Tag Archives: #historicalfiction

Review: Ambulance Girls

Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Source: Paperback copy courtesy of publisher

Ever since I fell completely in adoration of Deborrah Burrows’ last book, A Time of Secrets a couple of years ago, I’ve been waiting for another book. And while I was waiting, I kinda stalk her on Goodreads and twitter so I knew she’s been traipsing (sorry, researching) all over London when living there. I greeted the cover reveal of Ambulance Girls with a squeal of excitement and I think my heart might have stopped for mo when I received a copy in the mail.

Firstly, I do love this cover and I really like war historical fiction especially when this particular book’s main character was inspired by a real life historical Aussie woman serving in the London Auxiliary Ambulance Station during the Blitz. There were a lot of things I learnt from this novel about women during the Blitz. I guess there have been quite a number of books or even documentaries but the way it was written here made it all the more real to me. It was obvious that a lot of research was done in the writing of this novel and not just about the women or the Blitz as novel itself feels like veritable literary tour of London.

The novel opens with Lily on duty and having to face one of her fears of enclosed spaces. It was a great start to the novel and you’d easily fall in love with Lily. Her other fears though were not as easily conquered… Aside from her courage, empathy, and her wish to do well unto others, she’s also got a great sense of humour. Maybe that’s her Aussie flavoured humour that coloured her interactions with her friends and gave the book a reminiscent air. We follow Lily through her struggles with daily life during the Blitz; the grief of losing a friend and the joy of falling in love. There were some shaky moments where I thought things were just not going to be right with this book but thankfully, all was made quite well! I had to give the book a bit of a hug from relief and an affectionate pat when I finished reading for I was well & truly shaken.

There were a number of characters both likeable and despicable in this book and the variety and dynamics between these characters were really quite interesting. The book is told from Lily’s perspective only so in a way, we miss out on a lot about the other characters as only a few were well developed. However, as this is the first book of a trilogy, I do believe we will get to know some of the others quite well later on (and I look forward to this!). What you cannot mistake in this novel is the author’s views on anti-semitism (ignorant) and Hitler (evil); she’s loud and clear on that front. Hear! Hear! These things can never be stated enough and whilst Hitler is gone, there are still those like him & share his views.

If you loved the show, Call the Midwife, or the books that inspired it, you would love Ambulance Girls. Lily Brennan may not be English but she’s as brave as those midwives in facing uncertainties & adversities of the time. And I dare say that her Australian personality shone through especially against the foil of English reserved façade.

Thanks to Penguin Books Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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Review: The Strays

wp-1484100547222.jpgThe Strays by Emily Bitto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: Library copy

On her first day at a new school, Lily meets Eva, one of the daughters of the infamous avant-garde painter Evan Trentham. He and his wife are attempting to escape the stifling conservatism of 1930s Australia by inviting other like-minded artists to live and work with them at their family home. As Lily’s friendship with Eva grows, she becomes infatuated with this makeshift family and longs to truly be a part of it.

Looking back on those years later in life, Lily realises that this utopian circle involved the same themes as Evan Trentham’s art: Faustian bargains and terrible recompense; spectacular fortunes and falls from grace. Yet it was not Evan, nor the other artists he gathered around him, but his own daughters, who paid the debt that was owing.

My Blurb

This book pulled me in two opposite directions. On the one hand, I am just like the young Lily who was fascinated and absolutely loved the freedom in the Trentham’s family home. But on the other hand, as a young parent, I was absolutely horrified by the way the children’s needs were ignored. Of course, these children, whilst appreciating their freedom, also resented their parents for not being parents.

The novel opens with the adult Lily, with a grown child of her own, living a ‘normal’ boring life. She received a letter from her best friend whom she has not been in contact for a very long time. We didn’t find out exactly the reason why until near the end but this reason blew me away. I expected a tragedy in the shape of a death, an accident, or something just as devastating but a ‘that’s life’ kind of reaction from me BUT the reason repulsed me. I can’t say anything more without spoiling the ending so suffice to say, I was bowled over and I love it.

