The Postmistress – Alison Stuart

#book-review #book-reviewer

Synopsis

A stunning historical tale of loss, desire and courage that is full of the terror and the beauty of the Australian bush, for readers of The Thorn Birds, The Naturalist’s Daughter and The Widow of Ballarat.

To forge a new life she must first deal with her past…

1871. Adelaide Greaves and her young son have found sanctuary in the Australian town of Maiden’s Creek, where she works as a postmistress. The rough Victorian goldmining settlement is a hard place for a woman – especially as the other women in town don’t know what to make of her – but through force of will and sheer necessity, Adelaide carves out a role.

But her past is coming to find her, and the embittered and scarred Confederate soldier Caleb Hunt, in town in search of gold and not without a dark past of his own, might be the only one who can help. Can Adelaide trust him? Can she trust anyone?

When death and danger threaten – some from her past, some borne of the Australian bush – she must swallow her pride and turn to Caleb to join her in the fight, a fight she is determined to win…

My review

A mother’s love changes the path of a woman’s life forever. The Postmistress follows the heartwarming story of Adelaide Greaves, a strong female protagonist who leaves behind everything she knows, to be the best mother she can be. The relationship between mother and son, along with the love shared can be felt within the pages.

Alison Stuart sets the scene perfectly. It is 1871 and Adelaide is an independent widow, working as a postmistress in the Australian mining town of Maiden’s Creek. This is a beautifully written and well researched historical romance novel that takes the reader back in time, in my case, to a world unknown to me. Through the eyes of an unwed, pregnant woman we see the horrors that could be, yet fortunately the reader is taken on a trip with Adelaide to Australia, where she becomes an independent and successful woman, providing for her son.

The historical facts of the time, along with the Australian gold mining and medical practices in the late 1800s were fascinating, including the treatment of snake bites and society’s attitudes and advice towards smallpox. Alison Stuart weaves historical facts subtley throughout the story, which is testament to her talent in writing historical fiction. This allowed me to further delve into the world of the characters.

Prior to reading this novel, I was in the mood to sit down and feel true romance. The romance within The Postmistress delivered. Adelaide’s lost love caused her to grieve longer than her heart deserved. Upon meeting American born Caleb Hunt, Adelaide’s only love interest was Danny’s father. Caleb and Adelaide’s friendship grows, as does Danny and Caleb’s. Without a father growing up, Danny looks to Caleb for advice. The bond between them is strong. As Adelaide is forced to face the past there are many twists and turns within the novel.

I would highly recommend this novel and look forward to reading future novels written by Alison Stuart. The Postmistress is a novel that I could see inspiring an Australian TV series.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman

Synopsis

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .

The only way to survive is to open your heart.

My review

This book is truly brilliant, just as Eleanor Oliphant is. I absolutely felt like I became friends with Eleanor by the end of the book. Eleanor is a woman who speaks her mind, avoids interactions with others, doesn’t fit the everyday social mould and is one of the most courageous characters I have encountered. Eleanor grew up in the foster system as a result of the emotional and physical abuse of her biological family. Her story is revealed throughout the book as she uncovers more about her self and her circumstance.

Gail Honeyman manages to delve into the important issues surrounding foster children and the continued struggles, including feelings of loss, grief and abandonment that surface as time goes on.

Raymond, a colleague of Eleanor, sees her for who she is and soon shows her a side of life she hasn’t experienced – true friendship, kindness and care.

There is great humour within Eleanor’s logical and inquisitive thoughts. Some examples include her realisation that her nail technician should have become a dog groomer, since she was unsure whether to become a nail technician or vet. Why not incorporate two skills in one profession? Eleanor also wonders ‘if cobblers and chiropractors had established some kind of fiendish cartel’, as the woman in the store was quite insistant on Eleanor purchasing a pair of heels. There are many other thoughts that had me giggling as I read her logical, yet true thoughts that make Eleanor the individul she is.

Eleanor’s character is built in a way that the reader understands her world and hy her thoughts and actions are as they are in present day. I was cheering on Eleanor as she started to make positive improvements in her life for herself. What a strong character, what a strong woman.

Gail Honeman is truly talented to be able to present a character such as Eleanor. Thank you for bringing Eleanor to life. There are many Eleanors in life who are misunderstood and simply need friendship, care and love. This book will stay with me for a long time.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Concubine’s Child – Carol Jones

Thank you to Carol Jones for this beautiful, signed copy. I am very grateful to have won a copy of this novel.

Synopsis

In 1930s Malaysia, sixteen-year-old Yu Lan is in love with her best friend, Ming, whose father owns one of the busiest kopi shops in Petaling Street. But Ming’s family don’t see the apothecary’s daughter as a suitable wife – for Yu Lan’s father, Lim, spends more time playing mahjong than selling herbal remedies. It’s not long before Lim makes a terrible decision that will change Yu Lan’s life forever, selling her as a concubine to the wealthy, ageing Towkay Chan who is desperate for a male heir.

