The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

the silk houseTitle: The Silk House
Author: Kayte Nunn
Genre: Historical Fiction/Gothic Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 30th June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 380
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: Weaving. Healing. Haunting. The spellbinding story of a mysterious boarding school sheltering a centuries-old secret by the bestselling author of THE BOTANIST’S DAUGHTER
Weaving. Healing. Haunting. The spellbinding story of a mysterious boarding school sheltering a centuries-old secret…
Australian history teacher Thea Rust arrives at an exclusive boarding school in the British countryside only to find that she is to look after the first intake of girls in its 150-year history. She is to stay with them in Silk House, a building with a long and troubled past.
In the late 1700s, Rowan Caswell leaves her village to work in the home of an English silk merchant. She is thrust into a new and dangerous world where her talent for herbs and healing soon attracts attention.

In London, Mary-Louise Stephenson lives amid the clatter of the weaving trade and dreams of becoming a silk designer, a job that is the domain of men. A length of fabric she weaves with a pattern of deadly flowers will have far-reaching consequences for all who dwell in the silk house.
Intoxicating, haunting and inspired by the author’s background, THE SILK HOUSE is an exceptional gothic mystery.

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Thea Rust has arrived in the British countryside to begin a new job – in the same year as the school’s first intake of girls occurs. Once there, Thea is faced with challenges from some of the staff as she beings her teaching and pastoral care for the girls, all of whom are fascinating and individual characters whose presence enriches the story and Thea’s experience. They are housed in The Silk House, exclusively for girls and separate from the main school.

The history of the house goes back to the 1760s, specifically, 1768-1769, when a new maid, Rowan Caswell arrives. Separate yet also intertwined with her story is that of weaver and silk designer, Mary-Louise Stephenson. It will be one of her designs, and another maid’s designs on the master of the house and determination to undermine her mistress and Rowan that form the tragic chain of events that form this part of the story and seep through the shadows of time into 2019, when Thea feels the ghosts and stories of the past needing to be told.

As the story weaves in and out of the late 1760s and 2019, the threads of the past find their echoes in the present in an evocative and hair raising way – like a gothic mystery from the past as ghosts and whispers ooze into the lives of the present, through The Dame and the stories that Thea reads in the archives and library. It is filled with mystery and the way it weaves history and witchcraft and the world of embroidery into the story through Rowan and Thea.

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It is tinged with ideas of harmful and helpful herbs, of deception and at times, beauty. Rowan and Thea were my favourite characters, and I quote enjoyed that the majority of characters named and given agency were women – there were a handful of male characters named such as some of the teachers and Patrick Hollander – in a way, it turns some of the usual things we see in literature around, and the women have more agency than the men – despite the late 1760s being a time of witch hunts and when men had more agency. Characters like Tommy Dean in 1768 and Gareth in 2019, Theas fellow hockey coach, are stark differences to some of the other male characters with certain prejudices. They bolster the women and help them, which makes this a very rich story as well. It evokes a sense of the fight for equality and inclusion in exclusively male worlds that have never had to, and have resisted the inclusion of women and girls, and the empowerment of women and girls.

Kayte Nunn uses these themes extremely well and communicates them in sensitive and intriguing ways as she explores witchcraft, herbalism and the role of plants in embroidery and the tinctures Rowan makes and the implications of this for those in the Hollander household. It is a story of mystery tinged with gothic themes and ghosts, where some questions might be left unanswered or left up to the imagination of the reader – which I like to do with these sorts of novels. It gives the novel a sense of intrigue and mystery to the characters and delves deep into the idea of stories and identity, and equality.

A wonderfully gothic and transfixing read.

 

Friday Barnes: Girl Detective by R.A. Spratt

girl-detectiveTitle: Friday Barnes: Girl Detective

Author: R.A. Spratt

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 1st July 2014/7th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 250

Price: $15.99Synopsis: Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was an eleven-year-old girl!
The eagerly awaited new series from the author of the bestselling Nanny Piggins series.
When girl detective Friday Barnes solves a bank robbery she uses the reward money to send herself to the most exclusive boarding school in the country, Highcrest Academy.

