The Au Pair by Emma Rous

the au pair.jpgTitle: The Au Pair

Author: Emma Rous

Genre: Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 11th December 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:A tautly plotted mystery of dark family secrets, perfect for fans of Kate Morton. ‘Entrancing, compelling, atmospheric, reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier. A beautiful read that delivers a shocking and satisfying ending’ Liv Constantinebestselling author of THE LAST MRS PARRISH

Seraphine Mayes and her brother Danny are known as the summer-born Summerbournes: the first set of summer twins to be born at Summerbourne House. But on the day they were born their mother threw herself to her death, their au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark-cloaked figures and a stolen baby.

Now twenty-five, and mourning the recent death of her father, Seraphine uncovers a family photograph taken on the day the twins were born featuring both parents posing with just one baby. Seraphine soon becomes fixated with the notion that she and Danny might not be twins after all, that she wasn’t the baby born that day and that there was more to her mother’s death than she has ever been told…

Why did their beloved au pair flee that day? 
Where is she now? 
Does she hold the key to what really happened? 

~*~

Seraphine Mayes and her brother Danny are known as the summer-born Summerbournes, or the Summerbourne sprites – whispers from people in the village and school children have followed them their whole lives. But after her father’s death so close to their twenty-fifth birthday, during a search through photos, Seraphine discovers a photo of her mother with one baby, minutes before her mother was found dead. From here, Seraphine starts to wonder if she is really her mother’s daughter – Danny and Edwin, her older brother, look so alike, yet she has stark differences that have always made her stand out, and spurred on the rumours that Danny and Seraphine had a sprite-like quality about them, based on stories of witches’ cloaks and stolen babies in the night. In Seraphine’s mind, she is not that baby, not any relation to her brothers. In an effort to find out who she is, Seraphine embarks on a journey to track down the au pair from that day and will discover many more secrets that will affect more people than her and Danny and threaten to break the family apart – and that maybe there is more to her mother’s death than she has been told. The secrets she is about to uncover will change their lives forever.

Family mysteries with a dual storyline as the main focus always make intriguing books – with the focus on family and identity rather than romance, which there is some of, though it is not always the overall goal of the character, but rather, a nice side story alongside the main pot as a nice addition, that is woven in and out neatly. Seraphine’s mystery is tightly plotted and thought out, with each bit of evidence presented at just the right time, slipping back and forth from 2017 to 1991 and 1992 seamlessly, where Seraphine and Laura – the au pair – get to tell their stories – and the clues slowly start to fall into place. Who Seraphine is, and where the au pair, Laura fits in, as well as who Alex is, and information that Seraphine never thought she would uncover in the course of her investigations and asking questions around the village, specifically with the village doctor. The reader discovers the secrets and facts along with Seraphine, and though one can try and guess at the outcome, it is not as clear cut as it is first thought to be, but the execution of this is so well done, it suits the story and entire plot so well.

Overall, this was a well-written book, with an intriguing plot that held my interest and will appeal to fans of Kate Morton and other authors who work in dual or multiple timelines. The dual timeline is a tool that works well here to tell the story, because we need to hear from both Seraphine and Laura to get the full story, and understand what happened that fateful year at Summerbourne, and how the mystery of Seraphine and her brother came into being.

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Frieda: A Novel of the Real Lady Chatterley by Annabel Abbs

frieda.jpgTitle: Frieda: A Novel of the Real Lady Chatterley

Author: Annabel Abbs

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 11th September 2011

Format: Paperback

Pages: 372

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The moving story of Frieda von Richthofen, wife of D.H. Lawrence – and the real-life inspiration for Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel banned for more than 30 years

Germany, 1907. Frieda, daughter of aristocrat Baron von Richthofen, has rashly married English professor Ernest Weekley. Visiting her family in Munich, a city alive with new ideas of revolution and free love, and goaded by a toxic sibling rivalry with her sisters, Frieda embarks on a passionate affair that is her sensual and intellectual awakening.

England, 1912. Trapped in her marriage to Ernest, Frieda meets the penniless but ambitious young writer D.H. Lawrence, a man whose creative energy answers her own needs. Their scandalous affair and tempestuous relationship unleashes a creative outpouring that will change the course of literature – and society – forever. But for Frieda, this fulfilment comes at a terrible personal cost.

A stunning novel of emotional intensity, Frieda tells the story of an extraordinary woman – and a notorious love affair that became synonymous with ideas of sexual freedom.

