Thursdays at Orange Blossom House – Sophie Green

I read this as part of a read-a-thon with a fabulous group of fellow bookstagrammers thanks to Tandem Collective.

I’m so glad I did because this book is not something I think I would otherwise have picked up.  As most of you know I’m a bit of a thriller addict so if there’s no dead body popping up in the story I usually get a little confused.

For that reason, this was a nice change of pace for me, a palette cleanser almost.  An easy character-driven read that just meandered along at a pleasant stroll.

Based around three women of different ages and all in different situations who come together at a local yoga class in Cairns, Far North Queensland.  The characters all have their own difficulties and dramas like everyone but through their weekly yoga sessions they build a strong friendship that all of them realise was missing from their lives.

I think the fact that it was set in Cairns probably added to the enjoyment for me.  I actually lived in Cairns at the same time this book was set so I could imagine everything that was being described, and when the release of Pulp Fiction was referenced in the book it made me laugh as I remember rushing to the local cinema in Cairns to see it and being asked for ID .

While not an earth-shattering five star read for me it was still nice to pick up a book that you didn’t have to think about too much and could just wander along amongst the cane fields.

Gun to the Head – Keith Banks

Gun to the Head is a fascinating look into the world of undercover police and the tactical side of the police force in the 1980’s. Ticking all those true-crime and memoir boxes, this was such a gripping read that I devoured over a weekend.

Keith Banks is one of Queensland’s most decorated police officers having been involved in some very high profile cases as well as living through the well-publicised Royal Commission into police corruption.

A raw, honest and at times confronting look at the real life world of undercover policing and tactical operations.  A world that is often glamorised in movies and TV programmes, we soon see through Banks accounts of what they went through it’s definitely anything but glamorous. 

With many officers turning to drug use to maintain their covers, alcohol to dull the pain of what they experienced in the course of doing their jobs, and the very real fear of violence every time they left for work it was disappointing to realise how little support these officers were provided during that era.  The mentality was very much just be a man and suck it up.  That’s what you do.

As a result this book also highlights the very real issue of mental health and PTSD faced by those working in this high pressure environment and the horrific things they must have seen and experienced on an almost daily basis.

This lack of support is an undertone throughout the entire book and it’s extremely obvious how passionate Banks is about changing this and highlighting the need for support.

So well written and so engaging I definitely need to grab a copy of his previous book, Drugs Guns & Lies, after reading this one.

The French Gift – Kirsty Manning

Wow, what an amazing read this was.  One of those books that when I turned the last page I just sat there for a while and savoured what I had taken in and what I had experienced to let it all sink in.

The French Gift is steeped in historical fiction set amongst the atrocities of WWII and the forced labour camps that women were sent to work in as prisoners, whilst at the same time meshed with the present day and the world of historians and curators as they try to honour the past.

Beautifully written I was absolutely drawn to all the characters in this wonderful story.  It’s 1939 and Margot is the maid at a stunning villa in France, which is host to the social party of the season.  Margot’s life is turned upside down in the blink of an eye when she is thrown into the spotlight and into prison accused of a murder she didn’t commit.

Soon after in 1940, journalist and French Resistance fighter Josephine is thrown into prison by the Germans where she shares a cell with Margot.  The two form a fast friendship and an unbreakable bond, which continues when they are transferred from the French prison to the labour camp in Germany where they are forced to endure the most horrific of conditions and circumstances.

Their story is heartbreaking and tragic, but it is also one of immeasurable strength and courage.

As a backdrop to these chapters is the present day world of Evie and her son Hugo.  Evie runs a botanical bookshop in London and when Josephine dies, as her great niece, Evie is asked to help with an exhibition to showcase Josephine’s life.

I loved everything about this book, the dual timelines, the history, the rich characters and the wonderful friendships that played such an important role.

Thank you so much to Allen and Unwin for the chance to read The French Gift which is out now and definitely worth picking up.

The Husband Poisoner – Tanya Bretherton

So admittedly my husband was a little concerned when he discovered this book sitting on my kitchen bench – lol.

This was such a fascinating read, and unlike anything I’ve ever read before.  I don’t usually read a lot of non-fiction books unless they are true crime related and often about stories that are well publicised so it was so interesting to read this one and the lesser known crimes of some suburban Sydney housewives who decided to do away with their husbands or random members of their families.

