Life after Life


Life after Life

Life after Life

Author: Kate Atkinson

Publisher: Random House



Life after Life is a complex, clever novel by English writer, Kate Atkinson.

It begins in England, 1910, with a snowstorm in which a baby is born but dies before she can take her first breath.

During this same snowstorm, the same baby is born, and lives.

This baby is Ursula Todd, and Life after Life is her story. This novel poses the interesting question, What if you were given a second chance, or third chance, or in fact an infinite number of chances to live your life and get it right? In Life after Life, Ursula gets to live her life many times over. We read her story in which she dies, and then  the same story is retold, with some crucial details changed, meaning her life is altered and she lives. It is a fascinating view – kind of like a choose your own adventure – and poses all kinds of questions about destiny, fate, and decisions. Because of this, the story is complex and it is not always easy to keep track of where you are within the story. Despite this, I found the novel quite mesmerizing.

Ursula was always considered by her family to be a unusual child. The family’s housekeeper, Bridget, remarks early on that Ursula “had the second sight.” That “there were doorways between this world and the next…but only certain people could pass through them.” Throughout her life, Ursula often has a strong sense that she has experienced things before – a kind of deja vu. “She was disturbed by herself. She dreamed of flying and falling all the time.”

Life after Life is an evocation of England during the early 20th Century. Despite being set during the second world war, I got a strong sense of the languid English summers Ursula spent at Fox Corner, her family’s house in rural England.

“It was beautifully hot and time treacled past every day with nothing more to do than read books and go for long walks”

This is the first novel by Kate Atkinson that I have read. It is a challenging, thoughtful novel and I highly recommend it.


The Storyteller

The Storyteller


Author: Jodi Picoult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

462 pp

Format: paperback ARC supplied by the publisher

In The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult has written a complex story about right and wrong, redemption and forgiveness.

Sage Singer has been traumatised by an accident in her past that killed her mother and left her scarred for life – both physically and mentally. She has hidden herself away from the public eye by taking a job as a baker where she can work alone at night. In a macabre twist, she has also become involved in a secret affair with the local funeral director, Adam, who happens to be married. Sage attends a local grief counselling session and it is there that she meets Josef Weber, a ninety year-old local hero known throughout town as a school German teacher and as a baseball coach.

What happens next shocks Sage…Josef asks Sage to help him die. Although old, Josef is otherwise healthy with seemingly no reason to die. It turns out that Josef is actually Reiner Hartmann, an ex SS officer of the German Reich. In this position, Reiner committed some horrendous acts on humanity, and now wants to be forgiven. Sage is not sure she can do that, mostly because her grandmother, Minka is a holocaust survivor.

The second section of the novel is dedicated to Minka’s story. She was a Polish Jew living in the ghetto in Lodz and was eventually transferred to Aushwitz and eventually to Bergen Belson. Although her story is horrific and sad, it’s nothing new. I recently read Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Kenneally which is virtually the same story. What Picoult does do is present the story from the survivors’ point of view, as well as deal with the subject of forgiveness/redemption. Sage feels that she can’t forgive Josef because it’s not her place – only Minka can do that.

Interwoven amongst Minka’s story is the fictional tale she is writing at the time. It is a paranormal story about an upior – a monster that is half dead and likes to drain the blood of its victims. During her time in Aushwitz, Minka begins working for Hauptscharfuhrer  Hartmann (Reiner’s brother )as a secretary. She reads her story to him and he tells her of a different kind of monster, the Donestre, “a monster with remorse”. The similarities between the Donestre and the Hauptscharfuhrer are obvious.

Sage is unsure what to do about Josef so she enlists the help of the FBI – specifically Leo Stein of the Justice department. Together they gather the evidence against Josef/Reiner – even getting a positive ID from Minka.

