Lethal White (Cormoran Strike #4) by Robert Galbraith

lethal white.jpgTitle: Lethal White (Cormoran Strike #4)

Author: Robert Galbraith

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Hachette/Little Brown

Published: 18th September 2018

Format:  Paperback

Pages: 650

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: LETHAL WHITE is both a gripping mystery and the page-turning next instalment in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, written by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

‘Hugely absorbing. . . the best Strike novel yet’ SUNDAY MIRROR

—–

When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott – once his assistant, now a partner in the agency – set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been – Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much more tricky than that . . .

The most epic Robert Galbraith novel yet, LETHAL WHITE is both a gripping mystery and a page-turning next instalment in the ongoing story of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott.

~*~

Lethal White is the fourth novel in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith, the nom de plume of J.K Rowling. In this novel, we begin with the marriage of Robin Ellacott, following a rather turbulent case that has almost ended her career with Strike, but she is drawn back in, much to her husband’s disapproval. Set in 2012, around the time of the London Olympics and Paralympics, as well as other elements of politics that are present in relation to what is going on in England. Amidst all of this, comes a complex case, starting with a young man who comes to Strike claiming he witnessed a murder as a child, Strike begins to investigate, and he is led to a secretive inner sanctum residing in Parliament, and a sinister manor house in the country – where secrets abound between family and friends, and lies extend into a community far beyond as Robin and Strike work together, using undercover aliases to infiltrate various places that each person involved in the case is linked to, to uncover the truth, which turns out to be stranger, and much more complicated than Robin and Strike had ever thought it would be – this is not a cut and dry case, and with people hiding secrets all over the place, and it will take all of Robin and Strike’s skills and bravery to uncover the truth.

Lethal White is a dense mystery novel, with many strands that are woven in and out of the plot in an intricate and fascinating fashion, engaging the reader, though there is a lot to take in, it all ends up coming together at the end, even when some threads seem unrelated – the final chapters will bring it together and allow the reader to feel like a decent conclusion has been made – as well as seeing justice served. In this sense, the intricacy of plot and plethora of characters works, as it allowed for links between characters that might not have been considered to be discovered and their involvement in the crimes Strike investigates would go by the wayside, and people would get away with all kinds of crimes, and justice would not be served.

It is a dark and gritty world they enter, a world where the private detection services they provide bring events and people to light that were once hidden – a place where people reveal themselves to Robin and let their guard down with her as she injects herself into their lives to obtain evidence and uncover secrets that have been hidden for a long time, and also uncover truths that Billy’s mind has hidden from him for many years, blocking out trauma and events that he misinterpreted as a child, yet that had some kernel of truth within what he said he had seen – events that led him to ask Strike and Robin for help.

I enjoyed this novel, with all its intricacies and depth that revealed more about Robin and Strike, and what this job means to them. Even though I have not had the chance to read the second and third novels in the series yet, it was easy to pick up on past events, as they were referred to, and I can go back and read the others.

Private detectives like Cormoran bring a fresh look and take on the crime genre and provides a new look at how crimes can be investigated and solved beyond the usual police detectives. An intriguing novel and series for crime lovers.

Booktopia

Bright Young Dead (Mitford Murders #2) by Jessica Fellowes

bright young dead.jpgTitle: Bright Young Dead (Mitford Murders #2)

Author: Jessica Fellowes

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 9th October 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 392

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The second in the bestselling The Mitford Murders series of Golden Age-style crime novels, soon to be a major TV drama from the makers of The Crown.

‘All the blissful escapism of a Sunday-night period drama in a book’
THE POOL ON THE MITFORD MURDERS

As the glamour of the Bright Young Things crashes into the world of the Mitford sisters, their maid Louisa Cannon finds herself at the scene of a gripping murder mystery.

Meet the Bright Young Things, the rabble-rousing hedonists of the 1920s whose treasure hunts were a media obsession. One such game takes place at the 18th birthday party of Pamela Mitford, but ends in tragedy as cruel, charismatic Adrian Curtis is pushed to his death from the church neighbouring the Mitford home.

