Best books of 2010 to 2019

In compiling this list, I had to go back to all my reading log lists – which I began in about 2006, and to date have over 1300 on my combined list. But in doing this, I discovered it was quite difficult to narrow things down to just a handful of ten or fifteen like Theresa did. In fact, there was one series that had one book a year from 2010 to 2019 that could have made up my entire list – but instead, it has comprised one entry as a series.

So, in no particular order:

The Matilda Saga (2010 – 2019)

The Matilda Saga began with A Waltz for Matilda in 2010 and ended this year with the ninth and final book, Clancy of the Overflow. It tells history from a different side – the voices often silenced based on race, gender, class or a combination of these, and other factors such as disability, and other experiences that are not always recorded in the history books. From 1894 to the 1980s, the series spans nearly one hundred years of changes in Australian society – from cars to Federation, to war and the social movements of the sixties and seventies. This is a series well-deserving of a place on this list.

Miss Lily series (2017-2019)

Miss Lily begins just before the outbreak of World War One and has taken us so far to the Wall Street crash of 1929, and the beginning of the Great Depression that would lead into Nazi Germany and another war that would see millions killed in concentration camps, and on the battlefield. With book four due out in 2020, this is a series I am watching keenly to see where it takes us and our beloved Sophie. The Miss Lily series also has three e-books set at Christmas, one of which I am yet to read.

Medoran Chronicles (2014-2019)

This has a place as a whole series because this is the series that got my blogging journey started seriously – when the publisher was looking for reviewers for the first book, Akarnae. I said I would, and from there, the blog grew, as did my love for the series, reviewing each subsequent book for Pantera Press over the years until the final one earlier this year, Vardaesia. From wonder to heartbreak, and everything in between, this series has it all, and the way certain aspects are executed are exceptional and done in a way that is heart-warming, heartbreaking, and very, very fitting for the characters.

Rowland Sinclair Mysteries (2010 – 2019)

Ahh, Rowly. I was introduced to Rowland Sinclair by the NSW Writer’s Centre when they were seeking reviewers with book two, and since then, have read the entire series and sent the reviews to Pantera Press. I am looking forward to reading more of these books as they come out. Poor Rowly has been through many beatings and been caught up in investigating many murders, attacks and with politics that are quite the opposite to his brother, Wilfred. Accompanied by sculptress, Edna, fellow artist, Clyde, and communist Jewish poet, Milton, Rowly travels the world and Australia during the turbulent 1930s as Europe hurtles towards yet another war, twenty years after the end of the war to end all wars.

Kensy and Max (2018-2019)

I have read all four available Kensy and Max books, and love them all. They’re fun, and engaging, and filled with danger, wonder, intrigue and friends. As spy kids, Kensy and Max – twins – are training with fellow students at Pharos, whilst trying to keep the kids who aren’t spies at school from discovering what they are up to, and travelling across the world on various missions. Form London to Sydney, Rome and Paris, it seems trouble will always find Kensy and Max – but they will always manage to find a way out of it and get back to their family.

2010

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Now by Morris Gleitzman

2011

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One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

2012

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Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

2013

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The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

2014

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The Sequin Star by Belinda Murrell

2015

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The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

2016

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss

2017

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Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

2018

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Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters by Belinda Murrell

2019

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488 Rules for Life by Kitty Flanagan

Again, many of these are Australian authors, some with multiple entries but their books just stayed with me and wouldn’t let me rest, for a variety of reasons. Of course, some appeared on my list for this year – as the books for the year, but these are the ones that made deep impacts on me, and the ones I can actually remember being published in these years – some I wanted to include I wasn’t sure but I loved them anyway and may need to write something about other books I have enjoyed at some point when things calm down. As for the ones with entries in both – these were ones that had such impact, it was difficult to choose which book from the series to include.

So rather than one per year, I probably now have closer to up to five for each year, and many are fairly heavy in what they deal with, but some are lighter, and filled with humour. It was very hard to decide – I wanted to include everything possible! Okay, 2016 has two entries – but for very different reasons. Upon reading the reviews you will see why. So there you have it. The books that made the biggest impressions on me for many, many reasons over the past ten years. Some authors get multiple mentions – because they wrote books that had many impacts on me and they created worlds I never want to leave, and worlds I will have to revisit.

