All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #3)
Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion
2013 (originally 2012), 332p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? 

I am so late to this party. In fact, when I added this book to my goodreads, it showed me that I had originally listed it under wishlist/TBR in 2012! So 9 years later, I finally got around to reading it after hearing so many people say how much they loved it and seeing it mentioned among lots of people’s favourite books.

When this book begins, a woman has been captured by the Gestapo in France for looking the wrong way when crossing the street, indicating that she’s probably from Britain. She has faced quite a long period of torture and freely admits to telling those interrogating her, a lot of things, much to the chagrin of her fellow captives. She has negotiated a deal – she’ll write down all she knows about British airfields, missions, training operatives, equipment etc and well, she’ll live a little while longer. And maybe she will get a quick death, instead of being subject to experiments or worked and starved to death in a camp. But also, maybe she won’t.

The young woman weaves her story in with another – the pilot of the crippled plane she had to parachute out of. It’s a story of friendship and how two women from very different backgrounds met and forged this friendship when, without the war, they’d probably never have crossed paths, nor built up this friendship. Recruited to the war effort for skills in flying and in languages, the two women end up in dangerous places, sometimes doing dangerous things that they cannot talk about, even to each other. They understand each other, and find ways to be supportive even when they can’t really unburden themselves.

I loved the way this was told. It doesn’t seem to have worked for everyone, but it really did for me. The way in which the story is written, a story within a story and the fact that a lot of the information is alluded to rather than bluntly described. We know how much trauma and torture “Verity” has experienced but she rarely makes more than a passing comment about it. Somehow those comments are just as chilling as if it were described in detail. And anyone who has read anything about the Nazis knows what they were capable of, your mind fills in the rest.

I appreciated the way this story went in terms of making you think one thing about what Verity is saying and doing, before it flips it on its head later on. The narrative changes about 3/4 of the way through and everything slowly starts to recalibrate and you realise how clever Verity was, how well she thought on the fly, even after everything she’d been through. And what she was really doing there and what she was prepared to do in order for it to go ahead, even with her having been captured.

For me, this definitely lived up to everything I’ve heard about it and I got the read that I was expecting. I found myself hooked from the first page, invested in “Verity” and whether or not she might somehow, miraculously escape the fate that seemed to be waiting for her, seeing as she’d been captured. She is like a WWII Scheherazade, bargaining more time with tales of what she knows and she’s also not afraid to sometimes add in a dig to her German captors either. I definitely wondered at her tactic but the further I got into it, the more I needed to know and the more the book surprised me. Especially when the little connections began to make themselves known and I realised who certain people were and who they were connected to. I enjoyed the part that featured the French resistance and the work they were doing getting people in and out of France and the various missions and acts of sabotage they were involved in. It was satisfying to read, even when it came with heartbreak.

I ended up finishing this late at night, when I don’t usually read, because I had to know what happened and how it ended. It’s definitely the sort of book you want to read in a single sitting, the fate of these characters becomes something you get so invested in, even though I think on a deeper level, you know that it’s so unlikely that there’s going to be a fairytale ending. The ending is rough, in a lot of ways, but it’s the ultimate act.

Definitely need to read the others.

9/10

Book #121 of 2021

This is book #24 of my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2021

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Blog Tour Review: The Eighth Wonder by Tania Farrelly

The Eighth Wonder
Tania Farrelly
Penguin Random House AUS
2021, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The Suffragette meets The Greatest Showman in this story ofpassion and courage, as a young feminist fights against the rules of society to find her place in the world.

New York, 1897. The richest city in the world.

Beautiful, young and privileged, Rose Kingsbury Smith is expected to play by the strict rules of social etiquette, to forfeit all career aspirations and to marry a man of good means. But she has a quietly rebellious streak and is determined to make her own mark on Manhattan’s growing skyline. When the theft of a precious heirloom plunges the Kingsbury Smiths into financial ruin, Rose becomes her family’s most tradeable asset. She finds herself fighting for her independence and championing the ideal of equality for women everywhere.

Enigmatic Ethan Salt’s inglorious circus days are behind him. He lives a quiet life on Coney Island with his beloved elephant Daisy and is devoted to saving animals who’ve been brutalised by show business. As he struggles to raise funds for his menagerie, he fears he will never build the sanctuary of his dreams … until a chance encounter with a promising young architect changes his life forever.

Just when Rose is on the verge of seeing her persistence pay off, the ghosts of her past threaten to destroy everything she holds dear. In the face of heartbreaking prejudice and betrayal, she must learn to harness her greatest wonder within.

From Fifth Avenue mansions to Lower East Side tenements and the carnivals of Coney Island, The Eighth Wonder explores the brilliance and brutality of one of the world’s most progressive eras and celebrates the visionaries who dare to rebel.

This book had a little of everything!

Rose Kingsbury Smith is young, beautiful, intelligent and her mother’s hope for their family. Although she’s known wealth and privilege growing up in New York, things have recently been getting tight financially and Rose’s mother Edith is desperate for Rose to catch a wealthy husband – preferably Chet Randall, and she’s determined to do everything she has to in order to orchestrate the match. But Rose would rather lose herself in architecture – she’s working as an apprentice with her father and it’s her passion. She has no desire to marry, to give up her independence and become a society wife and she definitely has no desire to marry someone her mother wishes to thrust upon her, with little in the way of feelings involved.

