P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones

p is for pearl.jpgTitle: P is for Pearl

Author: Eliza Henry Jones

Genre: Young Adult, Literary

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 19th of February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A POIGNANT READ BURSTING WITH HEARTACHE, GRIEF AND SMALL-TOWN FAMILY SECRETS THAT WILL DRAW YOU IN UNTIL THE FINAL PAGE’
– Gabrielle Tozer, award-winning author of The InternFaking It and Remind Me How This Ends

Seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn P. Pearson has become very good at not thinking about the awful things that have happened to her family.

She has also become used to people talking about her dead mum. Or not talking about her and just looking at Gwen sympathetically.

And it’s easy not to think about awful things when there are wild beaches to run along, best friends Loretta and Gordon to hang out with – and a stepbrother to take revenge on.

But following a strange disturbance at the cafe where she works, Gwen is forced to confront what happened to her family all those years ago. And she slowly comes to realise that people aren’t as they first appear and that like her, everyone has a story to tell.

From the talented author of the celebrated novels In the Quiet and Ache comes a poignant and moving book that explores the stories we tell ourselves about our families, and what it means to belong.


PRAISE

P is for Pearl is a complex, authentic exploration of grief, friendship, mental illness, family and love, sensitively written by a writer whose voice will resonate with teen readers.’  Books+Publishin

~*~

Gwendolyn P. Pearson hides the dark family secrets that have plagued her family for years very well, and she is good at it. For years, the small Tasmanian town of Clunes has whispered and spoken about her mother, who died when Gwen was a child, one of two family tragedies that happened within months of each other. Gwen has her best friends, Loretta and Gordon, school and running to distract her – that is, until a strange incident at the cafe she works at triggers a memory, and Gwen must confront her memories. When new kids, Ben and Amber arrive in town, Gwen is torn between letting them be, and befriending them and their aunt. As she tries to hide secrets from everyone and hide from her past, it is Ben who will show her that the surface of someone is not always what they seem, and that it is okay to be angry when you are hurt.

AWW-2018-badge-roseP for Pearl completes my book bingo for the first half of 2018 – this will be in a separate post next Saturday, and then I am embarking on round two, using the same card but hopefully, different books as much as I can. First written when Eliza was sixteen, P for Pearl is the world of tragedy and loneliness seen through the eyes of a teenager whose understanding of what happened is coloured by what she wants to believe, and what, as a child, she was told or led to believe. Through narrative and diary entries, Gwen’s story is slowly revealed, and we see the pain she has been in for years, slowly emerging and bubbling its way to the top following the smashed windows at work.

Gwen’s family – her father, stepmother Biddy, step-brother Tyrone and half-sister Evie, are all key figures in the way Gwen experiences her life, and of them all, she seems to feel closer to Evie at first, and a little distanced from the rest of her family, perhaps feeling a little lost in it all. Tyrone is older – and at first, is rather annoying but later, I found something endearing about him and the way he genuinely cared for Gwen, which comes through gradually as she comes to terms with her confusion and pain. In the end, Tyrone, Ben, Loretta and Gordon are the ones who help her come through her pain and the realisation of the painful family history that has haunted her.

P for Pearl is aimed at teenagers but is a novel that speaks to the grief and complicated events and tragedies in life that we all face and endure. Gwen’s voice is genuine, and works well in the novel, as is the character growth and learning little bits about characters as the novel progresses. A greet novel to check off my final bingo box.

Booktopia

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My Girragundji by Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior

my girragundjiTitle: My Girragundji – 20th Anniversary Edition
Author: Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 23rd May 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 96
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: The 20th anniversary edition of the award-winning, much loved story that tells how a little tree frog helps a boy find the courage to face his fears.
‘I wake with a start. The doorknob turns. It’s him. The Hairyman.’

There’s a bad spirit in our house. He’s as ugly as ugly gets and he stinks. You touch this kind of Hairyman and you lose your voice, or choke to death.

It’s hard to sleep when a hairy wrinkly old hand might grab you in the night. And in the day you’ve got to watch yourself. It can be rough. Words come yelling at you that hurt.

Alive with humour, My Girragundji is the vivid story of a boy growing up between two worlds. With the little green tree frog as a friend, the bullies at school don’t seem so big anymore. And Girragundji gives him the courage to face his fears.

Boori Monty Pryor was the Australian Children’s Laureate from 2012-13.

