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3.9 out of 5 stars130
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 15 September 2014
Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough is a family saga about four Latimer sisters – two sets of twins from two different mothers. The story is set in a small Australian town during the aftermath of World War I and the Great Depression. The four sisters, Edda and Grace, and Tufts and Kitty, leave their hometown to become nursing trainees at a nearby hospital. Upon their arrival, they are under the supervision of a very harsh Matron. Despite the terrible living and working conditions, the sisters persevere. Things improve when a new hospital superintendent named Dr. Charles Burdum takes over.

Four sisters - different from the other, with their own set of future aspirations. The story unfolds as each sister follows their own dreams and make their own life altering decisions. Despite their struggles, it is the bond of family that holds them together.

This is a novel about choices and the seeking of happiness and the many different ways this affects lives. The story has a little of everything, from sadness to great joy, life and death, and great love. Told with the author’s great wit, there are many poignant moments as well as humorous ones. A profoundly enriching novel!
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on 15 August 2014
I loved 'The Thorn Birds' but feel nothing Colleen has written since has had the same emotional punch. However, 'Bittersweet' is a saga of dramatic content, full of Australian history during the 20's and 30's. Two sets of female twins, with the same father but different mothers, embark together on a career in nursing in New South Wales. We follow the fortunes and misfortunes of each girl and their relationships with each other and the men in their lives. The book is packed to the gunnels with so much story it is sometimes difficult to keep track of everyone. I recommend this book to all Australian readers and anyone else in the world that has an affinity with Australia.
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on 7 March 2002
Usually, romantic fiction is so far removed from real life that you can't take it seriously or really like the characters. This is different. Maggie Stearn is a widow; about 40; facing the prospect of her only child, Katie, going away to college. She begins to realise that unless she makes some major changes, her life will become stagnant. Most of us face a similar situation at some point in our lives. She finds the courage to make these changes, reaping a whole host of consequences but dealing with them in the best way she can. The storyline examines not only romantic love and teenage dreams, but the difficulties we face in discarding lifestyles and relationships that we've outgrown or no longer benefit us. The value of enduring friendship is a theme and how worthwhile it is to invest time and energy in maintaining them.There are some valuable lessons in this story that prove hard to come by in other romance novels. A balance is struck between the kind of escapism we enjoy in this genre with the kind of reality that enables us to identify with the characters. I can read it over again and still enjoy it.
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on 18 December 2013
Had previously re-read and enjoyed The Thorn Birds so thought this would be good but it was great! Really engrossing with great characters. Looked forward to reading it each time and started watching the percentage read with dread as the end got nearer! Now looking at other Colleen McCullough books but need to get these people out of my head first.
Highly recommended!!!
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on 18 January 2014
Full of interesting characters, obviously written from her own experience served in a hospital in Australia before the Stock market crash of 1920s. Read it and fall in love with all the sisters, two sets of twins but with different individuality and personality.
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on 14 January 2014
It was a good read, once I had sorted out the four main characters, following their lives and how different two sets of twins can be.
As well as a good story it gave some interesting insights into Australian politics at that time.
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This novel is set in the fictional Australian town of Corunda in the 1920s and 1930s, and is the story of four sisters - two sets of twins - Edda and Grace, Kitty and Tufts (Heather). The girls' father is the Reverend Thomas Latimer. Edda and Grace's mother died in childbirth, Kitty and Tufts's mother, Maude, is the Reverend Latimer's second wife and former housekeeper.

The four sisters leave home, after an eventful afternoon tea, to undertake new-style nurse training at the Corunda Base Hospital at the beginning of April 1926. Each of the sisters has different strengths and ambitions: Edda would have liked to train to be a doctor; Grace detests messes; Kitty wishs that the world would see more than her physical beauty and Tufts would like to better organise the world. Some of the sisters would like to marry, others are far less keen. Away from the meddling Maude, and in a world full of post-war optimism, the sisters each work at finding a life that is meaningful. Edda seems certain of what she wants and, sometimes, thinks she knows what is best for her sisters. Grace doesn't care for the mess of nursing, and it's hardly surprising that she leaves nursing when swept off her feet by Bear Olsen, a handsome young commercial traveller. Kitty loves nursing children, and Tufts finds a meaningful platonic partnership with pathologist Doctor Liam Finucan.

