Two women separated by centuries but connected by one beautiful silk dress. A captivating novel based on a real-life shipwreck discovered off Texel Island by the bestselling author of Gulliver’s Wife, Lauren Chater.
Jo Baaker, a textiles historian and Dutch ex-pat is drawn back to the island where she was born to investigate the provenance of a 17th century silk dress. Retrieved by local divers from a sunken shipwreck, the dress offers tantalising clues about the way people lived and died during Holland’s famous Golden Age.
Jo’s research leads her to Anna Tesseltje, a poor Amsterdam laundress turned ladies’ companion who served the enigmatic artist Catharina van Shurman. The two women were said to share a powerful bond, so why did Anna abandon Catharina at the height of her misfortune?
Jo is convinced the truth lies hidden between the folds of this extraordinary dress. But as she delves deeper into Anna’s history, troubling details about her own past begin to emerge.
On the small Dutch island of Texel where fortunes are lost and secrets lie buried for centuries, Jo will finally discover the truth about herself and the woman who wore the Winter Dress.
The Winter Dress is a captivating dual timeline story about love and secrets, written in Lauren Chater’s signature evocative prose style.
A 17th Century dress was discovered in remarkably good condition in a shipwreck off the coast of the small Dutch island of Texel in 2014. Chater had woven the small threads of factual information about the dress to create a fascinating story.
In the contemporary timeline, textiles historian Jo Baaker returns home to Texel from Australia to investigate the origins of the dress and help preserve it. As well a working with a difficult male colleague, Jo is also forced to come to terms with her past in Texel and the tragic death of her parents.
The 17th-century timeline focuses on the owner of the dress. Anna comes from a formerly wealthy family and now works as a companion to artist Catharina van Shurman who has secrets of her own. The dress becomes Anna’s talisman as she navigates the seedy side of the high society of the Hague.
The enormous amount of research that has gone into The Winter Dress is impressive. Not only has Lauren Chater meticulously researched the dress and the historical period, but there is also a great deal of information about current day diving practices and life in Texel.
Even more impressive is the way that Chater has woven the facts in with the fiction in a way that had me turning the pages for more.
GULLIVER’S WIFE is an imaginative and rich retelling of Jonathan Swift’s classic Gulliver’s Travels from his long-suffering wife’s perspective with a strong feminist flavour.
In London 1702 Mary Burton Gulliver is forced to raise her son and daughter alone while her husband is at sea. He is often gone for years, rarely keeping in contact, and each time he returns his stories become increasingly fanciful. Mary has no choice but to work as a midwife to make ends meet, even though that she is judged harshly for having to work as a married woman.
When her husband returns home from his long stint at sea feverish and making the most ridiculous claims yet, Mary has no choice but to take him in and to care for him. Even though it was difficult to survive while her husband was at sea, in many ways Mary found it easier to manage her household on her own. Her life without Lemuel was spent managing her household, working in her garden, and caring for the local women in her role as a midwife was mostly calm and orderly. Even before his outlandish ravings began Lemuel brought chaos and deception wherever he went, and his light fingers meant that Mary needed to try to hide whatever meagre money and valuables she possessed.
I particularly liked the character of Bess, Mary’s daughter. Bess is 14 years old and infatuated with her father. She believes his tall tales and false promises that he will take her sailing with him one day until his selfish behaviour puts her in danger this time. Mary hopes that she will train to become a midwife like herself and her mother before her. I think that the relationship between Mary and Bess perfectly captured the difficulties often found in the mother/daughter relationship during the tumultuous teen years when the daughter is trying to figure things out for herself and is desperate for her independence.
I thoroughly enjoyed GULLIVER’S WIFE and would highly recommend it to lovers of historical fiction with a strong feminist bent and touches of magic and wonder. The story is engrossing and skilfully weaved together.
In 2018 she was awarded a grant by the Neilma Sidney Literary Fund to travel to the Netherlands to research her third novel The Winter Dress, inspired by a real 17th century gown found off the Dutch coast in 2014. She has made appearances at the Brisbane Writers Festival, Storyfest, the Southern Highlands Writers’ Festival and the Tamar Valley Writers’ Festival, as well as many others. She is currently completing her Masters of Cultural Heritage through Deakin University.
Hello and wishing everybody a happy Valentine’s Day. Or a happy Sunday if celebrating VDay isn’t really your thing.
In any case, it’s a gloomy Sunday here in Melbourne and we’re in the middle of another (hopefully) short lockdown, so I feel like it’s a great day to curl up on the couch with a romance novel. I’ve prepared a nice stack of some of my favourite romance reads over the years, plus a couple of bonus books amongst the shelves in the background.
There’s a little bit of something for everyone, so I hope you all have a great weekend and happy reading!
With her tousled blond hair and upturned nose, dark glasses and chic black dresses, Holly Golightly is top notch in style and a sensation wherever she goes. Her brownstone apartment vibrates with martini-soaked parties as she plays hostess to millionaires and gangsters alike. Yet Holly never loses sight of her ultimate goal.
