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Ronan's Echo

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"As this title is now out of print, to purchase a signed copy of Ronan's Echo, please contact the author at jvanos55@gmail.com"

In 1916 twin brothers Denny and Connor Ronan are eager to get to the war before it’s all over; Bridie O’Malley, their childhood friend and the woman they both love, watches them leave, understanding too late that war is about more than heroes and handsome boys in uniform.

Nearly a century on from the disastrous battle of Fromelles, forensic anthropologist Kat Kelso, Bridie’s great granddaughter, is in France identifying the recovered bodies of lost Australian soldiers. The discovery of her own relative amongst the dead men begins the unravelling of a hundred years of family history, lies and secrets.

352 pages, Paperback

First published March 25, 2014

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About the author

Joanne van Os

8 books29 followers
Joanne van Os grew up in Melbourne, and has been reading since before she can remember. She was lured to the Northern Territory in 1976 for a short term job, and stayed. Life in the NT's remote places meant jobs like bullcatching, buffalo and cattle mustering, station management and ownership, and tourism.

Life with her first husband, known as the "Real Crocodile Dundee", brought about her first book, best selling memoir "Outback Heart", in 2005. Three children's novels followed, all adventure mystery stories for 9 to 12 year olds, and set in the remote north of Australia. Her first general fiction novel, "Ronan's Echo", was published in March 2014.

After 8 years living aboard and sailing in SE Asia and Australia, Joanne and her husband Lex live in Darwin.

Website: Http://joannevanos.com
Facebook: Joanne van Os Australian Author

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews
Profile Image for Sharon.
988 reviews192 followers
January 18, 2015
Birdie O'Malley's mother died giving birth to her and from that day onwards her brothers Donal, Rory and Aidan became very protective of their baby sister. Three years after their mother had died their father Eamonn believed there was no future for his children in Ireland so they packed up and moved to Australia. They found a house in Sydney in the suburban area of Manly naming the house Connemara after their old house.

Having just been in their new house a short while Birdie meets and becomes friends with two of the local boys Denny and Connor who are twins. They totally enjoyed hanging out with one another and as each day passed their friendships grew closer to one another. But it would all change the day war was declared in 1916 and both Denny and Connor signed up along with Bridie's brothers. Recognizing how close she had become to both Denny and Connor, she knew in her heart that one day she might marry one of them and she was heartbroken to see them go.

The year is now 2009 nearly a century later and the story plays along on with Catriona Kelso known as Kat, who is a forensic anthropologist who was Birdie's great granddaughter. Kat didn't return home often, but when she did, she liked the idea that her room at Connemara was kept the same from when she was fourteen. Being on a break from her work would give her a chance to catch up with her mother, Fiona and her great Aunt Hattie who also lived in Connemara. Whilst chatting with Aunt Hattie about her next job to Fromelles where she would help with the identification of the Australian soldiers that were lost in WW1. After listening to Aunt Hattie as she speaks about the family Kat soon realizes that she may find one of her own relatives at Fromelles. But exactly what secrets will Kat discover about her family history that leaves her with unanswered questions.

Ronan's Echo is truly a breathtaking and an extremely touching novel. A stunning and captivating read by Aussie Author Joanne van Os. If you enjoy reading historical fiction, then make sure you read this book as I'm sure you'll love it as much as I did. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Brenda.
4,098 reviews2,664 followers
May 5, 2019
Bridie O’Malley was a beautiful young woman with deep rich flowing red hair; even as a child she was stunning. Her three brothers doted on her; as well her father Eamonn – their life was happy and peaceful in their home, “Connemara” in the Sydney suburb of Manly. They had left their Irish home behind in 1906 when Bridie was only eight years old and headed to Australia to make a new life.

At age fourteen, Bridie’s best friends were identical twins Denny and Connor Ronan – she enjoyed their company like no other, and they hers. The three of them were inseparable through their childhood years and Eamonn often wondered which one Bridie would choose to be her husband. Her choice would be difficult he knew, as they both idolised her. But when war was declared in Europe and Britain requested troops from Australia, the lives of many were set to change in terrible and permanent ways. When first Bridie’s three brothers went to war, and then both Connor and Denny signed up in 1916 and followed them, Bridie and Eamonn were desolate, and could only pray for their safe return...

In 2009, almost one hundred years later, forensic anthropologist Catriona Kelso, or Kat as she was known, was home for a break from her last job before she headed to Fromelles. She was to assist in the identification of the recovered Australian soldiers’ bodies which were lost in that disastrous WW1 battle. Kat was Bridie’s great granddaughter, and lived with her mother Fiona and great Aunt Hattie at “Connemara”, the old family home. Learning of her family’s history from Aunt Hattie was stunning but exciting – the thought that one of her very own relatives could be found at Fromelles had her heart racing. But the secrets and lies which Kat uncovered shocked her, turning her family history into one of strangeness; there were suddenly more questions than answers – would she be able to discover the truth?

