Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Book Review: Together by Christmas by Karen Swan

 Together by Christmas
Karen Swan


Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication date: 27th October 2020
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 448
RRP: $32.99AUD
Format read: Paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher
About the book
When Lee first came to Amsterdam, it was with a newborn baby and a secret. Five years later, her life is approaching normal: her career as a celebrity photographer is flourishing, her son Jasper is growing up, and they are enjoying the run-up to Christmas with their tight circle of close friends.

But all this changes one morning when Lee finds a book in the basket of her bicycle – and scrawled inside it, a desperate message. Who left it for her, and why? Lee feels compelled to help and tracks down the book’s author, Sam. With an instant, undeniable connection it seems they might have a shot at a real future together.

Until her past comes calling. As the snow falls and ice thickens on the city’s canals, the secret Lee has never told resurfaces. Suddenly everything she holds dear hangs in the balance. Christmas is a time for being together – but what if the truth means she ends up alone?

Escape to the snow-covered streets of Amsterdam in this deeply romantic read, featuring twists, turns and characters you'll fall in love with.
My review
I really enjoy Karen Swan’s books and I especially look forward to her Christmas offering each year. There is always a mix of romance and suspense and I can be assured of being taken away to a beautifully described location.

This year’s novel Together by Christmas was a little different to Swan’s previously Christmas themed novels. The main character is Lee, a former war photojournalist who had been working extensively in Syria and winning awards for her photos. Lee is a little hard to like at first. She now photographs celebrities for publicity shoots and it’s very clear she doesn’t like these people or their lifestyles, but still she takes their money to pay the bills.

I feel this must have been a hard book for Swan to write as it covers some heavy topics. Swan explores themes of PTSD in journalists that have seen the horrors of war, domestic abuse, the exploitation of illegal immigrants and the pressure some parents put on their children to achieve their lost dreams.

Lee’s backstory is slowly revealed through her memories and also through sessions with her psychologist. As the story progressed I could see why she was so closed off, negative and insecure.

Set in Amsterdam, I loved the atmosphere with the whole community out skating. There was a lighter side to the story with Dutch Christmas celebrations and traditions explained. These happy events blended well with the darker themes simmering below the surface.

Together by Christmas is a wonderfully immersive and important story. I just feel it may have been better not released as a Christmas read.

I’ve given this 4 rather than 5 stars only because I want more joy from my Christmas reads.


My rating 4/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Meet the author
Photo: Goodreads
Karen Swan is the Sunday Times top three bestselling author of twenty books and her novels sell all over the world. She writes two books each year – one for the summer period and one for the Christmas season. Previous winter titles include Christmas at Tiffanys, The Christmas Secret, The Christmas Lights, and for summer, The Rome Affair, The Greek Escape and The Spanish Promise.

Her books are known for their evocative locations and Karen sees travel as vital research for each story. She loves to set deep, complicated love stories within twisty plots, sometimes telling two stories in the same book.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Book Review: The Long Tail of Trauma: A Memoir

The Long Tail of Trauma: A Memoir
Elizabeth Wilcox


Publisher: Green Place Books
Publication date: 11th November 2020
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 268
Format read: eBook
Source: Courtesy of Stephanie Barko Publicist
About the book
The Long Tail of Trauma covers the lives of five generations of the author’s maternal ancestors from 1904-2018, through Europe and America. The long tail refers to multigenerational family trauma that begins near Liverpool before World War I and continues through Operation Pied Piper and the PTSD era in America.

The author’s journey becomes an exploration into attachment and the legacy of maternal trauma on intergenerational mental health and relationships. Through documenting her forebears’ stories, author Elizabeth Wilcox gives us a greater understanding of what a mother must overcome to erase the epigenetic stain of early childhood trauma.
My review
Elizabeth Wilcox writes a memoir that at times reads like an historical  novel it is so full of atmosphere and sentiment.
I enjoyed the combination of writing styles that brought to life the story of Anna and Violet.
In the Long Tail of Trauma we follow 4 generations of mothers and daughters. Elizabeth explains, through her research, how trauma can be passed down through the generations.
The storyline is sourced from extensive research of Elizabeth's family history and uses some creativity concerning her ancestors thoughts and conversations. 
Dispersed between chapters of her great-grandmother's and grandmother's lives are chapters on her own life growing up with a mother with PTSD.
Elizabeth Wilcox has given many documentations to support her claims and I found her  memoir and that of the lives of her ancestors, Germans living in England during the outbreak of WWII to be both engaging and fascinating reading.