The consequences of Lim’s betrayal resonate through four generations and into the present day, where Yu Lan’s great-grandson, Nick, is searching for his lost family history. His wife, Sarah, begins to be very afraid of what he will find as past and present meld into one.

My review

My heart is aching after having read about the unimaginable pain, experienced by a concubine, who was once a happy and free young girl. This novel gave great insight into a time and place I had no knowledge of – 1930s Malaya. The novel was hauntingly powerful. I had to give myself time to process the sadness and experiences of this family prior to writing my review.

This novel follows Yu Lan, a young sixteen year old girl whose world is turned upside down as she is taken from her home, her love and her family, to become a part of a stranger’s family. The decision is made by her father, removing her from everything she has every known and depriving her of freedom, love and a wedding day. She becomes a concubine. Yu Lan was brought into the Chan family to produce a male heir for Towkay Chan. The sorrow and loss Yu Lan experiences are raw and heartbreaking. There were moments when I felt little relief from the melancholy feelings of the characters.

As a historical fiction novel, it was extremely well researched and allowed me to understand the horrors of this place and time. The dual time line allowed me to understand the modern day and historical culture of Malyasia. The story realistically paints scenes of the places, appealing to the senses. ‘Already the scent of home reached her nose, a mixture of barks, berries, roots, fungi …. ’ When travelling I have noticed the different scents of different places, just as home has it’s comforting scents. Carol Jones describes the feeling of coming back home in a way I will never forget. Home is truly where the heart remains.

‘You couldn’t fight life’s storms. You couldn’t fight fate. You could only wait.’ The life lessons discovered in the novel are significant not only in the characters’ world, also on a greater scale in relation to historical significance. This is emphasised in the modern day story of Ya Lan’s great grandson and his wife. It is possible to see the damaging effects that continued for years. Revenge plays a huge part in this novel along with the spiritual world. The characters will all learn from the ghosts of their past.

I would highly recommend this book due its historical significance, beautiful cultural descriptions and heartbreaking experiences felt by Yu Lan. What a wonderful story that will stay with me for a long time.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Shadow of the Fox – Julie Kagawa

#book-review #book-reviewer

Synopsis

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.

Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.

Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.

There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.

With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself.

My review

Shadow of the Fox is imaginative, humorous, creativite and well researched.

Yumeko, raised in a temple by monks, is faced with a mission once the temple is burnt to the ground and her family is brutally murdered. As she sets out on her journey she meets Kage, a Shadow Clan Samurai who has been raised to feel no emotion and do whatever it takes to complete his missions. He has killed for his clan and will again if he has to. Tatsumi and Yumeko attempt to help one another as they travel to the capitol. Their adventures are filled with interesting places, people and life threatening decisions. Upon meeting the bad mannered ronin, Okame, I found myself chuckling at his attitude, sarcasm and actions of his character in general. The three together are entertaining and this drew me in.

Prior to Okame being introduced I felt that the Japanese folk tales and legends were being recited rather than worked into the plot, however this soon changed. I loved the introduction of yokai, dragons and kitsune. All of these are familiar to me and I found myself reaching for my book of yokai, which has images of them. The author’s knowledge and research into Japanese legends and folk tales is evident in her writing. This became better and better as the novel progressed.

I’ve heard of stories of wild dogs who would defend a stranger on the road to their last breath, simply because that person threw a crumb instead of a rock.’ Yumeko has a beautiful view of life, even after all that has happened to her she has a positive spin on everything. She attempts to maintain her connection with the monks who raised her, by ensuring that she does not forget their teachings, which keep her grounded. The Buddhist teachings and references in the novel are lovely, including that of attachment. Yumeko understands the essence of positive relationships with those around her, whereas Tatsumi has been brought up to fear attachments, without an understanding of love for others. His character growth in the novel, due to Yumeko is beautiful.

This is a fantasy novel that had me feeling the magic within. Kagawa not only provided an interesting read, with entertaining characters, but also grately added to my prior knowledge of Japanese legends, along with creating an imaginary world that feels real. I am looking forward to reading the next book in this trilogy.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant – Kayte Nunn

Synopsis

A cache of unsent love letters from the 1950s is found in a suitcase on a remote island in this mysterious love story by top ten bestselling author, Kayte Nunn

1951. Esther Durrant, a young mother, is committed to an isolated mental asylum by her husband. Run by a pioneering psychiatrist, the hospital is at first Esther’s prison but soon becomes her refuge.