What a deeply moving, powerful story! I absolutely loved this wonderful novel by Aussie author Joanne van Os – the characters are so well drawn, the emotion so incredibly raw; I felt like I was there in France with Connor and Denny. Kat’s journey was also an inspiring and meaningful one with her earlier grief still needing to be dealt with. The novel travels in both time frames very successfully with the story coming together perfectly, but with an unexpected twist at the end. I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this historical fiction novel extremely highly.

With thanks to the author and her publisher for my copy to read and review.
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Alaska).
1,286 reviews421 followers
February 7, 2017
First, a disclaimer. Joanne van Os is my friend. We met first here on Goodreads, but I had the chance to see and chat with her when she traveled through southeast Alaska in the Summer of 2011. I would like to add, however, that I don't think knowing her colors my rating of this book. It may not be destined to become a classic, as some of my other 5-star reads are, but Ronan's Echo gives us an opportunity to understand how the effects of war radiate beyond its participants.

When the book arrived in the mail, I read the 2-page prologue. My throat caught and my eyes were hot with tears. I had to put it down. I thought, "This will have to be scheduled appropriately. I can't have two highly emotional reads back to back."

This is a generational story. The near-present events are told in the first person, the historical events in the third-person. I learned a bit about forensic anthropology - just a bit - but it was fascinating. And the war scenes were intense, but brief.

The bulk of the story is one I haven't encountered in my Great War reading, and I'm glad to have found it here. "So many came home damaged" Jo told me in 2011. I knew she wasn't talking just about the physical wounds, but the mental ones as well. Eamonn O'Malley observes: "Tis unspeakable. No man should see what they have seen . . . What've we done? How can men do such things to each other?" It isn't all that intense, but be prepared.

I hope my US friends can find a copy of this book. At present I believe it is available only in Australia and New Zealand. It deserves to be read more widely.

Profile Image for Kathryn.
844 reviews
February 3, 2015
I have heard many positive remarks about this book and it didn’t disappoint. I enjoyed the current-day stories of Kat, the forensic anthropologist who unearths (sometimes literally) the stories behind how and why people died, and her mother, Fiona, who is cool, unemotional and undemonstrative, and her aunt, Hattie, who they live with. Going back another generation, we see Hattie’s mother, father and uncle - the young Bridie and twins, Denny and Connor, as they vie for Bridie’s affections before the boys head off to fight in WWI. They are both sent to the blood bath that was Fromelles. One returned, one didn’t.

This was a very easy read, although some of the descriptions of fighting at Fromelles were confronting. I’ve read quite a few books based on WWI or WWII (especially last year - for some reason!), but I still can’t fully comprehend what the situation would be like, although I’m sure it’s even worse than the limits that my imagination can stretch to.

This was the first book that I started and finished in 2015, and it was certainly a good read to start with! I am wavering in my star rating between 4 and 4.5. I think I will leave it at 4 stars for the moment (and may revise if I keep thinking about it!), but am definitely keen to read more works by Joanne van Os.

EDIT: I am still thinking about this a month later, so am bumping it up to 4.5 stars!
Profile Image for Jülie ☼♄ .
490 reviews22 followers
October 18, 2014
Thanks to Brenda for recommending this one to me!

This is one I'd like to see made into a movie.
What a wonderfully intricate, well thought out and credible family history, carefully interwoven with all the personality quirks of its many troubled characters.

The story takes us smoothly between the war in 1916, specifically in France...and every young mans' desire to enlist...to 2010 Australia.
It describes the circumstances of the characters involved, telling of the influences of those times on their collective lives, and of the continuing impact it was to have on the lives of their descendants for generations to come.

Catriona Kelso's job as a Forensic Anthropologist takes her all over the world and puts her in much demand as a specialist in her field where she is called upon to help uncover the mysteries of long buried bodies and artifacts to discover their cause of death and often other previously untold secrets.
Unbeknownst to Kat, her chosen occupation is about to steer her into uncovering a family mystery which no one could have ever imagined.

Kat and Sal's friendship goes back to their time at Uni together where their devoted studies and shared interests helped foster an enduring friendship, ensuring their later careers as rookie cop and rookie forensics kept them in regular contact both professionally and socially as their respective careers saw them promoted into more specialized fields.

In 2009 in the backyard of a house in Burwood in suburban Sydney, work has been halted on a renovation project which has partially unearthed the remains of a body.
Catriona, or Kat to her friends, has been summoned by her closest friend and confidant, Detective Senior Sergeant Sally Mason to assist in the retrieval and identification of the discovered remains.
This is where Kat shows her skills and expertise in her chosen field while assisting police and coroners with solving the mystery of the backyard burial.

