Review: Wakenhyrst – Michelle Paver

Wakenhyrst

Michelle Paver

Harper Collins Australia

Head of Zeus

ISBN: 9781789540604

 

Description:

By the bestselling author of Dark Matter and Thin Air, an outstanding new piece of story-telling, a tale of mystery and imagination laced with terror. It is a masterwork in the modern gothic tradition that ranges from Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker to Neil Gaiman and Sarah Perry.

 

“Something has been let loose…”

 

In Edwardian Suffolk, a manor house stands alone in a lost corner of the Fens: a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father.

 

When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened.

 

Maud’s battle has begun. She must survive a world haunted by witchcraft, the age-old legends of her beloved fen – and the even more nightmarish demons of her father’s past.

 

Spanning five centuries, Wakenhyrst is a darkly gothic thriller about murderous obsession and one girl’s longing to fly free.

 

 

My View:

Creepy gothic suspense where madness reigns supreme.

Wakenhyrst is a gothic feminist tale (is that such a genre or just the mantle I read this book with?) that oozes a chilling miasma of menace and madness. Superstition, religion and misogyny rule and life for a sensitive and intelligent female child is harsh, restrictive and lonely.

 

This character driven narrative offers an antagonist you easily abhor (the father Edmund Stearne) and Maud (the daughter) is the protagonist that you admire, empathise with and cheer on… Megalomania is Edmund Stearne – he is a tyrant, superstitious, self-obsessed, a sex manic, controlling and vile and ugly  – his beliefs, though extreme ( I hope) mirrored those of a society that held women in contempt and treated as (not very valuable) possessions. This was a very interesting study of attitudes and superstitions of the time.

 

The fens provide an eerie backdrop to the repressive madness that ruled Wake’s End. However I was expecting more, I felt the horror element lacked vitality. Creepy, eerie, repressive and yet fascinating sums up my emotional response to this narrative.

 

PS Loved the cover art.

 

 

Review: Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach

Jennifer Egan

Hachette Australia

Little Brown Book Group

ISBN: 9781472150882

 

Description:

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.

 

‎Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.

 

With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world.

 

 

My View:

This is the way I like to learn history – wrapped inside an artfully written work of fiction. Gangsters, bootlegging, corruption, bribery, war, women’s rights in America…so much to learn about in this what could be called a historical/ coming of age piece of fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Review: The Land Girls – Victoria Purman

 

The Land Girls

Victoria Purman

Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd

ISBN: 9781489273970

Description:

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…

Brenda’s Review:

With war across Europe, Australia’s men and women were joining the cause in droves. Flora’s younger brother Frank was fighting overseas and in Melbourne, she, her father and brother Jack worried constantly. Betty from Sydney worked in Woolworths and her next door neighbour and best friend, Michael joined up, heading overseas. And Lily from Adelaide was being courted by David so when he joined the air force to fight overseas, she wanted to do her bit for the war effort.

The Australian Women’s Land Army were calling for women to help out with the jobs men had always done. Shearing, picking grapes, apples, working on farms with the animals. All three young women – Flora, Betty and Lily – separately decided to become Land Army girls for the duration of the war. And as they worked their various roles in different parts of Australia, they met other women doing the same thing; making dear friends. Along the way, there was heartache and loss, sadness and tragedy – the relentless arrival of the dreaded telegram – but there was also growing maturity, pride in their work and independence among the women.

When Flora was once again at Two Rivers near Mildura, she learned two other Land Girls were arriving to help this season with the grapes. And so she met Betty and Lily. The three girls worked hard – the work was backbreaking, and the heat was never ending – all the while wondering if the war would ever end. And whether their loved ones would come home…

The Land Girls is a poignant story filled with heartache and hope, love and loss, as well as courage, grit and determination. Aussie author Victoria Purman has once again written a well-researched historical novel which I thoroughly enjoyed. I wasn’t aware of the Australian Women’s Land Army and the role the women played during the war. Many of the farms and properties simply wouldn’t have survived without the help of those wonderful women. Highly recommended. 5 stars

With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

Guest Review: The French Photographer – Natasha Lester

The French Photographer

Natasha Lester

Hachette AU

ISBN: 9780733640025

 

