Book Review: ‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell

My, oh my, oh my! Now you all know how much I ADORED and have RAVED about ‘Devotion’ by Hannah Kent (CLICK HERE to read my review). If you have met me in the bookstore, I can guarantee I have put any and all of Hannah Kent’s books in your hands. For me to say that THIS BOOK – ‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell, comes in as a close contender as one of my favourite books of 2022 is big. It’s BIG people!

‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell is well paced novel curated to intrigue and explore the devastatingly controlled life of Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara. By the age of 15 she was married to a Duke for the purposes of political and land gain. By 16 she was dead.

Set in the mid 1500’s, our opening scene introduces us to Lucrezia and her husband Alfonzo, as they dine for the very last time together before he supposedly, *as history believes* poisons her. This scene is chilling as we’re in the mind of a 16 year old girl who is contemplating what her life has come to and what to expect will come next. We then flash back in time to Lucrezia’s birth and the disconnected relationship she has growing up within her Medici family.

Lucrezia is the somewhat middle child Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Eleanor of Toledo. If you know your Italian history, you’d know that the Medici lineage is one of the most infamous and long ruling families/Italian royalty. The marriage of Cosimo and Eleanor was a loving one, yet Eleanor’s expression of love towards Lucrezia was never the same compared to her other children.

Lucrezia had a milk mother (or wet nurse as the role is more commonly known), of whom was lower class. Lucrezia’s early life was spent in the cook room, playing with her milk mother’s daughter and not learning the skills of her royal family. This resulted in her being somewhat of an outcast with her siblings and also when it came to linear education. Her art was how she expressed herself from a very young age and it followed throughout her short life. She also has an unusually calm connection to animals.

Lucé’s connection to animals comes to the forefront of the novel when there is a piercing scene with herself, her siblings and her father, Cosimo. It was hard to remove this picture from my mind throughout the rest of the story. Maggie O’Farrell brings so much truth to Lucé’s story and it was actually rumoured that in real life, Cosmio held a collection of exotic animals in the basement of the Palazzo Vecchio. The fictional scene follows Lucrezia as she witnesses the arrival of a new animal, a tiger. She is possessed by its beauty, power and its inability to fit in with the other animals. She feel connection and comfort with this animal. They speak the same emotional and mental language. As she falls behind the group, she reached her hand in the tiger’s cage and awaits its presence. Slowly, the animal comes to her and connecting with her hand is the animals fur. It sees Lucé, it feels her, it knows her. They are two creatures but their feelings are that of one. Her Father, terrified to turn and see this animal near his daughter, seeks to destroy the animal immediately. This is ultimately a turning point in the novel.

I believe this pivotal scene mimics Lucé’s future courtship and marriage with Alfonso. He sees her as beautiful, powerful and caged. He takes advantage of this young, innocent and disconnected creature. His pure use for her is to produce heirs, yet down the line we learn that this is something that does not come easily for him.

I was seized by this story immediately and I believe you will be too. I wanted to learn about how this young girl had experienced a life completely out of her control. The 1500’s time period is one I have not explored a great deal before and Italian history is always something I will jump to read considering my own heritage. I am now adding all of Maggie O’Farrell’s books to my TBR because her writing was just spectacular. I don’t think any other author I’ve read before has made me feel the way she has. Perhaps Hannah Kent would truly be the closest. The ending of this novel was also the perfect way to close the fictional story of the beautiful Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara. I am still thinking of this novel months after reading a prerelease copy – I am glad to finally place it in book lovers hands this September.

Lucé’s love for art is her saviour at different times throughout the novel. Yet, when it comes to her famous marriage portrait arranged by Alfonso, she is taken with how the different forms of art can depict a scene or moment of a person. Her own portrait is created by a collection of specialsed artists, one of whom is selective mute – or so we think. His name is Jacopo. Jacopo will go on to play an important role in Lucé life, whether that be fictional or true – I do not know.

Book Review: ‘ When Only One’ by Meg Gatland-Veness

How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped?