 

Best Books of….2019

Readings and Musings on all things books, Aussie authors and everything in between

As the year comes to a close, many in the book blogging and reviewing community, and the book community in general – radio shows, podcasts, authors – have been posting and recording about this. And let me tell you, it is hard, and often, so many good ones are left off, and to me, ranking them is just mean because how can you rank books? Especially all those ones that stayed with you.

I had hoped 2019 might be easier to start with – not only do I have the list with me now, but for 2010-2019 I need to go back into other lists and hope I have those records. Or at least be able to work out what books I read that were published between those dates. 2019 seems to be the easiest place to start – as I have that list easily at hand for now. Out of 196 read so far, I found fourteen I loved – and the majority are by Australian women. Of course, these are in no particular order of favouritism, simply the order I read them throughout the year as that was easier to copy across.

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Vardaesia by Lynette Noni

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The French Photographer by Natasha Lester

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Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey

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 Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Australian Women Doctors of the Great War by Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

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The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

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While You Were Reading by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus

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Kensy and Max: Out of Sight by Jacqueline Harvey

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There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

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Rebel Women who Changed Australia by Susanna de Vries

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The Glimme by Emily Rodda

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Weapon by Lynette Noni

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Pages and Co #2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James

The Lily in the Snow

The Lily in the Snow by Jackie French

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Clancy of the Overflow by Jackie French

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All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill

Even though we still have two weeks left in December, I’m trying to get as many of these posts ready as possible – with my full wrap up posts appearing at the very end of the month or early in the new year, as well as the start of all my reading challenges in 2020 as well.

Choosing best of lists is always hard – there are often so many good books, but this year I went with the ones that stood out for me. Some that did were published earlier than 2019 and will possibly make it onto the 2010-2019 list – which of course, is bound to be longer and have entire series on there as I simply cannot choose only one from each year. It feels like a betrayal to a whole series to do that!

So there you are – for once I was able to choose fourteen favourites!

 

Clancy of the Overflow by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #9)

clancy of the overflow.jpgTitle: Clancy of the Overflow (Matilda Saga #9)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 21st October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: From Australia’s best-loved storyteller comes the final book in the bestselling Matilda Saga

This is a love song to our nation, told in a single sweeping story

Jed Kelly has finally persuaded her great aunt Nancy to tell the story of her grandparents. The tale that unfolds is one of Australia’s greatest romances – that of Clancy of the Overflow, who gave up everything for Rose, the woman he adored, and yet still gained all he’d lost and more.

But Nancy’s story is not the history that Jed expects. More tales lurk behind the folklore that surrounds Clancy – the stories of the women hidden in Australia’s long history, who forged a nation and whose voices need to be heard.

It is also a story of many kinds of love. Clancy’s growing passion for the bush, immortalised in Paterson’s poem, which speaks to him in the ripple of the river and the song of the stars, and Nancy’s need to pass on her deep understanding of her country.

But perhaps the most moving love story of all is the one that never happened, between Matilda O’Halloran and Clancy of the Overflow. And as Jed brings all of these stories to life in her book, Matilda and Clancy will once again waltz beside the river and the forgotten will be given a new voice.

~*~

After nine books, The Matilda Saga is coming to a close – after almost one hundred years of retelling history, of telling the stories of women and their role throughout Australian history. These are the stories that are untold – from pre-Federation to the late twentieth century, and women from all walks of life  – whether it be race, disability, age or economic situation, and everything in between. From Matilda to Flinty, Blue and Nancy, Jed, Fish, Scarlett, and all the people of Gibber’s Creek – the family comes together – blood and chosen – as Nancy tells Jed the story of her grandparents – Clancy and Rose.

But Clancy and Rose’s story is not simple, and they face many obstacles. The tales Nancy has to offer are horrific and complex, filled with conflicting ideas and feelings as love – for family, for country, for the bush and friends . These stories have come to life through Jackie’s words and characters, and have, through fictional characters based on poems, real events and indeed, real people at times, reinvigorated Australian history and brought through new voices that were once silenced, and now, have the chance to speak.

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I have been following The Matilda Saga since the beginning – from the early days of Matilda O’Halloren living in a city slum in 1894, seven years before Federation, through to World War One, the interwar period, World War Two, Vietnam, the moon landing and in between, crises amidst the families – injuries, internments, and working towards goals that a character may have been told are insurmountable for them.