The opposite of Rose’s privileged upbringing, Ethan Salt grew up on the streets but a chance encounter with elephants walking across the Brooklyn Bridge mostly reformed the pickpocket and now he lives on Coney Island with an assortment of animals, mostly rescued from a life of pain. It’s his dream to build a sanctuary for him but Ethan’s reputation has preceded him and one of his animals is a lion that makes people nervous. There’s not a lot of donations forthcoming to fund his dream….and when Ethan and Rose cross paths, their connection stirs the ire of a man who would destroy them both.

I really enjoyed Rose as a main character – her determination and want to prove herself. She was so interested in architecture and making a difference, having her name be something people recognise and admire. Her mother was an awful society social climber, desperate to see Rose married to someone wealthy and influential, thereby stopping the family’s slow slide down the wealth scale. She was prepared to ruin her daughter’s life to achieve her goals (among other things) and her underhanded manipulation and bullying of her daughter was incredibly off-putting. It made me want Rose to stand up for herself and what she wanted – even if it meant the family wouldn’t be able to have servants or whatever else was so important to her mother. Rose and her father were definitely different – neither seemed interested in ascending the heights of Manhattan society and it seemed both would be pleased with enough to live comfortably and work to keep them engaged.

Daisy the elephant is a character in her own right in this novel and I enjoyed all of the scenes she was in, from the very first one as she is one of the elephants to cross the bridge, to the potentially devastating one. It made me think about how cruel to animals people have been (well, are still being, in many cases) and how accepted that behaviour was, how people viewed it as entertainment. Elephants are one of my favourite animals and although I’ve only seen them in zoos, the zoos of today at least try to mimic their natural habitats and provide them with space to roam, with the ways of cages and bars gone. Ethan’s love and care for his animals is wonderful to read – and even though he’s done things in his past that many people would probably not approve of, it’s a show of the haves vs the have nots…. what he had to do to survive. Even now he relies on donations from wealthy New Yorkers and is subject to their whims and trends in order to scrape together enough to care for his animals.

When Rose and Ethan come together, it’s the resurgence of a connection that was forged many years ago during a chance meeting. Ethan lives an unusual life and Rose definitely doesn’t want the sort of life that her mother would carve out for her. She wants to live her own life and I think despite his financial reliance on benefactors and donors, Ethan has a sort of freedom that Rose hasn’t experienced before. She cares about the same things he does, becomes devoted to the animals as well and wants to showcase her talents in a way that benefits everyone. And Ethan isn’t the sort of man who would want his wife at home overseeing staff, obviously, or having lunches with other important, influential wives. They both have things that they are passionate about and together, want to see each other succeed in those things. And help in any way that they can.

Like I mentioned previously, a little of everything – the wealthiest and poorest of New York, obligation vs passion, breaking the chains that held women during this time, love, friendship, mystery, even a little bit of a sinister thread and threat to people’s wellbeing. It kept me very entertained – an excellent debut.

8/10

Book #114 of 2021

The Eighth Wonder is book #24 towards my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

It also counts towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021 and is the 47th book read so far.

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Review: The Missing Sister by Lucinda Riley

The Missing Sister (The Seven Sisters #7)
Pan Macmillan AUS
2021, 804p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: They’ll search the world to find her.

The six D’Aplièse sisters have each been on their own incredible journey to discover their heritage, but they still have one question left unanswered: who and where is the seventh sister?

They only have one clue – an image of a star-shaped emerald ring. The search to find the missing sister will take them across the globe – from New Zealand to Canada, England, France and Ireland – uniting them all in their mission to complete their family at last.

In doing so, they will slowly unearth a story of love, strength and sacrifice that began almost one hundred years ago, as other brave young women risk everything to change the world around them.

Until recently, we thought this book would give us all the answers to the questions that the previous six books have raised. But then the author, just before this book was released, announced that the story had become too big to be wrapped up in this final volume and that there would be an 8th book, about Pa Salt, the man of mystery himself. Since then, Lucinda Riley has tragically passed away after a battle with cancer which is a terrible loss, that many in the literary world will feel.

The six D’Apliese sisters have always known that they were supposed to have a seventh sister and that for some reason, their ‘Pa Salt’ could never find her. I’ve never quite understood how he chose the girls he did or how one was ‘lost’ to him – but don’t actually expect this book to give you any answers. Because it doesn’t clear anything up and actually, after the missing sister is identified, it really only raises more questions.

This is unfortunately, not one of my favourite books in this series. I found a large portion of the first part of the book quite uncomfortable – the sisters are given some information which give them a lead and they send the closest sister to meet with the person they think is their “missing sister”. That person needs information from her mother, who is travelling overseas – and from then on the sisters just keep sending whoever is closest (because they are living all around the world) to the woman’s next hotel, even well after it’s quite obvious she’s freaked out by these strangers turning up and trying to talk to her. The sisters cannot understand why she might not want a total strange family following her around the globe and they honestly show such a lack of awareness. I’m not sure if it’s their insulated privilege or their single-mindedness in finding the sister now that their father is gone but….they didn’t show a lot of empathy, putting themselves in the person’s shoes. And their father means nothing to this person – they didn’t even know he existed. Expecting her to join them for a flower-laying ceremony out of nowhere, was honestly, very weird. Especially as all the sisters essentially know nothing about their father, not even his name, and cannot impart any information on him at all.

I always enjoy the historical portion of these novels and this one was actually no exception – I enjoyed a glimpse of rural Ireland during some troubled times (although I cannot speak to the accuracy of the portrayal). It was definitely a look at poverty, a country that had been ravaged by famine and was still very poor in some parts with a huge divide between the capital in Dublin and the rural areas. It’s also a time of great upheaval, with Ireland fighting for its independence from Britain and Britain looking to quash that. We meet a young woman who struggles between her desperate desire for Ireland to have its freedom and the unlikely friendship she finds with an English man she is employed to take care of – and two generations later, a young poor girl in an overly large family who sees firsthand the devastation that has on her mother’s health. When she’s given a way out of that life, she grabs it with both hands. There are a lot of mysteries between these two different historical timelines and it takes a while before all the connections are established – and only at the very end are they connected back to the current timeline, albeit only partially.