On arrival, Friday is shocked to discover the respectable school is actually a hotbed of crime. She’s soon investigating everything from disappearing homework to the Yeti running around the school swamp. That’s when she’s not dealing with her own problem – Ian Wainscott, the handsomest boy in school, who inexplicably hates Friday and loves nasty pranks.

Can Friday solve Highcrest Academy’s many strange mysteries, including the biggest mystery of all – what’s the point of high school?

~*~

 

Girl detectives and boarding school novels seem to be very popular these days. Most boarding school novels have a bit of a mystery within, but it is not often that boarding schools are combined with a detective character as they are in Friday Barnes: Girl Detective. Friday is the fifth child of Dr Barnes and Dr Barnes – two scientists who had had everything in their lives planned precisely until Friday came along. Left to her own devices for much of her life, Friday is a keen observer, lover of literature and great at science and many other subjects and doesn’t seem to worry that others don’t pay attention to her. She is a far cry from some other characters aimed at girls – a good thing, as we are able to see a shy, awkward girl be who she is unapologetically  herself – and does not allow anyone to question her, so when she manages to solve a crime, she sends herself to boarding school with the reward money – to Highcrest Academy.

Once there, Friday stumbles upon many mysteries, that eventually lead her to a big discovery, and several run ins with the Headmaster and other teachers. At the same time. She gains two friends – Melanie Pelly and Melanie’s brother Binky. As the start of a series, where each character is established, I enjoyed the way R.A. Spratt pulled this off, making each character unique, yet at the same time, as recognisable figures in the lives of readers at school and work.

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Friday is the kind of character we need to see – she’s not perfect, and she doesn’t fit into any gender stereotypes. She’s not strong nor is she sporty. She’s just who she is – and that’s why I loved her. In many ways, she is who I probably was as a kid, and in some ways, that’s still who I am. She lets little girls – and boys – enjoy things that others might see as nerdy or not cool and she makes them cool. She lets girls be interested in whatever they want – but has a nice focus on detective work, academics and not following trends.

I also thought that setting this in an Australian boarding school was a nice touch, and we seem to be getting a few books like that in the past few years. Previously, most boarding school books have been set in the UK – Harry Potter, St Clare’s – things like that. But these days with Alice-Miranda, Friday Barnes and Ella at Eden, which I also reviewed on this blog a few weeks ago, Australian kids and their experiences can be seen and with each of these series, a different aspect of what they experience at the boarding school is explored. It will be interesting to see what else Friday gets up to at school or out of school, and to see how many more of her fellow students she has to investigate throughout the series.

I’ve got the second book ready to go, and then need to read the rest of the series, as each one looks like it ends on a to be continued cliffhanger which is both exciting and frustrating as I find each book and sometimes have to wait to do so. This is the mark of a good series – the reader wanting to come back for more, a fun and relatable character, and humour. Friday Barnes is a character and series that I hope many will love and enjoy reading, and I am definitely going to continue reading the series.

Ella at Eden: New Girl by Laura Sieveking

ella at edenTitle: Ella at Eden: New Girl

Author: Laura Sieveking

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st February 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 192

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: Ella has started at her new high school, and Eden College is everything she hoped it would be. She is getting to know her new friends and enjoying everything Eden has to offer. Until things start to get complicated. She accidentally insults Saskia, the school diva, there could be a ghost in the dorm and items have started to mysteriously disappear.

Can Ella catch the Eden thief?

Join Ella in the first book of this exciting new adventure.

 

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Ella is about to start a new school – a boarding school, which means being away from her sister Olivia, brother Max, and the rest of her family. Going to Eden College means being with her best friend though, and Ella can’t wait to spend time with Zoe and her new friends. Yet there are other girls like Saskia who don’t seem to like Ella. And soon, things start to go missing – around the time Saskia tells her about the school ghost. Determined to find out what happened and write a stellar story for the school newspaper, Ella decides to investigate what is happening.

