The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady

the yellow house.jpgTitle: The Yellow House

Author: Emily O’Grady

Genre: Literary Fiction, Crime, Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The winner of the prestigious literary award that has launched over a hundred authors – the Australian/Vogel’s Literary award

Winner of the 2018 The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award

Even before I knew anything about Granddad Les, Wally and me sometimes dared each other to see how close to the knackery we could get. It was way out in the bottom paddock, and Dad had banned us from going further than the dam. Wally said it was because the whole paddock was haunted. He said he could see ghosts wisping in the grass like sheets blown from the washing line. But even then I knew for sure that was a lie. 

Ten-year-old Cub lives with her parents, older brother Cassie, and twin brother Wally on a lonely property bordering an abandoned cattle farm and knackery. Their lives are shadowed by the infamous actions of her Granddad Les in his yellow weatherboard house, just over the fence.

Although Les died twelve years ago, his notoriety has grown in Cub’s lifetime and the local community have ostracised the whole family.

When Cub’s estranged aunt Helena and cousin Tilly move next door into the yellow house, the secrets the family want to keep buried begin to bubble to the surface. And having been kept in the dark about her grandfather’s crimes, Cub is now forced to come to terms with her family’s murky history.

The Yellow House is a powerful novel about loyalty and betrayal; about the legacies of violence and the possibilities of redemption.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe Yellow House is Cub’s story about her family, told from the point of view of ten-year-old Cub. Living in semi-rural Queensland, she is the granddaughter of an infamous serial killer -Grandad Les – who died shortly before she, and her twin brother, Wally, were born. She knows that there are secrets in her family – though she doesn’t know exactly what at first, though the rest of her family do. Her mother has always kept her hair short like Wally’s – which frustrates Cub. But one day a cousin and aunt – Tilly and Helena- move into the yellow house where Grandad Les lived, and things start to change. The town they live in has always whispered about Cub and her family, and seen them as feral – which, in some ways they are – yet are they feral because that is how people see them, and because of the legacy of Les? Or, are they simply feral and their genetic link to Les simply gives people a reason to justify their hate?

As Helena and Tilly move in, Cassie – Cub’s older brother – begins to change in his demeanour and makes a new friend – Ian – whose presence is immediately disconcerting to Cub and sets the entire family on edge and sends them hurtling towards a precipice that begins to crumble as tragedy begins to touch their lives again.

Whilst Cub is a great little spy and seems to catch onto things easily and find things out. having the story – what she has been told, what she sees and what she finds out throughout the novel – is all filtered through her understanding as a child. Her perception of some things seems quite simplistic -thinking her Mum doesn’t like her, wanting to know if she’s anyone’s favourite. and wanting to be friends with Tilly and doing what she can to try and get along with her cousin.

Throughout the novel, there is always the feeling that something bad is going to happen, like watching the cliffhanger of a television crime drama and knowing that the dread you feel will come to pass, but hoping it won’t, and hoping things will change at the last minute. When certain events happen, when some characters enter the story, there is always the feeling of knowing that either something will happen to that person, or that another person is bad news – Ian was one such character that filled me with dread, and fear, knowing there is something ominous about his presence but not quite being able to put your finger on it.

What I liked was the way Emily balanced the not so normal aspects of the lives of Cub’s family – the way Cassie acted, her mum, whom I didn’t like at all and found myself wishing she cared a bit more about Cub than she actually did – with the normal, everyday actions of going to school, coming home and doing homework, meals and all the rest of the things families usually do. As Cub learns about and comes to terms with the murky family of her history, she is faced with tough decisions and knowledge that she must find a way to deal with.

Emily O’Grady’s novel is an intriguing look at human nature and how assumptions about family and who you are related to can colour what people think of you – and what happens when these secrets come out – and how far some people are willing to go to hurt people and cover it up.

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Cover Reveal: The Crimes of Grindelwald Screenplay

Releasing on the 16th of November, 2018, is the screenplay of the second part in the Fantastic Beasts series, The Crimes of Grindelwald,which will pick up where the first film left off two years ago, with the capture of Gellert Grindelwald by Newt Scamander and the MACUSA squad. However, Gellert has escaped and is on a quest to give power to pure blooded wizards over non-magical beings. Newt is enlisted by Albus Dumbledore to thwart these plans, and draw lines between loyalty and love, as they fight to save the wizarding world.

