Book Review: The Good Mother by Rae Cairns

The Good Mother by Rae Cairns

‘Past and present collide on and off the page in this explosive debut’ Sunday Telegraph

‘This story wouldn’t let me go’ Michael Robotham

Shortlisted for the 2021 Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Fiction

She’s protected them from the truth. Can she save them from her past?

Sarah Calhoun is a regular Sydney soccer mum, but she’s keeping terrifying secrets from everyone she loves . . . and her past is about to catch up with her.

When two men from Northern Ireland hunt her down, she’s forced to return to Belfast to testify at a murder trial. Caught in the crossfire of an obsessive policeman driven by a disturbing past, and a brutal IRA executioner, Sarah faces an impossible choice: lie and allow a killer to walk free, or tell the truth and place her children in the line of fire.

With her family and innocent people at risk, Sarah must find the courage to fight for the truth. But righting the wrongs of the past just might cost her everything . . .

This fast-paced, explosive thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat to its gripping finale.

‘Show me a soldier who would fight harder than a mother to save her son.’

My Review

The Good Mother by Rae Cairns is a fast-paced thriller that had me on the edge of my seat until the very end.

Suburban mum Sarah Calhoun has kept her past a secret for years until it catches up with her in the worst possible way – through her children. She used to work as youth worker in Ireland during the 90s until she witnessed a murder by a brutal IRA member and had to leave because her own life was on the line. Now her children may have to pay the price of what she saw.

At first, Sarah comes across as a bit of a helicopter mum who doesn’t want to let her children out of her sight, but it soon becomes apparent that her fears are well-founded when an obsessive Irish policeman hunts her down and she is left with two choices: let the killer walk free or put her children’s and other innocent people’s lives in danger.

Not being a mother myself, I was a bit worried that I would find Sarah difficult to connect with, but I found her relatable in other ways. Particularly with her motivations around what she witnessed in the 90s and her fearless determination to make sure that the IRA didn’t get away with murder this time.

I also really enjoyed the setting of both the modern day and 1990s Ireland and I feel as though I learned a lot about The Troubles woven throughout the book in a natural way. The author’s own experiences have provided invaluable insight into such a complex period of recent history.

The good mother is a strong debut and was Shortlisted for the 2021 Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Fiction. I’ll be looking forward to reading more from this author.

Thanks to HarperCollins for my review copy

Details

Title: The Good Mother

Author: Rae Cairns

Published: HarperCollins AU 30/03/2022

Pages: 368

RRP: $32.99 AUD

Source: Publisher

Goodreads: The Good Mother

Book Review: The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater

The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater

Two women separated by centuries but connected by one beautiful silk dress. A captivating novel based on a real-life shipwreck discovered off Texel Island by the bestselling author of Gulliver’s Wife, Lauren Chater.

Jo Baaker, a textiles historian and Dutch ex-pat is drawn back to the island where she was born to investigate the provenance of a 17th century silk dress. Retrieved by local divers from a sunken shipwreck, the dress offers tantalising clues about the way people lived and died during Holland’s famous Golden Age.

Jo’s research leads her to Anna Tesseltje, a poor Amsterdam laundress turned ladies’ companion who served the enigmatic artist Catharina van Shurman. The two women were said to share a powerful bond, so why did Anna abandon Catharina at the height of her misfortune?

Jo is convinced the truth lies hidden between the folds of this extraordinary dress. But as she delves deeper into Anna’s history, troubling details about her own past begin to emerge.

On the small Dutch island of Texel where fortunes are lost and secrets lie buried for centuries, Jo will finally discover the truth about herself and the woman who wore the Winter Dress.

The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater

My Review

The Winter Dress is a captivating dual timeline story about love and secrets, written in Lauren Chater’s signature evocative prose style.

A 17th Century dress was discovered in remarkably good condition in a shipwreck off the coast of the small Dutch island of Texel in 2014. Chater had woven the small threads of factual information about the dress to create a fascinating story.

In the contemporary timeline, textiles historian Jo Baaker returns home to Texel from Australia to investigate the origins of the dress and help preserve it. As well a working with a difficult male colleague, Jo is also forced to come to terms with her past in Texel and the tragic death of her parents.