The police quickly identify the killer as a maid, Dulcie. But Louisa Cannon, chaperone to the Mitford girls and a former criminal herself, believes Dulcie to be innocent, and sets out to clear the girl’s name . . . all while the real killer may only be steps away.

~*~

Picking up three years after the end of Mitford Murders, on the cusp of the second Mitford sibling, Pamela, turning eighteen, Bright Young Dead sees the return of nanny, Louisa Cannon, and the Mitford siblings – the elder two, Pamela and Nancy are at the forefront of the crime solving, along with Louisa Cannon, who acts as their chaperone, and their policeman friend, Guy Sullivan, partnered with a female constable, Mary Moon. Guy and Mary are busy investigating a crime ring known as the Forty Elephants, and later, a murder that takes place at Pamela’s eighteenth birthday party. During a treasure hunt, one of the guests, Adrian Curtis, brother to Charlotte, is found dead, and the maid, Dulcie, who becomes linked to the Forty Elephants, is accused of the crime. But things are not as they seem, as Louisa, Pamela and Nancy will soon discover, there are many more secrets being kept by Dulcie, as well as many more suspects to consider – suspects that Guy’s boss dismissed but that Guy, Mary, Louisa, Pamela and Nancy are keen and willing to look into and bring the real killer to justice.

The second in the series, I was again swept up in the inter-war and pre-Depression setting of England and London, where the Mitford family, especially the older girls, Pamela and Nancy, are starting to discover who they are, and where they fit into society, and the beginnings of the careers and actions that would make them famous, long before the darkening days of the later years of the nineteen thirties and World War Two. The years of the 1920s, at least for the Mitford sisters, were filled with decadence and parties, and a world caught between the dying years of the Victorian and Edwardian eras of Lord and Lady Redesdale (Mr and Mrs Mitford), and the new generation, embracing social change, the suffragette movement, and a freedom that the older generation refused to understand and tried to quash – ideals that Pamela and Nancy did their best to refute and rebel against, especially Nancy. The group in attendance at Pamela’s party are known as the Bright Young Things, who enjoy parties and treasure hunts. Little do they know what this treasure hunt will end with.

We met Nancy, and got to know her in the first book, and here, it is her sister, Pamela at the forefront, but we see more of Nancy’s character and development as an author here too, as well as their growing friendship with Louisa as the two sisters leave the nursery and the world of their younger siblings behind for adult lives, and the continuing investigations into murders that occur within their circles. Where one person sees a cut and dried case, a maid murdering someone in the social class she serves, and a guest of the Mitfords, the other see complexities that need to be uncovered, and links that are unsubstantiated – and the supposed links between the Forty Elephants and the murderer are questioned by Louisa, Nancy, and Pamela, and eventually, Guy and Mary. These characters are what makes the book – each one is unique and individual, and they complement each other, and create a crime fighting team that ensures justice will be done in a world where many take things at face value.

Filled with rich historical detail about underground clubs and how people managed to have frivolous fun amidst a society that at times, wanted things to be done properly and without being too out there or attracting attention, where morals were purported to be quite important and any hint of impropriety had devastating consequences. These rich historical details cement the story and setting, and are nicely contrasted against the modern feel of the main characters as they navigate a changing world.

While Guy and Mary investigate as police officers, and within the law and what their bosses will let them do, Louisa, Nancy and Pamela use their connections with various clubs and other people i the social circles they move around in to gather more information on Dulcie and her connections to the Curtis family, the Forty Elephants and anyone else who might have been involved. As the novel reaches its conclusion, the characters find themselves faced with the prospect that Adrian’s killer is a lot closer to home than they previously thought – or even considered, which ratchets up the tension, and reveals that the world of the Mitfords isn’t as perfect and as elegant as the parents of Nancy and Pamela like to think. The world their daughters are inheriting is going to be dark and dangerous and these few years before the reality of war hits show the freedom that will be lost in the coming years, and the collision of two different worlds within the same family. It is a series that explores the role of family and society, and the implications of stepping outside of these roles amidst murder and theft, and other crimes, and the changing roles of women, and the new-found freedoms young women like Nancy and Pamela, and later, their sisters, Diana, Unity, Decca and Debo would come to enjoy and understand.