I honestly feel like a lot of the first portion of the story – the various sisters chasing this person around the world – could’ve been condensed a bit, in favour of advancing the plot a bit more. Riley tries to give each of the sisters we’ve already met some page time, which might’ve made sense when this was the last book but considering there’s a whole other book coming out, ended up being mostly unnecessary, especially as some of the scenes bordered a bit on the ridiculous side. And there are things in here that huge portions of the plot are devoted to but then wrapped up in a mere sentence. A lot of things are repeated, particularly scenes between Ally, Maia and Ma and the care of Bear and everyone drinks whiskey for breakfast in Ireland. Is that a thing? Seems concerning. Also I feel like in the other books, the sisters are given the time and space to learn their journey in their own time but in this one, the sisters force it upon their seventh sister, basically not taking no for an answer, setting in motion the events that do lead to her learning of her past. They want her there for this deadline of the flower-wreath laying and I feel like they’re so pushy about it that it’s very disrespectful (especially as there ends up being some errors – like Georg, what are you doing? And why were you so mysteriously out of contact at the precise moment everyone needed you to confirm information that you should have just given them anyway).

I’ve always thought from the beginning that Pa Salt probably wasn’t dead – too many things just didn’t seem to add up about it. Even though this book did frustrate me (the last 2 pages particularly) I’m in it for the long haul now. I’ve read 7 books about this and gotten almost no answers about anything, I need to know – who was/is Pa Salt really? Why did he adopt these specific children? Why was the 7th sister missing? Why do they not even know his name or what he does for a living? Why/how is he so rich? I need the answers to these questions and probably many more so yes, I’ll be reading the 8th book when it’s released next year…..might’ve been cool if they’d released these as a double release, rather than make everyone wait even longer. I really do hope however, that it does clear up all the points that have been raised throughout the series. I need closure.

5/10

Book #111 of 2021

The Missing Sister is book #23 of the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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Review: The Long Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper

The Long Long Afternoon
Inga Vesper
Manilla Press
2021, 400p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: It’s the summer of 1959, and the well-trimmed lawns of Sunnylakes wilt under the California sun.

At some point during the long, long afternoon Joyce Haney, a seemingly happy housewife and mother, vanishes from her home, leaving behind only two terrified young children and a bloodstain on the kitchen floor.

With the stifling heat of Tangerine and the gripping pace of Little Deaths, The Long, Long Afternoon is at once a page-turning mystery and an intoxicating vision of the ways in which women everywhere are diminished, silenced and, ultimately, underestimated.

I saw this book highlighted in the newsletter of a local bookstore and it sounded really interesting. I was surprised to see it available on Borrow Box, the app my local library uses for eBook borrowing. It was during the most recent Melbourne lockdown and although my library was open for pick up, I definitely used the app more than I had in recent times to borrow some eBooks.

Ruby, hired help of Joyce Haney arrives one afternoon to work and finds Joyce’s young daughter outside, on her own. When she goes inside, the baby is crying in her crib and needs changing. Joyce is no where to be seen – and when Ruby enters the kitchen she finds only blood. She calls the police and is immediately arrested because she’s a black woman, despite the fact that she was working at another home in the neighbourhood just prior to arriving at the Haneys house and the fact that she alerted the authorities.

Mick is a detective new in this town in California, after a bit of a problem in Brooklyn. The Chief makes it clear that he’s not particularly happy with Mick’s appearance and he’s given the case of the disappearance of Joyce and told that if he messes up, that’ll be it. Mick has to deal with the fact that the first on scene have clearly arrested the wrong person. Ruby has no reason to trust police anyway and she’s even less likely to be forthcoming now that she’s been arrested for reporting her employer as missing.

What happened to Joyce Haney? A seemingly perfect life with a beautiful home, two adorable children and a successful husband. How did she disappear and why? The more Mick investigates, the more he finds strange things that don’t add up….and evidence that this perfect life, was anything but.

I enjoyed this. It’s told from differing points of view: Joyce, Ruby and Mick, the detective, the three perspectives helping to flesh out the story and provide information from different angles and perspectives. It’s a very traditional neighbourhood in many ways – mum, dad, children. Dad works, mum stays at home and looks after the little ones, does the shopping and cooks and cleans – unless they can afford some help, like the Haneys can. Ruby comes to clean – not just Joyce’s house but she also works at a home nearby, lived in by a friend of Joyce’s, who is perhaps a widow or a divorcee, I’m not entirely sure. The day in question, Ruby is just a little late, kept back by Laura, her other employer, who definitely doesn’t treat her the way Joyce does.

There’s a real juxtaposition between Joyce and Ruby. Joyce is a housewife, married to Frank, who has a successful job and they have a lovely home and can afford the help. Joyce is given an allowance for the groceries and other bits and pieces she needs. Ruby works for 40 cents an hour cleaning for people like Joyce, catching the bus from her neighbourhood. She desperately wants to go to college and become a teacher but needs a huge amount of money. In her neighbourhood, things are simmering – racial tensions and rights and Ruby’s boyfriend makes it clear that when Joyce vanishes, she should stay out. No good can come of her giving a cop any information, especially after she was already arrested without reason and held in jail simply for being the one who discovered Joyce was missing. If it wasn’t for Mick and his diffusing of the situation, Ruby could well have found herself charged and convicted for something she didn’t do.