Years later, the consequences of the Trenthams’ lifestyle (parenting) choice are still reverberating in their lives. The author, via the oldest child (Bea), also acknowledged in a ‘you reap what you sow’ kind of way. The Strays was very easy to get lost in; Lily’s reminiscence and regrets were clearly felt throughout the story. I loved immersing myself in 1930s Melbourne though I did get quite worked up at the end so I can only afford a 4-stars rating.

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First Chapter, First Paragraph: Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund

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Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Introsto share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon.

Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last. Yet, looking up–into the clouds–I conjure him there: his gray-white hair; his gathered brow; and the zaggy mark (I saw it when lying with him by candlelight and, also, taking our bliss on the sunny moor curly-cup gumweed and lamb’s ear). And I see a zaggy shadow now in the rifting clouds. That mark started like lightning at Ahab’s temple and ran not all the way to his heel (as some thought) but ended at Ahab’s heart.

ahabs-wifeAhab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund

A magnificent, vast, and enthralling saga, Sena Jeter Naslund’s Ahab’s Wife is a remarkable epic spanning a rich, eventful, and dramatic life. Inspired by a brief passage in Moby Dick, it is the story of Una, exiled as a child to live in a lighthouse, removed from the physical and emotional abuse of a religion-mad father. It is the romantic adventure of a young woman setting sail in a cabin boy’s disguise to encounter darkness, wonder, and catastrophe; the story of a devoted wife who witnesses her husband’s destruction by obsession and madness. Ultimately it is the powerful and moving story of a woman’s triumph over tragedy and loss through her courage, creativity, and intelligence.

Based on this intro, would you read more or pass on this book?

 

Juliet Marillier: Den of Wolves (Blackthorn & Grim #3)

juliet-marillier

Juliet Marillier was born July 27, 1948 in Dunedin, New Zealand and grew up surrounded by Celtic music and stories. Her own Celtic-Gaelic roots inspired her to write her first series, the Sevenwaters Trilogy. Juliet was educated at the University of Otago, where she majored in music and languages, graduating BA and a B Mus (Hons). Her lifelong interest in history, folklore and mythology has had a major influence on her writing.

Juliet is the author of twenty historical fantasy novels for adults and young adults, as well as a book of short fiction. Juliet’s novels and short stories have won many awards.
Juliet lives in a 110 year old cottage in a riverside suburb of Perth, Western Australia. When not writing, she is active in animal rescue and has her own small pack of needy dogs. She also has four adult children and seven grandchildren. Juliet is a member of the druid order OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.)

Find Juliet on: goodreads  |  website  |  facebook

Q&A with Juliet

Quick Qs

Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Dark, always.

Coffee or Tea? Tea while I work, a long black as the occasional treat.

Dog-ear or whatever else as bookmark? I never, ever dog-ear – I was taught to respect books! I have lots of bookmarks, proper ones.

Plot or Character? Character first, but you need a good plot too.

HEA or unexpected twist? Provided at least one character has made a journey and become wiser / learned something / developed as a person, either is OK. HEA is probably not realistic – happy for some is not happy for all – but I don’t like an unresolved ending.

Q: You have previously mentioned that Blackthorn & Grim are ‘more damaged than those in [your] previous books’. What was the inspiration behind these 2 characters? Why did you choose to write such broken characters and what motivate you to put these two in partnership?

A: I knew some readers were keen for me to write an older female protagonist – that was part of the inspiration for Blackthorn, who is oldish by early medieval standards, though we’d barely call her middle-aged now. They lived much shorter lives in those times.