In the meantime Kat is also making plans for her next project which involves the recovery and identification of the bodies of lost Australian soldiers found to be buried in a previously unknown mass grave at Pheasant Wood in Fromelles, France. Once the recovery and identification process has been done, those soldiers will be given an honorable and proper soldiers' burial nearby in a specially prepared soldiers cemetery.

Upon questioning her old aunt out of curiosity, Kat learns that she has a great uncle who was recorded as being missing presumed dead in Fromelles, so she decides to take DNA samples from her aunt and copies of the enlistment and service records of the missing soldier etc. when she goes, on the off chance of discovering his remains.
Therein begins a fantastic story involving generations of the same family with lots of twists and turns and surprises to hold the reader captive to the very end.

The story demonstrates the cycle of abuse and how it can, if left unchecked, continue on through generations .... how whole families can get caught up in that cycle of abuse or hardship and unwittingly perpetuate it, causing long term scars which people carry, forever affecting their own behavior.

5★s I loved this book and would highly recommend it.

*I also like the inclusion of the family tree chart in the front of the book as a ready reference to show who's related to who.

People who like this book might also like: Fromelles: The Final Chapters by Tim Lycett which tells the true story of the recovery and reburial of the lost Australian Diggers of Pheasant Wood, Fromelles.

Profile Image for Sally906.
1,372 reviews3 followers
April 4, 2014
In 1906, after Bridie O’Malley’s mother has died her father takes her and her two older brothers to settle in Australia. She quickly makes friends with the identical twin brothers who lived next door, Denny and Connor Ronan, and by the time she is in her teens everyone is wondering which brother will be the one she marries. However, before a wedding can take place her brothers, along with Denny and Connor, march off to the Great War in Europe, all of them eager to get there before the action is over. Sadly only one of the four returns. Almost 100 years later Bridie’s great granddaughter is a forensic anthropologist and has accepted a job in France identifying the recovered Australian soldiers’ bodies which were lost in the disastrous WW1 battle that occurred at Fromelles. Imagine her surprise when her great aunt Hettie tells her that some of her own ancestors could be among the fallen.

RONAN’S ECHO by Joanne van Os is a very, very good story. Spanning a century the story of how WWI impacted one family through 4 generations of women is a compelling read. I was hooked from the very first page, however Joanne does not rush her story, and neither did she drag it; the pacing, the story, the character development is all spot on. Added to this are the family secrets and the twists and turns which gradually come to light and do not feel forced or leaving you scratching your head. So much information is given about WW1 as well, facts that I was not aware of. Gallipoli and the huge number of losses incurred over the few months that it dragged out for is the focus of ANZAC day in Australia. It became a symbol of Australia's new national identity, a coming of age as a nation. However, Fromelles was much bigger as far as Australian losses went, there 5,533 casualties (with over 2,000 dead) in just ONE night. In fact this toll was equivalent to the total Australian casualties in the Boer War, Korean War and the Vietnam War put together. It was a staggering loss and Joanne has managed to convey the horror and violence of the war without generating into pages of gore. She summed up the bravado, the fear and the senselessness of what occurred. Joanne also managed to convey the fallout of the war on the participants, and those left burning the home fires. The survivors were changed forever and their struggles had a ripple down effect on future generations. RONAN’S ECHO is an absolute ripper of a read.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
2,175 reviews615 followers
April 6, 2014
Joanne van Os is a great story teller. This novel spans over a hundred years and four generations starting with the emigration of Eamonn O'Malley, his three handsome sons and his beautiful little daughter Bridie from Ireland to Manly in Sydney.
Eamonn, owner of a drapery business in Ireland, sets up shop in Manly and with his sons to help is soon able to buy a big house and property overlooking the sea and open two other shops. The start of 1914 finds the family very prosperous, with Bridie now fully grown and running the house and trying to decide which of her childhood friends, the Ronan twins Denny and Connor, she wants to marry. When world war breaks out later that year Bridie's brothers join up, followed a year later by the twins and nothing is ever the same again for the O'Malley family.
Nearly a century later Kat Kelso, a forensic anthropologist and Bridie's great-granddaughter is sent out to Fromelles to help with the exhumation and identification of Australian soldiers still buried where they fell on the battlefield. Kat makes some surprising discoveries about her family and uncovers a long kept secret that echoes down the generations and explains much of her family history.
In this novel, the author manages to convey the horror of war and the effects of post war trauma on the families of returning soldiers who can never return to the peaceful and normal lives they had before. Until recently, the loss of ANZAC lives in France had not been as well publicised as the slaughter at Gallipoli. However, it was every bit as drastic and devastating and the stories of the young men who died on French battlefields deserves to be told. Great story! 4.5 ★ from me.
Profile Image for Graham Wilson.
Author 53 books287 followers
June 13, 2018
Another deeply moving and beautifully told story by Joanne
The background detail is convincing and and the overall story is well told but the strongest feature is the power of the narrative, which takes you inside the lives of the characters and draws you ever on.
It is a story of unavoidable tragedies in generations past and how their consequences, beginning in World War 1, flow on down through succeeding lives damaging many people who had no part in original events, but are still pawns to how they play out.
It is also a story of the power of compassion and understanding.
I particularly liked the part in the end where Joanne told of her visit to many country towns and, through seeing the endless memorials and names beyond counting, gained an understanding of just how devastating this event was on the lives of people a century ago and how it has shaped our nation through the next century.
Profile Image for Dillwynia Peter.
330 reviews64 followers
February 17, 2016
On Goodreads the majority of reviewers give this book a big 5 stars. I suspect the books I would give 5 stars would bore them to hell & they would give them a 1. This reflects personal taste more than anything. I'm actually giving it a 4.75, but my 4 stars tend to reflect how I really like a book & the merits I see in it.