The cover of the screenplay (pictured below), hints at what is to come in the film and screenplay. As expected, the Deathly Hallows symbol is present, its significance known to fans of the Harry Potter books. The Eiffel Tower is present, signifying a move into the wizarding world of countries beyond the UK and Hogwarts and America, a few favourite magical creatures, and other symbols from the film. We will not know what these symbols mean until we see the film and read the screenplay.

crimes of grindewald cover reveal.jpg

MinaLima is the graphic design team behind the cover and the Fantastic Beasts series, and they have done a wonderful job of this cover as well as the previous one. They used the Art Nouveau aesthetic for this because of the centrality of France to the film and the iconography of the Eiffel Tower associated with France. Looking forward to reading this and seeing the film when they are released, and a review of the screenplay will appear on my blog later in the year.

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The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers

the 7th cross.jpgTitle: The Seventh Cross

Author: Anna Seghers, translated from the German by Margot  Bettauer Dembo

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: First published 1942, republished 29th May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 390

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A rediscovered German classic novel from 1942, The Seventh Cross is both a gripping escape story and a powerful novel of resistance.

‘At once a suspenseful manhunt story and a knowing portrait of the perils of ordinary life in Hitler’s Germany, The Seventh Cross is not only an important novel, but an important historical document. This new, unabridged translation is a genuine publishing event’ JOSEPH KANON, author of The Good German and Leaving Berlin

‘It was [Seghers] who taught my generation and anyone who had an ear to listen after that not-to-be-forgotten war to distinguish right from wrong. The Seventh Crossshaped me; it sharpened my vision’ Gunter Grass ‘A masterpiece. Written in the midst of terror, but with such clarity, such acuity; Seghers is a writer of rare insight’ Rachel Seiffert, author of A Boy in Winter

Seven prisoners escape from Westhofen concentration camp. Seven crosses are erected in the grounds and the commandant vows to capture the fugitives within a week. Six men are caught quickly, but George Heisler slips through his pursuers’ fingers and it becomes a matter of pride to track him down, at whatever cost.

Who can George trust? Who will betray him? The years of fear have changed those he knew best: his brother is now an SS officer; his lover turns him away. Hunted, injured and desperate, time is running out for George, and whoever is caught aiding his escape will pay with their life.

The Seventh Cross powerfully documents the insidious rise of a fascist regime – the seething paranoia, the sudden arrests, the silence and fear.
A fascinating insight into life in pre-war Nazi Germany just as the horrors of the Nazi regime were beginning to unfold. This is an important novel, as much for its picture of German society as for its insight into the psyche of ordinary people confronting their personal fears and mixed loyalties’ Simon Mawer, author of The Glass Room

The Seventh Cross was written by one of the most important German writers of the twentieth century. Her aim was to write, ‘A tale that makes it possible to get to know the many layers of fascist Germany through the fortunes of a single man.’ She had four copies of the manuscript: one was destroyed in an air raid; a friend lost the second copy while fleeing the Nazis; another was found by the Gestapo; only the fourth copy survived, which, fortunately, she sent to her publisher in America just before she escaped Nazi-occupied France. Published in 1942, The Seventh Cross was an immediate bestseller and was the basis for an MGM film starring Spencer Tracy in 1944. It has been translated into more than 40 languages

~*~

The Seventh Cross is set in the mid-1930s, following the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler in Germany, in the build-up to war. Early concentration camps, such as Westhofen hold political prisoners. At the start of the novel, seven prisoners have escaped the camp, and the SA and SS officers of the new regime are tasked with hunting them down. Six are caught – one remains on the run, and continuously evades capture – and so, his pursuers decide they will use whatever means necessary to take him captive again. What follows is the prisoner – George’s – attempts to evade capture and reconnect with his former life, but at the same time, wants to keep those he knew before he was taken away safe – his family, his friends.

And after his time in the camp, George doesn’t know who to trust. will his brother, now an SS officer, turn him in? His ex-wife, Elli, is constantly being watched – what will happen to her? Anyone who dares to help George will pay the ultimate price of the Nazi regime – death.

