Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda

lake of tears.jpgTitle: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st April 2001

Format: Paperback

Pages: 120

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Lief, Barda and their unruly new companion Jasmine are on a perilous quest to find the seven gems stolen from the magic Belt of Deltora.

The golden topaz has already been found. But only when all the gems have been restored to the Belt can their land be freed from the dark power of the evil Shadow Lord. To find the second stone, the three heroes must travel through territory ruled by the monster-sorceress Thaegan.

Their journey is filled with treachery, trickery and danger, and at its end they must face the hideous guardian of the enchanted Lake of Tears.

~*~

Picking up soon after they have found the first stone for the Belt of Deltora, Lief, Barda and Jasmine are on their way to the Lake of Tears to discover the second one, and where they will meet the first of Thaegan’s children, Nij and Doj, who speak a strange, haunting backwards language that gives a false sense of security to the travellers, following a broken sign that is very misleading. This is just one more dangerous step on the adventure to reunite the stones of the Belt of Deltora. This time, Lief and his companions seek the ruby – and from there, the next five to complete the belt and restore unity to Del.

I’m zipping through these books rather quickly and am trying to review each one individually before writing a wrap up post for the whole omnibus series edition I have next to me so I can move onto the second and third sets in the series. Again, this is a fast-moving book, where Lief and Barda must quickly adapt to trusting Jasmine and her ability to help them navigate the land of Del to find the stones.

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Lief, Jasmine and Barda take charge from this book onwards, and we still haven’t met the future ruler of Del, presumably still in hiding with Endon and his wife, where those who tried to kill them sixteen years before cannot find them – I will be keen to see how this is uncovered later on in the series and where the next two Deltora Quest sets take us. The perils that Lief and his companions face are heart-stopping as they work to escape being eaten by Nij and Doj (or Jin and Jod as it turns out, once they realise the two are speaking backwards), and must then face the prospect of the rest of Thaegan’s children in later books.

This is a fun series, and filled with adventure, friendship and wonder. It is one that has been loved for over a decade, and will hopefully continue to be loved and read for many years to come, if my conversations with fellow readers are anything to go by, as well as the constant lack of it being out of the library when I was much younger. So I am experiencing it now for the first time, and the magic is having as big an impact on me as it would have done had I read it as a teenager or young adult. This is what makes a good book, in my opinion. One that can transcend age and time for all readers, and that will engage on many levels and entertain many.

I’m heading into book three, The City of Rats, and hope to have that review up soon.

The Forests of Silence (Deltora Quest #1) by Emily Rodda

Title: The Forests of Silence (Deltora Quest #1)

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 2000

Format: Paperback

Pages: 120

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Deltora is a land of monsters and magic …

The evil Shadow Lord is plotting to invade Deltora and enslave its people. All that stands against him is the magic Belt of Deltora, with its seven gems of great and mysterious power. When the gems are stolen and hidden in dark, terrible places throughout the kingdom, the Shadow Lord triumphs and Deltora is lost.

In secrecy, with only a hand-drawn map to guide them, two unlikely companions set out on a perilous quest. Determined to find the lost gems and rid their land of the tyrant, they struggle towards their first goal — the sinister Forests of Silence.

~*~

Opening with the death of a king, and the ascension of his son to the throne, Deltora Quest opens with a bang, introducing Jarred and Endon – as friends first. Yet when Endon is made king in light of his father’s death, Jarred learns that there is more to the removal of the Belt of Deltora than the history books tell. When he tries to warn his friend, Jarred is forced to run, and it will be seven years before they meet again and uncover a nefarious plot to take over the kingdom.

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Fast forward sixteen years, and Lief, Jarred’s son, heads off on a quest with a former palace guard, Barda, to find the stones of the Belt of Deltora that have been flung throughout the land. Whilst seeking the first stone, a topaz, they meet Jasmine, Kree and Filli, who join them on their quest. But will Lief and his companions succeed?

The start of a promising series for children aged eight to twelve, I have come to this several years after it was published, having recently stumbled across the omnibus editions in the bookstores. For me, it was a quick read, but enjoyable all the same. Each character has strengths and weaknesses that enable the plot to move forward, and it is the start of an epic adventure series that will have readers of all ages enthralled.