van Os made a series of historical, cultural errors that I found irritating & thus those knocked off points. To be honest, unless you know Sydney at the turn of the century, you would easily fall into the trap that van Os did. Having long generation gaps in my family, I was able to observe the biases stressed below & so recognise the errors.

At the start of the 20th century, the gutter press didn't vilify Muslims, as it does now- no, it was the dirty Irish Catholic. (Which is what makes me laugh now when I see "Aussie Patriot" & realise the clown is of Irish descent) Sydney was an Anglican town; Catholics hit a religious ceiling when they tried to enter positions of power. There is a social reason why St Mary's is the only Catholic church in downtown Sydney (there are 5 major Anglican ones) or that it is positioned on the edge of what was the hub of city life & not that far from the convict barracks. Manly was at the ends of the earth, so having the O'Malley's move there wasn't strange, but the insults wouldn't have been "draper's daughter" but rather Bog Irish, or Mick! Bridie, with her strong Irish accent would not have been the toast of the town, as is hinted at in this book. So, a socialite wedding would not have been likely.

Secondly, the call up of 1914/1915. I had no problems with the Ronan boys joining, they were Australian born & would have seen the adventure, but the O'Malley boys?? I wasn't so certain. There is no hint that the recently arrived O'Malley's were Anglo-Irish (not likely being Catholic), so the anti-English sentiment should have been strong & father Eammon would have discouraged his boys from getting involved. I'm guessing van Os is not aware of the 1916 Easter Uprising. Yes, there were many Irish who enlisted for fight,but there were many who did it grudgingly. The patriotism sat uncomfortably with me.

My other gripe was the last 100 pages, Fiona's confession is full of incident & feelings we already know - albeit, often hinted at. It felt repetitive and redundant. Maybe I think too much, so what was self-evident to me, another reader might have needed that little extra fill in.As pointed out above, I might have not been the targeted audience. The repetitive "Why are you still single?" to Kat was also a bore. Folks, the woman is a successful profession & loves what she does. Why does she need to be complete with a man on her arm?? This felt incongruous considering the positive aspects below.

So, let's go to the aspects that I did find enjoyable. This novel is full of strong women, and by being strong they didn't lose neither their femininity nor their compassion & ability to love. This is great & let's see more of it. Women who dealt with their broken men from the war, did it with love & dedication & in incredible odds - particularly as it wasn't verbally acknowledged, nor did the medical profession know what was happening & trying to catch up. It could not have been easy & this book highlights this issue well. Injustices such as Fiona being forced to resign her university position as a result of being pregnant are briefly mentioned. Wouldn't it be great if the only time we observed this now would be in historical fiction. We still have a ways to go.

There are many books that have men dominating a story, with women in the background, here is the reverse. The women are the strong characters, while the men are there to carry the narrative & their actions impact on the women. I had no issue with this, although I would hate to see this become the norm - it would turn it into positive discrimination & that helps no one's cause. I enjoyed the foibles of all the women: none felt forced nor unbelievable when you considered their life histories and experiences. Kat is a great contemporary woman in a highly skilled profession and regarded as an equal on the international stage. She definitely wasn't the man side kick as is so often portrayed in TV & films.

