Strange Meeting by Susan Hill

strange meeting.jpgTitle: Strange Meeting

Author: Susan Hill

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Profile Books

Published: 23rd May 2018

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 260

Price: $22.99

Synopsis: A story of love and loss in wartime from master storyteller Susan Hill.

Returning to his battalion in France after a period of medical leave in England, John Hilliard, a young officer, finds his division almost unrecognisable. His commanding officer is an alcoholic, there is a new adjutant and several of his close friends have been killed.

But there is David Barton. As yet untouched and unsullied by war, fresh-faced and radiating charm. As the pair approach the front line, bloodied by the deaths of their fellow soldiers, their friendship deepens. But as the reality of the violence sets in, the men know that they will soon be separated…

A poignant novel on human love as war and the pity of war.

~*~

Upon his return to his battalion in France during World War One, or as it was known then, The War to End All Wars, John Hilliard finds those he has fought have changed: several friends are dead, there is a new adjutant he needs to get used to, and his commanding officer has become an alcoholic. As the horrors of war close in, John and his friends have to face the reality of being separated by the violence and the death that starts to suffocate and invade the battlefields and trenches of France. It is a war that they hope will never be repeated, yet it is also a war that they know will happen again – because they know there’s little chance of this war ending all wars to come in the decades after the closure of World War One, or as it was known then, The Great War.

Throughout the novel, it is known that there are battles waging in the trenches of France, and battles of the mind and soul within the soldiers fighting. It is a look at how the war affected a specific person and his specific surroundings – illustrating one of the kinds of experiences that soldiers in the trenches had. It is poignant, especially as 2018 marks the 100th anniversary since the end of World War One.

Hilliard’s interactions with the new arrival, David Barton, who has not been disillusioned by what was known as the excitement of war at the time, he radiates a charm that Hilliard will find hard to let go of – knowing that at some stage, the war will separate them and cast their lives aside.

Strange Meeting is a war novel that is about war, and at the same time, about the humans involved in war, and what is lost both physically and emotionally – the cost of life, and the cost of self as war ravages these young men as they venture into the unknown, with only the hope that they will survive and return home in one piece – and if not in one piece, then at least alive, to their families.

Strange Meeting is a novel that is more literary, and character driven – all we know of the settings is that they are the theatres of World War One in France, and my guess, around 1916-1917, perhaps the Battle of the Somme or Ypres. What is known though, is how these events and all other events of the war have impacted on the men such as Hilliard, and this is what makes it a powerful and poignant novel.

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Book Bingo Twelve: Square One of Second Card

Book bingo take 2

Starting this week, and each first and third Saturday afterwards until the end of the year, I’ll be doing a fresh bingo card, hopefully with different books to the last one. Having finished half way through the year, I decided to fill up another card, and this time, stretch it out a big more over six months. So even though I have three ticked off already, I’m starting with one square.

the yellow house

A book written by someone under thirty: The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady – AWW2018

 

 

Emily O’Grady’s book filled square four of row five across, and square five of row four down – a book written by someone under thirty and is also one of my reads for the 2018 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, where I met Theresa Smith Amanda Barrett, and signed up to do this book bingo with them over the course of the year.

Book bingo take 2 .jpg

The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady revolves around the idea of family legacy, and whether the sins of the father, or in Cub’s case, the grandfather, should be the burden of those left behind. It questions whether the violence committed by a family member and its lasting impact on the family – how they behave, how they see themselves, how their community sees them and whether or not they have a genetic predisposition to the same tendencies – the nature versus nurture debate. For Cub, this world is seen through her ten year old eyes – at first as something she is intrigued by, but with the arrival of her cousin, Tilly, and a new friend of her older brother’s – will Cub learn that family legacy is not what defines her?

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Taking on the topic of serial killers and the legacy they leave behind, Emily O’Grady has created a thought-provoking novel, which, when seen through the eyes of a child who has never been told anything about her family history, is the only daughter and is very inquisitive, but often told off, is rather sobering, especially as there is always a feeling that something has to go wrong, someone has to go missing and that new friend of Cub’s older brother gives off a sense of dread and unease that doesn’t leave at all, even after the novel ends in a way that is both conclusive and at the same time, inconclusive, with hints that what Cub knows or thinks she knows will never come to light.