This is a series that is just starting, and that has promise – for historical fiction fans, for crime and mystery fans and for anyone else interested in the series. What I like is that the crime is not always straightforward – that like in any good crime show or mystery novel, the first suspect isn’t always the one who has committed the main crime, though they may be linked to it or the victim in another way – nefarious or not. Like any good detectives, official or not, Guy, Mary, Louisa, Pamela and Nancy follow the case and the clues to ensure the murderer is uncovered and that the wrong person doesn’t take the fall for what somebody else did. All in a day’s work for these intrepid investigators. I look forward to the next book, to see which sister or sibling is the next to take a starring role and how far into the thirties and forties the series will take us.

Again, an intriguing read that swept me up in the mystery and the 1920s world. Keep them coming, because this is a series I adore.

Booktopia

No Country Woman by Zoya Patel

no country woman.jpgTitle: No Country Woman

Author: Zoya Patel

Genre: Autobiography/Memoir

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 14th August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 264

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: ‘An ambitious, nuanced and confident debut: Patel writes with passion, curiosity and purpose.’ Maxine Beneba Clarke, bestselling and award winning author of The Hate RaceForeign SoilThe Patchwork Bike and Carrying The World A fresh and exciting feminist memoir about what it means to never feel at home where you live.

‘I was born in a hospital in Suva, Fiji. I can’t recall ever seeing the building on my trips back to the city, first as a child or later as an adult. I imagine it in shades of blue and brown, the plastic waiting room chairs covered in the fine film of moisture that creeps over everything there. It is not a place I’ve thought of often, but I think of it now and wonder how it has shaped me. I am Fijian-Indian, and have lived in Australia since I was three years old. Memories of my early life in Fiji are limited to flashes, like an old film projector running backwards. I remember a blue dress, a trip on a boat where my father handed me a dried, floating starfish that I clutched in my fingers, determined not to lose it back to the ocean.’

No Country Woman is the story of never knowing where you belong. It’s about not feeling represented in the media you consumed, not being connected to the culture of your forebears, not having the respect of your peers.

It’s about living in a multicultural society with a monocultural focus but being determined to be heard.

It’s about challenging society’s need to define us and it’s a rallying cry for the future.

It’s a memoir full of heart, fury and intelligence – and the book we need right now.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseNo Country Woman by Zoya Patel is a story of identity – the intersection of three cultures and nations across generations – Fiji, India and Australia, and how these contributed to the identity of Zoya, and how the clash of her Fijian-Indian identity, to her, felt like it was at odds with the Australian identity that she grew up with. Zoya grew up in flux and flitting between her Fijian-Indian identity and culture at home with her family, and her Australian identity at school, with friends, that saw her feeling like she had to choose between her identities, and where it took her many years to realise she could embrace both of them equally and find solace in each – that being Fijian-Indian-Australian was who she was and each culture, country and heritage was who she was. Grappling with how to navigate the traditions of her family, parents and the culture they grew up in with her new life in Australia, where she found herself faced with the conflict of trying to embrace an identity as a Fijian-Indian, a migrant and an Australian – all of which were, to Zoya, felt as though they were competing against each other and she could only choose one.

Zoya’s story reflects her own experience as a migrant, as someone of non-Anglo heritage, and her experiences of racism and prejudice.

Zoya’s story isn’t chronological, but rather, thematic. Each chapter is related to a theme, and sometimes various family events: moves, school, weddings, or going back to Fiji to see family – and through these experiences, Zoya felt different all the time – too Australian for Fiji and family, yet too much of her Fijian-Indian identity to be fully Australian – not realising that there was a way for her to be both while she was growing up.

Zoya has also tried to tease out some of the complexities of how we interact in a multicultural society, and the different ways in which people experience privilege and disadvantage – race, gender, sexuality, class, and disability – and how this can differ for each person, yet there are also common experiences of privilege, disadvantage and discrimination that affect everyone in different ways, or ensure there is some kind of hierarchy, even if it is one that we cannot always see and that is not always obvious.