Therefore, I can see why this book consistently receives high praise from its readers, but it was more fluff to me than substance. I can't imagine this book still being on library shelves in 30 years time. For above average romance & drama, this is a great book to while away a weekend or holiday.
Profile Image for Jenn J McLeod.
Author 17 books128 followers
June 12, 2014
Joanne van Os has plotted the most extraordinary story with her novel – Ronan's Echo. A story spanning generations, beginning around the First World War, this novel is more than fiction, with a detailed account of the events surrounding the discovery and identification of soldiers who fought and died in the battle of Fromelles. It is a family drama, a story of love and the hardships suffered post war.
As a writer myself, I am in awe of the author bringing such complexity of plot and character to novel of only 335 pages. Ronan's Echo is a powerful and poignant story that blends historical aspects and present day Australia, bringing it full circle to the very satisfying last chapter.
Profile Image for Steve.
1,043 reviews
April 4, 2016
3.5 stars. While I daresay writing a book that spans 90 odd years is very difficult, I think it tried too hard and did too much. I enjoyed the build up of the stories, since there were two different time-lines at play, and I was shocked at when they came together in the climax. I found it hard to read, just due to some of the shocking content, and the final plot twist during the resolution left me a little gob-smacked. I would have preferred to have seen a little more of a resolution.
Profile Image for Shelleyrae at Book'd Out.
2,456 reviews513 followers
May 9, 2014

In 1916, twin brothers Denny and Connor Ronan are eager to prove themselves in the theatre of war, and at eighteen find themselves in the front line trenches in Fromelles, France, having left behind the flame haired beauty Bridie O'Malley, they both love. Sadly, only one survives the horrors of war and returns home to the arms of his beloved, but he is not the same man who left.
Nearly a century later, forensic anthropologist Catriona Kelso's curiosity is roused when she learns her next assignment will be the exhumation and identification of the hundreds of World War 1 soldiers buried en masse on the French battleground, and that her great grandfather's twin brother may be among them. Excited by the possibility, Cat begins to ask questions about her family, but uncovers more than one long buried secret.

A poignant tale of war, love and family secrets, Ronans Echo is a wonderful story from Australian author Joanne Van Os. Set largely in Manly, New South Wales, the narrative shifts between the present and the past, revealing the tragic legacy of war that blights the lives of four generations.

Dual timelines are often tricky for authors to negotiate but Van Os does so masterfully, developing two equally interesting storylines that converge to tell the tale of the descendants of the Ronan brothers. The wartime experiences of the returned Ronan brother at the Battle of Fromelles, echos through the family tree, sparking a legacy of violence after the symptoms of PTSD overwhelm him. Though the twist to the story of the Ronan twins is heavily foreshadowed, it takes little away from the intrigue of the novel, or its heartfelt sentiment.

The scenes that depict the Ronan brothers experience of war are particularly heartbreaking. The battle at Fromelles is believed to have led to the greatest loss of life by a single division in 24 hours during the entire First World War with over 5,500 Australians killed or wounded. Until recent years, 1,335 Australian soldiers remained ‘missing’ from the Fromelles battle, having no known grave but thanks to the efforts of a retired history teacher, the remains of 452 soldiers were discovered, identified and re-interred with full military honours. This is the project Cat lends her expertise to, and where she discovers a twist in her family history.

Cat knows few details of her lineage when she begins to ask her elderly Aunt Hattie and mother, Fiona, questions about the family's past nearly a century later. She is shocked to learn of the tragedies that ended the lives of her great grandfather and his twin, and how these secrets have affected her own life, particularly in regards to her strained relationship with her mother, and her own aversion to commitment. For Cat, unraveling the mystery of her ancestry answers questions she didn't realise she had.

A moving exploration of the legacy of war and family secrets, Ronan's Echo is a well crafted and eloquent novel. I found it to be an absorbing and thought provoking story which I'd recommend to readers of both historical and contemporary fiction.

*Statistics sourced from the Australian War Memorial website
Profile Image for Diane.
448 reviews7 followers
October 20, 2021
The second reading of this story five years on was a necessity for me and perhaps an even more revealing read this time. But, the agony of loss so many years ago is the same as is the suffering that is carried on through the generations that followed. One of the great tragedies of the 1914-18 war is the extreme youth of those who suffered and died. War is absolute hell, this much we know, but those who were there were in the bloom of youth but were brutalised and destroyed by powers ever beyond their understanding. In memory of all who suffered and died, and whose families also suffered as a result of their agony, we must never forget the horror of war.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,222 reviews2,052 followers
May 28, 2014
I really enjoyed this book. It was very well constructed with a good balance between present day Sydney and the scenes set in World War 1. I guess I enjoyed the current day forensic stuff the most because that's one of my favourite genres but I do like historical fiction too so this was a book designed for me! And it was set in Sydney which is always a bonus. The story was excellent, the characters well described and interesting and the writing was good. Definitely a book to recommend to others.
Profile Image for Kathy.
616 reviews24 followers
February 6, 2016
This book was highly recommended to me by friends here on Goodreads and I bought it ages ago and it has been in TBR since then. Not sure why I kept bypassing it for others, as I really enjoyed this book set between present day Sydney and World War 1. I really liked the characters and the switching around between the different time periods. It’s an easy read that does not disappoint as Kat, a forensic anthropologist discovers some family secrets. A well thought out, moving story and readers who enjoy the dual time reads will enjoy this book! 4 ½ stars…..

