The Lawson Sisters – Janet Gover

Synopsis

For many years Elizabeth Lawson has battled single-handedly to run the family’s historic horse stud in memory of her beloved father. But a devastating loss puts her dreams at risk. With no options left, Liz is forced to turn to her estranged sister Kayla for help.

Kayla has built a new life in the city as a wedding planner, far removed from the stableyard sweat and dust of her rural upbringing. She never thought she’d go back. But when Liz calls out of the blue, Kayla forms a plan that could save their childhood home.

Kayla’s return forces Liz to confront her past … and her future, in the shape of Mitch, her first and only love, who still watches over her from the other side of the creek.

But Liz still hides a terrible secret. When Kayla learns the truth, will the Lawson sisters find common ground or will their conflict splinter the family once again?

My review

Love, loss and the Australian countryside. Set in Scone, I felt a connection to the story from the beginning. Years ago, my husband and I stayed at a bed and breakfast in Scone on the way home from visiting the Tamworth Country Music Festival. My husband wanted to camp, I wanted to do anything but, so we compromised; one night camping in Tamworth and one night in Scone. The view was stunning and this book describes the peace, tranquiliy and fresh air perfectly. I also went shopping with my mum in Scone once, as we were passing through the town. I love that The Lawson Sisters took me back to such beautiful memories of my own, whilst allowing me to experience the story of two estranged sisters.

Liz and Kayla had plans, a beautiful family and their lives were filled with love, until one fateful day. Janet Gover thoughtfully explores the earth shattering nature of grief and how blame, self doubt and guilt is a part of the grieving process. Anyone who has lost a parent will no doubt understand the characters’ situation and how an estrangement can occur in the midst of such sadness.

Liz and Mitch’s relationship has also been estranged and once Liz learns to open her heart, she may let love in again. Kayla’s desire to utilse her talents as a wedding planner may just save the family property and business. I particularly enjoyed Gover’s character development. Kayla, a country girl turned city girl comes back home and realises the fresh air and country life is just what she needs. Liz is a harder nut to crack and with love and support, her life may continue somewhat as she had expected.

Overall, this is a romantic, touching and beautifully told novel. It will pull at the heartstrings. I enjoyed reading The Lawson Sisters and would recommend it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

This Lovely City – Louise Hare

The drinks are flowing. The music’s playing. But the party can’t last.
London, 1950. With the Blitz over and London still rebuilding after the war, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for help. Arriving from Jamaica aboard the Empire Windrush, he’s taken a tiny room in south London lodgings, and has fallen in love with the girl next door.
Touring Soho’s music halls by night, pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home — and it’s alive with possibility. Until one morning, while crossing a misty common, he makes a terrible discovery.
As the local community rallies, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms. And before long, London’s newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart. Immersive, poignant, and utterly compelling, Louise Hare’s debut examines the complexities of love and belonging, and teaches us that even in the face of anger and fear, there is always hope.

My review

In an instant I was swept back in time to 1950s London. The novel evokes a powerful sense of place. I was immersed in Lawrie and Evie’s world through the vivid descriptions of London’s music halls, parks, streets and homes. Louise Hare understands what it means to write a historical fiction novel.

Lawrie is a struggling jazz musician, working as a postman to make ends meet. Arriving in London from the Empire Windrush from Jamaica, Lawrie realises that his move may not meet his expectations of the life he had hoped for. Evie, the woman living next door, opens his eyes to what could be. Their relationship has had its ups and downs and they are faced with one particular challenge that will impact much more than their relationship. I could have continued to read the story of their lives. I connected with the characters very easily.

Post war London was not a comfortable place for someone of a different race or dark skin colour. This Lovely City proves not to be so lovely at times, due to the racism and discrimination its peoole are faced with daily, including by those in authority. The twists and turns in the novel had me continually guessing and the crime being investigated had me feeling very emotional.

I would highly recommend this novel to fans of historical fiction and/or romance. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thank you @harlequinaus @harpercollinsaus for sending this beautiful proof copy to me in exchange for my honest review. I will treasure this one. 💙

Amber – Deborah Challinor

Synopsis

When Kitty Farrell is offered a trinket by a street urchin, her impulsive response will change both of their lives forever, and place an unexpected strain on Kitty’s marriage. For the past four years, she has sailed the high seas on the trading vessel Katipo with Rian, her wild Irish adventurer, but when they return to the Bay of Islands in 1845, they find themselves in the midst of a bloody affray.
Their loyalties and their love are sorely tested, and Kitty’s past comes back to haunt her when she encounters the bewitching child she names Amber. As the action swirls around them, Kitty and Rian must battle to be reunited as they fight for their lives and watch friends and enemies alike succumb to the madness of war and the fatal seduction of hatred.

