The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers – Kerri Turner

Synopsis

Petrograd, 1914. A country on a knife-edge. The story of two people caught in the middle – with everything to lose…

A stunning debut from a talented new Australian voice in historical fiction.

Valentina Yershova’s position in the Romanov’s Imperial Russian Ballet is the only thing that keeps her from the clutches of poverty. With implacable determination, she has clawed her way through the ranks to soloist, utilising not only her talent, but her alliances with influential rich men that grants them her body, but never her heart. When Luka Zhirkov – the gifted son of a factory worker – joins the company, her passion for ballet and love is rekindled, putting at risk everything that she has built.

For Luka, being accepted into the company fulfills a lifelong dream. But in the eyes of his proletariat father, it makes him a traitor. As war tightens its grip and the country starves, Luka is increasingly burdened with guilt about their lavish lifestyles.

While Luka and Valentina’s secret connection grows, the country rockets toward a revolution that will decide the fate of every dancer.

For the Imperial Russian Ballet has become the ultimate symbol of Romanov indulgence, and soon the lovers are forced to choose: their country, their art or each other…

A powerful novel of class turmoil, passion and just how much two people will sacrifice…

My review

Magnificent! A dance of words! Kerri Turner’s novel The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers is one of my favourite reads this year. The words dance with oneanother on the page. I am impressed by the author’s knowledge of ballet and more than this, her ability to write a novel that allows the reader to feel as if they are watching a ballet production. The entire novel felt like a stage performance. It was beautiful.

The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers provides insight into the days of the romanov dancers, their struggles in a wartorn country, as they attempted to bring joy to people who faced grief and devastation only to be shamed for their choice to dance rather than fight for their country. Valentina and Luka are characters whose passion for dancing has inspired the lives they lead. They have both come from backgrounds of less affluence than that of the ballet. I loved both characters more and more as I continued to read the novel.

There is a reason why I love historical fiction… I always learn more about history and the world we live in. I feel a sense of gratitude to those who lived in darker times than we do and for their attempt to bring light into those dark times and for future generations. This novel taught me a lot.

I do believe that dance and music connect with the soul and this novel did just that for me. The image above includes my first dance recital costume that my mum lovingly sewed for me. She kept it for all of these years and it has so much meaning for me. What a beautiful novel. It was everything and more than I hoped it would be.

Thank you Kerri Turner for hosting a giveaway. I am very grateful to own a signed copy of your novel.

A Lifetime of Impossible Days – Tabitha Bird

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Synopsis

Meet Willa Waters, aged 8 . . . 33 . . . and 93.

On one impossible day in 1965, eight-year-old Willa receives a mysterious box containing a jar of water and the instruction: ‘One ocean: plant in the backyard.’ So she does – and somehow creates an extraordinary time slip that allows her to visit her future selves.

On one impossible day in 1990, Willa is 33 and a mother-of-two when her childhood self magically appears in her backyard. But she’s also a woman haunted by memories of her dark past – and is on the brink of a decision that will have tragic repercussions . . .

On one impossible day in 2050, Willa is a silver-haired, gumboot-loving 93-year-old whose memory is fading fast. Yet she knows there’s something she has to remember, a warning she must give her past selves about a terrible event in 1990. If only she could recall what it was.

Can the three Willas come together, to heal their past and save their future, before it’s too late?

My review

Have you ever picked up a novel that is completely different to what you expected?

This novel delivers raw emotion and explores confronting themes, along with issues experienced in everyday human life.

The story follows Willa. It follows Willa at age 8, 33 and 93. My favourite Willa is 93 year old Willa, who provides comedic relief at times when 33 year old Willa is faced with the darkest memories of her past. This gumboots collecting Willa had me laughing and wishing I could sit and have tea and jam drops with her. At age 93 Willa’s mind isn’t what it used to be, however she will try to do anything to change past events in order to help herself and those around her.

The fond memories of childhood were lovely, especially the scene in which Willa dances in the rain with her Grammy. This scene is my favourite in the novel. In contrast, the horrors of Willa’s childhood were very confronting and at times I had to take a break from her sadness. The way in which domestic violence and child abuse is dealt with is on a subtle level. It was even more emotional for me, due to it being from the perspective of a child and the coping mechanisms age 8 Willa was forced to use.

