The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

sealwoman.jpgTitle: The Sealwoman’s Gift

Author: Sally Magnusson

Genre: Literary, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette/Two Roads

Published: 13th February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A woman’s story lost from history – in 1627 Icelandic islanders were abducted and sold into slavery in Algiers; but what happened to the women and children and, specifically, to the pastor’s wife?

‘A remarkable feat of imagination… I enjoyed and admired it in equal measure’ Sarah Perry, author of THE ESSEX SERPENT

In 1627 Barbary pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted some 400 of its people, including 250 from a tiny island off the mainland. Among the captives sold into slavery in Algiers were the island pastor, his wife and their three children. Although the raid itself is well documented, little is known about what happened to the women and children afterwards. It was a time when women everywhere were largely silent.

In this brilliant reimagining, Sally Magnusson gives a voice to Ásta, the pastor’s wife. Enslaved in an alien Arab culture Ásta meets the loss of both her freedom and her children with the one thing she has brought from home: the stories in her head. Steeped in the sagas and folk tales of her northern homeland, she finds herself experiencing not just the separations and agonies of captivity, but the reassessments that come in any age when intelligent eyes are opened to other lives, other cultures and other kinds of loving.

THE SEALWOMAN’S GIFT is about the eternal power of storytelling to help us survive. The novel is full of stories – Icelandic ones told to fend off a slave-owner’s advances, Arabian ones to help an old man die. And there are others, too: the stories we tell ourselves to protect our minds from what cannot otherwise be borne, the stories we need to make us happy.

Icelandic history has been brought to extraordinary life..An accomplished and intelligent novel’ Yrsa Siguroardottir, author of WHY DID YOU LIE?

~*~

1627, Iceland. A remote island is ravaged by Barbary pirates, and 400 Icelanders were taken captive, and transported to Algiers, at the time part of the Ottoman Empire, to be sold into slavery to sultans and council members and their families, and into harems or to whomever can pay the right price. Families are ripped apart, children taken from their parents. Many die in the coming days and weeks from fevers and diseases they’ve been isolated from on their island. Ásta is separated from her eldest. Egill, and her husband, Ólafur, and it will be almost a decade before she is reunited with her husband. Her younger children, Marta and Jón are able to stay with her – though the slave master’s whims must be met swiftly, and without questioning. As Ásta and her fellow enslaved Icelanders await a ransom payment, they do their best, and what they can to survive. Ásta finds solace in the Icelandic sagas she heard as a child, and eventually, the tales of Scheherazade and the Arabian nights. Time passes, and she begins to question where she came from, and who she is as she uses the Icelandic sagas to tame her master and calm herself. hoping one day for freedom, a freedom that could come with a price she may never forgive herself for paying.

The clash of Icelandic and Arabic culture and religion are a shock to Ásta, who watches as the other enslaved women who survived the journey and initial few days and weeks take on their new culture to fit in and survive, and as her children take on the religion of the enslavers and have their entire identity reshaped. It is a story about slavery, yes. It takes an instance of slavery that I had previously not known about. The image most people have of slavery is linked to colonisation, and The American Civil War – but there are many stories of slavery, of the worldwide slave trade that are not always spoken about. Like other slave masters, Cilleby tries to justify the actions of the Barbary pirates by saying it had been done to other groups before, suggesting that throughout human history, all groups at one stage or another have tried to enslave each other for their own purposes and power. I found this to be quite interesting, and it embarked on a journey for Ásta of survival and love for her children, and a longing to be home. It speaks to the pain of being ripped away from all you know, from home and family, and displaced in an alien world that does not feel so welcoming to you. The raw feelings of Ásta’s isolation come through explicitly and clearly for the reader, as does her horror at the way the other women she came over with so willingly take to the life they’ve been forced into, take to marrying those who buy them and converting to Islam because it means freedom from being a slave – her horror at turning her back on her own religion and her own family is apparent, and is executed effectively.