I enjoyed each of the points of view – Joyce as we negotiate her life and the trapped way it’s making her feel, Ruby and her dreams and the complications in working for people who either do not see her at all or see her as someone to be wary of, even as she’s cleaning their home. Only Joyce seemed to treat her with any respect, which is why Ruby desperately does want to help Mick find out what happened to her, even though she’s warned against being involved. And Mick has something to prove and the deeper he digs into Joyce’s life, the more complex things become and the more that doesn’t add up. But it isn’t Mick who ends up putting the pieces together – he just has to make sure he figures it out before someone loses their life.

This simmers really well with undercurrents – marital discord, toxic friendships, struggling relationships, racial tensions and police bias. It was very enjoyable and I found myself coming really invested with what had happened to Joyce and the why and the how. The story got more complex with some unexpected players but I think when you got to a certain point, it fell into place and the reader could see what had happened.

Well paced and enjoyable with enough suspense to keep me hooked.

7/10

Book #105 of 2021

The Long Long Afternoon is book #22 of the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2021

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Review: Secrets My Father Kept by Rachel Givney

Secrets My Father Kept
Rachel Givney
Penguin Random House AUS
2021, 432p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Set in Poland on the eve of the Second World War, Secrets My Father Kept is the gripping story of a young woman determined to uncover the truth behind her mother’s disappearance and the dark secret from her father’s past.

Secrets My Father Kept is a captivating novel about love, sacrifice, secrets and resilience, as the clock inexorably ticks down to a devastating world war.

It’s February 1939. As the Führer edges towards an invasion of Poland, total war looms in Europe.

However in Krakow, seventeen-year-old Marie Karska’s primary concern is the unexplained disappearance of her mother fifteen years ago, and her father Dominik’s unbreakable silence on the matter. Even his wife’s name is a secret he guards closely.

Dominik, a well-respected and innovative doctor at the local hospital, has devoted his life to caring for his only daughter. Yet a black fear haunts him – over the questionable act he committed to keep Marie safe. And with German troops now marching to the border, he needs to find her a husband. One who will protect her when he no longer can…

But Marie has already met the man she wants to marry: her childhood friend Ben. She’s determined that his Jewish faith won’t stand in the way of their future together. And nor will her father’s refusal to explain the past stop her from unpicking his darkest secret. . .

I’ve been enjoying quite a bit of historical fiction lately and this is another title that counts towards my challenge for this year. It’s set in Poland, before the beginning of WWII but with a lot of rumblings and rumours and the like coming from Germany and the country seems half torn about whether or not it’ll really happen – and if it does, how quickly such a thing would be quashed.

Dominik is a doctor and single father to Marie and his sole aim is to protect her. If the worst does happen and Germany does invade, Dominik seems to feel that he may not be in the best position to protect her and so his desire is to see her married into a wealthy, influential family with the hope that might keep her safe. Unfortunately for Dominik, Marie has other ideas.

The only man she wants to marry is Ben Rosen, her childhood friend, whom she has just discovered is back in a nearby neighbourhood after studying at university. Ben didn’t let her know that he was back but when Marie is told by someone else, she can’t help herself and has to go see him. For lots of reasons, the first of which is that Ben’s studies might help her remember something about her mother. But when they see each other again, Marie knows that Ben is the only one she wants to marry but Dominik’s reaction is less than warm. He’s not a bigot or against Jewish people but he knows that being married to one will only place Marie in more danger, not less if/when Germany does invade. He cannot dissuade her from her choice though and so Dominik must look to other methods to try and ensure Marie’s safety.

As well as Marie and Ben’s relationship, another part of this novel concerns a secret that Dominik is keeping and the potential threat of this being exposed (which he seems to feel is inevitable, especially if war arrives) and how this would impact upon Marie and the fallout. I have to admit that I had an inkling about Dominik’s secret – there was something in a couple of his remarks to Marie that made me wonder if it might be a certain thing but I was still very much in two minds about it for much of the book, until it is finally revealed.

I really enjoyed the way this is told, focusing on both Dominik and Marie and in different timelines as well. Marie has always found Dominik a difficult person – he’s not warm or demonstrative and although he’s always provided well for Marie, including cooking her meal each night, he isn’t vocal and Marie realises that she doesn’t even know her own mother’s name. Questions are rebuffed or ignored completely and now that she’s older, Marie has had enough and wants to know things – did her mother really leave? And if so, why? Or did something more sinister happen?

Marie’s search for what happened to her mother is interspersed with Dominik’s story and his quest to set in place things that will hopefully, keep Marie safe. Although Dominik is portrayed in a certain way and Marie has her frustrations with him, you can really see just how much Dominik is focused on his daughter and how much he wants to protect her from any harm. Books I read in Poland are usually set around the time of war being declared or just after – the separation of Jewish people and moving them into certain areas, for example but I really liked this little look at the just before. Where the rumours are circling, the mix of opinions about what might happen, about whether or not Poland could rebuff such an attack if it happened or if Britain and France would slap it down swiftly.

I found this a really engaging story – both Dominik and Marie’s portions although I think I enjoyed Dominik’s slightly more. He was just a very interesting character and had made so many decisions that prioritised others and the further the book dug into the history, the more I found it fascinating.

8/10

Book #100 of 2021

Secrets My Father Kept is book #43 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

It also counts towards my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and is the 20th book completed for that one.

