Wolf Children by Paul Dowsell

wolf childrenTitle: Wolf Children

Author: Paul Dowsell

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: survival in the cellar of an abandoned hospital, Otto and his ragtag gang of kids have banded together in the desperate, bombed-out city.
The war may be over, but danger lurks in the shadows of the wreckage as Otto and his friends find themselves caught between invading armies, ruthless rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who stalks them …

A climactic story of truth, friendship and survival against the odds, Wolf Children will thrill readers of Michael Morpurgo and John Boyne.

~*~

 

Wolf Children begins as World War Two has ended, and Germany has fallen into the clutches of Russian occupation as the rest of the world wages the final few months of war in the Pacific. With Hitler gone, and the Nazi regime obliterated, those who remain in crumbling Berlin must endure the Russian control over their city until an agreement can be made about where the East and West will be divided. Their world has been turned upside down, and Otto, Helene, Erich and Klaus have turned their backs on Nazi ideology, perhaps never quite bought into it in the first place, and have accepted the fate of the regime and seek only to survive the invading armies, rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who has taken an interest in Otto’s younger brother, Ulrich, who has never quite let go of the Hitler Youth.

 

In a world not always seen in World War Two historical fiction, the impact of the end of the war on German citizens who did not support the regime they lived under, but were kept silent out of fear is not always explored. Here, it is shown through the eyes of six children who appear to have nobody left but each other, and in a world of uncertainty and lack of shelter, food and money, they must learn to barter with what they can, and eat when food comes their way. In a world of uncertainty, these children can only rely on each other, and with their lives at stake, will they survive the next few months of post-war Germany?

 

The harrowing stories set during, and after World War Two, from any perspective, are deeply unsettling and raw, and at times, uncomfortable, with characters like Ulrich who cling to the vestiges of a failed regime – where their attitudes are not shied away from, but at the same time, condemned by the characters around them. These stories, whether historical fiction, or biographical, or non-fiction, are not meant to make us comfortable. They are meant to remind us of what dangerous language and divisive ideas and talk can lead to. I have read many books that are set in the turbulent inter-war, war and post war years this year, and none of them have shied away from the discomforts of the historical setting or the ideas and language that floated around then, yet at the same time, have presented them in an accessible way for the audience – in this case, children and young adults. It is a book that is humbling and can serve to remind adults too about what happened and that it must not happen again. The devastation of Germany shows the scars of war – in the buildings, in the crumbling walls and bricks, and in the rubble that surrounds the bartering markets. It shows in the half starved people, and in the children who forage for food and who fear anyone they don’t know.

 

Wolf Children is a story that will stay with me, and one that should be read to gain a broader perspective of these post-war years. In uncertain times, this book shows what people will do when they are desperate, and what it will take for them to turn their backs on what they thought they knew, and help those who are truly the only ones there for them. A brave story, that shows the flaws of humanity in dark and dangerous times for all, with a touch of hope ebbing through the novel.

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Secrets Between Friends by Fiona Palmer

secrets between friendsTitle: Secrets Between Friends

Author: Fiona Palmer

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 12th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Life was about living, experiencing and emotions. The good and the bad. You had to laugh to cry. You had to love to hurt. You had to jump to fall or fly.

Best friends AbbieJess and Ricki are setting sail on a cruise ship, rekindling the excitement of a school excursion they took ten years earlier to the historic port town of Albany, the oldest city on the stunning turquoise coastline of Western Australia. But are they truly prepared for what this voyage will reveal?

Ricki, a dedicated nurse, harbours a dream she hasn’t chased. Is she actually happy or stuck in a rut?

Jess, a schoolteacher and single mother to little Ollie, had a tough upbringing but found her way through with the help of her closest male friend, Peter. But Peter has bought an engagement ring and is ready to propose to Ricki . . .

Abbie had it all: a career, a loving boyfriend and a future, but a visit to the doctor bears scary news. Her world is tumbling down and she feels adrift at sea.

SECRETS BETWEEN FRIENDS is a poignant novel of romance, family dynamics and friendship. Through her highly relatable, sympathetic characters, beloved Australian storyteller Fiona Palmer writes about issues, experiences and emotions we have all faced while posing the ultimate question: What is really important in this life?

