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Thursday, April 18, 2019

The French Photographer

Title: The French Photographer
Author: Natasha Lester
Publisher: 26th March 2019 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 488 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: romance, historical fiction
My Rating: 5 crowns

Inspired by the incredible true story of Lee Miller, Vogue model turned one of the first female war photojournalists, the new novel by the bestselling author of The Paris Seamstress
Manhattan, Paris, 1942: When Jessica May's successful modelling career is abruptly cut short, she is assigned to the war in Europe as a photojournalist for Vogue. But when she arrives the army men make her life as difficult as possible. Three friendships change that: journalist Martha Gellhorn encourages Jess to bend the rules, paratrooper Dan Hallworth takes her to places to shoot pictures and write stories that matter, and a little girl, Victorine, who has grown up in a field hospital, shows her love. But success comes at a price.
France, 2005: Australian curator D'Arcy Hallworth arrives at a beautiful chateau to manage a famous collection of photographs. What begins as just another job becomes far more disquieting as D'Arcy uncovers the true identity of the mysterious photographer -- and realises that she is connected to D'Arcy's own mother, Victorine.
Crossing a war-torn Europe from Italy to France, The French Photographer is a story of courage, family and forgiveness, by the bestselling author of The Paris Seamstress and A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald.
My Thoughts

Natasha Lester books have all been five star reads for me. So it was with great anticipation that I took up her latest novel. Yet again Natasha has floored me with her storytelling, almost to the point of speechlessness. Where to start with a read that was so powerful, so raw and intense, taking the reader on a rollercoaster ride of emotion. This book consumed me and, closing the last page, left me almost bereft.

Just when you think she can’t get any better, Natasha produces another spellbinding tale, a true historical showpiece. Being such a fan of  dual timeline narratives, Natasha has excelled in this genre with this highly absorbing tale that follows a former model turned photojournalist Jessica May, in the midst of World War II in tandem with the modern day tale of art curator D’Arcy.

Romance is something Natasha writes well and here you will lose yourself in the passion, the heartache of lost or missed opportunities. Amazingly this applies to both storylines, which in itself, is a difficult undertaking. The story is filled with so many characters to love (and hate!), adore and cry for.  Jess’s feistiness is fabulous, her moments of saying what she thinks, priceless. And what about Dan - Dan’s the man! - he could indeed be one of my all time favourite fictional male leads.

Yet, this is also a tale about war and tragedy. You cannot help but be absorbed into the story and feel like one of the female war correspondents, who had to wage battle against not just the enemy, but the sexism that prevailed. I consider myself fairly well versed on WW2 details, but the research Natasha has presented here was new and astonishing. To feel like a witness to the hapless task for so many female correspondents, wanting to report on the details but being censored for every word and disallowed to portray the truth of what was occurring to the world at large.

‘The men died, not gloriously, not spectacularly and certainly not without anyone to mourn them, disappearing into the mud beneath their feet. Two lives had just ended, one of them was frozen in time inside her camera. She didn't know how she would bring herself to look at that negative, didn't know that she could ever allow herself to discover exactly what it meant to die. She was supposed to be glad; two fewer Germans was a good thing for her country. But how could anyone be glad of a boy dying alone, an unthought-of consequence in this grand mess called war?’

It is here that I must pay tribute to the many female correspondents and applaud not only their perseverance and efforts, but the real sacrifices they were prepared to endure for equality. The courage  and strength exhibited throughout this book is so powerful. The Author's Notes at the back of the book most noteworthy.

Finally, a focus on Natasha’s writing prowess. The links she makes between past and present tales - I mean how does she do it? I will not give anything away regarding the plot but truly, this is a masterpiece of writing. The balance Natasha strikes and links made between chapters and events is mind-blowing. And the ending ... with all the air sucked out of my lungs ... I could not breathe! It is that powerful. Bittersweet, heart wrenching and breathtaking - literally.

The French Photographer by Aussie author Natasha Lester is absolutely brilliant. It is a very special kind of book, that is to be devoured and then ruminated on. Natasha is a delightful author, so accessible on social media and so very humble. Thank you for your storytelling .... never doubt that you are an incredibly talented writer and congratulations on producing and sharing the amazing tale that is, The French Photographer

‘Every word I write is as difficult as tears wrung from stone.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher.

In a Great Southern Land

Title:  In a Great Southern Land
Author: Mary-Anne O'Connor
Publisher: 18th March 2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 4.5 crowns

From the soft green hills of Ireland to the wild Shipwreck Coast of southern Victoria, the rich farm lands of New South Wales to the sudden battlefields of Ballarat, this is an epic story of the cost of freedom and the value of love in a far-flung corner of the world where a new nation struggles to be born. 1851: After the death of her father, young Eve Richards is destitute. Her struggle to survive sees her deported in chains to the colony of New South Wales, penniless and alone. But here in this strange new world fortune smiles on the spirited, clever Eve in the shape of a respectable job offer that will lead to a quiet, secure life. Then the fiery and charismatic Irishman Kieran Clancy crosses her path...
For Kieran Clancy, the kindest man on earth, and his brother Liam, the promise of free passage and land in this brave new world is a chance to leave the grief and starvation of County Clare behind. But while Liam works to farm their land, Kieran has the fire of gold-fever upon him and is drawn to the goldfields of Ballarat. As tensions grow on the goldfields, and with the blood of an Irish rebel still beating through his heart, Kieran finds himself caught up in the cataclysmic events at the Eureka Stockade and faces the decision of a lifetime: whether or not, when it comes to love, blood will remain thicker than water...
My Thoughts

‘The great southern land,’ Liam said, looking at him, then laughing at his own incredible words. ‘I’m still trying to believe it.’

This is a really great story that I thoroughly enjoyed - quite the saga with both lead characters starting out in Ireland and then ending up in Australia. Firstly there is Kieran, a poor tenant farmer, who (with his family) gains free passage to the Australian colonies to farm. Then there is Eve, a servant, charged with a crime she did not commit and sent to the colonies on a convict ship. This is their story, inclusive of the challenges they faced from firstly, their time in Ireland, to adjusting to life in the colonies.

Firstly this book is a love story with a fair amount of Irish luck involved with coincidences. Still, if you enjoy historical fiction of this era, then you will revel in the times and circumstances. While some meetings were difficult to believe, you let it go as there is just so much to love about so many of these characters. There is a breadth and depth to the people you will meet and it adds a real richness to the story with a few good twists towards the end.

Secondly, this book incorporates a range of places and events highlighting many significant occurrences from history. From the harsh life in Ireland, to being onboard a convict ship, resettlement and farming in the colonies, life on the goldfields in the 1850s culminating in the momentous Eureka Stockade. I felt Mary-Anne’s retelling of key events in colonial history to be highly engaging, bringing to life what it would have been like in a wide range of scenarios.  Her research and in depth presentation of the Eureka battle, especially the consequent fallout, was a certain highlight.

Finally, if you delve deeper and take into account the detail Mary-Anne has gone into, this is a tale of injustices and the fight for equality and rights. Through the story of key individuals, you are shown what it was like to love, to lose, to fight, to win, in a search for a new beginning and true love. The desire to leave behind the controlling gentry in an effort to forge freedoms in an new land.

I was thoroughly impressed and absorbed in this high quality historical drama - the story is rich and filled with emotions, all tied together with factual accounts of major historical events related to Australia’s colonial history. I highly recommend this book.

‘We’ve crossed one to be here, don’t forget,’ he said more softly now, taking her hands again, ‘for different reasons and from different worlds, but somehow we’re standing under the same sky.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release