The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson
In a tale stranger than fiction, a wartime library in London was set up in the underground train tracks of the famous Tube. In this fictional retelling, Clara Button is the librarian who is keeping the strange little community together despite being the wrong gender and being supported by the larger-than-life PTSD suffering Ruby.
I really enjoyed this novel! I couldn’t see myself as either of the main characters, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t sympathize with them. I liked learning about their little quirks, and I was absolutely most invested in Clara’s continued tenure as the librarian. I think the choice to include more than one perspective really worked here, even though I usually complain about it.
I didn’t have any expectation that things would turn out OK. I was fine with the ending maybe not ending up the way that it did. That being said, I would have been devastated if anything had happened to those books. I’m a reader and I love libraries – a library can be the first step to education, and education can be a way out of poverty. How dare the library be bombed in the first place!
I think I’ve learned more about history from reading this fictional novel than I ever have from reading about history or being taught in school. This novel was an interesting insight into the war. It’s kind of strange to think that such a thing would occur, because it would be unlikely to happen in Australia. Compared to Europe, we’re so spread out and there’s lots of places to go – perhaps everyone would just head to Uluru! For a similar novel, try The Kitchen Front.
Hachette | 14 February 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback
The Well of Shades
In this final novel of the Bridei Chronicles, Faolan must return home to put to rest the demons of his past. In doing so fulfilling his promise to Ana. It turns out that his return also brings him to Elle in a fortuitous meeting for them both.
There is a lot to unpack in this book. It marks an outstanding end to the trilogy and a come full circle for Faolan as a person growing past his pain and letting himself be human again after the events of the second book resulted in him having to face his past again. There is also Tuala learning more of her past, Bridei struggling with his choices and in keeping his kingdom together following his past success, and Briochan learning to own up to his pride and past mistakes as Bridei’s foster father.
Once again we have a romance that threads through the main narrative and the bulk of the book is told from the two halves of that growing relationship. All the while Faolon is still doing his job for King Bridei, but its clear that as he is completing this task he is growing and healing so much as a person. Enough that he wouldn’t not be able to continue in his role of spy and assassin with these new people in his life.
Elle is the new character for this book and she brings a completely different perspective to King Bridei’s court as a complete outsider. But her place as someone important to Faolan does smooth a lot of the way for her. It’s also clear that alot of Bridei’s court have no idea how much has changed for Faolan. But it’s a credit to Bridei that even as busy as everything is, he still listens when Faolan really wants to talk – reaffirming something he said to Faolan in the first book about needing a man, and friend, he can trust at his side.
There does seem to be some loose ends with the incursion of the christian faith in the very pagan Fortriu. But overall it was an excellent read and conclusion to the series. It made my heart happy that Faolan was able to find a happy ending with Elle. Once again 5-stars.
The Blade of Fortriu
Ana of the Light Isles is to be sent to make a strategic alliance for King Bridei with the Caitt in the North. Little does she know not everything is as it seems in Lord Alpin’s domain and the one person she will have to rely on is someone she cannot stand. Bridei’s right-hand man, Faolan.
Again there is a very clear romance throughout this book. However this time we have a love triangle set up between Ana, Faolan, and Drustan. Though it’s clear relatively early that the partnership will be Ana and Drustan. Again the threads of romance are wonderfully woven between the characters with enough time spent on each that we have an excellent understanding of the characters motivations and the growth that occur. Even with the new character on the scene in Drustan. Honestly, even with how wonderful Ana and Drustan are together, my heart ached for Faolan. His character growth was the best of all – even though it is clear he has more growing to do later.
Early on when Ana was being courted by Alpin it was a bit nerve wracking. But the more that the story progressed the clearer it was that he wasn’t ending up with him, snake that he was. An immense relief really.
The other part I liked about the romance, because that really was a focus of this story, was how even though Faolan had Feelings for Ana there was always a clear line of respect Faolan had both for Ana and Drustan. A respect that was reciprocated. The way Ana and Drustan loved each other didn’t preclude other ties. Even though it wasn’t the bond that Faolan wanted, he saw and respect the bond they shared in return. the complexity of those interactions towards the end of the books were marvelous and enthralling. It’s not a wonder I went on a binge of reading this author when this is the level of interaction the characters have throughout her books. Another 5-stars.
The Dark Mirror
Bridei is being raised for great things, but he doesn’t know enough about them yet. When he rescues the foundling Tuala, he doesn’t know how this will change the course of his destiny. There is a very strong and clear romance to this book. Some of the moments you don’t see coming, and others you do, but all of them blend into each other in a gripping tale.
There is just enough information from the various perspectives to allow insight into the important characters. Enough for you to see how their actions reflect their motivations. Granted there are some you know far better than others Bridei and Tuala for instance get plenty of insight into how they feel and why the actions they take make sense.