I haven’t read many books that relate to time travel and expected this book to be a light read about a person who tries to change themselves for the better. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The time travel aspect is beautiful and ‘one ocean: plant in the backyard ‘ refers to the way in which Willa can travel in time to visit her past and future selves.

I started reading this book before my mum passed away unexpectedly and it has taken me a while to finish it and write this review, as I wanted a happy ending at a time when my life had turned upside down and wasn’t sure what Tabitha’s story would provide. I was also, without realising it, scared to read about a book that I wanted to be possible in so many ways. I wish more than anything for a plant and ocean in my backyard, so that I can visit my past self, take my mum to the doctors and have her looked after to avoid her heart attack. Tabitha, I wish your novel was real life. This novel has a lot of meaning for me and I will treasure it always.

Thank you to the author, Tabitha Bird for sending me a copy of this beautiful book. I am very grateful to have won such a fantastic giveaway.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

Don’t Drink the Pink – B.C.R Fegan

Synopsis

Follow the special relationship between Madeline and her Grandfather as they both grow and share in the most magical birthday experiences. Filled with secrets to uncover and brimming with imagination, Don’t Drink the Pink explores a number of basic concepts including colors, numbers and the reality of growing older.

My review

Don’t Drink the Pink, B.C.R Fegan is a heartfelt story, which takes the reader on a magical and wonderous adventure.

Madeline is always made to feel special on her birthday and she is excited each year. Her Grandfather arrives, spending time with her and brings magical potions with him. Each year, Madeline chooses a different coloured potion that takes her on a new birthday adventure. The question is on the readers’ lips from the beginning ‘Why can’t Madeline drink the pink’? Keep reading! The pink potion is symbolic of the strong connection with our loved ones.

Madeline and her Grandfather have a beautiful bond that will transcend time and old age. This story truly spoke to me. I originally read it with my son, who has just turned two. He loves the story; for it’s repetition, magic and gorgeous illustrations. He requests the story by title and loves repeating the narrative, saying the colours as we read. This book will no doubt teach him colours and number sequencing. The bright colours are intriguing and the illustrations are enchanting.

Much more significantly, this book has touched ours hearts due to a personal loss in our family. I was particularly moved by the topics of loss, connection with grandparents, old age, love of family and those moments in life to be treasured. These universal issues are the reason I would recommend this story to everyone. It is not simply a children’s book. It is a book that will pull at the heartstrings, prompt further discussions surrounding the cyclical nature of life and give hope for those who have lost a loved one.

This story is one that I will treasure for a long time and one which will help us whilst raising our son who has lost someone very close to him at such an early age. Thank you to Tale Blade Press for sending me a copy of Don’t Drink the Pink in exchange for my honest review.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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My mum

I am writing this blog post two weeks and two days after losing my mum, Denise. A week ago today I sat down to write about my mum so that I could share some of my mum’s life with family and friends in attendance at her service. Today I am writing to share a small part of how much my mum has inspired me in my life, how much I love her and from this you will soon realise how much I miss her.

My mum was a beautiful soul who should not have been taken from her family so young. She deserved to watch her grandson grow up, deserved to live a long life with many more memories. As I feel the grief, sadness, loss and pain of losing my mum, I also feel the beautiful connection and love we share. My mum was a kind, caring, thoughtful and loving mum. Her love for her family was everything and could be seen in her smile when she was surrounded by love. My mum taught me many things, but the most important lesson she taught me was that of true love. She taught me how beautiful the bond is between mother and child. There wasn’t a day that went by without her love. She is a mum and nanna that any daughter or grandson would dream of. I am so glad that Avery was able to enjoy almost two years of his life with his nanna. She had such an impact on him.

Looking back on my childhood, I wouldn’t change a thing. My mum chose to be a stay at home mum and enjoyed being a home maker, whilst being there for me. She would take time out to read with me, play with me and teach me all I needed to know. Mum shared her creativity with me. My mum created a dolls house with me from cardboard and contact, beautiful birthday cakes, long stitch needlework, paintings and crochet. Her love of crochet could be seen in her stunning works of art, including blankets and items around the home. The items that were also made with love are the crochet toys made for my son and other children who she loved. They are gorgeous. I will treasure all of the items my mum made forever.

