The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

the jade lily.jpgTitle: The Jade Lily

Author: Kirsty Manning

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 456

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:The Jade Lily is a sweeping story of friendship, loyalty, love and identity from the popular author of The Midsummer Garden.

Praise for The Midsummer Garden

‘This is a rich, sensual, and evocative novel, fragrant with the smell of crushed herbs and flowers, and haunted by the high cost that women must sometimes pay to find both love and their vocation.’ Kate Forsyth

‘…compelling, passionate and admirable.’ Australian Women’s Weekly

In 2016, fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather is dying. With only weeks left together, her grandparents begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century.

In 1939, two young girls meet in Shanghai, the ‘Paris of the East’: beautiful local Li and Viennese refugee Romy form a fierce friendship. But the deepening shadows of World War Two fall over the women as Li and Romy slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession and the desperate Shanghai Ghetto. Eventually, they are forced separate ways as Romy doubts Li’s loyalties.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. As she peels back the layers of their hidden lives, she begins to question everything she knows about her family – and herself.

A gorgeously told tale of female friendship, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage to shape us all.

~*~

Thirty-five-year-old Alexandra Laird has fled London, and returned home to Melbourne, to farewell her grandfather, who is dying. Together with her grandmother, Romy, Alexandra prepares herself for a life without him, and a new life in Shanghai, where she is being sent as a commodities trader for work. But there is a family secret that has plagued Alexandra and her family for decades, and she wants to piece it together. Her grandmother, and grandmother’s best friend, Nina, grapple with the ghosts of their past – first as Jewish refugees from Vienna, running to the only place – Shanghai – that would take them, and the years of war that tested them and that destroyed their families, and sent their lives spiralling into uncertainty, until they reached safe haven in Australia – but were still not free from the secrets they kept.

In 1938, Romy, and her parents, Mutti and Papa, are forced to flee VIenna in the aftermath of Anschluss and Kristallnacht in November. Setting off on an uncertain journey, they land in Shanghai, where they are first living in the French section of the city, and when the Japanese take over China and bring atrocities that spark memories of Kristallnacht to the forefront of Romy’s mind, into the Shanghai Ghetto. For a few years, Romy lives a fairly good life, with her friend, Li Ho, but the events following Pearl Harbour rip them apart, and have Romy doubting what she knew about her friend, and eventually, what the future holds in Australia, and with her new life with Wilhelm Cohen.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAnother World War Two historical fiction for me – but this time, set in the Asian region, where the Second Sino-Japanese War was happening around the same time as the outbreak of World War Two, and where the ghosts of what happened in Europe follow Romy and her new friends into Shanghai. It is a part of 1930s and 1940s, and World War Two history that I hadn’t heard about – where Jewish refugees could escape to Shanghai where other countries refused to take them. It is a book that deals with the heavy issues of what pushes humanity to the point they have to kill others for being who they are, for being what they cannot control, or for daring to speak out – where atrocities are displayed as a warning to others, and where secrets are an unspoken currency. Secrets, it seems, that span three generations, where they are kept protecting some people, but eventually need to come out – as Romy’s did for Alexandra, with the help of diaries and letters, and a new friend from Hong Kong, Zhang.

Reading about little known history is always interesting – it allows the reader to immerse themselves in a time and place they may not know much about, whilst letting them know what happened in an accessible way, especially when the author has done exceptional research to write the book. Kirsty Manning has done an exceptional job, researching and writing about a war that I had not known had taken place, and events that were shocking to read about. They are the kind of events that one cannot fathom ever happening, but they did, and they shouldn’t have happened, and nor should they happen again. If reading all these books about humanitarian atrocities has taught me, it is that we shouldn’t be letting these things happen still, or ever again.

The dual timeline is an effective device to tell the story, as it allowed for each key character to show what their lives were like at the time – and it helped make sense of the secret, slowly, and uncertainly revealed across the story, where hints of tragedy are woven in and out of each chapter, and where each character has been deeply affected by tragic events in varying ways. It allowed for a feminine strength and voice to be revealed at a time in history where they might not always be heard, and where they might have had cultural or familial restraints and expectations placed upon them.

The power that these stories have is to show what has happened in the past, and to hopefully, send the message to never let it happen again. I enjoyed this story for its strength of female characters, and the love of friendship, and of one’s child that can force someone into a decision and a secret that they might never be able to reveal to anyone, or at least, a secret that is sheltered and kept for so many years that revealing it is a struggle.

