The Girl She Was by Rebecca Freeborn

TGSW_3DTitle: The Girl She Was

Author: Rebecca Freeborn

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published:  31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 392

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: ‘She’d long ago stopped wondering whether anyone would find out what she’d done. It was in the past, and Layla didn’t dwell on the past.’

At the cafe in the small town of Glasswater Bay where she works after school, seventeen-year-old Layla enters into a volatile relationship with her married boss.

Twenty years later, she receives a message from her former boss’s wife.

As Layla relives the events from her youth that have shaped her present, her past starts to infiltrate her life in a way she can no longer ignore.

She’s run from her town, her friends and the memory of what she’s done. Now she must face them all.

~*~

At thirty-seven, Layla feels she finally has her life under control. She’s married, has kids and a good job – she has come a long way from her final year in Glasswater Bay and the affair with her boss at the café – and the events that led to her family fleeing the town shortly after she graduated high school. She has spent the past twenty years running from that, until a message from someone in Glasswater Bay appears – I know what you did­ – and Layla’s memories begin to resurface.

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As she grapples with what happened, and with facing the people she left behind, Layla finds who she can really trust, and starts to face not only what she did but also what happened to her, and how she and everyone around her, everyone who was affected by it, feels.

In another novel – my third this month at least – that pings back and forth between present and past, this one uses a different tactic to tell Layla’s story. Each chapter is clearly labelled then and now – to delineate where we are in Layla’s story, and the ‘then’ chapters are told in first person, in Layla’s perspective of what happens, and the ‘now’ chapters in third person, but also through Layla’s eyes. Because it is told in this way, the reader gains a good understanding of who Layla is, who she was and why, how and what led her to each of these stages. It deals with some pretty heavy stuff, which comes out much later in the novel, and is a topic that might upset some readers, so just a heads up if you are sensitive or can find it difficult to digest stories centered around possible abuse and power imbalances. The novel also celebrates female empowerment and friendship, new and old, that form as a result of something – or someone – pulling people together over unexpected experiences and circumstances.

This is a powerful book that hints at issues surrounding the #MeToo movement as referenced in the author’s note at the end and assures the reader that speaking out can help – and trusting in the people who love you can help. It also deals with the issue of not being sure what to do, and what happens when people question themselves. Layla shows that it is okay to be scared and reluctant, and also shows what it can feel like when finally admitting what has happened, and how doing this can start healing wounds and repairing relationships.

 

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley

pepperharrowTitle: The Lost Future of Pepperharrow

Author: Natasha Pulley

Genre: Magical Realism, Historical Fiction, Gothic Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 17th March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 512

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Step back into the enchanting world of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. This extraordinary sequel takes readers to Japan, where time, destiny and love collide to electrifying effect

‘A Japan that never was, a future lost, ghosts that are not dead, random numbers, clairvoyant samurai … not even a partial list of ingredients can do justice to this wonderful cake of a book. A lovely blending of steam punk ether science, Japanese historical figures, and a time-defying thriller’ ROBIN HOBB

For Thaniel Steepleton, an unexpected posting to Tokyo can’t come at a better moment. The London fog has made him ill and doctor’s orders are to get out.

His brief is strange: the staff at the British Legation have been seeing ghosts, and his first task is to find out what’s going on. But staying with his closest friend Keita Mori in Yokohama, Thaniel starts to experience ghostly happenings himself. For reasons he won’t say, Mori is frightened. Then he vanishes.

Meanwhile, something strange is happening in a frozen labour camp in northern Japan. Takiko Pepperharrow, an old friend of Mori’s, must investigate.

As ghosts appear across Tokyo and the weather turns bizarrely electrical, Thaniel grows convinced that it all has something to do with Mori’s disappearance – and that Mori might be in far more trouble than any of them first thought.

~*~

In 2015, readers were introduced to Natasha Pulley, Mori and Thaniel Steepleton in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Five years later, they’re returning in the Lost Future of Pepperharrow which sees Thaniel and Mori headed to Japan with their daughter, Six, as they seek to improve Thaniel’s health during a new posting for the British Legation in Tokyo to investigate ghosts, and strange goings on at a labour camp that bring them into contact with someone from Mori’s past – Takiko Pepperharrow.