‘Annabel Abbs’s poignant Frieda: A Novel of the Real Lady Chatterley captures the Lawrence s’ shifting emotions’ The Australian

‘I loved this novel so very much. Abbs’s writing is glorious’ MELISSA ASHLEY, The Birdman’s Wife

~*~

Frieda Weekley, nee von Richthofen, is married to Ernest Weekley, and is living with him and their three children in 1907, in Nottingham. Born into German aristocracy, Frieda has in their eyes, and she has married well, and has three young children: Monty, Elsa and Barby. Yet Frieda yearns for more, and when she is exposed to ideas of free love and great intellect, she begins a series of affairs, starting with a doctor, Otto Gross, and culminating in an affair that saw her forever separated from her family wit author, D.H. Lawrence an affair that inspired the novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, banned for more than thirty years after it was published.

Set in pre-World War One London and Germany, between 1907 and 1913, Frieda explores a very different world, where familial and societal expectations based on gender, class and for some people as war grew closer, nationality. Caught between wanting to please herself, please her family and stay with her children, Frieda finds decisions will be made for her, at times without her knowledge, and she is driven to desperate lengths to see her children, enlisting friends to try and maintain a connection to them after she is cut off from them by the Weekley family.

As a work of historical fiction, Frieda uses a woman’s voice – one who fought against oppression in favour of desire – is intriguing and gives a new voice to the world, and one I had not heard of, and a story I had not heard of, despite hearing about the novel that was based on Frieda and Lawrence’s scandalous relationship. It explores the perspectives of Frieda, her husband, Ernest, and their three children – Barby, Monty and Elsa, but particularly the eldest – Monty and the youngest – Barby, as Frieda weaves in and out of their lives and between Nottingham and Metz in Germany, where her family tries to convince her to remain with Ernest and leave Lawrence. These are some of the scenes where she feels the restraint of what her aristocratic family and society expects of her, and the hinted at war to come, where there already feel like there are tensions between some people in England and Germany, even though the war is several years away from beginning.

Filled with a strong female voice, caught between love for a man she truly desires, love for her children and respect for her family, Friedaexplores the changing attitudes towards relationships, and how these changes started to occur during the early decades of the twentieth century, and the consequences that a woman like Frieda faced for having an affair and turning her back on her husband, rather than staying in a socially acceptable position to keep the peace, and maintain the order that society so desperately sought to cling to. But by following her heart, though the initial decision appeared to have been made without Frieda’s knowledge, with Lawrence taking it upon himself to inform Ernest, there was still an element of Frieda not having the freedom to make her own choices, when ironically, this is what she was aiming to do, even though it left her with some regrets about not being able to see her children until they turned twenty-one.

Frieda’s story has a happier ending than Abbs’ previous book – The Joyce Girl – in what would become known as inter-war Europe, where Frieda is reunited with her children, and is able to live her life with D.H. Lawrence and provided him with inspiration for his oft- banned book, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. This was an intriguing story that dealt with various aspects of society, the individual, the arts, love and family, and concluded with a hopeful ending where everything felt as though it had concluded nicely, and showed that Frieda had found the freedom she longed for, even if it had come with a price.

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Book Bingo 19: A Memoir and a book by someone under thirty.

Book bingo take 2

To make sure I manage to fit in the rest of the card evenly, this is one of a few posts that will have multiple squares marked off – progress has been a little slower, so some squares might have books from earlier in the year, but in different categories to the first card.

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no country womanFirst square being marked off this week is a memoir – No Country Woman written by Zoya Patel, an Australian with Fijian-Indian heritage, about her struggle with identity, and reconciling her Fijian-Indian, Muslim heritage with an Australian identity, and looking for ways to embrace both, during a time when she felt like she had to make a decision as she grew up in Australia with modern Australian influences, as well as the traditional influences of her family, and the conflict that this brought with it, where an Australian life and the access she had to everything – vastly more than her parents had had as children – was at odds with her familial heritage. This memoir explores how she came to embrace both identities and her interactions with racism, feminism, and the intersectional feminism that can benefit all, and not just one group.the yellow house

It is eye-opening and informative – Zoya allows herself to reflect on things said to her, things she sees and the idea that everyone’s interactions with society are different based on how much access they are given or have, and there is no one experience of this, each one is different and some people get lucky and have more than others – she goes further in-depth than i have here, and she says it much more eloquently than I have, so go forth and read her book!