 The 17th-century timeline focuses on the owner of the dress. Anna comes from a formerly wealthy family and now works as a companion to artist Catharina van Shurman who has secrets of her own.  The dress becomes Anna’s talisman as she navigates the seedy side of the high society of the Hague.

The enormous amount of research that has gone into The Winter Dress is impressive. Not only has Lauren Chater meticulously researched the dress and the historical period, but there is also a great deal of information about current day diving practices and life in Texel.

Even more impressive is the way that Chater has woven the facts in with the fiction in a way that had me turning the pages for more.

Details

Title: The Winter Dress

Author: Lauren Chater

Published: Simon & Schuster Australia (March 30, 2022)

Format: Paperback, 368 pages

Source: Own Copy

Goodreads Reviews: The Winter Dress

The Understudy by Julie Bennett book review

The Understudy by Julie Bennett

Immersed in the underbelly of the theatre world in the gritty streets of Sydney in 1973, this addictive debut will have you wondering just how dangerous ambition – and love – can be.

It’s opening night. The stage is set, the houselights have dimmed and the handsome male lead is waiting. This is your time. Your chance to prove you are so much more than the understudy.

You have worked so hard and would have done almost anything to get here. But not what they are accusing you of – never that. It’s simply bad luck that Australia’s darling of opera has gone missing, throwing the spotlight on you just as the whole world is watching history in the making.

But the show must go on and it’s all down to you. Take a deep breath and get ready to perform the role of your life.

My Review

The Understudy is a thrilling story of mystery and intrigue in the world of professional opera singers set against the iconic background of the Sydney Opera House in the 1970s and rural Australia in the 1950s.

When understudy Sophie gets the chance to star as the lead role in Madama Butterfly with handsome Italian tenor Armando Cecchi, her excitement is tempered by the mysterious disappearance of leading lady Margaret Gardiner. Not only is Margaret gone but everyone thinks that Sophie must know what happened to her and her relationship with Armando is all over the papers.

The 1950s timeline tells us more about how Margaret became the overbearing leading lady and provides clues about what happened to make her disappear in the 1970s.

I particularly enjoyed the 1970s setting of Sydney and the Opera House, which was inspired by the author’s own experiences performing there for its opening performance. The power plays between the performers was brilliantly executed and I thoroughly recommend this debut novel.

Details

Title: The Understudy

Author: Julie Bennett

Published: Simon & Schuster Australia (March 2, 2022)

Format: Ebook, 464 pages

Source: Netgalley

Goodreads Reviews: The Understudy

Book Review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Drawing on Maggie O’Farrell’s long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play, Hamnet is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child.

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

Award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel breathes full-blooded life into the story of a loss usually consigned to literary footnotes, and provides an unforgettable vindication of Agnes, a woman intriguingly absent from history.

New York Times Notable Book (2020), Best Book of 2020: GuardianFinancial TimesLiterary Hub, and NPR.

My Review:

Hamnet is a fascinating story about William Shakespeare, his wife, and the tragic death of their 11 year old son. Based upon the few historical facts known about Shakespeare and his family, O’Farrell has weaved a beautifully written dreamy story about how he met his wife Agnes and what happened when their much loved son Hamnet died of the plague. Shakespeare went on to name one of his most famous tragedies after his son, although the reasoning behind it isn’t revealed until the very end in an epic final scene.

I loved the dream-like quality of this story, especially about Agnes’s history. It’s a beautifully written story and I highly recommend it to all historical fictions readers.

Details:

Title: Hamnet

Author: Maggie O’Farrell

Published: March 31, 2020 by Tinder Press

Format: 372 pages, Paperback

Source: Own Copy

Goodreads reviews: Hamnet

GULLIVER’S WIFE by Lauren Chater

GULLIVER’S WIFE by Lauren Chater

GULLIVER’S WIFE is an imaginative and rich retelling of Jonathan Swift’s classic Gulliver’s Travels from his long-suffering wife’s perspective with a strong feminist flavour.

In London 1702 Mary Burton Gulliver is forced to raise her son and daughter alone while her husband is at sea. He is often gone for years, rarely keeping in contact, and each time he returns his stories become increasingly fanciful. Mary has no choice but to work as a midwife to make ends meet, even though that she is judged harshly for having to work as a married woman.

