here!




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