The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

deathless girls.jpgTitle: The Deathless Girls

Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Genre: Historical, Gothic, Fantasy

Publisher: Bellatrix/Hachette

Published: 24th September 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Gothic, intoxicating, feminist and romantic – this is the breathtakingly imagined untold story of the brides of Dracula, by bestselling author Kiran Millwood Hargrave in her much-anticipated YA debut.

Gothic, intoxicating, feminist and romantic – this is the breathtakingly imagined untold story of the brides of Dracula, by bestselling author Kiran Millwood Hargrave in her much-anticipated YA debut.

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…

~*~

Kizzy and Lil are Travellers, whose lives change forever when they are enslaved by Boyar Valcar and taken from their community. Lil tells the story – so everything we see is shown through her eyes, and her understandings and feelings for her sister, and those she meets at the castle, like Mira, and her love for her brother and those she fears she will never see again.

In the castle, as they work, rumours swirl around about what happens to the girls who disappear – until Kizzy is taken, and this sets in motion a series of events that leads Mira, Fen and Lil to search for and save Kizzy and brother Kem from an unimaginable fate – but at what cost. and where will everything lead them all?

Set a few hundred years in the past, maybe three or four hundred years, The Deathless Girls follows Kizzy and Lil as they are ripped from a life they know and into one that they will ever escape from. It draws on the myths and stories of Dracula and his brides, and their untold story. The first half move slowly, as pieces of the puzzle are slowly revealed and as hints towards the fates of Kizzy and Lil are dropped for the reader to follow – and it is done quite cleverly, so whilst it is slowly, it doesn’t feel slow or meander too much.

The turning point, where Kizzy is taken, is where it picks up. More questions arise but these foreshadow what is to come and what the rest of the book had been heading towards. Whilst not the ending I had hoped for, it was perhaps what I had expected from the title and the hints that had been dropped throughout the novel – especially when it came to some of the characters.

This book is aimed at a young adult audience – and I don’t think you need to know the Dracula myths or stories to enjoy it – it can stand alone as its own story, but can also be read alongside a reading of the Dracula stories and myths that people do know. Either would make for an interesting discussion and reading, as each explore different themes. Here, the power of the women involved and their choices and lives, and what leads them to their fate are highlighted. They have agency and personhood, rather than just being a passive victim.

Whilst a vampire novel in a way, the vampire element, and Dracula element only becomes clear towards the latter half. For the first half or so, the divining by Cook and the other things that are hinted at could have led to anything, which is perhaps what makes it powerful and different to what usually constitutes a vampire novel. I’m sure there will be a very keen audience for this book, I I hope future readers enjoy it.

Pre-release review: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson

What-Lies-Beneath-Us-Cover-sample-copy-197x300.jpgTitle: What Lies Beneath Us

Author: Kirsty Ferguson

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Elephant Tree Publishing

Published: 22nd February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 286

Price: $20.00

Synopsis: Jessica James had the perfect life. She had a good job, supportive friends, and her husband Geoff and her son Jack both adored her. Everything changed the moment she found out she was having another child.

Now she’s a stay-at-home mum, they have barely enough money coming in, Jack is a troubled ten-year-old and she feels there’s an insurmountable divide between her and her husband. Worse still, her feelings towards her youngest son are just wrong. Does her recent diagnosis of post-partum depression explain those feelings or is something more sinister going on?

The unthinkable occurs when baby Jason is found dead in his cot. At the time of his death, Geoff is away on a camping trip. Now Jessica finds herself accused of murder and is vilified by all those who once claimed to love her. As the evidence mounts against her, Jessica must come to terms with the fact that she may well have had something to do with her baby’s death.

When a second tragedy rocks the James family, Jessica’s world quickly unravels, and she spirals into darkness. Meanwhile, Victorian Detectives Hunter and Cooper investigate the infant’s homicide, but are quickly left with more questions than answers.

By the time they get to the bottom of this mystery, will there be anyone left of the James family to save?

~*~

This is one of the books I copy-edited for Elephant Tree Publishing, and it was a real pleasure to see how my editing has helped the story and been considered. When I started reading this, I had to switch off my editor’s brain, and switch on my reading and reviewing brain, and focus on the story itself rather than the technicalities that mould it into what is a thrilling and compelling mystery.

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The author contacted me after I edited it, to ask me to review it as well, and the publisher sent me an ARC copy – the copies that are the final stage prior to publishing, where final touches are put on it, and gave me permission to post this review prior to review date for the paperback to generate a buzz for it.

What Lies Beneath Us is a tightly plotted mystery, revolving around a family touched by tragedy in a most unspeakable way. First, her youngest son, Jason is found dead in his cot. This incident begins a mystery that feels like it won’t ever be solved, and the hints dropped in the chapters that lead up to the crucial events and climax of the novel are subversive and cleverly written to make the reader think twice about what has really happened, and question what they know about Jessica and her family.