When her husband returns home from his long stint at sea feverish and making the most ridiculous claims yet, Mary has no choice but to take him in and to care for him. Even though it was difficult to survive while her husband was at sea, in many ways Mary found it easier to manage her household on her own. Her life without Lemuel was spent managing her household, working in her garden, and caring for the local women in her role as a midwife was mostly calm and orderly. Even before his outlandish ravings began Lemuel brought chaos and deception wherever he went, and his light fingers meant that Mary needed to try to hide whatever meagre money and valuables she possessed.

I particularly liked the character of Bess, Mary’s daughter. Bess is 14 years old and infatuated with her father. She believes his tall tales and false promises that he will take her sailing with him one day until his selfish behaviour puts her in danger this time. Mary hopes that she will train to become a midwife like herself and her mother before her. I think that the relationship between Mary and Bess perfectly captured the difficulties often found in the mother/daughter relationship during the tumultuous teen years when the daughter is trying to figure things out for herself and is desperate for her independence.

I thoroughly enjoyed GULLIVER’S WIFE and would highly recommend it to lovers of historical fiction with a strong feminist bent and touches of magic and wonder. The story is engrossing and skilfully weaved together.

Details

Published: April 1st 2020 by Simon & Schuster

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, February 2021

Pages: 416 pages

Rating: 5 stars

Goodreads

Amazon AU

About the author

Lauren Chater is the author of the historical novels The Lace Weaver and Gulliver’s Wife, as well as the baking compendium Well Read Cookies – Beautiful Biscuits Inspired by Great Literature.

In 2018 she was awarded a grant by the Neilma Sidney Literary Fund to travel to the Netherlands to research her third novel The Winter Dress, inspired by a real 17th century gown found off the Dutch coast in 2014. She has made appearances at the Brisbane Writers Festival, Storyfest, the Southern Highlands Writers’ Festival and the Tamar Valley Writers’ Festival, as well as many others. She is currently completing her Masters of Cultural Heritage through Deakin University.

For all rights enquiries, please contact Tara Wynne at Curtis Brown Literary Agency.

For all media enquiries, please contact the Marketing and Publicity department at Simon & Schuster Australia.

You can also connect with Lauren via Facebook and Instagram.

Valentine’s Day romance stack

My Valentine’s Day romance stack

Hello and wishing everybody a happy Valentine’s Day. Or a happy Sunday if celebrating VDay isn’t really your thing.

In any case, it’s a gloomy Sunday here in Melbourne and we’re in the middle of another (hopefully) short lockdown, so I feel like it’s a great day to curl up on the couch with a romance novel. I’ve prepared a nice stack of some of my favourite romance reads over the years, plus a couple of bonus books amongst the shelves in the background.

There’s a little bit of something for everyone, so I hope you all have a great weekend and happy reading!

With her tousled blond hair and upturned nose, dark glasses and chic black dresses, Holly Golightly is top notch in style and a sensation wherever she goes. Her brownstone apartment vibrates with martini-soaked parties as she plays hostess to millionaires and gangsters alike. Yet Holly never loses sight of her ultimate goal.

Truman Capote’s BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S is very different from the movie. It’s much darker and Holly Golightly is even wilder than the movie version. This is an interesting book to read and a great choice if you are a bit sick of all the Valentine’s Day gushy stuff. I think this might be one of the rare times that I prefer the movie to the book.

GOODREADS

It’s tough to beat Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly

‘The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!’

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

Jane Austen is another great romance author for anyone feeling a little bit cynical about love. Austen’s dry wit and astute observations about love and human nature will draw you into her world every time.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

‘Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?’

Set on the bleak moors of Yorkshire, Lockwood is forced to seek shelter at Wuthering Heights, the home of his new landlord, Heathcliff. The intense and wildly passionate Heathcliff tells the story of his life, his all-consuming love for Catherine Earnshaw and the doomed outcome of that relationship, leading to his revenge.

Poetic, complex and grand in its scope, Emily Brontë’s masterpiece is considered one of the most unique gothic novels of its time.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS is probably the darkest book on this list and perfect if you’re feeling a bit anti-love this weekend. Almost all of the characters are terrible and there aren’t many happy endings here, but it’s also one of the most beautiful Gothic novels and I’m looking forward to re-reading this book shortly.

GOODREADS

A woman has to live her life, or live to repent not having lived it.