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Australia Day by Melanie Cheng

Australia Day.jpgTitle: Australia Day

Author: Melanie Cheng

Genre: Short stories, Fiction

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 3rd July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: Australia Day is a collection of stories by debut author Melanie Cheng. The people she writes about are young, old, rich, poor, married, widowed, Chinese, Lebanese, Christian, Muslim. What they have in common—no matter where they come from—is the desire we all share to feel that we belong. The stories explore universal themes of love, loss, family and identity, while at the same time asking crucial questions about the possibility of human connection in a globalised world.

Melanie Cheng is an important new voice, offering a fresh perspective on contemporary Australia. Her effortless, unpretentious realism balances an insider’s sensitivity and understanding with an outsider’s clear-eyed objectivity, showing us a version of ourselves richer and more multifaceted than anything we’ve seen before.

Prizes won:

  • Winner, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, 2018
  • Longlisted, Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction, 2018
  • Longlisted, ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year, 2018
  • Longlisted, ABIA Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, 2018
  • Longlisted, Dobbie Literary Award for a first time published author, 2018
  • Shortlisted, Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, 2017
  • Winner, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, 2016

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseAustralia Day by Melanie Cheng contains fourteen unique, and individual stories about Australians – those born here, immigrants, and from all walks of life, moving through a society and country that has various expectations, and where those they encounter respond to them in a variety of ways, from ignorance to trying to help, to saying the wrong thing and sometimes, misunderstandings that could happen to anyone, as well as clashes of cultural and generational expectations that illustrate the differences in everyone’s lives.

They are simple, yet complex – stories where identities and sense of self are sometimes at war internally, and sometimes externally, and where the flaws of humanity are exposed – no character is perfect, no character knows everything, and no character has ultimate control.

I wasn’t sure what story was my favourite because they were all so different and diverse. Melanie allowed the characters to speak for themselves, revealing their true natures, how they thought and went through their lives. Since publication, Australia Day has won two awards in 2016 and 2018, and been longlisted for four awards this year and shortlisted for one last year – a remarkable achievement for a new book, and very much deserved.

It is filled with various experiences of Australia and Australia Day – the first and last story – both taking place on Australia Day – bookend the book, with the in between stories taking place, around the day, before, or after, but still capturing something of what it means to be Australian, and how this differs for many people, regardless of your race or gender – that being Australian and living in Australia is not the same for everyone. It is a multicultural book, where cultures clash or come together, and where some people try to embrace the multicultural world, and accept it, or where some look upon the differences with disdain or disappointment that things are not what they always expect them to be – perhaps a key factor in Australia, with the ever-changing world we live in. I found this aspect to be the most interesting – to see how different people responded to and accepted difference, or perhaps, struggled to. How people tried but failed to be inclusive or perhaps said the wrong thing or felt trapped by what was going on around them and just tried to fit in with it all. The diversity these stories show give a snapshot into modern Australian life and how everyone is trying to find a way to live together.

An intriguing book, and one I enjoyed, as I don’t often read short stories but thoroughly enjoyed the way these were written and opened my eyes to the different way people approach living in Australia and Australia Day.

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Book Bingo Six: A Book With a One-word title, a book published more than ten years ago. 

book bingo 2018.jpg

Only two books for today’s book bingo post – both of which fit into one of the categories I am filling today, and two more rows have a bingo – Row One Across:

Row #1 – – BINGO

 

A book set more than 100 years ago: Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings by Janine Beacham – AWW2018

A book written more than ten years ago: Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn – AWW2018

A memoir: Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard

A book more than 500 pages: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French – AWW2018

A Foreign translated novel: Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutschner (translated by Niall Seller)

And Row Two down.

Row #2 – BINGO

 

A book written more than ten years ago: Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn – AWW2018

A book by an author you’ve never read before: The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier – AWW2018

A book written by an Australian man: The Opal Dragonfly by Julian Leatherdale

A book with a one-word title:Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn – AWW2018, Munmun by Jesse Andrews

A book based on a true story: Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

The first square that I filled for this week is a book with a one-word title, and there happened to be two books that filled this square, with one of them filling the other completed square. First, Munmun by American author, Jesse Andrews, a new release book where, in a satirical world based on America, your height is related to your wealth, and where littlepoors struggle to climb up the wealth ladder whilst being blamed for their standing in the society – a reflection on how society treats the vulnerable today. I reviewed it several weeks ago on the blog, and wasn’t overwhelmed by it, though the premise was interesting and there were times that the execution worked well, though I still found some aspects could have been reworked to have a similar effect.

