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Friday, May 25, 2018

The Last of the Bonegilla Girls

Title:  The Last of the Bonegilla Girls
Author: Victoria Purman
Publisher: 23rd April 2018 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, womens fiction
My Rating: 4 crowns

For readers of The Woolgrower's Companion and The Three Miss Allens… Their friendship transcends nationality and background, but can it overcome the horrors of the past?
A post-Second World War story of strong female ties and family, secrets and lies, set in the multicultural Australia of the fifties. Can the Bonegilla girls defeat their past? Or will it come to claim them?
1954: When sixteen–year–old Hungarian Elizabeta arrives in Australia with her family, she is hoping to escape the hopelessness of life as a refugee in post–war Germany. Her first stop is the Bonegilla Migrant Camp on the banks of the Murray in rural Victoria, a temporary home for thousands of new arrivals, all looking for work and a better life. There, Elizabeta becomes firm friends with the feisty Greek Vasiliki; quiet Italian Iliana; and the adventurous Frances, the daughter of the camp's director.
In this vibrant and growing country, the Bonegilla girls rush together towards a life that seems full of promise, even as they cope with the legacy of war, the oppressive nature of family tradition and ever–present sorrow. So when a ghost from the past reaches out for Elizabeta and threatens to pull her back into the shadows, there is nothing that her friends wouldn't do to keep her safe.
But secrets have a way of making themselves known and lies have a way of changing everything they touch...
My Thoughts

‘They had been friends when they were young, when they were able to celebrate the freedoms of a new life in Australia, thrown together by the circumstance of being at Bonegilla at the same time.’

The Last of the Bonegilla Girls is the tale of four girls from different backgrounds and their friendship over a lifetime. It is a heartwarming, yet at times, heartbreaking tale which spans not only their generation, but introduces the next as well. It begins at the Bonegilla migrant camp and then follows them through their lives after their departure, as they embark on a new post war life in Australia. These girls remain friends and, apart from letter writing, share a few reunions over the years as well.

What I appreciated most about this story was the research. I have not read a great deal about this time period in Australia and really appreciated not only the history of migrants to Australia at this particular time period, but I felt that the author conveyed a fairly accurate  portrayal of life in Australia for everyone especially during the 1950s. Even with time period jumps to the 1970s and later, although briefer, there was still a true representation.

‘The Australians … they want us to come and do all the dirty jobs, to work in the dirt and the heat and the cold, to dig underground for the Snowy, to grow their food and work in their factories. But they don’t really want us to be Australians.’

With the book spanning decades, it was therefore difficult for a satisfactory amount of detail in both person and place to be conveyed to my liking. So after the initial detail of life at the migrant camp, things jumped around quite a bit and the depth began to diminish. With the underlying theme centred around how to compliment a life that brought together the old and new, the author did a good job. I felt how the European girls were torn in their attempts to placate both culture and family with trying to assimilate into a new society.

‘Some people just don’t like new Australians’

As mentioned, there is heartbreak in this read. Maintaining the old ways brought pain and sorrow with many a secret held onto. So whilst reunions brought some joy, especially with their children and then grandchildren, there was also resignation about what could never be for them. So from this point of view, it was sad, however, there was promise for a different life in the society their children were to grown up in. All up a worthy read, especially if you are interested in this particular time period in Australian history.

‘I can’t help but think … well, I can’t help but think about what might have been. Between the two of us. The time just wasn’t right, was it?’

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

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

Title: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart
Author: Holly Ringland
Publisher: 19 March 2018 by Harper Collins (Australia)
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 5 crowns


The most enchanting debut novel of 2018, this is an irresistible, deeply moving and romantic story of a young girl, daughter of an abusive father, who has to learn the hard way that she can break the patterns of the past, live on her own terms and find her own strength. An enchanting and captivating novel, about how our untold stories haunt us - and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive.
After her family suffers a tragedy, nine-year-old Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak.
Under the watchful eye of June and the women who run the farm, Alice settles, but grows up increasingly frustrated by how little she knows of her family's story. In her early twenties, Alice's life is thrown into upheaval again when she suffers devastating betrayal and loss. Desperate to outrun grief, Alice flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. In this otherworldly landscape Alice thinks she has found solace, until she meets a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.
Spanning two decades, set between sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart follows Alice's unforgettable journey, as she learns that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.

My Thoughts

‘Who were the people that sent flowers instead of words? How could a flower possibly say the same things as words? What would one of her books, made of thousands of words, look like in flowers?’

Having read the reviews and seen the incredible publicity surrounding this book,  I entered this read with cautiously high expectations. I was not disappointed, so much so, that if  there is one book you read this year, make it this one. I now fully appreciate the attention Holly Ringland is receiving as her book is a most worthy recipient. On these pages you will find complete heartbreak as secrets bring about such violence and regret. Yet through it all is hope and that is what you cling to. You can’t leave Alice’s side with all she seeks to be and do from such a young age, right through to adulthood.

I simply adore how each chapter opens with a drawing and detailed information of a particular native flower that would be pertinent to that chapter - each flower so clearly carefully selected. So whilst it may read like a guide to Australia’s native flora, it is so much more with the powerful links being made between the use of the flower and how it conveys or relates to the underlying theme of what you are about to read.

‘She might not know where or how to begin talking to the child, but she could do the next best thing. Teach her the ways of speaking through flowers.’

Then there are the array of characters - wow - so complex and engaging. Do not be misled though, this is not an easy read. In parts you will be confronted by terrible, horrific incidents of brutality and violence - but once again it is the flowers, the hope that you cling to. The settings are breathtaking - from coast to rural inland to remote desert. These locations add to the whole ambience of the novel.  Finally, the themes are almost as vast as the territory covered - heartbreak and incredible sadness, love and hate, secrets and betrayal, terrible trauma with the hope of survival. This is a tale of the lost and found, forgiveness and acceptance, renewal and the future. Huge isn’t it! Commanding it is!

‘Thornfield had always been a place where flowers and women could bloom. Every woman who came to Thornfield was given the opportunity to grow beyond the things in life that had trampled her.’

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is one of ‘those’ books, as it will captivate and consume you. It is such an incredible story and so deftly handled, that you cannot fail to be moved by all it presents. Do yourself a favour and take a journey into the world of Alice Hart.

'Her future glowed ahead of her, an ember waiting to be breathed to life.'

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.