Book Review Jessica

Jessica by Bryce Courtenay

About the book

Jessica is based on the inspiring true story of a young girl’s fight for justice against tremendous odds.
A tomboy, Jessica is the pride of her father, as they work together on the struggling family farm. One quiet day, the peace of the bush is devastated by a terrible murder. Only Jessica is able to save the killer from the lynch mob – but will justice prevail in the courts?

Nine months later, a baby is born … with Jessica determined to guard the secret of the father’s identity. The rivalry of Jessica and her beautiful sister for the love of the same man will echo throughout their lives – until finally the truth must be told.

Set in the harsh Australian bush against the outbreak of World War I, this novel is heartbreaking in its innocence, and shattering in its brutality.

Comments

Our group was divided in their enjoyment of this book with some finding the story an enjoyable and informative read while others were very put off by the nastiness of some characters all throughout the book. So many morally bankrupt people.

The characters were found to be very one dimensional, either “Black or White” in their moral and ethical “goodness.”

Another criticism was about the story line which, to some, was very convoluted.

A few of our readers know the region this story was set in and found the author struggled to describe the Australian bush adequately.

However, those that liked the book really enjoyed it! 

There was agreement that the second half of the book was more enjoyable and informative than the first half of the book. The characters were more dimensional and the legal proceedings regarding stolen generation children and families were thought provoking and revealing. 

Some readers did not enjoy the first half of the book enough to continue on for the second half developments. They found this book depressing

We found this was definitely not a book for people who have inter-family traumas, and some found it to be a long read waiting for something good to happen.

Read by MJ Readers

Book Review The Railwayman’s Wife

The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashely Hay

About the book

In a small town on the land’s edge, in the strange space at a war’s end, a widow, a poet and a doctor each try to find their own peace, and their own new story.

In Thirroul, in 1948, people chase their dreams through the books in the railway’s library. Anikka Lachlan searches for solace after her life is destroyed by a single random act. Roy McKinnon, who found poetry in the mess of war, has lost his words and his hope. Frank Draper is trapped by the guilt of those his treatment and care failed on their first day of freedom. All three struggle with the same question: how now to be alive.

Comments

We found this to be a beautifully written book, very much enjoyed by the group. Some readers did say this was not a book that was for them or a book they would normally have chosen but they commended the lovely writing style of the author.

As a group we found the key characters were very likable.

The downside for our group was the focus on poetry all throughout the book. We found the poetry written in the story was not at all outstanding or enjoyable and to some readers it was bland and uninspiring.

There were many themes in this story discussed in detail by the group.

Anika, the main character in the book. Her transformation from a secure loving and loved wife and mother to a grieving widow, mother to a grieving child and thrust quickly, through necessity’ into working woman.

We found the grieving process for Anika and her daughter in the year after Macs death was a well detailed theme throughout the book.

Anikas relationship with Mac, her husband. Her reflections on their life after his death reveals some marital restrictions placed on her throughout their marriage that were not evident to her at the time during their marriage. 

This book was read by our group in April, the month of Anzac day. The post war traumas of Roy and Frank were very relevant at this time along with Australian society’s attitude to men who did not go to war for whatever reasons.

The character of Roy was also complex in his presentation. His romanticised view of Anika as his “muse” not one year after the violent death of her husband.

The ending of the story was also discussed at length with many differing opinions on interpretation of events and specific character responses to events.

Read by MJ Readers

Book Review The Alice Network

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Summary

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

From the publisher

Comments

As a group, we had not read much historical fiction, or knew very much about the role female spies had played in WW1 and WWII. However,  we were impressed and enjoyed the history lesson! We quite liked The Alice Network.  We love a story told from different points of views, through alternating chapters.  In this case, moving back and forth between Eve during the war, and Charlie, after the war as she searched for her lost cousin.  While we loved Eve’s story, riveted and turning pages quickly to get back to her side of the story; we struggled a little with Charlie.  We didn’t connect as well with her, however, we loved the small cast of supporting characters. We were amazed to learn at the end that some characters had been based on real people and that some of these events had actually happened. Overall, we would recommend this one for anyone who loves a historical fiction read. 

