Part love story, part mystery and part war story, ‘The Paris Secret’ involves two separate timelines, the unravelling of a secret, and several memorable characters.
England, 1939. Skye Penrose is a talented pilot who has worked hard to be one of the few women to then join the Air Transport Auxiliary, supporting the British war effort. This brings her into contact with her estranged sister Liberty, her childhood friend Nicholas Crawford and his fiancée Margaux Jordan.
Paris, 1947. Christian Dior unveils his first collection of haute couture gowns to a world wearied by war. He names his debut fragrance, Miss Dior, as a tribute to his sister Catherine, who worked for the French Resistance.
And in the present, Australian fashion conservator Kat Jourdan discovers a wardrobe filled with priceless Dior gowns in her grandmother’s cottage in Cornwall. As Kat tries to discover the story behind the gowns, she learns that there is far more to her grandmother’s life than she knew.
This novel held my attention from beginning to end. I read about the vital role female pilots played in the British war effort and the work undertaken by members of the Special Operations Executive. I worried about Skye, became annoyed with Liberty and wondered about Nicholas and Margaux. And in the present, I hoped that Kat would both find happiness and find out more about her grandmother.
This is a beautifully detailed historical novel, blending fact and fiction into an unforgettable story about love and sacrifice.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
1322, West Yorkshire. Albin of Rouncivale, a Pardoner was at Pontefract Castle in March when the Earl of Lancaster is executed. The Earl, and others, have been declared traitors by King Edward II.
A couple of months later, Sir Richard Lee, Sergeant-at-Law and Circuit Judge, together with his assistant Hubert of Loxley, are on their way to Sandal Castle. Sir Richard has been newly appointed as Circuit Judge of the King’s Northern Realm and is on his way to Sandal Castle near Wakefield when he encounters outlaws.
The paths of Sir Richard and Albin of Rouncivale will cross, in some unexpected ways.
‘I am Albin of Rouncivale and I bring pardons to those in need.’
But first, Sir Richard needs to establish his authority in Wakefield. Before he arrives at Sandal Castle, he learns of a rape, which he intends to investigate. Sir Thomas Deyville, Deputy Steward of the Manor of Wakefield (resident at Sandal Castle) sees himself as dispensing the King’s Law and is not inclined to welcome Sir Richard.
But all is not as it seems. Sir Richard’s first cases point to a local outlaw, one Robert Hood, as being the main suspect. And then the Pardoner confesses to a crime.
What is happening in Wakefield?
I read this novel quickly, trying to work out who was guilty of what (and why). I enjoyed the way in which Mr Moray described the setting and provided the historical background to the period. And I really enjoyed the way in which Sir Richard worked it out.
While I’d managed to work out a couple of pieces of the puzzle, I hadn’t fitted all the pieces together before the end. I am now looking forward to the second novel in this series. I’ve enjoyed Mr Moray’s Inspector Torquil McKinnon series, and I’ll be adding this series to my reading list as well.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
1974, rural Queensland. Charlie Campbell and his sister Abby are driving to their father’s farm. Charlie, who has fallen asleep at the wheel, forces another car of the narrow, unlit road. They stop. When they realise that the heavily pregnant woman is dead, they drive away. They leave her on the ground, as heavy rain falls. They tell no-one.
The next day, they arrive at their father’s farm and learn that the dead woman, Skye, was their father’s fiancée. Charlie and Abby decide to tell no-one what has happened.
‘It will make my life worse, and possibly destroy the lives of everyone around me if I tell the truth.’
The narrative alternates between Charlie and Abby. Charlie, temporarily in Australia, usually lives in Bali. Abby is married to an investigative journalist and is a stay-at-home mother of three. Can they hide their involvement in Skye’s death? Charlie learns, from his father, that Skye had a five-year-old son who is on a commune with her abusive ex-partner. His father wants to rescue the boy and wants Abby to bring him up.
It’s a complicated story, set in the corrupt Queensland of the Bjelke-Petersen era. The characters are well-developed, and I kept turning the pages hoping for an outcome I could applaud. While I didn’t get that outcome and I ended up feeling no sympathy for any of the adult characters, I was completely caught up in the story. Unsettling and uncomfortable.