It is eye-opening and reflective, a book where people can learn what racism looks like and hopefully, fight against it and feel like they can – as allies or as those often discriminated against. Zoya teases out the complexities of all these issues, through her lens but also, through her interactions with various people along the way, looking at as many sides as possible whilst still exploring her identity and what each interaction means, how each interaction affects how she sees herself, then and now, and her journey to reconcile her whole identity as a Fijian-Indian-Australian, who has spent time living in Edinburgh, without having to give anything up, and knowing her identity is a combination of her ancestral and familial past, her life in Australia and her time spent in Edinburgh, where she was writing this book.

I enjoyed reading this, and gaining a greater understanding of what someone like Zoya goes through and how they might deal with it. Zoya’s openness and desire to communicate to her audience is fresh and easy to understand, with a flow to her story that ensures it is engaging, and is filled with humour and humanity, where Zoya discovers what feminism means to her and her identity – an identity that she comes to discover over time, where she can embrace every part of it: as a Fijian-Indian, as a migrant, and as an Australian, and a feminist.

A wonderful memoir that that explores the intersection of vastly different cultures, religions, nations and race, alongside feminism, and how this shaped Zoya and her world, whilst recognising how the factors that make up an individual’s identity – whatever their race, gender, beliefs and ability – are as individual as hers, and whilst there are common experiences related to these aspects of identity, and assumptions made based on these factors, each individual experience is always going to be different in some ways, and similar to the common experiences in others.

Blog Tour Part #2: Interview with Kayte Nunn, author of The Botanist’s Daughter – 12th August 2018

the botanists daughter

Hi Kayte, and welcome to The Book Muse.

First, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about your latest book, The Botanist’s Daughter, which I reviewed here on the 4th of August for the blog tour. I hope you can answer the following questions in as much depth as you would like to.

  1. What was your initial inspiration for this story, and where were you when it came to you?

About three years ago, I took my young daughter to the Sydney Botanic Gardens for a picnic as it was not long before she was due to start school. It was a sultry late-January day and we were looking for fairies (there is a fairy trail there) and ended up at the Herb Garden. In the middle is a wonderful cast bronze sundial on which is a raised relief of herbs. I put my hand on the warm metal and instantly knew there was a story there – it was like a bolt of lightning. I had a vision of a young, headstrong girl in a similar garden in England and I spent the rest of the afternoon in a daze as I thought more about who she was and what her story might be. I fully believe that stories come and tap you on the shoulder and it is the writer’s job to try and do justice to them.

  1. Gardens, and in particular botanic gardens such as the one in Kew, and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, as well as Anna’s landscaping business play an important role in the story. Following on from where you got the idea, what is it specifically about gardens that you are the most attracted to? Did this attraction help to formulate your plot and characters?

I’ve always loved gardens, and the mystery and magic of growing things (though sadly I have a rather brown thumb, not a green one!). I also love the names of plants and flowers, that often sound like poetry, and have fond memories of listening to my grandmother tell me the names of all those that bloomed in her garden. The scent of tomato plants and greenhouses takes me straight back there.

  1. On the theme of gardens and plants, do you have any favourite literary gardens or plants? When I think of this, The Secret Garden and the plants in Herbology in Harry Potter immediately spring to mind – are there any characters linked to gardens and botany that you like?

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe Secret Garden is a book I have re-read many times. Dickon is one of my all-time favourite fictional characters – a gentle and wise boy who was so in touch with nature. More recently, I loved Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowersand Garden Spellsby Sarah Addison Allen, which combine two of my favourite things – gardens and magic.

  1. Are you a plotter or a pantser when it comes to writing?

I’m mainly a plotter – I actually have a whiteboard where I map out the main beats of the story – usually once I am a little way in and know where it might go. That really helps me get the emotional structure of the narrative clear. However, I still leave plenty of room for the detours my subconscious might take me on.

  1. The dual timeline is fascinating, and I found it very effective to tell your story – as it has been for several other historical fiction novels I have read over the years. What made you choose this format to tell Anna and Elizabeth’s stories?

My favourite thing about history is when it becomes tangible in the present – an object from the past that still exists today provides a very clear link to that time.

I also wanted to have two characters that could almost have been better placed in each other’s era – Elizabeth is modern, confident and headstrong, whereas Anna is cautious. calm and quiet. I liked having the ability to contrast and compare events in both of the stories.