Introducing readers to Jarred and Endon first leads into the quest that Lief goes on, and gives a much needed, brief yet important background to the story that is to come. Of course, the main story is about Lief and his quest across the next seven books, which I am looking forward to exploring as I read the rest of the series. A friendship forms between Lief, Jasmine and Barda as they venture through the Forests of Silence in search of the first gem. But whilst Lief and Barda know they need Jasmine’s help, with the state the kingdom has been in for over twenty years, they do not know who they can trust, apart from each other.

As they traverse the forests to uncover what they seek, and then had off towards The Lake of Tears and more dangers and uncertainty that lie ahead, the troupe will no doubt encounter more challenges, and become closer as they head off on a quest to save the kingdom and restore the rightful monarch to the throne of Del.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of these books and will review each novel on its own, and finally, a wrap up post for the entire omnibus once I have done this. Look for more exciting Deltora reviews from me!

Book Bingo Eight – Double Bingo: A Book Set in an exotic location and a book by an author you’ve never read before 

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Hello, and welcome to week eight of book bingo with Amanda and Theresa. This week, I’m taking on another double bingo, and ticking off a book set in an exotic location, and a book by an author I have never read before. In all honesty, both books could fit into the second category, and one could also fit into the science fiction category, but it’s still only April, and I still have many books to read, review and that will hopefully fit into what I have left on my card. Next fortnight, I will be posting another double bingo about a book with a place in the title, and a book set on the Australian coast after both the posts have gone live for the blog tour that it they are part of.

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Here are the rows in the card this week’s choices come from:

Across

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 Five:

Written by an Australian Man:

Written by an Australian Woman:Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35:

Written by an author over the age of 65:

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

Down:

Row Five:

Prize winning book:

Book written by an Australian woman more than ten years ago:

Themes of fantasy: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni – AWW2019

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

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

Comedy: Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

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

four dead queens

Okay, so I may have cheated a tad here, but to me, an exotic location is anything – real or imagined – that is either not my every day or that I have never experienced, something that is new to me and has a sense of the unusual, or the unknown but to be revealed and learned about. Quadara to me fits this, the setting for Four Dead Queens, because each Quadrant is different and therefore, not only exotic to the reader, but also to the characters, who never really venture into each other’s quadrants or meet each other but rely on information and supplies passed to them through those involved in trade. This is also a debut author, and like many books this year, would have fitted into the author I’ve never read before as well, and also had touches of science fiction mixed in with the fantasy, but I am hoping for a different title for that book.

Square Two: Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

the dof runner

Bren MacDibble is another new author to me, and I had plenty to choose from for this category. It was one that didn’t fit into many others, which is why it has found its home here. Looking at an Australia devastated by a germ that wipes out many of the food sources, a brother and sister – who have different mothers but the same father, set out to find Emery’s Indigenous family for help. It brings diversity together in many ways – race, and personality types and the way people unite in times of difficulty or turn on each other. Coming to Bren’s writing for the first time, this one held my attention completely and is one I recommend to people to read.

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I’m planning another double book bingo for next fortnight, and that should hopefully knock off all the squares I have ticked off so far, or be getting close to that stage. See you then!

Booktopia

The Artist’s Portrait by Julie Keys

Artists Portrait.jpgTitle: The Artist’s Portrait

Author: Julie Keys

Genre: Mystery/Literary/Historical

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 290

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A story about art, murder, and making your place in history.

Whatever it was that drew me to Muriel, it wasn’t her charm.

In 1992, morning sickness drives Jane to pre-dawn walks of her neighbourhood where she meets an unfriendly woman who sprays her with a hose as she passes by. When they do talk: Muriel Kemp eyes my pregnant belly and tells me if I really want to succeed, I’d get rid of the baby. 

Driven to find out more about her curmudgeonly neighbour, Jane Cooper begins to investigate the life of Muriel, who claims to be a famous artist from Sydney’s bohemian 1920s. Contemporary critics argue that legend, rather than ability, has secured her position in history. They also claim that the real Muriel Kemp died in 1936.

Murderer, narcissist, sexual deviant or artistic genius and a woman before her time: Who really is Muriel Kemp?

~*~

The Artist’s Portrait moves between the early nineties and the first three decades of the twentieth century, up until 1936 – when a woman named Muriel Kemp is said to have died. Yet in 1992, Jane, on an early morning walk as she tries to combat morning sickness, encounters the long-presumed Muriel Kemp, whose abrasiveness somehow draws Jane in, and from there, an unlikely companionship forms – where Muriel constantly criticises Jane, as Jane begins to write Muriel’s biography as Muriel would like it to be written – on her own terms, in her words and only including what Muriel herself wishes to be in it.

