The Girl in the Painting – Tea Cooper

#book-review #book-reviewer

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

Synopsis

For readers of the The True Story of Maddie Bright, The Woman in the Green Dress and The Birdman’s Wife comes this atmospheric and richly detailed Australian historical mystery from a bestselling Australian author.

Maitland 1913. Miss Elizabeth Quinn is something of an institution in Maitland Town. For longer than anyone could remember she and her brother, businessman Michael, have lived in the impressive two-storey stone house next to the church. When she is discovered cowering in the corner of the exhibition gallery at the Technical College the entire town knows something strange has come to pass.

Was it the prehistoric remains or perhaps the taxidermy exhibition that had reduced the whale-boned encased pillar of society to a quivering mess? Or is there something odd about a striking painting on loan from the National Gallery?

Mathematical savant Jane Piper is determined to find out. Deposited on the doorstep of the local orphanage as a baby, she owes her life and education to the Quinn’s philanthropic ventures and Elizabeth has no one else to turn to.

As the past and the present converge, Elizabeth’s grip on reality loosens. Can Jane, with her logical brain and penchant for puzzles, unravel Elizabeth’s story before it is too late?

Ranging from the gritty reality of the Australian goldfields to the grand institutions of Sydney, the bucolic English countryside to the charm of Maitland Town, this compelling historical mystery in the company of an eccentric and original heroine is rich with atmosphere and detail.

My review

The Girl in the Painting is a mysterious and poignant historical fiction novel.

Tea Cooper is a master of the dual timeline novel. The story follows two strong female protagonists and their intertwined stories. This is another of Tea’s novels in which the female characters show their attempt to defy society’s expectations of what a woman should be and work hard to be true to themselves. Elizabeth’s past, present and future had me guessing throughout the novel… Elizabeth and her brother, in time, make a life for themselves in Maitland, NSW Australia, after travelling from England. Their arrival to Australia is not what they had pictured. The story also follows Jane, gifted mathematician, who was taken in by Elizabeth and Michael. Jane attempts to help Elizabeth, as she is considered mentally unstable due to episodes and flashbacks experienced. The regrets and love stories were a huge part of my hopes for the female characters. I enjoyed the romance in the novel.

I enjoyed Tea’s historical setting, in particular since it is set not far from where I live. Maitland in the early 1900s is not what I envisioned. I found myself researching this time and am grateful to have read a work of fiction that has lead me to realise these events in history, including the racial discrimination and way in which immigrants lived. They were forced to live in such inhumane conditions.

I also enjoyed the way in which Tea describes the artworks and the significance of them in respect to the mystery at hand.

I would highly recommend this novel and find that Tea Cooper’s style of writing is compelling. Her novels that I have read have all been enjoyable reads.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

No Death, No Fear – Thich Nhat Hanh

With hard-won wisdom and refreshing insight, Thich Nhat Hanh confronts a subject that has been contemplated by Buddhist monks and nuns for twenty-five-hundred years—and a question that has been pondered by almost anyone who has ever lived: What is death? In No Death, No Fear, the acclaimed teacher and poet examines our concepts of death, fear, and the very nature of existence. Through Zen parables, guided meditations, and personal stories, he explodes traditional myths of how we live and die. Thich Nhat Hanh shows us a way to live a life unfettered by fear.

My thoughts

Thank you Thich Nhat Hanh for your wisdom, clarity and comfort. I wish I had lived my life with this knowledge long ago… but truly lived it, not simply believing what I have read. Now, I need to live life like this.

Grief and loss, in particular, loss of my mum has been the most pain I have ever experienced… Thich Nhat Hahn provides comfort and the knowlege that our loved ones never die. They are always with us and a part of us and everything they have touched. Their spirit is with us. Something can’t come from nothing and something can’t become nothing.

The beautiful stories and parables, including Thich’s own loss of his mother and his poems and images will stay with me. I love his poem The Cloud and how he compares our lives to a cloud. Impermance is such an important teaching and although I have listened to talks on it and meditated on it, I have not felt it to this extent until now. Thich Nhat Hanh’s symbol of the tea leaves helped me to realise that my mum is still here. I need to hold on to these stories. This book will help me in all times of need in the future. I hope to rely on my faith.