Whilst the history of the enslaved Icelander’s becomes the backbone to this story, at the heart is the role of women and their voices, lost in the original sources. Ásta’s name is found in a record of the ransom, but not referred to in the Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egillsson: Captured by Barbary Pirates in 1627, and its translation that the author has referred to. Using the sources available to her and a little creative licence based on these sources, Sally Magnusson has raised Ásta’s voice, and made her the primary story teller through, dipping in and out of other perspectives of the slave owners and Ólafur to tell a well-rounded story about the times and the complexities of human nature. Through Ásta, the life of a slave is revealed, though it is the life of a female slave, unable to participate in certain areas. The trepidation and fear she feels in her new life reverberates throughout, and as she loses herself and loses hope in her own faith and family is eloquently dealt with, and sensitively shown. Each element of the story has been carefully thought out, researched and written to give scope to each of the characters, and reveal their flaws and their positives. They are human, and they show human emotions and are subject to how they feel at the time, and not how people tell them to act or feel. I found this to be very effective and it ensured a story with a decent pace. The settings of Iceland and Algiers are excellent contrasts, the cold and hot, the barren and the lively, and the feeling of home and the different ways each are a home to the characters. Though it shows very strict gender roles. Ásta’s attempts to move out of what is demanded of her but at the same time, use it to her advantage, were written with great detail and interest.

Understanding that slavery has many layers and has affected many countries at different times is something that this book highlights, using an example not often heard about. In the author’s note, Sally mentions that slave trade as happening all over the world at the time of the 1627 raid on the coast of Iceland, that it wasn’t an isolated incident. Telling the diverse stories of slaves and the slave trade shows how vast it was across the entire world, not just the stories and histories we hear about and are taught.

I found it hard to find a favourite part as each section was all so different and each had something I enjoyed about it, though Ásta’s chapters were ones I always looked forward to, and what she did in circumstances she had no control over. It was a great story, and one that shows a different side to the history of slavery and the power of traditional stories and storytelling.

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The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht

the passengers.jpgTitle: The Passengers

Author: Eleanor Limprecht

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher:  Allen and Unwin

Published: 21st of February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 344

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A luminous novel about love by an acclaimed rising star of Australian literature.

‘A stunning exploration of hope and desire, fear and control, this story is full of heart and heartbreak’
ASHLEY HAY, author of The Railwayman’s Wife


‘A compelling novel about the bruises inflicted by fate and by ourselves, and the blessings to be found in resilience, determination, and love.’
DEBRA ADELAIDE, author of The Household Guide to Dying

Sarah and Hannah are on a cruise from San Diego, California to Sydney, Australia. Sarah, Hannah’s grandmother, is returning to the country of her birth, a place she hasn’t seen since boarding the USS Mariposa in 1945. Then she, along with countless other war brides, sailed across the Pacific to join the American servicemen they’d married during World War II.

Now Hannah is the same age Sarah was when she made her first journey, and in hearing Sarah tell the story of her life, realises the immensity of what her grandmother gave up.

The Passengers is a luminous novel about love: the journeys we undertake, the sacrifices we make and the heartache we suffer for love It is about how we most long for what we have left behind. And it is about the past – how close it can still feel – even after long passages of time.

‘Two women, two generations, two countries, two journeys. Eleanor Limprecht gracefully navigates the crosscurrents of history and creates vibrant characters from the extraordinary true experiences of Australian war brides. Sarah and Hannah’s urgent search for love and wholeness moved me in both senses: they touched my heart and I still feel I am churning across the Pacific with them. A deeply satisfying novel.’
SUSAN WYNDHAM, former literary editor, The Sydney Morning Herald