My next book bingo with Theresa and Amanda (Mrs B) will appear on the 30th of June.

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Into the Night by Sarah Bailey

into the night.jpgTitle: Into the Night

Author: Sarah Bailey

Genre: Crime/Thriller

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 416

Price: $32.99

Synopsis:The riveting follow-up to The Dark Lake, acclaimed debut novel and international bestseller.

The Dark Lake is a stunning debut that gripped me from page one and never eased up. Dark, dark, dark–but infused with insight, pathos, a great sense of place, and razor-sharp writing. It’s going to be big and Sarah Bailey needs to clear a shelf for awards.’ C.J. Box, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Sarah Bailey’s acclaimed debut novel The Dark Lake was a bestseller around the world and Bailey’s taut and suspenseful storytelling earned her fitting comparisons with Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins.

Into the Night is her stunning new crime novel featuring the troubled and brilliant Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock. This time Gemma finds herself lost and alone in the city, broken-hearted by the decisions she’s had to make. Her new workplace is a minefield and the partner she has been assigned is uncommunicative and often hostile. When a homeless man is murdered and Gemma is put on the case, she can’t help feeling a connection with the victim and the lonely and isolated life he led despite being in the middle of a bustling city.

Then a movie star is killed in bizarre circumstances on the set of a major film shoot, and Gemma and her partner Detective Sergeant Nick Fleet have to put aside their differences to unravel the mysteries surrounding the actor’s life and death. Who could commit such a brazen crime and who stands to profit from it? Far too many people, she soon discovers – and none of them can be trusted. But it’s when Gemma realises that she also can’t trust the people closest to her that her world starts closing in…

Riveting suspense, incisive writing and a fascinating cast of characters make this an utterly addictive crime thriller and a stunning follow-up to The Dark Lake.

~*~

Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock has been set the task of investigating the death of a homeless man, Walter Miller. since moving from Smithson after the events of The Dark Lake, Gemma is grappling with a fractured personal life, and throws herself into her work, separated from her family and former life. Having recently moved away from the country town of Smithson, she is now living in Melbourne, and working with new partner, Nick Fleet, who is still a bit of a mystery to her even after working with him for a time in between novels, or so I gathered, having not read the first one The Dark Lake. Within twenty-four hours of Gemma starting to investigate the death of the homeless man, a big movie star, Sterling Wade is murdered, and the attentions once given to Walter Miller is shifted to Sterling Wade – a circumstance that doesn’t sit well with Gemma, who feels that Sterling is only being given all their attention because he is famous. But is there more than meets the eye to this case? As Gemma and her colleagues investigate Sterling’s death, their list of suspects ebbs and flows, and ideas for motives that seem to fall into place at first dwindle and float away and it feels like the killer, and resolutions to her own personal life seem to float further and further away with each passing day.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs this was my first introduction to Gemma Woodstock, I found myself going through liking her at times, to finding some of the things she did frustrating, to at times not liking her, but also, felt sympathy for her, and the way some of the characters treated her and demanded things of her that she couldn’t always deliver or promise, and where both parties could have handled things properly. Showing Gemma in these various lights made her human – and relatable because we all have flaws and make mistakes. Giving her the ability to not always be perfect, to fail and to make mistakes is what made the book enjoyable and seeing Gemma through her own eyes was interesting – where she recognised her flaws and performed self-reflection, shed some light on the kind of person she was, but also, that she wanted to be.

The mystery surrounding Sterling Wade and Walter Miller was intriguing – especially when the obvious reasons that the detectives came up with for motive fell through, and they went back to square one and had to meander through their evidence again, checking everything as thoroughly as possible as they investigated both crimes, along with links to a case that popped in and out of the novel, unrelated to the main plot but still one that had an impact on Gemma and her personal life. The meandering nature of the novel became more exciting and fast paced towards the end, which made it enjoyable as well.