The detectives – Hunter and Cooper – fulfil the investigative roles wonderfully, and I liked the divide between the two of them in terms of Jessica’s guilt. Hunter is convinced there is more to the situation than what they, Jessica’s family and friends, and everyone else who knows about the case can see. He’s the character convinced these cases aren’t always straightforward and that there are shades of grey in some areas. In comparison, his partner, Cooper, is very black and white, and convinced that nobody else could be involved – until some of the things Jessica says, and some things he hears don’t quite fit with his preconceptions. It is these aspects that make the novel engrossing and intriguing, and lead to events and a conclusion that I never saw coming.

What Lies Beneath Us is the kind of novel that makes us question what we know and who we know, and what people are capable of. It shows that we are all human and infallible. It shows that what we see on the surface isn’t necessarily what is happening underneath – that assumptions will be made on the visible, and the invisible will be ignored. It is the unseen that Hunter makes more of an effort to understand, and this is what makes him a really good character. It is also what makes the novel powerful – recognising that the visible isn’t a person’s entire character – that it is what lies beneath us that contributes to who we are in many different ways.

I hope to read more from Kirsty soon, and hopefully there will be more to this story as well.

The Sister’s Song by Louise Allan

*Read in 2017, published review in 2018*
sisters songTitle: The Sister’s Song

Author: Louise Allan

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 2nd January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Set in rural Tasmania from the 1920s to the 1990s, The Sisters’ Song traces the lives of two very different sisters. One for whom giving and loving are her most natural qualities and the other who cannot forgive and forget.

As children, Ida loves looking after her younger sister, Nora, but when their beloved father dies in 1926, everything changes. The two young girls move in with their grandmother who is particularly encouraging of Nora’s musical talent. Nora eventually follows her dream of a brilliant musical career, while Ida takes a job as a nanny and their lives become quite separate.

The two sisters are reunited when Nora’s life takes an unwelcome direction and she finds herself, embittered and resentful, isolated in the Tasmanian bush with a husband and children.

Ida longs passionately for a family and when she marries Len, a reliable and good man, she hopes to soon become a mother. Over time, it becomes clear that this is never likely to happen. In Ida’s eyes, it seems that Nora possesses everything in life that could possibly matter yet she values none of it.

Set in rural Tasmania over a span of seventy years, the strengths and flaws of motherhood are revealed through the mercurial relationship of these two very different sisters. The Sisters’ Song speaks of dreams, children and family, all entwined with a musical thread that binds them together.

~*~

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Most of the time when a novel contains love, it is the romantic kind, between two unrelated people, crossing paths and finding themselves tumbling head-first into a relationship, and its ups and downs, creating a much-loved genre amongst many readers. However, as someone who is not an avid fan of such novels, I always love it when I come across a novel where if there is romance, it is a subplot, or an element of the novel, and the main story shifts the important focus to something else, like family – a kind of love that is not often seen in many novels, but one that I have begun to see as creeping into books by Australian women writers, sometimes alongside a historical backdrop and some romantic love. It is this familial love that drives and instigates the plot of the debut novel by Louise Allan, The Sister’s Song.

 

Beginning in 1926 and set in Tasmania, and spanning the next seventy years, The Sister’s Song follows the lives of Ida and Nora Parker after their father dies, and their mother withdraws into herself. Nora is a gifted singer and piano player, and dedicated to faith, aww2017-badgeguided by the loving hand of her grandmother. Ida is the opposite, unsure of her place in the world, only knowing there are things she is not good at. When they grow up, their paths separate and Nora goes to the mainland to study music, against all her mother’s wishes, and Ida stays behind, becomes a nanny, weds, hoping to start a family. Their mother tries to keep Nora in Tasmania in the rural town they live in with their grandmother, pushing realism, not dreams, into their heads as the way to go. For Ida, this advice sticks with her but so does a feeling of wanting to be a better mother, a better sister. When Nora falls pregnant, she is sent home and married off to another man, and from here, the sister’s lives take a new turn, with Nora bearing the children Ida wishes she could, and each sister turning into what they never thought they would become.

Where Nora becomes more like their mother, Ida becomes more like their mother’s mother, and a supportive Aunt whose nephews and niece turn to in times of strife. Throughout the years, these sisters fight and come together, and ultimately, show the power of sisterly love through hard times. Spanning across seventy years, The Sister’s Song hints at the historical events Ida and Nora live through, but these moments are almost like passing ships as the reader becomes invested in the characters. I found that the love between the sisters, and Nora’s children was stronger, and had more depth in them than some romance novels I have read – deeper, more meaningful relationships always make a book more relatable and readable for me.

Louise Allan has created characters with flaws, that are not perfect and who make mistakes, and she allows them to make mistakes. She allows them to act and live within their time and frame of understanding as well, ensuring that their attitudes suit what they know, even if there are characters who find these attitudes shocking. Through Ida and Nora, various ways of living and thinking are explored, and understood over the years. It is a beautifully crafted story that shows everyone is human, and that everyone has the capability to follow their dreams, to fall, and to find their way back to who they once were, and the changing dynamics of family throughout time.

Ideal for readers looking for a new reader and a new author, and a refreshing take on the relationships that women have in literature and fiction. It’s always lovely to see one that doesn’t focus on falling in love, as it gives some variety and spice to female characters and their stories.

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