Of course there is a huge twist at the end that I didn’t see coming, although I probably should have. This is the third Picoult novel I have read, the others being My sister’s Keeper, and Between the Lines, which she co-wrote with her daughter. Both The Storyteller and My Sister’s Keeper have at their heart a moral dilemma which provides much food for thought. Jodi Picoult has been criticised by some for writing novels that are too formulaic, and while agree that My Sister’s Keeper could fall into that category, I don’t feel that could be said about The Storyteller. I found The Storyteller a far superior novel . It is a compelling read – part mystery, part history, part fantasy, with a little dose of romance thrown in for good measure.


The Light between Oceans


Author: M.L.Stedman

Publisher: Random House

Category: Historical Fiction

368 pp



The Light between Oceans is M.L. Stedman’s debut novel.

It is 1920, and Tom Sherbourne has been posted as a lighthouse keeper, to Janus Rock – a remote island off the coast of Western Australia. Returning from World War One, Tom is a reserved, almost broken man, but in Point Partegeuse – the closest point of mainland Australia to Janus – he meets the feisty young Isabel Graysmark. They begin to write letters to each other and eventually are married in 1922. Isabel is inquisitive and game for anything:

“Just to be beside her had made him feel cleaner somehow, refreshed. “

Tom on the other hand, has trouble coming to terms with the fact that he survived the war when others didn’t. Isabel brings light and laughter into Tom’s life.

In 1926, a boat appears on the island, carrying a dead man and a baby. Isabel has recently suffered her third miscarriage, and is convinced the arrival of the baby is a sign that she was meant to be a mother after all. She persuades Tom not to report the boat and names the baby Lucy. Isabel blossoms with the baby in her life, but Tom struggles with the decision not to report the boat.

Eventually, things catch up with Tom and Isabel and it is discovered that the baby in fact belongs to Hannah Roennfeldt, who lives in Point Partegeuse. Tom takes all the blame for keeping Lucy. He feels as though he had “been on borrowed time a long while”, as a result of killing men during the war, and believes he deserves whatever cards he is dealt.

At its heart, The Light between Oceans is a story about love, loss, right and wrong. It is a beautifully written, heart-wrenching novel. The devastation Isabel felt in losing her own children helped to justify her decision to keep baby Lucy, and although what Isabel did was wrong, the novel is written so sympathetically that I felt for all the characters at one point or another.

The Light between Oceans was Judy’s choice for our February book club. We had a wonderful discussion about morals and heart-wrenching decisions. Many of us were torn by the moral dilemma posed in the book.

My rating: 8/10

Book club rating: 8.4/10

This is the fifth book I have read for the AWW2013 challenge.


Have you read The Light between Oceans? What did you think about the moral dilemma posed in the novel?


Amber Road

Amber Road

Amber Road

Author: Boyd Anderson

Publisher: Random House

copy courtesy of the publisher via netgalley

It is 1941 Singapore, and the Japanese invasion is looming. A young, shallow, seventeen year-old, Victoria Khoo is preparing to be re-united with Sebastian Boustead. Sebastian has been studying in Cambridge, England and is returning home for the first time in a year. Victoria in is love with Sebastian and believes it is her destiny to marry him. Unfortunately for Victoria, Sebastian has brought his fiancée, Elizabeth with him. At Sebastian’s engagement party, Victoria meets Joe Spencer, a laid-back Australian who has come to Singapore as an exporter.

When the Japanese begin bombing Singapore, Victoria’s world is turned upside-down.  While her family moves to Johore, away from immediate danger, Victoria stays behind in Singapore with her father’s second wife, and looks after her grandmother.

Victoria is obsessed with the English way of life – she is constantly reading Manners for Women, a manual of etiquette. I found it interesting that many Chinese people living in Singapore during the Second World War considered themselves  to be more English than Chinese. Victoria and her siblings attended English schools, spoke English at home, and dressed in the English fashions of the day. The one instance where they didn’t feel English was the fact that their father had three wives – as was the Chinese custom.

I have read a lot of books set during World War Two, but most have been set in Germany or England. This is the first one I’ve read that has been set in Singapore so I was very interested to read about the Japanese occupation of Singapore.