Read by Cultcha Club

March Reads & April’s Thriller Picks

After I finished writing the blog post for the February wrap-up, and told you all what I was planning on reading, I literally changed my mind as soon as I clicked post. I blame Kate, one of my reading colleagues here at the library, for filling my head with even more reading suggestions.

The books I read this month were….

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville (Historical Fiction)

This was such a beautifully written book. Although a fictional take on what Elizabeth Macarthur might have thought and said, I found myself believing whole-heartedly that Elizabeth’s voice was real!

What if Elizabeth Macarthur – wife of the notorious John Macarthur, wool baron in the earliest days of Sydney – had written a shockingly frank secret memoir? And what if novelist Kate Grenville had miraculously found and published it? That’s the starting point for A Room Made of Leaves, a playful dance of possibilities between the real and the invented. Marriage to a ruthless bully, the impulses of her heart, the search for power in a society that gave women none – this Elizabeth Macarthur manages her complicated life with spirit and passion, cunning and sly wit. Her memoir lets us hear – at last! – what one of those seemingly demure women from history might really have thought. At the centre of A Room Made of Leaves is one of the most toxic issues of our own age – the seductive appeal of false stories. This book may be set in the past, but it’s just as much about the present, where secrets and lies have the dangerous power to shape reality.

Normal People by Sally Rooney (Book to Screen)

I am really struggling to write my review for ‘Normal People’, even after discussing the book with my colleague Sarah. Therefore, I will keep it short and to the point. I loved the writing! Just was not interested in the storyline. I am going to watch the screen adaptation and see if this changes my opinion.

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation – awkward but electrifying – something life-changing begins.

One Perfect Summer by Paige Toon (Chicklit)

Once again, Paige Toon managed to keep me glued to the pages until I had finished the whole book. How can one writer manage to write one amazing book, after another? Magic if you ask me! If you enjoy Chick Lit and haven’t read any of Paige Toon’s books give them a try. You will not be disappointed.

Alice is 18 and about to start university while Joe’s life is seemingly going nowhere. A Dorset summer, a chance meeting, and the two of them fall into step as if they have known each other forever. But their idyll is shattered, suddenly, unexpectedly. Alice heads off to Cambridge and slowly picks up the pieces of her broken heart. Joe is gone; she cannot find him. When she catches the attention of Lukas – gorgeous, gifted, rich boy Lukas – she is carried along by his charm, swept up in his ambitious plans for a future together. Then Joe is there, once more, but out of reach in a way that Alice could never have imagined. Life has moved on, the divide between them is now so great. Surely it is far too late to relive those perfect summer days of long ago?

The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson (General Fiction)

I have not finished this one yet, but I am more than half way through and enjoying it. I like the characters and want to know how their story ends.

What do you get when you cross a painfully awkward son, lofty comedic ambition and a dead best friend? Norman. Norman and Jax are a legendary comedy duo in the making, with a five-year plan to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe by the time they’re fifteen. But then Jax dies before they even turn twelve. Norman’s mum Sadie knows she won’t win Mother of the Year anytime soon, and she really doesn’t know, or care, who Norman’s father is. But her heart is broken when she discovers her grieving son’s revised plan – ‘Find Dad’ and ‘Get to the Edinburgh Fringe’. If meeting his dad and performing at the Festival are the two things that will help Norman through this devastating time, then Sadie is going to make them happen. So, mother and son set off from Cornwall, with their friend Leonard in his vintage Austin Maxi, on a pilgrimage to Edinburgh – to honour Jax and to track down a few maybe-fathers on the way…    

We were lucky enough to host Julietta Henderson in an online author talk. You can check out the recording here at parra.city/nswplevents

Now! Down to the business of April’s to be read, thriller list. I am hoping to read at least one of the books listed below.

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Book Review The Alice Network

Last month our ‘Dundas Readers’ book club read ‘The Alice Network‘ by Kate Quinn and it looks like they enjoyed reading it like most of our other book clubs. This title is definitely a popular pick!

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Summary

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her little problem taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister. 1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, code name Alice, the queen of spies, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose. Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. That is until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth … no matter where it leads.

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