The story moves between the past – up to ten years – particularly when dealing with Takiko, and 1888/1889 – the present in the novel, and how Mori and Thaniel navigate the mysteries and ghosts of Tokyo. In doing so, Thaniel finds himself falling into an unknown world, and when Mori disappears, and nobody knows where he is nor if he is still alive. It is an intricate plot that moves back and forth over a decade in Tokyo and Japan, highlighting issues of religion, the place of foreigners in Japan and the role of ghosts and clockwork as a common thread across both books. Denser than the first book, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow continues the story in surprising and eloquent ways.

Some aspects are most definitely historical – the Japanese Education Minister, Arinori Mori’s assassination and at least one of the prisons, whilst the rest might be based on history but has become a fantastical thing of its own, and borrows from history in order to create the world these characters populate and live in. The story is complex, immense and exceptionally told with rich detail where needed, and is immersive for time and place – making each aspect feel as though you were really there in the book with Thaniel – both when he was with Mori and whilst he was searching for him through Japan.

Each setting evoked a sense of being there – from the foggy streets of London, to the ships that sail across oceans and all the sights, sounds and sensations of Tokyo – both confronting and intriguing as seen through the eyes of Thaniel and his uncertainty as he investigates the ghosts, come together to create a story filled with so many different elements, some seem so small, it can be hard to define them easily, and with hints of magical realism, this is not a straight-forward historical fiction. It is much more layered and multi-faceted than that. It has so many layers that there were times I re-read a section – just to see if I had picked everything up, only to discover that some things had merely been hinted at in a very clever way that made sense towards the end. It maintained the balance of revealing things in the right place, and dropping little hints, and also, maintained the balance of good description and storytelling – neither was overdone. For each of these aspects – all books are going to be different in what they do and why – and when these elements as well as character, plot and setting combine, they create a story like this one that is clever and unique.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and hope that fans of Natasha’s first two books will as well.

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter’

Winterborne 1Title: Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour

Author: Ally Carter

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Lothian/Hachette Australia

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: New York Times bestselling author Ally Carter’s middle grade debut is full of mystery, mayhem, and friendship, and will keep you guessing right until the very end.

When 11-year-old April joins a group of kids living at Winterborne Home she doesn’t expect to be there for very long. But she soon learns that this home isn’t like any of the others – especially when she unearths the secret of the missing-and-presumed-dead billionaire, Gabriel Winterborne, who is neither missing nor dead but is actually living in a basement lair, sharpening his swords and looking for vengeance.

Now that April knows Gabriel Winterborne is alive, she must turn to the other orphans to keep him that way. As a looming new danger threatens to take Gabriel down once and for all, they must use their individual talents to find a way to make sure this home for misfits isn’t lost to them for ever.

Because at the Winterborne Home, nothing is what it seems, no one is who they say they are and nowhere is safe. And now a ragtag group of orphans must unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a supposed phantom and a secret key, all without alerting the adults of Winterborne House that trouble is afoot.

The first book in a captivating new series from the bestselling author of Gallagher Girls.

 

~*~

April has lived her life as an orphan in a foster system that never works out. She’s on a school excursion to a museum and is examining an exhibition of Winterborne jewels when a fire breaks out, and she wakes up in hospital. Ms Nelson is there – and takes April, along with Tim and Violet, to a place called Winterborne House, under the care of the Winterborne Foundation.

 

Once here, April and her new friends – Tim, Violet, Colin and Sadie – start to discover that there is more to Winterborne House than they are being told, and uncover the secret of the missing billionaire, Gabriel Winterborne. The excitement begins when something – or someone – sinister starts threatening the house and in doing so, threatens to take away the one home these ragtag orphans feel is really home.

 

As the threat grows, the pace picks up, especially in the later third of the book, when the group of orphans set out to recover something stolen and save Gabriel Winterborne from the person threatening him. As the mystery unfolds, April beings exploring the Winterborne House after things go missing – chasing a ghost, so she thinks, until she stumbles across Gabriel Winterborne. But Gabriel doesn’t want to be found – if people think he’s dead, then he can go on with his quiet life, and not worry about the house or the Winterborne Foundation.