The novel weaves between 1992-1993 in Jane’s perspective, and the first decades of the twentieth century in Muriel’s perspective – both told in first person. At first, this was a little confusing, but it became clear that the change in voice often coincided with the year or decade that was at the top of the chapter, thus making it easier to follow with both voices in first person.

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The mystery at the heart of this book is the true identity of Muriel Kemp, and whether or not she actually died in 1936. The trick for Jane in 1992-3 is getting those who rely on the official record to believe her. Mixed in with this is a story of the world of art and the ways in which gender could impact the role someone had in that world, and the breaking free of conventions to forge your own way in the world.

Where art critics and historians tell Jane that Muriel Kemp’s legend has secured her notoriety more than her artistic talent and her triptych paintings, and the mystery of the post-1936 paintings are relegated by the official archives as fakes, rumour – anything but the real thing, and even credited to a different Muriel. So, at the heart of the novel is a search for identity and the how a myth is created around a person, and the lengths people will go to deny anything that contradicts what they know.

Not everything I felt was revealed in this novel – some things are definitely left to the imagination, particularly when it comes to Muriel, and others are revealed slowly, likely peeling back the layers of an onion. It is a very layered novel, and one I found intriguing, and think is worth the read for those who like a mystery where not everything feels wholly resolved and bits left to the imagination of the reader.

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Blog Tour Part Two: The French Photographer Interview with Natasha Lester

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Cover of The Paris Seamstress.

Hi Natasha, and welcome to my blog, The Book Muse. Thank you for joining me here today.

First of all, congratulations on the new novel, it was exceptional, and had everything a good novel should have to tell a very powerful story.

  1. Jessica reminded me of Estella – both are women of their time, yet still strive to achieve more than people expect of them. What is it that draws you to write characters like Jess and Estella?

If women like Estella and Jess had never existed, then I wouldn’t have the opportunities that I have now, the opportunities that I have had over my lifetime. But there is still much that needs to change. So I write these stories to honour the women who have come before me and who have made many aspects of my life possible, but also to show how far we still have to go in many other respects.

  1. Jess is based on a real-life journalist, Lee Miller. I’ve researched Lee, and she sounds fascinating. How did you stumble across her story, and what was it about her story that inspired Jess?

I came across Lee Miller when I was writing The Paris Seamstress. She was mentioned in an article I was reading, specifically that, after writing about and photographing a war for years, she had turned to writing cooking articles and recipes once the war was over. I wondered how that might have felt and I was compelled to look further into her life. When I realised she began her career on the other side of the lens, as a model, I was fascinated by how the transition from model to war photojournalist had evolved. Then, when I discovered that, at her death, her son never knew of the incredible articles his mother had written during the war, never knew of the exceptional photos she had taken, I knew for sure that there was a story in there waiting to be written.

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Natasha Lester, Image from Hachette Australia
  1. Your characters reflect and explore the spectrum of humanity and human emotion. When writing, did you find doing this enriched the story, and how challenging (or not), did you find it to explore someone like Amelia or Warren Stone?

Warren Stone was very challenging to write. But the more I read about the experience of the women war correspondents, the more I knew that men like Warren had existed. The difficulty was in not making him seem pure evil, in making us understand his motivations and in giving him humanity. There is one scene in the book that uses direct reportage from one of the female correspondents, Iris Carpenter, about a sexual assault that she stumbled upon. When I read her memoir and the words she wrote about that incident, I found it incredibly difficult to imagine how the man involved was anything less than a monster. But I had to imagine, in Warren, who is an accumulation of many men and many incidents, more than his despicable acts; I had to strip them away to find the person beneath and the reasons why he might behave in the way he does in the book.

  1. Fashion plays a large role in this novel. The beauty of fashion and photography bookends the reality of war, and the bland clothes Jess wears during the war. Where did your fascination with fashion start, and do you have a favourite designer you’re drawn to for inspiration in writing these stories?

I’ve always loved clothes. My real interest began when I lived in London for two years and wonderful vintage stores like Steinberg and Tolkien were at my doorstep, and the V&A museum was there to be visited each weekend. One of my absolute favourite designers is Vionnet; she was a true artist. I am also currently obsessed with Christian Dior, as I am writing a book called The Dior Bequest.

  1. How do you think the war affected Jess and her interest in art, photography and fashion before, during and after the war?