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseSixty-nine years after leaving her home in Australia, Sarah is heading home with her granddaughter, Hannah, on a cruise, the same way she left at the end of World War Two, to join the man she married, Roy, an American soldier serving in the Pacific theatre of the 1940s war. Up until the age of sixteen, Sarah had lived on a farm, and attended school, but just before World War Two breaks out, Sarah and her parents and brothers move to the city, where they must find work. When her brothers sign up for the war, Sarah watches them leave, and finds herself working as a typist for the Americans when they start to arrive. Caught between falling in love and loyalty to her family, Sarah has a choice to make when Roy proposes to her. They wed, and it is several years before they can be reunited in Roanoke, Virginia, and their reunion is not without its struggles – struggles that are not helped by Roy’s conservative parents. Soon, Sarah finds herself separated and alone. She soon reconnects with Jim, the Navy officer who was kind to her on her journey from Sydney.

Hannah is in her early twenties, and at constant war with anorexia. For her, this trip is a way to have time away from the stresses of her nursing course, and help her grandmother reconnect with the home she hasn’t seen for almost seventy years, having left when she was the same age Hannah is now. Struggling to keep up appearances and hide her reasons for not eating on the cruise, Hannah listens as Sarah tells her the story of how she became a war bride, and when the war hit the shores of Australia in February 1942, when Darwin was bombed by Japan. Both journeys have been on ships, one on the SS Mariposa, a luxury liner that had been repurposed for military personnel, and then again at the end of the war for the war brides and any children they had with them from Sydney to San Francisco, and the other a cruise ship taking them back to Sydney. Both journeys are transitions in the lives of the women, points at which things change for them, and alter their lives dramatically.

The Passengers is part historical fiction, part family drama, with two engaging female leads with vastly different experiences and lives on a journey to connect the present with the past and reconnect with family and homelands. With touches of romance that add to the story but do not overtake it, it is a nicely written book, and well researched, showing that not every war experience and not every war bride experience was the same. Eleanor Limprecht has shown the complexities of human nature and isolation in its various forms through each of the characters and their struggles to show how life can affect people and what can come out of it to make things better and the importance of family.

Read my interview with Eleanor here when it goes live.

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Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French (Miss Lily #1)

Miss Lily 1Title: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 27th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 524

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A tale of espionage, love and passionate heroism.

Inspired by true events, this is the story of how society’s ‘lovely ladies’ won a war.

Each year at secluded Shillings Hall, in the snow-crisped English countryside, the mysterious Miss Lily draws around her young women selected from Europe’s royal and most influential families. Her girls are taught how to captivate a man – and find a potential husband – at a dinner, in a salon, or at a grouse shoot, and in ways that would surprise outsiders. For in 1914, persuading and charming men is the only true power a woman has.

Sophie Higgs is the daughter of Australia’s king of corned beef and the only ‘colonial’ brought to Shillings Hall. Of all Miss Lily’s lovely ladies, however, she is also the only one who suspects Miss Lily’s true purpose.

As the chaos of war spreads, women across Europe shrug off etiquette. The lovely ladies and their less privileged sisters become the unacknowledged backbone of the war, creating hospitals, canteens and transport systems where bungling officials fail to cope. And when tens of thousands can die in a single day’s battle, Sophie must use the skills Miss Lily taught her to prevent war’s most devastating weapon yet.

But is Miss Lily heroine or traitor? And who, exactly, is she?

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseSophie Higgs lives in Australia at Thuringa, in 1913. Her father runs a corned beef empire, and Australian women have had the vote for eleven years, unlike the women in England, who are still fighting for suffrage. Sophie’s father sends her across the seas to Shillings, where, alongside women from the upper echelons of European society and royalty, Sophie will be taught by the mysterious Miss Lily about society, and how to behave at dinner, how to talk to men and captivate them, how to flatter them, and how to speak about topics that are said to be not right for a woman to know about. But Sophie is a bit of a challenge – the “colonial” who is outspoken and questions everything she is told. Miss Lily takes Sophie under her wing and sets about preparing her for a society life where she can fit in yet still be who she is. As 1914 inches towards war between Germany and England, Sophie must decide who she can trust. Emily, who has always been aloof and focussed? Or Hannelore, a German princess who is friendly but determined that Germany will win any war that breaks out on the continent. As war breaks out, and the Lovely Ladies head home or get married, Sophie is adrift, but determined to make a difference. With the Australians joining the call to duty and heading to Gallipoli, Sophie helps Alison turn her home into a hospital for injured soldiers. As soldiers die, and babies are born, Sophie is drawn further into the war, and across the seas to the battlefields of Ypres and Flanders, where she recounts her tale to a soldier out on the fields, before they head off the battlefields, where the war slowly wraps up, and Sophie finds herself looking to an uncertain future in the inter-war years.

In Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies, Jackie French does not shy away from the horrors of war or the expectations of pre-war Georgian society. The dangers are present, and spoken about, openly and in veiled terms. When Sophie speaks about the threat of war openly. it surprises many, but she finds some men who find relief in not having to curb their chit-chat too much. Like her other novels, Jackie French is telling the stories that have been silence, or relegated to the quieter corners of history, away from the victories of those on the battlefields. whose voices are always heard. The extensive research she has done to uncover these stories is exemplary, and shows just how deep Australian history is, and how much we often miss out on in history lessons.

Sophie’s story ends with a few threads dangling, as a good series does, leaving some mystery for the books to com. The power of friendship felt more important than the romance in this book, though both were present. The romance was woven throughout nicely, so it didn’t overpower what Sophie was trying to do in the war, or her relationship with Alison and the other Lovely Ladies. I had a delightful surprise to meet Midge MacPherson from A Rose for the Anzac Boys again, and I hope she’ll come back in the next book.

The friends that Sophie made throughout the war became important to her, unable to return home because of the threat of enemy attacks, she treasured those she became friends with. As it is a story about war, I felt the deaths and consequences were dealt with realistically and sympathetically, showing the changes in Sophie over the war that altered her perception of herself and the world. I thoroughly enjoyed Sophie’s journey and look forward to it continuing, as I did with Miss Matilda and the Matilda Saga.

An excellent addition to my Jackie French Library, and a great read for fans of the author and historical fiction.

This marks off another square in my book bingo, and will be included in my next post in two weeks time.

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Book Bingo Three: A book by someone over 60, a book by an author you’ve never read before.

 AWW-2018-badge-rose

In my third book bingo posts of the year, I have two books to report on – a book by an author I have never read before, and a book by someone over sixty. Both of these books have already been reviewed on my blog, so I have linked back to the longer reviews in this post.

oceans edgeSquare seven, a book by an author I have never read before has been filled by The Secret’s at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier, and it is Kali’s debut novel, and draws on family history and the geography of Western Australia to craft a story that is filled with ups and downs, and characters who are flawed and complex. It is a story about family, and sacrifice, and the lengths that some people will go to so they can protect family, and hide secrets that threaten those they care about. Set in the Great Depression, it shows a side to Australian history and life often not heard about in history books and draws on issues of Aboriginality and how the government defined this during the 1930s, injecting some of the hidden history not taught in schools into the novel. I enjoyed this debut, and hope Kali writes more.

My next square checked off is a book published by someone over 60. Eventual Poppy Day eventual poppy dayby Libby Hathorn (b 1943) fits into this square. Eventual Poppy ay is another story inspired by family history, in this case, a family link to the battlefields of World War One and what would become known as Remembrance Day and Anzac Day, where poppies would become the symbol of a generation lost to the ravages of war. It flicks between the story of Maurice in the war, and his great-great nephew in the twenty-first century, trying to find his place in the world. It is a moving story that gives a sense of what the war was like, the suffocating trenches and the feelings of helplessness during the stalemates.