When aristocrat Clifford returns from the war, paralysed from the waist down, his wife Connie Chatterley becomes isolated and despairs of the post-war years, yearning for human connection among the emotionally dead intellectuals that surround her. When the aloof, but noble, Oliver Mellors returns to the estate as gamekeeper, Connie begings an affair, feeling that she has connected in a sensual, primordial way for the first time.

Hugely controversial at the time of its publication, Lawrence’s exploration of class differences and love and his celebration of sexuality resonates against his view of the repressed modern condition.

LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER has a long reputation as one of the most scandalous classics, often read in secret by teenagers, but I found it underwhelming when I read it for the first time a couple of years ago. There’s plenty of sex and swearing but it wasn’t as confronting or titillating as I was expecting. It’s still a great read with some fascinating social commentary.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

Birth. Death. Wonder … One woman’s journey to the edge of love and loyalty from the bestselling author of The Lace Weaver

London, 1702. When her husband is lost at sea, Mary Burton Gulliver, midwife and herbalist, is forced to rebuild her life without him. But three years later when Lemuel Gulliver is brought home, fevered and communicating only in riddles, her ordered world is turned upside down.

In a climate of desperate poverty and violence, Mary is caught in a crossfire of suspicion and fear driven by her husband’s outlandish claims, and it is up to her to navigate a passage to safety for herself and her daughter, and the vulnerable women in her care.

When a fellow sailor, a dangerous man with nothing to lose, appears to hold sway over her husband, Mary’s world descends deeper into chaos, and she must set out on her own journey to discover the truth of Gulliver’s travels . . . and the landscape of her own heart.

I’m still reading GULLIVER’S WIFE and it’s a wonderful retelling of the classic Gulliver’s Travels from the perspective of his wife and daughter. This book is perfect for the historical fiction fan who loves strong feminist characters with witchy midwife vibes. It features more action than romance and it’s beautifully written. Stay tuned for my review coming soon.

GOODREADS

1948. The world is struggling to regain a sense of balance after the devastation of World War II, and the sugar cane-growing community of Piri River in northern Queensland is no exception.

As returned servicemen endeavour to adjust to their pre-war lives, women who had worked for the war effort are expected to embrace traditional roles once more.

Rosie Stanton finds it difficult to return to the family farm after years working for the Australian Women’s Army Service. Reminders are everywhere of the brothers she lost in the war and she is unable to understand her father’s contempt for Italians, especially the Conti family next door. When her father takes ill, Rosie challenges tradition by managing the farm, but outside influences are determined to see her fail.

Desperate to leave his turbulent history behind, Tomas Conti has left Italy to join his family in Piri River. Tomas struggles to adapt in Australia—until he meets Rosie. Her easy-going nature and positive outlook help him forget the life he’s escaped. But as their relationship grows, so do tensions between the two families until the situation becomes explosive.

When a long-hidden family secret is discovered and Tomas’s mysterious past is revealed, everything Rosie believes is shattered. Will she risk all to rebuild her family or will she lose the only man she’s ever loved?

BURNING FIELDS is a sweet Australian Historical Romance set in Northern Queensland, 1948. It’s an epic love story with family secrets set in an interesting era and I fell in love with the leading man from the first page. This is a great read for all of the true romantics out there.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

An enthralling story of one woman’s determined grab for freedom after WW2 from a talented new Australian voice.

‘PART CABARET, PART BURLESQUE, AND LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE EVER SEEN BEFORE! GENTLEMEN, AND LADIES IF YOU’VE DARED TO COME, WELCOME TO …

THE VICTORY!’

1945: After the thrill and danger of volunteering in an all-female searchlight regiment protecting Londoners from German bombers overhead, Evelyn Bell is secretly dismayed to be sent back to her rigid domestic life when the war is over. But then she comes across a secret night-time show, hidden from the law on a boat in the middle of the Thames. Entranced by the risqu� and lively performance, she grabs the opportunity to join the misfit crew and escape her dreary future.

At first the Victory travels from port to port to raucous applause, but as the shows get bigger and bigger, so too do the risks the performers are driven to take, as well as the growing emotional complications among the crew. Until one desperate night …

1963: Lucy, an unloved and unwanted little girl, is rescued by a mysterious stranger who says he knows her mother. On the Isle of Wight, Lucy is welcomed into an eclectic family of ex-performers. She is showered with kindness and love, but gradually it becomes clear that there are secrets they refuse to share. Who is Evelyn Bell?