Overall, I did quite enjoy this novel, and maybe when time allows I shall go back and read the first one.

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My Girragundji by Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior

my girragundjiTitle: My Girragundji – 20th Anniversary Edition
Author: Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 23rd May 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 96
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: The 20th anniversary edition of the award-winning, much loved story that tells how a little tree frog helps a boy find the courage to face his fears.
‘I wake with a start. The doorknob turns. It’s him. The Hairyman.’

There’s a bad spirit in our house. He’s as ugly as ugly gets and he stinks. You touch this kind of Hairyman and you lose your voice, or choke to death.

It’s hard to sleep when a hairy wrinkly old hand might grab you in the night. And in the day you’ve got to watch yourself. It can be rough. Words come yelling at you that hurt.

Alive with humour, My Girragundji is the vivid story of a boy growing up between two worlds. With the little green tree frog as a friend, the bullies at school don’t seem so big anymore. And Girragundji gives him the courage to face his fears.

Boori Monty Pryor was the Australian Children’s Laureate from 2012-13.

Author bio:
Meme McDonald was a graduate of Victoria College of the Arts Drama School. She began her career as a theatre and festival director, specialising in the creation of large-scale outdoor performance events. Since then she worked as a writer, photographer and on various film projects. Meme McDonald’s previous books – five of which have been written in collaboration with Boori Monty Pryor – have won six major literary awards.

Boori Monty Pryor was born in North Queensland. His father is from the Birri-gubba of the Bowen region and his mother from Yarrabah, a descendant of the Kunggandji and Kukuimudji. Boori is a multi-talented performer who has worked in film, television, modelling, sport, music and theatre-in-education. Boori has written several award-winning children’s books with Meme McDonald and was Australia’s inaugural Children’s Laureate (with Alison Lester) in 2012 and 2013.
~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseThere’s something unique about Australian stories – wherever they come from – that show a connection to the land and history that feels different to other literature. In My Girragundji, first published twenty years ago, Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior have taken family stories and culture and woven them into a story that can be enjoyed by all.

In My Girragundji, young boy straddles two worlds: his Indigenous world and the world of wider Australia, where everyone is invited to participate but where the protagonist of this short, charming story is still isolated, and where difference can mean more than he thought it could. It is a world where the reader is introduced to Aboriginal words that are translated within the text, and that flow, and sing, sharing knowledge with all in an accessible and enjoyable way. The protagonist refers to migaloo, mozzies, and Aboriginal legends of a Hairyman, a figure who illustrates the fears his family feels, and perhaps shows a sense of isolation that they might feel from the migaloo – their word for the white people they live with and go to school with.

At school, the protagonist is caught between two worlds and tries to fit into both, and soon finds solace in a small friend – a girragundji – a frog. And he draws strength from this frog as he navigates his world and where he fits in.

I read this one quite quickly – and enjoyed the black and white photos and images that accompanied the text, giving it life and vitality next t brief, yet descriptive and emotive text, that communicated a story of strength, friendship, family and coming of age in a simple, accessible and charming way to the target audience, but also one that I hope will be enjoyed by all. Aimed at years four and five, this would be a great book to read and begin various conversations about our culture in Australia and introduce new readers to an Indigenous author, and Meme, who was a great advocate for reconciliation and worked together with Indigenous communities like Boori’s to help connect people and bring about reconciliation.

I enjoyed this read, and hope others do as well.

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Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies by Kitty Flanagan

burning bridges.jpgTitle: Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies

Author: Kitty Flanagan

Genre: Essays/Non-Fiction/Comedy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 21st March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: One of Australia’s favourite and most multi-talented entertainers, Kitty Flanagan, provides hilarious and honest life advice in this candid collection of cautionary tales.

Kitty Flanagan has been locked in an industrial freezer in Western Australia, insulted about the size of her lady parts in Singapore and borne witness to the world’s most successful wife swap in suburban Sydney. It’s these valuable lessons from The University of Life that have taught her so many things, including the fact that clichĂ©s like ‘The University of Life’ are reeeally annoying.