‘For every action there’s a reaction. Nothing and no one escapes that fact.’
Although alcohol initially helps us relax, after drinking, you can feel even more anxious. Alcohol releases chemicals in the brain that block anxiety. But our brain likes to be in balance. So after drinking, it reduces the amount of these chemicals to try to get back into pre-drinking balance, increasing feelings of anxiety.
People may also be drinking more alcohol to relieve the boredom that may come with staying at home without much to do.
Although the coronavirus is too new for us to know its exact interaction with alcohol, we know from other virus outbreaks drinking affects how your immune system works, making us more susceptible to virus infection.
So, if you have the coronavirus, or are at risk of contracting it, you should limit your alcohol intake to give your immune system the best chance of fighting it off. The same applies if you have influenza or the common cold this winter.
Alcohol affects your mood
Drinking can affect your mood, making you prone to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
This is because alcohol has a depressant effect on your central nervous system. But when you stop drinking and the level of alcohol in your blood returns to zero, your nervous system becomes overactive. That can leave you feeling agitated.
Once we start drinking, it’s hard to know when we’re relaxed enough. After one or two drinks, it’s easy to think “another won’t hurt”, “I deserve it”, or “I’ve had a huge day managing the kids and working from home, so why not?”.
But by increasing alcohol consumption over time, eventually it takes more alcohol to get to the same point of relaxation. Developing this kind of tolerance to alcohol can lead to dependence.
Monitor your thinking. It’s easy to think “What does it matter if I have an extra one or two?”. Any changes to your drinking habits now can become a pattern in the future.
How to manage stress without alcohol
If you are feeling anxious, stressed, down or bored, you’re not alone. But there are other healthier ways to manage those feelings.
If you catch yourself worrying, try to remind yourself this is a temporary situation. Do some mindfulness meditation or slow your breathing, distract yourself with something enjoyable, or practise gratitude.
Get as much exercise as you can. Exercise releases brain chemicals that make you feel good. Even if you can’t get into your normal exercise routine, go outside for a walk or run. Walk to your local shops to pick up supplies instead of driving.
Build in pleasant activities to your day. Even if you can’t do the usual activities that bring a smile to your face, think about some new things you might enjoy and make sure you do one of those things every day.
Remember, change doesn’t have to be negative. Novelty activates the dopamine system, our pleasure centre, so it’s a great time to try something new.
So enjoy a drink or two, but try not to go overboard and monitor your stress levels to give you the best chance to stay healthy.
If you are trying to manage your drinking, Hello Sunday Morning offers a free online community of more than 100,000 like-minded people. You can connect and chat with others actively managing their alcohol consumption.
‘He has not made a good death and I am in terror for his soul.’
England 1349. The Black Death is raging across the land. Martin Collyer, whose last memory was receiving the last rites, wakes up to find his father dead beside him. Martin is clutching a small statue of his family’s patron saint: Saint Cynryth. His father’s body, half sewn into his shroud, shows no sign of the plague. Martin decides that he must seek salvation for his father’s unconfessed soul: he will undertake a pilgrimage to Salster, which is where he understands Saint Cynryth’s shrine to be.
Martin sets off on his pilgrimage, accompanied by an opportunistic young man called Hob.
‘Not every corpse put in a pit has died of the plague.’
The story unfolds slowly, as befits a dangerous journey. Martin and Hob meet others, the statue of Saint Cynryth inviting attention along the way. Martin is both naïve and devout: which Hob seeks to take advantage of.
‘Nothing is as it was.’
This is a novel best read slowly, without spoilers. It’s easy, during the current COVID-19 pandemic afflicting much of the world, to imagine the fear endemic in the setting. It’s easy to appreciate that Martin wants to do what is right, even if it isn’t clear exactly what that might be.