My review

Amber is the first book by Deborah Challinor that I have read. I purchased this novel in New Zealand, wanting to read a novel written by a New Zealand author.

Unfortunately, the description of the novel does not match the contents of the novel. It appears that the blurb focuses on Amber, as does the title of the novel, yet there are many battles, different relationships and the reader doesn’t meet Amber until closer to the end of the novel.

The characters are well developed and I enjoyed the way in which Kitty pushes the boundaries of her time, staying true to herself. I did question whether at times her character pushed the boundaries too far, considering the time in which this novel is set. I am, however not a historian, unlike the author. I merely lost a sense of time when reading parts of the novel. I was interested in the connection between Kitty, her mother and Rian. The first few chapters drew me in and I would have happily read more about Kitty’s mother.

Deborah Challinor appears to have great historical knowledge of New Zealand and I enjoyed reading some sections in which Deborah discusses Maori languages and significant historical events.

⭐⭐⭐

The Binding – Bridget Collins

Synopsis

Books are dangerous things in Collins’s alternate universe, a place vaguely reminiscent of 19th-century England. It’s a world in which people visit book binders to rid themselves of painful or treacherous memories. Once their stories have been told and are bound between the pages of a book, the slate is wiped clean and their memories lose the power to hurt or haunt them. After having suffered some sort of mental collapse and no longer able to keep up with his farm chores, Emmett Farmer is sent to the workshop of one such binder to live and work as her apprentice. Leaving behind home and family, Emmett slowly regains his health while learning the binding trade. He is forbidden to enter the locked room where books are stored, so he spends many months marbling end pages, tooling leather book covers, and gilding edges. But his curiosity is piqued by the people who come and go from the inner sanctum, and the arrival of the lordly Lucian Darnay, with whom he senses a connection, changes everything.

My review

The Binding had me hooked from page one. Emmett lives in a world where books are not read for enjoyment or pleasure. He lives in a world where books are bound to hide secrets and memories people consider too painful to keep. Emmett is a binder’s apprentice and he learns what it means to bind memories. The concept of this novel is extraordinary. It intrigued me from the beginning and the magic is fascinating. Emmett’s relationship with Seredith teaches him what is important within his trade and to use his magic with consent.

Part One is filled with magic. I wanted this section of the novel to continue, simply because I had an interest in the everyday work of a binder and their talents. Emmett is an interesting and extraordinary character who has had a fairly normal life prior to his encounter with books.

Part Two is well written, as is the entire novel. It explains Emmett’s relationships with friends, family and his love interest. I longed for the magic in this part, however, enjoyed reading about the developing relationships between characters.

The last part of The Binding is mysterious and uncovers the mystery within the pages. My favourite aspects of the novel were the magical world created and the beauty of true love that is portrayed.

I would recommend this novel, as it is unlike any I have ever read.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Girls with No Names – Serena Burdick

Synopsis

The Girls with No Names pulls readers into the gilded age of New York City in the 1910s, when suffragettes marched in the street, unions fought for better work conditions—and girls were confined to the House of Mercy for daring to break the rules.Not far from Luella and Effie Tildon’s large family mansion in Inwood looms the House of Mercy, a work house for wayward girls. The sisters grow up under its shadow with the understanding that even as wealthy young women, their freedoms come with limits. But when the sisters accidentally discover a shocking secret about their father, Luella, the brazen older sister, becomes emboldened to do as she pleases.But her rebellion comes with consequences, and one morning Luella is mysteriously gone. Effie suspects her father has made good on his threat to send Luella to the House of Mercy and hatches a plan to get herself committed to save her sister. But she made a miscalculation, and with no one to believe her story, Effie’s escape from the House of Mercy seems impossible—unless she can trust an enigmatic girl named Mable. As their fates entwine, Mable and Effie must rely on each other and their tenuous friendship to survive.The Home for Unwanted Girls meets The Dollhouse in this atmospheric, heartwarming story that explores not only the historical House of Mercy, but the lives—and secrets—of the girls who stayed there.

My review

The Girls with No Names is a page turner. I couldn’t put it down. Serena Burdick’s writing is beautifully balanced; the historical setting and personal relationships between the characters did not overshadow oneanother and the novel provided enough factual information to educate the reader on asylums such as House of Mercy. Burdick’s writing is heartwarming.

From the very beginning, the characters drew me in and I admired the strength and courage of the women in the novel. The story is from three different perspectives; young Effie, Mable and Jeanne, Effie’s mother.

Effie’s family life appears loving without fault, until the cracks start to form. Effie and her sister, Luella, sneak out to visit the gypsies, enjoying their music and freedom. The colourful world of the gypsies is juxtaposed with the black and white world in which the sisters have been brought up in. This is a world where a young girl could be taken to a work house for ‘shameful indescretions’, treated like a slave, abused and not provided with an opportunity to return to their home. Luella and Effie feel the constraints of their world. The gypsies’ society in comparison feels ‘free and magical’.