Truman Capote’s BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S is very different from the movie. It’s much darker and Holly Golightly is even wilder than the movie version. This is an interesting book to read and a great choice if you are a bit sick of all the Valentine’s Day gushy stuff. I think this might be one of the rare times that I prefer the movie to the book.
‘The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!’
Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.
Jane Austen is another great romance author for anyone feeling a little bit cynical about love. Austen’s dry wit and astute observations about love and human nature will draw you into her world every time.
‘Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?’
Set on the bleak moors of Yorkshire, Lockwood is forced to seek shelter at Wuthering Heights, the home of his new landlord, Heathcliff. The intense and wildly passionate Heathcliff tells the story of his life, his all-consuming love for Catherine Earnshaw and the doomed outcome of that relationship, leading to his revenge.
Poetic, complex and grand in its scope, Emily Brontë’s masterpiece is considered one of the most unique gothic novels of its time.
WUTHERING HEIGHTS is probably the darkest book on this list and perfect if you’re feeling a bit anti-love this weekend. Almost all of the characters are terrible and there aren’t many happy endings here, but it’s also one of the most beautiful Gothic novels and I’m looking forward to re-reading this book shortly.
A woman has to live her life, or live to repent not having lived it.
When aristocrat Clifford returns from the war, paralysed from the waist down, his wife Connie Chatterley becomes isolated and despairs of the post-war years, yearning for human connection among the emotionally dead intellectuals that surround her. When the aloof, but noble, Oliver Mellors returns to the estate as gamekeeper, Connie begings an affair, feeling that she has connected in a sensual, primordial way for the first time.
Hugely controversial at the time of its publication, Lawrence’s exploration of class differences and love and his celebration of sexuality resonates against his view of the repressed modern condition.
LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER has a long reputation as one of the most scandalous classics, often read in secret by teenagers, but I found it underwhelming when I read it for the first time a couple of years ago. There’s plenty of sex and swearing but it wasn’t as confronting or titillating as I was expecting. It’s still a great read with some fascinating social commentary.
Birth. Death. Wonder … One woman’s journey to the edge of love and loyalty from the bestselling author of The Lace Weaver
London, 1702. When her husband is lost at sea, Mary Burton Gulliver, midwife and herbalist, is forced to rebuild her life without him. But three years later when Lemuel Gulliver is brought home, fevered and communicating only in riddles, her ordered world is turned upside down.
In a climate of desperate poverty and violence, Mary is caught in a crossfire of suspicion and fear driven by her husband’s outlandish claims, and it is up to her to navigate a passage to safety for herself and her daughter, and the vulnerable women in her care.
When a fellow sailor, a dangerous man with nothing to lose, appears to hold sway over her husband, Mary’s world descends deeper into chaos, and she must set out on her own journey to discover the truth of Gulliver’s travels . . . and the landscape of her own heart.
I’m still reading GULLIVER’S WIFE and it’s a wonderful retelling of the classic Gulliver’s Travels from the perspective of his wife and daughter. This book is perfect for the historical fiction fan who loves strong feminist characters with witchy midwife vibes. It features more action than romance and it’s beautifully written. Stay tuned for my review coming soon.
1948. The world is struggling to regain a sense of balance after the devastation of World War II, and the sugar cane-growing community of Piri River in northern Queensland is no exception.
As returned servicemen endeavour to adjust to their pre-war lives, women who had worked for the war effort are expected to embrace traditional roles once more.
Rosie Stanton finds it difficult to return to the family farm after years working for the Australian Women’s Army Service. Reminders are everywhere of the brothers she lost in the war and she is unable to understand her father’s contempt for Italians, especially the Conti family next door. When her father takes ill, Rosie challenges tradition by managing the farm, but outside influences are determined to see her fail.
Desperate to leave his turbulent history behind, Tomas Conti has left Italy to join his family in Piri River. Tomas struggles to adapt in Australia—until he meets Rosie. Her easy-going nature and positive outlook help him forget the life he’s escaped. But as their relationship grows, so do tensions between the two families until the situation becomes explosive.
When a long-hidden family secret is discovered and Tomas’s mysterious past is revealed, everything Rosie believes is shattered. Will she risk all to rebuild her family or will she lose the only man she’s ever loved?
BURNING FIELDS is a sweet Australian Historical Romance set in Northern Queensland, 1948. It’s an epic love story with family secrets set in an interesting era and I fell in love with the leading man from the first page. This is a great read for all of the true romantics out there.
An enthralling story of one woman’s determined grab for freedom after WW2 from a talented new Australian voice.
‘PART CABARET, PART BURLESQUE, AND LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE EVER SEEN BEFORE! GENTLEMEN, AND LADIES IF YOU’VE DARED TO COME, WELCOME TO …
1945: After the thrill and danger of volunteering in an all-female searchlight regiment protecting Londoners from German bombers overhead, Evelyn Bell is secretly dismayed to be sent back to her rigid domestic life when the war is over. But then she comes across a secret night-time show, hidden from the law on a boat in the middle of the Thames. Entranced by the risqu� and lively performance, she grabs the opportunity to join the misfit crew and escape her dreary future.