Description:

Inspired by the incredible true story of Lee Miller, Vogue model turned one of the first female war photojournalists, the new novel by the bestselling author of The Paris Seamstress

Manhattan, Paris, 1942: When Jessica May’s successful modelling career is abruptly cut short, she is assigned to the war in Europe as a photojournalist for Vogue. But when she arrives the army men make her life as difficult as possible. Three friendships change that: journalist Martha Gellhorn encourages Jess to bend the rules, paratrooper Dan Hallworth takes her to places to shoot pictures and write stories that matter, and a little girl, Victorine, who has grown up in a field hospital, shows her love. But success comes at a price.

France, 2005: Australian curator D’Arcy Hallworth arrives at a beautiful chateau to manage a famous collection of photographs. What begins as just another job becomes far more disquieting as D’Arcy uncovers the true identity of the mysterious photographer — and realises that she is connected to D’Arcy’s own mother, Victorine.

Crossing a war-torn Europe from Italy to France, The French Photographer is a story of courage, family and forgiveness, by the bestselling author of The Paris Seamstress and A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald.

 

Brenda’s Review:

Jessica May’s modelling career stalled when she headed for Europe as a photojournalist in 1942. She was only allowed to the hospital camps – women couldn’t go near the front line – and while the male journalists had their own areas to send copy from, Jess and her friend Martha Gellhorn had to do the best they could. It would be the meeting by Jess of Dan Hallworth, paratrooper in charge of many men and well respected by those same men, that would change Jess’ ability within those pages of war, and the stories and pictures that would make a difference.

When Jess first met Victorine, a sweet little girl who was being cared for at one of the field hospitals, she soon grew to love her. The daily horrors and cruelty that surrounded them all were eased just slightly as she held Victorine in her arms. Other women photojournalists joined Jess and Martha, among them Lee Miller – their work essential, and what the censors didn’t cut out, made it to publication.

When Australian curator D’Arcy Hallworth arrived at the chateau in France in 2005 to collate the photographs of an unknown photographer, she had no idea the shattering changes which were about to overtake her life. Her disbelief when she saw a photo of her own mother in among the relics of the past had her doubting everything she’d known of her life. D’Arcy couldn’t understand the connection of her mother to this long ago past – and she wasn’t sure if she was brave enough to pursue it either…

The French Photographer is the latest by Aussie author Natasha Lester and it’s absolutely heartbreakingly brilliant! I can’t believe this author can continue to improve her books, time and again – but this one, in my opinion, is her best yet! Based on fact, the descriptions of the war years, the different characters which grew on me – Jennings was a sweetheart; Victorine a delight – and the others who were despicable but so well drawn. But the three main characters – Jess, Dan and Victorine – were so very special. The French Photographer is a wonderful historical fiction novel by an author who is right on top of her game – and I highly recommend it. 5 stars

With thanks to Hachette AU for my copy to read in exchange for an honest review.

Do You Collect Signed by Author Limited Editions?

I was very fortunate to win a gorgeous, limited edition, advanced readers copy of a book I have already heard so many good things about.

I love the cover art, the copper foil ( copper is my new favourite pigment to use in my art) is stunning.

Opening the cover – I am the proud owner of book 34of 150 signed by the author Stacey Halls.

I look forward to reading this provocative narrative set in the times of the Pendle Hill Witch Trials which explores women’s friendships, women’s rights and explores the question “was witch hunting really women hunting?” 

Review: At The Wolf’s Table – Rosella Postorino

at the wolf's table

At The Wolf’s Table

Rosellas Postorino

Simon & Schuster Australia

ISBN: 9781925791969

RRP $29.99

 

Description:

The internationally bestselling novel based on the untold true story of the women conscripted to be Hitler’s food tasters.

 

“They called it the Wolfsschanze, the Wolf’s Lair. ‘Wolf’ was his nickname. As hapless as Little Red Riding Hood, I had ended up in his belly. A legion of hunters was out looking for him, and to get him in their grips they would gladly slay me as well.”