I think you could not photograph and write about the things Jess saw without being deeply affected by it, without needing to seek out the other things besides war that humankind can create; beautiful things like art and photography. I think she spent the rest of her life trying to strip away what she saw during war and attempting to replace those pictures, layer by layer, with things that inspired other emotions than sadness and other actions than violence.

  1. Looking at what we saw on the page, how much of your planning for plot, character and backstory never makes it into the final copy?

So much! When I wrote the first draft, I had no idea how the book would end. I had no idea how Victorine would fit into the story, and that she would become such an important player. I had no real idea what D’Arcy would do once she arrived at the chateau in the contemporary storyline. Once I sketched all that out in the first draft, I went a bit overboard, as I always do, in the second draft, adding in lots of the research and deeply fleshing out scenes. So a lot of that has to be cut in the end as it slows the pace too much. The first and second parts of the historical storyline in particular were trimmed quite a lot.

  1. I adored Victorine, and I hope other readers do too. Her story was heartbreaking but revealed the reality of war and war orphans. When researching this, did you find experiences like Victorine’s were common, and what country had most of the stories you found from?

Her experience was so common, especially in France where the exodus of people out of Paris and Northern France in late May and early June 1940 left so many lost and abandoned children who were never reunited with family. The Russians also experienced a huge and devastating number of war orphans, numbering in the millions.

  1. One of my favourite things about this novel was how you developed the relationship between Dan and Jess, starting with respect, which led to friendship and then love. To me, this was something that was extremely important to the story, because we rarely see friendships like this celebrated. When writing, what led you to write this relationship in this way, and did you find it effective to do so for the plot?

This was always going to be a book about a friendship between a man and a woman, a strong and important friendship, that eventually turned to love. But that initial friendship, and their mutual respect, was to be the foundation for all of it, and without that, I don’t think their relationship would have been anywhere near as powerful as it is. I say in the back of the book that Jess and Dan were like gifts from the writing muse and they were; they came to me easily and quickly and their relationship almost developed by itself without me having to do more than type out the rush of words in my head.

  1. Warren Stone consistently tried to jeopardise Jess and embarrass Dan. Was this inspired by any truth, and did anything like this happen to your inspiration, Lee Miller?

As I mentioned earlier, Warren Stone is an amalgamation of men and incidents. One of the books I read for my research was called Never a Shot in Anger;it was the memoirs of one of the Public Relations Officers during WWII who was responsible for dealing with the press. So much of what happens to Jess is recorded as fact in his book and the troubling part of it was that he wrote about those incidents with no understanding of how wrong it all was. To him, it was just the way life was at that time. It’s quite shocking to read. And there was so much more that I left out and didn’t have the space to include. This is the part of the book that worries me the most – that readers won’t believe these things could possibly have happened. But they did!

  1. Each part is told from a different point of view and in various times and years. I enjoy the dual time line set up, because I feel it makes the story richer. Do you find a format like this effective, and what makes you decide on the dual timeline set up?

It makes it richer for me as a storyteller too, although it is so very challenging to pull off. So many character and points of view and story threads to juggle and eventually weave together. I decided on it for this book simply became I enjoyed writing that way for The Paris Seamstress. I like the way that it allows a mystery to unfold and for the reader to become involved in solving the mystery.

  1. Taking into consideration what has been discussed already, are there any sources for fashion, Lee Miller, war orphans and the war in general that you explored that might not have been mentioned yet?

The main sources were the actual articles written by the female correspondents at the time. I read most of Martha Gellhorn’s pieces for Collier’s Weekly, Lee Miller’s pieces for Vogue, Iris Carpenter’s pieces for the Boston Globeand Margaret Bourke-White’s pieces for Life. In their articles, I heard their voices, saw what concerns they had, what they deemed worthy of attention, and how they wove a story together. It was extremely useful, especially when I compared their pieces to the articles written by the men at the time.

  1. One scene that was written effectively was the scene at the concentration camp. It was powerful and drove home the reality of war. Can you tell my readers more about where the inspiration for this scene came from, and why you decided to include it?

That was a hard scene to write. But I knew from the outset that it would be in the book as all of the women talked about the effect that seeing the camps had on them. There were so many important points I wanted to make in that scene: about the fact that so many people thought rumours about the camps were untrue, that the camps could have been liberated earlier if more people had listened and acted, that  civilians in towns with camps on their doorstep ignored the plumes smoke and the smell of death for years. That, of course, we must never allow such a thing to happen again. It’s the hinge moment of the book and, without that scene, so much of what follows would not have been brought to bear.