My mum always loved reading and she encouraged me to write. Mum would sit with her Kindle or a book on her egg chair outside and enjoy the sunshine or sit inside surrounded by her creativity as she enjoyed reading someone else’s work of art. My mum loved romance and crime fiction most. I also love romance novels. I would like to give my mum’s favourite authors of crime fiction a chance. I look forward to sharing with you what she was reading on her kindle and her favourite authors in future posts.

As I sit and reflect on how fortunate I am to have such beautiful memories from childhood into adulthood, my heart is breaking to hear her voice once more, have a hug and tell her I love her. I also have another voice inside me telling me that I need to write, reflect and remember the wonderful times we shared and the love that will last a lifetime. This is the only way that I will be able to move forward. I promise to continue to live my life with purpose, to live a life of love for those around me and treasure moments with loved ones. Mum, thank you for being the best mum I could ever have. I love you and always will. I hope you are watching over us and know that we love you always and forever. In my heart always. ❤️❤️

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The Model Wife – Tricia Stringer

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Synopsis

Even a good woman can be pushed too far…From bestselling author Tricia Stringer, this beautifully realised multi-generational family story looks at what happens when real-life betrayals and struggling relationships clash with outdated ideas of what a woman should be.Natalie King’s life is full. Some might say too full. With her teaching job, a farm to run, three grown daughters who have not quite got a handle on things, a reserved husband and a demanding mother-in-law, most days she is too busy to think about whether she is happy. But her life has meaning, doesn’t it? After all, she is the one person everyone depends upon.But when an odd gift from her mother-in-law – an old book in the form of stern and outdated advice for young wives – surfaces again, it brings with it memories she thought she had buried deep. Has this insidious little book exerted some kind of hold over her? Could it be that in her attempts to be a loving wife and mother, she no longer knows who she is?On a day when it seems everyone is taking her for granted, and as the ghost of a past betrayal rises, it becomes clear that even this good mother and model wife can be pushed too far …

My review

‘Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself.’

This quote is my favourite from The Model Wife and sums up the entire premise of the novel quite beautifully.

The Model Wife is the story of Natalie; a wife, teacher, mother and woman who always places her family first. Her health scare causes her to examine her life and explore what is truly important. Natalie is a character to love for her honesty, loyalty and integrity.

Throughout the novel I came to love this family and how true to life the events and characters could be. This is not a fairytale family. It is a loving family who stand by one another as they experience life together and apart. The novel explores a time when all three daughters return to the family home. The scenes at home remind me of the drama TV shows ‘Brothers and sisters’ and ‘Heartland’ in which families prioritise family life. I loved these shows for that reason, which is why I particularly enjoyed this novel.

The Model Wife explores family dynamics and I enjoyed reading about the relationship the sisters have. As an only child growing up, I particularly enjoyed reading of their bond and relationships with one another.

When Natalie finds an old book entitled ‘The Model Wife,’ given to her by her mother-in- law, she reads the arcaic ideas of who a woman should be. She starts to realise that she has been attempting to fill a traditional and expected role. The novel touches on feminism and the feelings of ‘mum guilt’. As a mum I often feel guilty for not being able to be in two places at once and am continually finding a balance that works for me and my family. I hope that anyone reading this will also realise that we may all have moments in which we lose ourselves and that each learning curve is one step closer to finding our true selves.

I would highly recommend this novel and hope that readers will gain what I have from it. The Model Wife is a beautiful story with familiar challenges and a strength of a family who are connected via their life experiences together.

Thank you @harlequinaus and Harper Collins Publishers for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.

The Witches of Eastwick – John Updike

Synopsis

Toward the end of the Vietnam era, in a snug little Rhode Island seacoast town, wonderful powers have descended upon Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie, bewitching divorcées with sudden access to all that is female, fecund, and mysterious. Alexandra, a sculptor, summons thunderstorms; Jane, a cellist, floats on the air; and Sukie, the local gossip columnist, turns milk into cream. Their happy little coven takes on new, malignant life when a dark and moneyed stranger, Darryl Van Horne, refurbishes the long-derelict Lenox mansion and invites them in to play. Thenceforth scandal flits through the darkening, crooked streets of Eastwick and through the even darker fantasies of the town’s collective psyche.

My Review

Have you ever enjoyed the movie more than the book? I usually prefer the book… In this case, I preferred the movie.