I need to be explicitly upfront about this novel and its raw topics before I feel dive into this review. This book surrounds the tragic event of a fictional high school shooting in Australia. It provided insight into grief and loss, poverty, domestic abuse, neglect and suicide. These are heavy topics but if you are up to it, do not let that deter you. ‘When Only One’ is one of THE BEST books I’ve read this year and I have absolutely no doubt, in all fibres of my body, that this book will be winning awards in the Australian contemporary young adult category.

Let’s jump into talking about this special novel shall we?

Samson is a teenager, the eldest of five boys and belongs to an average income earning household. His father works a desk job while his mother is unfaltering in her Catholic faith, stability and routine at home with five boys. Sam’s home structure is just that – stable. However his reemerged best friend, Emily, comes from a household that is anything but stable. Her father works when he wants too, drinks too much and is abusive toward her mother. Cynthia, Emily’s mum, suffers from mental illness which becomes quite evident early on in the book. Her mother collects shoes and requires a ‘shoe-toll’ before Emily or Sam can enter the house. She hoards these shoes and gathers them around her for a sense of comfort. The shoe collecting is quite humorous at times with Emily and Sam searching all over town for shoes, to Emily missing her shoes within the floor to ceiling shoe garage, to Sam giving up his good runners for a desperate chance to speak with Emily. Until one afternoon when Emily’s dad snaps – the humour is gone.

Emily’s household is violent, neglectful and poverty-stricken. The local town, school and teenagers know this but nobody believes they can or should do anything to help, as they themselves would rather turn a blind eye and continue on with their safe and comfortable lives. Emily finds her solace and safety in sneaking through Sam’s bedroom window and sleeping on top of his clean bed. Sam lets her, while he takes the bean bag. Emily sometimes stays for meals, plays with Sam’s brothers and gets driven around by Sam’s mum if they both need to go somewhere. However, there is always this divide and ‘frowned-upon’ nature that Sam’s mother holds towards Emily. She will never quite let her be a part of their family, even though it is clearly obvious that she needs help. Emily is also adamant on refusing help, claiming she can handle the cards life has dealt her, but she’s only a teenager. She shouldn’t have to handle these challenges on her own, let alone suffer the consequences of them.

Sam and his close group of guy friends are all training for the Ironman Championship and sporting scholarship. They all want to be fit, athletic and well trained sportsmen, like on the Nutri-grain cereal box. His closest friends consist of; Daniel – a flirtatious Italian; Jeff – quiet and hardworking; Patrick – from a well off family but doesn’t like to admit it; and Milo – who grew up on a dairy farm, his mother committed suicide from postnatal depression, leaving Milo, his under 1 year old sister and their father falling apart. There is a piercing passage on pg. 218 that throws the social divisions of Australian high school and small town communities in your face. It reads;

“At our school, there are three main factions. First, there’s the rich kids from town. They mostly have two working parents and a swimming pool. Then there’s us, mid-grounders. We live in town but the wrong side of the main road. We mostly have stay-at-home mums or single parents. We have clean clothes and brushed hair, but our uniforms are clearly from the faded second-hand box and not shiny and bright from the uniform shop. Jeff, Daniel and I fall into that category. Patrick likes to pretend he does, but he’s secretly a rich kid. Then there’s the third faction: the farm kids and derros who live on the outskirts. The Emilys and Milos of the school. The ones with foetal alcohol syndrome, or mums with no teeth, or brothers in jail, or dads with restraining orders against them. They are the ones who hardly ever last to the end of Year 10.”

Meg’s ability to put social hierarchy in such plain words created real feeling for me. I believe it rang true in its bluntness and clear vision through the teenage eyes of Sam, who is discovering the awareness of adversity and privilege all around him. From this, Sam is learning the unwavering power and influence that adversity and privilege have over a persons life. One teenager in this story who was aware of their privilege was Rei. Rei has recently moved to Sam’s school and it was love at first sight for him. Her Asian background and unidentified faith plagued Sam’s mother at times, but he does truly love Rei. Rei advocates for social justice, wins schooling debates and cries over inequalities. Meg does a great job of still painting Rei as a young teenager, with emotion led decision making, self-confidence issues and the feelings of grief and loss surrounding migrating to a new country.