2017. Free-spirited marine scientist Rachel Parker embarks on a research posting in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast. When a violent storm forces her to take shelter on a far-flung island, she discovers a collection of hidden love letters. Captivated by their passion and tenderness, Rachel determines to track down the intended recipient.

Meanwhile, in London, Eve is helping her grandmother, a renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs. When she is contacted by Rachel, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to reveal secrets kept buried for more than sixty years.

Thank you to @hachetteaus for hosting this giveaway and sending me this novel.

My review

This was the perfect winter read, as I snuggled up under a blanket and read this delightful novel on the first day of the cold season. The Scilly Isles was the perfect setting, as I imagined the island with it’s beautiful beach, wild flowers and gardens surrounding the residence. As I curled up with this novel it was raining outside, yet Kayte Nunn managed to transport me to the sunshine and wild mountain terrain in an instant.

The novel follows three strong women. Eve helps her grandmother after she has a fall, moving in with her and assisting her to write her autobiography. Her grandmother was a famous mountaineer in her day and hopes to share her adventures with future readers.

Rachel’s work as a marine scientist takes her to the Scilly Isles where she finds love letters that are the essence of what true love is. Rachel’s character matures as the novel progresses and she enjoys the company of those on the island, from Leah the island hermit to Jonah who welcomes her. Leah has her own secrets and must discover herself, just as Rachel. They help each other in the process.

My absolute favourite character is the protagonist, Esther Durrant. Her story is one of great historical significance. Esther’s husband sends her to an isolated island where she is to be treated for depression. It is heartbreaking as she is away from her young son, Teddy.

It is 1951 where people are treated for mental health via shock treatment and locked away. Dr Richard Creswell’s methods are beyond that of his time. His treatment is wholistic. It includes counselling sessions, treatment of mind and body, whilst taking time to concentrate on self care. The location allows patients to enjoy the outdoors and nature. Esther is fortunate to have been sent to such a place in comparison to the alternative, although she doesn’t feel it at the time. The people she meets on the island will change her life forever. They help each other in many ways, especially as they share their thoughts and feelings. Wilkie shares some important life lessons; ‘Find a way to dream again, to believe, believe in the beauty of life, however fleeting.’

Esther’s loss of her second child is devastating and her grief is raw. Kayte Nunn’s portrayal of a character with post-natal depression is subtle, delicate and is to be commended. This novel emphasises the feelings of inadequacy as a mother struggles to bond with her child in the early stages of their life. This novel brings about awareness to such a sad and truly unimagineable time in some women’s lives. The importance of talking to a trusted professional is also emphasised. Women should not have to face these challenges alone. Within my community, I felt that there is an endless amount of support for women post natally. I hope that all women around the world will oneday have the help they deserve.

The romance in this novel is honest, sweet and realistic based on the time period.

This book is a romance, historical fiction novel that I would highly recommend. It is breathtakingly beautiful. I look forward to reading more of Kayte Nunn’s novels.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Strawberry Thief – Joanne Harris

#book-reviewer #book-review

Synopsis

The compelling new novel from the author of the bestselling Chocolat.

Vianne Rocher has settled down. Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become her home. With Rosette, her ‘special’ child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.

But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies, leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray. The arrival of Narcisse’s relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal of its own – all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even, perhaps, a murder…

My review

There’s always a moment before a storm when the wind seems to change its mind. It plays at domesticity; it flirts with the blossom on the trees; it teases the rain from the dull grey clouds.’

Joanne Harris has an enchanting way with words; her vivid descriptions in the first instance allow me, as the reader, to feel as if I am in the moment and truly experiencing the characters’ world. ‘The Strawberry Thief’ is a mysterious novel that touches on the challenges of motherhood, what childhood should be and what it is to feel different in society.

I was very grateful to @booksontherail and @hachetteaus for providing me with this beautiful copy of ‘The Strawberry Thief’. Once I found out I had won the giveaway, I returned to the world of ‘Chocolat’, which I had only experienced on film. As you can see from my review prior to this one, I absolutely loved it. I was also very glad I read it prior to reading this novel, as there moments in the characters’ lives that are referred to in ‘Chocolat.’ If I had copies of books two and three in the series, I would have loved to read those too. In saying that, ‘The Strawberry Thief’ would definitely be a good stand alone read too.

Vianne Rocher is now settled in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and is an accepted member of the local community. Vianne still owns the local Chocolatarie. Her daughter Anouk, has left home and is on her own adventure, whereas Vianne’s daughter Rosette is a child who prefers to sign and use sounds rather than speak and is happy to be in her own world. Rosette is my favourite narrator in the novel. When Narcisse, the town florist, passes away, he leaves Rosette his strawberry field. Narcisse’s biological children do not accept this and believe he must have been of unsound mind to make such a decision. Rosette’s narration is honest and she is always true to herself in the decisions she makes, along with how she lives her life. Seeing inside Rosette’s mind is beautiful. She has always loved being in the strawberry field and I loved the mystery and emotional story behind why it was left to her.