`You might get away with carnations and chocolates, but Tennyson and tripe?'

Time passes, life changes. Post-war optimism is replaced by the hardship of the Depression. While none of the sisters are immune from this change, it is Grace and her family that is hardest hit. Kitty and Edda marry as well - very different men - and Tufts moves into hospital administration.

The consequence of choice, both good and bad, is drawn in the parallel lives of Edda, Grace, Kitty and Tufts. Happiness takes different forms, and Ms McCullough does a fine job of depicting Australia in the 1920s and 30s.

I enjoyed this novel as a comparatively light-hearted read about four very different sisters. It's no sweeping saga (like `The Thornbirds') - the story is confined to two decades, instead of six. While some elements of the story stretch believability, this didn't impact on my enjoyment of the story. There are elements of romance and of heartbreak. There are successes, and failures. And weaving the whole story together is wit and humour.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on 3 April 2016
New York Times writes 'McCullough is terrific...Her characters quiver with life.'

And I agree, I express the very same sentiment. I feel like this novel could have gone on forever, I never wanted it to end. But, I felt the ending was appropriate: the Latimer sisters all start off together, and now they are moving forward, as individuals.

In the beginning, I had my mind set on Edda as a beautiful aspiration for any young woman but then she made awful choices, particularly her treatment of Jack Thurlow. Though, later I began to appreciate her and her love for medicine and education - I can sympathise with her on that. And then, her willingness to sacrifice a romantic marriage for the sake of pursuing a career was admirable.

The novel is set in Australia in the early 1920s and then, up to the early 1930s. The period of the Depression. History has always fascinated me, but it doesn't escape my notice that women are so often ignored. Their trials and victories are so often overshadowed by those of men. This book is different, it's entertaining, beautifully crafted, and explores the lives of such heroic, unique, respectable women and how they cope in turbulent times. Edda, the older sister, wishes to delve further into the field of medicine, but of course-at the time- Corunda's society does not allow this. She makes do with what little she can, but that isn't to say that she gives up. She doesn't, instead she looks to advance her career, searching for opportunities. How inspirational! And she's only one of the four delightfully charming heroines, McCullough has created.

I recommend this book, every one of the girls provides an example for the young girls of today. The novel and the lives of the women provoke an intense discussion of what we'd do if we were faced with their somewhat dire situation. I am reminded of Grace's remarkable aplomb, when faced with such unbearable loss.

But it is also a tale that I feel will prove helpful for men, no woman wishes to be a man's possession. I'm sure. and I can guarantee, that most women wish to be seen as a man's equal. And this is a lesson taught through the character Charles and Kitty's marriage. I know that I wrote of this novel as a historical time piece, a classic, but we all know that it is very relevant to today. Since, we can successfully argue that not much has changed, people now have begun to see feminism as an evil, with terms like "feminazi" But that is a discussion for another time. I digress.

There are no "drawbacks" as such, but the language, as sophisticated as it is, may be off putting for some readers and it may take some time for one to get used to it. Though, in my experience it wasn't a great hindrance and so I have not regarded it as a reason to give this novel four stars.

I am grateful that I purchased this book when I did, and at such a bargain too! And a physical copy no less. I plan to read more of McCullough's work.
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on 25 February 2015
Marvellous story some character details a bit off the mark e.g the
Ulster Protestant Dr. would have been very unlikely to be called
Liam Finucan
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on 21 March 2014
I love Colleen Mcculloughs books, ever since I read 'The Thorn Birds' as a teenager. set in Australia in the early part of the last century,This is an intriguing story of sisters who all become nurses together. The story has interesting twists and the characters are well defined. You come to know the people in the story. I was so disappointed to reach the end of this book!
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