I’d been reading a lot about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially in the military, and wanted to write about characters scarred by terrible events in the past, trying to work their way through, alone or together. I thought it would be more interesting to write, and to read, characters who were less heroic, less physically attractive, and generally harder to like than some of my previous protagonists. I ended up loving both Blackthorn and Grim. I think their flaws make them more real. As for putting them in partnership, I have seen how much the support of peers can mean to people with PTSD. I thought of Blackthorn and Grim as somewhat like Modesty Blaise and Willy Garvin, who share a deep friendship and mutual support.

 

I know that whilst you had a longer series in mind, Blackthorn & Grim has only contracted a 3 book deal. I am rather disappointed in having to say goodbye though I hope we may meet again sooner than later!

Yes, I had thought the publishers might approve of my writing a couple more in the series even though the initial contract was for three books. After all, Blackthorn does agree to keep to Conmael’s rules for seven years – but the publisher asked me to wrap it up in Den of Wolves. To my surprise I managed to make it work well in the three books. I’m satisfied with the overall story arc. But I am sure Blackthorn and Grim went on solving mysteries and having weird adventures.

Q: You’ve mentioned that it’s been tricky to find a balance so that Den of Wolves has a rounded ending for a trilogy and yet leave also a possibility for more in the future. Is there a particular theme/topic you’d like to tackle with these two characters that you haven’t yet explored?

A: There are many possibilities, but sharing them would probably create spoilers for people who have not yet read Den of Wolves.

Q: In my review of Dreamer’s Pool, I compared it to Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Deathmistress-of-the-art-of-death with a fairy tale spin. Are you familiar with this book/series? Is there a particular ‘mystery’ book that inspires you to incorporate mystery into your fantasy historical works? (If anyone is interested, my review for Mistress of the Art of Death can be found here.)

A: I haven’t read Mistress of the Art of Death, but I will do so on your recommendation. I love well-crafted historical mystery series – Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books are a favourite, and I love the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters. As well as the stand-alone mystery plots, both of those series have beautifully researched, evocative period detail and casts of central characters with personal stories that slowly develop through the whole series. Blackthorn & Grim was my attempt to do something similar. I’m not sure if the next project will be a mystery or something completely different.

Q: I loved this quote at the end of Tower of Thorns,

” What happened felt too big to take in. It was a tale of cowardice and courage, intrigue and simple goodness, choices that were complicated mixtures of right and wrong.”

This summarises what I feel about this book. I think fairy tales are usually about making the right choices; do your characters make their own choices or do they need your guidance? How do you find the balance between having them making their decisions [in character] and where you want them to be?

A: I always try to keep them in character. That means they often take a long time to get around to making those right choices, and sometimes they never actually do so, because that’s how it is in real life. And even in a story that contains magical elements, the human characters are just that – human, flawed and fallible. They make mistakes, they stumble and lose their way, they hurt those they care about. But they can also be brave, unselfish, and honourable. As the writer, it’s up to me to make the characters believable. While I’m writing they feel entirely real to me.

Q: In the Acknowledgements of Den of Wolves, you’ve noted that the idea came from ‘a traditional tale from western Scotland, Big MacVurich and the Monster.’ For those of us who have not read the book nor have any knowledge of this particular tale, could you share a little on what this particular tale is about? Also what about this tale that inspire you to incorporate it in a Blackthorn & Grim’s story?

A: I can’t share much about the original tale without giving away a central plot element from Den of Wolves. As a druid I was inspired to write a story in which trees played a central part. The old tale is about a special house made using wood from every kind of tree in the forest. Each tree has a particular significance in druidic lore, and therefore each conveys a specific blessing on the person who builds the house, or has it built – prosperity, fertility, compassion, insight and so on. I called this construction a heartwood house. Den of Wolves doesn’t follow the MacVurich tale exactly, but just as the original story is quite dark, so is my variation on it. If there’s a lesson in the story, it’s this: Don’t dabble with magic unless you have pure and unselfish intentions, because magic always comes with a cost, and that cost may be more than you can afford to pay. Den of Wolves also has a theme of love, and how the power of love can draw people together or push them apart.