Where many novels surrounding World War Two and the Nazi regime are focussed on the year or two prior to the start of the war, or the war itself, The Seventh Cross is situated within the beginnings

of the Nazi regime, as witnessed by the author, as she fled first to France, and then to Mexico in 1940, after the Nazis occupied France during the war. During her exile, The Seventh Cross was one of the books she wrote – and there were four manuscripts, according to Seghers: one was lost by a friend who was also escaping the Nazis, another destroyed in an air raid. A third was found by the Gestapo, whilst the fourth reached her publisher in America before she fled her home.

Rather than examine the impact of war or the well-known concentration camps and extermination programs of the 1940s, Seghers looks at how ordinary Germans responded to the Nazi regime, from those who followed it didactically and enthusiastically, to those of indifference and again, those who stood up for their beliefs – the good, the indifferent and the bad. It examines what ordinary people had to do to survive and how they did it, and also, what they would do to help George, at great risk or cost to their own lives as they tried to hold onto a semblance of humanity in a period of time that was becoming darker and darker every day.

Seghers wrote what she experienced and witnessed – making it all the more powerful, and though it is fiction, an important historical document, as it shows how everyday people were forced into making choices that they might not ordinarily have made in order to survive, and a confrontation of their fears and mixed loyalties that would eventually lead many into the depths of hatred and genocide that would come to shock the world when the truth was discovered.

Reading about what lead to the war, the ghettoes and the extermination of millions of people is just as important to understand  as the rest – how Germany got there was made up of many factors, and The Seventh Cross shows how this happened through the eyes of someone who witnessed it first hand, ensuring that the story is not easily dismissed and one that should be read and remembered today, so the rise of someone like Hitler can never happen again.

Written in 1942, and translated into English for the first time since, The Seventh Cross has not been in print in the United Kingdom since 1942 – 76 years.

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Six Tudor Queens #3: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

haunted queen.jpgTitle: Six Tudor Queens #3: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen

Author: Alison Weir

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Headline Review

Published: 8th May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 532

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The third stunning novel in the Six Tudor Queens series by foremost and beloved historian Alison Weir

JANE SEYMOUR: THE HAUNTED QUEEN by historian Alison Weir, author of the Sunday Times bestsellers KATHERINE OF ARAGON: THE TRUE QUEEN and ANNE BOLEYN: A KING’S OBSESSION, is the third enthralling novel in the SIX TUDOR QUEENS series. A fascinating look at Henry VIII’s third wife. Essential reading for fans of Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick.

‘Weir is excellent on the little details that bring a world to life’ Guardian

THE WOMAN HAUNTED BY THE FACE OF HER PREDECESSOR.

Eleven days after the death of Anne Boleyn, Jane is dressing for her wedding to the King.

She has witnessed at first-hand how courtly play can quickly turn to danger and knows she must bear a son . . . or face ruin.

This new queen must therefore step out from the shadows cast by Katherine and Anne – in doing so, can she expose a gentler side to the brutal King?

JANE SEYMOUR
THE THIRD OF HENRY’S QUEENS

HER STORY

Acclaimed, bestselling historian Alison Weir draws on new research for her captivating novel, which paints a compelling portrait of Jane and casts fresh light on both traditional and modern perceptions of her. Jane was driven by the strength of her faith and a belief that she might do some good in a wicked world.

History tells us how she died.
This spellbinding novel explores the life she lived.

~*~

Jane Seymour was third wife of King Henry VIII during Tudor times in the 1500s, and she married him eleven days after Anne Boleyn was beheaded. But Jane’s story of her time at court began in 1529, when at the age of twenty, she was sent to be a lady in waiting to Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, for whom she came to respect deeply and was very loyal to her. Things changed over the next six years as Henry divorced Katherine to marry Anne Boleyn – and Jane was witness to this and the harsh treatment Henry doled out to Katherine and daughter, Mary, to declare the marriage wrong and his daughter illegitimate. Jane’s loyalty to Katherine was soon pushed aside – to keep the peace – when Henry married Anne 1533 – a three-year marriage during which Anne gave birth to a daughter – Elizabeth – and miscarried two children and gave birth to a still born son. Jane became queen in the years after – until her death twelve days after the birth of her son Edward in 1537, which is where the novel ends.

Alison Weir’s third book in this series focuses on Jane’s rise to a position she never dreamed or thought she would obtain. It covers her entire life at court, and her family’s pushing to get her to allow the King’s attentions, and their eventual joy at her marriage and pregnancies, the last of which results in the heir that Henry so desperately wants. As it is a historical novel, it is known that Jane dies – yet not what her life at court was like.