This is the second of Ms Hawkins’s novels I have read, and I look forward to reading more of her work.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
Cuthbert Close. The sort of neighbourhood where street parties are held each year. Where friendships are formed, and children play in the street. Three very different women have become close friends: Cara is a food stylist; Alex is a corporate lawyer and Beth is a stay-at-home mum. They are having their annual end of summer street party when a removalist’s truck drives into the close. The truck is headed to the vacant house at the end of the close: Charlie Devine and her teenage daughter Talia are moving in. And then there’s a storm, but that’s just the beginning…
Things start going wrong in Cuthbert Close: Beth is worried about her husband Max, Cara and her daughter Poppy are concerned about the future and Alex is finding it ever more challenging to juggle her responsibilities as the mother of twins with being a corporate lawyer.
‘Yesterday, I held a funeral for a guinea pig. I will not judge you.’
Beth, Cara and Alex establish a new business, but someone seems determined to sabotage them. Alex is offered her dream position, but there are domestic issues to consider. Beth is worried about her marriage, and Cara has parental expectations to meet (or avoid).
What does the future hold for these women in Cuthbert Close?
Contemporary issues (with an occasional twist) in middle class suburbia: issues that many of Ms Hamer’s readers will be able to relate to. I enjoyed this novel, the relationships between the main characters and the challenges they were trying to meet. There’s a wry humour in the storytelling which I really enjoyed.
‘The past is who we are, for better or worse.’
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin HQ Fiction for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
‘But we have to remember, it’s not up to us to change anyone’s lives, unless they ask.’
Babs has been cursed, and sometimes she’s invisible. Teachers and classmates often don’t see her. Iris grew from a seed in the ground and identifies as non-binary. One day, Iris can see Babs. Iris and Babs have a lot in common: they are both connected to the magic in the world around them.
This is a beautiful story of acceptance, identity and magic. Iris wants to help Babs have her curse removed. And while they are working out how, they meet a boy. The Boy hasn’t yet worked out who he is and doesn’t initially have his real name.
The three of them work together, exploring a magical world. Each of them has a parent or parents. Respectful, kind parents who care.
This is a wonderful YA book: Babs, Iris and The Boy look out for each other. Especially as Babs is drawn into The Realm, a magical dark place which they’ve been warned to stay away from. Can Babs find the witch who cursed her, and have the curse removed? Will The Boy find himself? Can Iris hang onto their friends?
Ms Evans writes:
‘I want people to know about gender euphoria. I want them to learn about it before gender dysphoria. I want young trans kids that will read this book to be proud of who they are, and imagine wonderful magic lives for themselves.’
‘Ava felt the sea move in her blood before she saw it.’
Ava is fleeing an abusive marriage. With her sons Max and Teddy, she’s driving to a town on the coast of Victoria, hoping to make a fresh start. They are almost to Sheerwater when they witness a light plane crashing into a field next to the road. Ava is the first person on the scene and stops to help. She tells the boys to stay in the car. Minutes later, after pulling the pilot from the plane and after others have arrived on the scene, she returns to the car. The boys are gone. Where are they?
‘Who are you?’
Failed relationships. Missing children. As we join Ava in her desperate search to find her sons, we learn about her relationship with Laurence. Superficially charming, Laurence is prone to rapid mood changes and can be violent. Ava has taken out a restraining order. But Ava’s mother sees only that Laurence is charming and thinks that Ava is overreacting.
The story unfolds over three days, and is mainly told by Ava, Laurence and Max. Max is only 9 years old and looks out for his 4-year-old brother. I kept turning pages, hoping that Ava, or the police, or anyone really, would find (and rescue) these two boys. Other (sketchier) characters provide part of the story, and the tension builds. Can the boys be rescued?
I don’t want to write more about the story because I can’t do so without spoilers. Suffice to say that sadly (and often tragically) domestic violence is far too common in Australia. Victims are often not believed, or are blamed, for their circumstances. Perpetrators can be simultaneously charming and violent, capable of twisting the truth to suit themselves.
I finished the novel profoundly saddened. If only such stories could be confined to fiction. This is Ms Swann’s first novel: it’s a powerful story and will haunt me for some time.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.