The Long Tail of Trauma is an interesting study on childhood trauma and its impact on mental health, autoimmune disease, depression, PTSD and suicidal thoughts.

4/5  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the author

Photo: Goodreads
Elizabeth Wilcox has worked as a journalist in England, Hong Kong, and the US. She has extensive experience both nationally and internationally as a newspaper columnist, radio presenter, CNBC television news producer, and web producer.

Her first book The Mom Economy (Berkley, 2003) was called “one of the best career books of 2003” by syndicated columnist Joyce Lain Kennedy. Her guest appearances include community and book groups, local and national radio programs, popular podcasts, and network television. Her work has been featured in ABC7 “All About Kids”, Bloomberg Radio, The Boston Herald, Boston Globe, Marketwatch, The Chicago Tribune, CNNfn, Parenting Magazine, Redbook and others.

Elizabeth Wilcox currently consults with educational organizations that promote social and emotional learning and trauma-informed practices for youth.

She lives with her family in Vermont. 

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Book Review: Come Home Ella by Chelsea Davies

Come Home Ella
Chelsea Davies
Illustrated by Lisa Coutts

Publication date: July 2020
Genre: Children's / Picture Book
Pages: 36
RRP: $17.00 AUD
Format read: Soft cover
Source: Courtesy of the publisher
About the book
Come Home Ella is a children's picture book which light-heartedly follows the emotional journey of a family after their baby's early arrival. Told through the eyes of baby Ella's older sibling, it aims to educate children about premature babies and help families experiencing similar situations deal with the emotions involved.
My review
Come Home Ella is a heartfelt story from the point of view of a young child waiting to see their newborn sister Ella. Ella was born premmie and needs to stay in hospital.
Come home Ella goes through the different emotions that may be felt by a young child in this situation. Sadness at not being able to see the much anticipated new arrival, wariness after seeing a photo with all the tubes attached to the baby, anger as their mother leaves to go to the hospital everyday and then joy as they  are finally able to see and hold their baby sister.
Coping ideas are put into place with hug charts and calendar countdown.
Written through the eyes of a child Come Home Ella is simple and hopeful, giving just enough information for a young child to understand but not so much as to overwhelm.
I think this would be a valuable resource for any family undergoing the same situation.
Age: 2+years
5/5  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
About the author

Chelsea is an emerging author and mother of three living in the picturesque Margaret River Region of Western Australia.  Forever gaining inspiration from her surroundings, Chelsea writes poetry and picture books to engage, empower and intrigue young minds. She aims to encourage children to understand and deal with emotions, and mental well-being, in a compelling, yet nurturing way.

When it’s time to put down the pen, Chelsea might be found practicing yoga, engrossed in a novel, trying her hand at arts and crafts, or enjoying sun, sand and surf with family and friends.

Chelsea describes creative writing as her ‘bliss’ and is excited to create a little magic of her own. Author facebook

About the illustrator

Lisa is a Melbourne based illustrator who has illustrated many books and items mostly in the children’s market thanks to her charming character based style, and because she is a bit of a kid at heart.

 She studied graphic design at Swinburne and has been a freelance illustrator since graduation.

 Lisa enjoys working in dry pastel for it’s light, soft texture and the colourful mess she can make. She also uses pencils and acrylic paints. With these she loves to create and draw characters and their worlds, whether real or imagined.

