Tag Archives: romance

Book review: Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough

bittersweetWhat an apt title for this book. Bittersweet. It explains how I’m feeling right now, having just read the final chapter on my Kindle app. I love some of Colleen McCullough’s previous novels. I adored The Thorn Birds. And Tim. And the slightly whimsical The Ladies of Missalonghi. But I didn’t adore Bittersweet.

I may be the only reviewer who says this, and it’s probably un-Australian of me to say so, but I just don’t think it’s as well written as McCullough’s earlier novels. Characters have immense changes of mind and tenets without any prior inkling – unless the Kindle version was missing a vital piece or two.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The book is the story of four sisters – two sets of twins, Edda and Grace, Kitty and Tufts (Heather) by the same father and different mothers – and the story takes place during the 1920s into the Depression in the 1930s, set mainly in the fictional NSW town of Corunda. Their father, a lovely bloke, is a Reverend at the local church but to avoid their overbearing mother/stepmother and gain some independence the four girls become live-in student nurses at the local hospital.

All good so far. McCullough’s done her research, and the 1920s setting is pretty authentic, down to the duties and treatments the young nurses deal with and the clothing they wear. We learn more about their characters, and their characters develop now they are living out of home in a nurses’ house at the local hospital.

The twins are polar opposites: Edda is strong and intelligent, Grace is weaker. Kitty is the glamour girl, Tufts the practical.

It’s no real surprise that Grace, who doesn’t like the dirtier duties of nursing, marries quickly, but I was rather stunned to read her accepting a proposal of marriage from a man at their first meeting. Yeah, OK, there’s love at first sight but this stretched even my romantic belief.

Kitty is pursued by a wealthy man and finally her scorn turns to love. She marries him, but two miscarriages don’t make up for the big house on the hill and her husband’s interest in politics. He’s a possessive chappy, too, and resents the time she spends with her sisters.

After having an illicit relationship with a local, Edda marries a titled man in a deal that will see her attain a medical degree in return for protecting his homosexuality. It’s actually a better deal than it sounds.

Tufts’ love is the hospital; her relationships with men are fraternal, and she becomes more successful in her career as the book progresses.

Things don’t go well for Grace when the depression hits and her husband loses his job. She’s living in the poorer part of town and won’t accept charity from the wealthy husbands her sisters have acquired. She’s determined to stay there and send her two sons to a local school. But wait! Out of the blue she does a 180 and decides she wants to live in a posh part of Sydney and send them to a private school, and asks Kitty’s husband to help her. That’s the change of character thing I’m talking about.

There are bursts of lovely humour through the book; at times the writing is lyrical and evocative. At others though, it’s a bit rushed, staccato; almost as if two people were writing it, not just one.

Plot and style bunnies aside, this is a story of sisterly love and strength; and ambition. These are strong women who are in many senses ahead of their time. Given the setting, the four protagonists and the author, I should have loved this one.

But I just couldn’t enjoy it the way I’ve enjoyed McCullough’s earlier books. I reached the final page and was looking for the next chapter, or at least a really memorable closing paragraph. Bittersweet, indeed.

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The Adulterer’s Dog

Hugh wasn’t going to argue with his forceful vet when she told him his dog needed more exercise. However, the vet’s instructions didn’t include meeting someone and falling in love

It was, on reflection, rather amusing that a visit to the local vet could lead to such a passionate affair. Not with the vet. Hugh had no desire to enfold the plain-faced, squat Clarissa in his arms.  And not with his dog, either. Although he was fond of Todger, and, if pushed, would admit that he loved the dog as much as he loved his two children, but in an owner/pet kind of way.
No, Clarissa had prodded Todger’s amply-covered ribs and chided Hugh about letting young Golden Retrievers run to fat. “You’ll have horrible hip problems with him later. How often does he get a walk?”
“Um,” Hugh said, flailing. He was trying hard to remember the last time any of the family had taken Todger outside the garden. Probably six months ago, and he’d been so excited he’d pulled Claire off her feet and now she and her brother were afraid to walk him.
“Every day, Hugh. He needs a walk every day. For heavens sake, you live on the edge of the village, you’ve got the most wonderful woods and moorland just a hop away.” Clarissa glared at him through her thick glasses; obviously he was now on the list of Bad Pet Owners. “Cut his feed in half. No snacks, unless they’re carrot sticks. And walk him. Train him, take him to obedience lessons and keep his mind active too. Let him have FUN.” Continue reading

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Future Imperfect

Freddy Kingdom is a twentieth century woman living in the wrong millennium. She’s sitting in the last great sports car ever built, stuck in traffic on the world’s biggest roundabout. And she’s in the WRONG LANE…  Warning: Sexual scenes, bad language, dodgy sci fi. 18+

