The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn

esther durrantTitle: The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant

Author: Kayte Nunns

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 375

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A cache of unsent love letters from the 1950s is found in a suitcase on a remote island in this mysterious love story by top ten bestselling author, Kayte Nunn

  1. Esther Durrant, a young mother, is committed to an isolated mental asylum by her husband. Run by a pioneering psychiatrist, the hospital is at first Esther’s prison but soon becomes her refuge.
  2. Free-spirited marine scientist Rachel Parker embarks on a research posting in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast. When a violent storm forces her to take shelter on a far-flung island, she discovers a collection of hidden love letters. Captivated by their passion and tenderness, Rachel determines to track down the intended recipient.

Meanwhile, in London, Eve is helping her grandmothera renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs. When she is contacted by Rachel, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to reveal secrets kept buried for more than sixty years.

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant is a deeply atmospheric, resonant novel that charts the heart’s wild places, choices and consequences. If you love Elizabeth Gilbert and Kate Morton you will devour this book.

Praise for the bestselling The Botanist’s Daughter:

‘Two incredibly likeable, headstrong heroines . . . watching them flourish is captivating. With these dynamic women at the helm, Kayte weaves a clever tale of plant treachery involving exotic and perilous encounters in Chile, plus lashings of gentle romance. Compelling storytelling’ The Australian Women’s Weekly

‘I loved The Botanist’s Daughter. I was transported to the 1880s and Chile, to contemporary Sydney and Kew. A gripping read’ JOY RHOADES, author of The Woolgrower’s Companion

‘The riveting story of two women, divided by a century in time, but united by their quest to discover a rare and dangerous flower. Fast-moving and full of surprises, The Botanist’s Daughter brings the exotic world of 19th-century Chile thrillingly to life’ KATE FORSYTH

~*~

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant opens with a cleverly deceptive scene with Esther and her husband supposedly headed off on holiday on an island off the coast of England. Esther is under the impression he will be staying with her in the little stone house – until she wakes up in the morning to discover he is gone, and she’s surrounded by a doctor and nurse. It is 1951, and Esther has what will become known as post-partum depression, though the 1950s did not see it this way. Sent to Little Embers to recover, Esther soon finds comfort in the others there – soldiers returned from war, struggling to fit back into a society that demands they do.

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In 2018, Rachel, a researcher, discovers a suitcase in a place called Little Embers after she is rescued by Leah, and spends several days recuperating until a friend comes to find her, and she takes the letters and suitcase she discovers with her. Also in 2018, Eve is helping her ninety-year-old grandmother, a renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs, when Rachel tracks them down. Eve’s gran is Esther Durrant, and the letters reveal a sixty-six-year-old secret that slowly evolves through the novel.

By dipping back and forth between 2018 and 1952, and the perspectives of Rachel, Eve and Esther, Kayte Nunn tells the whole story, and only reveals things when they need to be revealed. This gives the novel an air of mystery that remains throughout the novel. Dual timeline stories like this are effective when worked well, and Kayte Nunn has done so in this one, much like her previous novel, The Botanist’s Daughter, also reviewed on this blog. What a dual timeline does is take the reader back into the past from the present as a character reads letters, a dairy or speaks with the person from the past storyline, and sometimes it is a combination of all three that allows for this to happen. At other times, a different approach is taken but in all the dual timelines I have read, each has been very effective.

In this case, the secrets that are hinted at are cleverly dealt with throughout. Each character could have a potential link to the secret, which makes it more mysterious and intriguing, and an enjoyable mystery to read and try to solve.

Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s brilliant career began by Libby Hathorn

Miss Frankin.jpgTitle: Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s brilliant career began

Author: Libby Hathorn

Genre: Historical Picture Book

Publisher: Hachette/Lothian

Published: 28th May 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 32

Price: $26.99

Synopsis: A fascinating story about Miles Franklin, one of Australian literature’s most significant women, written by one of the biggest names in children’s literature.

