#AusReads Book Review: “The Eighth Wonder” by Tania Farrelly

Title: The Eighth Wonder
Author: Tania Farrelly
Audio book narrator: Annabelle Stephenson, Leinad Walker
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 07/10/22 – 03/11/22


This is one of those books that leaves me wringing my hands a bit as I try to review it. It’s fine. The writing is good. The characters are interesting. The setting is immersive. And yet, for whatever reason, the best I can do is damn it with faint praise and say I guess I enjoyed it.

I think my main problem here was that for so long I couldn’t really tell where the story was going. Things happened to the characters, but there seemed to be little set-up and little payoff later. Things just happened.

The two main character don’t even really meet until more than halfway through (though there had been a couple of encounters prior to that). For a while, I wasn’t sure whether an entirely different character was supposed to be the love interest! (Though he seemed unlikely).

While things did come together somewhat at the end, this wasn’t quite as satisfying as I had hoped.

Like I said, the writing in and of itself is very good, especially for a debut. Farrelly has clearly done her research into Golden Age New York City. I could picture the different parts of the city clearly as the characters travelled around.

I do have to warn for scenes of animal cruelty – one of the main characters adopts animals that have been abused by the entertainment industry, and some scenes of that cruelty are depicted.

I know a lot of my feelings about this book ultimately come down to personal preference. And I know many others have really enjoyed it. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, I would say it’s one to check out.

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#AusReads Book Review: “A Remarkable Woman” by Jules van Mil

Title: A Remarkable Woman
Author: Jules van Mil
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 20/06/22 – 27/06/22


A Remarkable Woman takes us from war-torn Paris to the trendy streets of 1950s Melbourne and the rolling paddocks of far-north Queensland cattle country. We follow aspiring designer Avril Montdidier as she struggles to choose between her dreams of independence and a man she can’t let go of.

If I am honest, I felt that the writing could have been developed further to give the reader a closer connection to the characters. It started strong – I was actually tearing up in the prologue! But as the book went on, I sometimes felt that I was observing from a distance rather than being in the action. Having said that, van Mil has created a memorable cast of characters, from the stoic stockman to the loveable larrikin.

I will admit that the romance was not as interesting to me as the plotline of Avril developing her own clothing line and opening her stores for business, first in Melbourne, then Sydney and Brisbane. I was much more swept up in the excitement of seeing all her plans come to fruition than I was in the relationship between her and Tim Monaghan.

That’s not to say that there was anything wrong with the romance. I think my issue was that because Avril and Tim ultimately spent so much time apart, I didn’t really feel the spark.

I know a lot of my feelings about the book came down to personal preference, and I think those who are fans of the sweeping saga style of historical fiction will really love it.  

Thank you Macmillan Australia and the Australian Book Lovers Podcast for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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#AWW2019 // Book Review: “The Women in Black” by Madeleine St. John

Title: The Women in Black
Author: Madeleine St. John
Genre: Historical fiction/slice of life
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 16/08/19 – 22/08/19


This book is widely considered to be something of a modern Australian classic, and I have to admit, when I first started reading, I was expecting something a bit deeper. It is really a bit of a fluff piece.

But don’t let that put you off. Sure – not a lot happens, but the descriptions really place you in 1950s Sydney, and the characters are all unique and vibrant.

I enjoyed the framing device of work at Goodes’ Department Store – each of the women in black (so named because of the black dresses they wear at work) has her own story outside that the others may or may not be aware of.

My favourite character was Magda, a Slovenian migrant who works in Model Gowns, and takes new high-school gradute Lisa under her wing. I also felt for Patty, who has an unfeeling, clueless husband and gossipy sisters, but who is heading towards a  proper happy ending by the end of it.

Anyone who reads my reviews regularly knows that I am not generally a fan of character-driven fiction, but I definitely found this one engaging and fun.

This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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Book Review: The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville #aww2016

Title: The Lieutenant
Author: Kate Grenville
Audio Read By: Nicholas Bell
Genre: Historical fiction
Date Read: 03/01/2016 – 08/01/2016
Rating: ★★★★★


lieutenantcoverWhen I first finished this book, I gave it four stars, because I wasn’t quite sure that I liked it enough to give it a full five. But since I was still very much thinking about it the next day, and found myself poring over the digitised versions of William Dawes’ notebooks (William Dawes being the real life lieutenant from whose life and work Kate Grenville took inspiration for this book), as well as still smiling and slightly tearing up over the way the book ends, by the time I got to writing this review, I decided it deserved to have its rating upped.

The Lieutenant follows the story of Daniel Rooke, an outsider in his native England, who joins the First Fleet on its voyage to the new colony of New South Wales. Once here, he sets up camp in an isolated spot to better his chances of accurate astronomical observations. The local indigenous people soon start to visit his camp, and as a linguist also, he begins to learn the intricacies of their language. This leads to an intimate friendship with a young girl called Tagaran, from whom he learns a significant portion of the language. But her lessons and their friendship are interrupted when Rooke is given an order that will change his life forever.

I’m still pretty new to historical fiction, so when the first part of the novel was taken up with Daniel’s growing up years in Portsmouth, I was torn between finding Daniel himself a very endearing character, and wanting the story to hurry up and get to the good stuff in New South Wales. This eventually happened, and Grenville does a marvelous job in giving a sense of place through her descriptions, and portraying the challenges faced by the settlers. Being shy in the first place, and also isolated from his fellow Europeans, Rooke’s POV gives us a removed observation point from which to watch the action unfold in the settlement. I found myself face-palming on many occasions, wishing they would just use some (by my modern-day standards) common sense. Instances like the English speaking to the native people in very slow, broken English in the hopes they would understand seem unbelievable today, yet I know this is what it would have been like. Meanwhile, Rooke is up on the hill, filling his notebooks with vocabulary and grammar, but terrified to let anyone see them, lest it ruin the fragile friendship he is forming with these people.

The relationship between Rooke and Tagaran is a real highlight. At first, Rooke is just pleased that she and her friends are paying him attention because it means he can start making notes on their language. Once they are at a point where they communicate with each other, Rooke develops a real depth of feeling for her that he is unable to describe (it is never explicitly stated that this is romantic, and there are definitely times when she reminds him of his younger sister, Anne, but it could be interpreted that way if you wanted to). When he is visited by other settlers, they express disbelief that he has formed friendships with any natives, because, well, obviously, they’re too primitive. When when of his friends assumes that he must be sleeping with Tagaran, because why else would he be spending time with her, it was pretty heartbreaking watching a shy and flustered Rooke trying and failing to explain that it’s not like that all.

At first it seemed like the part of the book set in NSW ended rather abruptly, followed by a jump in both time and location. But in taking us to the end of Rooke’s life and looking back with him over his years in NSW and the decisions he made towards the end of his time there, Grenville gives a very satisfying conclusion, albeit one that brought a little tear to my eye.

I listened to the Bolinda audio book read by Nicholas Bell. He read in an English accent that suited Rooke’s point-of-view, but was also able to vary that for the other settler characters. I wonder if he studied the Gadigal language beforehand as well, as he seemed to have a good ear for its pronunciation (admittedly, that is coming from an uneducated person who would be unable to tell the difference between one Indigenous language/dialect and another).

Overall, I would recommend this book to all historical fiction fans, Australian or otherwise.

(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).