THE DAUGHTER OF VICTORY LIGHTS is another Historical Romance set post WW2 but in London this time. Evelyn Bell is a fascinating and adventurous woman struggling to readjust to civilian life after volunteering in an all-female searchlight regiment. Then she discovers the part burlesque, part cabaret ship floating along the Thames. This book isn’t overly romantic and is a little bit sad, but the ending is wonderfully uplifting.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

One crumbling grand manor house, a family in decline, five generations of women, and an attic full of beautiful clothes with secrets and lies hidden in their folds.

Kelly Doust, author of Precious Things, spins another warm, glamorous and romantic mystery of secrets, love, fashion, families – and how we have to trust in ourselves, even in our darkest of days. One for lovers of Kate Morton, Belinda Alexandra, Fiona McIntosh and Lucy Foley.

Failed fashion designer Sylvie Dearlove is coming home to England – broke, ashamed and in disgrace – only to be told her parents are finally selling their once-grand, now crumbling country house, Bledesford, the ancestral home of the Dearlove family for countless generations. Sylvie has spent her whole life trying to escape being a Dearlove, and the pressure of belonging to a family of such headstrong, charismatic and successful women.

Beset by self-doubt, she starts helping her parents prepare Bledesford for sale, when she finds in a forgotten attic a thrilling cache of old steamer trunks and tea chests full of elaborate dresses and accessories acquired from across the globe by five generations of fashionable Dearlove women.

Sifting through the past, she also stumbles across a secret which has been hidden – in plain sight – for decades, a secret that will change the way she thinks about herself, her family, and her future.

Romantic, warm, and glamorous, moving from Edwardian England to the London Blitz to present day London, Dressing the Dearloves is a story of corrosiveness of family secrets, the insecurities that can sabotage our best efforts, and the seductive power of dressing up

DRESSING THE DEARLOVES is a delicious family saga full of romance, fashion, and mysterious family secrets. While there is a lovely romantic storyline, the love between the endearing and sometimes formidable Dearlove women is the real draw of this book for me. Lovers of vintage fashion will adore this book.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

Set, like Maeve Binchy’s early bestsellers, in late 1950s Ireland and New York, this is the story of three women and the charismatic man with whom their lives are interwoven.

Patrick Murphy has charm to burn and a singing voice to die for. Many people will recognise his talent. Many women will love him. Rose, the sweetheart he leaves behind in Ireland, can never forget him and will move heaven and earth to find him again, long after he has married another woman. Ava, the heiress with no self-confidence except on the dance floor, falls under his spell. And tough Sheila Klein, orphaned by the Holocaust and hungry for success as a music manager, she will be ruthless in her determination to unlock his extraordinary star quality.

But in the end, Patrick Murphy’s heart belongs to only one of them. Which one will it be?

IT WAS ONLY EVER YOU is a sweet love story featuring three fascinating, but very different, women who love one charismatic Irish singer. I loved the backdrops of 1950s Ireland and New York, the rock and roll New York scene, and the lovely Irish Maeve Binchy feel of this book. Perfect for everyone who likes a good love triangle, or square perhaps in this case. All the characters had their flaws in this story, particularly Patrick, but he got it right in the end.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

What if you met the love of your life and he wasn’t your husband? An AusRom Today People’s Choice Award winner that will appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty, viewers of Offspring, The Good Wife and movies like Up in the Air.

Mel is living the dream. She’s a successful GP, married to a charming anaesthetist and raising a beautiful family in their plush home in Perth. But when she boards a flight to Melbourne, her picture-perfect life unravels. Seated on the plane she meets Matt, and for the first time ever she falls in love.

What begins as a flirty conversation quickly develops into a hot and obsessive affair with consequences that neither Mel nor Matt seems capable of facing. As the fallout touches friends and family, Mel’s dream romance turns into a nightmare. She learns that there are some wounds that never heal and some scars that you wouldn’t do without.

LOVE AT FIRST FLIGHT will take everything you believe about what true love is and spin it on its head.

