Based on actual historical events and people, this novel is a powerful and moving tribute to the Australian nurses, doctors, allied health workers and civilian volunteers – British too – who did all they could for the men and women who survived the horrors of the WWI battlefields.

When Australian nurse, Sister Cora Baker, has the opportunity to serve her country at a newly established hospital in Middlesex England in a little village called Harefield in 1915, she doesn’t hesitate. Harefield House, donated to the Australian army by some generous expatriates so it can be turned into a hospital to care for wounded Australian soldiers, Cora works with other Aussie medical staff to establish and transform the grand house.

Not knowing quite what to expect, as the war rages on and the casualty and death count grow, Harefield House is overwhelmed and all too soon, Cora and the other nurses and doctors are working around the clock, exhausted but determined to do their duty. When they call for volunteers, a local, young seamstress, Jessica Chester steps up.

It’s while working at the hospital that she meets Private Bert Mott, a recuperating soldier who is destined, like so many others they care for, to be returned to the front.

As endless stream of injured and dying enter and leave the care of the dedicated nurses and doctors, it’s apparent the nurses are fighting their own kind of war, one defined by bandages, pain relief, and an abundance of loving care. But is it enough when despair, fatigue and a crushing sense of failure abide with them as well?

The Nurses’ War is an amazing story of a little-known chapter in Australian, British and war history. It doesn’t steer away from portraying the brutal realities of the physical, psychological and emotional wounds inflicted upon the soldiers, the courage of those at the front, but also that of those who fought a silent, different and harsh battle behind the lines – one of healing, resilience and hope.

Heart-achingly raw yet filled with the beauty of the human spirit, this is an important and ultimately triumphant story of Australia’s part in the Great War and what happened in the aftermath – when peace was finally reached and an unforeseen enemy arose to fell yet more. The novel explores love, loss, incredible bravery, fortitude, frustration, failure and above all, hope. It shows that heroes wear all kinds of faces and uniforms.

The Nurses’ War is a triumph that will linger in my heart and soul a long time. The Authors Notes at the end are wonderful as well. Here, Victoria not only reveals the real history behind the novel and how these people are commemorated even to this day, but a very personal link to the story as well. So incredibly moving. I should also add a caveat – I was given the privilege of reading an Advanced Readers’ Copy of this book – an ARC – and asked if I would endorse it. Hence, my quote on the front cover. Authors don’t endorse lightly, and I was proud – especially as an ex-service member – to do just that for this wonderful book.

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The Women’s Pages by Victoria Purman

The Women’s Pages by Victoria Purman is a wonderful and heart-warming read that sheds a bright light on pre and post-WWII Australia, Sydney specifically, focusing on often overlooked women’s experiences. The main character, Tilly, initially secretary to the editors of Sydney’s most popular broadsheet, the Daily Herald, finds the call of war changes everything. Like many women of the time, the absence of men who have left to fight, catapults her into a role usually reserved for males: in this instance, war correspondent. 

Unlike male reporters who are jettisoned into war zones or embedded with the troops (and I loved that genuine war correspondents of the era such as George Johnston are mentioned), Tilly’s reporting doesn’t mean travel, but it does mean covering the impact of war and loss of men – their absence – on domestic life. Determined to do her best, Tilly writes from the heart and with unerring accuracy, all the time noting the social, psychological, economic and other changes war brings about, not only on others, but her own life. As the wife of a PoW, Tilly is all too aware of the hefty cost of battle on everyone. Forced to deal with entrenched sexism, misogyny and all the other negative assumptions her remaining male co-workers and other men she encounters particularly make about women, Tilly and her peers continuously prove they’re simply doing what they’ve always been a capable of but were never given the opportunity. The age-old maxim. 

But it’s not only Tilly’s work and observations on life the book explores, but what those left behind do to help the war effort and acknowledge the sacrifices being made – from the amazing land army of women, to those who go above and beyond to send care packages, knit, sew, cook, learn trades and professions previously denied to them and generally step up and deny themselves so much to ensure the country runs smoothly and safely. That the men abroad, risking their lives and souls, know thy matter. It also deals with the constant fear and lack of accurate communication about what’s happening has on those left at home, the damage the spread of propaganda causes as well. And the book doesn’t steer away from exposing grubby politics and the way in which trade unions and dockers particularly were demonized for political gain.

When the war ends and Tilly’s  best friend and housemate welcomes her husband home as the country celebrates victory and returning soldiers, Tilly is forced to reconcile what this means to her personally, professionally, emotionally, and what it signifies for women and the rights they worked so hard to earn. The trauma of war, of loss (and not just human lives), and return to “normality’ for the repatriated soldiers and their families as well as everyone else effected, is sensitively and heart-wrenchingly dealt with.

Overall, this impeccably researched book was a fabulous, thought-provoking and not always easy read (and I mean that in the best of ways as it challenges popular myths and misconceptions) that is both utterly heart-warming and authentic. 
Loved it.