AWW-2018-badge-rose

Second is an old favourite, Thunderwith, which fits two squares this week. I first encountered this book in 1998 and still have the same copy that has been sitting on my shelf for twenty years. I’ve been trying to fill each square with at least one book, but this square had so many options, I felt that at least two would work. I also entered Thunderwith into the published more than ten years ago square – it was published twenty-eight years ago in 1990. Lara’s story has layers of emotion that many can relate to, and is set in the Australian bush, in an area a few hours north of me, so reading the familiar names of places I have visited is always enjoyable. I’ve reviewed it here.

So that’s my sixth book bingo of the year, and I’m off to see how Mrs B and Theresa Smith are doing with theirs!

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Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn

thunderwith 2Title: Thunderwith

Author: Libby Hathorn

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Lothian Children’s Books

Published: First published in 1990, current edition published 2015.

Format: Paperback

Pages: 217

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A modern Australian classic from bestselling author Libby Hathorn, now with a new, contemporary jacket in celebration of its twenty-fifth anniversary.

Lara feels completely alone after her mother’s death. She moves to the bush to live with her father, but his new family make her feel like an intruder, and a bully makes school just as unwelcoming. With the appearance of the mysterious dog Thunderwith, Lara begins to feel a connection to this harsh place. Will it ever feel like home – and will her stepmother and half-siblings ever feel like family?

THUNDERWITH has won numerous awards, including the Children’s Book Council Honour Book Award (1990), the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults (1991) and was also adapted into the classic TV movie THE ECHO OF THUNDER, starring Judy Davis, who was nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Gladwyn.

THUNDERWITH was directly inspired by Libby’s family holidays in the Wallingat rainforest: ‘One night there was a huge storm and when I looked out of the window, this big black dog ran across the clearing, a very proud and wonderful-looking animal. Afterwards, when I climbed back into the bunk where I had been sleeping, there seemed to be this chanting thing going on between the thunder and the rain on the roof, “Thunderwith, Thunderwith.” By morning, I had a story.’

~*~

thunderwith 1Following the death of her mother, Cheryl, Lara moves to the Wallingat with her father, and his new family – Gladwyn, and four children: Pearl, Garnet, Opal and Jasper. She feels completely alone: Gladwyn and eldest daughter Pearl seem to hate her, her father, Larry is so often away, and school presents more problems in the face of school bully, Gowd Gadrey. When exploring the bushland behind the property one day during a storm, a dog appears. As he appears, Lara chants “With thunder you’ll come, and with thunder you’ll go,” – and names the dog Thunderwith. As she battles bullying at school and indifference from her new family, Lara finds solace in Thunderwith as she searches for her mother’s spirit, feeling as though she has been abandoned. Her only refuge is the library, and the Aboriginal story teller, Neil, who seems to understand Lara and the way she feels and becomes a great source of comfort to her. When tragedy strikes, Lara is faced with a tough decision, and the sense that this tragedy could tear the family apart or bring them closer together.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe first time I encountered Thunderwith, was in my year six class, where we read it as a group. There was something magical about it, and twenty years later, after having read it multiple times, it is still there. I loved it in class so much, I wanted my own copy – I wanted to read it on my own as well, and have done so many times over the years, that my book is creased, with yellowed pages, but still intact, and still ready to be read again. It was the first Young Adult book I ever read – though I didn’t know that was the category it fitted into at the time. I fell in love with Thunderwith, the book and the dog – an amazing dog, and filled with amazing, diverse and complex characters whose secrets are slowly revealed.

It is a story of love – the love for family, mostly. Lara’s love for her mother drives her, and the love she received as a child is so easily shared with her new siblings. Lara’s courage and love shines through, as she adjusts to her new home, new life and new school across several months, and a single school term. It is one I have loved and enjoyed for a long time, and that will always be a favourite.

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Little Gods by Jenny Ackland

little gods.jpgTitle: Little Gods

Author: Jenny Ackland

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 346

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A rare, original and stunning novel about a remarkable girl who learns the hard way that the truth doesn’t always set you free – with echoes of Jasper JonesSeven Little Australians and Cloudstreet.