 

Using the common mystery and orphan tropes, Ally Carter creates a world where adults are present, and keep the children safe, whilst at the same time, Smithers and Ms Nelson are distanced enough that April and her friends can carry on their investigations – until the adults are needed. It has echoes of the Famous Five in some parts – with the old mysterious house with its secrets, and the mystery of a family. This is coupled with hints of Annie and Anne of Green Gables with the plucky orphans determined to uncover a mystery and save the best home they’ve ever known, and for Sadie and Colin – the only home they’ve ever known.

 

This book took tropes and themes from other books and retold them for a modern audience, and is set in our contemporary world yet has elements of a setting that is not quite what we know – the setting isn’t completely identified, which perhaps is what gives it a more mysterious feel for the characters, plot and readers. Whilst some things are answered in this book, there are many more that aren’t, and hopefully, these will be answered further on in the series.

 

The Dark Prophecy (Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan

dark prophecyTitle: Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: 30th April 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 528
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: The second title in Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series – set in the action-packed world of Percy Jackson.
The god Apollo, cast down to earth and trapped in the form of a gawky teenage boy as punishment, must set off on the second of his harrowing (and hilarious) trials.
He and his companions seek the ancient oracles – restoring them is the only way for Apollo to reclaim his place on Mount Olympus – but this is easier said than done.
Somewhere in the American Midwest is a haunted cave that may hold answers for Apollo in his quest to become a god again . . . if it doesn’t kill him or drive him insane first. Standing in Apollo’s way is the second member of the evil Triumvirate – a Roman emperor whose love of bloodshed and spectacle makes even Nero look tame.
To survive the encounter, Apollo will need the help of a now-mortal goddess, a bronze dragon, and some familiar demigod faces from Camp Half-Blood. With them by his side, can Apollo face down the greatest challenge of his four thousand years of existence?

~*~

As I work my way (slowly, mainly due to other commitments) through these four books after being sent the latest by the publisher after the publication date, I’m finding the way the author includes mythology and ancient history in the modern world amidst modern issues interesting. It is first and foremost the mythology that I am interested in, and as I was sent book four late last year, decided to read the first three so I knew what to expect and what was going on.

There are some series that I find easy to read out of order, as they tend to be their own singular stories that are linked through a theme, genre or character. However, there are some that I do feel need to be read in order, and this one is one of those series. As Apollo moves through his tasks to earn back his immortality from Zeus, he keeps running into Meg, and is accompanied by Leo Valdez and sorceress Calypso as they journey across America in pursuit of Nero and those who are trying to stop Apollo.

Apollo often references all kinds of literary and musical highlights and has a running commentary about how good he is – and how he is responsible for certain bands and songs. This is secondary to the ongoing plot, and Apollo’s godlike mind and memories is at constant odds with what his mortal teenage body is capable of.

The combination of Greek and Roman elements makes sense as the Romans would eventually usurp the Greek society and culture and assign their own names to the Greek gods, goddesses and heroes. As someone who loves reading about Greek mythology, I find the way it is used in contemporary literature interesting, as each retelling and reimagining is unique, and some are very cleverly done. At the very least, this series makes it accessible to new readers and this will hopefully spark an interest in Greek mythology beyond this series.

Mermaid Holidays: The Reef Rescue by Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas (Illustrator)

mermaid holidays 4.jpgTitle: Mermaid Holidays: The Reef Rescue

Author: Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas (Illustrator)

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 3rd December 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 128

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Sign up for Sea Star Reef Summer Camp and join Olivia Ocean, Chloe Coral, Sophia Seashell and Willow Wave for another splashing adventure in MERMAID HOLIDAYS . . .

The mermaids are off on a summer camp adventure. Olivia can’t wait! She loves camping under the waves, eating sea cucumber sizzles and EXPLORING. But when the besties find themselves on the wrong side of the reef things start to go very, very wrong.

Buckle up for a rip-roaring reef rescue!

~*~

In the fourth Mermaid Holidays book, focused on Olivia Ocean, the four friends – Willow, Chloe, Sophia and Olivia are back for the summer holidays, and this time they’re off on a summer camp adventure under the sea, next to a reef. They are determined to have fun and adventures, and to look for a creature called the Dumbo octopus!

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But with an angry camp director leading the explorer activities, Olivia and her friends decide to head off on their own, to explore the reef. When they find themselves in the out of bounds area of the reef, lost, and not sure how to get back to camp, they must work together to get back to camp before anyone can notice they are gone!