Both of these were historical fiction as well, as I feel many of my books this year will be. Keep an eye out for my next post in two weeks time with more updates.

book bingo 2018.jpg

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The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

the wicked cometh.jpgTitle: The Wicked Cometh

Author: Laura Carlin

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, Hachette Australia

Published: 13th February, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 343

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Even in the darkest of times, you cannot bury the truth . . . A debut historical novel that will appeal to fans of Sarah Waters and THE ESSEX SERPENT.

THE WICKED COMETH will take readers on a heart-racing journey through backstreets swathed with fog to richly curtained, brightly lit country houses; from the libraries and colleges of gentlemen, to sawdust-strewn gin palaces where ne’er-do-wells drink and scheme, all told through the eyes of a heroine with nothing to lose. 

The year is 1831.

Down murky alleyways and in filthy hovels, acts of unspeakable wickedness take place and vulnerable people begin to disappear from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.

When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the mysterious Rebekah Brock. But both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations as whispers from Hester’s old life return to poison the present. Something is lurking in the black heart of their city, and it is more depraved than either of them could ever imagine . . .

~*~

Every city has its secrets, and so do the people who live in them. Hester White is run over by the cart of an aristocrat and injures her ankle. The gentleman, Calder Brock, insists on taking her back to his family home to heal, and she is soon turned into a project, for Calder’s mysterious sister Rebekah, whose indifference is off-putting, but the whispers about missing maids and girls are more concerning. Hester’s life in hovels and alleyways has changed now that she is in the Brock home, but the dangers that the maids and servants whisper about girls who have disappeared without a trace, and Hester knows she must find out what has happened, or potentially meet the same fate the others did. Initially afraid of Rebekah, Hester runs to save her life, only to discover the dark and dangerous truth about people she thought she could trust.

In her life, Hester, the narrator, has seen two Londons: the rich, opulent one of the Brocks, and the slums she lived in, the parsonage she grew up in. Through Hester’s eyes we see how her experiences being poor and rich affect her, and her ability to move between the two worlds is effective, especially as the novel is told in first person. When Hester is talking about Rebekah, there are hints that it is more than respect and friendship, but I felt that this grew and developed over the novel and complemented the mystery nicely. Hester’s father regaled her with stories about his travels. building up an ideal London in her young mind. Orphaned at eleven, Hester is living with an alcoholic Uncle Jacob, and her Aunt Meg, who encourages her to leave to save herself from the rage of Jacob.

When Calder takes her in to prove even those from the gutter can be educated, much like Henry Higgins tries to prove with Eliza in Pygmalion, Hester assumes a persona of ignorance, though she has been taught to read and write by her father. The mystery slowly unfolds, and towards the middle of the story, it starts to move faster than the beginning as Rebekah and Hester undertake their own investigations and try to stop the dark disappearances. The slow beginning acts as a deceptive set-up, lulling the reader into a false sense of security before slowly chipping away at this feeling through maid’s whispers and Hester’s doubts as she tells the story. This is used effectively to begin the mystery, which soon becomes the main story, and the relationships develop as the mystery goes on. I quite enjoyed the mystery, though it was quite dark, and disturbing, but highlighted the depravity that exists in society, and the lengths that people will go to in order to hide this depravity and present a respectable front to society.

Hester’s narration allows the reader to see it all through her eyes, and experience her confusion, her guilt and the feelings she is unsure about that bubble to the surface when she is around Rebekah and thinking about her. It has elements of friendship and romance, and finding one’s own identity, and the development of this evolves with the mystery. It was nice to see a relationship develop over time and not be instantaneous, and get equal attention to a rather dark and intriguing mystery that took the characters through the shadows of London.

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Adelaide Writer’s Week 2018

The third of March, 2018 marks the beginning of the six-day festival of authors and writing in Adelaide, South Australia. Eighty-Four Australian and international authors will attend the event for a variety of talks, across a diverse range of authors, books and genres to discuss literature and how the world impacts the stories we tell. The Adelaide Writer’s Week is part of the Adelaide festival that celebrates art and culture.