Author bio:
Meme McDonald was a graduate of Victoria College of the Arts Drama School. She began her career as a theatre and festival director, specialising in the creation of large-scale outdoor performance events. Since then she worked as a writer, photographer and on various film projects. Meme McDonald’s previous books – five of which have been written in collaboration with Boori Monty Pryor – have won six major literary awards.

Boori Monty Pryor was born in North Queensland. His father is from the Birri-gubba of the Bowen region and his mother from Yarrabah, a descendant of the Kunggandji and Kukuimudji. Boori is a multi-talented performer who has worked in film, television, modelling, sport, music and theatre-in-education. Boori has written several award-winning children’s books with Meme McDonald and was Australia’s inaugural Children’s Laureate (with Alison Lester) in 2012 and 2013.
~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseThere’s something unique about Australian stories – wherever they come from – that show a connection to the land and history that feels different to other literature. In My Girragundji, first published twenty years ago, Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior have taken family stories and culture and woven them into a story that can be enjoyed by all.

In My Girragundji, young boy straddles two worlds: his Indigenous world and the world of wider Australia, where everyone is invited to participate but where the protagonist of this short, charming story is still isolated, and where difference can mean more than he thought it could. It is a world where the reader is introduced to Aboriginal words that are translated within the text, and that flow, and sing, sharing knowledge with all in an accessible and enjoyable way. The protagonist refers to migaloo, mozzies, and Aboriginal legends of a Hairyman, a figure who illustrates the fears his family feels, and perhaps shows a sense of isolation that they might feel from the migaloo – their word for the white people they live with and go to school with.

At school, the protagonist is caught between two worlds and tries to fit into both, and soon finds solace in a small friend – a girragundji – a frog. And he draws strength from this frog as he navigates his world and where he fits in.

I read this one quite quickly – and enjoyed the black and white photos and images that accompanied the text, giving it life and vitality next t brief, yet descriptive and emotive text, that communicated a story of strength, friendship, family and coming of age in a simple, accessible and charming way to the target audience, but also one that I hope will be enjoyed by all. Aimed at years four and five, this would be a great book to read and begin various conversations about our culture in Australia and introduce new readers to an Indigenous author, and Meme, who was a great advocate for reconciliation and worked together with Indigenous communities like Boori’s to help connect people and bring about reconciliation.

I enjoyed this read, and hope others do as well.

Booktopia

The Ship That Never Was: The Greatest Escape of Australian Colonial History by Adam Courtenay

ship that never was.jpgTitle: The Ship That Never Was: The Greatest Escape of Australian Colonial History

Author: Adam Courtenay

Genre: History, Non-fiction

Publisher: ABC Books/HarperCollins

Published: 21st May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:
The greatest escape story of Australian colonial history by the son of Australia’s best-loved storyteller

In 1823, cockney sailor and chancer James Porter was convicted of stealing a stack of beaver furs and transported halfway around the world to Van Diemen’s Land. After several escape attempts from the notorious penal colony, Porter, who told authorities he was a ‘beer-machine maker’, was sent to Macquarie Harbour, known in Van Diemen’s Land as hell on earth.

Many had tried to escape Macquarie Harbour; few had succeeded. But when Governor George Arthur announced that the place would be closed and its prisoners moved to the new penal station of Port Arthur, Porter, along with a motley crew of other prisoners, pulled off an audacious escape. Wresting control of the ship they’d been building to transport them to their fresh hell, the escapees instead sailed all the way to Chile. What happened next is stranger than fiction, a fitting outcome for this true-life picaresque tale.

The Ship That Never Was is the entertaining and rollicking story of what is surely the greatest escape in Australian colonial history. James Porter, whose memoirs were the inspiration for Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of his Natural Life, is an original Australian larrikin whose ingenuity, gift of the gab and refusal to buckle under authority make him an irresistible anti-hero who deserves a place in our history.

~*~

There are many stories within the realms of national and international history that are not known, or where there might not be as much known about them as some, usually for a variety of reasons. One of these is the escape of ten convicts from the worst convict prison in Australia in the 1830s. James Porter was transported in 1823, for stealing a sack of beaver furs. He was sent to what was then known as Van Diemen’s Land – renamed Tasmania in 1856. He made several attempts to escape from the penal colony, and as a result, was sent to the notorious Sarah Island.

It was not long until Governor George Arthur declared Sarah Island would be closing, and the inmates moved to the infamous Port Arthur prison. Porter and a band of inmates took this chance to take control of the ship they were on – the Frederick, and escaped across the seas to South America, where they lived in Chile for many years as free men, before being sent back under the authority of the British colonial government at the time.