 Her favourite things in life inspire her illustrations. She is cat crazy and has two cheeky Devon Rexes called Coco and Elsa. She loves riding her bike especially long distances and up mountains. She also has a thing for striped clothing and often her characters are wearing something stripey just as she does. Oh, and she loves making and eating pancakes. Lisa's facebook


Challenges entered: Aussie author challenge  #AussieAuthor20
                                 Australian Women Writers Challenge #AWW2020


Monday, 9 November 2020

Book Review: The Shearer's Wife by Fleur McDonald

The Shearer's Wife
Fleur McDonald


Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication date: 3rd November 2020
Genre: Rural Fiction / Crime
Series: Detective Dave Burrows
Pages: 384
Format read: Paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher
About the book
1980: Rose and Ian Kelly arrive in Barker for supplies before they begin shearing at Jacksonville Station, a couple of hundred kilometres out of town. Rose, heavily pregnant with their first babies, worries that despite Ian's impending fatherhood he remains a drifter who dreams of the open road.
2020: When the Australian Federal Police swoop unheralded into Barker and make a shocking arrest for possession of narcotics, Detective Dave Burrows is certain there is more to the story than meets the eye. 
2020: After many months of grief over her brother's illness and death, journalist Zara Ellison is finally ready to begin a new chapter of her life and make a commitment to her boyfriend, Senior Constable Jack Higgins. But when she's assigned to investigating the Barker arrest, Jack begins to believe that Zara is working against him.

It takes a series of unconnected incidents in Zara's digging to reveal an almost forgotten thread of mystery as to how these two events, forty years apart, could be connected
My review
The Shearer's Wife is a dual time line narration. The first is in 1980 when a heavily pregnant Rose Kelly arrives in Barker with her husband, Ian. They lead a nomadic life moving from one shearing job to the next.
In 2020 the AFP arrive in Barker and arrest a local. Dave is warned off the case but when it's one of his own town's people he knows he must help.
Through this story Fleur McDonald brings country South Australia straight into my home. I loved how welcoming, helpful and accepting the country people are, willing to help out perfect strangers. This is a feel good story.   
Rose and Ian are happy together living the nomadic life of a shearer but we learn how difficult this life would be with a family. McDonald also includes topical subjects of the time, such as the wide-comb dispute that had shearers  up in arms.
Through Dave and Kim Burrows we see the problems faced by country police and the fine line between policing an area and being friends with the locals. This also puts a strain on a marriage.   
McDonald includes the trauma of PTSD and how it's a difficult diagnosis, usually picked up by friends rather than the person suffering. PTSD can affect the sufferers relationships and everyday life if not treated. 

Both stories were interesting and I was equally invested, wondering how the two stories would tie in.
As the story evolved the tension ramped up. The plot was realistic with heart-stopping suspense and just when you think it's all over the tension mounts again.

The Shearer's Wife is a rivetting rural crime story, easy to read yet full of heart, mystery and suspense. Although part of a series it reads as a stand-alone!

Fleur McDonald writes two series featuring Det Dave Burrows. One is set in 1999-2000 with a younger Dave Burrows and the other is present day. You can visit this link to find out which books are in each series. What's the difference in the 'Dave' books by Fleur McDonald.
5/5   ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
About the author
Photo: Goodreads
Fleur McDonald has lived and worked on farms for much of her life. After growing up in the small town of Orroroo in South Australia, she went jillarooing, eventually co-owning an 8000-acre property in regional Western Australia.
Fleur likes to write about strong women overcoming adversity, drawing inspiration from her own experiences in rural Australia. She has two children, an energetic kelpie and a Jack Russell terrier.


Want to know more about Dave? This 32 page eBook available on Amazon is a great little introduction to this character!

The Farmer's Choice by Fleur McDonald
This short story features some background on a young Dave Burrows fresh out of Ag college and explains the situation behind him leaving his family and the farming life he loved so much.
We get to know Dave’s personality and what motivates him.
Challenges entered: Aussie author challenge  #AussieAuthor20
                                 Australian Women Writers Challenge #AWW2020

Friday, 6 November 2020

Book Review: Soldiers by Tom Remiger

Tom Remiger 


Publication date: 1st September 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction / War
Pages: 240
Format read: Paperback
Source: Won
About the book
Breen sometimes thought sourly that Tiger Jackson would have made a good fascist. He told unreliable stories, he liked power and admiration, and he had all three military virtues- self-belief, luck, and an eye for the main chance. Despite all this, Breen liked him. Somehow it was impossible not to.