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Review: Small Acts Of Defiance by Michelle Wright

Small Acts Of Defiance
Michelle Wright
Allen & Unwin
2021, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: May, 1940: After a bitter tragedy, young Australian woman Lucie and her French mother Yvonne are forced to leave home and seek help from the only family they have left-Lucie’s uncle, Gerard.

As the Second World War engulfs Europe, the two women find themselves trapped in German-occupied Paris, sharing a cramped apartment with the authoritarian Gerard and his extremist views.

Drawing upon her artistic talents, Lucie risks her own safety to engage in small acts of defiance against the occupying forces and the collaborationist French regime, where the authorities reward French citizens for denouncing so-called ‘traitors’ in their community.

Faced with the escalating brutality of anti-Jewish measures, and the indifference of so many of her fellow Parisians, Lucie must decide how far she will go to defend the rights of others.

I really enjoyed this.

It starts in country Australia with a family who escaped Europe after the First World War. With their relative safety threatened and his mental state affected, Alfred does something drastic, leaving his wife Yvonne and daughter Lucie homeless and almost penniless. Yvonne, who is French, writes to her brother for help and he suggests she return home, that the war will amount to nothing, that France will stand strong. With no other options, Yvonne and Lucie board a ship and end up in Paris.

Thankfully, Lucie can speak French thanks to Yvonne instilling it from a young age. Paris cedes to the Germans and occupation begins, causing a mass exodus of the city and then a return. Things get tough with rations and the like and eager to contribute, Lucie uses her artistic talent to get work drawing French landscapes on postcards. Through that she meets Samuel and then his granddaughter Aline, who are Jewish and building a burgeoning friendship means that Lucie learns first hand the slow escalation of hostilities against Jewish people. Soon, it’s a city divided and even those who are French are denouncing Jewish neighbours to the Germans. Even her own uncle proves to have strident views supporting the decision to surrender and Lucie realises that he probably is anti-Semitic as well. Lucie’s disgust and horror at what is happening to her friends and their compatriots leads her to decide to help in any small ways she can: small acts of defiance that show that not all of France is ready to give up to the Germans just yet.

It’s a strange time to arrive in Paris and it’s very different to what Lucie would’ve been used to but meeting people helps her feel connected I think, to develop something with Paris. She adores both Samuel and Aline and really struggles to understand the growing ostracisation of Jewish people – removing them from study, from owning businesses, making them wear a yellow star….until finally vast swathes of them are rounded up and simply removed from the city. Lucie is motivated to help where she can, trying to use words and images as a way to subvert the Germans. Aline, Lucie’s friend, gets more frustrated as time rolls on and she and Lucie often fall out over the best way to ‘rebel’ against the Germans, with Lucie favouring more subtle methods and Aline’s thoughts that it might be more effective to try some more forthright ones.

I don’t really know much about Paris during WWII, but whilst this felt like it showcased some things really well, I also never really got the feeling that Lucie and Yvonne were in any danger from anything or struggled in any meaningful way. They had a place to live, seemed to have enough to eat and both of them found jobs and moved around the city relatively easily and only had minimal interaction with any German soldiers. Lucie pretty much does whatever she wants, goes to protests and things and gets drawn deeper and deeper into committing these small acts of defiance but without really any feeling of potential danger. With the amount of people seemingly turning on their own neighbours and people they knew, it felt unlikely that someone wouldn’t have reported all her movements and visits from Jewish people, especially after some of them were deliberately evading authorities. Sometimes, things just felt a little too easy or convenient – Lucie turns out to have this skill they need for this one important thing or her uncle is conveniently away when they need a vehicle for something.

That small quibble aside though, I really did enjoy reading this. It’s incredible to read back on things that happened in WWII and see how insidious the attempt was to wipe out Europeans of Jewish faith, to see how quickly places became divided into “us” and “them”. Even French citizens were being carted away, prevented from earning a living, etc and now, with hindsight, we all know where they were sent when they were rounded up and taken to those “working farms”. I’ve never been to Paris and this is Paris in a very difficult time but I enjoyed the portrayal, seen through Lucie’s eyes. She quickly comes to have strong feelings for France and Paris in particular, even though she has only really seen it during this time of turmoil. She makes some strong friendships and her values and beliefs are very apparent as well – she’s not afraid to become involved in helping in small ways (and is often asked to help further) and her devotion to her friends and determination to help them is admirable. I also liked the character of her mother, who is a conflicted woman: she dragged Lucie to a warzone (even if there is no actual fighting due to Paris’ surrender, there is Allied bombing) and her brother’s values and opinions are difficult to engage with. She hadn’t seen him in decades but is reliant upon him for support and a place to live. Yvonne is supportive of Lucie’s activities and even becomes something of a perpetrator of small acts of defiance herself.

I felt this ended with some unanswered questions, makes me wonder if there’s another book in the future.

8/10

Book #97 of 2021

Small Acts Of Defiance is book #41 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021.

It also counts towards my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and is book #19 read for that one.

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Review: The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey

The Bombay Prince (Perveen Mistry #3)
Sujata Massey
Allen & Unwin
2021, 342p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: November, 1921. Edward VIII, Prince of Wales and future ruler of India, is arriving in Bombay to begin a four-month tour. The Indian subcontinent is chafing under British rule, and Bombay solicitor Perveen Mistry isn’t surprised when local unrest over the royal arrival spirals into riots. But she’s horrified by the death of Freny Cuttingmaster, an eighteen-year-old female Parsi student, who falls from a second-floor gallery just as the prince’s grand procession is passing by her college.