LOVE AT FIRST FLIGHT is not a typical love story. It takes a confronting look at adultery told with compassion and a thought-provoking perspective. This is a great fit for anybody dreaming of travel at the moment.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

Book review: The Portrait of Molly Dean by Katherine Kovacic

I’ve been obsessed with books set in the 1930s lately, so I was instantly intrigued by The Portrait of Molly Dean when I discovered that it’s a true murder mystery set against the background of Melbourne’s bustling art scene in 1930.

Goodreads Blurb

An unsolved murder comes to light after almost seventy years…

In 1999, art dealer Alex Clayton stumbles across a lost portrait of Molly Dean, an artist’s muse brutally slain in Melbourne in 1930. Alex buys the painting and sets out to uncover more details, but finds there are strange inconsistencies: Molly’s mother seemed unconcerned by her daughter’s violent death, the main suspect was never brought to trial despite compelling evidence, and vital records are missing. Alex enlists the help of her close friend, art conservator John Porter, and together they sift through the clues and deceptions that swirl around the last days of Molly Dean. 

Review

The Portrait of Molly Dean is based on a real unsolved murder. Molly Dean was brutally murdered in Melbourne in 1930. She was a beautiful and popular artist’s muse who was determined to break out of her complicated home life and make a name for herself as a writer but her murder was never solved and she was almost forgotten.

This novel imagines what might have happened in Molly’s last days via the fictional investigations of an astute Melbourne art dealer who snaps up Molly’s portrait in 1999 for a bargain. As Alex and her art conservator friend investigate the painting and the mystery surrounding the death of Molly Dean, they discover that there were many inconsistencies surrounding the investigation and that there are still people out there who will do whatever it takes to make sure that the truth remained hidden.

There really isn’t anything that I didn’t love about this book! Both the 1930 and 1999 timelines were full of distinctly timely and Melbourne features and I also found the art history fascinating. Molly was such an interesting character that I found myself invested in finding out what happened to her. I feel like I could have been great friends with her. And I loved Alex Clayton the sassy art dealer and will be adding the rest of the Alex Clayton art mystery series to my TBR list!

Details

Published: March 1st 2018 by Bonnier Publishing Australia/Echo

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, January – February 2021

Pages: 271 pages

Rating: 5 stars

Goodreads

Amazon AU

Amazon UK

Amazon US

About the author

Katherine Kovacic was a veterinarian but preferred training and having fun with dogs to taking their temperatures. She seized the chance to return to study and earned an MA, followed by a PhD in Art History. Katherine spends her spare time writing, dancing and teaching other people’s dogs to ride skateboards.

A research geek, Katherine is currently fired up by the history of human relationships with animals, particularly as they appear in art. Her first book, The Portrait of Molly Dean, was shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Award for best first fiction.

Katherine lives in suburban Melbourne with a Borzoi, a Scottish Deerhound and a legion of dog-fur dust bunnies.

January 2021. True Crime.

Available in all good bookshops and online (paperback, ebook, audio) including:

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Booktopia)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Amazon US)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Amazon Australia)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Kobo)

Book Review: The Yield by Tara June Winch

The Yield by Tara June Winch

My Review

“The yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha.” 

Even though The Yield is my first book review of 2021 I’m quite certain that it will be the most profound and meaningful book that I will read this year. It’s a story about the Wiradjuri people’s culture, language, family, and the intergenerational trauma of colonisation in Australia. 

When Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi finds out that he will die soon, he decides to record the language and everything that was ever remembered by his people, the Wiradjuri people from the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. He knows that if he doesn’t write everything down it will be forgotten, and he’s determined to pass it down the words of his ancestors. Through Poppy’s dictionary, we are shown an extraordinarily moving and personal insight into the customs and language of the Wiradjuri People as a whole group, as well as Poppy’s immediate Gondiwindi family. 

When Albert’s granddaughter, August, returns for his funeral after living on the other side of the world for ten years she discovers that their family home is about to be repossessed by a mining company. She is determined to make amends for the past events that led her to leave the country all those years ago by saving her family’s land. August’s story about returning to her family and rediscovering her connection to the land and their language and culture was also incredibly insightful, as well as being a gripping David versus Goliath story. 