Told in a style that is engaging, whilst dealing with the historical facts and vents of a little-known convict and mutiny, I found this interesting to read, as it expanded upon what I have previously been taught and have read about Australian history. Whilst much is known about colonial era history, there are still stories that haven’t been told about various aspects – and having access to these stories allows us to wholly understand where Australia came from in the years of penal colonies and convict arrivals from 1788 until the transports ended in 1868, though different colonies stopped their transportations at different times.

It reads as both non-fiction and fiction – not overly embellished, but still capturing the spirit of the times and adventure that Porter wrote about in his journal. The author, Adam Courtenay, writes about Porter with fascination, yet allows himself to see the flaws and exaggerations that Porter wrote of, explaining in the text that the facts found in historical records about floggings and the details of how far punishments could be taken or were taken alongside Porter’s experience. What this does is show that even first person accounts that historians rely on are not always reliable, and I felt, even though I have only read the uncorrected proof, that Courtenay took what he had from Porter with a grain of salt and compared it to other accounts, and historical records to create his book.

In doing so, Courtenay has created a work that sparks an interest in this person and era, but also shows that good research is crucial – I would be interested to see if the final copy includes a bibliography, for further reading, and to show what sources he was able to find, as I imagine a little-known story such as this might not have as many sources as stories and legends that are well-known within the national consciousness.

As someone who has studied history, I know to examine various sources and accounts, just as it appears Courtenay has done. I will be looking for more information on Porter where I can, to supplement this book and build a larger picture of this man who managed to escape from Tasmania to Chile and live for several months to at least a year or two without being sent back. An intriguing book that shows that Australian history is more complex than we are originally taught.

Booktopia

Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies by Kitty Flanagan

burning bridges.jpgTitle: Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies

Author: Kitty Flanagan

Genre: Essays/Non-Fiction/Comedy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 21st March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: One of Australia’s favourite and most multi-talented entertainers, Kitty Flanagan, provides hilarious and honest life advice in this candid collection of cautionary tales.

Kitty Flanagan has been locked in an industrial freezer in Western Australia, insulted about the size of her lady parts in Singapore and borne witness to the world’s most successful wife swap in suburban Sydney. It’s these valuable lessons from The University of Life that have taught her so many things, including the fact that clichés like ‘The University of Life’ are reeeally annoying.

In these funny, true stories, Kitty provides advice you didn’t even know you needed. Useful tips on how not to get murdered while hitch-hiking, how to break up with someone the wrong way, and the right way, why it’s important to keep your top on while waitressing, and why women between the ages of thirty-seven and forty-two should be banned from internet dating.

Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies is a collection of laugh-out-loud, cautionary tales from one of Australia’s favourite comedians.

‘Finally, a book that doesn’t tell you to stop eating sugar.’
KITTY – CAKE ENTHUSIAST

‘Shut your mouth Flanagan or you’ll do fifteen in the freezer.’
GARY – FACTORY FOREMAN

‘I was hoping there’d be more about arson.’
BERNIE – LOCAL FIRESTARTER

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseKitty Flanagan’s biography – well, more a series of essays on her adventures throughout life, showcases her sense of humour from the very first page. From her early childhood through to now, Kitty has had many careers, including waitressing, a brief appearance as a child actor and as a copywriter – all of which have led her to becoming one of Australia’s best loved comedians. From her adventures hitch-hiking to her disastrous attempts to break off relationships, Kitty’s true stories are filled with her special brand of humour and proves that clichés like the University of Life are really annoying and cultural misunderstandings can lead to disastrous or at least, unseen, consequences.

Kitty’s sense of humour is unique to her, but also incorporates elements of the Australian sense of humour within her comedy, and makes her relatable and funny, and she has excelled in doing this in writing as well. Each chapter is a snippet, a story from Kitty’s life that illustrate what life was like for her as a child – being dropped off at a party where the only parents there were those of the birthday child – and the other parents weren’t around. Having experienced parties like this myself, this was a story I could relate to. Of the others, I laughed, and enjoyed the ride with Kitty.

It’s very hard not to laugh or smile while reading this book – it is like reading a stand-up comedy routine from the comfort of your home, with Kitty’s voice as clear as it would be live. As Kitty cast a humourous eye over her travels across the world and through a series of unsuccessful relationships, she showed how words – spoken or written have power and can impact you in a variety of ways. Her time in Singapore illustrated the cultural differences she has encountered in her career, and how what in one country might be funny, in another can be offensive and have repercussions that she was unaware of – but in true Kitty style, she managed to turn this into an instance of rolling with the punches, lessons learned and the sort of story that can be funny and awkward.

