Tag Archives: family history

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Indie EBOOK arc Sadie’s War – Book 3 of the Currency Girls series by Rosemary Noble #Brainfluffbookreview #Sadie’sWarbookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed Noble’s novel about the early days of Grimsby in her engrossing tale, Ranter’s Wharf, see my review here. So when I heard she was bringing out a new historical novel – this time featuring Australia – I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy in return for an honest review.

Sadie is brought up amongst the vineyards of the Yarra Valley whilst her work-obsessed father reaps riches from the boom years before the Great War. With post-war depression looming, Sadie’s only option is to flee from her disastrous marriage, seeking refuge in Cleethorpes, a small seaside town in northern England. Years later, when her sons are in RAF Bomber Command, she receives a letter from her long-lost brother which forces her to confront the past and her part in her family’s downfall.

Noble has done a great deal of research, as many of the characters featuring in this family saga are actual family members, including Sadie, although not much is on record about this intriguing woman, other than the fact that after her failed marriage, she left for England. This is a fascinating tale fictionalising her life, stretching back to Sadie’s childhood, where her earliest memories are of being constantly moving houses, the next one ever grander and better than the previous one. Though her growing up years are blighted by the sudden death of her mother, which brings about a set of circumstances which probably wouldn’t have happened if there had been a vigilant and caring mother-figure at home. I really enjoyed Sadie as a character – she wants to please and conform, as girls were trained to do back in those days, but when it all hits the fan, she also proves that she has plenty of courage to take the necessary steps to start again.

In charting Sadie’s life, Noble gives us a vivid insight into the life and times, including customs, food and entertainment in an easy, natural writing style I have come to associate with her books. This is a real strength of the book, which makes it a delightful read.

The depiction of life during WW2, which is the other narrative running alongside Sadie’s earlier experiences, works well as a contrast to those days of heat, sunshine and socialising in Australia, as life in England on the Home Front was demanding. People were frequently hungry, cold and exhausted as they dealt with food rationing, war work and sleepless nights during bombing raids. This is all well described as part of Sadie’s daily round without holding up the story, while she is also desperately worried about her sons, who are all away fighting.

The only niggle I have is the wrinkle in the developing love story. It feels a bit contrived for the purposes of the narrative arc, but it’s not a dealbreaker. Do also read the Afterword, which is fascinating. I had no idea that Stanley, Sadie’s beloved brother, had led such an interesting life after his time in Australia. This is highly recommended for fans of sagas and historical adventures featuring WW2 and Australia.
9/10

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Review of The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley

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Being a shallow soul, I hefted this substantial tome off the shelves because of the very cool cover and lugged it home, because the first couple of pages were evidently well written and intriguing. Would my slavish attraction to star-spattered covers pay off this time around?

thesevensistersMaia D’Aplièse and her sisters gather together at their childhood home of Atlantis – a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva – having been told that their beloved father, the elusive billionaire they call Pa Salt, has died. Maia and her sisters were all adopted by him as babies and, discovering he has already been buried at sea, each of them is handed a tantalising clue as to their true heritage – a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Jio de Janeiro in Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of where her story began…

This sprawling saga has two narrative timelines. The first features Maia, eldest of six adopted sisters struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of their beloved father, aggravated by his odd request to be buried at sea without any family present. The second timeline delves back into the past as Maia discovers who her genetic family are and what befell her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother so that she ended up in an orphanage, being put up for adoption as a tiny baby.

I haven’t encountered Riley’s writing before, but it didn’t take long to realise I was in the experienced hands of a gifted storyteller who knows her craft. Interweaving two narratives throughout such a long book so the reader isn’t skimming one storyline to get to the other takes a significant amount of technical skill. And Riley manages to braid the two timelines together without any jarring or stuttering in the impressive pacing of this engrossing tale.

She also whisks the reader around the world. We start in luxurious surroundings on Lake Geneva, then we’re taken back to Rio in the 1920’s to the sumptuous life of coffee baron’s daughter Izabela Bonifacio and on to bohemian life in Paris during the same period. The historical plotline heavily features the creation of one of the most famous landmarks in the world – the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer, where Riley has managed to interleave fact and fiction very deftly.