  1. What challenges did you face when writing the dual timeline, and what were they? Is there any advice you received or something you found out about writing a dual timeline that could help writers who want to use this format?

Near the beginning, I contacted the novelist Kate Forsyth, as I had read and loved her book, Bitter Greens, which has a dual timeline that works really well. She was generous enough to give me the advice to write each one separately, to keep my head in the world of each story, and that is what I did. When I came to stitch the narrative together, though it was mostly surprisingly seamless, it required great concentration not to give away the mystery of the past in the present narrative until close to the end, and to try and remember what the reader did and didn’t know at any given point.

  1. What sort of research did you do, and how intense was the process? What strategies did you use to ensure the process was smooth and accurate?

I’m not certain I used any particular strategies – I looked for as many reference books, both on Victorian everyday life, and Chile in the 1880s, as I could find, from my local library and the State Library of NSW, and read, made notes of points of interest, before starting to write. I spent several months doing this.

During the writing process, when I found myself wanting to know certain facts and details, I stopped to find them out – for example I found a very helpful online community of ship enthusiasts who helped with the type of vessel Elizabeth would have sailed on and from which port; I found photographs of Valparaiso in the 1880s and so could see what the town looked like, which buildings existed then.

I also found a wonderful diary written by a sea-captain’s wife who lived in Valparaiso in the 1830s. This was fifty years before the time of my story, but her descriptions of the landscape and the plants that grew there was an invaluable primary source. I also visited several exhibitions of botanical art and about 19th-century plant hunters in both Sydney and London during the course of writing, and read many letters written by plant hunters when they were on their expeditions.

  1. I love that the novel is distinctly female driven in both the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries by Elizabeth, Daisy and Anna and her family. These relationships were key to the story – what kind of sacrifices did you make in terms of character for Daisy and Elizabeth for the time you set them in, if any, and why?

One of the books I came across in my research told the stories of a number of extraordinarily adventurous women in previous centuries, and when I visited Kew, I discovered the Marianne North Gallery, which houses the paintings of this Victorian adventuress and botanist. So, I knew that I could faithfully create characters who were equally single-minded and brave, even though this was not generally expected of women in those times.

  1. Daisy’s sacrifice after a significant and heartbreaking event in the novel was crucial to the plot and uncovering the secrets that link Anna to Trebithick. The impact these had on me as a reader was profound – i was shocked and saddened but knew I had to keep reading on to find out what happened. Were these scenes and revelations hard to write, emotionally, and how so?

Yes, I remember writing the scene where Daisy discovers Elizabeth and Tomas with my heart in my mouth!

  1. What more can you tell us about the Devil’s Trumpet, its history and what it does? Does it still exist in the world, or is it a mystery plant to many still?

One of the clues in writing the story was a newspaper article I came across online about a rare, poisonous plant (actually a class B drug and illegal to cultivate in England) that had mysteriously sprung up in an English suburban garden. The owners eventually realised that it must have grown from seed imported from Chile that they had been putting out for the birds. That plant is the Devil’s Trumpet – datura.

  1. In Kew, Ed tells Anna that he believes the plant is extinct, or at least, that they have no samples available. Is there any truth in this, or did you take a bit of creative licence with Ann’s cultivation of the seeds in Sydney?

I invented a sub-species of daturaas the plant that Elizabeth went looking for, but when I researched if it was possible to germinate very old seeds I was delighted to find that scientists have successfully grown seeds up to 32,000 years old.

  1. Who was the most challenging character to write, and in what way did you find this to be so?

Damien Chegwidden – I had to rewrite him several times to make him truly villainous, but also not a one-dimensional baddie. I wanted the reader to understand what motivated him – I kept the adage ‘everyone is the hero of his or her own story’ very much in mind.

  1. Damien Chegwidden is of course, the villain in this novel – against anyone who is trying to beat him in finding the Devil’s Trumpet – were there people and situations like this in real life, do you think, of botanists competing to see who could find plants first?