106 reviews
June 30, 2019
Enjoyed this story and its secrets. Liked the characters and their occupations. A look into the realties of war and its casualties. A peak into a diffetent time. Would recommend.
Profile Image for Shanice Rebeiro.
40 reviews
May 1, 2014
(I was one of five lucky winners to win this book in the giveaway and so I would like to give a big thank you to Joanne for allowing me to read such an amazing story)

(This review will have spoilers so please do not read if you haven't read it yet. This is also my first review so it might be a little short)

First of all I would like to say what drew me to entering the giveaway.
The front cover was the first thing i noticed. The woman on there looked like she could be from the Downton Abbey era because I love that show and the clothes they wear on the tv show so I thought it would be set around that time. I wasn't wrong.
The summary also drew me to this book. I love learning about historical events as i've learnt about wars during high school.
Also the last thing that made me want to read this was that Kat is a forensic anthropologist. (Yes, I love watching Bones)

Now for the real review..

My favourite person from this book was definitely Hattie. There was something about her that I loved. I was expecting her to freak out about finding out who her father was but she surprisingly took it well.

The twist took me by surprise and as soon as I read what it was I just couldn't wait to read more so I read the second half of the book in a day.

There were elements of the Ronan brothers that I liked and disliked. One moment I liked them and the next I didn't.

This book is very well detailed and I loved every minute of my reading time. This would be something I would definitely read again in the future.
Profile Image for Elouise.
14 reviews
July 7, 2014
Firstly, I should say that I got this as a First Reads Book from Good
Reads. I thought I might enjoy it since my favourite genre is historical fiction. That was an understatement.

Wow. I loved this book. 5 stars.

Australia is such a young country, people sometimes forget what a rich history it has. This book reminds us of that, and the importance of family bond.

I could not recommend this book highly enough.
Profile Image for MarciaB - Book Muster Down Under.
227 reviews31 followers
November 28, 2014
Bridie O'Malley is 8 years old when her father, Eamonn, decides that there is no future in Ireland for him and his children. With unemployment rates at an all-time high and farmers struggling with their latest failures, he sells his drapery business and departs with his four children to seek a new life in Australia.

Her mother having died at her birth, Bridie has been been brought up by her adoring father and three brothers. Two years after arriving in Australia, Eamonn's business is a thriving success when he decides to buy a property for them in Manly. Naming it Connemarra after their home town, Bridie thrives in her new home and, at the age of nine, befriends identical twins Denny and Connor Ronan.

Denny and Connor live a stone's throw away from Connemarra. Orphaned at the age of three when their parents died in a ferry accident, they have been brought up solely by their aunt, Nelly. Denny is the more outgoing of the two and displays much self-confidence and charm, while Connor, the more introverted and sensible twin, loves his brother unconditionally. Together, the twins and Bridie grow up and become inseparable until at the age of fifteen Eamonn arranges for Bridie to complete her education at a boarding school in Sydney, then offering the twins jobs in his business.

By the time the three are reunited on Bridie's return from the end of her schooling and a six month visit to Ireland with Eamonn, she already knows that she will marry one of them, but as the war looms before their eyes, the casualties grow in numbers, and Gallipolli is still fresh in everyone's minds, she is faced with a difficult choice.

Almost a century later we are introduced to Kat Kelso, great-granddaughter of Bridie. Kat was born in Scotland and, like Bridie, was the apple of her father's eye until she was eight years old, when he was killed in a car accident. Never having been close to her mother, she was sent away to boarding school, but when the costs became too much for Fiona to bear on her own, she decided to pack them both up and move back to Australia - to their family home, Connemarra.

Now, Kat is a renowned forensic anthropologist and currently in-between jobs which take her all over the world but, while Connemarra and the arms of her great-aunt Hettie welcome her before she takes off again, Fiona is still as distant as ever. Much to Fiona's disapproval, Kat mentions to Hattie that her next stint is in Fromelles, France, where she has been contracted to exhume and examine the remains of people once loved but now lost, but gets a lot more than she bargained for when she discovers, through a variety of old family photographs and stories told by Hattie, that the chance of her finding one of her ancestors in Fromelles could become a reality.

However, the many lies, and a secret far larger than she could ever have imagined, are about to be uncovered, with the echoes reverberating through the centuries.