It is biographical but also, reads like a series of comedy sketches – perfect for when you can’t get to her shows and need a dose of Kitty to brighten your day. It is one that having read the whole way through once, I could dip into random stories when I felt like it, and it will be just as entertaining as reading them in order. It was clear that she was a comedic genius from a young age, and I absolutely loved her recollection of the party when she was five and the dress her Mum had made from a pattern – cute and funny in equal helpings!

Kitty is one of my favourite comedians, which was a deciding factor in me choosing this book as part of my 2018 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. It is an excellent read and I hope many of Kitty’s fans will enjoy her book and have a good laugh along with Kitty as she navigates life through comedy.

Booktopia

Ready to Fall by Marcella Pixley

ready to fallTitle: Ready to Fall

Author: Marcella Pixley

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Publisher: Pushkin Press/Allen and Unwin/Murdoch Books

Published: March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A YA novel about a teen who finds hope and a fresh start after a terrible loss, and learns that being strong means letting go

When Max Friedman’s mother dies of cancer, instead of facing his loss, he imagines that her tumour has taken up residence in his brain. It’s a terrible tenant – isolating him from family, distracting him in school, and taunting him mercilessly about his manhood. With the tumour in charge, Max implodes, slipping farther and farther away from reality.

Finally, Max is sent to the artsy, off-beat Baldwin School to regain his footing. He joins a group of theatre misfits in a steam-punk production of Hamlet where he becomes friends with Fish, a girl with pink hair and a troubled past, and The Monk, an edgy upperclassman who refuses to let go of the things he loves. For a while, Max almost feels happy. But his tumour is always lurking in the wings – until one night it knocks him down and Max is forced to face the truth, not just about the tumour, but about how hard it is to let go of the past. At turns lyrical, haunting, and triumphant, Ready to Fall is a story of grief, love, rebellion and starting fresh from acclaimed author Marcella Pixley.

 

~*~

 

Max’s story begins with a flashback to when he was five, and the first time his mum came home from hospital after being sick. And then, ten years later, she has passed away from a brain tumour. Max has watched her slow deterioration, struggling to cope with his own grief as he goes back to school, and as his dad tries to make the best effort he can, but Max just wants to feel close to his mother, which is when his own brain tumour comes into being. Max’s belief that the tumour exists impacts everything in his life, and he begins to become withdrawn, hiding away from friends. When his father sends him to an artsy school – the Baldwin School, Max begins to settle down a little, finding friends like Fish he can talk to. But the cloud that is the tumour is always there, hovering at the edges of his mind – until the day he is forced to face the truth and come to terms with what has happened in his life.

 

This was a surprise arrival from Allen and Unwin – I have only managed to finish it now after a gap in other books presented itself, and found that, as strange as the story felt, it was one where I wanted to know what happened to max, to Fish and I wanted to know more about Lydie and her girls, Soleil and Luna.

 

When I read it, I could feel Max’s grief over losing his mother – it was raw, real and Marcella didn’t shy away from letting Max feel things or bottle them up – she let him exist as the person he was, wary, yet wanting to talk – yet not knowing how to begin a conversation. Throughout it all, I also felt for Max’s dad, whose grief was just as intense and in his own way, he dealt with it and showed his love for Max, though it was hard for him. When it came to Lydie and her twins, I enjoyed getting to know them and came to love them, especially Luna and Soleil as the novel progressed.

 

Of the friends at Baldwin, Fish was my favourite – the one who let Max be who he was, and didn’t judge him, who truly cared, but had secrets of her own. I quote liked Ravi too, because he seemed to temper The Monk, who I didn’t really like and couldn’t understand why everyone did when he came across as quite the bully, trying to get everyone to think like him – at times, I felt Max agreed with him to keep the peace. This showed I think, the dynamics of school and various relationships though, and in the end, it was the ones with Fish, Dad, Lydie and her girls that helped Max the most, and the ones I cheered for – because here we had family love, the love of friends, and romantic love – though this last one was a delightful surprise that wasn’t forced, and that felt real when it happened.

 

Even though I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book when I first got it, I did enjoy it, though I found it hard to pin down a genre – it doesn’t neatly fit into one, and I feel that the books that do this are ones that are either very good, or potentially odd – this one was a little odd, but good – and the execution of the storyline, and anthropomorphising of the tumour made Max and how people deal with their own grief or illness interesting and relatable. A decent, though provoking read for teenagers.