Ultimately, the adversities, disadvantages and addictions faced by the characters in this story, create the demise for severe loss of mental control and physical actions. The escalation is chilling, sickening and unexplainable, but arguably explainable from the perspective of the one character committing the action. I have to say that the novel does not keep you in this heaviness. It gives the reader a clear feeling of immediate grief and how that looks in the realistic lives of teenagers, yet we also see and feel the ongoing cycle of grief. We learn its moving sensation and how it becomes a part of who you are, then you keep growing, then growing, then growing. To say this novel touched me is an understatement. Even now writing this review, I am flipping open pages and thinking gosh I want to write about this, and this, but I can only give you so much book lovers. I need to leave the rest up to you 💖

💫 Mini Review 💫

‘Today Tonight Tomorrow’ by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Looking for a feel good read? ✅

Looking for an enemies to lovers plot? ✅

Looking for a romance that moves from high school into new young adulthood? ✅

This young adult fiction encompasses all of the good suff, making it light, romantic and a quick read. Rowan Roth is a determined young woman and hard working right up to the very end of high school but her witty drive is pushed along by the likes of Neil McNair. The two have been in hefty competition with each other since the time they met. Their schooling has been a constant battle of who will be in first place and who will come in second. Rowan is set on not placing second best in their last bid for victory … winning valedictorian.

Yet as graduation looms and their end of Senior Year celebrations of a Seattle scavenger hunt kicks off, Rowan and Neil begin to realise that rather than opposing each other, they are smarter, swifter and more aligned working together than they ever realised. Slowly, they learn about one another’s lives outside of the small portion of school they experience with one another. Outside hobbies, passions and home lives come into play, furthering even more of their connection.

I read this over a weeks holiday and it was the perfect accompaniment for a light and happy time. I needed a story to get me out of a book slump as I’d just come off the back of reading my second favourite literary novel of 2022 (review coming soon 🤗) – so I needed something a little lighter. The lovely Josh from @joshhortinela recommended this strongly and I was convinced to pick it up!

Book Review: ‘Paperbark Hill’ by Maya Linnell

If you’re looking to fall in love with a new country romance writer, Maya Linnell is your gal! She just gets it – the challenges of falling in love in rural areas, small town community feelings of support and shared business, opinions and expectations. She also holds a firm grip of what the dynamics of inside a family look like. Her writing makes you feel as if you’re sitting around a dining room table, in a country home, having realistic conversations about farming, family and children.

Paperbark Hill is the conclusion to Maya’s four book series following the McIntyre sisters. All books can be read individually but have overlapping characters, environmental settings and storylines. Believe me when I say, Paperbark Hill has set me up well for devouring the rest of Maya’s books!

Paperbark Hill follows Diana McIntyre and her 4 boys as they learn to navigate and continue on their lives after the death of their stronghold, their husband and father. Diana is surrounded by her loving sisters and father, who encourage her dreams of cut flower farming, selling locally and creating a name for herself in the industry. Flower farming and raising her 4 boys is the highest priority. This remains so throughout the novel. Her thoughts and feelings do however increase when Ned Gardiner, an ex-local comes back to town after the unexpected loss of his father.

Ned is a locaum pharmacist and a bit of a gypsy. His flexible job allows him and his two beautiful, sweet and worldly children to move around. This is bit of a relief for Ned after his wife and mother to his two children, just up and left. Ned’s routines and travelling is thrown out the window when the loss of his father brings him back to his home town. His father was a keen chicken egg farmer and flower gardener. It also turns out, his father was Diana’s sidekick in maintaining and starting her flower farming. Both Diana and Ned are feeling the heavy loss of Ned’s father, which ultimately brings them together.