As a child, trapped in the savage act of growing up, Olive had sensed she was at the middle of something, so close to the nucleus she could almost touch it with her tongue. But like looking at her own nose for too long, everything became blurry and she had to pull away. She’d reached for happiness as a child not yet knowing that the memories she was concocting would become deceptive. That memories get you where they want you not the other way around. 

The setting is the Mallee, wide flat scrubland in north-western Victoria, country where men are bred quiet, women stoic and the gothic is never far away. Olive Lovelock has just turned twelve. She is smart, fanciful and brave and on the cusp of something darker than the small world she has known her entire life.

She knows that adults aren’t very good at keeping secrets and makes it her mission to uncover as many as she can. When she learns that she once had a baby sister who died – a child unacknowledged by her close but challenging family – Olive becomes convinced it was murder. Her obsession with the mystery and relentless quest to find out what happened have seismic repercussions for the rest of her family and their community. As everything starts to change, it is Olive herself who has the most to lose as the secrets she unearths multiply and take on complicated lives of their own.

Little Gods is a novel about the mess of family, about vengeance and innocence lost. It explores resilience and girlhood and questions how families live with all of their complexities and contradictions. Resonating with echoes of great Australian novels like Seven Little AustraliansCloudstreet, and Jasper JonesLittle Gods is told with similar idiosyncrasy, insight and style. Funny and heartbreaking, this is a rare and original novel about a remarkable girl who learns the hard way that the truth doesn’t always set you free.

~*~

Olive Lovelock’s family has been touched by tragedy – tragedies that nobody in the family wants to talk about, to Olive or to each other. They are secrets that are closely guarded by those that hold them, though Olive longs to uncover them, much like the child detectives she reads about. Her mother is the middle of three sisters –  Thistle, Audra and Rue. Audra and Rue married brothers William and Bruce, and the lives of these sisters, brothers and their children weave in and out of Olive’s narrative as she goes through her final year of primary school, and the summer before she becomes a teenager. Closer to her aunts than her mother, as she participates in plays with her cousins that Thistle encourages them to put on, Olive uncovers family secrets about a dead sister, and things that Thistle went through as a young woman by listening, and from a bully at school – one of the Sands brothers, a secret child her family refuses to acknowledge.

AWW-2018-badge-roseUpon hearing about this sister, Aster, Olive becomes obsessed with finding out what happened, and goes to Aunt Thistle, whose openness with Olive is a stark contrast to that of her mother Audra, or other aunt, Rue, and hints at a sadness in Thistle, a secret that she has been dealing with for many years, and something in her past that she has never recovered from. Jenny Ackland deals with the complexities of familial relationships, and mental illness – where the unsaid amongst the many has a more profound affect upon the few who yearn to talk about it.

Olive is on the cusp of childhood and becoming a teenager –  a place where she feels she doesn’t quite fit in with anyone, and where the misery and tragedy her family has experienced seems to permeate everything they do and how they deal with it – and Jenny Ackland has dealt with this in a sensitive manner, and yet, I felt Olive’s frustration at her parents and family members who wouldn’t talk about Aster, who wouldn’t answer questions and acted as though certain things weren’t appropriate to discuss at all, or appropriate for Olive herself to be talking about, such as when Olive was helping her uncle Cleg with records. Yet, it is Olive’s spirit that encourages her to pursue the truth and find answers to the mystery of her sister. She wants to help her family heal and answer the questions that play on her mind all the time.

It is a uniquely Australian story, set in Mallee and Victoria, in the country, and with mentions of Vegemite, and hints at events of the early 1980s that have become embedded in the Australian psyche. It is very character driven, and seeing the world through Olive’s eyes illustrates how different people in the same family can see the world and their lives in vastly different ways.

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The Freedom Finders Series: Touch the Sun (Book #2) by Emily Conolan

touch the sky.jpgTitle: The Freedom Finders Series: Touch the Sun (Book #2)

Author: Emily Conolan

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Choose your own destiny and step into the shoes of a Somalian boy escaping war-torn Mogadishu for Australia in 2011 in this exciting interactive series.

To find freedom, you must leave behind everything you’ve ever known.