Booktopia

 

Six Tudor Queens #3: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

haunted queen.jpgTitle: Six Tudor Queens #3: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen

Author: Alison Weir

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Headline Review

Published: 8th May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 532

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The third stunning novel in the Six Tudor Queens series by foremost and beloved historian Alison Weir

JANE SEYMOUR: THE HAUNTED QUEEN by historian Alison Weir, author of the Sunday Times bestsellers KATHERINE OF ARAGON: THE TRUE QUEEN and ANNE BOLEYN: A KING’S OBSESSION, is the third enthralling novel in the SIX TUDOR QUEENS series. A fascinating look at Henry VIII’s third wife. Essential reading for fans of Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick.

‘Weir is excellent on the little details that bring a world to life’ Guardian

THE WOMAN HAUNTED BY THE FACE OF HER PREDECESSOR.

Eleven days after the death of Anne Boleyn, Jane is dressing for her wedding to the King.

She has witnessed at first-hand how courtly play can quickly turn to danger and knows she must bear a son . . . or face ruin.

This new queen must therefore step out from the shadows cast by Katherine and Anne – in doing so, can she expose a gentler side to the brutal King?

JANE SEYMOUR
THE THIRD OF HENRY’S QUEENS

HER STORY

Acclaimed, bestselling historian Alison Weir draws on new research for her captivating novel, which paints a compelling portrait of Jane and casts fresh light on both traditional and modern perceptions of her. Jane was driven by the strength of her faith and a belief that she might do some good in a wicked world.

History tells us how she died.
This spellbinding novel explores the life she lived.

~*~

Jane Seymour was third wife of King Henry VIII during Tudor times in the 1500s, and she married him eleven days after Anne Boleyn was beheaded. But Jane’s story of her time at court began in 1529, when at the age of twenty, she was sent to be a lady in waiting to Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, for whom she came to respect deeply and was very loyal to her. Things changed over the next six years as Henry divorced Katherine to marry Anne Boleyn – and Jane was witness to this and the harsh treatment Henry doled out to Katherine and daughter, Mary, to declare the marriage wrong and his daughter illegitimate. Jane’s loyalty to Katherine was soon pushed aside – to keep the peace – when Henry married Anne 1533 – a three-year marriage during which Anne gave birth to a daughter – Elizabeth – and miscarried two children and gave birth to a still born son. Jane became queen in the years after – until her death twelve days after the birth of her son Edward in 1537, which is where the novel ends.

Alison Weir’s third book in this series focuses on Jane’s rise to a position she never dreamed or thought she would obtain. It covers her entire life at court, and her family’s pushing to get her to allow the King’s attentions, and their eventual joy at her marriage and pregnancies, the last of which results in the heir that Henry so desperately wants. As it is a historical novel, it is known that Jane dies – yet not what her life at court was like.

We see her serve two queens in this novel – two very different queens, and this tests her loyalties to the true queen, and again to Anne, during difficult times in her marriage, and when Henry starts to take notice of Jane – she does her best to encourage his loyalty to Anne, whilst following the demands and expectation of her family to allow Henry’s attentions, but also, to keep a safe distance. So for most of the book, Jane grapples with her hatred for what Anne did to Katherine, whilst trying to reconcile what she is doing. It is an intriguing novel, and as Alison Weir notes at the end, one she speculated on a bit, based on research and lack of facts, and varying interpretations – such as the ones about Jane’s character that show her as compliant, virtuous and an instrument of an ambitious family – Jane’s marriage to Henry ensured powerful positions for her brothers, or as one who took part in Anne’s downfall, and as ambitious as her family members – something, Weir notes, that has no middle ground and that Weir has found historians must choose a side – in this novel, I felt she chose the former, showing Jane’s ambition but also her loyalty, and how she felt when things were hidden from her, such as what really happened to Anne.

Within the realms of this novel, Alison plays with the idea that the hurried marriage after Anne’s death was due to Jane being pregnant – as Weir states, Jane Seymour’s life and biography is not always complete, so there are times she has imagined what had to happen using the cues in her research and gaps in history – much the same as she did with Jane’s death – she took her research to a medical professional, to posit a possible diagnosis – the results of which make reading the author’s note interesting as well.

This was a novel that was rich with character and history, showing that this period of history is more complex than is usually told in other books and media. Jane’s story ties in with the first two books in the series – Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen and Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession. It would be interesting to read those to see how Jane fares and plots that link up in each one, and the characters who are woven into each one, and who I can only wonder if they’ll appear in the next three in the series. Jane’s story is quite interesting – I did some research after reading and found that Henry only married again three years after her death – which left me wondering, as did the way he is seen in this novel – if Jane was someone he truly loved – her sudden death would have pained him, as Alison Weir shows.