The 600+ pages whizzed by as I became caught up in the plight of Izabela, humbly grateful I hadn’t been born a beautiful, rich young heiress at that particular time. Riley gives us a heartrending insight into her plight. It shows, once more, just how bleak women’s lives are when they aren’t permitted equal rights. During narrative twists and turns I waited to get impatient with Maia’s passive attitude to life… to become tired of Izabela’s struggle between heart and head… and it didn’t happen. Storylines that regularly have me switching off and putting a book down never to return, held me right to the end.

Did Riley succeed in corralling her wide-ranging narrative into a suitably satisfying ending? Oh yes – which is much trickier than it might seem, given that I would have also flung the book across the room in disgust if the conclusion had been too tritely satisfying.

The Seven Sisters is the start of a series, where Riley will be examining each of the sibling’s backstory and their reaction to Pa Salt’s unexpected demise and I will be eagerly looking out for the next one. If you tastes run to family sagas, complete with enjoyable backdrops and a dollop of historical detail, then this comes highly recommended.
9/10

Review of The Hare With the Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal

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This winner of the 2010 Costa Biography Award was fervently recommended by my sister-in-law, so I decided to give it a try – although to be honest, the blurb didn’t fill me with enthusiasm.

264 Japanese wood and ivory carvings, none of them bigger than a matchbox: Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first harewiththeambereyesencountered the collection in his great uncle Iggie’s Tokyo apartment. When he later inherited the netsuke, they unlocked a story far larger and more dramatic than he could ever have imagined.

From a burgeoning empire in Odessa to fin de siècle Paris, from occupied Vienna to Tokyo, Edmund de Waal traces the netsuke’s journey through generations of his remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century.

In my humble opinion, the blurb doesn’t do the book justice. However, I have a fair amount of sympathy with the publishers. How do you explain or sum up this story that spans three generations of a family caught right in the middle of the most turbulent events of the last two centuries? For de Waal, a noted potter in his own right, just happens to belong to one of the major Jewish banking families who operated out of Vienna, Paris and London at the height of their powers. Fabulously wealthy and highly influential, Charles Ephrussi, the younger son who didn’t go into the family banking business, collected and commissioned artworks from the likes of Manet, Degas and Monet. It is this section of the book that really sings off the page as de Waal is clearly entranced by Charles, both as an art collector and person. He charts Charles’ life and his collecting habit – including his long-term affair with Louise Cahen d’Anvers, until his collection of netsuke is given as a wedding present to his cousin, Viktor and his beautiful young wife, Emmy.

The special cabinet, known as a vitrine, that houses this collection ends up in the corner of Emmy’s dressing room and these small, valuable Japanese pieces become the playthings of the Emmy’s children. de Waal is particularly good at describing objects – not just their appearance, but their feel and quality along with the emotions they engender. He produces slices of the family history as Vienna is rocked by a series of world-shaking events.

However, the middle part of the book is the least satisfactory. While we get tantalising details of Emmy’s beauty and fashion sense, the candour he displays about Charles’ life is lacking. There is a sense that he has edited swathes of detail out of his great-grandparent’s lives. His grandmother, Elizabeth, clearly a remarkable woman, is also depicted with a frustrating amount of information omitted. Her persistent refusal to languish in depressed misery in England when the Nazi looting of her family home is airbrushed out of German history by an insultingly low offer of compensation had me initially convinced that she would be a major protagonist in this amazing story. She isn’t.

That honour goes to Uncle Iggie, another resourceful and remarkable member of the family, who becomes the custodian of the netsuke and finally takes them with him when he settles in Japan in the mid 1950’s. Once more, the narrative picks up and becomes rich with detail and anecdotes as the painful subject of World War II recedes, and de Waal recounts his uncles life and times.

So, given the sketchiness of some of the most catastrophic events in the family’s history – does de Waal do justice to his family’s unique and remarkable story? The answer has to be – a qualified yes. Using a collection of objects as the nucleus of the narrative was inspired and probably made it possible to consider recounting the trauma caused by the Nazi’s aggression and the vicious anti-Sematic comments and open prejudice that winds a dark thread through this account. Overall, though, this book is a testament to the sheer resilience and toughness of a family who have managed to not only endure being ripped apart, stripped of all their property and evicted from their country of birth – but thrive. Along with their collection of Japanese figures.
9/10