The warm buzz between Ned and Diana grows. Their time spent together in the flower fields, bringing their children together for play dates, stopping for afternoon tea together and chatting over salty scones, are just some of my favourite subtle ways of their relationship growing. I really could appreciate that their relationship was about stability, trust and respect. They’ve both been hurt in the past, they both have children who are the centre of their world, and they are both trying to navigate new found love at 40+. It’s slow, romantic and the development of love grows through gesture.

I think Maya was clever to include some challenges to new found love at 40. She wove the protests of children surrounding new parental relationships and the questions they ask. Diana’s teenage boy found the adjusts hard and was defiant in letting a new person into Diana’s life. He felt as if Diana would forget about his father and not acknowledge significant past birthdays or anniversaries. However, he grows to realise that it is about a balance of blending the two together and recognising that Ned is never going to stop Diana from loving, thinking of, or celebrating her late husband. Ultimately Ned and Diana show harmony within their two families individually, therefore when they bring the two together, it is just a big group of love and happiness!

Reading Diana and Ned’s story had me swept away in a matter of 48 hours – I couldn’t step away from their story for too long!! I am incredibly grateful and humbled to have received this copy of Paperbark Hill from Allen & Unwin and Maya Linnell to personally read and review 💖 This copy of Maya’s book has already been loaned a friend to read and also love 💫

Book Review: ‘A Place Near Eden’ by Nell Pierce

Wow. Wow. Wow. Nell Pierce coming through with the award winning literary fiction. Nell is the prestigious winner of the 2022 Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award. Okay cool Mel, but what does this actually mean? My fellow reading friends, it means that Nell had worked dang hard on her book like all authors, was selected out of a HUGE bunch of unpublished manuscripts, fit the bill of being under the age of 35 AND has now had this manuscript published, promoted and sold with Allen & Unwin. So let me tell you, this book is a no brainer for you to pick up in 2022.

A Place Near Eden follows three main characters; Tilly (Matilda); Sem; and Celeste. Their intricate, manipulative and submissive relationships with one another creates the whirlwind of events and downward spirals in this novel. The overall theme that has really kept me thinking and pondering long after I finished, is manipulation. A Place Near Eden shows the different types of manipulation a person can face in real life. This novel shows strong instances of verbal manipulation, tv and film consumption that had been manipulated to make you believe a persons’ innocence, and manipulation through the streams of social media. There has been a tragic ‘accident’ near Eden and we begin to slowing unfold who was involved by back tracking Tilly’s story, but is Tilly’s story real and honest? Or has it been created through the manipulation and impression of those around her, who are aiming to save themselves by throwing Tilly in the firing line.

At the beginning it is brought to the reader’s attention that teenage Tilly is facing a change in home environment. Her new foster brother Sem, has moved in and her parents are at odds over Sem’s behaviour and his influence on her. Tilly idolises Sem and begins to develop romantic feelings towards him. Now bring Celeste into the mix – she is Sem’s ‘girlfriend’ and next door neighbour. Celeste is older than Tilly and has a teenage strength about her. She wears her midriff tops without the worry of wandering eyes, lies and boasts about going all the way with Sem. Celeste creates arguments with her Mum and Sem for no good reason other then wanting to have a fight, she talks Tilly into drinking a lot, she criticises and makes fun of Tilly for getting a job and then goes and gets one herself, she also convinces Tilly to not keep any other friends. Celeste is clever, manipulative and calculating. She can also strongly influence and convince Tilly’s change in mindset, mood and memory.

For me, quite early in, Tilly reads as an unreliable narrator and this kept me flipping the pages. Tilly talks in the past of her coming and going relationships with Sem and Celeste, moving out with Celeste, drinking a lot, counselling sessions arranged by her Dad to draw out information on Sem, her unusual relationship with her near absent mother, and the place of spiritual awakening that Sem and her mother would visit way out bush. Tilly is talking to someone in the present, someone who will be learning about Tilly, Sem and Celeste’s story through a documentary. This documentary has been created, aired and viewed to expose the possible scenarios leading up to the accident near Eden and who is responsible. Due to Tilly being an unreliable narrator, for a long time she is convincing you, as the reader, that she is responsible. She is telling you she has destroyed someone’s life and should be punished – yet as Celeste and Tilly’s relationship begins to unravel, we can’t be so sure as to who’s the guilty one.