This celebration allows the community to engage with authors and the arts, and with each other. The various events will appeal to people of all ages and in all groups.

Hachette Australia has several Australian and international authors attending, and they are as follows, with the works they had published by Hachette last year:

Mark Brandi, author of Wimmera, appearing at the Small Towns event on the 3rd of March, 2018 at 3.45pm – East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. Wimmera was published in 2017, and tells the story of Ben and Fab, and the body that is found twenty years after summer in 1989, and the mystery that unfolds. It is one I am yet to read and hope to do so soon.

terra nulliusClaire G. Coleman author of Terra Nullius, a speculative fiction that looks at the effects of colonisation, and displacement in a suggested future where humankind has been colonised and invaded by aliens. It draws parallels to the effects of real world invasion and colonisation on Indigenous populations, and it was an interesting read, as it started out as what felt like historical fiction, but the reveal half way through was quite a surprise, and admittedly, took some getting used to. It was an interesting read though, and one that will hopefully start conversations or make people think about the issues it draws upon. Claire will be appearing at 2.30pm on the 7th of March, West Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

Thomas Mullen, author of Lightning Men, The Revisionists, and Darktown, will attend three events: American South, on the 3rd of March, East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, at 2.3opm, Making history, East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, at 12pm on the 5th of March and Darktown, at 10.45am on the 6th of March at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

Louise Penny, author of Still Life
, Dead Cold, The Cruellest Month, The Murder Stone
, The Brutal Telling
, Bury Your Dead
, A Trick of the Light
, The Beautiful Mystery, How The Light Gets AWW-2018-badge-roseIn, The Long Way Home, The Nature of the Beast, A Great Reckoning, and Glass Houses ­– the Inspector Gamache series, will be attending two events on the 4th and the 5th of March: Glass Houses at 9.30am on the 4th of March, at East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, and Into the Woods on the 5th of March at 5pm, at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

see what i have doneAnother Australian Author published by Hachette attending will be Sarah Schmidt, author of See What I Have Done, a fictional retelling of Lizzie Borden and her murdered parents, planting seeds of doubt and suggesting that there may have been other suspects, but not coming to any full conclusions, and working with the evidence provided from research. A strange and intriguing read, it gives insight into the people behind the history, as historical fiction aims to do. Sarah will be appearing with Thomas Mullen at Making History on the 5th of March at 12pm, at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

Much-loved Scottish author, Alexander McCall-Smith, whose extensive backlist, including the latest in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, The House of Unexpected Sisters, has been published by Hachette, will also be attending. The main event he will be attending will be Love and Tartan, on the 8th of March at 5pm, at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. The House of Unexpected Sisters is book eighteen of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Sarah Winman, author of Tin Man, A Year of Marvellous Wats and When God Was a Rabbit will also be attending and taking part in two events. She will be attending Friends on the 3rd of March at 9.30 am at the at the East Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. and Tin Man on the 5th of March, at 9.30 am at the at the West Stage Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.

Links:

http://artsreview.com.au/2018-adelaide-writers-week-program-announced/

https://www.adelaidefestival.com.au/writers_week_blog/

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Olmec Obituary by L.J.M. Owen

OLMEC_B_SML.jpegTitle: Olmec Obituary

Author: L.J.M. Owen

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Echo

Published: August 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 342

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Archaeologist Dr Elizabeth Pimms thoroughly enjoys digging up old skeletons.

But when she is called home from Egypt after a family loss, she has to sacrifice her passions for the sake of those around her.

Attempting to settle into her new role as a librarian, while also missing her boyfriend, Elizabeth is distracted from her woes by a new mystery: a royal Olmec cemetery, discovered deep in the Mexican jungle, with a 3000-year-old ballplayer who just might be a woman.

She soon discovers there are more skeletons to deal with than those covered in dirt and dust.