Mainly set around the late 1940’s to the mid 1950’s, while this was an inside look into how you can find some nifty ways to use rat poison if you wanted to remove someone from your life, it was so much more than that.  It was a look into how so many of the regulations we know today came into effect. From banning dangerous poisons like Thallium that were once easily purchased at your local chemist, to introducing the food safety acts to ensure the food we purchase is healthy, safe and not contaminated in anyway.

For the locals out there the author also did a fabulous job of heavily building into the story two police detectives who played a huge part in uncovering the use of Thallium as a poison, but also of how their careers came to grow and prosper thanks to their heavy involvement in the NSW Police corruption of their time.  They may have been responsible for catching killer housewives, but they were effectively criminals themselves.

There were certainly frightening elements to the story, and certain sections of the book are absolutely not for the faint hearted as we learn about what actually happens to the human body at decomposition stage, personally, I now wish I didn’t know. 

It was also a heartbreaking reminder of how the mentally ill were treated in that era, often subjected to horrific treatments and inexcusable neglect.  One of the terrible symptoms of Thallium poisoning is severe damage to the nervous system and when no doctor could determine a cause for the victim’s excruciating pain they were simply diagnosed as being neurotic or suffering a nervous breakdown and ultimately sent to an asylum.

As a little light relief I loved how each of the chapters were finished off with a recipe that would have been popular in its time, such as Bonox, Brawn, or Potato and Bacon Pie, all minus the added ingredient of rat poison of course.

This really was a truly fascinating book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I’m so thankful for the chance to have read it thanks to Hachette Australia.  I would absolutely recommend this one to anyone that loves historical fiction, true crimes and anything that is that little bit different.

Dead Letters – Michael Brissenden

A dead politician, a mother’s letters from the grave, a daughter’s quest for answers.

OMG I freaking loved this book!!!!  Corrupt politicians, dirty cops, mafia links, gangs, counter terrorism………..seriously, what’s not to love.

I was a little nervous going into this one, it’s not the usual type of book I’m drawn to but honestly, once I started reading I couldn’t stop.  It was so compelling and so intriguing it had me hooked from the very first page.

When a politician is shot in the early hours of the morning, veteran officer Sid Allen, with his own closet full of skeletons, is called to the scene to investigate.  It’s not every day a politician is murdered.  What does it mean?  Is it terrorist related?  Is it gang related? 

Also poking around the death is journalist Zephyr Wilde who was only ten when her mother Shirley was murdered twenty years earlier.  Shirley was the owner of a local brothel and had contacts in high places, so why after all these years had the case of her mother’s death still not been solved?  Did someone want it to stay buried, no matter what the cost?

It’s not long before Sid and Zephyr’s worlds come crashing into each other and as the body count rises so does the tension.  The chapters were fact paced in this political thriller and the author has done a fantastic job of holding the reader’s attention right through to the nail biting ending.

As an added bonus, set across the fabulous city of Sydney, it was so good to read a book where I actually knew the name of the streets and the suburbs.

Thank you sooooo much Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this 5 star book.  I highly recommend running out to the bookshop now to grab a copy.

*****

Review – Tiny White Lies

Tiny White Lies – Fiona Palmer

A light, heart-warming easy read.  This is a novel to curl up with over a weekend and just sit back and relax.  Told through the eyes of two friends, Nikki and Ashley with chapters alternating between their recent pasts and the present day, this is a story of family, relationships and friendships.

Both Ashley and Nikki have had their struggles to deal with.  Ashley has recently lost her husband and has just found out her teenage daughter is being bullied online and at school, while Nikki has been keeping a huge secret to herself and worrying about her own teenage children slipping further and further away from her into the world of technology with social media and online gaming.

To escape and recharge the two families decide on a spur of the moment trip to the Western Australian bushland.  A camping retreat at a beautiful coastal getaway with no access to the internet and no phone reception.  I found myself laughing a few times at the teenager’s reactions to this new found hell with no ability to keep up with their snapchat streaks.  I could so easily picture my own teens behaving the exact same way.

There is a cast of likeable characters, including Nikki’s hunky husband Chris and his equally hot cousin Luke, and we start to learn a little more about all of them through evenings around the campfire.  As the days slide by tiny white lies are slowly revealed as their past secrets meander into their current lives.

