Book Reviews

I’ve been reading a lot recently so I decided to highlight some of my favorite recent reads. I can’t travel but with these books I was transported to over seven different countries. 

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

This book was incredible. It takes place in Milan during World War II.  The story is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. The best part is that it’s a true story. Sullivan wrote this novel as close to factual events as possible following the very real war hero Pino Lella (who is still living today). The novel transports you to the beautiful backdrops of Milan and the Italian Alps all the while being horrified about the terrors the Nazis imposed on yet another country. Italian stories are usually out of the WWII narrative and it was humbling to learn more about what they endured. I’m very grateful for Mark Sullivan stumbling upon Pino Lella’s story and recreating it for the world. Pino is someone who should be recognized and respected for his wartime efforts. THIS IS A MUST READ!

Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

The second book by Martha Hall Kelly. By storyline this is technically a prequel to Lilac Girls, but it follows the main character’s mom a generation before. Lost Roses takes place during First World War. If I had to compare the two books I didn’t like this one as much, but it still well written and a good story. Kelly’s books follow strong female leads and this book gave more insight to beloved Caroline Ferriday’s family history. If you read Lilac Girls and enjoyed it, I think this is a must read. Kelly is also writing a third novel going back further in time to the American Revolution. 

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite 

I’ve seen this book everywhere recently and I’m so glad I picked it up. Once I started reading I couldn’t put it down – this is literally a page-turner. The story takes place in Nigeria from the point of view of an older, responsible sister watching out for her younger, murderous sister. The chapters are short and you will fly through this one wondering what happens next. 

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

Taking place in London this book is written as a before and present day story. Each chapter bounces between the past and present day. There’s so many cringe moments and you’ll be thinking “how can you be so stupid?!” while watching the story unfold. The twist at the end makes it a proper mystery story. J.P. Delaney acquired a new fan from me and I can’t wait to read more of his novels.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

I’m taking my own advice and I was inspired to read books off of the World Reading Challenge: Books Around The Globe lists. I wasn’t sure where to start as I’ve only read a couple of books off the combined lists from 2018 to 2020. The Sandcastle Girls is on the 2020 list. 

I enjoyed this novel because I learned about the genocide to Armenian people during the First World War. The main story illustrates scenes of Aleppo, Syria during the war. Although it’s not based on specific people the history of the war is very real and something I wasn’t aware of at all. The book is written in a women’s POV and many times I was rolling my eyes and cringing in how she was coming off. I would say that was my main dislike about this book – the woman’s voice was not believable.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is a classic most people read in school in the U.S. However, I never did so I’ve wanted to read it for a while. It’s considered an American classic taking place in Alabama on the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement. I also just read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, which was the original manuscript Lee submitted for publication and takes place about 15 years after To Kill a Mockingbird. I wasn’t a fan of Go Set a Watchman.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I love Liane Moriarty’s work. I usually can’t put down her novels and this one wasn’t an exception. I wasn’t exactly sure what this book was about or the purpose of the plot even whilst reading it, but I was entertained. The book follows nine strangers at a health resort retreat. You may not be sure where the story is going, but finding out more about the characters will keep you reading. 

Love You More by Lisa Gardner

I haven’t read any of Gardner’s books, but I really liked Love You More. I guess technically the characters are part of a larger series, however the book is also a standalone. It’s a mystery/suspense book that will keep you reading so you can find out what actually happened.

That was a roundup of my recent favorite reads. If you read one book off this list I urge it to be Beneath a Scarlet Sky.

Book Review 18: Worth Fighting For

The book exchange at the Novotel in Suva provided me with Worth Fighting For by Mary-Anne O’Connor. This book takes place during World War II, but rather than touching upon Europe it focuses on the war in the pacific (Pearl Harbor, Australia, etc.). I really liked O’Connor’s writing. The story was well told and the characters developed in a way that you really felt they were real. 

