The Land Girls – Victoria Pullman

Thank you to Harper Collins Publishers Australia for sending me a copy of The Land Girls for my honest review.

#harpercollinsaustralia #book-reviewer #book-review

Synopsis

A moving story of love, loss and survival against the odds by bestselling author of The Last of the Bonegilla Girls, Victoria Purman.
It was never just a man’s war…

Melbourne,1942

War has engulfed Europe and now the Pacific, and Australia is fighting for its future. For spinster Flora Thomas, however, nothing much has changed. Tending her dull office job and beloved brother and father, as well as knitting socks for the troops, leaves her relatively content. Then one day a stranger gives her brother a white feather and Flora’s anger propels her out of her safe life and into the vineyards of the idyllic Mildura countryside, a member of the Australian Women’s Land Army.

There she meets Betty, a 17-year-old former shopgirl keen to do her bit for the war effort and support her beloved, and the unlikely Lilian, a well-to-do Adelaide girl fleeing her overbearing family and theworld’s expectations for her. As the Land Girls embrace their new world of close-knit community and backbreaking work, they begin to find pride in their roles. More than that, they start to find a kind of liberation. For Flora, new friendships and the singular joy derived from working the land offer new meaning to her life, and even the possibility of love.

But as the clouds of war darken the horizon, and their fears for loved ones – brothers, husbands, lovers – fighting at the front grow, the Land Girls’ hold on their world and their new-found freedoms is fragile. Even if they make it through unscathed, they will not come through unchanged…

My review

Lest we forget. I am thankful to the men and women who sacrificed everything for our freedom. I am proud to be Australian.

From the moment I saw the cover of The Land Girls, I was compelled to read it. As we pay our respects each Anzac Day, we remember the strength of those who fought for our country. The Women’s Land Army were among those who made great sacrifices. This is a story of three women who through determination and courage, worked for their country, in a time of need. They did not back down when times were tough. They laboured physically challenging work whilst worrying about their loved ones at home and away at war. Their hard work helped those at war and at home.

The Land Girls is a novel that pulled at my heart strings, allowing me to feel a range of emotions. I consider any novel that can do this a powerful read. The novel is beautifully written. Victoria Purman’s characterisation enabled me to love each character, along with the personal letters shared with the reader. Flora, Betty and Lily all decide to leave their homes in order to help with the war effort. They expect hard work and are determined to be a part of The Australian Women’s Land Army until the war is over. Their personal stories of love, laughter and loss portray strong women whose lives are changed in unimagineable ways.

As a lover of historical fiction, I particularly enjoyed learning more about the work of the Australian Women’s Land Army. I appreciated the research undertaken by the author and due to the personal stories created, this gave further insight into the time period and how the women would have felt as they gained freedom in their work. What courageous women to have left everything known to them, to live and work like they had never before. The Womens Land Army provided them with a sense of place and community. The three girls’ stories are silently bound.

I loved this novel. I would recommend The Land Girls for it’s historical significance, romance and power to make the reader feel proud to be Australian.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Messenger – Markus Zusak

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Synopsis

protect the diamonds
survive the clubs
dig deep through the spades
feel the hearts

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He’s pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That’s when the first ace arrives in the mail.

That’s when Ed becomes the messenger.

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

My review

Markus Zusak narrates like no other author. His writing is intriguing to say the least. This novel is humorous, thought provoking and mysterious. Ed is an ordinary guy, a cab driver and unlucky in love (possibly due to his lack of sexual confidence that he mentions on occasion).

As Ed is faced with each new message, he takes his time to truly realise how he can help to make the situation right. He not only helps others, but helps himself along the way. Ed grows as a character and person. He realises the power of his actions, stating ‘I’m the priveleged one.’ The characterisation was interesting and although the protagonist is an ordinary person, I enjoyed reading about his extraordinary mission. There were times throughout the novel where I wanted to know more about some of the characters introduced, which although it frustrated me at the time, I soon came to realise it added to the intrigue.