~*~

Ricki, Abbie and Jess have been friends for as long as they can remember, and have always shared secrets, and confided in each other – until recently. Jess is a single mother and teacher, who has never revealed the identity of her son’s father. Ricki is a nurse, living with Peter, Jess’s best friend since childhood, and harbouring her own secrets about her dreams that she’s ignored for years, and Abbie has just lost her job, her boyfriend and received devastating news that she feels she can’t share with her friends – at least not yet, if ever. And Peter, loyal to them all, unaware of the secrets his friends are keeping, harbours feelings for two of them. Together, they embark on a cruise to Albany to revisit where they once went during school. It is on this journey that the secrets they have been hiding from each other explode into the open, with each reacting differently to the revealing of their secret to their friends and everyone finding a way to cope, culminating in events towards the end that change their lives forever.

aww2017-badgeWhen I first received this book, I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy it – however, I found that in some ways I did – I enjoyed that the focus was on the friendship rather than romance, and the life goals of the characters. I felt this gave it something special and important, that finding the one you love isn’t the be all and end all of your life, but having friends who are your chosen family and whom you care about no matter what is just as, if not more important, and it was to Ricki, Jess, Abbie and Peter. I think reading about friendship and the love of friends who become your family is something we need more of – it gives everyone something to relate to, even if you can’t relate directly to the events and characters, but we can all relate to family and friendship, and the importance of this.

As this was the first Fiona Palmer I have read, having received an uncorrected proof with an adorable little beach chair courtesy of Hachette, I wasn’t sure what to expect – and whilst it is one that I may not read again, fans of Fiona will enjoy her latest offering, exploring friendship and what can make or break friends and relationships. The romantic relationships did happen, but were secondary to the friendship the characters exhibited. I hope that fans of Fiona’s work will enjoy this and maybe she will find some new fans from this book too.

Even though I have no plans to read this book again soon, it is a nice light read, and there will be an audience out there for it, and it is possible I will one day revisit this book, but for now, I’ll work my way through the rest of this year’s review books.

Leaving Ocean Road by Esther Campion

leaving ocean roadTitle: Leaving Ocean Road

Author: Esther Campion

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 25th July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 356

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: From the coast of Australia to Santorini and Ireland, a slice of warm, character-driven fiction in the tradition of Maeve Binchy and Monica McInerney

God damn it, Gerry Clancy, couldn’t you have left well enough alone and stayed in Cork?

Twenty years ago, Ellen O’Shea left her beloved Ireland to make a new life in Australia. Now a popular local in a small coastal town, but struggling to cope with the death of her much-loved Greek husband, Nick, Ellen finds her world turned upside down when an unexpected visitor lands on her doorstep. The arrival of Gerry Clancy, her first love from Ireland, may just be the catalyst that pulls Ellen out of her pit of grief, but it will also trigger a whole new set of complications for her and those she holds dear.

Home is where the heart is – but where exactly is home? Can Ellen and Gerry’s rekindled romance withstand the passage of time, family, young adult children with their own lives, and the shock disclosure of a long-held secret that will put all their closest relationships at risk?

Set in Ireland, Greece and small-town coastal Australia, Leaving Ocean Road is a warm-hearted, poignant story about treasuring our memories while celebrating our new beginnings.

~*~

aww2017-badgeEllen O’Shea’s life has been turned upside down more than once. First, as a young woman in love, first in Ireland and then in Australia, and finding herself pregnant, and abandoned by everyone but the man who would come to be her husband, and other friends she made along the way, and her brother, and her daughter, Louise. Almost twenty years later, now living in Port Lincoln in South Australia, Ellen is cut off from the world following the death of her beloved Greek husband, Nick, and Louise’s departure to university in Adelaide. She feels lost, unable to carry on after losing Nick so suddenly and so awfully. The arrival of a wad of post brings a letter from former lover, Gerry Clancy, whose unannounced arrival on her doorstep throws Ellen into a state of confusion. Faced with a guest, she is pulled out of her funk and slowly begins to remerge into the world and her life. Yet when secrets of the past come out at a dinner party, Ellen’s relationships with Louise and Gerry are left in tatters for the evening, and her life almost turned upside down again, until she is able to work through it and venture to Greece and Ireland and make attempts to patch things up with her husband’s family, her family and Gerry.

Leaving Ocean Road is part romance, but also about family and friendships, and what these mean to us, and the ways these can be taken from us – willingly by one party, or unwillingly, where nobody expects it and the events the follow, that can culminate in tragedy, misunderstandings, and losing out on time spent with family. I found this aspect to be the most powerful in the story, with the romance plots for Ellen and Louise a nice side story for me, although still not my favourite aspect, showing that they could find happiness after the tragic events that had led them to where they were at the start of the novel. I think because the book has love of friends, of family, and romantic love, it can offer something for anyone who reads it, and would be a nice novel for fans of Maeve Binchy or Monica McInerny to read. I do enjoy some romantic subplots; sometimes the less subtle ones are a more powerful too. However, what Esther Campion has done is get a nice balance, where the characters aren’t just there to fall in love, but to discover themselves and reconnect with people they had left behind and thought they may never see again. The Irish setting in the second half of the book held the characters just as naturally as the Australian setting throughout the rest of the book. The characters felt at home in both. The trepidation they felt in Greece soon dissipated as they were welcomed into the family, despite past feelings and assumptions – in the end, the families coming together were what I felt mattered the most in this book.