This is a story about iconic Australian writer Stella Miles Franklin, namesake of two major literary prizes, during her brief but formative time as a governess in rural New South Wales. Teenager Stella Miles Franklin has to work to help support her family. Stella is unhappy in her job and longs for the freedom and excitement of city life. While working, she meets a young orphan girl, Imp, who is almost as feisty as Stella herself, and who spurs the older girl to follow her dreams.

Inspired by events in Miles Franklin’s lifeMISS FRANKLIN is told by multi-award-winning author Libby Hathorn and acclaimed illustrator Phil Lesnie and includes a facts page about Stella Miles Franklin.

~*~

Picture books are not something I review often – but when I do, they are ones that I simply fall in love with and that have an empowering, and important message in them. Recently Hachette sent me a new picture book by Libby Hathorn, about Miles Franklin and her journey to becoming an author.

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As a teenager, Miles Franklin had to take on a governess job to earn money for her family. In this story, she encounters a young girl named Imp, who seems disinterested in learning yet afraid of something at the same time. Miles manages to draw Imp out of her shell, and together, they both learn that it is okay to take a chance – and this leads to Miles getting her first novel published by Henry Lawson.

Picture books like this introduce children to history and people that sometimes are never encountered, and at other times, only encountered in adulthood. Now, children will have the chance to meet her at a young age and find out more about who she is as they get older. The accompanying illustrations suit the story text and the historical setting of the story.

It is as much a story about encouraging you to follow your dreams as it is about how Miles got to where she did and became such a well-known author that we now have a prize for women authors named after her: The Stella Prize. This is the kind of picture book I would have adored when I was younger because it is so different to what is usually out there and there seems to be a trend these days for picture books centred around history and significant women in history, and I hope this trend grows.

Book Bingo Eleven – A place in the title

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Welcome to my eleventh book bingo with Theresa and Amanda. This time, I am checking off a book with a place in the title. I had intended to add this in last fortnight, but checking to see how everything would fit in has me aiming to do one square per post for the next fourteen posts to make sure everything is spread evenly.

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The asterixed titles are ones that are going to appear in future posts. It looks like I only have four slots left to fill, so hopefully I can stretch what I have left to the end of the year, as we have planned with this card. However, where a text row has BINGO next to it, I have added in my bingo graphic to reflect this, and will do the same when the relevant post goes up as well.

the french photographer

My square was a book with a place in the title. This one was going to be easy to fill, but hard to choose as there are many books that have a place in the title. I chose Natasha Lester’s latest, The French Photographer. Set during World War Two, it follows the story of Jess May, inspired by Lee Miller as she heads into various war zones and camps across France, and encounters sexism, an orphan and societal expectations that she refuses to bow down to. When she meets Victorine, Jess’s life will change – i many ways. The book flashes between the 1940s and the present day, leading to a storyline that is tragically beautiful and uniting, highlighting the importance of friendship, love and family throughout the ages and generations. I also had the chance to interview Natasha as part of the blog tour, and the interview can be found here.

Row Four:

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Outback:

Book set on the Australian Coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Mountains: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – AWW2019

Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

BINGO!

I have read a book for each category in Row One Down – a couple of these posts are yet to go live but this post and the bingo week posts for these books will reflect gaining a bingo.

Rows Down:

Row One:  – Bingo

A book with a red cover: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim – #AWW2019*

Book by an author with the same initials as you:

Themes of science fiction: The Lost Magician by Piers Torday*

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Written by an Australian man: The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant*

Literary: Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide – AWW2019

Row three:

Novel that has 500 pages or more:

Fictional biography about a woman from history:

Themes of justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Book set on the Australian coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019*

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Well, that’s another fortnight down – come back next week for more book bingo!

Book Bingo Ten – Book Bingo –  Set on the Australian Coast

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Welcome to my tenth book bingo with Theresa and Amanda, where I am ticking off another square no full bingo yet. Some squares are to be used in later posts as the books haven’t been published yet. This time, I am checking off a book set on the Australian coast. I was going to do a double bingo but wasn’t sure if doing so would allow me to stretch these posts to the end of the year, as all my categories are nearly checked off, but the posts just need to be written.