After the death of Corporal Daniel Cousins in what is apparently a training accident, a young officer, Lieutenant Breen, becomes obsessed by the case. Was Cousins murdered by one of his own?
Breen's investigation, as well as his unanticipated love affair with a superior officer, threatens the unity of his comrades as they wait for the suffering to come in the Battle of Crete-one of the defining encounters of World War II.

My review
Opening in 1940, Soldiers follows a group of New Zealand soldiers as they are sent to England for training then to Egypt and Crete defending these areas against the ever advancing German army.
In this compassionate, yet fierce, story Tom Remiger puts emphasis on the different personalities of the soldiers and how they cope with the conditions and each other's company.
At the start of the book I was a little lost as the characters were at times called by their first name or last name or even a nickname. It seemed like their were more characters to keep track of than there actually were. However, as the story moves on the names all slot in and the story became easier to follow.
Remiger deftly describes the long tedious days of waiting and the terrible conditions the soldiers endured. His characters are real! They are at times not as brave as they would like to be. They get along and they fight. Sometimes they are best friends and at others they hate each other, begging for space.
We follow these characters as they change from men to soldiers.
Underlying this story of man and war  is a compassionate story of devotion as Lt Patrick Breen becomes aware of his feelings for Captain  Sinclair. Breen is a gentle soul although many of his fellow soldiers thought he had a wildness about him. He becomes obsessed with the accidental death of one of the soldiers in their company. This obsession soon leads to paranoia and he sees motive in many of his fellow soldiers.

Soldiers is a moving story and not like the usual WWII stories I read full of killing and bravado. Remiger has dug into the soul of his soldiers to reveal their true feelings and fears. When the fighting comes, some will rise to the occasion whilst others will fall.

About the author

Photo: Text Publishing
Tom Remiger is the name under which Tom McLean writes fiction. He is originally from Rotorua, New Zealand, but now lives in the UK, where he is completing a DPhil in literature at Oxford. His non-fiction and academic writing have been published in a number of journals and magazines. Soldiers won the 2019 Michael Gifkins Prize.

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Book Review: Lucky's by Andrew Pippos

Andrew Pippos 


Imprint: Picador
Publication date: 27th October 2020
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Family Saga 
Pages: 368
RRP: $32.99 AUD
Format read: Uncorrected paperback 
Source: Courtesy of the publisher
About the book 
Lucky's is a story of family.

It is also about a man called Lucky.
His restaurant chain.
A fire that changed everything.
A New Yorker article which might save a career.
The mystery of a missing father.
An impostor who got the girl.
An unthinkable tragedy.
A roll of the dice.
And a story of love, lost, sought and won again, (at last).
My review
Lucky's is an ode to the old Greek cafe style restaurants with Andrew Pippos drawing inspiration from his own upbringing.
Jumping back and forward in time Pippos shows us a post war Sydney when many migrants came to Australia to start a new life, opening cafes and expecting their children to work in the cafe.  Here the story follows Achilles Asproyerakas who played an important role in Lucky's restaurants as his cafe Achillion was the prototype for the Lucky's chain.
Then in 2002 we meet Emily on the cusp of a trip from England to Sydney, Australia, to boost her career in journalism, her husband tells her he is in love with another woman. Emily is drawn to Lucky by a painting her father gave her of a Lucky's franchise cafe. Emily hopes to write a career saving story on the Lucky's franchise rise and demise.
Emily and Lucky have many parallels in their lives. Tragedy has had a major involvement in both their lives. Lucky's name was ironic, and this wasn't lost on him, as tragedy after tragedy befell him. His character was well drawn and it was easy to connect and sympathise with him. I eagerly followed Emily's and Lucky's stories looking forward to Emily's big scoop and the outcome of Lucky's appearance on Wheel of Fortune with the hope of opening a new cafe. However the story fell short with too many time changes. Would it have been more engaging if it was in chronological order? I'm not sure.
Lucky's is a tragic tale, tragicomedy without the laughs. If they were there I missed them.
Pippos' writing is exceptional; nostalgic, tragic and palpable. 
3/5 ⭐⭐⭐
About the author