Interspersed throughout the novel is also the story of a 1915 missionary at Massacre Plains told in the form of a serialised letter. It tells the story of Poppy and August’s ancestors who lived on the mission at that time. While I felt like this was the driest and most tedious section of the novel, it also makes a lot of sense to have this generation of the Gondiwindi family story being told by white colonisers. The voices of so many generations of First Nations Peoples have been lost because they were unable to tell their own stories and many were prevented from passing down their stories and their culture to younger generations. 

I know that I will be thinking about this book for a long time and I look forward to reading it again over the coming years. A once in a lifetime book that will change the way you think and a powerful reclamation of the Wiradjuri language. This is so important because, as the author’s note explains, Australian languages are rapidly dying out and so many essential aspects of culture are inherently tied to language.

My cat Zeus with my copy of The Yield by Tara June Winch

Blurb

Winner Miles Franklin Literary Award 2020
Winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2020 – for Fiction, People’s Choice and Book of the Year.
Winner Booksellers Choice Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2020
Shortlisted The Stella Prize 2020
Shortlisted Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction 2020
Shortlisted ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2020
Shortlisted Queensland Literary Awards for Fiction 2020

Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind.

August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land – a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.

Profoundly moving and exquisitely written, Tara June Winch’s The Yield is the story of a people and a culture dispossessed. But it is as much a celebration of what was and what endures, and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and identity. 

Details

Published: July 2nd 2019 by Penguin Random House

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, January 2021

Pages: 343

Rating: 5 stars

Goodreads

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

 

Blurb

A novel about a young woman determined to make her way in the wilds of North Carolina, and the two men that will break her isolation open.

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. She’s barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark.

But Kya is not what they say. Abandoned at age ten, she has survived on her own in the marsh that she calls home. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life lessons from the land, learning from the false signals of fireflies the real way of this world. But while she could have lived in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

My Review

Where the Crawdads Sing is one of those rare books that I would recommend to almost anybody. Beautifully written and evocative, it is an incredibly unique coming of age story wrapped up inside a compelling murder mystery.
 
The book is set in North Carolina in the 1950s-1970s. By he age of seven, Kya is abandoned by her entire family and left to live alone in a broken down shack on an isolated marsh. She manages to survive and to evade the school truancy officers by imitating the animals around her and with a little bit of help from the kind-hearted owner of a local gas dock and bait shop.
 
Kya opens up when two young men take an interest in her as she develops into a beautiful teenager, until, something unthinkable happens. This is where the murder mystery comes into play, so I don’t want to spoil that part for anybody.
 
Even though the townspeople view Kya as a wild “Marsh Girl” we learn that she is actually sensitive and intelligent young woman. Learning how to read and write as a teenager seems to be very easy for her (perhaps a little bit too easy?) and she spends her entire life observing and collecting incredibly detailed information about the marsh.
 
The accurate and beautifully written descriptions of the marsh and the animals that lived in it were the strongest and most evocative part of the novel. Delia Owens has spent years writing non-fiction about nature and that is evident throughout. The author has also done a brilliant job of weaving in the Southern feeling and accents. “Magnolia mouth” as one of the characters aptly describes it.
 
The ending of the book left me feeling so very sad for Kya and angry about all the people in her life who let her down. It’s heartbreaking to imagine such a young and vulnerable child/young woman being abandoned and let down by almost every single person in her life. I was furious when her mother’s story was revealed and I found many of the actions of many of the townspeople to be unforgivable.
Where the Crawdads Sing is one of those stories that I know will stick with me for a long time. The wild and ferocious beauty of the North Carolina marsh where Kya spent her time, the almost unbearable loneliness she experienced, and the questions it raises about the way our society treats our most vulnerable people are all rolled up inside a mystery that will keep you turning the pages way past your bedtime.

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Where the Crawdads Sing with Zeus Cat

About the Author

Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa including Cry of the Kalahari.

She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in NatureThe African Journal of Ecology, and many others.

She currently lives in Idaho. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel

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Author Delia Owens

Book Review: Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates

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Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates

 

Blurb

No matter how far you run, the past will always find you. A gripping, page-turning mystery for all fans of Kate Furnivall and Sara Foster.

A brutal murder. A wartime promise. A woman on the run.

Juliet’s elderly grandparents are killed in their Adelaide home. Who would commit such a heinous crime – and why? The only clue is her grandfather Karl’s missing signet ring.