Scholastic contacted me to review this – which is always exciting and having worked on some of the Ella and Olivia books by Yvette Poshoglian, one of the authors who works with Ella and Olivia for Scholastic, I knew it would be a lovely and interesting read. I knew the characters – so it was interesting to see Ella at another stage of her life, and it is always fun to start a new series. However, as a quiz writer, whenever I read a review book from Scholastic, I start thinking about quiz questions – which is quite fun but not necessary for a review book.

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I really enjoyed this book. It starts a new series that will allow those who have read the earlier books with Ella and Olivia to grow with Ella and her sister, and also, gives enough information for new readers to Ella’s world to enjoy it and engage with it and the other characters.  Told in the first person, we see the world through Ella’s eyes and experiences, which are fun to read about and experience with her in this new and adventurous world she has been thrust into, the same world she is keen to explore.

Ella’s friendships grow throughout the novel, and I love the way she works to make friends with Violet throughout the book, whose story is also very interesting and finding out what about Violet’s secrets strengthens their bond and Ella discovers she has a new friend. This book is filled with ideas and themes of friendship, coming of age and growing up, as well as finding out who you are separate from what you have known up until when something changes dramatically, and for Ella, that is heading off to Eden College.

This looks to be a promising series, and I look forward to more about Ella at Eden and what she gets up to with her new friends in her new school.

Top Marks for Murder (A Murder Most Unladylike #8) by Robin Stevens

Top Marks for Murder.jpgTitle: Top Marks for Murder (A Murder Most Unladylike #8)

Author: Robin Stevens

Genre: Historical Fiction/Crime

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 6th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis:Daisy and Hazel are finally back at Deepdean, and the school is preparing for a most exciting event: the fiftieth Anniversary.

Plans for a weekend of celebrations are in full swing. But all is not well, for in the detectives’ long absence, Daisy has lost her crown to a fascinating, charismatic new girl – while Beanie is struggling with a terrible revelation.

As parents descend upon Deepdean for the Anniversary, decades-old grudges, rivalries and secrets begin to surface. Then the girls witness a shocking incident in the woods close by – and soon, a violent death occurs.

Can the girls solve the case – and save their home?

The brilliant new mystery from the bestselling, award-winning author of Murder Most Unladylike.

~*~

Top Marks for Murder was my first adventure with Daisy, Hazel and their Deepdean friends, and I really enjoyed it. Set in the 1930s, just a few years before the outbreak of World War Two. Nestled in a private school, Daisy and Hazel have returned to school for a two-month absence, just in time for the school’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations. They meet new girl, Amina El Maghrabi from Cairo, who has taken Daisy’s crown – a history that seeps through from previous books. As the girls prepare for the anniversary, animosity builds between some of the fourth formers. But the Friday of the weekend anniversary, Beanie sees what appears to be a murder – and from there, Daisy and Hazel find themselves looking into a possible murder, and looking at the parents as suspects as they uncover secrets from many years ago that could be bubbling to the surface as murder comes to Deepdean and threatens to close the school forever.

This is one series I would love to go back and read the rest of the series to get to know the characters more and see what other crimes Daisy and Hazel have investigated. Exploring the class system in England, coupled with characters like Hazel – the narrator of the series, and Amina – from Hong Kong and Egypt, countries with a colonial influence, the novels bring diversity into the books on many levels, and show a world beyond what previous series may have explored from other authors.  The schoolgirl rivalries are eventually set aside as the murder of a teacher rocks the school, and Daisy, Hazel and their friends recreate crime scenes and ask a London police officer to help them investigate. But who is the killer and how will they uncover the crime and save the school?

Even though this is a series, I feel one can pick it up at any point, and go back and forth as you find the books, but I am hoping to eventually read them in order and get a full understanding of the story and characters. It is funny, light but at the same time, has moments of darkness amidst an English boarding school setting that is familiar from many series from Enid Blyton books and Harry Potter but also has a few differences that make it a unique series for readers aged about ten and older to enjoy, and feel as though they are investigating the crime with Hazel and Daisy.

It is also a sort of school-girl homage to Sherlock and Watson, which I thoroughly enjoyed about it and thought it was an intriguing way to look at the world of consulting or amateur detectives in a very different setting and with a very different set of characters. Looking forward to reading more books in this series.