Freny had come for a legal consultation just days before her death, and what she confided makes Perveen suspicious that her death was not an accident. Feeling guilty for failing to have helped Freny in life, Perveen steps forward to assist Freny’s family in the fraught dealings of the coroner’s inquest. When Freny’s death is ruled a murder, Perveen knows she can’t rest until she sees justice done. But Bombay is erupting: as armed British secret service march the streets, rioters attack anyone with perceived British connections and desperate shopkeepers destroy their own wares so they will not be targets of racial violence. Can Perveen help a suffering family when her own is in danger? 

I have been enjoying this series so much – this is the third instalment and the first two were excellent so I was really looking forward to this one. It’s set in a tumultuous time in India where there’s unrest about British rule and there’s also a lot of differing religions and ethnicities and clashes are becoming more common. The Prince of Wales, Edward VIII is visiting and this causes a lot of feelings. A female student from a local university who is expected to turn out to watch the Prince’s parade approaches Perveen and asks if there would be repercussions for her study if she were to not show up. When that same student is found dead just after the Prince passes by, Perveen knows that it’s her duty to get the answers. She only spoke to her briefly but she admired her and she and Perveen are from the same religious background and so Perveen and her father offer to advocate for her family during the inquest and make sure they can do their burial rites as quickly as possible, which is very important in their customs.

I know so little about India in this time and this is just a bit of a snapshot although Perveen and her family are very wealthy and privileged so there’s definitely a lot that is not particularly showcased here. But even they are dramatically affected in the riots that spring up after the Prince’s procession and are forced to leave their family home for the safety of a hotel after there is looting and violent behaviour. Perveen herself also is accosted by young men who would’ve done her harm, if not for the intervention of someone else, which allows her to escape to safety. But although she’s very shaken up by the experience, she doesn’t allow it to prevent her from continuing her investigating and her advocacy for the young student, especially when her death is ruled a homicide.

In the previous book, a little seed of…something…was planted and there are huge complications involved with it but I got pulled into it anyway. I was hoping that we’d see that person again and this book grants my wishes and even advances it a little, although the complications remain/are increased. Perveen is not a free agent to do as she wishes, for many reasons, not least the customs and restrictions of her time and the fact that she’s a woman. She is the first female solicitor but she still faces a lot of prejudice and derision from many corners, although she also has a lot of people accept her services. But her father is definitely a man who respects tradition and custom and the way he treats Perveen and her brother differ markedly. Her father is an interesting character, there are times when he’s very strict and almost cutting to Perveen but there are other times when he’s very patient and teaches her law things and his pride in her achievements is evident. Apart from her father and the restrictions of her religion and class and position as a female, Perveen also has another reason why she cannot get involved with a man and until this is resolved (which seems unlikely to be anytime soon in India’s current situation) she’s prevented from any official attachment. I really enjoyed this development in the novel as well as the indication that there will definitely be more to come in the future.

This is a hugely interesting political time and it’s one I don’t know much about but I feel it’s explained really well and you get to see a small snapshot of what it was like for those that lived (albeit in a particular set of social circles) at this time. It was also an insight into university life in this time as well, the challenges and peculiarities of it, especially in regards to its female students.

I really enjoy Perveen as a character and her interest in justice and her determination. She manages to find ways to do things, despite the restrictions often placed on her and she sees things that others do not. She’s also good at getting people to confide in her and trust her as well.

Another really great book in this series and I’m keen for more.

8/10

Book #94 of 2021

The Bombay Prince is book #18 for my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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Review: The Last Reunion by Kayte Nunn

The Last Reunion
Kayte Nunn
Hachette AUS
2021, 364p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley/personal purchased paperback copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: 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.

Can’t believe it took me so long to read this! I had an eBook review copy but I own the rest of Kayte Nunn’s books in paperback so I had to buy one to match them and it’s sat on my shelf for a couple of months. I’m trying to read from that shelf every so often, trying to balance out my reading a bit.

Anyway this is mostly a dual timeline, taking place partially in 1945 and partially in 1999 with a small scene from 1976. In 1945, it details the story of Bea and a bunch of other women who join the Women’s Auxiliary Service (Burma) known as the Wasbies. They run a sort of canteen where the men can get sandwiches, cakes, treats and tea as well as purchase little luxuries like cigarettes, razors, creams, soaps etc. They’re imperative for boosting the morale of the men and the women also provide a social aspect, attending dances and being friendly faces. The women become very close as they get closer and closer to the front lines and see and experience things that will change them forever. Most are from privileged backgrounds, some have husbands or brothers serving in the war.

In 1999, Aussie ex-pat Olivia is working as an intern for an art dealer and she goes to meet Beatrix for her boss, because the elderly widow has indicated she has something very valuable to sell. A freak snowstorm and an illness traps Olivia in the country with Bea, which leads to her hearing a lot of Bea’s story and attending a reunion of the Wasbies, where many things come to light. And Olivia will make choices about her own future as well, inspired by the somewhat crotchety old lady she’s come to admire.

I found this book so fascinating. The opening scene is intrigue and then both timelines are so equally interesting. I loved reading about Bea signing up for the Wasbies, wanting to contribute, meeting the other women and them forming bonds. There’s plenty of description of their duties as well as the conditions of their surroundings and also the local area – the oppressive heat, the insects, etc as well as the other challenges. It really gives you a clear picture of what it must’ve been like to be involved in the war this way, from the long days preparing and serving often hundreds of men, to the jungle setting. I don’t know much about Burma (which is now known as Myanmar) – it’s pretty limited to the invasion by Japan in WWII, which tore the country apart and the Burma Railway, which was responsible for the deaths of large numbers of Allied war prisoners. It was interesting to see it from a different perspective, not of a prisoner but from someone who was working in a different role, providing comfort and support in the best way they could, to fighting troops. They’re all women that volunteered, some of them giving up quite comfortable lives well away from war zones, in order to help and do their part, to try and give the men a bit of cheer and comfort in what were incredibly horrible times.

