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  • Funny, poignant, a heart-warming read

    “From years of careful observation Hattie had worked out how birds interacted. She’d learned their social hierarchies and their peccadilloes. She could read birds, and for decades, had reported their behaviour in what was essentially an ornithological gossip column or society page. Humans, on the other hand, remained an enigma.” The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home is the third novel by Australian author, Joanna Nell. Eighty-nine-year-old Hattie Bloom (Miss) is desperate to return to Angophora Cottage and its eponymous tree: on the fence-line, it’s the basis of a dispute with her new young neighbours, but a source of joy for Hattie, home to a pair of nesting Powerful Owls. It’s a small irony that it’s Hattie’s concern for said owls, and her neighbours’ fixation with tree-lopping, that have landed her in Woodlands Nursing Home, until her hip heals (apparently the ladder was rotten). Hattie’s first attempt at escape fails when a traffic jam prevents the taxi progressing off the grounds. Walter Clements, a feisty ninety, has also failed. The Tesla scooter he has had delivered sits in a corner of his room, the keys confiscated after the assessment, on which the DON insisted, ended rather badly. Casualties were a statue, a valuable eighteenth-century table, the OT’s foot and the shin of one Miss Hattie Bloom. Walter is incredulous: as a former driving instructor, he has every confidence in his driving skills; and the Tesla will be so handy for nipping down to the bottle shop, once he is permitted to use it. At Woodlands, sleep does not come easily (if at all) to Hattie, but on her next sleepless night, two new faces present: the sympathetic face of the night nurse, Sister Bronwyn, and her elderly black Labrador, Queenie. Sister Bronwyn invites Hattie to join the Night Owls, and when she does, Hattie is quietly impressed with this nurse’s laterally-thought-out solution to elderly insomnia. When Walter isn’t keeping his terminally ill friend Murray, company at night, he heads to the Day Room where the Night Owls gather; he’s hoping to get a smile out of Hattie Bloom but he might need to update his comic repertoire. He reminds Hattie of a kookaburra: “always laughing at his own jokes.” But his effort to impress leads to an incident that sees everyone’s favourite nurse lose her job. Sister Bronwyn is replaced by an agency night nurse: “Not so youngish close up. Her hair a shade too yellow and her face obscured by thick makeup that gave her the appearance of an overworked painting. She had precise eyebrows that looked as if they’d been drawn on with a calligraphy pen, and conspicuous lips that looked as if they’d been caught in some sort of suction device.” Without the Night Owls, the many Woodlands insomniacs are agitated. But between them, Hattie, Walter and Murray have confidence in their plan to get Sister Bronwyn reinstated. After all: “Everyone expects so little of us, expects us to be completely incapable. That’s our secret weapon.” Nell’s third novel is another delight. Her characters will quickly charm the reader with their opinions, attitudes, insights, humour and wise words. As might be expected from the Nursing Home setting, the pace is fairly sedate, until the last fifth, when the reader’s heart might be thumping right along with Walter’s. For any reader familiar with them, either through friends, family, or personal experience, Nell’s depiction of a care facility and its residents, what plagues them but also what brings pleasure, will definitely strike a chord, and attest to Nell’s extensive knowledge of her subject. Without getting too graphic, Nell draws attention to the losses that afflict the aged, especially when they enter such a facility, whatever the quality: dignity, independence, freedom, familiar surroundings, convenience and more; and how they so easily feel invisible, unimportant, insignificant. Funny and poignant, this is a truly heart-warming read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Hachette Australia.

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  • Australian Fiction Nursing Home Antics

    Hattie Bloom is 89 she lives alone in her run down cottage; she’s a nature lover and has an interest in birds. When she takes a tumble and ends up in Woodlands Nursing Home she absolutely hates it and there’s no such thing as privacy in aged care. Hattie’s not used to being around people, being told what to do; she can’t wait until her hip heals and she can go home. Aged care facilities can be boring and extremely monotonous places to live; they have a regimented schedule, tight budgets, endless cups of cold tea, and don’t mention the food. Walter Clements is a real character, he’s funny, he likes to tell jokes and he thinks all the ladies find him charming. He wants to leave Woodlands, he hates taking the water pills they give him and they also limit his alcohol consumption. His path to freedom involves passing a test to use a mobility scooter safely and he assumes it will be a piece of cake for a man with his capabilities? Hattie and Walter are complete opposites and when they meet Hattie isn’t at all sure of what to make of Walter! Sister Bronwyn works the night shift at Woodland’s and she runs a secret club called The Night Owl’s. Many residents have a problem sleeping, are almost nocturnal and she brings her dog Queenie to work with her and they enjoy the harmless night time activities she organizes. When Sister Bronwyn is dismissed from her duties, the oldies are devastated; they miss her, the camaraderie, fun activities and Queenie. Walter, Hattie and their friend Murray who’s unfortunately very ill and confined to his room are determined to get Sister Bronwyn reinstated. The ideas they come up with, plans they make and what they try is totally hilarious. I loved The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home; it’s a wonderful story about a group of older people and their determination to have the night nurse reinstated. It’s an absolutely delightful book to read, so funny, with lovable and enduring characters and it’s an uplifting story. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and five stars from me.

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  • Very enjoyable

    Funny up lifting story with strong questions about how to care for the elderly and what do they want vrs what they need and how to fit this into a inflexible system

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