Victoria is a self-centred young girl who is forced to grow up quickly and use all of her resourcefulness to survive. I was often frustrated with her character. About two-thirds of the way through the book I thought she would come to her senses, forget about Sebastian, and fall in love with Joe, and while there is a love triangle for most of the book, she can never really move past Sebastian. I loved the character of Joe with his laid-back air and his sarcastic humour. He and Victoria end up going through so much of the war together, and I was really pulling for them as a couple. Alas, without giving too much away, I was quietly devastated by the ending. The romantic in me wanted the epic fairytale!

On another note, the cover is gorgeous, and definitely highlights the exotic location of the story. This was a terrific story and I recommend it for anyone interested in historical fiction, particularly that set during World War Two



Just Breathe

Just Breathe

Just Breathe is a gorgeous, clever, romantic comedy by writer, Janette Paul (aka Jaye Ford).Dee Nichols is a 31 year-old yoga teacher whose life was shattered when she was involved in a car accident ten years ago. After the accident, her fiancée left her as he couldn’t cope with her severe injuries which included a broken back, broken ribs – not to mention a broken heart. With her life in a million pieces, Dee finds yoga is the only thing that helps – both with the pain and the panic attacks. Because of the accident, she finds it impossible to believe in a future more than two weeks away, preferring to subscribe to the yogic mantra of living in the moment. She finds she is good at it and decides to teach so she can help others in need.

Then along comes Ethan Roxburgh.  Gorgeous, tall, and a very successful millionaire businessman, Ethan is the head of Roxburgh Holdings. Dee meets him when Ethan’s sister Lucy, one of Dee’s yoga students, introduces them, and Dee is enlisted to be the face of the new Health Life Insurance TV ad campaign. Ethan, of course, sits on the board of Health Life Insurance, and offers to be a business mentor to Dee.

Dee very quickly develops a huge crush on Ethan, but believes he will never feel the same way. Ethan is well known for always having a string of “Roxburgh Girls” on his arm, but unbeknownst to Dee, he may just be looking for something more real! Gradually, Ethan begins to invite Dee to his business meetings – to help her with business contacts. One of these meetings reminded me so much of Pretty Woman (albeit without the prostitution!). Roxburgh Holdings is about to buy a small manufacturing business and at the last minute the deal looks set to fail. Just like Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman, Dee saves the situation by talking to the owners about their business and referring to it as their ‘family’, making the business deal seem much more human.

Dee’s character also provides a comical element to the story. She often comes across as being quite ditzy and is often having little ‘accidents’. There are various incidents involving her car, a few involving shoes, and one hilarious moment which sees Dee wrestling a tray of mini citrus tarts.

I loved the characters of Dee and Ethan and I think, for me, the novel is summed up at the end when Ethan says to Dee:

“By the way, your packaging is far superior to any Roxburgh Girl’s. Theirs is all shiny paper and pretty bows but it tears when you unwrap it….But you’re wrapped in something organic and exotic, like hand-painted raw silk. It’s beautiful, strong, durable, incredibly sexy to touch.” Dee replies, “And what’s inside?”

Ethan answers, “Something unique, something you can’t buy, something I’ve been looking for all my life…It’s you, Dee. You’re what’s inside.”

Like Dee, that had me melting right down to my sandals!

I loved this book, and hope that Janette continues her for a into romance writing.


Just Breathe is the third book I have read as part of the Random Romance digital launch, and the fourth novel read for the AWW2013 challenge.