This is the type of book that I couldn’t write a review for straight away. There was a lot to ponder once I finished the novel. ‘I didn’t know words could be so heavy. This isnt about words. It’s about small things that are big.’ is one of my favourite quotes from The Messenger. Markus Zusak again shows me more than simply a good novel, he provides life lessons that stick.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

The Summer Before The War- Helen Simonson

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The Summer Before the War sounded amazing. I love historical fiction and the protagonist is a teacher, so I was expecting to love this novel. Unfortunately, I found it a very slow and tedious read, not living up to my expectations.

The novel is detailed in aspects that seem irrelevant to the plot and characters. Rather the scene is set and the story lacks depth. I wanted to love the characters, however, I felt that there were too many of them to gain a connection with any of them. The protagonist, Beatrice, arrives in the town and is employed as a Teacher, yet there is only one scene three-quarters of the way through the book in which she starts teaching. The first three parts of the novel include a lot of societal gossip, which I did not find enjoyable.

I am glad I decided to read the entire novel though, as the last 100 pages were worth the read. Prior to this, however, the novel itself lacked depth in ways that would have drawn me in further, including the characterisation. In saying that, the connection between Hugh and Beatrice was quite sweet.

As an avid reader of historical fiction, I did appreciate the authors’ knowledge and research into this time period. Although this novel was not for me, I hope that others enjoy it.

⭐⭐

Two Heartbeats – Rhonda Forrest

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Synopsis

When Jess heads west for a fresh start in a small mining town, the dusty, outback plains are a far cry from her former life in the city. Despite having no knowledge of country life, she finds herself loving the isolation and local people who she lives with. All she has to do is keep her head down and work hard to create a better life for herself and Johnno, the only person she has ever truly cared about.

As relationships develop and change, Jess discovers the caring warmth of a welcoming family and a circle of friends who look out for her. She begins to feel that maybe for once, her life is heading in the right direction.

However, problems arise when her temper and stubborn nature collide with her new boss Daniel, who is suspicious of her background story. Has Jess told him everything, or is there a hidden secret to justify his earlier distrust of her?

With a cast of eclectic characters, set amidst the rugged outback of Australia, Two Heartbeats is a story of friendship, resilience and the hope that ultimately loving relationships may triumph over obstacles defined by the past.

My Review

Thank you to the author for sending me a copy of this book for my honest review.

As I sit here and ponder on this novel I have just read, I realise that the book is just as it should be. The characters stay true to themselves throughout the entire novel. I love this. I did not expect the book to end on the note it did and took my time to process this before writing my review.

I could not put Two Heartbeats down. Rhonda Forrest (Lea Davey) has such a beautiful style and describes the Australian land in a way that makes me feel a closer connection and appreciation of the country I live in. The scenery described is breathtakingly realistic.

Jess is a young girl who has had to grow up too soon and learn to be independent from a young age, especially once her mother dies of a drug overdose. Her story, up until the moment the reader meets her, portrays her loyalty, courage and determination to succeed, even though she has experienced and witnessed extreme human suffering. I loved these qualities and soon loved her character too.

As an adult, our protagonist decides to take an interview that could be life changing. Her credentials are less than satisfactory, yet her determination to do well is clear. As Jess is given a chance to change her life, working as a courier in the mines in a small town in outback Australia, she soon finds herself a family of her own. There are many quirky characters living solitary lives at the isolated site that Jess prefers to live in, whilst working as a FIFO employee.

As the daughter of a FIFO father for a few years, I understand the financial benefits of such work, along with the week off to spend quality time with family. My dad also made connections with people who will no doubt be in his life for years to come. The community is something entirely different to that of the normal 9-5 position. I enjoyed reading about the way that the employees looked out for oneanother. The strain on FIFO workers, whilst they are away from their families is significant and I could only imagine what it would be like for someone with a young family.