In these funny, true stories, Kitty provides advice you didn’t even know you needed. Useful tips on how not to get murdered while hitch-hiking, how to break up with someone the wrong way, and the right way, why it’s important to keep your top on while waitressing, and why women between the ages of thirty-seven and forty-two should be banned from internet dating.

Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies is a collection of laugh-out-loud, cautionary tales from one of Australia’s favourite comedians.

‘Finally, a book that doesn’t tell you to stop eating sugar.’
KITTY – CAKE ENTHUSIAST

‘Shut your mouth Flanagan or you’ll do fifteen in the freezer.’
GARY – FACTORY FOREMAN

‘I was hoping there’d be more about arson.’
BERNIE – LOCAL FIRESTARTER

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseKitty Flanagan’s biography – well, more a series of essays on her adventures throughout life, showcases her sense of humour from the very first page. From her early childhood through to now, Kitty has had many careers, including waitressing, a brief appearance as a child actor and as a copywriter – all of which have led her to becoming one of Australia’s best loved comedians. From her adventures hitch-hiking to her disastrous attempts to break off relationships, Kitty’s true stories are filled with her special brand of humour and proves that clichĂ©s like the University of Life are really annoying and cultural misunderstandings can lead to disastrous or at least, unseen, consequences.

Kitty’s sense of humour is unique to her, but also incorporates elements of the Australian sense of humour within her comedy, and makes her relatable and funny, and she has excelled in doing this in writing as well. Each chapter is a snippet, a story from Kitty’s life that illustrate what life was like for her as a child – being dropped off at a party where the only parents there were those of the birthday child – and the other parents weren’t around. Having experienced parties like this myself, this was a story I could relate to. Of the others, I laughed, and enjoyed the ride with Kitty.

It’s very hard not to laugh or smile while reading this book – it is like reading a stand-up comedy routine from the comfort of your home, with Kitty’s voice as clear as it would be live. As Kitty cast a humourous eye over her travels across the world and through a series of unsuccessful relationships, she showed how words – spoken or written have power and can impact you in a variety of ways. Her time in Singapore illustrated the cultural differences she has encountered in her career, and how what in one country might be funny, in another can be offensive and have repercussions that she was unaware of – but in true Kitty style, she managed to turn this into an instance of rolling with the punches, lessons learned and the sort of story that can be funny and awkward.

It is biographical but also, reads like a series of comedy sketches – perfect for when you can’t get to her shows and need a dose of Kitty to brighten your day. It is one that having read the whole way through once, I could dip into random stories when I felt like it, and it will be just as entertaining as reading them in order. It was clear that she was a comedic genius from a young age, and I absolutely loved her recollection of the party when she was five and the dress her Mum had made from a pattern – cute and funny in equal helpings!

Kitty is one of my favourite comedians, which was a deciding factor in me choosing this book as part of my 2018 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. It is an excellent read and I hope many of Kitty’s fans will enjoy her book and have a good laugh along with Kitty as she navigates life through comedy.

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Ready to Fall by Marcella Pixley

ready to fallTitle: Ready to Fall

Author: Marcella Pixley

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Publisher: Pushkin Press/Allen and Unwin/Murdoch Books

Published: March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A YA novel about a teen who finds hope and a fresh start after a terrible loss, and learns that being strong means letting go

When Max Friedman’s mother dies of cancer, instead of facing his loss, he imagines that her tumour has taken up residence in his brain. It’s a terrible tenant – isolating him from family, distracting him in school, and taunting him mercilessly about his manhood. With the tumour in charge, Max implodes, slipping farther and farther away from reality.

Finally, Max is sent to the artsy, off-beat Baldwin School to regain his footing. He joins a group of theatre misfits in a steam-punk production of Hamlet where he becomes friends with Fish, a girl with pink hair and a troubled past, and The Monk, an edgy upperclassman who refuses to let go of the things he loves. For a while, Max almost feels happy. But his tumour is always lurking in the wings – until one night it knocks him down and Max is forced to face the truth, not just about the tumour, but about how hard it is to let go of the past. At turns lyrical, haunting, and triumphant, Ready to Fall is a story of grief, love, rebellion and starting fresh from acclaimed author Marcella Pixley.