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The asterixed titles are ones that are going to appear in future posts. It looks like I only have four slots left to fill, so hopefully I can stretch what I have left to the end of the year, as we have planned with this card.

house of second chancesFor the Australian Coast, I have chosen The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion, which does head to Ireland in some places, but has a good chunk set on the Australian coast. It is the sequel to one I read last year, and whilst not in my top reads, it is still enjoyable and fits in nicely with this category. It is light hearted and romantic, so it would have also worked with the romance square, but best sits here for me as I wasn’t sure what other books would cross my path that would be set on the Australian coast. It continues the story of Ellen and her family, and all those interconnected with them in Ireland and Australia – though this time, focuses on Ellen’s brother, Aidan and the house he is renovating.

Row Four:

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019*

Book set in the Australian Outback:

Book set on the Australian Coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Mountains: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – AWW2019

Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

Row three:

Novel that has 500 pages or more:

Fictional biography about a woman from history:

Themes of justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Book set on the Australian coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019*

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

As you can see, I’ve been reading a very broad range this year and that is being nicely covered across book bingo and all my other challenges. Stay tuned for next fortnight when I feature a book with a place in the title.

The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

lost magician.jpgTitle: The Lost Magician

Author: Piers Torday

Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction/Magical Realism

Publisher: Quercus

Published: 7th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: ‘If you can imagine it, it exists … somewhere.’ The new spellbinding fantasy adventure from the bestselling, award-winning author of THE LAST WILD trilogy.

‘If you can imagine it, it exists … somewhere.’  The new spellbinding fantasy adventure from the bestselling, award-winning author of THE LAST WILD trilogy.

  1. They have survived the Blitz, but when Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry step through a mysterious library door, it is the beginning of their most dangerous adventure yet. They discover the magical world of Folio, where an enchanted kingdom of fairy knights, bears and tree gods is under threat from a sinister robot army.

The many stories of the Library are locked in eternal war, and the children’s only hope is to find their creator – a magician who has been lost for centuries.

What they find will change not just their own lives, but the fate of the world, for ever …

An ode to the world of NARNIA, THE LOST MAGICIAN is a classic in the making from one of the UK’s most talented children’s authors. 

~*~

For generations, stories like The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis have captured the imagination of children and adults alike. In the decades since, we have had Philip Pullman’sHis Dark Materials trilogy, J.K. Rowling’sHarry Potter series and The Inkworld books by Cornelia Funke. Many authors are indebted to early fairy tale traditions and the golden age of Children’s Literature of the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, and indeed, Narnia and C.S. Lewis. And here, in The Lost Magician, we have a tribute to reading, readers and those other worlds that so many of us spent our childhoods exploring long into the night, beyond our bedtimes because finding out what happened next simply could not wait.

As a child, it was the above books and many others that formed me and that I was drawn to. The stories where the heroes went on adventures, or where the characters got caught up in things they could never even imagine, like the Pevensie children and like Meggie. So what would happen when the elements of a door to a new world (Narnia), living stories (Inkheart), the requisite siblings and the backdrop of war or the end of war were combined with a secret mission, present in some of the most well-known spy stories? Well, that’s where The Lost Magician comes in, marrying all these elements into the start of a new series revolving around the world of Folio, where stories new and old live.

In the first book, they are divided into three factions: The Reads, The Unreads and The Never Reads when the four Hastings siblings are sent to Barfield after the war while their parents search for a new home in London after theirs is destroyed. Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry – aged between eight and fourteen – find themselves in a strange house for the summer, with an unusual attic library that takes them into a new world, where they find out that the stories they know well are under attack from the army of the Never Reads, led by Jana, a woman made of glass and her robotic army, who seek to purge the world of stories and only allow facts to live.

Much like Narnia, it is a quest-story, where the main characters have to save world at war, after living through a war in their own world and carrying their own scars. Whilst some elements mirror those from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, there are many differences that make this its own story in its own right. The elements of a future yet to come that Evie is taken with when she first arrives will threaten what she knows and loves – and she will question why the world has to have one or the other – and the siblings must also search for a lost magician, missing for centuries. Will they find him? Or will his story be woven into future books?