The second book I’ve marked off in this post falls under a book by a person under thirty years old. For this, I have chosen another Australian Woman Writer, Emily O’Grady, The Yellow House, examining whether having a serial killer in the family ensures a legacy of violence in later generations. It was intriguing and disturbing – it drew you in and even though there was a sadistic feel to it, as a reader, I felt I had to read on to find out what happened and how it all played out – it was quite different to the usual fare of crime novels I read but very well written.

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So there are my latest two squares, with more to come as I tick them off.

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

early riser .jpgTitle: Early Riser

Author: Jasper Fforde

Genre: Fiction/Mystery/Adventure/Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Hodder & Stoughton

Published: 31st July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Jasper Fforde’s first standalone novel – full of the imagination, wit and intelligence that has made Fforde a Number One bestseller.

The new standalone novel from Number 1 bestselling author Jasper Fforde. 

Imagine a world where all humans must hibernate through a brutally cold winter, their bodies dangerously close to death as they enter an ultra-low metabolic state of utterly dreamless sleep. All humans, that is, apart from the Winter Consuls, a group of officers who diligently watch over the vulnerable sleeping citizens.

Charlie Worthing is a novice, chosen by a highflying hero Winter Consul to accompany him to the Douzey, a remote sector in the middle of Wales, to investigate a dream which is somehow spreading amongst those in the hibernational state, causing paranoia, hallucination and a psychotic episode that can end in murder.

Worthing has been trained to deal with Tricksy Nightwalkers whose consciousness has been eroded by hibernation, leaving only one or two skills and an incredible hunger; he’s been trained to stay alive through the bleakest and loneliest of winters – but he is in no way prepared for what awaits him in Sector Twelve. There are no heroes in Winter, Worthing has been told. And he’s about to find out why…

~*~

It has been many years since a Jasper Fforde novel has been released, and of all his books, my two favourite series are the Thursday Next books, and the Nursery Crimes books – both of which I hope get updates soon, so I can find out what happens to my favourite characters. In Early Riser, the first stand-alone novel by Fforde, which is filled with the same satire, the same references to history, popular culture, entertainment and reading, as the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series his readers have come to know and love. Yet this is a different world to that of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, set in another alternate United Kingdom, this time in Wales, where humans spend the entire winter hibernating – and where a select few have volunteered to stay awake through winter to ensure everyone makes it through.

Charlie Worthing is one such volunteer. It is his first Winter awake, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time – there is an outbreak of viral dreams that start to kill people, and Charlie must work with the Winter Consul, and contend with the Wintervolk and those infecting the dreams of the hibernating folk and killing them.

This is a sort of dystopian, alternate universe that is quintessentially British, and charmingly so, with the presence of After Eights, Tunnocks Tea Cakes and a tongue-in-cheek humour that I have come to expect and love in Fforde’s works. It is a humour that knowing some of the references, such as his cheeky nods to The Sound of Music, that knowing where they are from helps you appreciate them all the more, and it is so typically Fforde – he manages to get the balance of respect and satire just right, and it suits the book and the character of Charlie so well -one wonders if Charlie has ever crossed paths with the Nursery Crime Division and Thursday Next – books I must read again, and am hoping for continuations of.

The cruelty of Charlie’s first Winter is evident in how the Consul treats him, in the hints at hazing and how different departments perform this – where one might be akin to pranks and drills, Charlie’s hazing is said to be more like making tea and doing laundry – that is, until he is given a promotion to take on heavier duties and investigations into the dream deaths. Fforde cleverly shows how this happens but using subversive and discreet language – nothing is obviously stated, and Charlie is constantly warned about the consequences of falling asleep. Part mystery as well as satire as Charlie investigates what happens, he soon finds himself uncovering secrets about people he thought he knew and finding out things he never thought he would.

Fforde manages to capture something unique about the world, about history and literature, and British culture that is entertaining, informative and amusing. He uses the punching up rule of humour, mixed in with equal delectable dollops of parody and satire to complement the seemingly insane and odd mystery that makes sense in the dystopian alternate universe of Wales that Fforde has created for Charlie to live in, with an ending that is both conclusive and open enough for readers to imagine what happens next. It is a novel that will appeal to Fforde fans and hopefully those who appreciate a tongue in cheek humour and nods to things we’ve all encountered or heard of at some stage, which makes the reading experience richer and more enticing when you can understand these references.

Jasper’s first novel in about four years, Early Riser is the beginning of what will hopefully be a barrage of new books, and updates on our favourite characters and stories. I enjoyed being back in the world of Jasper Fforde and can’t wait for his next offering – which I hope will be soon. In the meantime, I plan to re-read the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, that latter of which only has two books at this stage.