I went into this knowing that its a trilogy so when I got to the end and it didn’t feel like an ending I wasn’t too surprised. Thankfully I had the next two books to dive right into. The ending pace feels urgent – not too surprising given the events that are unfolding. That urgency communicates to the reader effortlessly. During that last section of the book I could not put it down at all. I just needed to know!
I also loved all the small details into Pictish history. Granted this is historical fiction not fact but it was clear that Marillier do her due diligence. It left me with a desire to dive into the history to learn more. The only reason I didn’t is because I had the next two books to read! 5-stars from me
The Sin Eater
May is thinking only of where her next meal is coming from, but she gets caught stealing a loaf of bread (how stereotypical!). The next thing she knows, she’s the town’s resident Sin Eater – bound to eat the sins of others on their deathbed. While her stomach might be full, her heart and life seem empty.
This novel initially had a lot going for it. I read ‘The Sin Eater’s Daughter‘ originally, and I actually first thought that this was a reprint of it. However, the longer the novel went on, the more painful it became. I couldn’t understand the purpose behind it.
What this novel did spark interest in me about was tongue tattooing. Is it really done? How much does it hurt? How accurate is the healing process? A quick google tells me that yes – people do it, no – it doesn’t really hurt that much and it should only take 3 weeks to heal up. In fact, a tongue tattoo isn’t a forever tattoo – it will eventually wear away. It can also damage your tastebuds. Hawaiian women used to have this done as part of tribal practices. Fascinating!
Maybe I’m not the target audience? I can’t say that English history (or history in general) excites me, and the theoretical wrong-doing of Queen Elizabeth I left me cold. Also, I didn’t even make that connection between the Bethany in the story and Queen Elizabeth – I had to go hunting through GoodReads reviews to find this interesting fact out.
I’m going to give this 2 stars from me. It didn’t seem that interesting, and as I wrote the review I felt more ambivalent about it. I’d recommend it for someone who enjoys historical fiction, and perhaps Elizabethan history in particular.
Pan Macmillan | 1st April 2020 | AU$29.99 | paperback
These are some short reviews of novels that I started and couldn’t finish. I’ll probably pass them onto a friend or attempt to sell them to a local bookstore. Sing out if you want them!
Meaghan Wilson Anastasios – The Honourable Thief / The Emerald Tablet
I started The Honourable Thief, and then abandoned it because it was so slow to get started and I couldn’t respect the aging male protagonist. I went in expecting Indiana Jones style action and tension, and got painstaking, painful details of Benedict’s surroundings (and honestly I wasn’t that interested in them).
Fast forward a year, and I found myself on an aeroplane trapped with only The Emerald Tablet to read (I’d completely forgotten about even reading the first novel). Sadly, I found that it had many of the same problems as the first. I hated Benedict Hitchens and his bumbling self-assuredness, and I detested Eris, his love interest. One of the earliest scenes is Eris pleasuring herself while she thinks about Benedict, and the whole thing made me twitch awkwardly on my seat. There was no need to go there!
Pan Macmillan | 31st July 2018 | $29.99 | paperback
Pan Macmillan | 25th June 2019 | $29.99 | paperback
Peter James – Absolute Proof
I put off reading this novel for a long time because the blurb about proving God’s exisitance and reporting it in the news didn’t sound appealing to me. Then I realised that I had enjoyed Peter James’ novel Love You Dead. So I thought I would try out Absolute Proof. Unfortunately it was just as bad as I expected. It had too many characters, too many conflicting and confusing storylines and an unconvincing protagonist (who I assume was the journalist).
Pan Macmillan 25th September 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback
Corey Ann Haydu – OCD Love Story
I picked this up for a lighthearted holiday read, but sadly found myself irritated at the protagonist’s stupid thoughts. Obsessed by two or three guys at once? It felt like the author was making light of what is actually a very serious obsession. Bea even already has a restraining order against her! And her best friend is useless. No. Don’t touch this one. Maybe the bright pink cover should have given it away for me…
It’s a hard life in New South Wales as a convict, but Tom Clay has his sheep and his dogs. There’s a big problem though – Dan Carver is going to kill him when he comes back. The arrival of a third shepherd, Rowdy Cavanagh should make Tom more relaxed, but Rowdy doesn’t know when to shut up. A fraught chase ensures across the wild Australian landscape.
What this novel brings home for me is the sheer amount of knowledge that white Australians have lost by effectively wiping out the native peoples. Tom is/was a poacher back in England and thus he understands a lot about animals and plants. In the bush he doesn’t understand anything though and he feels like everything is against him. Rowdy’s big mouth certainly doesn’t help him concentrate!