According to accounts I read, early plant hunters were sometimes cooperative and collaborative, although several (particularly orchid hunters in the late nineteenth century) were unscrupulous – or worked for unscrupulous men – and would strip an area of the desired plant, urinate on a competitor’s haul to kill them, or even pull a gun on a rival!

  1. Finally, the ending left things quite open to the imagination – does this mean there is potential for a follow-up, or are you leaving this to the imagination of your readers?

I love stories that leave a question for the reader’s imagination to decide on, and help the story and characters live on in their mind. I hope, in some small way, I managed to achieve this, while still providing a satisfying conclusion.

Any further comments, or anything I may have missed?

The book is ultimately, I hope, about courage: Elizabeth’s is bold and obvious, and Anna’s more subtle, but both have to summon inner strength, albeit in different ways.

Again, thank you Kayte for agreeing to appear on my blog as part of the blog tour for your novel.

Booktopia

Blog Tour #1: Review of The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

the botanists daughter.jpgTitle: The Botanist’s Daughter

Author: Kayte Nunn

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 31st July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 388

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower . . .

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father’s quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed ‘Spring 1886’ and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.

In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .

‘I loved The Botanist’s Daughter. I was transported to the 1880s and Chile, to contemporary Sydney and Kew. A gripping, warm-hearted read’
JOY RHOADES, author of The Woolgrower’s Companion

‘The riveting story of two women, divided by a century in time, but united by their quest to discover a rare and dangerous flower said to have the power to heal as well as kill. Fast-moving and full of surprises, The Botanist’s Daughter brings the exotic world of 19th-century Chile thrillingly to life’ KATE FORSYTH

~*~

This review and upcoming Q and A with the author are part of a blog tour with Hachette during August.

AWW-2018-badge-roseElizabeth Trebithick lives in Victorian England, in an old house, alone after the death of her father and sister’s marriage. Headstrong and determined to make her own way in the world and not be confined to the female universe that society, her sister and brother in law seem bent on setting out for her, Elizabeth sets out on a quest presented to her by her father before his death – to Chile to find a rare plant with miraculous qualities, that might have the answers and cures to many ailments, but getting it from Chile to England will be the challenge. But so will life aboard a ship for many months, and then life in South America: falling in love, making enemies and the consequences that come with hiding secrets and secret missions.

In Australia in 2017, Anna’s discovery of a tightly sealed box containing a diary, sketches and watercolours, as well as a hidden secret that draws Anna into the mystery of the diary of Elizabeth, known at first as ‘E’ – it ruptures her ordered life of work, and routine, and beings to force her to face her own demons, the memories of her past still haunting her as she tries to let go and move on with her life – which is why she has created such a well-ordered schedule, so life doesn’t overwhelm her. When the box she finds triggers a mystery that potentially involves her family, Anna leaves to go to England to trace the story of Elizabeth and the flower she was searching for – the Devil’s Trumpet. Keen to find out more about Elizabeth, and the diary, Anna’s trip takes her to London, Kew and Cornwall – to meet a descendant of Elizabeth’s father whom she hopes will be able to help her solve the mystery of the diary and paintings. With the help of her sister, Vanessa and friends who also work with plants, Anna’s interest is caught: and it is a mystery that had me turning each page diligently and eagerly as she met botanists in England at Kew, and found a kinship with them, and a shared interest in botany that Anna will soon learn hits much closer to home than she, her mother or her sister ever realised.

Elizabeth and Anna are strong, wilful characters whose driven presence gives the book its strength. It is through these characters that the world of botany comes to life, the smells and sounds of both centuries and cities, and the scent of flowers wafts around as you read – even the unfamiliar plants and scents filter through, and come to life in the imagination. The characters in both timelines were so full of life and complexities, both linked by a love of botany, which shines through, as does their determination not to let families, times or other people define what they do and who they are – they are allowed to be themselves and – particularly Elizabeth – work within the confines of what is expected of them whilst maintaining a sense of self and individuality that springs in a lively form from the page.

With a few twists and turns, the mystery of the diary, sketches and forgotten stories and family are solved, and brought together in a riveting ending that has whispers of the past potentially coming through on the very last page.

A well written novel, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. My Q and A with Kayte will appear on the blog on the 12th of August as part of the blog tour with Hachettte.