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The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

the desert nurse.jpgTitle: The Desert Nurse

Author: Pamela Hart

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 10th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Amid the Australian Army hospitals of World War I Egypt, two deeply determined individuals find the resilience of their love tested to its limits

It’s 1911, and 21-year-old Evelyn Northey desperately wants to become a doctor. Her father forbids it, withholding the inheritance that would allow her to attend university. At the outbreak of World War I, Evelyn disobeys her father, enlisting as an army nurse bound for Egypt and the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

Under the blazing desert sun, Evelyn develops feelings for polio survivor Dr William Brent, who believes his disability makes him unfit to marry. For Evelyn, still pursuing her goal of studying medicine, a man has no place in her future. For two such self-reliant people, relying on someone else for happiness may be the hardest challenge of all.

From the casualty tents, the fever wards and the operating theatres of the palace; through the streets of Cairo during Ramadan, to the parched desert and the grim realities of war, Pamela Hart, beloved bestselling Australian author of THE WAR BRIDE, tells the heart-wrenching story of four years that changed the world forever.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1911, Evelyn Northey has just turned twenty-one – the age she believes she will receive her inheritance from her long-dead mother and be able to go out into the world and make her own life, and her own decisions – away from the controlling home of her father. When she finds the conditions of the will – and her father’s ruling – prohibit this – she spends the next three years training to be a nurse in secret – a step towards her goal to becoming a doctor.

When war breaks out in 1914 in Europe, she enlists as a nurse in the army – and is sent to Egypt, and the tragic, and disastrous Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Prior to her departure, she meets Dr William Brent at her physical assessment, a polio survivor whose disability has prevented him from enlisting and heading to the battlefront – yet he finds that he is able to serve in another way – in the hospitals of Egypt and Cairo with Evelyn.

Together and apart – they work in casualty wards, fever tents and the operating theatres, and William tutors Evelyn in Latin and medicine, preparing her for her plans to attend medical school in Edinburgh. Through four years of war, Evelyn and William drift in and out of each other’s lives, their friendship and relationship develop along the way, with the ups and downs of life in war time. Both are determined to forge their own paths and not be reliant on another – Evelyn wanting to become a doctor, which means making sacrifices in her life – marriage, a family – to achieve her dreams, whilst William is hesitant to enter into a close relationship with anyone and burden them with having to care for him later in life due to his disability. But the friendship between William and Evelyn that blossoms into more is based on respect and understanding for each other.

Pamela Hart again positions a woman in a man’s world- that of war, and this time, the medical world – and gives her a voice that the doctors and matrons she works with respect – especially William and Dr Fanous, who were like a balm to Evelyn’s harsh father. This contrast showed the spectrum of attitudes based on gender during this time, and I felt that poor Evelyn was treated quite unfairly by her father at the start of the novel, and through her stories of what had happened after her mother’s death – all of which was dealt with very well, and I enjoyed William’s response and the way he made sure he tried not to be like this – a true friend.

The historical backdrop to the novel was made more authentic with the inclusion of the real desert nurses – Evelyn and Hannah were the only fictional ones in Pamela’s story, and her inclusion of Connie Keys, Selina (Lil) MacKenzie, Alice Ross-King, Mabel Pilkington, and Dr Agnes Bennett – the first female doctor in the British Army who was in charge of the hospitals in the Serbian theatre of war. In doing this, Pamela has ensured the recognition of what these women did during four awful years for the world and for the Anzacs who left their homes in Australia to assist Britain against Germany – more information on these women can be found on Pamela’s author website.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. The historical story, and Evelyn’s story and journey towards independence were my favourites, with the touch of romance on the side, which added to the story, and gave it a touch of humanity and hope amidst the death and destruction of World War I. Equally enjoyable were the inclusion of Rebecca Quinn and her brother, Linus from A Letter from Italy as good friends of Evelyn and her brother, Harry. Seeing two women who wanted more than what was expected of them was wonderful. Also, having a main character with a disability, who didn’t let it stop him doing what he set his mind to, was excellent to see as well. William didn’t let his polio stop him, nor did Evelyn let his disability colour her perspective of him – rather, she respected him and looked out for him when necessary, just as he did for her. An excellent representation.

A wonderful read that evokes the gravitas of war, nursing and expectations of women in the early twentieth century alongside a love story that evolves throughout the novel to reach the conclusion readers hoped for.

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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.

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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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