Andrew Pippos spent part of his childhood getting underfoot in his family's Greek-Australian café. When he grew up, he worked in newspapers and taught in universities. This is his first novel, and it packs in everything he knows about growing up in a noisy, complicated, loving family. He lives in Sydney. 
Challenges entered: Aussie author challenge  #AussieAuthor20

Monday, 26 October 2020

Mailbox Monday & Life This Week - October 26th



Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came in their mailbox during the last week. It now has a permanent home at the Mailbox Monday blog.

Life This Week is a meme created by Denyse Whelan Blogs where bloggers share snaps of what is currently happening in their lives.

Happy Monday!

My daughter passed her final Uni assessment which was the last assessment of her Uni degree for Primary School Teaching. She placed her name with three local schools as a casual and immediately received calls from all three schools. She has been working at two different schools now over the past two weeks and enjoying it and has been booked up for the rest of the school year. Her graduation ceremony will be some time next year.

I've almost finished the throw for my granddaughter. It is hard to see in the photo but every square has an embossed picture. Two more to knit then I need to sew it all together.

Another birthday celebration. Everyone gets six candles, that's my limit 😀.

Who loved Bubble-O Bills as a child? I saw these gorgeous, nostalgic pyjamas at Peter Alexandra. 

Books received over the last two weeks:

 From the publisher:

The Bro Code by Elizabeth A. Seibert

A humorous Young Adult novel about a boy who breaks the Bro Code by dating his best friends sister.

You can read my review HERE




Daylight by David Baldacci

This is the third book in the Atlee Pine series. I'm really enjoying this series as Atlee , in between working on current cases, searches for the truth behind her sister's disappearance.

FBI Agent Atlee Pine's search for her sister Mercy clashes with military investigator John Puller's high-stakes case, leading them both deep into a global conspiracy -- from which neither of them will escape unscathed.

Together by Christmas by Karen Swan

Karen Swan writes two books a year and they are both must reads for me. I especially love her Christmas book. She combines romance and suspense in just the right amounts

Lee and her son Jasper have a tight circle of friends and she is looking forward to Christmas. When she finds a book, with a desperate message inside, left in her bicycle basket she can't help but track down its author. This an instant connection it seems they might have a future together - but will Lee's secret means she ends up alone.

At Night's End by Nir Baram

Yonatan staying in Mexico City is reluctant to return to his wife and infant son back home in Tel Aviv. Convinced that his closest friend, Yoel, is going to die, he struggles to preserve his sanity. But why is he so convinced? Does the answer lie in their childhood in Jerusalem, when it was them against the world?



Received for book club:

The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui

Day in, day out, bombs fall on Daraya, a town outside Damascus, the very spot where the Syrian Civil War began. In the midst of chaos and bloodshed, a group searching for survivors stumbles on a cache of books. They collect the books, then look for more. In a week they have six thousand volumes. In a month, fifteen thousand. A sanctuary is born: a library where the people of Daraya can explore beyond the blockade.

Long a site of peaceful resistance to the Assad regimes, Daraya was under siege for four years. No one entered or left, and international aid was blocked.

In 2015, French-Iranian journalist Delphine Minoui saw a post on Facebook about this secret library and tracked down one of its founders, twenty-three-year-old Ahmad, an aspiring photojournalist himself. Over WhatsApp and Facebook, Minoui learned about the young men who gathered in the library.

My Purchase:

Return to Stringybark Creek by Karly Lane

This is the third book in the Callahans of Stringybark Creek trilogy.

I fell in love with the Callahan family in book 1 and I'm excited to find out what's in store for Hadley. I know I'm going to be sad to see the end of this trilogy.



  I would love to hear what books you received in the mail recently!