Freddy Kingdom was stuck in traffic. This was an unusual occurrence. Freddy prided herself on being able to READ traffic, as far into the distance as possible, and make the appropriate split-second decisions to keep herself moving and passing as many vehicles as possible.
But she’d stuffed up. One moment’s reverie, one nanosecond’s lack of attention, and traffic had swallowed her.
Here she was, stuck in the world’s biggest roundabout. What’s more, she was stuck in the WRONG LANE.
Freddy groaned and thumped the steering wheel, and put on her indicator without much hope. The cars and maxibuses in front of her had stopped completely, which indicated either a breakdown or a fender-bender. An electric motor scooter, one of which she’d owned herself until last week, swept down the middle lane with a triumphant squeak of its low decibel horn. She switched off the motor, and the snarly sound of the Porfer ceased. Continue reading

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Willpower

When she’d created a fictional alien hero with three dicks, Lucy never dreamed she’d meet him….or sleep with him! Warning: Sex scenes, bad language. 18+

“The best thing about creating a world is that you can do exactly what you like with it.” Lucy was fond of saying this. In her tours to schools as a successful author, she found this always put thoughtful looks and big smiles on small faces.
Creating a world was exactly what Lucy had done. She had created Fod, the planet about which she’d written 25 stories and books to date. A crappy relationship had put her off writing for almost a year, much to the horror of her agent, and now she was over Jake – or Jerk, as she now privately called him – and was working on the synopsis for the new book. Continue reading

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Melissa’s Luck

Melissa had it all – good looks, a beautiful baby, and two men who each thought they were the baby’s father! (Published in Woman’s Day, 2000)

What Melissa wanted, Melissa got.
It had been like that all our lives. We were resigned to it. Melissa got all the luck.
She was the only slender blue eyed blonde in a family of sturdy brunettes, and played on it mercilessly. We adored her. We indulged her. She was the middle child, and totally spoilt.
Even my wedding day was viewed by the family not as Samantha-and-Bruce’s-Wedding, but as Melissa’s-day-as-chief-bridesmaid. Slim and dainty, she led the procession down the aisle so effectively that I, gazing lovingly (erroneously so, as it turned out, but I digress) at my bridegroom, was almost ignored by the entire congregation. I remember the minister’s eyes were on gorgeous Melissa as he intoned, “Dearly beloved”. But that was Melissa. It was only to be expected. Continue reading

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Isabel Shakes Her Spear

This time it’s a trip to Shakespeare’s England.  Isabel ain’t your usual demure Tudor miss. She’s struggling to become a writer in a male-dominated world, even if it means cross-dressing, swilling beer and lighting farts. And the man of her dreams only had a bath last week… Warnings: Sex scenes, bad language, terrible liberties with history. 18+

Isabel tossed in her sleep. She was having the dream again.
Isabel sees the woman from behind. She is sitting in a peculiar chair, one spindle from the seat going down onto a brace affair with five wheels on the bottom. She is tapping her fingers on little grey squares and the glowing rectangle in front of her is throwing up words. The machine makes squawking noises every so often.
The woman sighs and scratches her head, then arches her back. She is wearing clothes like Isabel has never seen, a plain jersey and, of all things, trousers. No ruffles, no tight hose. She is dressed like a man in these cerulean blue trousers yet dressed like no man Isabel has ever seen. Her dark hair is loose and hangs to her shoulders. Continue reading

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Fat Charlie the Archangel

Charlie had held a torch for gorgeous, thoughtless Jeremine since they were teenagers but to Jeremine he’d always be her brother’s seriously overweight best friend. Maybe sharing a house would change all that…

The four of them got wildly drunk the night they moved in together. It was a multiple celebration: Jeremine had landed the most lucrative modelling contract she’d had yet with an agency whose connections spanned the world, and would be flying off to Paris for a shoot in a few months’ time; Sophie had been accepted for her first job since graduating from uni; Grant had won $500 on a mystery trifecta he’d taken out just for a laugh; but Charlie didn’t name his reason. He was unwilling to let even his three closest friends know that he’d had sex with a girl for the first time in two years. It hadn’t been good sex, just mediocre, but Charlie had the feeling it was the most he’d get for a while. He just couldn’t seem to make it with women. But he clinked his tumbler of champagne against Jeremine’s and proclaimed, “Here’s to our new house!”
They’d pooled their resources and rented a three-bedroomed house in Balmain. Sophie and Grant had been toying with the idea of living together for ages, and had bagged the master bedroom with its wardrobe-sized ensuite. Jeremine got the next best bedroom; people always let Jeremine have the best. She was so beautiful, when she turned those huge brown eyes on you you’d forgive her anything, Charlie thought as he’d unpacked his boxes into the third bedroom, which wasn’t much bigger than a dog kennel. With Charlie’s bulky frame in it, it became even smaller. Continue reading

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