This novel is challenging for me to write about without giving too much away. I really enjoyed the not knowingness of jumping in with just the blurb for reference. I want you to experience that unknown feeling too! Therefore, I will finish this review with one of my favourite lines in the book. This stood out to me the moment I read it, as I felt it can sum up Celeste’s mind games, Tilly’s influenced inability to make choices and Sem’s unreliable nature. It can also sum up young adulthood, pivots in life paths and personal growth;

“Don’t look at me like I’m crazy,” Sem said. “It’s okay if you don’t see things the way I do. It’s just important to me that I make my own choices, that’s all.”

One big cheer and shout out to Allen & Unwin, as well as Nell Pierce for generously sending me this (now well read, tagged and already passed around) copy of ‘A Place Near Eden’. I am so SO very grateful for the experience 💖

Book Review: ‘Sunbathing’ by Isobel Beech

I sit here, writing this review with a cup of Italian coffee and biscuit in tow. I do not think I could have a set up any more fitting. Isobel Beech has created a novel that draws you in from the very beginning. ‘Sunbathing’ by Isobel Beech, takes place mostly in Abruzzo, Italy. The setting is described in such an emotionally and physically connecting way that you feel the Italian breeze, smell the freshly cut tomato salad with basil and olive oil, hear the gurgling of fresh coffee on the stove in the morning, and can imagine the footfalls and efforts of love in the vegetable garden below your window.

I need to preface that this novel does surround the topic of suicide, therefore please read this review with caution and/or pop back onto the blog for another book review soon xx

“… ‘Sunbathing’ explores the workings of the self in the wake of devastation and deep regret, and reveals the infinite ways that the everyday offers solace and hope.”. Transcribed from the back cover of ‘Sunbathing’. In summary, this quote covers the essence of this novel completely.

After suffering the great loss of someone close, an Australian woman books a plane ticket to Italy. She is travelling to stay with her best friend, Giulia, and her fiancé Fab, in their old stone village home. Isobel lets your mind wander as to the setting of this home, and I say home because this is the instant feeling the Beech portrays. It is a place of comfort, warmth, support and hope. We know there is a vegetable garden that Giulia tends to and waters from the buckets of water both the women go walking for every few days. We know that Fab is a writer and pops up to say “Ciao” whenever he hears his name being discussed, either inside or outside the home. We know Giulia and our female main character sit and talk over homemade meals deep into the evening, under the big shady tree in the back yard. We know our main character feels responsible for the loss of a significant figure in her life to suicide. We know that this feeling is one that plagues her mentally and emotionally. Her grief is incongruent to the way she believes is ‘expected’ of her – her grief does not follow a pattern.

It is incredibly unique how connected a reader can feel to the main character through the workings of their inner most thoughts and internal dialogue. The main character utilises online platforms to try and refresh her mind, yet only finds herself feeling more self-destructive after seeking it out. The online and in person conversations about suicide and taking ones life, she finds quite flippant. There is a sense of nobody knowing what she is going through, therefore nobody can help fix her and the significant shift to her life. However, the slow pace of life with Giulia and Fab in Abruzzo, learning to understand the language, making friends with a stray cat called Bric and taking care in planting, tending and caring for, then harvesting their own food and appreciating all it does for the human body, becomes her salvation. Day by day, the sun would rise, the coffee would boil and the routines would begin to heal her.

One of my favourite parts of this novel was seeing how the main characters perspective about Bric, the stray cat, changed over time. To begin with, Bric would only visit Giulia and Fab’s home every so often for food. He was more of a neighbourhood cat but this worried our main character. She was terrified that he wouldn’t return, he would become lost and starve. This became comparative to the loss of the significant person in her life. She felt that if she looked for Bric, fed him and cared for him, he would stay with her. Sadly, no matter how much nurturance and love she expressed to Bric, she couldn’t make him stay. Towards the end of the novel, our main character comes to accept Bric’s coming and going, taking the pressure off herself and understanding that Bric can only extend a portion of himself to her. Nor is he something she, and only she, can feel responsible for on her own.

