BOOK CLUB: The Buchanan Girls

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“The Buchanan Girls” by Emily Madden is a novel with no great surprises. But it thoroughly engages you with strong characters and is ultimately very moving. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


In 1941 Sydney, the war is beginning to look very real. Australian men are signing up in ever greater numbers, and increasingly being sent to see action. US soldiers are flooding into Australia, both to use it as a staging post and to defend it from the Japanese threat.

Twins Olive and Ivy have very different attitudes to the war. Olive sees it as a personal inconvenience, keeping her from her husband and the life she “should” be living. Ivy sees it more broadly and desperately wants to do her part. She wants to join the Australian Women’s Army Service, be useful, and free up male soldiers to actually fight. But Olive’s desire to be a wife and wait prettily to provide a hero’s return is socially acceptable; Ivy’s desire is not. At least in the eyes of her father and grandmother.

Simultaneously we are following Madeleine in 2008. She’s lived in New York for years with her husband, but after discovering his cheating, she’s fled home to Sydney to work out what she wants to do in the long term. She’s utterly torn, and her husband’s texts, reminding her of significant dates in their relationship, don’t help.

It becomes clear very early that the characters in the two timelines are linked. Indeed, if there is a flaw in this novel – and some won’t be bothered by this at all – it’s that I was only halfway through the book when I’d worked out who everyone in 2008 was in relation to 1941. Mind you, I was still completely engaged in the journey of how they got from there to here. Knowing the end didn’t detract from that at all.



Madden’s previous novel, “Heart of the Cross” showed a deep familiarity with Sydney’s past. Here Madden is largely focused on the 1940s rather than the 1960s but shows a similar understanding of Australian attitudes and lifestyle at the relevant times.

Both novels rely largely on strong characters. Here both Olive and Ivy are vivid characters, and although Olive might be a harder stretch for some readers to believe in, it’s not really that difficult. The main focus is on Ivy and Madeleine in their different time periods. Both are engaging and real; most readers will quickly care what happens to them. Eventually parallels in their lives emerge, and few will be able to put the novel down without finding out how each resolves their dilemmas.

I found the end very moving, to my own surprise. I’m a bit of a cynic, and after all, I’d seen the end coming 200 pages earlier. And still, I misted up. Madden has a very subtle touch with her characters and gets you more emotionally involved than you realise.

This is a really good historical novel, though the focus is more on the characters than historical events – the era and attitudes matter more than the big events. Readers will be absorbed in the background and characters. And whether you’ve seen the end coming or not, it’s going to move you.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Buchanan Girls by Emily Madden. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

Author: Emily Madden
ISBN: 978-1-8672-0424-4
Copy courtesy of Mira (2021)

8 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Buchanan Girls

  1. A captivating and engaging family saga spanning the 1940 war years through to 2008.
    1940s. The Buchanan girls Olive and Ivy are identical twins in looks only. Their personalities are as different as night and day. Olive is selfish, demanding , egotistical and spoilt whereas Ivy, who Iives in her sister’s shadow is compassionate, compliant and caring. Olive can’t wait to be married and have a wonderful life in Sydney society. Ivy just wants to escape and do something for her country so she joins the Australian Women’s Army (against both her sister and fathers wishes). There is romance, heartache, deceit and sacrifice for the Buchanan girls.

    2008 – Madeline Harris, an occupational therapist has run away from New York back home to Sydney to her Gran, Olive and mother, Carolyn after her husband Evan has cheated on her. Madeline is torn between forgiving her husband and moving on with her life but it is hard to let go of the past.
    Madeline rents an apartment (apparently haunted) on the grounds of the old Bedlam Bay Lunatic Asylum and where the Stepping Stones School is located. Madeline secures a temp job at the school and becomes friendly with Gwen a resident of the aged care facility that the school has a program with. Gwen was a member of the Australian Women’s Army and recounts stories of her time during the war period. Madeline finds these stories interesting as her Gran doesn’t talk about her experience during the war.
    There are so many secrets that are revealed as connections from past years are made. Olive isn’t who Madeline thinks she is and her whole world is turned upside down.
    I couldn’t put this book down! Love a family saga and this was such a great read. I just had to find out if Madeline forgives Evan and what the life time secret Olive has been keeping from her family.
    A definite 5/5!
    I really look forward to Emily Madden’s next title.