In 1999, Olivia is lonely in London, she’s been working non-stop in an industry where it’s hard to get a good position and there’s a lot of competition. Her boss is demanding and thinks nothing of sending her on a trek to visit Beatrix a couple days before Christmas. By now Bea is in her 70s, living alone in a crumbling pile and she desperately needs money to fix the roof, which is why she’s considering selling something that means the world to her. She’s equal parts brusque and caring, tender and abrupt and it’s clear to Olivia she has a lot of stories to tell, which Olivia would love to hear. Especially about her time with the Wasbies and the other women. Olivia gets a chance to meet those remaining from the group and even more chance to understand what sort of things they experienced back in Burma, where some of the dangers weren’t from the local surroundings at all.

I really enjoyed the friendship that built between Olivia and Bea, built in such a short time but with such genuine warmth and feeling. Olivia hasn’t really made any connections since she moved to London from Australia but in meeting Bea, it gives her opportunity to make several different ones, some of which give her personal happiness and others which give her the courage to make decisions to further her career.

And the ending? So wonderfully satisfying.

9/10

Book #93 of 2021

The Last Reunion is book #40 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge

It also counts towards my participation in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2021 and is the 18th book completed.

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Review: The Sun Sister by Lucinda Riley

The Sun Sister (The Seven Sisters #6)
Lucinda Riley
Macmillan
2019, 848p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: The Sun Sister is the sixth epic story in the Seven Sisters series by the number one international bestseller Lucinda Riley.

To the outside world, Electra d’Apliese seems as though she is the woman who has everything: as one of the world’s top models, she is beautiful, rich and famous. But beneath the veneer, and fuelled by the pressure of the life she leads, Electra’s already tenuous control over her mental state has been rocked by the death of her father, Pa Salt, the elusive billionaire who adopted his six daughters as babies from around the globe. Struggling to cope, she turns to alcohol and drugs to ease the pain, and as those around her fear for her health, Electra receives a letter from a complete stranger who claims to be her grandmother . . .

In 1939, Cecily Huntley-Morgan arrives in Kenya from New York to nurse a broken heart. Staying with her godmother, a member of the infamous Happy Valley set, on the shores of beautiful Lake Naivasha, she meets Bill Forsythe, a notorious bachelor and cattle farmer with close connections to the proud Maasai tribe. When disaster strikes and war is imminent, Cecily decides she has no choice but to accept Bill’s proposal. Moving up into the Wanjohi Valley, and with Bill away, Cecily finds herself isolated and alone. Until she discovers a new-born baby abandoned in the woods next to her farmhouse…

Sweeping from the frenetic atmosphere of Manhattan to the magnificent wide-open plains of Africa, The Sun Sister is the sixth instalment in Lucinda Riley’s multi-million selling epic series, The Seven Sisters.

In October 2019, I binge read the first five books in this series, intending to finish in time for this one, the 6th, to be released. I did finish in time but perhaps I was a bit fatigued after that because I didn’t get around to reading this when it first came out. It’s taken until now and receiving a copy of the 7th novel, The Missing Sister to realise that I’d better get this one ticked off the list. Because I thought that in getting book 7, I’d be getting all the answers and that I’d finally know who Pa Salt was, what he did, why he adopted all those children and why it was those particular children. Why the 7th one wasn’t found. But funnily enough on the very day I finished this, someone showed me a video on Lucinda Riley’s Facebook page saying that the 7th book wasn’t enough to do the story of the missing sister and Pa Salt justice so there’s going to be an 8th book now, which will be Pa Salt’s story and that’ll be out next year. I guess it’s better to know that now, before I start the next book expecting to get all the answers. Instead, I’ll only get half of them I suppose, as at least it’ll reveal the missing sister and tackle her story.

But this one is Electra’s story and she was always my least favourite sister in the other books. The excerpt at the end of book #5 didn’t really fill me with joy at reading this one as I do find the “celebrity with drinking/drug problem” very overdone. And Electra was just a really unpleasant character. So it was with some trepidation that I picked this one up….but I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would! So much so that I read it in 2 days and that’s no easy feat for an 800+ page book!

As always, this is split into two timelines: Electra and the “present day” which is around 2007/08 and then it delves back in time, this time in 1930s New York and then Kenya as Electra discovers the story of her past and her heritage. I actually found the historical portion of the story fascinating – sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way. Cecily is a young woman living in New York after a broken engagement when her godmother asks her to come and spend some time in Kenya with her. Eager to escape the city while her former fiancé gets married to someone else, Cecily agrees and is catapulted into the ex-pat set in Kenya in the 1930s – wealth, privilege, champagne, the social scene. The ‘Happy Valley’ set are infamous for their lifestyle of excess during a time where you only had to sign up and the British government would grant you 1000 acres in Kenya to do with what you wanted – never mind those who were already there. This book references real life people of the Happy Valley set and presumably, real life incidents and just inserts Cecily right into the middle of them. I found the Kenyan setting incredibly interesting – a time of such excess and wealth among a group of aristocracy even as war approaches in Europe. And then there’s the local population and what they are reduced to with all of these people being granted land to set up farms and make money. Despite the problematic lifestyle and setting, I did find that portion fascinating to read, as Cecily settled herself in a completely foreign climate and learned to adjust to the wildlife and challenges. And then there were her decisions that were definitely out of the norm for the time.