John Updike can write. There is no denying it. I actually enjoyed the way he writes. I appreciate Updike’s style of writing, his eloquence with his words, his characterisation and his statements made. He uses a range of literary techniques throughout that create a sense of a very thoughtful and knowledgable author. He develops his characters well, especially the three witches. In contrast, there were parts of the novel that did not hold this same exceptional skill, including his vulgar comments used and mysoginistic statements. I was quite shocked by what I was reading at times.

There are themes in the novel I enjoyed, including the focus on relationships being less structured and what each person wants. As a heterosexual woman with a husband and child I have not had to face discrimination due to my sexuality. This book challenges the idea of society’s expectations of being either heterosexual or homosexual. The characters enjoy experimentation. Personally, I believe that love is love and if an individual falls in love they should feel comfortable in thier relationship in society with complete acceptance and non judgment. This is where I am torn with the book. Updike’s messages behind his words are very clever. He gives the three witches power to stand on their own and in this respect is the opposite of chauvanistic. He does show a blatant disregard for motherhood and maternal instinct of every female character with children, which made me feel a huge disconnect with the characters.

This novel does not have as much magic as I expected and hoped for. It is not a light, fun read… I found the plot to be slow paced and did not enjoy reading the novel by the end.

In summary, Updike is a capable author who I respect for his writing ability, along with the important issues raised, yet I was disappointed and did not enjoy reading this novel. For me to have enjoyed this reading experience, it needed more magic, a better storyline, a faster paced plot, less vulgar comments and a better ending.

⭐⭐.5/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

All You Can Ever Know – Nicole Chung

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Synopsis

What does it mean to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family—and what happens when you find them?

Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From early childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hopes of giving her a better life; that forever feeling slightly out of place was simply her fate as a transracial adoptee. But as she grew up—facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from—she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth.

With warmth, candor, and startling insight, Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child. All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets—vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong.

My review

Nicole Chung’s memoir is open, honest and moving. I am in awe of the courage taken to share her personal story.

This is a story of one adoptee whose story is alike in ways, yet completely different to other adoptees worldwide, as it is one person’s personal story. Nicole discusses her feelings of loss, separation, abandonment, cultural displacement and love within her family. Everyone who has been adopted has their own story and this is Nicole’s honest reflection. The way she opens up to the reader is beautiful, especially her use of rhetorical questions. These questions she asks herself are significant to understand how she is feeling and how she reaches certain mindsets, making certain decisions throughout her life.

I decided that reading Nicole Chung’s story was a must. After attending an adoption seminar for prospective adoptive parents, I felt a range of emotions and had the realisation that no matter how difficult times will be, my belief is that every child deserves a loving family. My family and I wholeheartedly appreciate Nicole’s statement on adoption ‘I urge people to go into it with their eyes open, recognising how complex it truly is; I encourage adopted people to tell stories, our stories, and let no one else define these experiences for us.’ If one makes a decision to grow their family via adoption, the hope is that they do so with open hearts, minds and an understanding of the need for open adoption in this day and age. As a hopeful future adoptive eomma, I will be eternally grateful for the courage of the birth mother to do what she felt was in the best interest of her child, with more courage than I could ever imagine.

Nicole’s memoir made my heart ache as I read of her feelings of racial discrimination and cultural displacement. This can happen anywhere in the world and my hope is that this is happening less and less as people are further connected with other cultures around the world. In Australia, although we are a multicultural society, especially in my home town and even more so in large cities, my hope is that someday soon racial discrimination will not occur in schools at all. As a society, we need to teach our children to show love towards one another without exception. Nicole’s experiences at school with other children left me feeling shocked at the hurtful nature of the comments made.

As a mother, I was moved by Nicole’s experiences and views on motherhood. I also believe that appreciating all of the little moments and realising how lucky us mums who have birthed our own children are, to be able to witness each milestone. Being a mum is who I am first and foremost, so it is lovely to read of a mum who also considers motherhood in this way. Every decision Nicole made to connect with her birth family was taken with consideration for her own child. From her story, I can see that Nicole is a beautiful mum.

Thank you Nicole Chung for your honesty, sincerity and for opening my eyes further. You have given me the hard truths and further confirmation of what is truly important to an adopted child. This memoir is a must read.