REVIEW – Winter Garden by Kristen Hannah

My first book review for this year is Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah. It is also book number one for my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge. I love the Goodreads page and app! It’s how I keep up with all the books I’ve read or want to read. Each year they have a reading challenge where you agree to try and read a certain number of books. This year I’ve said I will try and read 35 books. Last year I managed 21 out of 35 as sadly I just don’t have as much time to read as I would like.

SYNOPSIS:

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Bring your tissues for the ending of this book.

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard. The other followed a dream and travelled the world to become a famous photo-journalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night.

On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time – and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya’s life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother’s life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.

REVIEW:

Kristin Hannah is a new author for me and was handed on to me by my lovely friend, Jill from That Book, This Day.

Her writing style is very easy to read and I was able to get into the book straight away. Both Meredith and Nina are introduced straight away. Meredith has stayed close to home and worked in the family business, whilst Nina has travelled the world chasing her career.

For the best part of the book I really didn’t like Meredith. I felt that she was stuck in a rut in her life but instead of doing something about it she just kept making excuses. Both Meredith and Nina had built huge walls around themselves. But this is because of the way their mother had kept them at a distance for the whole of their lives.

It is not until their father dies and they begin to learn the haunting tale of their mother, Anya’s early life in war-torn Leningrad that you really begin to warm to their characters.

Not knowing a lot about Russian history, I was horrified at the tale that Anya tells over the course of the book. It is a factually accurate account of life in Leningrad during World War II.

As Anya’s story unfolds, the bond between the sisters and their mother finally grows stronger.

Make sure you have some tissues handy for the ending. I can guarantee you that there will be tears. But I do think you will like Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Tea Chest by Josephine Moon

It’s no secret that I love reading books by Australian authors, especially if they are set in Australia as well.  So when I signed up to the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge I knew I was onto a good thing.  I found The Tea Chest at my local library on their ‘Hot Reads’ stand.  The cover enticed me and after reading the blurb on the back I knew I had found my next book to review.

SYNOPSIS:

Do you ever choose a book by it's cover? This one enticed me straight away.

Do you ever choose a book by it’s cover? This one enticed me straight away.

Kate Fullerton, talented tea designer and now co-owner of The Tea Chest, could never have imagined that she’d be flying from Brisbane to London, risking her young family’s future, to save the business she loves from the woman who wants to shut it down.

Meanwhile, Leila Morton has just lost her job; and if Elizabeth Clancy had known today was the day she would appear on the nightly news, she might at least have put on some clothes. Both need to start again.

When the three women’s paths unexpectedly cross, they throw themselves into realising Kate’s magical vision for London’s branch of The Tea Chest. But every time success is within their grasp, increasing tensions damage their trust in each other.

With the very real possibility that The Tea Chest will fail, Kate, Leila and Elizabeth must decide what’s important to each of them. Are they willing to walk away or can they learn to believe in themselves?

An enchanting, witty novel about the unexpected situations life throws at us, and how love and friendship help us through. Written with heart and infused with the seductive scents of bergamot, Indian spices, lemon, rose and caramel, it’s a world you won’t want to leave.

REVIEW:

In this debut novel by Josephine Moon, a Brisbane born writer who calls the Sunshine Coast of Queensland her home, Kate finds herself the new half owner of The Tea Chest, a quaint specialty tea shop nestled in the up-market Brisbane suburb of Ascot.  I always love it when I pick up a book and instantly know what the area it is set in looks like.  It makes the whole book come alive for me.

Kate has inherited her share of The Tea Chest from her late boss, Simone.  A woman who had a great business sense and an equally great problem with alcohol.  Kate finds that she must make the decision to either sell her share of the business, which is what the other owner wants or travel to London to open a branch of The Tea Chest there which is what Simone would have wanted.

Kate makes the brave decision to go to London, leaving behind her husband and two small boys.  Along the way she meets Leila – a capable and sensible business woman who after a ‘brain snap’ at work finds herself unemployed and Elizabeth – a born and bred Londoner who flees home to her family after discovering her husband has another family tucked away in Japan.

Throw all these women together and Kate’s inspired vision for how this new Tea Chest should look and you have the makings of a great read.  Kate is frequently filled with doubt about her abilities, Leila falls in love with a conman and Elizabeth discovers her parents marriage has fallen apart as well.  Throw in some riots in the centre of London and the whole possibility of The Tea Chest ever opening comes into question.

You will love the gutsy determination of the women in this book. It just goes to show if you want something bad enough you just have to get out there and give it a go. Jospehine Moon’s style of writing is such that you can almost smell the scent of the different teas she describes wafting out of the pages.

I’m sure you will love The Tea Chest as much as I did.

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REVIEW – Lighthouse Bay by Kimberley Freeman

This is the second book I have read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge and I loved it.

SYNOPSIS:

Lighthouse Bay by Kimberley Freeman is a mix of the past and the present.

Lighthouse Bay by Kimberley Freeman is a mix of the past and the present.

This breathtaking novel travels more than a century between two love stories set in the Australian seaside town of Lighthouse Bay.

In 1901, a ship sinks off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The only survivor is Isabella Winterbourne, who clutches a priceless gift meant for the Australian Parliament. This gift could be her ticket to a new life, free from the bonds of her husband and his overbearing family. But whom can she trust in Lighthouse Bay?

Fast-forward to 2011: after losing her lover, Libby Slater leaves her life in Paris to return to her hometown of Lighthouse Bay, hoping to gain some perspective and grieve her recent loss. Libby also attempts to reconcile with her sister, Juliet, to whom she hasn’t spoken in twenty years. Libby did something so unforgivable, Juliet is unsure if she can ever trust her sister again.

In these two adventurous love stories, both Isabella and Libby must learn that letting go of the past is the only way to move into the future. The answers they seek lie in Lighthouse Bay.

REVIEW:

I love to read historical fiction, especially if it is set in Australia, like Kimberley Freeman’s Lighthouse Bay. But this lovely story has a modern day story woven into it as well and you don’t quite know how the two will marry up until the end of the book. Beginning with Libby in the modern day, we learn that she has just lost her lover of 12 years and that she has decided to return home to Lighthouse Bay, the small Queensland coastal town where she grew up.  She now own’s, thanks to her late lover, the old Lighthouse Keepers cottage.  She has not been home for twenty years and in that time her father has died and she has become estranged from her sister Juliet. Add to that a mysterious man living in the now disused lighthouse, a greedy property developer and a 110 year old missing relic.

Skipping back to 1901 we meet Isabella, forced to travel to Australia with a husband she detests and still grieving for her baby who died at just 15 days of age, she is desperate to escape the callousness of her husband and have someone acknowledge the profound grief she still feels.  A ship wreck in which she is the soul survivor, gives her just that opportunity.  With the help of the lighthouse keeper at Lighthouse Bay she is able to recover from the ordeal of the shipwreck and start to build a new life for herself.  But with her husband’s family searching for her, will she be able to escape their clutches and find happiness again?

This novel is beautifully written and explores the very real human emotions of grief and forgiveness.  Until we forgive ourselves for things that happened in the past we cannot move in with our future.

I highly recommend you read Lighthouse Bay by Kimberley Freeman.

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