To me it was fascinating reading a story from this wartime period from this perspective/location. I had no idea the extent of the war in Australia because we’re only taught extensively about the war’s impact in Europe. In the Author’s Acknowledgements at the end O’Connor tells us that although the story and characters are fictional many things in the plot really did happen or were drawn from historical facts. This made me like the story even more.  

I recommend this novel if especially if you like historical fiction books – the story was lovely. 

Goodreads’ Synopsis

From Darwin to Pearl Harbour, Sydney to Papua New Guinea, a compelling story of courage, honour and a great love set against the epic backdrop of the Second World War

Eighteen-year-old Junie Wallace is a smart girl and, with her two brothers away at war and her third brother just killed in action, she knows there is only one way to save the family farm for her grieving parents. Unfortunately, that solution involves marrying the unscrupulous Ernest, and breaking the heart of the young drover she loves, Michael. 

But the war is looming ever closer, and when Pearl Harbour brings the threat of Japanese aggression to Australian shores, the fates of many becomes inextricably interwoven.

From the explosive battles of the Pacific campaign to the desperate fighting in the Papuan New Guinea rainforest; the dancehall gaiety of Sydney’s Trocadero to the terror of the Darwin bombings, this epic family saga brings home the importance of mateship and of fighting for what you believe in, even when impossible odds seem stacked against you, even when all seems lost…

Worth Fighting For is a resounding testament to the enduring force of love: a reminder of what can be achieved if you draw on your reserves of courage and listen to the truth in your heart.”

Book Review 16: The Brighton Mermaid

I picked The Brighton Mermaid by Dorothy Koomson up at the Radisson in Fiji along with Big Little Lies, but don’t worry I left two in their place. I was drawn to this book for a couple of reasons. Firstly, mermaid is in the title so that grabbed my attention immediately. Second, one of the main events occurred my birth year, 1993. Thirdly, it’s based in Brighton and I’ve had a keen interest in reading books taking place in the UK recently. Lastly, the main character was a woman of color and lets be honest most books’ main character is a white woman with blue/green eyes (hair colors range, but there’s always a unique eye color unless we aren’t meant to particularly like them then they have dark eyes) – this is of course just my opinion and I haven’t put much thought into it. 

This book would also be classified as a mystery and bit of a thriller and I really enjoyed it. Did a really good job with the twists and turns and I really didn’t have much pegged once the story was unraveled. I loved that I didn’t have everything figured out so of course I’m not giving any spoilers. 

Goodreads’ Synopsis


Brighton Beach, 1993

Teenagers Nell and Jude find the body of a young woman and when no one comes to claim her, she becomes known as the Brighton Mermaid. Nell is still struggling to move on when, three weeks later, Jude disappears.

Twenty-five years on, Nell is forced to quit her job to find out who the Brighton Mermaid really was – and what happened to her best friend that summer.

But as Nell edges closer to the truth, dangerous things start to happen. Someone seems to be watching her every move, and soon she starts to wonder who in her life she can actually trust…”

Book Review 15: Big Little Lies

I know I said I would chill out on reading, but then Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty was waiting for me at the Radison’s guest library. The first book I read by Liane Moriarty was What Alice Forgot for a book club a few years ago in NYC. I really loved that book. It was a captivating story and set in Australia so I knew I liked Liane Moriarty’s writing, but I haven’t read any of her other novels. 

When Big Little Lies became a HBO series it was star studded and quite reasonably became a hit. I usually try to read the book version before seeing the screen version of a story, but this was an exception. I had watched the full series (it sadly hasn’t been renewed for another season) before reading. The main difference between the print and screen versions is the location – originally set in Australia, but the series is based in California. The character descriptions also differed a bit and I just couldn’t replace Resse Witherspoon’s portrayal of Madeline out of my head. Besides that the book and series pretty much follow along the same story (of course there’s a point where the series goes off script due to the end of the book as in the last season). 

Even knowing what happens (or maybe it was because I knew) I couldn’t put this book down. Once again Liane Moriarty proved her abilities to write a captivating book. If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t watched Big Little Lies I would recommend to read the book ASAP. I full enjoyed reading this one and look forward to reading more of Liane Moriarty’s novels. 