At first the Victory travels from port to port to raucous applause, but as the shows get bigger and bigger, so too do the risks the performers are driven to take, as well as the growing emotional complications among the crew. Until one desperate night …
1963: Lucy, an unloved and unwanted little girl, is rescued by a mysterious stranger who says he knows her mother. On the Isle of Wight, Lucy is welcomed into an eclectic family of ex-performers. She is showered with kindness and love, but gradually it becomes clear that there are secrets they refuse to share. Who is Evelyn Bell?
THE DAUGHTER OF VICTORY LIGHTS is another Historical Romance set post WW2 but in London this time. Evelyn Bell is a fascinating and adventurous woman struggling to readjust to civilian life after volunteering in an all-female searchlight regiment. Then she discovers the part burlesque, part cabaret ship floating along the Thames. This book isn’t overly romantic and is a little bit sad, but the ending is wonderfully uplifting.
One crumbling grand manor house, a family in decline, five generations of women, and an attic full of beautiful clothes with secrets and lies hidden in their folds.
Kelly Doust, author of Precious Things, spins another warm, glamorous and romantic mystery of secrets, love, fashion, families – and how we have to trust in ourselves, even in our darkest of days. One for lovers of Kate Morton, Belinda Alexandra, Fiona McIntosh and Lucy Foley.
Failed fashion designer Sylvie Dearlove is coming home to England – broke, ashamed and in disgrace – only to be told her parents are finally selling their once-grand, now crumbling country house, Bledesford, the ancestral home of the Dearlove family for countless generations. Sylvie has spent her whole life trying to escape being a Dearlove, and the pressure of belonging to a family of such headstrong, charismatic and successful women.
Beset by self-doubt, she starts helping her parents prepare Bledesford for sale, when she finds in a forgotten attic a thrilling cache of old steamer trunks and tea chests full of elaborate dresses and accessories acquired from across the globe by five generations of fashionable Dearlove women.
Sifting through the past, she also stumbles across a secret which has been hidden – in plain sight – for decades, a secret that will change the way she thinks about herself, her family, and her future.
Romantic, warm, and glamorous, moving from Edwardian England to the London Blitz to present day London, Dressing the Dearloves is a story of corrosiveness of family secrets, the insecurities that can sabotage our best efforts, and the seductive power of dressing up
DRESSING THE DEARLOVES is a delicious family saga full of romance, fashion, and mysterious family secrets. While there is a lovely romantic storyline, the love between the endearing and sometimes formidable Dearlove women is the real draw of this book for me. Lovers of vintage fashion will adore this book.
Set, like Maeve Binchy’s early bestsellers, in late 1950s Ireland and New York, this is the story of three women and the charismatic man with whom their lives are interwoven.
Patrick Murphy has charm to burn and a singing voice to die for. Many people will recognise his talent. Many women will love him. Rose, the sweetheart he leaves behind in Ireland, can never forget him and will move heaven and earth to find him again, long after he has married another woman. Ava, the heiress with no self-confidence except on the dance floor, falls under his spell. And tough Sheila Klein, orphaned by the Holocaust and hungry for success as a music manager, she will be ruthless in her determination to unlock his extraordinary star quality.
But in the end, Patrick Murphy’s heart belongs to only one of them. Which one will it be?
IT WAS ONLY EVER YOU is a sweet love story featuring three fascinating, but very different, women who love one charismatic Irish singer. I loved the backdrops of 1950s Ireland and New York, the rock and roll New York scene, and the lovely Irish Maeve Binchy feel of this book. Perfect for everyone who likes a good love triangle, or square perhaps in this case. All the characters had their flaws in this story, particularly Patrick, but he got it right in the end.
What if you met the love of your life and he wasn’t your husband? An AusRom Today People’s Choice Award winner that will appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty, viewers of Offspring, The Good Wife and movies like Up in the Air.
Mel is living the dream. She’s a successful GP, married to a charming anaesthetist and raising a beautiful family in their plush home in Perth. But when she boards a flight to Melbourne, her picture-perfect life unravels. Seated on the plane she meets Matt, and for the first time ever she falls in love.
What begins as a flirty conversation quickly develops into a hot and obsessive affair with consequences that neither Mel nor Matt seems capable of facing. As the fallout touches friends and family, Mel’s dream romance turns into a nightmare. She learns that there are some wounds that never heal and some scars that you wouldn’t do without.
LOVE AT FIRST FLIGHT will take everything you believe about what true love is and spin it on its head.
LOVE AT FIRST FLIGHT is not a typical love story. It takes a confronting look at adultery told with compassion and a thought-provoking perspective. This is a great fit for anybody dreaming of travel at the moment.
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