We see her serve two queens in this novel – two very different queens, and this tests her loyalties to the true queen, and again to Anne, during difficult times in her marriage, and when Henry starts to take notice of Jane – she does her best to encourage his loyalty to Anne, whilst following the demands and expectation of her family to allow Henry’s attentions, but also, to keep a safe distance. So for most of the book, Jane grapples with her hatred for what Anne did to Katherine, whilst trying to reconcile what she is doing. It is an intriguing novel, and as Alison Weir notes at the end, one she speculated on a bit, based on research and lack of facts, and varying interpretations – such as the ones about Jane’s character that show her as compliant, virtuous and an instrument of an ambitious family – Jane’s marriage to Henry ensured powerful positions for her brothers, or as one who took part in Anne’s downfall, and as ambitious as her family members – something, Weir notes, that has no middle ground and that Weir has found historians must choose a side – in this novel, I felt she chose the former, showing Jane’s ambition but also her loyalty, and how she felt when things were hidden from her, such as what really happened to Anne.

Within the realms of this novel, Alison plays with the idea that the hurried marriage after Anne’s death was due to Jane being pregnant – as Weir states, Jane Seymour’s life and biography is not always complete, so there are times she has imagined what had to happen using the cues in her research and gaps in history – much the same as she did with Jane’s death – she took her research to a medical professional, to posit a possible diagnosis – the results of which make reading the author’s note interesting as well.

This was a novel that was rich with character and history, showing that this period of history is more complex than is usually told in other books and media. Jane’s story ties in with the first two books in the series – Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen and Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession. It would be interesting to read those to see how Jane fares and plots that link up in each one, and the characters who are woven into each one, and who I can only wonder if they’ll appear in the next three in the series. Jane’s story is quite interesting – I did some research after reading and found that Henry only married again three years after her death – which left me wondering, as did the way he is seen in this novel – if Jane was someone he truly loved – her sudden death would have pained him, as Alison Weir shows.

I thought Alison did an excellent job of showing as many sides to all the characters as possible, making them interesting and evocative as they moved through a court that faced conflict, plague and issues of religion, and family loyalty and pressure. As Jane goes through her brief reign as queen, she is haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn – and throughout these sleepless nights, we come to learn her fears and nightmares – which make the novel all the more intriguing and well worth the read if you are interested in this area of history.

Some of the authors appearing at the Sydney Writer’s Festival…

It’s that time of year again, when the programs and author schedules for the annual Sydney Writer’s Festival are announced. Held between the first and the sixth of May, mostly at Carriageworks but with some events at a variety of other places around Sydney, there will be many events to choose from, and many authors to meet and hear speak.

Below is a sampling of the authors published by Hachette who will be attending this year, which has a diverse and intriguing calendar of events that I am sure will sell out quickly! So here are some of the authors appearing, and when and where they will be appearing.

American author, Jennifer Egan, author of Emerald City and Other Stories, The Invisible Circus,The Keep,Look at Me, Black Box,A Visit From the Goon Squad, and Manhattan Beach. Jennifer will be appearing at the following events, all in Bay 17 at Carriageworks.

Thursday, the 3rd of May, at 3pm – On the Record: Historical Fiction

Saturday the 5th of May at 6pm – Jennifer Egan: Manhattan Beach

Sunday the 6th of May at 6pm: Closing Address: Jennifer Egan.

Also from America, Zack McDermott, author of Gorilla and the Bird, will be appearing on the following dates at the following locations:

Thursday, the 3rd of May at 7pm, Carriageworks, Bay 20: The Full Catastrophe

Friday, the 4th of May, at 11.30am, Carriageworks, Track 8: Zack McDermott: Gorilla and the Bird

Alexis Okeowo, author of A Moonless, Starless Sky, also from America, will be appearing at four different events over the course of the week, all at Carriageworks, where the majority of the events are held.

Tuesday, the 1st of May at 6.30pm, Carriageworks Bay 17: Opening Address: André Aciman, Min Jin Lee and Alexis Okeowo

Friday the 4th of May, 3pm, Carriageworks, Bay 17: Conflicting Narratives

Saturday, the 5th of May, 1.30pm, Carriageworks Bay 17: Resisting Unjust Authority

Sunday, the 6th of May, 1.30pm, Carriageworks Bay 20: Alexis Okeowo, A Moonless, Starless Sky

 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad, an Arab-Australian writer, editor, teacher and community art s worker will also be appearing. His book, The Lebs, is about breaking down stereotypes and showing people that a small minority don’t determine the majority of a culture. Michael will be appearing at the following events at the Seymour Centre, and the Riverside Theatres.