I would recommend this book to everyone. It is a lesson on life. It is a lesson on our perception of reality. For anyone who has lost a loved one, I highly recommend this book. I will miss my mum everyday for the rest of my life… With this book and teachings, I hope to find peace and comfort in the everyday and on those days when I miss my mum most.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Colour of Time – Lynelle Long

Synopsis

This is the sequel to The Colour of Difference: Journeys in Transracial Adoption by Federation Press, 2001 (no longer available in print but can be purchased as an ebook at Google Play).

The Colour of Time follows the journeys of 13 of the original 27 contributors from The Colour of Difference. Reading about their experiences 15 years on, you will gain a greater understanding of how the adoption journey is navigated over time as adoptees mature and age. The book looks at whether things change, and if so, how?

Included in The Colour of Time is a new younger generation of 15 intercountry adoptees, some as young as 18 through to others in their early 30s. They shed light on whether the issues they’ve experienced mirror the complexities raised by the older generation in The Colour of Difference. Has the mandatory education for prospective parents made a difference? Has racism been an issue compared to those raised in the 70s and 80s, post White Australia Policy era? Has greater awareness of the complexities highlighted in The Colour of Difference made any impact?

Overall, the book The Colour of Time includes 28 intercountry adoptees raised in Australia and adopted from 13 birth countries. The book provides a snapshot of some issues faced over the life long journey of being adopted, specific to intercountry adoption. These range from being young adults finishing high school wrestling with identity issues, searching and reuniting, navigating dating relationships, becoming parents, chosing to remain single, navigating post reunion relationships, losing adoptive or biological parents through age, resolving or learning to manage traumas and mental health issues long term, and much, much more …

The Colour of Time is a must read for those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the life long journey of intercountry adoption, whether an adoptive parent, an adoptee, an adoption professional, or anyone interested in adoption.

My thoughts

This is not a review, as I cannot review this heartfelt book and analyse it. Every story is unique, every voice needs to be heard.

This book has many different perspectives on adoption and in particular, intercountry adoption in Australia. As a prospective adoptive parent going through assessment at the moment, I learnt a lot. Every prospective adoptive parent should read this story to learn about the challenges our children may face, how they will best be supported, the connection to their heritage and birth country, the importance of learning their birth language and most of all to be brought up in a loving home that will support them along the path they take to find themselves.

I feel fortunate to read personal stories such as these. Each story is short, yet filled with emotion. To share such personal accounts of one’s life and their perspective on adoption is very brave.

After reading this book, I am just as excited to be growing our family through adoption (if we pass to the next stage 😊). I look forward to supporting my children as they grow and hope they will always feel loved and supported. All children should have an opportunity to feel love and to feel safe in their own home with their family.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ for GoodReads purposes.

Up on Horseshoe Hill – Penelope Janu

Synopsis

A kiss can change your life …

Jemima Kincaid loves her home, her horses and her job as a farrier. Life has not been kind to her, but Jemima is happy in the close-knit rural community of Horseshoe Hill, which rallied around in her hour of need. Even so, she is fiercely independent and will never rely on anyone again.

Particularly a man like Finn Blackwood.

An infuriatingly attractive geneticist and wild animal vet, Finn threatens not only the serenity of Jemima’s present, but that of the future she has so carefully mapped out. But as their paths continue to cross, she finds her attraction to Finn impossible to counter, even as the trauma of her past threatens to undo her. Finn is fascinated by Jemima’s solitary nature and unique vulnerabilities but Jemima knows all about loss and how to avoid it. Don’t let anyone get close in the first place …

As the past begins to cast long shadows, Jemima and Finn discover that a kiss can bring worlds together-or tear them apart. Will they finally face their fears and find love on Horseshoe Hill?

My review

#book-review #book-reviewer

Thank you to @hqstories and @harpercollinsaustralia for sending me a proof copy of Up on Horseshoe Hill in exchange for my honest review.

This is a story of loss and finding out how to live life whilst being mindful, rather than fearful, of the unexpected.

Jemima, a Farrier, who lives in a small rural town meets Finn, wild animal vet and geneticist. Finn upsets the balance that Jemima believes she has in her life. Will his presence create disturbance or will he truly provide balance and insight in her life?

Finn’s employment to investigate a horrific incident is one which Jemima has tried to put behind her. Their relationship is realistic and their romance is turbulent, yet considerate, and also steamy in sections of the novel.