Goodreads’ Synopsis

“A murder…A tragic accident…Or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny, biting, and passionate; she remembers everything and forgives no one. Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare but she is paying a price for the illusion of perfection. New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for a nanny. She comes with a mysterious past and a sadness beyond her years. These three women are at different crossroads, but they will all wind up in the same shocking place. 

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the little lies that can turn lethal.”

Book Review 14: Talk of the Town

I’ve never been good with moderation. So when I finished my “Fiji book” on the plane ride over from Melbourne that should have been a warning sign. Now less than two weeks into being in Fiji I’ve read four books. I’ve had activity filled days and I have been socializing constantly so I’m not sure where I’m getting the time to read so much. I have come to the conclusion that whenever I do have a house of my own I’ll have a hammock in the backyard under a tree but with plenty of sunshine as that’s become my favorite way to read. 

In the reception of Blue Lagoon resort they had shelves of books. Only a handful were in English and none really drew my attention, which was okay because I was in the middle of Burning Glass. The friend that I was traveling with pulled one out and joked that I would like the book because of the cover. She was right the guy on the cover is my type, but reading the back synopsis it sounded like a Lifetime/Hallmark movie plot, and I rolled my eyes and put it back. 

The next night at dinner making small talk with the table one of the girls was a raving about a book she couldn’t put down. The plot sounded familiar and low and behold it was the same book I had put back on the shelf, Talk Of The Town by Rachael Johns. I told her if she liked it so much I would like to read it when she was done. That night the book was on my bed when I came in to go to bed. 

So that was how I got the book in my possession now for the actual review. Truth be told my original suspicions were valid and it was totally a Hallmark/Lifetime love story just based in a small town in Australia rather than America. However, that didn’t make it a bad thing. The story was well written and the characters nicely developed. I’m a pretty good guesser so I had the plot pegged early on, but I enjoyed reading the details unravel. All the main characters were likable and a welcome changed from the last few books I’ve read. 

I would say this is a perfect summer beach or holiday read. It’s the tenth book for Rachel Johns and if I were to stumble upon another I would gladly pick it up. Now I’m trying to moderate my reading, but I’m already itching to pick up the next book already…

Goodreads Synopsis

“Lawson Cooper-Jones has two priorities in life – his son, Ned, and the survival of the dairy farm that has been in his family for generations. Despite the best efforts of the town matchmakers and the determined pursuit of local girl Adeline Walsh, Lawson’s heart belongs still, and only, to his late wife. 

But when a flat tyre strands Lawson and Ned in nearby Rose Hill, he’s surprised to find a woman living alone in the old general store of the deserted town. Ned immediately forms a bond with the beautiful stranger called Meg, and Lawson is surprised to find himself captivated by her too. 

Although shy at first, Meg starts to open up to him about the haunting secrets of her new home and, with Lawson unable to get her out of his head, they agree to investigate the history of the old building together. Soon they find their friendship has bloomed into something more.

But when meddling Adeline makes it her mission to uncover the truth about the newcomer and her real identity is revealed, Lawson and Meg’s budding romance comes crashing down. Can they both learn to forgive in order to claim a future for their damaged hearts?”

Book Review 13: Who Did You Tell?

My friend had finished Who Did You Tell? by Lesley Kara whilst in Fiji and passed the book on to me. It’s a crime/thriller-esque book. This isn’t my go to genre and I have a bad habit of wanting to know what happens before finishing the book. I usually can guess the endings or shocking things that may happen in books and movies and it turns out not to be shocking at all. However, per my friend’s recommendation I went for it. 

The book follows a woman who is combatting her demons while recovering from being an alcoholic. After rehab she’s moved into her mom’s cottage in a small beach town in England. The small town should be sleepy and boring (and it was for a while), but all the sudden things start falling into place for the main character when she meets a man (of course). He’s kind, wholesome and currently between jobs so he came to the town for the summer to help his dad renovate a house. He makes her feel that she can love again and his dad commissions her for a painting, getting her back into her lapsed career. 