Monday, the 30th of April, at 9.30am, Seymour Centre, Workshop Room 1: Michael Mohammed Ahmad: Good Writing versus Bad Writing.

Wednesday, the 2nd of May, 11.15am Seymour Centre York Theatre: Student Session: The Next Wave.

Friday, the 4th of May, Seymour Centre, Sound Lounge, 4.30PM: New Australian Voices.

Saturday, the 5th of May, Riverside Theatres, Lennox Theatre, 10am: From the Sidelines AND at 5pm in the Everest Theatre of the Seymour Centre, Return of the Big Black Thing.

Walkley Award winning journalist, Michael Brissenden will also be appearing at the festival, at will have one event at the Seymour Centre.

Thursday the 3rd of May, at 1.30pm, Seymour Centre, York Theatre: Straight from the Headlines,

The third Australian author published by Hachette to appear is Indigenous author, Claire G Coleman, author of Terra Nullius, a speculative fiction looking at the concept of invasion and settlement, using aliens taking over the world as a metaphor and symbol. It was an interesting and eye-opening book to read, my review is here. Claire will be appearing at three events across each precinct of the festival.

terra nullius

Thursday, the 3rd of May, at 11.30am, Seymour Centre, York Theatre: Home Truths: Telling Australian Stories.

Friday the 4th of May, at 11.30am at Carriageworks Blacksmith’s Workshop: Claire G Coleman: On Fiction, Villains and the Nature of Evil

Saturday the 5th of May, 1.30pm, Riverside Theatres: Architects of New Worlds.

fairvale

Another Australian author appearing at the festival is Sophie Green, author of The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club, reviewed on this blog as well and it, and the previous book, Terra Nullius, were included in my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge last year. Sophie will be appearing at one event this year.

Thursday, the 3rd of May, at 10am at the Seymour Centre, Reginald Theatre: Family Ties.

Royce Kurmelovs is another author appearing, and he has written the following books: Death of Holden, Rogue Nation, and Boom and Bust (2018). He will be appearing at an event about the rise of Australian populism.

Saturday the 6th of May, at 11.30 at the Seymour Centre, York Theatre: The Rise of Australian Populism.

Peter Polites, author of Down the Hume will also be in attendance at the following events and is another new Australian author whose book has come out recently.

Peter will be appearing at two events this year:

Saturday, the 5th of May at 5pm in the Everest Theatre of the Seymour Centre, Return of the Big Black Thing, with Michael Mohammed Ahmad.

Sunday, the 6th of May, at 10am at the Seymour Centre, Sound Lounge: Pajtim Statovci: My Cat Yugoslavia

Award winning journalist, Hugh Riminton, a news presenter and foreign correspondent, will be at the festival chatting about his book, Minefields. Hugh will be appearing at three events across the week of the festival.

Thursday, the 3rd of May at 11.30am, Seymour Centre, Reginald Theatre: Becoming the Story.

Thursday, the 3rd of May at 7pm, Hurstville Library: Hugh Riminton: Minefields/

Saturday, the 5th of May, 11.30am, Carriageworks, Bay 17: Peter Greste: The First Casualty.

Michael Robotham will also be appearing, and has written the following books: The Suspect,The Drowning Man, The Night Ferry Shatter,Bombproof,Bleed For Me,The Wreckage,Say You’re Sorry, Watching You,Life or Death,Close Your Eyes,The Secret She Keeps, and The Other Wife (2018).  Michael will be appearing at the following events:

Thursday, the 3rd of May at 1.30pm at Carriageworks, Blacksmith’s Workshop: Michael Robotham: On Plotting the Perfect Crime.

Thursday the 3rd of May, at 6.30pm at Blacktown City Max Webber Library: Michael Robotham: The Secrets She Keeps.

Saturday, the 5th of May, at 10.30am, Seymour Centre, Reginald Theatre: Michael Robotham: The Secrets She Keeps.

Wednesday, the 2nd of May, 7pm, The Concourse Concert Hall: Jane Harper: Force of Nature.