In a terrible turn of events, Luella goes missing and Effie commits herself to House of Mercy in the hope to rescue Luella from the horrors of this place. This is where Effie meets Mable, a young girl who although intimidating at first will be there to hold Effie’s future in her hands. Burdick writes of the emotional trauma experienced by the characters, which gave me as a reader further understanding of the horrors of what occured in the asylums.

My favourite quote from the novel is ‘Things not of this earth must be kept in the hearts of young people… Life can be ugly. You must keep your imagination alive. That way you have somewhere else to look if things turn unbearable.’ Imagination proves to be powerful for Effie, as she writes her stories and imagines the outcomes to scenarios. I particularly loved Effie’s writing and how it was interwoven in her chapters.

Stories live on in the hearts of their readers. Thank you @harpercollins @harlequinaus for sending me a copy of The Girls with No Names. This story gave me insight into history and took me on an emotional and heartfelt journey. I will always wonder about the personal stories of women who were imprisoned in such places. A book that makes me want to read more, based on historical facts, is one that has done its job in educating and connecting with the reader. This was a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ read for me! I would highly recommend this novel.

Free Food For Millionaires – Min Jin Lee

Synopsis

The daughter of Korean immigrants, Casey Han has refined diction, a closeted passion for reading the Bible, a popular white boyfriend, and a magna cum laude degree in economics from Princeton, but no job and an addiction to the things she cannot afford in the glittering world of Manhattan. In this critically-acclaimed debut, Min Jin Lee tells not only Casey’s story, but also those of her sheltered mother, scarred father, and friends both Korean and Caucasian, exposing the astonishing layers of a community clinging to its old ways and a city packed with struggling haves and have-nots.

My review

Min Jin Lee is a talented author. Her writing style is beautiful and her character development couldn’t be better.

I enjoyed the first part of this novel immensely. Casey Han, daughter of Korean immigrants, navigates her way through life’s many challenges. Some challenges are those of adulthood, others are related to her parents’ expectations, her heritage and morals. Casey is an interesting character. I enjoyed the cultural references and learning further about Korean society. There is mention of characters’ lives prior to immigrating, which I would have loved to read more about.

As the novel progressed I lost patience with the narrative. I felt that the novel was too long and by the time I reached the end I was annoyed at the characters, their affairs and the focus on their sex lives. What drew me to the novel in the first place related to Korean culture. The ending was disappointing for me and did not leave me feeling much at all.

I loved Pachinko and wanted to love this novel. I hope to read another of Min Jin Lee’s novels, as her way of writing is unlike any other author.

⭐⭐⭐.5

One Summer Between Friends – Trish Morey

Synopsis

Australian author Trish Morey returns with a compelling and moving story about broken friendships and the rocky road of forgiveness. Coming home was never going to be easy …

With a failed marriage behind her, and her career dreams in tatters, Sarah returns home to Lord Howe Island to run the family store. Paradise to most, Lord Howe is the last place Sarah wants to be, trapped on an island with her two ex-best friends, Floss and Jules.

Floss has the life she always wanted: married to her high school sweetheart, Andy, with five gorgeous children. But something is missing from her marriage. And now she has a secret that threatens to tear her happy family apart, and the only person she can talk to is the woman who pushed her away.

For Jules, forgetting the past is impossible. Her four-year-old daughter is an everyday reminder of the friendships she has lost. But when a discovery turns her life upside down, she knows this is an opportunity to set things right.

This summer, can these women overcome the pain of the past and find their way back to the friendship they once had?

My review

Thank you @harlequinaus for sending me a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.

This contemporary novel was a compelling read that I started a few days before Christmas and ended up finishing on Christmas Eve, as I didn’t want to put it down.

The story follows three friends who had a falling out years earlier. As the novel progresses their lives connect and they are forced to consider whether forgiveness, acceptance and love are possible.

Sarah’s journey with infertility, betrayal and heartbreak has brought her to the place she is now. Her main focus since moving from Lord Howe Island has been her career path. There are many factors that challenge this focus.

Jules is a single mum faced with health issues who reassesses her ideas of past, present and future.

Floss, mother of five is having marital issues and feels stuck in her marriage. She has always been loyal to her friends and has lived for her family.

Each woman has their own story and as they reconnect with their past they find ways to move forward.

Morey writes of miscarriage, infertility and breast cancer in a way that is sensitive and honest. It is beautiful to see an author who does raise important issues that many women face and those who have not faced them may never truly understand.

The characters were well developed and the storyline was interesting. I would read another of Trish Morey’s novels and would recommend this one.

This was a great summer read and I would highly recommend it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