I also really enjoyed the overarching concept of the old birthing room, turned guest bedroom, that our main character resides in while staying at Giulia and Fab’s home. Throughout the novel, our main character is rebirthing herself into a new person that lives with the loss and grief experienced in her life. It does not leave her completely, it just becomes a manageable part of the new person she’s growing into.

This is one of the most touching books I’ve read this year and I can see myself re-reading it in the future. It is surely one I will be recommending to my local literary book clubs. It is a novel to read with openness and care. I believe it is greatly worth it.

Book Review: ‘The Girls of Lake Evelyn’ by Averil Kenny

Before I jump into this book review, I would love to give one big hug and cheer out to Allen & Unwin, Echo Publishing and Averil Kenny for sending me this beautiful copy of ‘The Girls of Lake Evelyn’.

‘The Girls of Lake Evelyn’ is a story about a curse, a playwright and a runaway bride. It is a story that wraps you in hopes and dreams, and allows you as the reader to escape into a world where the essence of small community care, love and support trumps all adversity and challenge.

💬 Let’s talk main characters:

Vivienne Brinsley is a high society young women living in Sydney at the beginning of the novel. It is the night before her wedding to Sydney’s biggest catch and high market man – yet she’s torn with feelings of dread and despair at signing up to a life she doesn’t truely want. Her mother cannot stand to listen to her discontent, so Vivienne turns to her Uncle Felix. Uncle Felix helps Viv escape her loveless relationship and expected life. He sets her travelling on a path to a small town in tropical North Queensland. Here Viv will find her confidence again, explore new friendships and possibly even fall in love with a rugged, handsome and hilarious dairy farmer, Owen.

Josie Monash is a small town gem! Even as a young woman, she has grown up to be a pivotal part of her community. Side stepping her dreams of city starlight and broadway, Josie has remained on her family dairy farm to take care of her Father and two brothers after her mother passed away. Josies’ Grandmother plays a big role in guiding her life choices and has always been a headstrong woman (maybe this is where Josie gets it from). Her Grandmother is determined to see Josie’s theatre directing skills have hit reviews in Sydney’s biggest newspaper. Her Grandmother can see such potential and how tirelessly she works to help others – now it’s Josie’s turn to bloom. So when Vivienne arrives to town and starts swimming in the cursed Lake Evelyn, Josie’s hit play seemingly comes to life.

✏️ Let’s talk plot:

Not so many years ago, a beautiful movie actress, Celeste Starr, tragically died in the lake and it spawned a curse that has plagued the town ever since. Josie’s play is set to uncover the true story behind the life of Celeste, yet it will not come without some adversity and unsettlement from community members. Lake Evelyn has been barricaded off for years now because of community fear. Josie is up against a number of people who do not trust Lake Evelyn and its ghosts.

As Josie persists with the play, people will begin to show their true colours. A number of characters are not who they seem and their small, unsettling parts in the novel, eventually surface what true motives lie beneath. Long kept secrets slowly reveal themselves in the most well paced and slow burning way!

⭐️ Final thoughts:

I loved that this novel, much like Those Hamilton Sisters by Averil Kenny (click on the title to read my Author Talks with Averil). ‘The Girls of Lake Evelyn’ has all the good things you’re looking for in a time period novel. Drama ✅ Mystery ✅ Romance ✅ Perfectly paced reveals ✅ Escapism ✅

I’m not lying to you when I say we have had to restock this novel in the book shop over 5 times now! Averil is a hit!! Her writing is DEvine and captures the reader with such lyricism that it becomes hard to put her novels down. I am so incredibly grateful to see, hold and enjoy another novel from her and can only predict that Averil is set to continue creating beautiful stories in the future. She is an instant purchase for me and I will be recommending her until the cows come home (🐮 I hope this was an Owen approved pun!).