Nothing was perfect, each character had flaws which is perhaps what made this work more for me than having them all perfect and everything working out perfectly instantly. They had struggles – some were resolved within a few chapters, some took a little longer. The varying impacts of this showed the human side of the characters, and what their various relationships meant to them, and how they went about navigating the murky waters of life.

In the end, though there were things I enjoyed about this book, it was one that I found myself in the middle of the road about – I didn’t hate it and want to put it aside immediately, but I didn’t love it, and will pass it onto someone who will. Like any book and author, Esther Campion will find an audience out there, and even though that doesn’t necessarily include me, I hope she does well in her career.

I would recommend this for fans of Maeve Binchy and Monica McInerny.

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

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Title: Letters to the Lost

Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: YA

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 6th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

~*~

When Declan Murphy finds a letter on a grave during community service in the graveyard, he is compelled by an invisible force to read it, and respond to the person who wrote the letter.

When Juliet Young finds Delcan’s response to the letter she placed on her mother’s grave, she s incensed that someone has dared to read the words and respond to them as if they know her, as though they had the right to intrude. To Juliet, her privacy has been violated.

And yet, Juliet and Declan find a connection through this anonymous communication. They tell each other things they’ve never told anyone else, and reveal their true selves and feelings throughout the letters and later anonymous emails and messages that they move to. As they grow fond of each other through this method of communication, real life begins to throw them together: at school, at Homecoming, one the dark road with a broken down car, and they begin to form a friendship separate from the letters, not knowing that they are corresponding anonymously online when they face off in person.

Soon, they are thrown together more and more as real life and the letters start to blur together, and a fateful discussion threatens to throw them apart, and secrets are uncovered that Juliet is fearful to share with anyone – except those who helped her find the courage to look at her mother’s cameras, and find out what really happened the day she died.

Letters to the Lost is more than a love story. It is a story of loss, and how everyone deals with it differently, and a story of how the most unlikely friendships can develop in unusual places and come from a similar place and understanding, and slowly, develops into something more. Declan and Juliet have people they can talk to, teachers, friends, but not parents, and those who do try are not always able to understand them the way they understand each other.

I enjoyed Declan and Juliet’s story. It was heartbreaking in many ways, and illustrated the frustrations people feel that come with grief and change, and the shock of truths that lead to what happened, and the burdens that children shouldn’t have to shoulder. They are two people from different walks of life who find a way to understand the world, and the letters and emails interspersed with the prose and the dual perspective – where Declan’s chapters are indicated by him reading Juliet’s letters, and vice versa for Juliet – works well and establishes the characters for the reader, giving them both sides to the story, not just one.

Another interesting read from Bloomsbury for the Young Adult audience.

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The Song of Us by JD Barrett

the song of us.jpg

Title: The Song of Us

Author: J.D. Barrett

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 11th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 330

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Zoe Wylde is a woman at a crossroad. Five years ago, she fled her successful career as a concert harpist in London to return to her Bondi home. She still plays, but now her audience is on the way out … literally. It’s complicated and complication is something Zoe understands well. Her best friend is chasing a new love, her brother’s chasing too much love and her father has been married far too many times. Compared to them she thought she was doing okay. She’s met the guy she is sure is the ONE. He wooed her and has been sleeping with her for almost five years. It would all be perfect … if he wasn’t married.

Zoe is learning that hearts, like harps, are capable of beautiful music if treated the right way and can be tricky to manoeuvre. She’s over the old tune. But does Zoe have the courage to rewrite the song of her own life?

~*~

aww2017-badgeIn The Song of Us, we are introduced to Zoe Wylde, the child of a broken home, and many failed relationships, including the current one she is in, and despite being with the same man for five years, he is married, and stringing Zoe along, promising her the world, but disappointing her, and in a way, himself and his family, though they are unaware of his relationship with Zoe. Her father, who has been married several times since the death of Zoe’s mother, has been living with his current wife and stepchildren, abandoning Zoe and her brother as teenagers. And Zoe’s brother Tom is keen for love, but perhaps a little fearful of the commitment that comes with it. Lexie, her best friend has fallen for a woman who is married, but is determined that this is the one.