13. Apart from the scene in the book, what more can you tell us about the occupation of Hitler’s Munich residence, and how being there affected those who raided the home?

It was fascinating to read Lee Miller’s piece about her stay in Hitler’s Munich apartment. I couldn’t believe how much souvenir raiding went on, how many soldiers took his cutlery and linen, and I wondered what it would feel like to be living in the apartment of such a man. Most who stayed there seemed to think it the ultimate sign of victory and took great heart from it; it allowed them to ridicule a man who, two years before, had been so feared that nobody would have ever thought to ridicule him. It made him a defeatable man rather than an immortal monster.

  1. Without giving too much away about the ending, can you tell us why you decided to write a realistic, bittersweet ending, and what this process was like after everything you set up for the characters?

The ending was hard to write but I couldn’t see another way for the story to end that won’t seem too convenient and too unbelievable. War changes everything for the people involved and its bitter aftermath extends for decades; the pain doesn’t end just because the war itself is declared to be over. I wanted to be true to that in the ending of this book.

  1. Any additional comments?

Just that this is my favourite of all my books, the book of my heart, and I hope everyone loves reading it as much as I loved writing it.

Thank you for joining me here today, Natasha, and congratulations again.

Booktopia

The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

9781760631871Title: The Honeyman and the Hunter

Author: Neil Grant

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Rudra is an Indian-Australian boy at a crossroads, poised to step into the world of adulthood and to discover his cultural heritage and how that might truly define him. A wonderful exploration of dual heritage, cultural identity, family and the power of storytelling.

The sea is inside his blood. Cursed, or blessed, on both sides.

When sixteen-year-old Rudra Solace dredges up a long-hidden secret in his father’s trawl net, his life in the sleepy fishing village of Patonga shifts dramatically. It is not long before Rudra is leaving Australia behind, bound for India on a journey of discovery and danger.

A wonderfully compelling tale of belonging and loss, of saltwater and mangroves, of migration and accepting change; a story of decisions that, once made, break through family histories like a cyclone swell.

~*~

Rudra Solace is sixteen, and about to start year eleven at school on the Central Coast of New South Wales when two things happen: his didima, his grandmother, arrives for a visit from India, and whilst on his father’s fishing boat, Rudra finds a tiger skull, and this sets forth a series of dreams and events that lead him and his mother on a journey back to India, and the village Nayna grew up in on a quest he never thought he would ever have to go on, let alone think about. What culminates is a family story crossing countries, cultures and continents, where the intersection is Rudra himself, and he is the anchor for all these stories.

I read a lot of Australian literature, and there is always something familiar about it, even if it is set in a place I have never been – perhaps this is because there are many versions of Australia we see in our media, and movies and television, so even if one has never been to a country town, if you’ve watched Blue Heelers orDoctor Doctor, you still understand the feel. Yet there is nothing like reading something set somewhere you have been or live and recognising the places and names. Not many books are set on the Central Coast of New South Wales, so when this one arrived and I saw that it was, I was very interested to see how the region would be used in the story.

Recognising the names and picturing the locations made the experience of reading the first half enjoyable and immersive, but the section set in India was just as immersive and felt just as real to me. It is a story driven by family and culture, by heritage and stories, where beliefs come into conflict with each other as Rudra works through what he knows, what he is taught and what those around him believe – and how to make sense of these things for himself in his own mind. Incorporating migration and how family histories affect us, The Honeyman and the Hunter does a good job of bringing all these themes together.

The True Story of Maddie Bright by Mary-Rose MacColl

Maddie Bright.jpgTitle: The True Story of Maddie Bright

Author: Mary-Rose MacColl

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 504

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In 1920, seventeen-year old Maddie Bright is thrilled to take a job as a serving girl on the royal tour of Australia by Edward who was then Prince of Wales. She makes friends with Helen Burns, the prince’s vivacious press secretary, Rupert Waters, his most loyal man, and is in awe of Edward himself, the boy prince.

For Maddie, who longs to be a journalist like Helen, what starts as a desire to help her family after the devastation of war becomes a chance to work on something that matters. When the unthinkable happens, it is swift and life changing.
Decades later, Maddie Bright is living in a ramshackle house in Paddington, Brisbane. She has Ed, her drunken and devoted neighbour, to talk to, the television news to shout at, and door-knocker religions to join. But when London journalist Victoria Byrd gets the sniff of a story that might lead to the true identity of a famously reclusive writer, Maddie’s version of her own story may change.