Q: When we first met Blackthorn, she was screaming for revenge and this was her focus for living. How would you describe her growth at the end of Den of Wolves? (This might be a bit tough without giving away too much of the story) Was this a tough journey for you as well as you write?

A: She was very much focussed on bringing her enemy to justice, yes, not only because of what he had done to her and her loved ones, but also for his many crimes against other innocents. This was really eating her up, sometimes causing her to lose her good judgement and making it impossible for her to get on with her life. Some of those scenes were hard to write; I think there’s quite a lot of me in Blackthorn. I felt the wrench with her each time she was halted in her efforts to make it happen, and I also felt the full impact of her unexpected moment of truth in Den of Wolves.

Q:

“Of all my books, I like this [David Copperfield] best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.” –Charles Dickens

Juliet, which is your favourite ‘child’? Why? Or is there a top-secret manuscript that you have been polishing for the umpteenth time? If so, would you share a little of it with us?

A: My favourite child is usually whatever book I am currently working on, or the last one completed. Blackthorn & Grim is definitely my favourite series. Of the earlier books, I am quite fond of Son of the Shadows, with its supporting cast of oddball tattooed warriors. No top secret manuscript, sorry – at least nothing that should ever see the light of day! I could share a snippet from my forthcoming novella, Beautiful, mentioned below.

The year I turned seven Rune came, and my whole life changed. He climbed up the glass mountain with no trouble at all, using his claws. Rune was a bear. If anything in the world was beautiful, he was. His eyes were the blue of a summer sky. His fur was long and soft, with every shade in it from shadow grey to dazzling white. His ears were the shape of flower petals, and his smile … Could a bear smile? It seemed to me that this one could, and although his smile was full of sharp teeth, it, too, was beautiful. There was a sadness in it that went deep down. I was at my high window when he came, and as I watched him climb steadily onward, I felt my heart turn over with wonder.

 

I love all your books, Juliet, but one in particular haunted me to this day, Daughter of the Forest. I couldn’t sleep whilst I was reading it as your words continued to echo in my mind and my heart ached so badly for Sorcha.

It’s interesting how that novel, the one I wrote as therapy rather than for publication, has remained one of the most popular with readers.

Q: What are you working on now? Or what can we look for from you next?

A: 2017 will be the first year I haven’t had a new novel out since Daughter of the Forest was published in 1999. I’m hoping 2018 will see the first in a new fairy tale fantasy trilogy, featuring an older and a younger woman, plus some unquiet spirits. I do have a novella coming out in a collection from Ticonderoga. My story is called Beautiful. It’s an unusual reworking of the fairy tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, about a girl who marries a white bear. I’m hoping that will be published in the first half of 2017.

Q: I have read also that you mentor quite a number of authors. Which upcoming authors/books should we look out for?

A: I only mentor occasionally and usually only one writer at a time. For people who haven’t already read Meg Caddy’s novel Waer, which came out earlier this year from Text Publishing, I highly recommend it for young adult readers. It’s a great combination of well-crafted writing, anwaer interesting story and a completely non-cliched portrayal of werewolves. I was Meg’s mentor when she was still a high school student, and I’m really proud of her success. I’m looking forward to her new novel – I’ve had a sneak peek.

Also, look out for Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer, to be published by Tor in early 2017. It’s a highly original fantasy for adult readers, set in a culture of tree-dwellers, and very rich in its world building. Thoraiya and I are colleagues and close friends despite living on opposite sides of Australia, and I was lucky enough to read an advance copy. Thoraiya is already well respected as a writer of short fiction, but Crossroads of Canopy is her first novel. If you love an intricately constructed world with stunning visual detail, you’ll really enjoy this book.

 

Juliet’s latest book

 

den-of-wolvesDen of Wolves (Blackthorn & Grim #3)

Feather bright and feather fine, None shall harm this child of mine…

Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.

Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies…

Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone…

My Blurb

Please note this review is in relation to the third and final book in the Blackthorn & Grim trilogy; if you are interested you may find my review for book 1, Dreamer’s Pool, here and book 2, Tower of Thorns, here.

Juliet Marillier never disappoints –her prose as lyrical and captivating as ever. Her choice of fairy tale is obscure interestingly dark, if not intriguing, yet woven through them are patches of light/goodness. I very much appreciate Marillier’s tendency to end her novels with hope because a novel with a hopeless end is something I cannot stand! Thankfully, this finale has been concluded in a rather satisfying way.

Blackthorn & Grim are home but yet trouble is never far away. Cries for help find them and as they cannot stand puzzles, they begin to unravel them strand by strand. In this book, we have a mad old man called Bardan and a strange young girl on the verge of womanhood, Cara. Bardan does not quite seem to know himself except that he has lost a treasure. Cara, on the other hand, seems to have everything, being the only daughter and heir of Wolf Glen. Yet, deep inside them, they know something is not quite the way it should be.

Choices were made, with love, whether for good or bad, with consequences that echoed through time. Some part of this reminds me of The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman which was one of the most heartbreaking book I’ve ever read, especially for me as a young mother. I found the main mystery to be rather predictable or rather, I worked out who’s who in relation to the fairytale and had a rough idea of how but Marillier sort it out in a rather neat way.

I was rather frustrated with the end book 2, Tower of Thorns; of Blackthorn’s thick-headedness (didn’t you?!?!). And yet, with all the angst in this book, I felt totally weird and awkward about it… which is I supposed how they felt about it! A masterly touch for romance… There’s hope for all us awkwards 😉

Den of Wolves is like a bird’s nest… What seemed to be a mess of sticks bunched together from afar but up close, you can see those sticks intertwined in meticulous care and formed a safe & loving home. That is just how Juliet Marillier has concluded this trilogy of Blackthorn & Grim! I still do have hope for more 😉

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review and for organising the interview. Juliet, my deepest thanks for your time and above all, for sharing your words and wisdom.

Review: The Soldier’s Curse

the soldiers curseThe Soldier’s Curse by Meg Keneally and Tom Keneally
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Source: paperback copy courtesy of publisher

Truthfully, it was the cover which first attracted my attention. It’s just so lusciously green! Mystery novels are one of my first book loves so I thought this definitely fit the bill. Also, it being a series set in Colonial Australia, finally! There have been quite a few Aussie crime / mystery series but none in this particular setting (none that I know of, anyway).

The most fascinating factor of this novel, for me, is the setting. The time period and the location as Port Macquarie is a family holiday destination for us so it was interesting looking at it from a summery friendly beaches to an uncivilised harsh environment. The harshness wasn’t just from the natural environment but also the regime employed in keeping the convicts in line. It’s amazing that anybody survive, really! Unfortunately (or rather fortunately for him), as our main character distinguished himself by being literary, he was not part of any work gangs so we are spared from reading much of the suffering.

Most of the characters are also easily likeable especially the main ones. And as the tale is told from Hugh Monsarrat’s perspective, we learnt a lot of his background so it was very easy to empathise with him although at times you do feel like shaking him up a little. Whilst these flashbacks to the past are necessary, they are in effect slowed the pace of the book. And despite the fact that this series is based on Monsarrat, I feel there were too much information on Hugh and barely anything on other characters especially Mrs Mulrooney whom I’m really curious about. I especially enjoyed the cloth-flicking-head habit that Mrs. Mulrooney appear to be getting into nearing the end of the novel and I’m looking forward to more of that.

It is with a heavy heart that I find the mystery factor of the book quite disappointing. I’m not the best at guessing but I don’t think I do too badly at guessing the villain in mystery novels. But there were too many clues that made it all too obvious even if you’re not a professional sleuth. Starting from the covers to the main suspect being a very pointedly red herring… then, when it’s taken awhile for Monsarrat to churn these clues in his little grey cells, it gets somewhat frustrating.