One Little White Lie

One Little White Lie

One Little White Lie

Author: Loretta Hill

Publisher: Random Romance

144 pp e-book

Copy courtesy of Random House via netgalley

One Little White Lie is a comic novella about white lies and how they can lead to much bigger things. Kate Dreson is young, gorgeous and single – thanks to her cheating ex-boyfriend, Mark. They were together for three years, but now Kate would much rather stay at home than risk being set-up by her best friend, Lisa. Although she means well, Lisa is a compulsive match-maker and, after being chatted-up by a drunk guy at a pub, Kate has decided that enough is enough. She vows to put an end to the match-making by inventing a boyfriend – her dream man.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Kate, this dream man has been enlisted by Lisa to pretend to be Kate’s boyfriend. Henry is rich, handsome, and a very successful writer who just wants to find a girl who appreciates him for who he is, rather than one who is only after his money.

Here begins a comedy of errors of sorts, filled with a lot of meddling from Lisa and Henry’s brother Tom. This is where the story got a bit frustrating for me as I didn’t like the characters of Tom and Lisa much and I really just wanted them to leave Kate and Henry to get on with things themselves. I appreciate, of course, that this would not have happened if it weren’t for the interferences, and that they drive the story and provide complications, but for Tom to go as far as having Kate investigated I think took things a bit too far. I felt sorry for Kate not being able to go anywhere without being potentially set-up by Lisa.

To further complicate matters, Henry is actually the elusive fantasy writer H.L.Carter.  Wanting to see if Kate likes him for himself rather than his money, Henry doesn’t tell her, even when she confides to him that H.L.Carter is her absolute favourite author of all time. Needless to say when Kate discovers the truth she is not very happy that Henry had kept this from her.

I liked the fact that, having both been burnt in previous relationships, Kate and Henry were as nervous and unsure as each other at the beginning of their relationship. Ultimately I believed in the connection between them.

One Little White Lie is a cute, bubbly read. With the setting of Sydney sparkling throughout the novel, this would be the perfect summer beach read.


This is the second novel I have read for the Random Romance digital-first imprint, and the third novel read for the AWW 2013 challenge.


Beneath Outback Skies

Beneath Outback Skies

Beneath Outback Skies


Author: Alissa Callen


Publisher: Random Romance


252 pp e-book


Copy courtesy of the publisher via netgalley


Beneath Outback Skies is one of the launch titles for Random Romance – a digital romance imprint of Random House. There are five launch titles with more to be released later in the year. Beneath Outback Skies is a full length rural romance.


Headstrong Paige Quinn is keeping her family’s farm “Banora Downs” afloat almost single-handedly. With her father in a wheelchair, she is responsible for maintaining the farm and its animals in the middle of what seems like an interminable draught.  They are lucky though, as “Banora Downs” is one of the few farms that have managed to survive the draught that is gripping outback New South Wales, Australia.


In the midst of this comes city pretty-boy Tait Cavanaugh, who is guarding some big secrets. He is the CEO of the consultancy firm AgriViz, and is hired by Paige’s father, Connor, to draw up a business plan for the farm. Tait stays at the farm under the pretence that he needs a break from his city life. At the same time he is trying to uncover some family secrets of his own.


Little by little, feelings between Paige and Tait begin to form. He is quite the gentleman, and goes out of his way to help on the farm, and make Paige’s life a little easier. Paige, however, is used to looking after things on her own and isn’t readily going to let any caffeine-addicted city-slicker take control. She has also been burnt by a previous relationship with a city boy and she is determined not to let that happen again.


For a romance novel, I thought it was very slow to get going. Although both Paige and Tait were both strong characters, it wasn’t until half-way through that I felt any chemistry between them. For me, the second half of the novel was much stronger than the first, and for this reason I think perhaps the story may have worked better as a novella. I would have liked the romance that was evident in the second half to have been there all the way through. I also got frustrated at the number of times we were told Tait was hiding secrets. I couldn’t really understand why Tait felt he had to keep everything about his past a secret.


On the plus side, I enjoyed the rural setting – the old-fashioned ball, swimming in the dam, campfires and toasting marshmallows and, of course, the relief when the rain finally arrives and the draught has broken. I also thought that Callen highlighted the difficulties faced by farmers during severe drought really well.









Beneath Outback Skies is the second book read for the AWW2013 challenge.