Joanne van Os's choice of dual narrative is not unusual in this type of story and certainly adds another dimension to this novel. While it not only transported this reader effortlessly between the past and present, it allowed me a glimpse into a war where a number of Australians fought and lost their lives. As Denny and Connor stand side-by-side in a battle that they were all too eager to participate in, Kat, in the present, gives us a glimpse into her life and the broken relationship between her and Fiona, thus giving us clarity on the circumstances surrounding each character's motivations.

A fine descriptive writer with a strong eye for detail, Joanne's vivid descriptions of life on the frontline are compelling, right from the brilliant prologue through to the poignant epilogue and her words are brought to life in the construction of authentic war scenes, from the deep bloody trenches and broken bodies to the courage that is always under fire - not to mention her geographical descriptions and the intricacies involved in the exhumation of old bones - which all pays homage to the amount of research that must have gone into this novel.

Seamlessly weaving fact and fiction together in this, her debut adult fiction novel, this is a story that is sure to delight a larger readership who enjoy both contemporary and historical reading as well as become a source of discussion for many reading groups.
1 review
September 11, 2020
I absolutely recommend this one it has kept me interested from start to finish. Easy to read and a perfect combination of history and storytelling.
Profile Image for Ace Taylor.
Author 1 book20 followers
February 7, 2019
Originally posted at https://alexandramtaylor.com/book-rev...

Ronan's Echo is everything I love about this sort of book and more. Much along the lines of Kate Morton's novels, it tells two interconnecting stories. That of Kat Kelso in modern day Australia and that of her great-grandmother Bridie O'Malley. Focusing on World War 1 and Kat's search for the truth of her family history - not just her Great-Grandparents, but also the truth of about her mother whom she has never had the best relationship with - leads her to discover secrets kept for nearly a century.

Kat, as a character was interesting but didn't have much depth to her. I felt like besides her great-grandmother and even her mother, the book hinged on the plot instead of the character development. Despite that it was incredibly interesting and well written for a young adult novel.

Perhaps it was because of just how much I loved the story - I love anything to do with the World Wars and Australian History - but I found it quite an easy read and honestly wished it was a lot longer.

It is a book I'd love to own and would definitely reread at some point in the future.

Profile Image for Katy.
197 reviews8 followers
December 28, 2014
This book is a Multi generational tale that moves between the late 1800's through to 2012. In saying that it is not a hard historical book to get your head around.
I loved this book. Catriona Kelso is a descendent of the Ronan Brothers Denny and Connor. She is a modern day anthropologist, and as fortunes wheel turns she is on the cusp of heading to Fromelle in France to help with excavation of the fallen AIF solders. The significance of this is exposed quite early on in this book, Denny and Connor served at Fromelle, and her great great uncle Connor never returned.
The thing I loved about this book is the foundation in which she established the underlying character traits of each of the characters. In essence she shows that each decision that is made by one family member, has a ripple effect throughout the whole family. It starts with Bridie the only daughter to Eamonn who imigrated to Australia in the late 1800's. Bridie is a spoiled child dotted on but very much loved by her father and 3 older brothers. She befriends the Ronan brothers at a very young age and as time passes she is faced with the decision of which brother to choose. All this unfolds right before WW1.
Move forward to modern day and Catriona. After yet another relationship breakup she returns home to Australia to the family home in Manly Connemarra to her mother Linda and great aunt Hattie. She is filling in time before she is due to head to France for the Fromelle dig.
Denny and Connor also work for Eamonn in his clothing store, and Eamonn quietly hopes that Bridie will marry one of the brothers. The boys are itching to go to war but had to wait till they were of age.... A tender age of 18.... Denny proposes to Bridie on the cusp of leaving for the war....
Without giving to much away, the story at this point twists, the war is fought a brother is killed in Fromelle, children are born, post traumatic war wounds, keeping up appearances all play a role in the body of this story...
Catriona and Linda have their own wounds and it is played out in their strained relationship too, a common theme in the book. Their wounds stem back from the previous generations decisions.... This ripple effect that I spoke of earlier... Catriona discovers an anomaly in Fromelle and thus the story unravels. The truth comes out, the wounds are faced, the damage is exposed and all the characters face their past and move forward all culminating back in Fromelle at the graveside of the great great uncle.
I loved the use of historical facts, modern day science and a great family of intrigue and really strong likeable and not so likeable characters. A well written book, no stone was left unturned and I could not put this one down, I wanted to find out the truth.... Bravo Vos.... A great book.
Profile Image for Veronica ⭐️.
970 reviews197 followers
September 10, 2016
A few years after Bridie’s mother dies, Bridie along with her father, Eamonn, and brothers, Donal, Rory and Aidan move from Connemara Ireland to Australia in search of a better life. They are well off in Australia buying a large home which they name after their beloved Connemara and life is pleasant. Bridie befriends twins, Denny and Connor, and the three are soon inseparable. WW1 erupts and Bridie’s three brothers, along with the Ronan twins, enlist and are soon sent to fight for their country.
Almost a century on Fiona and her daughter Kat (Catriona), descendants of Bridie, are now living at Connemara. Kat is a forensic anthropologist and is on the team to go to France and identify the recovered bodies of lost Australian soldiers. However, after identifying one of the bodies as one of her ancestors long held family secrets come to the surface.