While it is a light read, it does cover some pretty dark topics, such as suicide, depression, bullying, and issues with body image.  I just wished it could have delved into these topics a little more which I think would have given the overall story more depth. I really loved it when the author highlighted the women’s pasts, I was completely engrossed in what they were both going through.  There really was a lot to enjoy about this book, I just found the holiday chapters a little light on and too easy to skip through, but still a fun weekend read.

Thank you so much to Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read and review this book. 

Review – A Lifetime of Impossible Days

A Lifetime of Impossible Days – Tabitha Bird

I laughed, I cried, I felt every emotion reading this amazing story.  It is whimsical, it is fantastical (is that a word) but at the heart it is a story of trauma and grief and how dealing with the past can have drastic effects on our future.

Tabitha Bird has truly written a masterpiece.  It’s strange, it’s unusual, and it’s hard to put into words how to even describe it but is a truly stunning book.  You really need to let yourself go when reading this, think Alice in Wonderland disappearing down a rabbit hole.  Don’t expect things to make sense.

We meet Willa in 1965 at age 8, in 1990 at age 33 and in 2050 at age 93 when on one impossible day, 93 year old Willa mails two parcels with a note “One ocean; plant in the backyard” setting off a magical time slip that allows Willa to visit her future and past selves. 

Willa at all 3 stages of her life is so full of depth and emotion.  I adored Willa at 93, she was my absolute favourite.  Her sense of humour had me laughing out loud, her strength had me full of admiration for her and her confusion and her fear had me in tears.  I hope at that age I am running around in brightly coloured gumboots or moonboots and possibly ordering a cow for the backyard off a talk-back radio show.

Willa at 8 is the most heartbreaking.  No child should have to know such trauma in their young life.  Feeling responsible for her younger sister, trying to help her mother who has become unable to be there for her daughters both physically and emotionally, all the while living with the terror of a violent father. The abuse was handled with care and was mostly inferred which I also appreciated.  As a reader I could take it as far as I was comfortable with and it was just as impactful without making the whole book disturbing.

33 year old Willa is possibly the most important of all.  The adult who is now a mother herself, who has never dealt with the pain of her past but needs to in order to be able to have a future for herself and her own family.  “I’m not sad or happy…….I’m nothing.  I’ve forgotten how to feel.  I’ve stuffed everything that happened in the past so far inside me.  I’ve stuffed myself inside, too, and now I’m not even me.”

This was one of the very few books I’ve read that after I finished the last page and closed the cover, I put the book down and just sat there.  I really had to process it all.  I still can’t believe it’s a debut. 

To quote 8 year old Willa “amaze-a-loo” I really wish everyone could read this one.  Thank you so much to the author for sending me a copy of her book in exchange for this review.

*****

Review – The Silk House

The Silk House – Kayte Nunn

The Silk House is going to be one of my favourite reads for 2020. It was so beautifully written and descriptive I couldn’t help but fall in love with everything about it.

An historical fiction, narrated through multiple POV’s in vastly different eras, the story-line is interwoven superbly. In 1768 The Silk House is home to a wealthy silk merchant, his wife and their household in Oxleigh. Rowan Caswell is the new maid at the house and in times where people are suspicious of anyone slightly unusual and talk of witchcraft still swirls around, it is a troubling time to be meddling in anything untoward. With white-blond hair and a skill in herbs, potions and draughts, mystery soon starts shrouding Rowan and she must be extremely cautious that no one becomes aware of here abilities for fear of putting her life at risk.

Meanwhile, in London 1768, Mary-Louise Stephenson is the designer of stunning one of a kind patterns but has so far been unable to break into the male dominated trade. When the silk merchant makes an unexpected visit to her home offering her the chance for her patterns to become a reality she jumps at the opportunity. Thrown into the shady world of the merchant and creating silks that seem to hold dark secrets Mary is soon wondering if she has made a terrible mistake.

Now in 2019 Silk House is home to an exclusive Boarding School, Oxleigh College. History teacher Thea Rust has just moved from Australia to the UK to take up a position at the college, the same college her father once attended. This is the first time girls have been admitted into Oxleigh College, previously a school only for boys so Thea has the unenviable job of not only being new to the school but having to help with this unwelcome change in long-held tradition. When strange unexplained things start happening and rumours of Silk House being haunted start circling Thea is desperate to find out as much as she can about its history and what really took place there all those centuries ago.

The atmosphere is superbly rich and detailed with Gothic undertones throughout plus the ever present mystery of witchcraft. A truly beautiful story that I just couldn’t put down.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this amazing book.

*****