My usual end of year post would be my favourite books of the year. But I thought, what do I know? Mothers always know best, right? (Although as it turns out, I enjoyed all of these books, too).
My Mum, Sheree, is a prolific reader and she has excellent taste in books (and, as you’ll observe, a penchant for historical fiction). So this year, I’m sharing her thoughts about five of her favourite books from 2018 and what she liked most about them.
The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning
From fleeing the Nazi invasion in Vienna, 1939 and the tragedy and brutality of Kristallmacht to the strange, exotic and wonderful Port of Shanghai, Romy Bernfeld’s story is one of great courage, enduring friendship and survival. The war catches up with Romy and her parents again when the Japanese Army overruns China. As I grew up in Hong Kong and my father was a POW on Hong Kong Island during WWII, this story was particularly poignant to me. Kirsty Manning captures brilliantly the uniqueness, frenetic energy, smells and sounds, and atmosphere of Shanghai and the mannerisms and lifestyles of the local people. The story continues to capture the reader when Romy’s granddaughter, Alexandra, returns to modern day Shanghai to search for information on her mother’s natural parents. I was equally enthralled by Kirsty Manning’s description of modern day Shanghai: vibrant, diverse, fascinating. An amazing story, with genuine characters, that could well be about a real-life heroine.
Click here to purchase a copy of The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning.
The Sisters’ Song by Louise Allan
Ida is an endearing and admirable character. Despite her own heartbreak she packs away her lost dreams and keepsakes, rolls up her sleeves and gives all she can to her family. Unlike sister Nora and mother Alice, Ida is selfless. I was reminded how much was unspoken in Ida’s times. One was expected to suppress “uncomfortable” emotions and “get on with it”. This was especially true for women whose sole aspirations in life were being wives and mothers. Sadly, for Ida’s family, this results in unnecessary suffering, shattered dreams, resentment and mental illness. I was relieved that Ida’s character was shown kindness and love from Grandmother, the Godfrey-Smiths and her steadfast husband, Len. Musical talent often runs through families and it disrupts then unites the female characters in Ida’s story. Louise Allen writes with clarity and honesty, which I appreciated along with a final unexpected tragedy that resulted in my shedding quite a few tears. There are some lighter moments that are quite funny thanks to nephew, Ben.
Click here to purchase a copy of The Sisters’ Song by Louise Allan.
The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester
The Paris Seamstress is easily my favourite Natasha Lester book. The story, set in Paris and New York in the 1940’s, intricately and descriptively weaves its way through the lives of its main characters. Estella, headstrong and impetuous, creative and inventive, with a passion for haute-couture; Alex, a courageous and complicated intelligence operative haunted by memories; Lena, a tragic victim of a childhood over which she had no control and Sam, dedicated, talented and steadfast. Natasha Lester writes so you can feel the buzz and optimism of Manhattan’s Garment District, the cool touch of “that” gold dress as it slips over your skin and the horror of life in Nazi-occupied Paris. Such a momentous contrast to the burgeoning fashion industry in New York where champagne flows freely at lavish fashion events. Natasha Lester continues Estella’s story through her granddaughter, Fabienne, living and working as head fashion curator in today’s Sydney before fulfilling her grandmother’s wish and returning to Stella Designs in New York. I enjoyed reading all the French name places (Champs Élysées, Musee de L’Armie des Invalides, Marches des Enfants Rouges, Carreau du Temple, Place des Vosges, in the Marais district) and the French high fashion houses, Lanvin, Dior, Chanel and the American equivalents, Lord & Taylor, Saks, Best & Co, Gimbels. These names add to the glamour and excitement of a really adroit story!
Click here to purchase a copy of The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester.
The Secrets At Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier
What I found so absorbing about The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge was Kali Napier’s talent for telling four stories through the eyes of the four main characters, Ernie, Lily, Girlie and Tommy, and keeping it unblurred and so very readable. Flawed and ordinary people keeping secrets and surviving the hardships suffered by so many during the Great Depression. I didn’t have a favourite character but I did feel great sympathy for Tommy, misunderstood, neglected and abandoned. And Girlie, a child floundering in an adult world seeking approval from a selfish and distant mother. The peripheral residents in this small WA coastal town provided a few more secrets of their own. Largely an unhappy story it is still one of endurance and a sense of loyalty which keeps the family together.
Click here to purchase a copy of The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier.
April in Paris, 1921 by Tessa Lunney
Initially, I felt Kiki seemed too young to have so much life experience, but we know how devastating WWI was and how it changed everyone and everything. The horror of Kiki’s nursing memories contrast wildly with her adopted, frivolous bohemian lifestyle as gossip columnist for “The Star”. Endless parties with the rich, titled and famous, political intrigue and a stolen Picasso soon become the backdrop for blackmail when her old spymaster and nemesis tracks her down. Her mission – to seek out a traitor working for an unknown enemy. With the help of resolute friends like Bertie she completes her mission but there were many anxious times when I really thought Kiki was in “well over her head”. Tessa Lunney paints a very colourful picture of Montmartre and the diverse characters that inhabit this story. And, love the descriptions of the flimsy, whimsical fashions!
Click here to purchase a copy of April in Paris, 1921 by Tessa Lunney.