‘The Paper Palace’ by Miranda Cowley-Heller

How do I tell you generous reader, how much I’ve loved a book without telling you EVERYTHING about this book and giving away spoilers … keep reading to find out I suppose 🤣

Favourite passage: Pg. 6 “… While the doctor is inside me, he cuts off an ovary, careless, rushing to carve the death out of life. this, too, I will not learn for many years. When I do, my mother cries for me for the second time. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “I should have made him be more careful …” – as if she’d had the power to change my fate, but chosen not to use it.

Later I lie in a hospital cot, arms tied down at my sides. I scream, cry, alive, livid with rage at this injustice. They will not let my mother feed me. Her milk dries up. Almost a week passes before they free my hands from their shackles. “You were always such a happy baby”, my father says. “Afterward,” my mother says, “you never stopped screaming.”

Favourite character: Wallace, Elle’s Mother

I devoured ‘The Paper Palace’ by Miranda Cowley-Heller in less than 24 hours! I am not joking when I say the pacing of this book being on point, the character development and historical exposure was just right and the story had me captivated from chapter one. Our opening scene is Elle, our main character, waking up at the paper palace – her maternal families beach side cabins in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The setting throughout this novel is very ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens. If you liked Crawdads, think of this books as an instant buy – you will enjoy it just as much. Here is me giving you approval to go and buy ‘The Paper Palace’ right now!!

These beach side cabins have great significance to Elle, as it is the place she first experienced love and love lost, a horrific sexual assault and predatory behaviour from a family member, family breakdowns, isolation and death. All of these experiences we dissect as the story unfolds, and it is told through the structure of flashbacks – moving from past to present.

At some points of the book, we go right back and learn about Elle’s family on a generational scale. This gives us positionally and understanding for how Elle loves, her thought process’ and behaviours – most significantly within her marriage to Peter and decisions about Jonas. We learn about her grandmother’s marital and family home decisions, and how this has affected her mother’s childhood and behaviours. We then move onto her mother’s story and learn how sexual relationships, experiences and assault have impacted her relationships, marriages, mothering abilities and connection to her daughters. This brings Elle into the picture. When we move in the present, we are learning about Elle’s marriage to Peter and her lost love (or resurrected love) with Jonas. The flashbacks with Jonas were some of my favourites and seeing the two characters grow together was very captivating. We delve in bits and pieces into Elle’s father and his marital decisions – the divorce with Elle’s mother, his remarriage and what Elle’s relationship is like with him now. All of these peoples’ stories are giving meaning and understanding of why Elle is facing her uncertainties of love and marriage in the present.

If you look into this novel deep enough, it really is focusing on the impacts of generational trauma. That being; physical and sexual assault, marital breakdowns and the impact on children, emotional attachment as a child, blended families, secrets and their longterm impacts, as well as neglect. Maybe it is the Social Work part of my brain that appreciated the rawness of the writing and grit behind Elle’s mother, in particular her self-centred behaviour. I could see why Elle and her mother’s actions were justified.

Nevertheless, Elle’s marriage with Peter is challenging and beautiful, like most. But her love for Jonas is stemmed from first love, passion and longing. Even the ending leaves you uncertain of who she chose. This was my Literature Lovers book club pick for March and we had a wonderful meeting discussing every members thoughts, feelings and final conclusions on ‘The Paper Palace’. Overall, this book was a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5/5) for me. I could not put it down, nor would I stop raving about it to one of my lovely colleagues who gifted me the copy. She knew how much I’d love it and for that, I am very grateful xx

‘The Spanish Love Deception’ by Elena Armas

Okay so you know that chest caving, character loving, don’t touch me or talk to me or even breathe near me kind of feeling you get when reading a romance novel? Well, well, well – ‘The Spanish Love Deception’ will make your heart hurt SO MUCH in the best way possible!!

Not only will I gush to you online and in person at the book shop about this book, but I will also be shouting from the rooftops how DEVASTATED I am about having to wait 8 MONTHS before Elena Arma’s next book arrives on our shelves. Agh, the book pain is real! Elena’s next book is set to be published on the 6th of September and it is titled ‘The American Roommate Experiment’.