Reynaud, the priest, has opened his mind to the world, as a result of those around him who have challenged him, including Vianne when she moved to the town. His narration was intriguing and his character was much more likable than in Chocolat. In comparison, I did not enjoy Vianne’s narration as much. In this stage of her life Vianne is very scared of being alone and rather than her magic accompanying her zest for life, her use of magic is symbolic of her personality now; less care free and not as vibrant. This is a woman who is now challenged by motherhood in such a way that her mind is negatively impacted by her sheer need to hold her children close. In saying that, I love her relationship with members of the community and with Rosette. She still has the ability to calmly converse with those around her, whilst listening to her instincts.

After reading this beautifully written novel, I am looking forward to reading more of Joanne Harris’ novels. Her descriptions of chocolate and the processes of creating it have always interested me. To say that I love chocolate is an understatement. In particular, I enjoyed reading about Vianne’s process of scrying with chocolate ‘The hot dry reek of cigarettes has become the scent of burning leaves; the sweet and simle bonfire scent of autumn nights by the fireside.’

I would recommend this novel to those who enjoyed ‘Chocolat’ and if like me, you are a fan of chocolate, do not hesitate to read it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Chocolat – Joanne Harris

Synopsis

A timeless novel of a straitlaced village’s awakening to joy and sensuality – every page offers a description of chocolate to melt in the mouths of chocoholics, francophiles, armchair gourmets, cookbook readers, and lovers of passion everywhere.

Illuminating Peter Mayle’s South of France with a touch of Laura Esquivel’s magic realism, Chocolat is a timeless novel of a straitlaced village’s awakening to joy and sensuality. In tiny Lansquenet, where nothing much has changed in a hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows. Each box of luscious bonbons comes with a free gift: Vianne’s uncanny perception of its buyer’s private discontents and a clever, caring cure for them. Is she a witch? Soon the parish no longer cares, as it abandons itself to temptation, happiness, and a dramatic face-off between Easter solemnity and the pagan gaiety of a chocolate festival.

Chocolat’s every page offers a description of chocolate to melt in the mouths of chocoholics, francophiles, armchair gourmets, cookbook readers, and lovers of passion everywhere. It’s a must for anyone who craves an escapist read, and is a bewitching gift for any holiday.

#bookish #book-review #book-reviewer

My review

‘We came on the wind of the Carnival.’

This wind is the same wind that draws Vianne Rocher and her daughter to the French village of Lansquenet. It is also the same wind that carries mouthwatering scents of all types of delicacies.

Vianne travelled from place to place during her childhood and as she raises her daughter, Anouk, she does the same. This novel is set in Lansquenet, where Vianne opens a boutique chocolaterie. The chocolatarie and its chocolatier are an unwelcome temptation. The townsfolk do not like change and many are devout church goers who see Vianne as a woman lacking morals, due to her non attendance at church, acceptance of new comers to the town, her spiritual beliefs and her store. This store is one that encourages people to take time out to enjoy such edible pleasures in life.

As Vianne and Anouk continue their stay in the rural town, they are up against the likes of an influential priest and a gossiping group of women. Vianne’s character is very likable. As a witch, her senses are heightened. She magically and spiritually has an ability to read people and understands how to help them. Her calm attitude and kindness encourages those who are struggling to accept help for their own happiness. Vianne is a wise character who lives for her daughter and values the road to happiness over all else.

This novel is not simply a story about a lady who opens a store. It is much more. It is about the changes that can be made to a community with a difference of opinion and someone who will stand up for what is right. There were underlying issues, including domestic violence, religious discrimination and racial discrimination. Each issue was dealt with in such a delicate manner, yet questioned society’s opinions. Unfortunately, these issies are still current today.

I particularly loved Armande’s character, an elderly lady who is disrespected by her daughter and made to feel irrelevant. Vianne encourages Armande to connect with her granson Luc and here a beautiful relationship emerges. The importance of our grandparents in our lives is emphasised in the novel. It made me truly consider the people in my life of an older generation. Our connection with our elders is of utmost importance. We must take responsibility to pass on the stories and teachings of those of an older generation to ourselves, respecting their knowledge and view points.

I look forward to reading The Strawberry Thief. I enjoyed the author’s style of writing and scrumptious descriptions. Her first person narrative style was interesting too, as there were two narrators. This gave further insight into the minds of the church and chocolatier.

As I consider the thought provoking nature of this book, I realise that I love the book just as I loved the movie. Winning the competition by @booksontherail and sent by @hachetteaus inspired me to read Chocolat. If you have a sweet tooth like me, read Chocolat – you will love this book.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