1920, 1981 and 1997: the strands twist across the seas and over two continents, to build a compelling story of love and fame, motherhood and friendship. Set at key moments in the lives of Edward and Diana, a reader will find a friend and, by the novel’s close, that friend’s true and moving story.

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Author: Mary-Rose MacColl

~*~

Maddie Bright is seventeen when she is employed as a serving girl on the 1920 Royal Tour of Australia by Prince Edward, who would go on to become Edward VIII for a time in 1936. Soon, her talents are noticed by members of the Prince’s staff – Helen Burns, the press secretary and Rupert Waters, and she ascends to the position of letter writer, where she finds herself in awe of the prince, known as the ‘people’s’ prince – in a similar way that Diana was the ‘people’s’ princess of the 1980s and 1990s. What starts as a way to help her family earn some more money in a post-war Australia as nations around the world start to rebuild after The Great War, abruptly ends when the unthinkable happens.

In 1981, Maddie is watching from afar as Diana Spencer prepares to marry Charles, the Prince of Wales, the grandson of King George VI, Edward VIII’s brother. She now lives alone in Brisbane, with her neighbours for company. But in 1997, shortly after the death of Princess Diana, Maddie meet with a London journalist, Victoria, who was covering Diana’s death, and gets whiff of Maddie’s story and heads off to Australia, where she will discover a secret about her family that will have a rather large impact on her life.

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As the novel moves in and out of 1920 , 1981 and 1997 – three key years in the history of the Royal Family, and also in the fictional lives of Maddie and Victoria, and the way the lives of Victoria and Maddie intersect, and the secrets that Maddie has kept for over seventy years – how will this impact on Victoria and her family if she gets to meet Maddie? The lives of Edward and Diana are in some ways similar: both are popular and tragic, and progressive for the times and eras they live in. They are also both charming and appear to understand the wounds of others. We all know what Diana did for those she visited in poorer communities and countries, for AIDS patients. For Edward, it was making contact with members of the Commonwealth who had lost family in the war and apologising for his family’s war. Apologising for dragging them into it – which is perhaps in stark contrast to the inside figure we see – the charming, secretive figure whose contact with women he shouldn’t have is kept hush hush on the tour, even though his staff know.

Despite the stories being quite different, and separated by decades, the story is woven across time, seas and continents, and the impact that Edward, Diana and the tragic events in their lives mirrored each other, and yet in Diana’s case, the outcome was much more tragic. This book cleverly takes three, seemingly unconnected lives, and tugs at the strings of history, family and friendship to create a mystery where all the hints are there – but the question is how and when they will be resolved – and in some ways, if. In this story, Maddie is also an author, and the story of her life is interspersed with excerpts from her novel that hint at what the truth behind the secrets she has kept are.

Moving in and out of 1920, 1981 and 1997 – Maddie’s parts are told in first person, and Victoria’s in third person – which suits the novel, the characters and overall narrative. Everything is carefully revealed in this novel, almost purposefully, so that the reader knows details when they need to know it, and just as the reader finds things out in this way, the characters find things out when they need to. I loved that this was about family and friendship, and the power of breaking away from situations that weren’t right for each character – though we all know of Edward’s abdication in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson. The tragedy of these figures highlights how hard it must be to be in the spotlight constantly, but also, what the consequences can be for how they represent themselves, and the perceived way they represent the monarchy.

It is an intriguing story that at first, I thought would need a great deal of concentration because it felt so in depth and involved with so many strands and differing perspectives between Maddie and Victoria and told in first and third person. Yet it is a seamless transfer between Maddie’s fiction, between time periods and between first and third, Maddie and Victoria, that the entire book went by in a matter of days. It combines fictional characters and real-life figures well and in a seamless way, and has an authenticity about it that suggests something like this could have happened had someone like Edward had dalliances like the book hints at. It also explores the polarising cult of celebrity, and the hate versus the love of people like Edward and Diana, and also, ways celebrity can harm people’s lives.

It is also powerful because the story is told by two women – Maddie and Victoria, rather than the male figures around them who are in a more peripheral role, though still present, and still having an impact – Victoria and Maddie control the narrative and the direction the story goes in. A very well-written, and tightly plotted story, where the lives of women are mirrored in each other – Maddie, Diana and Victoria yet also starkly different in many ways, giving each figure their own power and vulnerabilities.

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