Everything is going great and she’s even made a friend in AA so why does she feel like someone is following her? Her thoughts are confirmed when she starts getting notes and threatening messages. She obviously doesn’t go to the police or tell her mom/boyfriend because that would be too normal. 

The book is written in her point of view, but every so often there’s a quip or paragraph in a different font that looks like someone’s thoughts or portion of a journal entry. Those little sections were driving me crazy. I wanted to know who was thinking/saying these things and I couldn’t quite pin it. Those portions alone kept me reading. I was desperate to know how the book ended so I read throughout the day and finished it the same day I started. It ends a little too cleanly to be possible, but it all unfolded well. 

I did like the book, but it was my natural curiosity that kept me reading on. I would recommend it to anyone that likes a little suspense. 

Goodreads Synopsis

“It’s been 192 days, seven hours and fifteen minutes since her last drink. Now Astrid is trying to turn her life around.

Having reluctantly moved back in with her mother, in a quiet seaside town away from the temptations and painful memories of her life before, Astrid is focusing on her recovery. She’s going to meetings. Confessing her misdeeds. Making amends to those she’s wronged.

But someone knows exactly what Astrid is running from. And they won’t stop until she learns that some mistakes can’t be corrected.

Some mistakes, you have to pay for…”

Book Review 12: Burning Glass

For my next read I was at the mercy of the book exchange at Wayalailai. There really were only three or so books in English (the others were in German or Hebrew). Burning Glassby Kathryn Purdie was one of the options and I went with it because the cover had seen better days so I thought this meant it was read many times.

The book has a bit of a fantasy feel as it takes place in a made up kingdom and the main character has a special ability. There’s of course some romance and a blossoming love triangle between royal brothers. 

The book was well written, but it just really wasn’t my cup of tea. I think it’s meant to be for the younger crowd. However, I’m not one to not finish a book and so I muddled through trying to wrap up the story. With about 15 pages left I turned to the back and saw that this book has a sequel and is part of a new trilogy…ugh! I’ll finish a book when it’s hand, but I don’t feel the need to finish the trilogy. 

This book is definitely for younger readers so I wouldn’t recommend it to one of my friends or for a book club. 

Goodread’s Synopsis

“Sonya was born with the rare gift to feel what those around her feel—both physically and emotionally—a gift she’s kept hidden from the empire for seventeen long years. After a reckless mistake wipes out all the other girls with similar abilities, Sonya is hauled off to the palace and forced to serve the emperor as his sovereign Auraseer.

Tasked with sensing the intentions of would-be assassins, Sonya is under constant pressure to protect the emperor. But Sonya’s power is untamed and reckless, and she can’t always decipher when other people’s impulses end and her own begin. In a palace full of warring emotions and looming darkness, Sonya fears that the biggest danger to the empire may be herself.

As she struggles to wrangle her abilities, Sonya seeks refuge in her tenuous alliances with the charming-yet-volatile Emperor Valko and his idealistic younger brother, Anton, the crown prince. But when threats of revolution pit the two brothers against each other, Sonya must choose which brother to trust—and which to betray.”

Book Review 11: The Sunday Girl

When I lived in NYC I was part of an alumni group’s book club. We met monthly and it was honestly one of my favorite nights of the month. In addition to the book discussions, the evening was a always a good way to catch up and socialize with a great group of women. I miss a lot of things from home and the book club is definitely on the list. One of the Sydney Facebook groups I’m in started a book club last month. I couldn’t commit to the February book, but I decided to join for the March book, The Sunday Girl by Pip Drysdale. We’re doing weekly threads on Tuesdays discussing the book and then plan on meeting in person at the end of the month. 

A potential trigger warning: this book talks about domestic violence and other possible topics that could be triggers. 

The book is a pretty pink, but the story really isn’t pretty at all. The chapters are broken down into days of the week so it’s an interesting way of seeing the mess unfold in a short amount of time. The story follows a very toxic relationship and how the main character, Taylor, chooses to deal with it. I didn’t find Taylor to be very likable and a lot of book had me on edge wanting to scream out to her and her stupid choices. That being said the author did a wonderful job in making us understand her motives even if we don’t agree with them. 