 

~*~

 

Max’s story begins with a flashback to when he was five, and the first time his mum came home from hospital after being sick. And then, ten years later, she has passed away from a brain tumour. Max has watched her slow deterioration, struggling to cope with his own grief as he goes back to school, and as his dad tries to make the best effort he can, but Max just wants to feel close to his mother, which is when his own brain tumour comes into being. Max’s belief that the tumour exists impacts everything in his life, and he begins to become withdrawn, hiding away from friends. When his father sends him to an artsy school – the Baldwin School, Max begins to settle down a little, finding friends like Fish he can talk to. But the cloud that is the tumour is always there, hovering at the edges of his mind – until the day he is forced to face the truth and come to terms with what has happened in his life.

 

This was a surprise arrival from Allen and Unwin – I have only managed to finish it now after a gap in other books presented itself, and found that, as strange as the story felt, it was one where I wanted to know what happened to max, to Fish and I wanted to know more about Lydie and her girls, Soleil and Luna.

 

When I read it, I could feel Max’s grief over losing his mother – it was raw, real and Marcella didn’t shy away from letting Max feel things or bottle them up – she let him exist as the person he was, wary, yet wanting to talk – yet not knowing how to begin a conversation. Throughout it all, I also felt for Max’s dad, whose grief was just as intense and in his own way, he dealt with it and showed his love for Max, though it was hard for him. When it came to Lydie and her twins, I enjoyed getting to know them and came to love them, especially Luna and Soleil as the novel progressed.

 

Of the friends at Baldwin, Fish was my favourite – the one who let Max be who he was, and didn’t judge him, who truly cared, but had secrets of her own. I quote liked Ravi too, because he seemed to temper The Monk, who I didn’t really like and couldn’t understand why everyone did when he came across as quite the bully, trying to get everyone to think like him – at times, I felt Max agreed with him to keep the peace. This showed I think, the dynamics of school and various relationships though, and in the end, it was the ones with Fish, Dad, Lydie and her girls that helped Max the most, and the ones I cheered for – because here we had family love, the love of friends, and romantic love – though this last one was a delightful surprise that wasn’t forced, and that felt real when it happened.

 

Even though I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book when I first got it, I did enjoy it, though I found it hard to pin down a genre – it doesn’t neatly fit into one, and I feel that the books that do this are ones that are either very good, or potentially odd – this one was a little odd, but good – and the execution of the storyline, and anthropomorphising of the tumour made Max and how people deal with their own grief or illness interesting and relatable. A decent, though provoking read for teenagers.

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Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham

eleanor's secret.jpgTitle: Eleanor’s Secret

Author: Caroline Beecham

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 432

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An engrossing wartime mystery of past deceptions, family secrets and long-lasting love…

London, 1942
When art school graduate, Eleanor Roy, is recruited by the War Artists Advisory Committee, she comes one step closer to realising her dream of becoming one of the few female war artists. But breaking into the art establishment proves difficult until Eleanor meets painter, Jack Valante, only to be separated by his sudden posting overseas.

Melbourne 2010
Although reluctant to leave her family at home, Kathryn can’t refuse her grandmother Eleanor’s request to travel to London to help her return a precious painting to its artist. But when the search uncovers a long-held family secret, Kathryn has to make a choice to return home or risk her family’s future, as Eleanor shows her that safeguarding the future is sometimes worth more than protecting the past.

Kathryn’s journey takes her back to Eleanor’s life as a young woman as she uncovers Jack’s missing war diaries and uses new technology to try and solve the puzzle of the missing artist, confronted by Jack’s record of war compared to the depiction of terrors of the present day.

But when it becomes evident that Jack’s nephew is trying to stop her finding him, and her concern for Christopher’s care of Oliver deepens, she has to decide whether to return home or risk the dangers to carry on.