I loved this book, and will be keen to revisit it at some stage, and look forward to future books in the series, to see where this goes, and the differences it will have to its predecessors. What else will the world of Folio offer us?

Daughter of Bad Times by Rohan Wilson

daughter of bad timesTitle: Daughter of Bad Times

Author: Rohan Wilson

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 6th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A suspenseful, truthful and compelling novel from the critically acclaimed author of The Roving Party.

‘What better pitch than helping the refugees of the world? Who doesn’t want to help refugees, right? The five Australian facilities are immigration detention centres, sure, but they’re also manufacturing plants. That means two revenue streams for one facility. And we also clean up our image. We’re not just a corrections company anymore-now, we’re building communities, we’re saving lives.’

Rin Braden is almost ready to give up on life after the heartbreaking death of her lover Yamaan and the everyday dread of working for her mother’s corrupt private prison company. But through a miracle Yamaan has survived.

Yamaan turns up in an immigration detention facility in Australia, trading his labour for a supposedly safe place to live. This is no ordinary facility, it’s Eaglehawk MTC, a manufactory built by her mother’s company to exploit the flood of environmental refugees.

Now Rin must find a way to free Yamaan before the ghosts of her past and a string of bad choices catch up with them both.

In its vision of the future, Daughter of Bad Times explores the truth about a growing inhumanity, as profit becomes the priority.

~*~

It’s 2075, and the world has faced, and still is facing a catastrophic climate event that has led to influxes of refugees from the Maldives and other islands and nations that have lost their homes to climate change – and have found their way to camps in Japan, Australia and America. Rin Braden’s mother is the CEO of one of the corrupt private prison companies taking advantage of the growing desperation of refugees in an eerie echoing of what is happening today, and a foreshadowing of what will come.

The refugee crisis has hit everywhere – and nobody is immune. Nations that have facilities and resources must find a way to support their citizens, and the refugees – yet as this novel shows, the people who want to genuinely help and create a better life for all, are the ones who will become targets in a dark look at how the complex system of dealing with refugees that we are experiencing today is filled with people and places only in it for profit, taking advantage of desperate people.

Rin, born in Japan but raised in America after being told her birth mother has died – and is working for her adoptive mother, Alessandra, within the prison system when she meets Yamaan, a Muslim refugee from the Maldives, whose life now consists of a series of camps in the Pacific region and Australia. Through her contact with Yamaan and other people from Japan, Rin learns that the crisis her mother has described to her much worse, and her understanding of her life, her position in society and what the refugees are going through, and the way they are being exploited for capital gain in much the same way refugees are today.

The diversity of the characters shows that the changes in climate that lead to the events of this novel will affect everyone in the world in some way, but also, that nothing will really change. The rich and powerful will stay rich and powerful, and the displaced will be powerless and desperate, forced into situations they can’t get out of, and filled with governments who promise one thing, but are telling lies the whole time. Through Rin, there is some mind of rebellion as she seeks to find Yamaan after finding out he has died – and she looks to help the refugees, find her birth mother and reject all she has known.

It is a novel about corruption, identity and finding one’s place in an ever-changing world, changes that we can see coming towards us now. Changes that are coming quickly. Changes that Rin sees she needs to try and do something about. It was interspersed with transcripts and other investigative communications – aspects that became clearer as the novel went on, yet the ending felt a little too open-ended and without a distinct result. Perhaps this was the author’s intent – to show the futility of the situation and times the characters were living in, and to show that in times like that, nothing can really be resolved properly.

Life Before by Carmel Reilly

life before.jpgTitle: Life Before
Author: Carmel Reilly
Genre: Crime/Mystery
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 6th May 2019
Format: Paperback
Pages: 345
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: Suspense and family secrets surround a pair of estranged siblings in a compelling debut thriller.
She knew she should talk to him. But what could she say? Once there had been blame to apportion, rage to hurl. Now she no longer had a sense of that. Who knew what the facts of them being here together like this meant. What was she to make of the situation? Scott lying unconscious here in this bed, unknown to her in almost every way. She a wife, a mother, but in her mind no longer a sister. Not a sister for a very long time now.