Suitable for readers young and old, Olmec Obituary is the first novel in a delightful cosy crime series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseElizabeth is having the time of her life in Egypt, delving into tombs, uncovering new secrets, and searching for the women of antiquity amongst all the evidence of male rulers. When family tragedy strikes, Elizabeth is summoned home, and must give up her archaeology career for the stability of one in the National Library of Australia (referred to as the Mahony Griffin Library in the book) and support her family. In pain, and curious as to a fellow librarian’s behaviour towards her, Elizabeth finds herself volunteering to help uncover the secrets of a three-thousand-year-old Olmec cemetery. But all is not what it seems, and there are more than just bone-related secrets to uncover. What is the head of the project, Dr. Carl Schmidt up to, and why? Who is he covering for? And why does Mai hate her so much? Back at home, Elizabeth is grappling with younger siblings and grandparents who need her to work to support them, but also need her to help around the house and be there for them. Between work, and her family, Elizabeth hopes she can solve the mystery of the Olmec women, and prove to the university and library what has really been happening – and perhaps even why.

The first in what I am sure will be a wonderful new cosy crime series with cases so cold, nobody is left to speak for the dead but archaeologists and historians, Olmec Obituary brings a new sleuth to life, who deals in cases so cold, finding a witness would require a time machine. However, without one, Elizabeth settles on solving the crimes and mysteries of the past from the future, using her skills as an archaeologist, and with the help of Alice, a PhD candidate, and friends who study ancient languages, will make discoveries that will alter perceptions and cause Elizabeth to look to her family, and uncover more than just the skeletons at work. Olmec Obituary introduces us to a cast of characters who are unique and diverse, to a family with Welsh, Chinese and French heritage, with a female led cast of characters, with female-centric narratives driving the story, both the story of the Olmec burial and Elizabeth’s story, where she comes up against sexism in her voluntary position, and an unexpected altercation with a library employee she has never met – Mai – and who gives no indication as to why she has decided to hate Elizabeth – something I am intrigued by and look forward to finding out. I was just as surprised as Elizabeth at the instant hatred – it added another mystery to the story as I wondered what the hatred was about. It added a layer to the story and characters that contributed to the mystery.

Not only is the story-line compelling and interesting, Olmec Obituary’s diverse cast of characters, and female-led story brings a new voice to Australian literature in the last few years, offering up something meaty and intriguing for new readers who want their women doing new and interesting things, and seeking diversity. Combined, these work, and Elizabeth’s love life is present too, but already established and not at the forefront of the plot, which makes for exciting reading. As stubborn as she is, Elizabeth still has weaknesses and flaws that she tries to keep guarded and hidden, but it is these flaws that make her an intriguing character to read about.

The genre of cosy mystery, where the murder happens off page, without gratuitous violence and sex is becoming a favourite – and in this genre, all my current favourite authors are Australian women writers, with one being a British male – Vaseem Khan, author of the Baby Ganesh Investigation series. My other favourites which are by Australian women are:

LJM Owen, Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth

Sulari Gentill, The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries – and the series that got me into this genre.

Kerry Greenwood, Phryne Fisher Mysteries

Janine Beacham – Rose Raventhorpe Investigates.

So, in my vast collection, Elizabeth is in good company, and she is an intriguing character, much like Rowly, Rose, Phryne and Inspector Chopra and his baby elephant. Where Rowly has his artist friends, and Phryne has trusty maid Dot, and Rose, the Silvercrest Butlers, and Chopra has a baby elephant, Elizabeth’s companions are her cats, named for Egyptian gods and goddesses, who are there when Elizabeth is working at home, always watching, and always faithful.

This is a great start to what I am sure will be an engaging and educational series. Elizabeth looks to be a character whose secrets will be revealed across the series and watching this happen will be intriguing. I liked the way Olmec Obituary ended with a touch of a mystery to come and be resolved, whilst wrapping up key aspects of the main plot and revealing characters for who they truly are not the facade that they put on for everyone else.

A great read, and I can’t wait to get stuck into book two.

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