The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

the lost jewelsTitle: The Lost Jewels

Author: Kirsty Manning

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: From the bestselling author of The Jade Lily comes a thrilling modern-day treasure hunt brimming with family secrets.

Inspired by a true story, The Lost Jewels unfolds an incredible mystery of thievery, sacrifice and hope through the generations of one family.

In the summer of 1912, a workman’s pickaxe strikes through the floor of an old tenement house in Cheapside, London, uncovering a cache of unimaginably valuable treasure that quickly disappears again.

Present day. When respected jewellery historian, Kate Kirby, receives a call about the Cheapside jewels, she knows she’s on the brink of the experience of a lifetime.

As Kate peels back layers of concealment and deception, she is forced to explore long-buried secrets concerning Essie, her great-grandmother, and her life in Edwardian London. Soon, Kate’s past and present threaten to collide and the truths about her family lie waiting to be revealed.

~*~

Kate Kirby is busy with her work as a jewellery historian when she receives a call from London about the Cheapside Jewels, a treasure trove of jewels discovered in 1912, that disappears from the worksite it is found at. What follows is a story that moves back and forth between 1912, the present day, and London in 1666, just after the plague and during the Great Fire, and India, where the jewels have moved from hand to hand and been lost to history.

Kate’s great-grandmother, Essie, appears to know something, but has never spoken of her life in Edwardian London, and soon Kate finds that the present and the past are about to collide as she investigates where the jewels are and where they came from, and what happened to them whilst wondering if there is a connection to her family.

Essie’s story, and that of her younger sister, Gertrude, runs parallel to Kate’s story, and slowly, the hints at what has happened come out as the story evolves, and the mystery of the jewels is revealed.

AWW2020I have read a few books lately that move between the past and present – each in very different ways, yet each work very well to tell these stories.  In this one, each story is told in third person, and each year and chapter is clear titled, so we know who is speaking at the time to the reader. This makes it easy to follow, and more intriguing – as just as the story gets somewhere in one era, there is a cliffhanger as it shifts to another so that the pieces can be put together.

It also explores the complexities of families and the secrets that impact the lives they lead. It shows how one generation impacts those that come later, and at the same time, explores friendship and love, and new beginnings. Again, this is a book where the love story bubbles beneath the surface, and where the mystery of the jewels is drives the story more.

The Cheapside Jewels, or the Cheapside Hoard and its discovery in 1912 really did happen – I looked it up and found a fascinating series of sources – too many to list here, some were videos, and this gives a great gravitas and grounding in history to the novel, and it was something I had never heard of before. Kirsty Manning captures history and her characters, with clear voices and personalities throughout. I found Essie to be a very interesting character – and quite possibly my favourite, although I do like the idea of Kate’s job – it sounded so interesting!

I recommend this book to people who enjoy historical fiction and who have read Kirsty’s previous books. It is a great book, filled with mystery, intrigue and drama, and I hope people enjoy it.

 

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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The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

the dinner list.jpgTitle: The Dinner List

Author: Rebecca Serle

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 29th August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:If you could invite anyone at all to a fantasy dinner party, who would be on your list?

‘We’ve been waiting for an hour.’ That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not: Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinner, but Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Rebecca Serle contends with in her utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as One Day, and the life-changing romance of Me Before You.

When Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. As the appetisers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together.

Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, The Dinner List is a romance for our times. Bon appetit.

~*~

The Dinner List is a surreal novel, where each chapter of a distant yet recent past is sandwiched between a dream-world dinner. Sabrina is on the cusp of turning thirty, and her thoughts turn to a list she made years earlier: the five people she could invite to a dinner party if she could: her father, best friend, Audrey Hepburn, a former professor and the man she almost married. Throughout this dinner, discussions flow back and forth for four hours, leading into the chapters that fill in the story, with each section carefully omitting certain pieces of information as the reader seeks to discover what is happening, who is who and where they fit into Sabrina’s life.

Together, they traverse a myriad of topics, including love, life and what had brought them each to their respective places in their lives and at the time of the dinner. Sabrina is their anchor, and they each have something to impart or share with her to help her come to terms with recent events. As the novel slips in and out of reality and the surreal, dream dinner world Sabrina has created, life and magical realism collide to create a unique and unexpected story of friendship, hope, love and loss in the world of a millennial as she finds out where she belongs in the world, with a unique ending for what seems to be a romance-based novel, where things might not end up as happily ever after, but with a sense of closure and finality, and perhaps a sense of the reality of how life can really turn out for us, rather than riding off into the sunset together.

Sophisticated in its delivery, and surreal, but eloquent in its style, the mystery of who is who, where they fit in and why they are present at the dinner is slowly revealed to both reader and Sabrina, in a moving, funny and touching way that makes it a romantic story, but a realistic one that touches on the obstacles and tragedies we face in life.

This was a surprise delivery, and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, yet the premise was interesting enough that I decided to give it a go. It’s an intriguing  take on the people that come in and out of our lives and what they mean to us.