I particularly connected with the author’s understanding of grief and loss. It was refreshing to read a novel in which a character has had challenges in life and yet, those challenges are still a part of her, rather than being something she must overcome. Grief isn’t anything to overcome, rather to learn how to live each day in a way that we honour our loved ones. Penelope Janu does this beautifully.

Another aspect that I enjoyed was the small town feel. I wanted to be a part of this town that gives support and love to its community members.

The romance in the novel is realistic. I did become impatient with Finn and Jemima at times. This is true to life in respect to human characteristics and their ability and inability to act on their feelings.

Up on Horseshoe Hill is a novel that I would recommend and one that as I think about and review my thoughts on, I realise that I like it more and more based on numerous areas of the novel.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Magnolia Story – Chip and Joanna Gaines

Synopsis

Are you ready to see your fixer upper?

These famous words are now synonymous with the dynamic husband-and-wife team Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s Fixer Upper. As this question fills the airwaves with anticipation, their legions of fans continue to multiply and ask a different series of questions, like—Who are these people?What’s the secret to their success? And is Chip actually that funny in real life? By renovating homes in Waco, Texas, and changing lives in such a winsome and engaging way, Chip and Joanna have become more than just the stars of Fixer Upper, they have become America’s new best friends.

The Magnolia Story is the first book from Chip and Joanna, offering their fans a detailed look at their life together. From the very first renovation project they ever tackled together, to the project that nearly cost them everything; from the childhood memories that shaped them, to the twists and turns that led them to the life they share on the farm today.

They both attended Baylor University in Waco. However, their paths did not cross until Chip checked his car into the local Firestone tire shop where Joanna worked behind the counter. Even back then Chip was a serial entrepreneur who, among other things, ran a lawn care company, sold fireworks, and flipped houses. Soon they were married and living in their first fixer upper. Four children and countless renovations later, Joanna garners the attention of a television producer who notices her work on a blog one day.

In The Magnolia Story fans will finally get to join the Gaines behind the scenes and discover:

-The time Chip ran to the grocery store and forgot to take their new, sleeping baby
-Joanna’s agonizing decision to close her dream business to focus on raising their children
-When Chip buys a houseboat, sight-unseen, and it turns out to be a leaky wreck
-Joanna’s breakthrough moment of discovering the secret to creating a beautiful home
-Harrowing stories of the financial ups and downs as an entrepreneurial couple
-Memories and photos from Chip and Jo’s wedding
-The significance of the word magnolia and why it permeates everything they do
-The way the couple pays the popularity of Fixer Upper forward, sharing the success with others, and bolstering the city of Waco along the way

And yet there is still one lingering question for fans of the show: Is Chip really that funny? “Oh yeah,” says Joanna. “He was, and still is, my first fixer upper.”

My review

When I found this memoir at a recent booksale I was taken back to a time just over two years ago, when I was sitting in front of the TV, pregnant and binge watching Fixer Upper. I love the show; the gorgeous, kindhearted Chip and Joanna and the beautiful work that they do in transforming properties into liveable dream homes. I love watching how Joanna takes care to preserve homes and the special touches she gives each home. The reveal of course is exciting to see the looks on the families’ faces.

This memoir was very readable. It is light, funny and just like the TV show. This is exactly the type of read I needed. There were moments when I laughed out loud and moments when I was inspired. This is a couple who encourage oneanother to make their dreams come true, take risks and are devoted to their family. I love their down to earth nature shown on the show and in their book. They are generous towards others and make time for each other. I love that they don’t have a TV at home. Maybe this is the answer for a lot of married couples?! Family is everything and this is emphasised throughout the book.

The style of the memoir is as if they are speaking to the reader and I love that it is written with both Chip and Jo sharing their perspectives on life matters. They are devoted to God and family and I found their faith inspiring.

My favourite parts of the novel were the personal stories on how they overcame challenges together and how they bounced off one another. Chip the risktaker, Joanna, the artist beind each flip.

Each house flipped gave me insight in their progress as house flippers. Joanna developed her style over time to ensure her children had a place to play and to make the home feel comfortable for the whole family. I love her designs. The farmhouse they live in sounds beautiful.