Electra’s story went much the way I expected it to. I thought it could’ve done with a bit more depth in the portion after she exits rehab as even though she seems to think of her addictions, it’s almost in an abstract way. I thought she’d face more of a challenge in overcoming them back in her world, one also of excess. She’s a famous model and you’d think that world would provide temptation in many forms every day. I found her more likeable as the book went on, as she’s really not a pleasant person in the beginning and is well used to being on her own since she was 16 and having everything she’s ever wanted. Electra learns of inequality in this book and also how those that have can advocate for those that do not.

I found it engrossing and it got me back on track to want to learn more – I’m actually glad I waited until now to read it after that ending.

8/10

Book #80 of 2021

The Sun Sister is the 16th book read that counts towards my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

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Review: Sisters Of Freedom by Mary Anne O’Connor

Sisters Of Freedom
Mary Anne O’Connor
Harlequin AUS
2021, 350p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Sydney, Christmas, 1901. Federation has been achieved but Australian women are yet to gain the right to vote in their new nation’s elections and have a say in the laws that govern them.

Bolshy, boisterous Frankie Merriweather is a fervent advocate for women’s rights, determined to dedicate herself to the cause, never marrying or becoming a mother. She can’t understand her artistic sister Ivy, who wants a life of ease and beauty with her soon-to-be fiance, law student Patrick Earle.

Meanwhile, their married sister Aggie volunteers in an orphanage, decrying the inequality of Australia’s social classes … and longing to hold a baby in her arms.

When an accident takes Ivy, wounded and ill, into the violent and lawless zone of the Hawkesbury River, a year of change begins. Ivy’s burgeoning friendship with her saviour Riley Logan, a smuggler, and his sister, the poverty-stricken but valiant Fiona, will alter the lives of all three women forever.

I really enjoyed this story, set in an interesting time in Australia’s history, where the nation was being granted independence as its own country (despite there already being occupants when the English arrived), but still tied to the British Empire. Also, women were pushing for the right to vote and a large portion of the story revolves around this fight.

Of the three sisters, middle sister Frankie is the most fervent advocate for women’s rights. Although beautiful, she pays no attention to her looks and seems most adamant in not attracting a man, because she never wants to marry and become beholden to someone else. Women can’t own property, cannot work after marrying, are forced by their husbands to do whatever the husband wishes and it’s still legal for a man to physically ‘reprimand’ his wife and also enforce marital rights. Frankie doesn’t want any of this and for her, the best way to ensure that is to never marry. And to never have children. This sometimes puts her at odds with youngest sister Ivy who just wants to find a husband, have a family and be content. She doesn’t have the drive that her sister does and sometimes Frankie makes her feel silly or inferior, because her wants are more simple. For oldest sister Aggie, she’s somewhere in the middle, both longing for a family and supporting women’s rights.

I spent a couple of years living in Western Sydney, near the Hawkesbury River, so I really enjoyed the fact that this novel took us a part of the way up that river, around the areas of Wiseman’s Ferry. Back at this time, there were no roads to this part of the world, a boat was the only way to reach the settlements that had sprung up along the river. The people living there mostly fished or logged and presented in this story, it’s a mix that includes some more unsavoury characters. When smuggler Riley Logan discovers Ivy Merriweather unconscious in the river, he’s aware that if someone else spots her, she could be in a lot of danger so he whisks her up river to his sister Fiona. They nurse her back to health after a violent fever and this innocent interaction makes Ivy question the life she thought she’d mapped out for herself. She has grown up quite wealthy and privileged, with parents that care for her and her sisters with the freedom to speak their minds, study and learn, see themselves worthy of respect. For Fiona, her life has been quite different since she and Riley lost their parents and now she’s married to a lazy drunk, has young twins and another on the way, living in a shack with whispers of even rougher treatment. Ivy’s eyes are opened in a lot of ways, both by Fiona…and by Riley.

I enjoyed how different all three sisters were – Aggie was already married and wanting to be a mother. Frankie was not married and never wanted to get married, nor have children. She wanted to study law (forbidden) and play cricket and do anything that men could do. She shunned anything to do with fashion and looks and romance and seems surprised when a young man indicates to her that some are still interested, despite her attempts to discourage it. When Frankie does find herself having feelings for someone, it’s in a situation that brings her pain and frustration as well as fear of hurting someone very close to her. This was a bit of a complex situation but I thought it was handled well, particularly as the person she fell for and the one she feared hurting had not really interacted all that much and seemed more drawn to the idea of being together rather than each other. And Ivy, the youngest, was so fun and sort of frivolous, but not in a bad way. She appreciated pretty things and I think often felt inferior to her more intelligent sisters, especially Frankie. She was very artistic, perhaps a little shallow but once she spent time with Riley and Fiona and Fiona’s children, I think she saw a different side of life and also came to realise that she did have something to offer, that there was a way for her to contribute. Riley was interesting too, he’s this sort of….good guy doing bad things for the better of those that can’t get what they need. He’s protective of Ivy when he rescues her but without restricting her. He doesn’t want to coddle her, just make sure that no one can hurt her. He also wants her to be her own person, do what she wants and not what she feels is expected of her. They felt like a sweet match, like they were two that would bring out the best in each other.

This was a good blend of entertaining story in terms of romance and family relationships and the struggle for women at a time when their rights were well, almost non-existent. I always read books like this and realise how many things I tend to take for granted, living in this time in the place that I do.

8/10

Book #69 of 2021

Sisters Of Freedom is the 31st book read for the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

It also counts towards my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, hosted by Marg @ The Intrepid Reader. It’s the 15th book read for that challenge so far.

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