 

Germany, 1943: Twenty-six-year-old Rosa Sauer’s parents are gone, and her husband Gregor is far away, fighting on the front lines of WWII. Impoverished and alone, she makes the fateful decision to leave war-torn Berlin to live with her in-laws in the countryside, thinking she’ll find refuge there. But one morning, the SS come to tell her she has been conscripted to be one of Hitler’s tasters: three times a day, she and nine other women go to his secret headquarters, the Wolf’s Lair, to eat his meals before he does. Forced to eat what might kill them, the tasters begin to divide into The Fanatics, those loyal to Hitler, and the women like Rosa who insist they aren’t Nazis, even as they risk their lives every day for Hitler’s.

 

As secrets and resentments grow, this unlikely sisterhood reaches its own dramatic climax. What’s more, one of Rosa’s SS guards has become dangerously familiar, and the war is worsening outside. As the months pass, it becomes increasingly clear that Rosa and everyone she knows are on the wrong side of history.

 

 

My View:

Brilliant!

A narrative that authentically involves you in the war time Germany where the impossible to accept, the dangerous, the unthinkable… is normalised. This is a study of group behaviour; of how social isolation, separation from family support, societal and military control, of how war affects those actively involved in the warfare and those who remain at home. It is also a story of love – in many forms, of violence, of living in perpetual/potential danger and a story of survival.

 

This is, at times, an intense and emotional read.  I was disappointed when I read the last page – I was hungry for more.

 

Brilliantly written, sensitively translated, this is a great read.

 

Guest Review: Suitcase of Dreams – Tanya Blanchard

 

Suitcase of Dreams

Suitcase of Dreams

Tanya Blanchard

Simon & Schuster AU

ISBN: 9781925596168

Description:

From the bestselling author of The Girl from Munich, a sweeping, dramatic tale of love and identity, inspired by a true story.

After enduring the horror of Nazi Germany and the chaos of postwar occupation, Lotte Drescher and her family arrive in Australia in 1956 full of hope for a new life. It’s a land of opportunity, where Lotte and her husband Erich dream of giving their children the future they have always wanted.

After years of struggling to find their feet as New Australians, Erich turns his skill as a wood carver into a successful business and Lotte makes a career out of her lifelong passion, photography. The sacrifices they have made finally seem worth it until Erich’s role in the trade union movement threatens to have him branded a communist and endanger their family. Then darker shadows of the past reach out to them from Germany, a world and a lifetime away.

As the Vietnam War looms, an unexpected visitor forces Lotte to a turning point. Her decision will change her life forever . . . and will finally show her the true meaning of home.

 

Brenda’s Review:

Arriving at Bonegilla, the migrant camp in rural Victoria near the NSW border, after the long sea voyage from Germany on the Skaubryn, Lotte Drescher and her husband Erich, plus daughters Greta and Johanna, were excited but nervous about their future in Australia. Their life was beginning anew; it was 1956 and they were filled with hope.

But life wasn’t easy – Erich struggled to find a job after their arrival in Sydney. His qualifications as an engineer weren’t recognized in Australia and he had to re-study if he wanted to follow that course. The family’s lack of funds made that option unavailable, at least for the time being. But eventually, after much struggle, trauma and heartache, Erich was working from home as a wood carver – following in his father’s footsteps. And Lotte was fulfilling her heart’s desire of being a photographer. They were happy.

Until subtle – and not so subtle – innuendos began to corrupt their lives. Erich’s position in the trade union movement and his determination to help other migrants was beginning to endanger his family. And with the Vietnam War about to draw Australia in, Erich and Lotte’s challenges were great. What would be the outcome in a future that was uncertain?

Book #2 in The Girl From Munich series by Aussie author Tania Blanchard was exceptional in my opinion. I loved the first, The Girl From Munich and Suitcase of Dreams didn’t disappoint. Based on the true story of the author’s grandparents, their arrival from Germany in 1956 to Bonegilla, and their stay in the Villawood hostel in Sydney, before their own living quarters and a job were found, I was fascinated but saddened at the hardships the family suffered. An excellent rendition of fact to fiction, I highly recommend Ms Blanchard’s follow up, Suitcase of Dreams but advise reading them in order of publication. 5 stars.

With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.