This was the fourth, and I believe, final book in this series, and it is just as charming as its predecessors. Each mermaid is unique and the activities they choose at camp reflect what they all enjoy and have enjoyed individually and as a group in the previous three books.

This series celebrates friendship and girls doing what they like and enjoy without relying heavily on gender stereotypes, and can be enjoyed by all ages. It allows each character to be herself but also shows that not everything will always work out  – and working together is sometimes the best outcome for everyone.

A great series for younger readers who are starting to gain confidence reading alone, or to read with children learning to read, and enjoy the stories together.

 

Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming by Belinda Murrell

Pippas Island 3.jpgTitle: Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming

Author: Belinda Murrell

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 2nd January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: The third book in the gorgeously happy and fun Pippa’s Island series sees Pippa and her friends competing in the school talent quest!

Kira Cove Public School is hosting a talent quest. Cici, Meg and Charlie couldn’t be more excited to perform, but Pippa gets butterflies at the thought of singing on stage. After a disastrous audition the girls get a second chance, but can Pippa find a way to smash her stage fright before the VIP concert?

Meanwhile, at the Beach Shack Cafe a mysterious visitor is causing havoc when backs are turned. When Pippa finds a clue, she is determined to track down the mischievous cafe thief.

Will Pippa sing with the Sassy Sisters?

~*~

Pippa is still waiting for her new home to be built above The Beach Shack Café. Whilst waiting, the school announces a talent contest. CiCi and Charlie are keen to enter, whilst Pippa and Meg are reluctant, yet join their friends despite their stage fright. To keep the peace, Pippa and Meg agree to go along with the audition – nut keep their costumes tame and leave the snazzier ones for the performance. When Tash is injured during the performance before the Sassy Sisters, it appears to throw off their performance, and they’re runners-up.

When they’re offered another chance to perform at the VIP Concert, Pippa must find a way to cure her stage fright and mend bridges with Olivia, who seems to think it is all Pippa’s fault. At the same time, Pippa must deal with her feelings about her father leaving the family, and find out who, or what, the mysterious food thief in the café is.

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In this story, I could totally understand Pippa’s stage fright. The way Pippa reacted would have been just how I would have, so its very relatable for readers to see. The way Pippa’s friends come together to help her get ready for the VIP concert and get over her stage fright was lovely, and this was a great addition to the Pippa’s Island series. I’m looking forward to reading the next two to see where Pippa and her friends go and what they do. Another great installment for all ages to enjoy.

Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters by Belinda Murrell

Pippas Island 2.jpgTitle: Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters
Author: Belinda Murrell
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: 3rd July 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 240
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: Four best friends are about to discover that writing news isn’t as easy as it looks – especially when puppies, pop stars and photo shoots are involved!
Pippa is settling in to her island home – she’s even learning to surf. School is abuzz when Mrs Neill announces the launch of a new student newspaper. But how will Pippa, Meg, Charlie and Cici decide what to write about when the four friends have such different interests? A fashion photo shoot could be fun – if it weren’t for bad weather, a naughty puppy and other disasters.
Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the cub reporters get a news scoop that could bring the whole town together at the Beach Shack Cafe. Cupcakes for everyone!
Whose story will make the front page?

~*~
Pippa is slowly settling into her new life on Kira Island, at school, and with her new friends, Meg, CiCi and Charlie. When her primary school announces they will be starting a school paper, Pippa and her friends sign up – but when it comes to choosing a story to write for the paper, they can’t decide – each girl has a different idea, and ever the peacemakers, Pippa and Meg try to help the group come to a compromise.
The arrival of a local star causes waves, and when Olivia tries to use it to her advantage – things look as though they will backfire, and it is up to the Sassy Sisters to bring the newspaper together with the few students left from year six – and pull together a series of stories that will appeal to all their interests.

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The second Pippa’s Island book is just as fun as the first book – with the addition of a naughty puppy and takes place within weeks of the first book. This is a good pace, and keeps the links and feelings of the characters working well as the series progresses. I love all the characters – they are well-written and loads of fun. I am loving reading this series, and now have all five, with books four and five ready to read on my shelf when time allows. These are fabulous books that appeal to middle grade readers and older, celebrating family, friends and being yourself whilst showcasing a variety of interests and a spectacular Australian landscape.