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3.9 out of 5 stars
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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 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 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 4 December 2013
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 24 February 2014
I found the first half of this book quite boring and in places unbelievable. Nothing concrete to say that things could not have happened at all, but that they would have been pushing the grounds of credibility. Some things could also have been put down to the differences between life in Australia and life in the UK. For instance, the period was c.1925 and the District Nurse was driving around in a Model T Ford. Here in the UK our District Nurses did their rounds on bikes until much later than this (more like 1950's/60's before our DN's started using cars) and, as I have said, it wouldn't have been impossible for a DN is Australia to use a car on her rounds at this time - but unlikely! Also a terminally ill 2 year old boy was credited with the thinking and terminology of, not only an older child, but more likely an adult. To quote a passage from the book "he saved the (opiate) injections for real need, explaining to Grace (a nurse) in the middle of a wakeful night that if he was sedated all the time, he wouldn't know all his lovely nurses the way he did". Added to this was the fact that this particular child was from a family background of being just a nuisance, who was, for the most part, ignored and pushed away..... hardly the sort that would have used the word "sedated", let alone understand it's meaning! However, putting all this aside the second half of the book was quite good and a lot more interesting, showing how different the lives of 2 sets of twins (same father - different mothers) could be. It showed how apart they were, at the same time showing how together they were, and the different paths of life their choices led them.
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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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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 31 May 2014
I enjoyed this book. it seemed to cover the period in Australia very well, when it was emerging out of the Empire to become a nation. I liked the family and how they went in different directions and yet had a unity as a family. Very believable and great Colleen McCulloch presentation and observation. I will give it a second read in a few months.
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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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