The cover suggests a murder mystery to me, with the pitchfork spearing the title. But what I got was nothing like that. Instead I felt like I was walking the bush with Tom and fearing for my own life. Unfortunately, I’m just not very excited by colonial Australian history. I studied the literature of the time and wasn’t that keen on it. I don’t really understand why I didn’t care for this novel, but I didn’t. It’s not something I’d necessarily read if I had a choice, which is why it came on vacation with me to force me to read it.
The writing style is smooth and the environment explicitly realised. Technically this novel is fantastic. Yet the ending felt cold to me and I could have put it down at any point. I didn’t connect with Tom enough and the deaths of other characters didn’t interest me. I finished this novel in the space of a couple of hours. 3 stars from me.
Text Publishing | 2nd July 2019 | AU$29.99 | paperback
Anne Bonny ran away from her abusive husband at age 18, heading to the arms of pirate captain Calico Jack. But her husband is willing to pay to get her back, and the pirate hunter Barnet is willing to try. Will Anne be able to keep her life as her own? Or will she be forced back to land.
I love that Anne has her own personality. She’s not just a raw, rum-drinkin’ pirate, she’s got her own feelings and problems and baggage. It would have been easy to just make her a hard-headed heroine with no feelings or flaws, but instead we get a character with contradictions and reality. Anne’s life isn’t a daydream – she’s still got to fix the heads (toilets) and beat off the bullies, even if she is sleeping with the captain. She isn’t willing to compromise.
It’s amazing how much action fitted into this novel. Anne Bonny hardly has a dull moment, and when she does it’s right before she skids feet-first into a big mess of trouble. This novel even slightly explores the feelings of PTSD and having a child adopted away. I’m still feeling pumped about this novel, even a week after reading it. I gobbled it up in one sitting.
I’m not quite sure why this novel was called Devil’s Ballast, but it gave it an appropriately ‘piratey’ feel. I’m going to tag it in very lightly as Historical Fiction, because Anne Bonny WAS a real person. But this novel is written in such a way that it could have been complete fiction. Thus I wasn’t sure about Meg’s survival or anything else.
I picked this novel because I had previously really enjoyed this author’s debut work of Waer. I was not disappointed, even if the two novels have nothing in common. I’d recommend this novel for readers aged 13 and up, and I am giving it 4 stars. Well done, Meg Caddy. Keep writing!
Text Publishing | 7th May 2019 | AU$19.99 | paperback
Ruth is in prison for murder and is awaiting hanging. Dorothea is a well bred woman with a fascination for phrenology (skull physiology that predicts character traits). When Dorothea sets out to map Ruth’s skull she is forced to decide whether she believes in Ruth’s truthfulness or her own ‘scientific’ mind.
The detailed gore at the beginning of the novel was cringe worthy and my feeling was that it was unnecessary. The torture might have been intended to make things feel Gothic and gloomy, but instead I just felt revulsion. I also couldn’t work out why I should care about David and Thomas. What were the men’s purposes in this novel?
It’s such a pity. The cover of this book was such that I expected a peacock to feature. Instead this felt a little like symbolism gone wild. The corset! The corset! And in the end, is it even what she thought it was? The reader and Dotty seem to move towards believing in magic, but the ending makes you questions that – and not in a good way.
About halfway through this novel I thought to myself that the ending would make or break the novel. I didn’t know what would constitute a good ending, but I knew it needed one. The ending I received however was disappointing and unsatisfying and made no sense to me. Will she recover? Was Ruth actually hanged?
Other reviewers are saying this is historical fiction, and I’m saying it might be. But there are plenty of other sources of historical fiction that are better focused and with better endings. 2 stars from me because I finished it, but I wish I hadn’t done so because it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Bloomsbury | 1st November 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback
The Chosen Ones
The Nazi-run “Spiegelgrund clinic was apparently well-intentioned: both a reform school for lost, wayward boys and girls, and a clinic for chronically ill or malformed children.” Instead, this novel exposes the truth of what happened behind those walls – children tortured and left to cry before being allowed to get sick and medicated to death.
I picked up this novel several times. I really wanted to love it, I thought that the content was fascinating when I read the blurb. However, the execution completely floored me. rare sporadic speech was interspersed throughout text with little to no paragraphing.
One of the things that seriously confused me was the constant transitions between different forms of names. I could cope with the Viennese names, but I couldn’t cope with the crazy swapping between nicknames, last names and first names. Or no name at all, and just a description of their physical or mental state at the time (which was unreliable anyway).
This novel had so much potential because I was very interested in the subject matter. I wanted to love it, which is why I let it percolate on its shelf for 2 years and why it survived two novel cleanouts. I’m now going to release it on Book Crossing, even my mom wasn’t attracted to reading it.
This novel had the positive potential of Max but instead ended up in my could-not-complete pile with I am Sasha. 1 star from me. I couldn’t finish it. Occasionally I can tolerate this kind of abstract writing but I just couldn’t.
Allen & Unwin | May 2016 | AU$32.99 | paperback