It is 2011. You want nothing more than to be a journalist in Somalia like your aunty. But the truth can be dangerous – and when you and your little sister are left alone, you find yourself facing life-and-death choices at every turn.

Can you escape a terrorist organisation and find a safe place to call home? You’ll be asked to cross a desert on foot, hide below deck in a leaky boat, and put your life in the hands of people smugglers.

At every turn, the choice is yours. How far will you go for freedom?

Author bio:

Emily Conolan is a writer and teacher, who is also known for her humanitarian work. For her role in establishing a volunteer support network for asylum seekers in Tasmania, she has been awarded Tasmanian of the Year, Hobart Citizen of the Year, and the Tasmanian Human Rights Award. The stories of courage and resilience she has heard in the course of her work with refugees, combined with tales from her own family history, inspired her to write the Freedom Finders series. Emily has never escaped from terrorists or risked her life on a leaky boat, but she has been inside immigration detention and does own a pen with a secret compartment inside.

~*~

The Freedom Finders is a new series of books, that use the Choose Your Own Adventure, or for this series, Choose Your Own Destiny. Two are coming out in April this year, Break Your Chains, set in 1825, where you’re an Irish girl trying to get from London to Australia, and the second, which I was sent to review by the publisher, Touch The Sky, set in 2011, where you are a Somalian boy escaping Mogadishu for Australia.

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn Touch The Sky, you are the main character, as you and your sister, Jamilah are forced to run from a group called al-Shabaab that is after your aunt, and when they can’t find her, they come for you. The choices you make as you read will determine the outcome, and the pace at which your story ends, and where. As a Choose Your Own Destiny book, you are given the chance to try again, and there are fact sheets at the back relating to refugees, people smuggling, and the struggles and complexities faced by those who go through this process. It is an experience, an interactive story that evokes a range of emotions: fear, horror, empathy and a desire to get through every adversity and barrier that is thrown your way. In reading it, I tested out a few different outcomes, and went back and forth during the book to discover what would happen if I picked a certain option over another – and not every option led to a desirable outcome. Though some took me to the same place twice, choosing a different outcome changed everything, and I could be sent back to the last decision I made to try again.

Because you as the reader are making the choices, it is written in second person, which is effective for this kind of interactive book, a format I haven’t seen for a while, and that can be quite fun, or in this case, educational as well, teaching readers about what refugees go through and how they are treated, and what they sometimes have to do just to survive their world. It is moving, and the journey is not easy, nor are the choices that you as the reader have to make: they are often life and death and filled with uncertainty. But which of these will get you to freedom and reunite you with your family?

Having not read a book in this format for a very long time, and also, not having read many as a child, I found this to be an interesting exercise in engaging the reader. It definitely kept me just as hooked and intrigued as if it had just been a novel telling the story. By involving the reader in this kind of story, it evokes empathy within them and helps them gain an understanding beyond what is presented by other sources. It is about choices; freedom and the lengths people will go to reveal the truth to people who don’t understand or are trying to understand – and the risks taken to get dangerous information to the right people. I am hoping to read the other book that is to be published at the same time, Break Your Chains, to see what happens there.

This is a great book for anyone aged nine and older, to gain an understanding of what really happens, and how it happens, and why these people are driven to such desperate measures. It can begin a conversation and be used as an educational tool to teach school students about refugees and human rights, and possibly make people question their preconceptions and understanding of the refugee situation.

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The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

9780733640001Title: The Paris Seamstress

Author: Natasha Lester

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 27th March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 435

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: How much will a young Parisian seamstress sacrifice to make her mark in the male-dominated world of 1940s New York fashion? From the bestselling author of A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD and HER MOTHER’S SECRET.

How much will a young Parisian seamstress sacrifice to make her mark in the male-dominated world of 1940s New York fashion? From the bestselling author of A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD and HER MOTHER’S SECRET.

  1. Parisian seamstress Estella Bissetteis forced to flee France as the Germans advance. She is bound for Manhattan with a few francs, one suitcase, her sewing machine and a dream: to have her own atelier.
  1. Australian curator Fabienne Bissettejourneys to the annual Met Gala for an exhibition of her beloved grandmother’s work – one of the world’s leading designers of ready-to-wear clothing. But as Fabienne learns more about her grandmother’s past, she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartbreak and secrets – and the sacrifices made for love.

Crossing generations, society’s boundaries and international turmoil, THE PARIS SEAMSTRESS is the beguiling, transporting story of the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they attempt to heal the heartache of the past.