This is a remarkable and moving story full of intrigue, family skeletons, the horrors of war and how PTSD can damage generation after generation. However, above all this Ronan’s Echo is a story about family.
I am fascinated by genealogy and family trees so I loved the family tree at the front of the book and would often go back and just look at the names, birth years, who married who and connecting it back with the story.
The side story of forensics was captivating. How cool is it that modern day science can unravel the mysteries of the past?
The battle scene had me mesmerized and the characters were all so real I felt I could almost go online search the WW1 records and see the O’Malley and Ronan names there.
Being from Sydney myself, it was easy to picture the scenes around Manly and Circular Quay.

If you like stories about love or war or family they were all rolled into one here and perfectly executed. This is one of the few books I could read again and again.

Thank you to First Reads and the Author for my copy of Ronan’s Echo to read and review.
Profile Image for RitaSkeeter.
693 reviews
June 18, 2017
Following the fortunes of the Ronan family from their arrival in Australia from Ireland in the early twentieth century until the present day, the story is told primarily in time periods around WWI and present day.

The early part of the story follows Bridie, who forms a friendship with the Ronan twins, Connor and Denny. Shortly before they go to war Bridie becomes engaged to Denny. Her story is continued through the book as she deals with the aftermath of the war and the impact it had on returning veterans.

The present day story follows Kat, who is a forensic anthropologist and incidentally, participating in the exhumation of Australian soldiers in Fromelles. Kat learns from her family that her great grandfather's twin, Connor, was believed to have died at Fromelles. His body having never been recovered.

I was sceptical about this book, and the ratings it had gained, at first. I found the start - particularly those chapters pre-war, sluggish and slow to find their stride. I had pegged the book for a 2 or maybe 3 star book, but then came the war. I've read a lot of books et during WWI and WWII, but this easily sits alongside the best of them. The chapters devoted to the war were superb, and only matched by the frank and unyielding treatment of what veterans, and their families, faced on their return home.

This was a very powerful novel about war. I don't think I have been as affected by a novel about WWI since Walter Blythe died in Rilla of Ingleside.

I don't have the skill to articulate how moving this novel is, all I can say is read it. Be aware the start is stuff and unconvincing, but once you get to the war chapters everything comes together. Read it.
Profile Image for Deborah Allin.
33 reviews26 followers
April 15, 2015
I'm so delighted to have found this book by chance in my local library. Its a powerful story of the impact of trauma whose true roots have been hidden over three generations and I loved the way the story wove together the different elements and stories of the characters between past and present.

The book opens in the present day with the life of forensic archaeologist Kat Kelso who has returned to spend some time with her family before travelling to Fromelles to identify bodies of soldiers buried there following battle during the great war.

Kat has a fractured relationship with her mother who keeps an emotional distance which has its own impact upon Kat. The reason for this will be revealed towards the end of the novel.

As Kat learns more about her distant relatives the story unfolds taking us back to the lead up to World War One and explores the way in which the trauma of that war impacted upon the family in hidden ways.

Involved is the story of two brothers who fell in love with the same girl, Kat's Grandmother Bridie, and the mystery which surrounds them and has deep implications revealed through the unfolding of the story.

The story is beautifully written and explores how trauma, loss, secrets and betrayals can create an impact across generations which can be healed once those secrets are brought to light and their impact understood.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Nicola.
567 reviews4 followers
May 30, 2017
great inter-generational mystery.
Profile Image for Andrea.
769 reviews30 followers
May 7, 2016
This was the first in a row of WWI books I have lined up to read in April 2015. With the historical action centred on Fromelles and the contemporary story based in Sydney but looping back to the recent operation to identify unrecovered war casualties at Fromelles, I gained a little insight into this important part of Australia's war effort. Aside from that, it was everything you want in a family saga - secrets, tragedies, revelations and forgiveness. I found myself wishing that Bridie, the matriarch, could have been a more sympathetic character, but that might actually have made it overly sentimental.

Profile Image for Ann.
148 reviews3 followers
January 4, 2016
I can't seem to get this book out of my head. It captivated me from almost the first page. As the story develops the reader travels back in time to meet the twin brothers one of whom will die on the western front in WWI. The series of lies and family deceptions that ripple out from that death echo through the generations with tragic consequences. The price of war is not always paid by the soldiers but also by their families for generations. I would highly recommend this book even though it is at times sad.
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