Zoe is a musician, a harpist who once played in concerts in London, but fled to her Bondi home five years ago, and has been a bedside musician since, helping people in a local hospice with their final journey. Her patients make quite the impression, with one, Clara, giving her a quest: to wear Clara’s clothes and take them to all the places she didn’t get to see, places like New York and London. Zoe undertakes this quest, setting aside her failed relationship with Ross until he turns up on the plane, and decides to accompany her on the journey, part of which includes her audition for the concert group she left five years ago. When things go just as Zoe expects them to go, and Ross leaves, Zoe continues her journey, armed with Clara’s clothes and wine recommendations for each location from the father of one of Zoe’s youngest audience members, Sam. She auditions for Jules and Gigi, members of the symphony, and then heads to Bali, where she meets up with her brother, Tom, and Lexie, and Lexie’s new love, Vivianne. From here, Zoe finds out that when it matters, the ones who really love you aren’t necessarily the one you think you’ll spend the rest of your life with. It’s family, and the friends you make along the way whose love is unconditional.

imagesZoe Wylde is definitely not the typical perfect female protagonist of many love stories out there. She is awkward, she has flaws – she spends five years on and off with a married man, and her family isn’t so perfect – unless you count her brother Tom, who is the best male character in the book. The flaws in Zoe, Lexie and Tom make them relatable, and easy to connect with. It is definitely not a conventional love story, but one of family love and friendship – which made it more appealing to me. It allowed for the characters to fail, and allowed imperfections to be shown. And it showed same sex love as well – in the way that love should be – with the same ups and downs that characters like Bridget Jones and Nina Proudman have in their love lives. Lexie was definitely a favourite character – she was amusing and cheeky, and someone who was a good friend to Zoe. She was caring and sympathetic, but also, could give the hit of reality when it was needed. She was impulsive in contrast to the cautiousness Zoe showed at times. I think Zoe, Tom and Lexie made the perfect trio of main characters, and the supporting characters were just as flawed, just as realistic as well.

The Song of Us is an enjoyable, light hearted novel about love of all kinds, love lost and love found, of family love, the love of friends and love that takes years to come back to us. It shows all of this in a way that readers can relate to, and is funny and witty. Just like Bridget and Nina, Zoe is awkward – which is why I liked her. She seemed to embrace her flaws and face her fears as the book progressed, showing that we don’t need to be absolutely perfect to fit it: We can just be ourselves. We need more characters like Zoe who show that it is okay not to be absolutely perfect. I look forward to reading this again.

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Country Roads by Nicole Hurley-Moore

 

country roads.jpg

 

Title: Country Roads
Author: Nicole Hurley-Moore
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 25th January 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 303
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: Rebecca Duprey is working day and night to keep the family sheep station, Bluestone Ridge, afloat. But Bec’s father, who’s been in a wheelchair since a farming mishap, keeps second-guessing her decisions. Now, to add Bec’s woes, her unfaithful ex-boyfriend has started lurking around, and the adjoining farm she’d hoped to buy has been snapped up by a guy from the city called Matt Harvey.

After leaving his job in advertising, Matt became a bestselling novelist. But since the death of his fiancee in a car accident, he’s had severe writer’s block and is desperately hoping his move to the country will help him deal with his grief and allow him to focus on completing his next book. Problem is, he seems to have started off on the wrong foot with his new neighbour, Bec Duprey.

Bec isn’t quite sure when she started feeling attracted to Matt, but she’s determined not to succumb to his charms. And Matt isn’t sure when his feelings changed about Bec; all he knows is he can’t get her out of his mind. Can Bec and Matt overcome their fear of loss to find love and happiness with each other…?

~*~

Rural romances like Country Roads aren’t really novels that I enjoy. In Country Roads, we meet Matt Harvey, an author nursing physical and emotional injuries from a car accident, and Rebecca Duprey, his neighbour. Not surprisingly, they get off to a rocky start, and this is the initial spark that has the book playing ping-pong between the characters and the drive towards their relationship. To make things more complicated, perhaps not surprising for a romance, is the dogged determination of Rebecca’s ex, Zane from the neighbouring farm, and the conflict between their fathers, and what Zane’s father, and the larger community, once expected of Rebecca and Zane. There are conflicts but the stubbornness of each character, and the same arguments rehashed a few times because some people didn’t want to relinquish control, accept no for an answer, or believe their own bull-headed thoughts over the truth worked for a while. Conflict between characters is always good, but I felt that a little variation on how these conflicts played out and what drove them could have made the story more interesting.