Saturday, the 5th of May, at 1.30pm, Carriageworks Bay 20: Gabriel Talent: My Absolute Darling.

Sha’an d’Anthes, a new Australian author based in Sydney who has had a career as an artist and illustrator and has travelled all over the world. She will be speaking at two events on the final day of the festival. Her picture book, Zoom, was published by Hachette Australia.

Sunday the 6th of May, at 10.00am, Carriageworks, Bay 25: Storytime Clubhouse.

Sunday the 6th of May at 2.15pm. Carriageworks, Track 8: Illustrator Battle Grounds.

Libby Hathorn, well known Australian author of books for children and young adults will also be appearing. Some of her books are: Thunderwith, The Blue Dress, Georgiana, Dear Venny, Dear Saffron, Volcano Boy, The Painter, Feral Kid, Chrysalis, Love Me Tender, Eventual Poppy Day, A Soldier, A Dog and A Boy, and Butterfly, We’re Expecting You!

eventual poppy day

Libby will be appearing at the following events:

Sunday the 6th of May, at 10.00am, Carriageworks, Bay 25: Storytime Clubhouse.

Sunday the 6th of May, at 11.15am, Carriageworks, Track 12: Outside: A Feast of the Senses.

Binny Talib will also be appearing, at the same event as Libby Hathorn and Sha’an d’Anthes on the Sunday morning of the festival. Binny has two books published by Hachette Australia, Origami Heart and Hark It’s Me, Ruby Lee!

Sunday the 6th of May, at 10.00am, Carriageworks, Bay 25: Storytime Clubhouse.

Another Australian author to appear will be Shaun Tan. who has worked in theatre and films as concept artists and designers. His works include Lost Thing, Memorial, The Red Tree, The Rabbits, The Viewer, Rules of Summer, The Arrival (an acclaimed wordless novel), and Cicada, published in 2018. Shaun will be appearing at one event on the Saturday.

Saturday, the 5th of May, at 3pm, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta: Bringing Imaginary Worlds to Life.

Hachette’s final author to be appearing is Debra Tindall, author of The Scared Book. she began her career as a social worker before becoming an author. The Scared Book is a CBCA notable book for children. She will be appearing at the same event as Libby Hathorn, Binny Talib and Sha’an d’Anthes.

Sunday the 6th of May, at 10.00am, Carriageworks, Bay 25: Storytime Clubhouse.

Check out the Sydney Writer’s Festival website for more events and authors.

Booktopia

The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

9780733640001Title: The Paris Seamstress

Author: Natasha Lester

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 27th March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 435

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: How much will a young Parisian seamstress sacrifice to make her mark in the male-dominated world of 1940s New York fashion? From the bestselling author of A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD and HER MOTHER’S SECRET.

How much will a young Parisian seamstress sacrifice to make her mark in the male-dominated world of 1940s New York fashion? From the bestselling author of A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD and HER MOTHER’S SECRET.

  1. Parisian seamstress Estella Bissetteis forced to flee France as the Germans advance. She is bound for Manhattan with a few francs, one suitcase, her sewing machine and a dream: to have her own atelier.
  1. Australian curator Fabienne Bissettejourneys to the annual Met Gala for an exhibition of her beloved grandmother’s work – one of the world’s leading designers of ready-to-wear clothing. But as Fabienne learns more about her grandmother’s past, she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartbreak and secrets – and the sacrifices made for love.

Crossing generations, society’s boundaries and international turmoil, THE PARIS SEAMSTRESS is the beguiling, transporting story of the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they attempt to heal the heartache of the past.

Author+photo+for+Biblio+high+res+NatashaLester006

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Estella Bissette’s quiet life in Paris with her mother working as an atelier and making copies of patterns in 1940 is under threat. A chance encounter with MI0 Agent, Alex Montrose, and what Estella sees as a case of mistaken identity, pulls her into a world of danger and espionage, and as the Germans march further towards France, and her beloved Paris, Estella’s mother ensures her safe passage to America, on American papers – revealing that the stories she had told Estella about her father were not true. Escaping with her sewing machine and one suitcase, Estella is sustained on the trip by a dream to become a fashion designer, and the friends she makes on the journey from Paris to New York. Once in New York, Estella will encounter a variety of people in the fashion industry and who are working as spies and will soon be drawn into a world of fashion and secrets.