  2. I loved ‘The Buchanan Girls’ by Emily Madden. It was a great mix of characters, war, history, romance and mystery and a really good read for anyone who likes a saga. The words flowed and the story was easy to read but hard to put down! Throw in a great twist in the end and you’ve got yourself the makings of a wonderful story. I haven’t read any of Emily’s books before, but will definitely go and get them now. Thank you Beauty and Lace for letting me review this book >:o)

  3. The Buchanan Girls by Emily Madden is another great historical fiction book by this author. This story had dual timelines of Sydney in 1941 and 2008. In 1941 we meet identical twins Ivy and Olive who look the same but want very different things. Even though they are not yet 18 Olive marries a man appropriate to her station and Ivy joins the Australian Women’s Army Service. The descriptions of what the AWAS girls do for work and play is fascinating.
    In 2008 we meet Madeline who returns home to Sydney from the USA to nurse her broken heart.
    The book explores the links between the characters and the themes of betrayal, war, secrets and forgiveness.
    I really enjoyed this book and thank Beauty and Lace and Harper Collins Publishers for my copy for review.

  4. Wow, what a fantabulous read this book was. The storyline will capture your hearts from the first page to the last. It had me guessing at what was going on but no way could I have pin pointed how the story would turn till when I was nearer the end.

    This book entwines so many genres of history, mystery, romance, drama and a little bit of thriller thrown in. A big book with pages reaching 434 but every page you want to read and dive into the storylines. This is a real page turner and one I have thoroughly enjoyed and could not put down.

    I found the storyline interesting with mentions of places like Hawaii, Sydney and Brisbane and Nth Qld. Places that I actually knew and could visualise Emily describing them.

    The storyline starts with Sydney in 1924 when Andrew returns home from the Great War telling his well to do parents of his love for a girl.

    The chapters then revert back and forwards through the years of 1941 to 2008 with different strong characters that you immediately warm to and then there are ones that will annoy the heck out of you.

    Madeline is prominently in the year of 2008 and I found myself wondering what her relationship was to the characters in 1941 and before. Her storyline is such a beautiful story.

    In 1941 we learn about Ivy & Olive, identical twins who are like chalk and cheese in their personalties. Ivy is a very warm character who joins the AWAS – Australian Women’s Army Service because she wants to amount to something by helping out for the men that are fighting the war. Olive is spoilt and seems to be the favoured child within the family.

    The storyline is well written by Emily as she brings such memorable characters. You feel as though you are actually inside the book as you read and I felt like I knew the characters personally.

    Such a fabulous read in that the storyline moves and hits your heart strings, secrets entwined throughout the pages, lies, love, friendships and death. There will be tears also some are joyous and some are sad.

    It is such a captivating read and I would highly recommend to anyone that loves a fabulous storyline. Absolutely loved this book and Emily has hit the jackpot again with such another great read. This book will be treasured by me forever.

    Thank you Beauty & Heaven and Harlequin for the privilege of reading this book. Thank you to Emily Madden again for such a beautiful, captivating storyline. I can’t wait for your next story.

  5. Another brilliant read by Emily Madden!
    Madden builds strong characters, you feel what they are feeling, there joy, frustration and horror.
    Although I had a fair inkling how the book was going to pan out there was still some surprises tucked into the ending!!
    Highly recommend reading ‘The Buchanan Girls’

  6. Thank you for The Buchanan Girls by Emily Madden.
    This is the story of Ivy and Olive Buchanan and is set in 1941 Sydney. They may look identical but are opposing personalities. Ivy wants to join the AWAS (Australian Women’s Army Service) and help the war effort, while Olive wants to marry well and have life go back to normal. The war changes their situation in so many ways. Ivy meets so new friends, but then the unthinkable happens and life will never be the same again. I never imagined how this would go and it was hard to try and put myself in their shoes. I most felt for Ivy who was a people pleaser and family supporter.
    Then there is Madeline who is in 2008 Sydney after a betrayal by her husband. She is trying to work out how her life can go ahead and if her husband is to be part of it. She finds temporary work and through that meets people who will change her life as she has known it.
    I couldn’t quite work out how these people would be joined, and I enjoyed not knowing. This story brought vividly to life the horrors of war and how it affected so many facets of life.
    I would recommend for anyone as there is so much to learn about Australians in war, family relations and friendship bonds.

  7. Thanks to Beauty and Lace and Harper Collins for the chance read and review The Buchanan Girls.

    Emily Madden did it again. Absolutely beautiful book I love the different timeline books. War, romance, history and mystery an easy read and relatable characters.

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