The one character, Nathan Langtree was sort of just there – perhaps to help Matt, or for Matt to identify with, but a few mentions and appearances had me forget who he was until he next appeared. His history and character being given more page time could also have made things more interesting. The interactions between Rebecca and Matt were written well, though, but like any characters in books, did and said things that made were frustrating – yet they fit the scene and character for the most part.

One thing I didn’t really like was how obvious I felt the author made it as to who to like and who not to like. Indeed, in some books, it can be quite clear who is good, bad and in-between – however, in this case, I felt like I was being guided into having to like certain characters – and these characters felt a little too perfect at times. I would have liked to see other sides to these characters, to give a little depth to them – depth that comes out in their backgrounds and in the few instances this is discussed, yet a little more might have changed the dynamics a little, and given the promising plot a little more oomph.

The interesting scenes for character development, like farming, writing, hanging out at the pub or the movies – were a little too much tell. It was these scenes that could have really moved the story and characters, but felt a little rushed, as though they weren’t really important.

At the base though, there was an interesting story and the characters did eventually open up and talk, and provide a little character development that gave them deeper needs and desires behind the facade of the girl next door and the mysterious, wounded out of town guy, mixed in with the various gossiping characters. Even though this wasn’t a book I enjoyed or would read again, it is a good book for a lazy beach day, or for readers who enjoy romance and stories like this.

Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay by Jill Mansell

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Title: Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay

Author: Jill Mansell

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia, Headline Review

Published: January 10, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 405

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Love is in the air in St Carys, but you’d never know it – the people of this seaside town are very good at keeping secrets…

The man Clemency loves belongs to someone else. She has to hide her true feelings – but when she ropes in an unsuspecting friend to help, wires start to get crossed.

For the first time in Ronan’s life his charm has failed him in winning over the woman he wants. Loving her from afar appears to be his only option.

Belle seems to have the perfect boyfriend, but something isn’t quite right. And now a long-buried secret is slowly rising to the surface.

The truth has a funny way of revealing itself, and when it does St Carys will be a very different place indeed…

~*~

Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay was a book that took me a little longer than usual to get into. It is a genre I don’t really read out of choice, because I often find romance novels  have characters that are too perfect. In this one, there was a decent mix of characters with their own flaws and individual backgrounds. Set in the small town of St Cary’s the story revolves around a group of people who come to find themselves interlinked through each other for various reasons. Everyone has a secret to keep from someone else, some that they are unaware of until the final chapters of the novel.

Stepsisters Belle and Clemency are always at odds: this is no secret in St Cary – they have been since they were teenagers. Yet in a small town where gossip is rife, anything that they try and hide from each other, themselves or anyone else is sure to come out sooner rather than later. It is this gossip that leads to secrets that have been hidden for years to come to the surface, culminating in an all too convenient ending for each character and what they desire – whether it is love, friendship or family.

Marina, the artist is harbouring a secret of her own, and one she has not been able to share at all. Ronan is adopted, and happy, but always wondering about the woman he loves but cannot have, and his birth parents. Kate, the post carrier, has a secret that not even she knows about. And Clemency is in love with the man her sister is with – but does Belle really like Sam?

Each chapter is generally told from a different perspective at first, at least until everyone becomes linked and eventually, they are all consistently thrown together in one way or another, or at least with one or more people at a time. This technique allows the secrets to unfold slowly and to evolve as the characters come together.

Given that this is marketed as romance, or chick lit, the clean and convenient tying up of plots and characters is possibly expected, and the conflicts that lead to that point work. I would have liked a little more conflict though, rather than just everyone happily getting along. Though this isn’t what would happen in the genre, and even though it did not work for me, there are others who will enjoy it. I managed to make it to the end though, and in the end, did find aspects I enjoyed – The friendship between Ronan and Clemency was perhaps my favourite relationship in the book, and Ronan was my favourite character. His story was indeed the most intriguing, and I would have liked to have it explored a little more.

One thing I did like was that not every character got what they wanted immediately – even if it is inevitable that they will in the end – they had to go on their own journeys to get there. Ronan and Kate’s is perhaps the most interesting too – maybe because it is shrouded in more secrecy than the others, and the result come out quite suddenly – a shock that begins each relationship changing and the convenience of everything working out, and leading to a surprise ending for two characters that aren’t as prominent as Ronan, but just as important.

A great beach read, an easy read f you’re in the mood for something light, and the perfect read for people who, unlike me, enjoy this genre all the time.