In 2015, Estella’s granddaughter, Fabienne, is in New York to see an exhibition of Stela Designs, the ready to wear clothing line that Estella created during the turbulent years of war. Fabienne is close to her grandmother, and in New York, away from work and her mother, she begins to uncover the secrets of her family – secrets surrounded by tragedy, espionage and heartbreak that shaped Estella, and the decisions she made, and why she made them. As Fabienne uncovers these family secrets, she encounters Will, who works in one of the top jobs at Tiffany’s, and his sister. As they work through their lives together, and the struggles they face, their friendship grows, and evolves. In the face of personal tragedy, Fabienne must uncover the answers to her family’s past.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThis was the first Natasha Lester novel I have read, and I really enjoyed it. I loved Estella’s passion, and her desire to create something unique in an unknown world during a time when there was so much uncertainty. Safe in America as Hitler and the Nazis take Paris, Estella finds herself in and out of work as a sketcher, working towards her own goal of creating her own line. Her passion for this, which is ignited further by her friends Sam, and Janie, who are amazingly fun characters as well, and in a time of war and feeling alone, welcome Estella easily into their lives as a friend.

Estella’s world is peopled by figures who existed at the time – Lena Thaw, Alexander Montrose, and others connected to them, and the mystery surrounding these characters and their links to Estella are slowly revealed as the novel moved between the early 1940s and 2015, where Estella’s story revealed itself as Fabienne spoke to her grandmother and went through diaries. Estella’s bravery drives the narrative, and it is her strength that I adored, her ability to find what she loved and make something of it. When she discovers Lena, a woman who looks just like her, something stirs in her, and this is where the mystery of what links them starts to come out, slowly, with many questions along the way from Estella in 1940, and Fabienne in 2015.

It is the slow yet well-paced pacing of the secrets and their unfolding that I enjoyed, alongside the history of World War Two in France and Paris, and the moment America is drawn into the war, and the reactions that Estella experiences from people to whom the war is a mere inconvenience for them getting their fashion from Paris, and the feelings of betrayal Estella felt throughout when she found out the secrets people had kept, and the burden of these secrets that she was able to let go of and help Fabienne discover her family history.

I found this to be a delectable book, where the history of the war, and a family of secrets and mysteries were the forefront against a backdrop of fashion, and a world where grandmother and granddaughter found solace, It crosses three continents: Europe, America and Australia, and encompasses the love of a mother and daughter, the love of friends, family, a sister, and sacrifices made to keep secrets. It is a well-written novel, where the romance is realistic, and not over-powering but still there, existing in a perfect balance with the other elements that kept me more engaged. I liked that Estella and Fabienne found love, but it was their family mystery and secrets that kept me reading late into the night to find out what Estella had been hiding for so many years.

An excellent historical fiction that takes female voices, in a time and place where their lives are dictated by those around them and expectations of society, and where in a male dominated world, Stella Designs made a mark in the fashion world of Natasha’s novel, and where these strong women didn’t allow their lives to be dictated by convention. Instead, they were spies, and mothers, seamstresses and friends, people who sacrificed so much for those they loved, and whose lives were complex and interesting. I always enjoy novels with a heroine who finds a way to fit into the world she lives in yet at the same time, question the conventions and finds a way to make her own mark on the world, and show that women could do what they set their minds to, even in a time of war like Estella.

Much like Kate Forsyth’s historical fiction, this had similar elements of mystery and intrigue that drew me in, and I hope to read more of Natasha’s novels soon.

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Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer

before i let you goTitle: Before I Let You Go

Author: Kelly Rimmer

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 27th February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages:380

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Your sister needs you. But her child needs you more… A moving page-turner with a heart-pounding dilemma: Your sister or her baby. Who do you choose? Fans of Jodi Picoult and Jojo Moyes will love Australia’s Kelly Rimmer.

As children, Lexie and Annie were incredibly close. Bonded by the death of their beloved father, they weathered the storms of life together. When Lexie leaves home to follow her dream, Annie is forced to turn to her leather-bound journal as the only place she can confide her deepest secrets and fears…

As adults, sisters Lexie and Annie could not be more different. Lexie is a successful doctor and happily engaged. Annie is an addict – a thief, a liar and unable to remain clean. When Annie’s newborn baby is in danger of being placed in foster care, Annie picks up the phone to beg her sister for help. Will Lexie agree to take in her young niece? And how will Annie survive, losing the only thing in her life worth living for?