SOOooo Mel … get to the good part, the review!

Catalina is single and a short few weeks away from flying back to Spain for her sisters epic wedding. She moved to America in an attempt to reclaim her life and heal her broken heart after breaking up with her soon to be brother-in-law’s brother. Therefore, Catalina feels like the wedding will be a disaster if she rocks up alone. She needs to show her ex-boyfriend and her wide family that she is progressing with her life and achieving success. In walks her solution; office enemy, stubborn, rude and strangely attractive (😉😉) Aaron. He overhears Catalina’s ‘end of the world’ wedding scenario. Taking the plunge, he volunteers himself to be her date! This means flying to Spain together, pretending to be in love in front of her family, showing physical affection, sleeping in the same bed and well, keeping the arrangement hidden so Catalina’s family doesn’t suspect her love life isn’t as desperate as it actually is!

Que their ongoing love to hate relationship, and the cuteness that evolves to their falling in (actual) love. Aaron has a quiet persistence to prove how good of a ‘fake-date’ he is, but secretly and somewhat obviously, it is from a place of wanting Catalina to understand how much he really likes her. It takes a while for Catalina to see and feel that Aaron’s feelings are legitimate, but this just makes for more fun in their games of cat and mouse. Aaron is completely committed to investing in her happiness and wanting their relationship to evolve, regardless of their workplace conflict of interest. I really enjoyed their dynamic and seeing both their walls come down over time. I loved their trip to Spain and how much cultural immersion it allowed the reader to feel. I think this is a romance novel at its best.

Reading this book while suffering from a book slump really made it even more of a stand-out! I finished this book in less than 24 hours. It was EXACTLY what I was looking for and craving. Romance ✅ Love to hate banter ✅ Easy dialogue and world development ✅ Contemporary ✅ If you’re also looking for a book to soar you out of a book slump, ‘The Spanish Love Deception’ has all you, yes you, written all over it! I will 100% be re-reading this book before the end of the year.

‘Devotion’ by Hannah Kent

Hannah Kent has not failed to rip my heart out and then piece it back together again in her latest historical fiction novel, ‘Devotion’. I am in a book slump after reading this book and I’m finding it so hard to get the fictional characters of Hanne and Thea off my mind. Their love story is one for the ages and honestly, if you have not read this book, I strongly encourage you to find your nearest book store and buy a physical copy. Your note taking (if you’re that way inclined to annotate your books) is going to be flooded with pen marks and highlighted passages.

Growing up in the German village of Kay in 1830’s Prussia, Hanne represses her expectations of female friendships and socialising. She much prefers to be a child of nature as from a young age, believing to hear the whispers of trees, the nearby stream and the movement of air. Hanne knows that her love for nature makes her different from the other teenage girls in the village. It isn’t until she meets Thea that Hanne realises her long inherent beliefs of romantic love are also different.

Hanne’s family are set to follow their local Pastor to the new found land called South Australia. Here their community of Kay can continue to practice their Old Lutheran beliefs and spread the devotion of God. However, in order to get there they must sell everything they own and sail for months on end. (This is the part of the story where your heart will break. You will be baffled, you will find it hard to believe that Hannah has put us as the reader through this much horror, but you will also find it incredibly hard to stop reading).

At sea, they travel with their village for months on end. You feel the fear and uncertainly of being in the middle of the ocean without seeing land in sight, you smell the stagnate underneath living quarters and you sense that sickness and death is looming. It is inevitable and the inevitable does happen, but to whom? We see and feel love bloom, to then be ripped away from us. Hanne and Thea’s story falls short in so many ways but it only makes you realise how quickly your expectations of life can change in one moment.

The third section of this books is a mirage of life, yet through a different and troubling lens. It is raw and harrowing and heartbreaking. I continue to be utterly amazed at how hard hitting the writing of this novel is but yet it is delivered in such a rich and vibrant way. This is a big call to make but I truely believe that Hannah Kent had produced another national and international, award winning fiction. If this book does not move you, read it again! In my eyes, Hannah Kent is the reason we read fiction.