When Juliet’s estranged sister, Lily, returns in fear for her life, Juliet suspects something far more sinister than a simple break-in gone wrong. Before Juliet can get any answers, Lily vanishes once more.

What secrets did Karl Weiss have that could have led to his murder? A German soldier who migrated to Adelaide, Juliet knew Karl as a loving grandfather. Is it possible he was a war criminal? While attempting to find out, Juliet uncovers some disturbing secrets from WWII Germany that will put both her and her sister’s lives in danger …

Gripping. Tense. Mysterious. Inheritance of Secrets links the crimes of the present to the secrets of the past and asks how far would you go to keep a promise?

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Ziggy the cat with Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates

Review

“A brutal murder. A wartime promise. A quest for the truth.”

Inspired by Sonya Bates’ own family history, Inheritance of Secrets is a tense dual timeline thriller that travels from WW2 Germany to contemporary Australia. A story about family, secrets and how the past can catch up with you when you least expect it, Inheritance of Secrets intrigued me from the very beginning and kept me guessing the entire way through.

The historical sections of the novel are set just after World War 2. German soldier Karl Weiss decides to leave his devastated homeland after the war is over to build a new future in Australia, even though that means leaving behind his girlfriend who remains to care for her sick mother. Onboard the ship, he is grateful for the financial support and company of his hometown friend, but Hans is having a difficult time accepting that the Nazis were as evil as everyone says they were.

In contemporary Adelaide, Karl’s granddaughter Juliet is devastated when her warm and loving grandparents are murdered in their home. At first, she thinks it must have been a random break-in gone wrong, but she quickly realises that somebody from Karl’s past in Germany is responsible and his missing signet ring is the only clue. As it becomes obvious that whoever murdered her grandparents is still around, and searching for something, Juliet needs to figure out who exactly she can trust, and whether her estranged sister can be trusted.

There are so many things that I love about Inheritance of Secrets. I’m a sucker for dual timeline novels, and I’ve been drawn to a lot of novels set during WW2 lately. There’s something deeply satisfying about being taken away to such a tumultuous time in history, especially with all the terrible stuff going on at the moment.

I don’t often read war novels told from the perspective of a German soldier, and I really appreciated reading this point of view. It was interesting to read about the average German people who were unwillingly caught up in the Nazi party’s insanity and did what they needed to do to survive during and after the war. It must have been difficult for those people to accept that they had been on the ‘wrong’ side and move on to another country alongside people who had been the Nazi’s victims. I think Sonya Bates described this scenario with a great deal of sensitivity, most likely because the Karl character is inspired by her own father. 

The mystery surrounding the murders and how they related to Karl’s past and the missing signet ring was equally satisfying. I usually find myself drawn more to the historical sections when I read a book with a dual timeline, but I found Juliet’s contemporary section just as thrilling as Karl’s story. I had no idea what was really going on, or if they were going to make it out alive, until the very end.

Inheritance of Secrets has a lot going on, but Sonya Bates has expertly woven all the threads together to provide a seamless reading experience between the present and the past. An engaging and tense historical thriller which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Many thanks to Harper Collins Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book to review.

About the Author

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Sonya Spreen Bates is a writer of adult and children’s fiction living in Adelaide, South Australia. She was shortlisted for the inaugural Banjo Prize in 2018 for the unpublished manuscript for Inheritance of Secrets, and several of her children’s books have been commended by CCBC Best Books, Resource Links, or the Junior Library Guild in the USA.

Born in Iowa City, USA, Sonya grew up in Victoria, Canada. She studied Linguistics at the University of Victoria before moving to Halifax, Nova Scotia to study Speech-Language Pathology at Dalhousie University. She worked in paediatric Speech Pathology for 25 years, first in rural British Columbia, and then in Adelaide, South Australia when she moved there in 1997, and currently works as a casual academic in clinical education.

Sonya’s first children’s book was published in 2003. Her short stories and novels have been published in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and foreign rights to her chapter book, Wildcat Run, were sold to a Chinese publisher. She started writing for adults in 2015 and her debut adult novel Inheritance of Secrets will be published by HarperCollins Australia in April 2020.

Details

Published: April 20th 2020 by HarperCollins Australia

Source: Publisher

Read: Paperback, May 2020

Pages: 432

RRP: $32.99 AUD

Rating: 5 stars

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