Eleanor’s Secret is at once a surprising mystery and compelling love story.

~*~

Having just graduated art school Eleanor Roy is recruited to the WAAC – the War Artists Advisory Committee – to do her part for the war effort during the 1940s. To her, this is a stepping stone to becoming a female war artist, in a time when women were often relegated to domestic jobs or working at home. For Eleanor though, breaking through tradition into a world her parents and family didn’t want her to go into, this is her chance.  Seconded to a series of administrative meetings for the council, Eleanor encounters Jack Valante, a war artist, and SOE officer, whose friendship encourages her to paint her war, and to try and submit them to the WAAC, and other exhibitions. But she is a woman, and Jack comes up with a plan to get her art shown, and a relationship forms – and then falls away as he is sent overseas to serve. Almost seventy years later in 2010, Eleanor’s granddaughter, Kathryn, has returned to England to help her grandmother uncover the secret of a painting and where Jack is. She takes it as a welcome break from the family problems that plague her back home with her husband, Chris, though being apart from son Oliver, is testing. But what Kathryn will discover is more than a missing painting – she will discover a secret that Eleanor has been holding onto for many years.

AWW-2018-badge-roseLately, I have been reading a lot of World War Two based historical fiction, covering the Holocaust, the ghettos and the home front in England. Each story is a mere drop in the ocean of the experiences of these six years, on all sides, and for all those affected. There are still many stories to discover and be told. One of my favourite themes has been the role of women in the war on the home front, and their stories. So, I was quite delighted to receive Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham, having previously read Maggie’s Kitchen two years ago. Like in Maggie’s Kitchen, the protagonist inEleanor’s Secret is also seeking to do something for the war effort and break out of the confines of what is expected of her gender. Instead, she strives to become an artist in her own right, and tries to gain the attention of a colleague, Aubrey, whom she hopes will help her exhibit her paintings. Through Eleanor, the home front of destroyed buildings in London and the East End is shown, though nobody wishes to accept them as hers, though she tries to make them see she is just as capable. Caroline Beecham’s characters – especially the female ones – find a way to step out of the norm whilst maintaining a facade in public that allows them to find a way to go against what is expected of them.

The impacts of the war that Eleanor captured in the novel – destroyed homes, families with nothing, picking through the ruins for something to hold onto, to sell for food, and the orphans, with nobody but the people running the orphanage and Eleanor’s art lessons to lift their spirits – are not the images of war that the WAAC wanted. It was Eleanor’s determination to capture these scenes that I found the most powerful, because it was her world, the world she lived in and passed by every day, rather than the battle fields of Europe that felt so distant to many, and though those events still affected people back home, what those left behind experienced also needed to be captured in paints.

_J1_7213-Edit.jpgThe love story between Jack and Eleanor is woven in nicely, and I enjoyed that they each grew as characters and developed in their own way, with their own secrets that were woven throughout and took time to come out, ensuring that the mysteries of art and Jack, and Eleanor’s own secrets were not so easily revealed. Going back and forth between 1942 and 2010 was effective – it allowed for the mystery to develop, and for the reader to discover what was happening at the same time as Kathryn. Family and friends were also important in this novel, and the effects of what Jack and Eleanor did and had to do came through. Eleanor’s sister Cecily, a nurse, was an important character – acting as Eleanor’s confidant and secret keeper. This was an important relationship too as it showed that sibling and familial love during times of war was just as important, if not more so, to get people through hard times and challenges that came their way, that they needed help to face.

Overall, a good novel, with a fascinating historical backdrop. Prior to reading this novel, I did not know much about the WAAC or war artists, and I found it really interesting, and the way that reporting and creation of art was done back then, sometimes months after a battle, compared to today when images appear instantly, or within hours or days of something happening in current conflicts. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, reading it in about three sittings. The mystery of the paintings, the art and Eleanor’s determination to become more than an assistant were what caught my attention the most, and the love story with Jack was a nice bonus.

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