Lori Spyker is taking her kids to school one unremarkable day when a policeman delivers the news that her brother, Scott Green, has been injured and hospitalised following a hit and run.

Lori hasn’t seen Scott in decades. She appears to be his only contact. Should she take responsibility for him? Can she? And, if she does, how will she tell her own family about her hidden history, kept secret for so long?

Twenty years before, when she and Scott were teenagers, their lives and futures, and those of their family, had been torn to shreds. Now, as Lori tries to piece together her brother’s present, she is forced to confront their shared past-and the terrible and devastating truth buried there that had driven them so far apart.

Compassionate, wise and shocking, Life Before tells the gripping story of an ordinary family caught in a terrible situation. What if the worst thing you can imagine isn’t the worst thing to happen? How do you go on? And what steps will you take to protect yourself from further pain?

~*~

Life Before opens in 1993, with a country cop, Senior Sergeant Des Robinson has to attend an accident, with one fatal, and many injuries on the backroads of Northam. It is a tragedy that will touch many families and turn the lives of two in particular upside down, leading to a mystery about the fate of one family that is slowly revealed as the book goes back and forth between 1993, when the accident occurs, and 2016, where everything slowly comes out.

In 1993, Pam and Mick are living a normal life in Northam with their kids, Scott and Loren, both still at school and with promising futures ahead of them. One day, a terrible accident changes all that and Northam is never the same again. Months later, the town has to contend with another tragedy tearing a family apart.

2019 BadgeIn 2016, Lori is married, with two kids, and on her way to drop them at school when she’s informed her brother has been in an accident. He’s in a coma, and she’s listed as his only next of kin. at this point, we discover that her parents and oldest brother, Simon, are all dead – the big question is how and when. At first, Lori keeps Scott a secret from Jason. They’ve been estranged for over twenty years, since the tragedy that tore their family apart. Yet soon, their lives, and the lives of Lori and her husband Jason, will unexpectedly intersect and the mystery, crime and tragedies that made Lori who she is, will unravel and come to light.

In a compelling mystery, Carmel Reilly reveals how a tragic accident can change the lives of a normal family, and an entire community forever, and lead to even more tragedy that drives two family members apart for two decades. It is about how a decision can change everything. Throughout the book, the two mysteries – the one in 1993, and the one that leads to Lori and Scott reuniting in 2016, are told in a way that a little information is revealed each time, yet not too much: Carmel Reilly holds back on what we really need to know until the climax of the book, like all good mysteries. It is compelling, and I wanted to read on to find out what had happened. It also ran at a decent pace: not too fast, so everything was resolved neatly, but also, not to slow so things dragged on. This is where going back and forth in what seemed like parallel mysteries worked well.

Throughout the novel, the reader is constantly wondering what happened with the accident, what happened to Lori’s family – how did they die, and when did they die? All clues point towards something unforeseen and that Lori has been on her own – apart from Jason and their kids – for a very long time. The hints are there that something awful happened, something that she feels she cannot talk about. Yet it is the careful and deliberate peeling back of the layers of the two crimes involving Scott that has made this novel a compelling and engrossing story, and a mystery well worth the read. Where some mysteries show the fracturing of a marriage due to the secrets one spouse has kept, Reilly holds Jason and Lori together, showing that both have had something rough to deal with in this case and life. The mystery really opens up and heats up when Jason goes to the ICU with Lori – what comes after this reveals much more than anticipated and even quickens the pace a little, but not too much.

Unlike most mysteries that end in a nice, clean resolution of an arrest, here, whilst we find out what has happened, this one has a unique ending. The crime may be solved, but there is still more to come for Lori and Jason, and Scott off the page. All in all, a very compelling read for crime and mystery fans.