Booktopia

The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

the peacock summer.jpgTitle: The Peacock Summer

Author: Hannah Richell

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Two summers, decades apart. Two women whose lives are forever entwined. And a house that holds the secrets that could free them both.

At twenty-six, Lillian feels ancient and exhausted. Her marriage to Charles Oberon has not turned out the way she thought it would. To her it seems she is just another beautiful object captured within the walls of Cloudesley, her husband’s Chilterns manor house. But, with a young step-son and a sister to care for, Lillian accepts there is no way out for her. Then Charles makes an arrangement with an enigmatic artist visiting their home and her world is turned on its head.

Maggie Oberon ran from the hurt and resentment she caused. Half a world away, in Australia, it was easier to forget, to pretend she didn’t care. But when her grandmother, Lillian, falls ill she must head back to Cloudesley. Forced to face her past, she will learn that all she thought was real, all that she held so close, was never as it seemed.

An utterly compelling story of secrets, betrayals and the consequences of a long-ago summer from the internationally bestselling author of Secrets of the Tides and The Shadow Year.

~*~

The Peacock Summer opens with Lilian and Maggie in 2015, each in different countries, as the impetus for Maggie’s return to Cloudesley to look after her grandmother, who raised her after Maggie’s father, Lilian’s step-son – Albie – has left and been out of her life for quite some time. Both women have past secrets that they must face when they reunite with each other and those around them – as memories of past summers come back into their minds and psyches. Woven throughout the narrative are the reasons each woman is secretive and slowly, these secrets are revealed through flashbacks and interactions with other characters, adding to the mystery of the novel as it moves along, and the intrigue of Lilian’s relationship with her husband and the painter he has hired to paint a room in their house.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs well as this, Maggie’s search for her mother becomes a plot point, and an answer that must be given – her uncertainty about events in her life, and her feelings about her family are slowly revealed. Even though the pacing of the novel is slow, it fits with the storyline and events of the plot in 1955 and the 2015 plot that weave in and out of each other, and eventually, culminate in an ending that is bittersweet, but nonetheless enjoyable.

The painter employed to paint the room – Jack Fincher – develops feelings for Lilian, that she yearns to return. Their story provides the backbone to the mystery of the house and the lives of Maggie, Lilian and Albie that culminate in a surprising, unexpected and heartbreaking ending for all the characters. Jack was a balm to Charles, who seemed to only want Lilian to raise Albie, whereas Jack wanted more for her – whatever it took to get that for her. Loyalties are tested in this book, in both women’s lives, but they remain loyal to each other the whole way through, determined to be there and to love each other.

As the realities of Maggie and Lilian’s lives evolved and revealed themselves throughout the novel, the story grew, and the mysteries of the family were revealed – why Maggie lived with her grandparents, where Albie always was, what was behind the locked door, and why Maggie had run away and was only just returning. It is a novel of intrigue and family secrets, that show what the characters thought did not reflect the truth behind what they knew or were told.

In the aftermath of World War Two, Lilian marries and becomes a step-mother, and goes from village life to living on an estate with servants, where she must find a way to fit in with society ladies in an ever-changing world, where what was once expected is now seen as acceptable, but where some things are still seen as something not to be spoken about – and yet, as a reader, there is always the sense that something is not quite right, in 1955 and sixty years later, and also a sense that Maggie and Lilian are secretive themselves, even if they want to talk about things, and make amends.

Overall, it is an excellent novel, and the first of Hannah’s that I have read. It weaves history and the past into the present, and flows nicely between each perspective, and is meticulously researched as well, giving it a sense of authenticity.

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Interview: J.D. Barrett on The Upside of Over

upside of over

Hi J.D., and welcome to my blog, The Book Muse.

  

Congratulations on publishing your third book, The Upside of Over. I read The Song Of Us as well last year as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and I thoroughly enjoyed both.  Thank you so much, Ashleigh!

Of all the books you have written, which one has been the most enjoyable to write?

They’re all enjoyable in different ways – The Secret Recipe for Second Chances will always be special, it was a life raft in many ways… The Song of Us and The Upside of Over had also been digging into my subconscious for years. Each of them is unique and took me on a very different journey! The Upside of Over certainly gave me a lot of joy as I wrote it… I had to keep pushing myself to stay brave and sass it up!