Thank you Chip and Joanna for sharing your story.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Daughter of Victory Lights – Kerri Turner

#book-review #book-reviewer

Synopsis

There was a pause, and Evelyn sensed those around her leaning forward in anticipation.

‘THE VICTORY!’

1945: After the thrill and danger of volunteering in an all-female searchlight regiment protecting Londoners from German bombers overhead, Evelyn Bell is secretly dismayed to be sent back to her rigid domestic life when the war is over. But then she comes across a secret night-time show, hidden from the law on a boat in the middle of the Thames. Entranced by the risque and lively performance, she grabs the opportunity to join the misfit crew and escape her dreary future.

At first the Victory travels from port to port to raucous applause, but as the shows get bigger and bigger, so too does the risks the performers are driven to take, as well as the growing emotional complications among the crew. Until one desperate night …

1963: Lucy, an unloved and unwanted little girl, is rescued by a mysterious stranger who says he knows her mother. On the Isle of Wight, Lucy is welcomed into an eclectic family of ex-performers. She is showered with kindness and love, but gradually it becomes clear that there are secrets they refuse to share. Who is Evelyn Bell?

My review

Thank you @harlequinaus and Kerri Turner for sending me a proof copy of The Daughter of Victory Lights in exchange for my honest review.

The Daughter of Victory Lights is a unique view of post war experience from very different perspectives. Flynn, who has witnessed the horrors of war, having to retrieve and identify bodies, must live his life with these horrific images. Evelyn feels disconnected from her life in London upon her return from volunteering in the women’s searchlight regiment.

Flynn and Evelyn’s lives intertwine on the Victory, a boat that offers spectacular evening performances that challenge societal expectations, offering a more risque show. I felt like I was amongst the crowd, watching the performance, as the fire breathing man, contortionist and dancers created a show that lit up the night sky, with the help of Evelyn’s lighting. Kerri Turner’s experience of dance is evident in her writing. To make a reader understand a performance in a way that feels that they are there, emphasises her passion for dance and ability to share this passion with her readers. The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers gave me further understanding of ballet. The Daughter of Victory Lights gave me further understanding of dance performances that challenged society’s idea of what dance should be.

I love historical fiction and I am now a huge fan of Kerri Turner. Her novels do not bore the reader with historical facts, they actually immerse the reader in the world. What a way to experence history; through the eyes of a character in a novel.

The second part of this novel has such a different atmosphere and I was pleasantly surprised by the storyline. This is not a typical historical romance, it is much more. Lucy, a bright young girl, will be the motivating factor behind Flynn’s decision to make a path through his regrets and pain, in order to experience what life has to offer. Flynn’s pain is strong; ‘a phantom pain, something he knew wasn’t real but made him gasp all the same.’ Kerri Turner’s words are painfully true and yet, a perfect description. This phantom pain is symbolic of feelings of grief and regret that are reflected in his appearance. I particularly enjoyed the development of characters and by the end of the novel felt such love for Lucy’s family.

Kerri Turner has beautiful prose and this is the main reason I love this novel (not to mention her intriguing storylines) and am excited to read her future novels. The Daughter of Victory Lights is unique and breathtakingly beautiful.

The Lost Ones – Anita Frank

#book-review #book-reviewer

Synopsis

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917

Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

In the classic tradition of The Woman in Black, Anita Frank weaves a spell-binding debut of family tragedy, loss and redemption.

My review

Thank you @harlequinaus and @HQstories for sending me a copy of The Lost Ones in exchange for my honest review.

The Lost Ones is an intriguing and mysterious novel. Stella has recently lost her fiancé to the horrors of war and her grief is raw. When she is asked by Hector, her brother-in-law to join her sister Madeleine at his mother’s home she accepts. Madeleine is preganant and in need of her sister’s support. The relationship between sisters is lovely and I enjoyed reading about their lives. Both women have experienced loss in their lives that will stay with them forever.

Greyswick house is an old mansion that has its own story to tell. The sisters soon start to hear sounds that have them questioning the spirit world. The characters are interesting in that each has a past that I wanted to know more about as the narrative progressed.

For a debut novel, this story has intruige and the descriptions were vivid. Anita Frank kept me interested until the very end.

A hauntingly beautiful novel that explores the topics of the afterlife and the spirit world.

⭐⭐⭐⭐