Something about the text just annoyed me too. It seemed like a lot of the page was being wasted and that there was a lot of open space, but looking back at the book I think it was just the choice of text.

Even though I didn’t love this book I found myself struggling to put it down. The last third of the novel was when it got really good and the “thrill” started to come to play. This is another easy read I would recommend and especially if you’re looking for a little bit of suspense. I’m looking forward to meeting up with the girls in the book club to discuss the book at the end of March (hopefully I’ll still remember everything).

Goodreads Synopsis

“The Girl on the Train meets Before I Go to Sleep with a dash of Bridget Jones in this chilling tale of love gone horribly wrong …

Some love affairs change you forever. Someone comes into your orbit and swivels you on your axis, like the wind working on a rooftop weather vane. And when they leave, as the wind always does, you are different; you have a new direction. And it’s not always north.

Any woman who’s ever been involved with a bad, bad man and been dumped will understand what it feels like to be broken, broken-hearted and bent on revenge. Taylor Bishop is hurt, angry and wants to destroy Angus Hollingsworth in the way he destroyed her: Insidiously. Irreparably. Like a puzzle, he’d slowly dissembled … stolen a couple of pieces from, and then discarded, knowing that nobody would ever be able to put it back together ever again. So Taylor consulted The Art of War and made a plan. Then she took the next step – one that would change her life forever. 

Then things get really out of control – and The Sunday Girl becomes impossible to put down.”

Check out my previous book review.

Book Review 10: A Town Like Alice

The novel A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute was published in 1950. At the beginning of the novel it’s hard to imagine it being a love story, but that’s exactly what it evolves into. Alice refers to Alice Springs, Australia in Northern Territory aka the outback. Unlike most rural towns in the outback, Alice Springs is a thriving community. The whole premise of the book is to transform another outback town into a town like Alice Springs. 

It’s very cool because one of the main characters is a young woman (late 20s) without much education, but with a savvy mind for business and she’s the one initiating all of the change to the town. Given that a man wrote in the 50s it’s really cool to see how progressive he was for the time period.

We bought this book at Red Kangaroo Books, the Alice Springs bookshop, (mentioned in the book) mostly for that novelty of being there.

If you’re familiar with Australia it was really cool being able to see the places that are mentioned in the book in the past because a lot has changed. My biggest takeaway from the book was that I needed to visit Green Island in Cairns when I’m up there in a couple of months. 

It was a good book and very easy to read. Not sure if I would recommend it because it’s not relevant to today, but I wouldn’t not recommend it if that makes sense. If you stumbled on it at a library give it a read, but definitely don’t go out and purchase it. 

Book Review 9: Little Women

With the new movie recently released I figured it would be the perfect time to read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I’ve actually had this book on my bookshelf for years (I had the 2004 Barnes and Noble edition that sold for $7.50 back in the day), but I’ve never read it. I asked my mom to bring it along with her to Australia. 

This is a classic in many ways and even reading it in 2020 there are many underlying themes and lessons that are relevant in the modern world. The writing is simple and easy to understand even though it was written over 150 years ago. I especially see a benefit for young girls to read Little Women as they “come of age.” 

If you are not familiar with the story I’ll give a very brief synopsis. Little Women follows a New England American family during the Cilvil War era, the Marchs. We are introduced to the four spirited sisters and are immersed into their daily lives and relationships as they grow and mature into womanhood.

The novel draws many parallels with Louisa May Alcott’s actual life and the reader feels as they are getting an accurate depiction of life in America at that time. Jo, the second oldest sister, is the free spirited, wild one of the bunch and has been a favorite literary character since the work was originally published. Despite Jo’s popularity, I would say that sister Beth won my heart. Regardless of which March sister you like best, you can’t help loving all of them and routing for their well being and happiness. They face the ups and downs that come with life and growing up, but overall it is a feel good story. Once you get into the groove of the book you will breeze through it. Now I really need to see the new movie