Author+photo+for+Biblio+high+res+NatashaLester006

~*~

Estella Bissette’s quiet life in Paris with her mother working as an atelier and making copies of patterns in 1940 is under threat. A chance encounter with MI0 Agent, Alex Montrose, and what Estella sees as a case of mistaken identity, pulls her into a world of danger and espionage, and as the Germans march further towards France, and her beloved Paris, Estella’s mother ensures her safe passage to America, on American papers – revealing that the stories she had told Estella about her father were not true. Escaping with her sewing machine and one suitcase, Estella is sustained on the trip by a dream to become a fashion designer, and the friends she makes on the journey from Paris to New York. Once in New York, Estella will encounter a variety of people in the fashion industry and who are working as spies and will soon be drawn into a world of fashion and secrets.

In 2015, Estella’s granddaughter, Fabienne, is in New York to see an exhibition of Stela Designs, the ready to wear clothing line that Estella created during the turbulent years of war. Fabienne is close to her grandmother, and in New York, away from work and her mother, she begins to uncover the secrets of her family – secrets surrounded by tragedy, espionage and heartbreak that shaped Estella, and the decisions she made, and why she made them. As Fabienne uncovers these family secrets, she encounters Will, who works in one of the top jobs at Tiffany’s, and his sister. As they work through their lives together, and the struggles they face, their friendship grows, and evolves. In the face of personal tragedy, Fabienne must uncover the answers to her family’s past.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThis was the first Natasha Lester novel I have read, and I really enjoyed it. I loved Estella’s passion, and her desire to create something unique in an unknown world during a time when there was so much uncertainty. Safe in America as Hitler and the Nazis take Paris, Estella finds herself in and out of work as a sketcher, working towards her own goal of creating her own line. Her passion for this, which is ignited further by her friends Sam, and Janie, who are amazingly fun characters as well, and in a time of war and feeling alone, welcome Estella easily into their lives as a friend.

Estella’s world is peopled by figures who existed at the time – Lena Thaw, Alexander Montrose, and others connected to them, and the mystery surrounding these characters and their links to Estella are slowly revealed as the novel moved between the early 1940s and 2015, where Estella’s story revealed itself as Fabienne spoke to her grandmother and went through diaries. Estella’s bravery drives the narrative, and it is her strength that I adored, her ability to find what she loved and make something of it. When she discovers Lena, a woman who looks just like her, something stirs in her, and this is where the mystery of what links them starts to come out, slowly, with many questions along the way from Estella in 1940, and Fabienne in 2015.

It is the slow yet well-paced pacing of the secrets and their unfolding that I enjoyed, alongside the history of World War Two in France and Paris, and the moment America is drawn into the war, and the reactions that Estella experiences from people to whom the war is a mere inconvenience for them getting their fashion from Paris, and the feelings of betrayal Estella felt throughout when she found out the secrets people had kept, and the burden of these secrets that she was able to let go of and help Fabienne discover her family history.

I found this to be a delectable book, where the history of the war, and a family of secrets and mysteries were the forefront against a backdrop of fashion, and a world where grandmother and granddaughter found solace, It crosses three continents: Europe, America and Australia, and encompasses the love of a mother and daughter, the love of friends, family, a sister, and sacrifices made to keep secrets. It is a well-written novel, where the romance is realistic, and not over-powering but still there, existing in a perfect balance with the other elements that kept me more engaged. I liked that Estella and Fabienne found love, but it was their family mystery and secrets that kept me reading late into the night to find out what Estella had been hiding for so many years.

An excellent historical fiction that takes female voices, in a time and place where their lives are dictated by those around them and expectations of society, and where in a male dominated world, Stella Designs made a mark in the fashion world of Natasha’s novel, and where these strong women didn’t allow their lives to be dictated by convention. Instead, they were spies, and mothers, seamstresses and friends, people who sacrificed so much for those they loved, and whose lives were complex and interesting. I always enjoy novels with a heroine who finds a way to fit into the world she lives in yet at the same time, question the conventions and finds a way to make her own mark on the world, and show that women could do what they set their minds to, even in a time of war like Estella.

Much like Kate Forsyth’s historical fiction, this had similar elements of mystery and intrigue that drew me in, and I hope to read more of Natasha’s novels soon.

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