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.

What Could Be Saved – Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

5 Fabulous Stars for this stunning book.

I loved this book so much, it honestly feels like there is a gaping hole in my heart where it used to sit.

Described as rich with mystery and family drama, this compelling novel delves into the extraordinary power of sibling love, rivalry and loyalty. 

The story begins with Laura, an artist struggling to find her rhythm again.  Out of the blue she receives a call from a complete stranger claiming to be her brother.  Laura and her sister Bea, now a mum to teenage boys, have not seen their brother Philip for over 40 years, since he vanished one day as a child when they were living in Thailand. 

Laura is instantly convinced it is him and insists on jumping on the first flight back to Thailand to bring him home.  No amount of push back from her sister and her partner will stop her.  From here we are thrown into a roller coaster of emotion.

Alternating between 1972, and the present day we learn the truth about this family tragedy all those years ago as the two timelines mesh together perfectly.

It is the time of the Vietnam War when their father Robert is offered the opportunity to move from the US to Bangkok with his wife Genevieve and three young children and after one year turns into three, there are inklings that Robert’s job “building a dam” may not be all that it seems.

Yet they have made a good life for themselves in Thailand and Genevieve has become renowned as the wonderful hostess who throws beautiful parties.  The children have also adapted to their new life, ferried around to one activity after another relishing their time in Bangkok, until suddenly their worlds are turned upside down. It is every parent’s worst nightmare when suddenly 8 year old Philip simply disappears and all the pieces this family have kept hidden from each other come tumbling out.

Forty years later, could it really be Philip on the phone?  After so much pain and false hopes could he really just walk back into their lives? 

This book is alive, it is vibrant, it is utterly mesmerising.  The writing is captivating and completely draws you into this family’s world.  It is also tragic and heartbreaking and for all these reasons, even at 450 pages I just couldn’t put it down.

I know it is only the beginning of the year but this is definitely going to be one of my absolute favourite books of the year, it is truly phenomenal!!  An absolute must-read!!

Thank you so much to Allen and Unwin for the opportunity to read this truly outstanding book.

*****