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Scrublands by Chris Hammer


Scrublands is a tightly plotted, brutal book that focuses on the aftermath of a mass murder in a small Riverina town near the NSW/Victorian border. 

When burnt-out journalist, Martin Scarsden, arrives in Riversend to write about the tragedy that brought an already struggling town to its knees, little does he suspect that his ethics and what remains of his personal integrity will be compromised. Finding a place still reeling from the multiple deaths as well as the loss of the man who committed the murders, he tries to befriend locals with varying degrees of success. After all, these are people who have been hurt by media attention, used as fodder for sales, entertainment and ratings as opposed to understanding, and are naturally suspicious of Martin and his intentions. 

But when Martin becomes more involved than he ever suspected he could and his career and that of his closest associates is put on the line in an effort to uncover the truth, Martin knows that he has to get the bottom of not only why a priest turned a gun on locals, but the other mysteries that are plaguing the area – no matter what the personal cost might be.

This is a taut, terrific thriller that had me turning the pages well into the night. The descriptions of the town, the landscape with its bleak skies, unrelenting heat and the tangled scrublands and what they conceal, as well as the peculiar inhabitants with their various peccadilloes, was mesmerizing. You could feel the hot air burning lungs, the perspiration drying on skin, as well as the malaise that comes with coping with such high temperatures. The receding river, the desire for rain, for water, for life, haunts the book, as do the various secrets the townspeople keep, the gruesome deaths and their impact. 

Scarsden isn’t always a likeable protagonist, but he’s a self-reflective one that finds more than he ever bargained for in the small, dying town of Riversend with one deadly story to tell and then some. It’s a novel that will grip you by the throat and not release you until the last page. Terrific. 

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Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

The first book in the beloved Inspector John Rebus series, Knots and Crosses is a fabulous introduction to not only the central character, but the streets of the city he protects.

In this novel – preceded by a fairly self-deprecating introduction by Ian Rankin who reflects on his early writing efforts through the lens of his success and how Rebus and the reception of his books changed so much over the years – ex-SAS man, Detective Sergeant Rebus is still reeling from a bitter divorce from his wife, Rhona and his increasingly distant relationship with his daughter, 12-year-old Samantha. Furthermore, he is harbouring some deep, psychological trauma which he refuses or is unable to acknowledge, one that often emotionally winds him, leaving him feeling bereft, confused and somehow ashamed. Seemingly unable to form let alone keep a functional relationship, including with his younger brother, the hypnotist Michael, Rebus is delighted when a female Inspector, the rather glamorous and efficient Gillian Templer, takes an interest in him.

When the bodies of young girls start turning up, little does Rebus realise how personal this case is going to become – not until it’s too late. Throw in drug-dealers, a persistent journalist pursuing a story that will potentially shatter lives, unsigned cryptic letters, angry bosses, tired cops, and the flawed Rebus, who has a tendency to reflect deeply on literature and quote from it, and the stage is set for a moody, atmospheric, character-driven book set on the mean streets of Edinburgh.

Thoroughly enjoyed it and am already looking forward to getting to know Inspector John Rebus and co much better.

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Fool Me Once by Harlen Coben

27308377I don’t recall reading a Harlen Coben book before, but after consuming his latest, Fool Me Once, in practically one sitting as I was unable to tear myself away, this will not be my last.

This stand-alone novel (that is set to be a movie starring Julia Roberts) is a rollicking read of loss, grief, mistakes, deception, betrayal, secrets, lies, and the consequences of these upon members of a particular family and those they trap in their web.

The main protagonist, Maya Stern, is a retired and admired war veteran who flew missions in Iraq and has come home not only with a cloud over her head and the loss of her beloved sister to face, but now also the brutal murder of her husband, who virtually died in her arms.

Suffering from PTSD and facing the reality of single motherhood, Maya is just coping with the ongoing investigation into her husband’s death and his domineering family that is, until her closest girlfriend persuades her to use a nanny-cam while she’s at work. When, one day, she spots her dead husband nursing their young daughter on the cam’s footage (this isn’t a spoiler – it’s in the blurb and was the hook that convinced me I had to read the book), reality as she knows it begins to disintegrate and Maya, using all the skills and intelligence that held her in good stead in the military, must uncover what’s going on, why and who’s behind it before someone else close to her dies.

Economically written but without sacrificing character development or tension, this is a cracker of a read. At times, I found myself holding my breath or letting it out in relief as the plot built, unfolded and them twisted in a direction I never saw coming.

Suspense grows, the shadows around Maya darken as more and more people are drawn into both her search for the truth and the impossible answers that are emerging.

The complexity of the plot is brought together in a gruesome yet Poirot-inspired finale that I didn’t see coming.

Terrific read that was worth losing most of a night’s sleep over. Bring on the next Coben, please.


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