 

Olivia is an intriguing character, filled with flaws but also, I thought with a lot of self-confidence – during your time working in television and media, did you find this was a common trait of the people you worked with?

Absolutely! I mean as humans we are flawed and all loveable in our fallibility. I think if you’re working in an arena where presentation is everything it can be even more challenging and confronting when failure strikes. I also can see how easy it can be to become your persona.

JD Barrett.jpgThe experiences that Olivia went through following her personal video to her husband going viral felt raw and genuine – do you think these are common experiences for women in the media industry?

I think anyone who has experienced the breakdown of a marriage, a long-term relationship, sudden unemployment or the loss of a loved one knows what it feels like to be completely stripped bare. All those things you thought were important no longer matter, the way you sorted your life goes out the window and you’re on the coal face of what really matters and what’s left when all those comforts and distractions go. Getting to a place where you can love and accept yourself in that and reinvent from an authentic place is (I feel) one of our biggest lessons as humans.

Being as expansive as you like, and using your own knowledge and experiences, why do you think women in the media have these experiences and what do you think this does to their sense of self and identity?

Working in an industry where age and appearance is your currency throws your self-esteem out of whack. If you only feel as important and worthwhile as the number of likes on social media, the number of ratings on your network or the amount of fan mail complimenting your appearance you receive, at some stage you will come unstuck. Most of the women I know in the media are also exceptionally intelligent and savvy women. Valuing what you do over your age or the dress you’re wearing is vital but so very difficult to sustain. Television is a visual medium and unfortunately, we have a curated and reduced idea of what is aesthetically desirable. I believe this is changing.

I adored all the diversity in this novel, hearing voices we don’t often hear in literature and media. Were any of these characters a challenge to write, and what did you do to create the authenticity in them?

To be honest quite a few of them are permutations of people I know or know of, it always morphs into something and someone else during the creative process… and I think the author is present in every character. There were times when Olivia was difficult because in some ways she’s like me. The naughty poorly behaved characters were a lot of fun! Atticus became a different character to who I originally planned him to be. I believe there’s a bit of magic that goes on when you write and if you listen carefully the characters reveal themselves to you.

 

Based on this, how could other writers approach it when they are writing about similar characters?

Listen to your characters, work out who they are and what they want, find their individual speech patterns and rhythms… tune into them… and never judge them.

When you first wrote this novel, were you aware, or did you have any inkling about how prophetic it could be with the #TimesUp and the #MeToo movements that started in late 2017 following the Harvey Weinstein scandal and subsequent fall out?

I began this story, as a pilot script in 2010 so no, I had absolutely no idea. I had completed the first draft before the Weinstein story broke. I think it’s something that’s been bubbling away for years (well clearly by the stories coming forward). I was also aware of it due to my own experiences.

I did like the little nod and reference to the main character in the Song of Us – did you plan on linking the books in any way or was this just happy coincidence? (It did make me smile and chuckle, it felt very meta).

I like to have a few links because our worlds are always interconnected, and I like my readers to know the other characters they’ve invested in my other books are still going strong. There’s also a nod to my first novel, in that Olivia and Dave have dinner at Fortune. Hugo was also in the first novel.

Olivia’s achievements at the end of the book, and her coming together with her friends, family and everyone who saw her through and supported her was a lovely ending. Do you think many cases of sexual harassment brought against those in the media will have an outcome like this, or will we just see more coming out all the time, with more people trying to hush things up or make excuses?

I believe this is a watershed time and there is no going back. I truly hope the women brave enough to come forward and speak out and the men and women who support them will all have their own happy ever afters. I also believe the paradigm shift in the psyche of the media and western society, will enable potential bullies and abusers to see the light and come from a place of respect and integrity…. I am all for a happy ending, always.

J.D., Thank you for agreeing to be a guest on my blog, and thank you for writing fun yet thought provoking stories that people can relate to as well.

Great questions, thank you so much for having me! x

The Upside of Over by J.D. Barrett ($29.99), published by Hachette Australia.  

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