What do you do when your sister, an addict, tells you she’s pregnant and needs your help? BEFORE I LET YOU GO is the stunning new novel from Kelly Rimmer, internationally bestselling Australian author of THE SECRET DAUGHTER, ME WITHOUT YOU, WHEN I LOST YOU and A MOTHER’S CONFESSION.

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AWW-2018-badge-roseFor years, Lexie has looked out for her little sister, Annie. As children, they were happy, and safe, and enjoyed being close and playing with each other. For a few years, they live a happy life with their parents, until the day their father dies. The next twelve months alter the girls, and define them, and bring them closer together as Lexie does her best to take care of her mother and her younger sister, though she is still a child herself. Soon, their mother remarries and moves them away from all they know, into a world they hate, a place they don’t feel free. In Winterton, they are forced into an ideology and behaviour they wish to resist. To stay safe, Lexie doesn’t, and begs Annie to do the same, but Annie’s spirit refuses to break, and a separation of a couple of years before Annie can escape threatens to keep them apart forever. But the love they have for each other keeps them going, and ensures their reunion, until Annie starts to spiral, and fall into addiction, causing a two-year separation that ends when Annie calls Lexie in a panic: she’s pregnant and needs help. Lexie and her fiancé, Sam, step in, and get her into hospital, and do everything they can to help her. They ensure her baby is taken into a loving home -theirs – to ensure the child is safe and doesn’t have a disruptive start to life. But Lexie is constantly questioning herself, and Annie – unsure if they can make it through, and unsure about letting people in to help her – she’s been alone for so long, she feels she has to do things for herself.

Kelly Rimmer has told the novel in alternating perspectives – Lexie and Annie. Lexie tells her story in the present, as she interacts with Annie, Sam, the doctors and her mother, whilst Annie’s are told in journal entries, to Luke, who turns out to be the director of the rehab clinic she is at as part of her court ordered rehab, due to a chemical endangerment charge. Set in Alabama, the story explores the way the society and people involved viewed Annie as a drug addict, and the judgements placed on her, encapsulating the spectrum of how different people reacted and what they would try to do, or in some cases, not do to help. For Lexie, finding a way to let go and let others help her became her journey, as she watched Annie struggle to detox, so she could get back to her daughter, Lexie’s niece, Daisy. The story examines the dynamics of the sisters with each other, and those around them: Sam, the other doctors, those involved in Annie’s case, Daisy, and their mother, Deborah and step-father, Robert. Annie’s journal entries reveal more of their childhood than Lexie’s recollections – she has tried to move on, and distance herself from that life, whereas Annie’s experiences are laid out in the journal entries, where what she went through is revealed entry by entry. Combined, the sister’s story becomes whole, as secrets and reasons for being the way they are become clearer as the novel goes on.

The stark differences in the sisters is clear from the early chapters: Lexie, who found a way to fly under the radar of her stepfather and suffocating religious community, has in some ways thrived: she has studied, and become a doctor, has a house and a fiancé. Yet she has also built up walls that are shaken whenever Annie re-enters her life, and she’s spent years picking up the pieces on her own, without reaching out for help. She doesn’t know how to, feels like she has to do this alone because her mother nor anybody else has ever tried. Annie, several years younger, and unable to leave with her sister, suffers until she is fourteen, though she tries to change her attitudes and stop rebelling, she finds herself flying down a different path – a path of defiance. It is a story that is heartbreaking and hopeful, and eye-opening – the questions it raises are important ones surrounding addiction and blame, and what choices might be made at various points in our lives that trigger what is to come.

Nobody is perfect in this novel, they all have their flaws. Even Sam, who is perfect to Lexie, is still human and struggles to cope with the way Lexie deals with Annie and her issues. It is a tough topic to tackle and read about, but it is a book that aims to show differing views and understandings of addiction and how it impacts the user and their family, as well as the conflicting feelings of addicts and who to blame, or what to blame. At the same time, it is the touching story of two sisters whose harsh childhood set them on different paths, and what it took for them to escape and build their own lives.

A touching, raw and emotional novel, Kelly Rimmer has done an eloquent job dealing with an issue that has many shades of grey, and no one answer or fix for it.

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