This is my third Rhonda Forrest (Lea Davey) novel that I have read. It has been a while since I have read three novels from the same author that I have loved this much. The novels are all so very different and yet, are all thought provoking and realistic whilst being eloquently written. In Two Heartbeats Rhonda again describes the Australian nature and took me to the outback. Her descriptions gave me insight into a place of rugged, yet beautiful terrain. This is the first novel I have read set in the outback and as an Australian I loved how Rhonda shows appreciation for the Aboriginal culture and sites. Rhonda is one talented Aussie author and she deserves recognition for her talent.

The Cottage at Rosella Cove – Sandie Docker

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Synopsis

Why had the house stayed empty so long? Why had it never been sold?

LOST
Nicole has left her city life for the sleepy town of Rosella Cove, renting the old cottage by the water. She plans to keep to herself – but when she uncovers a hidden box of wartime love letters, she realises she’s not the
first person living in this cottage to hide secrets and pain.

FOUND
Ivy’s quiet life in Rosella Cove is tainted by the events of World War II, with ramifications felt for many years to come. But one night a drifter appears and changes everything. Perhaps his is the soul she’s meant to save.

FORGOTTEN
Charlie is too afraid of his past to form any lasting ties in the cove. He knows he must make amends for his tragic deeds long ago, but he can’t do it alone. Maybe the new tenant in the cottage will help him fulfil a promise and find the redemption he isn’t sure he deserves.

Welcome to the cottage at Rosella Cove, where three damaged souls meet and have the chance to rewrite their futures.

My review

The Cottage at Rosella Cove is an engaging contemporary fiction novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The story follows Nicole, an author, who attempts to leave her past behind and move into an old cottage in Rosella Cove. The deal is that she will renovate the property whilst staying there. For an inexperienced renovator, she tries her best to give it a go. The townspeople soon offer their assistance and within no time there is a working bee happening in the garden and the home. The townspeople are helpful beyond belief.

Nicole starts to realise how important her new friendships are and her life becomes intertwined with those around her; past and present. Sandie Docker structures the novel so that the past and present meet in such a beautiful way. Within the narrative are letters from Ivy, the prior owner of the cottage, giving insight into her personal story, the history of the people and town. Nicole finds these letters in the cottage and soon realises their significance. She learns from Ivy’s life lessons. Ivy had struggled with loss, as has Nicole.

The way the author develops the characters is interesting, as each individual learns from one another. They learn to live a more peaceful and loving life. The townspeople are superstitious, friendly and extremely welcoming. Nicole also learns to let others in, gaining friendships as she enjoys her newfound home. I fell in love with the townspeople, including Charlie, an old recluse with a tainted history and a big heart, Danny, a gentleman who has experienced his own heartache, offering his friendship to make Nicole feel a part of the town and Mandy, a loving and caring lady who knows what it is the be a true friend. I was, however, left wondering and wanting to know more about the development of certain relationships, including that of her friend Jane. Hopefully there is a sequel.

The setting was lovely. Via the author’s descriptions I was able to clearly picture the cottage by the water and as a result of this and the wonderful characterisation, I feel like Rosella Cove is definitely somewhere that I would want to live.

If you love Nicholas Sparks’ novels you will also enjoy this. It is a beautiful novel inside and out, that I would recommend. A perfect holiday read.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Silkworm Secrets – Lea Davey

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Synopsis

A treehouse perched high in a giant mulberry tree provides a safe place for Bobby, and gives him solace from a disintegrating home life. His best friend Ruby considers it only as a place to play, to raise silkworms and to innocently view the events that take place in the yards nearby.

Ruby’s simple, family life however, is a far cry from what Bobby endures in the house next door and the secrets they share and events that they witness will not only impact their lives as children but also re-connect them as adults.

A work of contemporary fiction, Silkworm Secrets exposes the secrets that children keep, the consequences of a troubled family life, but more importantly the endurance of beautiful family relationships and the power of friendship and love to overcome the past.