I would recommend that you approach this novel as an historical fiction as it was still a very enjoyable read for me from this perspective. It’s very clear that the authors have done their research though as authors do, have taken certain liberties to suit the plotlines (which they are very open about in the Author’s Note). The view of colonial Australia and the witty exchanges between characters were what made this novel pleasing to me.

Thanks to Vintage / Random House for paperback copy in exchange of honest review

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Review: Sweet Wattle Creek

sweet wattle creekSweet Wattle Creek by Kaye Dobbie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

The image of discovering an old couture wedding dress really appeals to me. There’s an air of something very romantic –not only of the fact that it’s a wedding dress but of the possibilities of its story or rather the original owner’s story. As a reader, I think, you’d be able to relate in the similarities of finding an old book –the potential of what it has seen since it’s been printed. The smell of its history is practically irresistible.

Sweet Wattle Creek is the story of two women across time, connected by the tenuous thread of a wedding gown, in rediscovering oneself. Both Sophie (current) and Belle (past) have experienced grief / trauma that practically incapacitated them but something has happened in each their lives that reminded them what living is all about. Whilst Sophie is running from her dangerous past, Belle insisted on knowing her mysterious past despite the threats she’s felt against her identity of self. They must both decide whether happiness is worth fighting for or not.

Throughout the tale, there is a slight sinister air about the past of both women. Whilst one secret was no surprise, the mystery of other was well concealed until near the very end. It was not as sinister as it could’ve been and in a way, it was a relief! It was, however, a fairly good mystery that kept me guessing. Overall, Sweet Wattle Creek is a lovely story that kept me reading as I cheer these women on.

Thanks Harlequin (Australia) MIRA for eARC via NetGalley in exchange of honest review

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Review: The Automobile Club of Egypt

automobile clubThe Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: paperback copy courtesy of publisher

I must begin by acknowledging, once again, my penchant for Egypt. I’m interested in all things Egypt and am just fascinated by the people & culture. The Automobile Club of Egypt began with a very curious event followed by a really engaging middle and a non-ending.

Before chapter one began, the readers become witnesses to fictional characters coming to life. From chapter one onwards, we traced the origin of ‘automobile’, the Automobile Club in Egypt, and started following the lives of the Gaafar family.

The first few chapters were interspersed with passages on the invention of automobile by Karl Benz. I found these to be quite charming and was disappointed that there wasn’t more. I wonder at how accurate they are historically but Bertha & Karl Benz were very interesting that I’m going to be looking up his biography.

There are many perspectives in this novel –mostly of the Gaafar children especially Kamel and Saleha. From these two, we see the struggle of Egyptians in a world determined to keep them as they were (servants ever after, never master). However, as intelligent beings coming to understand their own worth, each sought for their own place in the world but not as prescribed to them.

I am finding it hard to describe exactly what it is that drew me to the Gaafar family, each of the four children are so different in intellect and temperament that each perspective was unique. I can’t help but to sniff and roll my eyes at the eldest, Said, for all his posturing. And Mahmud’s perspectives amusing, despite all his shortcomings.

The book didn’t feel like it ended for me… It felt like there should be more… There wasn’t a feeling of completion like the circle is still left open. I don’t know if it’s mean to be a series of some sort though there hasn’t been any mention of it online. I just feel that I need that extra chapter to relate to the very beginning of the novel for that all-rounded kind of feeling.

The Automobile Club of Egypt is a fascinating tale with brilliant characters and excellent plot. It is a novel that captivates the reader despite only reading on the daily lives of Egyptians. It’s a fairly sizeable book but I didn’t have one jot of wandering mind as I was fully immersed in the story and very involved (vicariously) in these characters’ lives.

Thanks to Penguin Australia for paperback copy in exchange of honest review

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