I thought Alison did an excellent job of showing as many sides to all the characters as possible, making them interesting and evocative as they moved through a court that faced conflict, plague and issues of religion, and family loyalty and pressure. As Jane goes through her brief reign as queen, she is haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn – and throughout these sleepless nights, we come to learn her fears and nightmares – which make the novel all the more intriguing and well worth the read if you are interested in this area of history.

The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

the burning chambersTitle: The Burning Chambers

Author: Kate Mosse

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 608

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Bringing sixteenth-century Languedoc vividly to life, Kate Mosse’s The Burning Chambers is a gripping story of love and betrayal, mysteries and secrets; of war and adventure, conspiracies and divided loyalties…

Carcassonne 1562: Nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father’s bookshop. Sealed with a distinctive family crest, it contains just five words: SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE.

But before Minou can decipher the mysterious message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes her destiny forever. For Piet has a dangerous mission of his own, and he will need Minou’s help if he is to get out of La Cité alive.

Toulouse: As the religious divide deepens in the Midi, and old friends become enemies, Minou and Piet both find themselves trapped in Toulouse, facing new dangers as sectarian tensions ignite across the city, the battle-lines are drawn in blood and the conspiracy darkens further.

Meanwhile, as a long-hidden document threatens to resurface, the mistress of Puivert is obsessed with uncovering its secret and strengthening her power…

~*~

In 1562, France is caught in a war between the Catholics and the Huguenots – a Protestant movement who faced persecution from the Catholics and were called heretics. Carcassonne and Toulouse are at the centre of this novel, where Minou Joubert is charged with taking care of her brother – Aimeric, sister – Alis and the bookstore that her father owns in his absence when she stumbles upon a Will, and a note delivered to her, inscribed with She knows that you live. And so, Minou sets off on a journey to discover the person behind the note and find her father, and ask about her past, and makes discoveries that will forever change her life. Amidst this mystery, is the backdrop of religious conflict between the Catholics and the Huguenots, the latter considered to be heretics, and the ownership of a Protestant Bible feared. On her journey, Minou meets Piet Reydon, a Huguenot convert, who has his own mission. Their missions and tasks will cross paths, leading to a confrontation where it seems those who want them dead, such as the mistress of Puivert, where Bernard Joubert was headed, might just succeed.

The Wars of Religion in France were a sequence of eight civil wars between the Catholics and the Huguenots, ending in millions dead or displaced over the thirty-six-year conflict. If modern wars are much to go by – I don’t think very much has changed since the 1560s.  In a time of darkness and brutality, Kate Moss has done an excellent job showcasing this dark history for what it was, and what it meant to so many – that two factions of the same religion, who followed the same God, and a similar religious text to fall into war seems unfathomable these days, yet for people like Minou and Piet, was very real, and very harsh.

It is a very long book – dense with historical fact, and strong women who did what they could to fit in, were strong and brave and yet at the same time, appropriate for their time – they knew what they had to do, and how to act. Minou, the main character, is caught between these wars and her heritage – she has always known she is not quite like her family – and the way Mosse has dealt with this ensures the mystery is intriguing and holds its own for the entire book, and is also sensitive, showing that Minou’s heritage was something that was worth another woman pursuing her over, going to extreme lengths to draw Minou into her deluded game of cat and mouse. It is this mystery that drives the novel, and the shorter chapters in italics are at first a mystery, making the reader wonder who this person could be – until later in the novel, when things start to become a little clearer, but are still a little murky and need to be resolved. Opening 300 years in the future in South Africa – a time and place that we will hopefully return to soon, hints at what is to come, in a strange yet mystical way. What connection do these characters have with those in 1562?

It is a dark history, and the book is one that a genre cannot be pinned down to. It has history, mixed with suspense, with a touch of romance woven throughout that happens as the war progresses, with the dark, gothic backdrop and mystery that influence everything the characters do. The reader is swept up into the story, living in these times along with the characters, which shows that Kate Mosse’s sense of time and place is evocative and highly emotive.

This is the first in a series. with book two, The City of Tears, due in 2020. A rather long time to wait, but given the depth of this book, will be well worth it for the deepening research that Kate Mosse will be undertaking for it.

Thanks to the NSW Writer’s Centre for a copy of this to read