My review

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Silkworm Secrets by Lea Davey is unlike any novel I have ever read. The novel is emotionally charged, deeply thoughtful and eloquently written. Silkworm Secrets explores and discovers the true meaning of friendship, love and life itself.

The novel follows the lives of best friends, Ruby and Bobby. They are young children growing up in the 70s in Australia, enjoying time in a tree house amongst the mulberry bushes, spending time with Ruby’s family and raising silkworms.

The innocence of childhood is, however, disrupted entirely by the horrors of disturbing adult behaviour. Bobby longs for the family life that Ruby has. Lea Davey portrays the true love that should exist between parent and child via the relationship between Ruby and her parents.

As Bobby and Ruby grow up they lead different lives and have no contact… until the secrets that they kept as children are brought to the surface and those in question must be made accountable for their actions. The storyline is intriguing and this is the first time that I have read a book with real, yet heartbreaking issues children often face in the home. Silkworm Secrets brought me to tears, as I considered the fact that we often don’t see what is going on behind closed doors, rather the facade of a family. As a teacher, I considered that some of my students may also be terrified in their own home. As a mother, I was also inspired by Ruby’s family. This novel was thought-provoking to say the least.

After having read The Shack by the Bay and now Silkworm Secrets, I am excited to read Two Heartbeats, by the same author. There is a focus in her novels of the appreciation of the simple things in life, which resonates with me. I love that the ideal family in this novel lives in a small home and their happiness comes from the love they have for oneanother.

I was drawn to the cover immediately. It is absolutely beautiful, reflecting the essence of the book in its appreciation of nature. The story starts in amongst the mulberry trees. I do feel that the blurb could paint the picture further to entice the reader. From the blurb, I had no idea that I would be reading such an amazing novel.

I love Lea Davey’s delightful descriptions of the Australian landscape and the significance of the silkworms. Silkworm Secrets takes the reader from the coast to the outback, I felt like I was there.

The novel has content that may be sensitive to some readers, so this should be considered prior to reading. I loved this novel and would highly recommend it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne


Synopsis

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.
My review

This book was recently given to me at a book swap gathering. I read it a while ago and John Boyne’s novel was certainly in need of a reread. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is an emotional read that has had me in tears each time I have read it. As I read the novel again, I realised that I was gaining more and more from it. I carefully considered each thought-provoking quote and since I knew the storyline, I was able to focus on Boyne’s brilliant writing.

John Boyne chooses to write The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas from a child’s perspective, which in turn emphasises the impact war had upon the innocent, along with the unimaginable decisions of those in power. Bruno, the protagonist, is an innocent young boy who is faced with many horrors that he is incapable of understanding. Young children more often than not, will say what they truly believe. Bruno does this and his honest view of the world highlights the atrocities of war.

The story is set in two worlds. Berlin is the home where Bruno grew up and he describes the vibrant markets, streets where children play together and laughter. In contrast, his new home is cold, terrifying and Bruno feels uncomfortable upon his arrival. His feelings and descriptions of his new home are juxtaposed with that of his happy home that he grew up in. This reflects the vibrancy before war and the desolate world during war. I understand why this novel is a perfect novel for school children to study. Although we are not living in a war torn country, it is extremely important that the children of today understand what racist views and violence can lead to. This is perfect for teachers to discuss multiculturalism within Australia, understanding of different religions, races and the need to treat and accept everyone as individuals.

Bruno converses with people who teach him about himself and the world around him. Maria, the family’s maid, is subtle in her teachings and positively influences his acceptance of all people, rather than racist views that encourage violence and hatred of others. The characterisation is unique and praiseworthy.

There is a lot more I would love to share in this review, however, I do not want to give away any spoilers. If you have not read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas yet, please do. It is a truly exceptional novel that is emotional throughout and has an ending that is unforgettable. I highly recommend this novel and will no doubt read it again in the future.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