More than anything, this encapsulates a lot of what is missing from the official historical record, whilst at the same time, drawing on it, and marrying it with the untold stories we all need to know. And drawing on Jackie’s own experience of the sixties and seventies, and family stories, makes it all the richer.

Throughout each book, the words simply dance off the page, and sing their love song, based on the words of poets like Banjo Paterson, and Dorothea Mackellar, and many other poets, as well as the oral traditions and stories. It brings together a century of stories, of women and what they experienced, expressed through nine books, and unites Clancy of the Overflow and Matilda in a waltz by their billabong, as life goes on around them and their families are happy.

I have loved this series for ten years, since I first picked up A Waltz for Matilda, and coming to the end is bittersweet. It had to end somewhere, and it was given the ending it needed and deserved. Yet I am going to miss these characters, but can revisit them anytime, simply by re-reading the books, which I plan to do, in order, one after the other, to get the full story in a new way, and with a new understanding of all of the events and characters. A wonderful series.

The Case of the Wandering Scholar (Laetitia Rodd #2) by Kate Saunders

wandering scholar.jpgTitle: The Case of the Wandering Scholar

Author: Kate Saunders

Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia

Published: 1st October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: It is 1851 and Mrs Rodd has received an unusual commission: wealthy businessman Jacob Welland is dying of consumption and implores our redoubtable detective to find his beloved brother, whom he has not seen for fifteen years.

Joshua Welland was an Oxford scholar; brilliant, eccentric and desperately poor. Nobody can say exactly when he disappeared from his college, but he had taken to wandering the countryside and one day simply failed to return. Since then, there have been several sightings of his lonely, ragged figure. Ten years ago a friend spotted him in a gypsy camp, where it was rumoured he was learning great secrets that would one day astound the world.

Mrs Rodd uses her search as an opportunity to reconnect with a couple from her past, but then a violent murder is committed and Scotland Yard are called to investigate. Mrs Rodd’s old friend Inspector Blackbeard doesn’t want to hear any nonsense about gypsies or secrets. Mrs Rodd, however, is convinced that something very sinister is lurking in this peaceful landscape.

~*~

Following a current trend in crime fiction, where the setting shifts to the nineteenth century, or a situation where the investigator or investigators don’t have access to the technology our favourite crime fighters in many television shows like Criminal Minds and NCIS have. And this is where the Laetitia Rodd series is interesting. Set in the 1850s, Mrs Rodd is a private investigator – with a friend in the police force – Mr Blackbeard – who seems torn between wonder at what she can achieve, and between maintaining the societal norms and gender norms of the day.

In her second outing, Mrs Rodd is called upon to help find a missing scholar, Joshua Welland, who has been spotted after ten years, hiding in a gypsy camp. During her search, Mrs Rodd reconnects with a couple from her past – Arthur and Rachel Somers until an horrific death tears the couple apart – and Mrs Rodd’s mystery deepens.

Because this is set in 1851, it takes much longer to uncover evidence, to gather information and determine who the right killer is. Without the convenience of instant contact, phones, and tracking systems, Mrs Rodd and her friends must rely on slower communication, and other ways of gathering information to uncover the truth behind Welland’s disappearance, and the murders.

In a way, this is quite delightful, as it allows the characters to develop along with the crime, and the secrets are easier in a way to keep and hide, and this makes the outcome satisfying. All investigators work hard for their cases and have their challenges. Private investigators face the challenge of not having access to resources that the police do, so they have to get creative.

Mrs Rodd is a very creative and clever private detective, using the skills and tools she has at hand as a woman in the 1850s to solve not only the murder case, but find out about Joshua Welland – his secrets and where he has been. Much like the first book, which came out three years ago, I very much enjoyed this one. She sits comfortably amongst all the other private detectives – Rowland Sinclair, Phryne Fisher, Sherlock Holmes and many others – to breathe new life into the crime genre and give it a new set of characters and a new way of looking at private investigators. Some are reluctant, some are keen, and some grow into it. This was a delightful addition to the series, and I hope there are many more to come.

The Lily in the Snow (Miss Lily #3) by Jackie French

The Lily in the SnowTitle: The Lily in the Snow (Miss Lily #3)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 480

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The world is at war, and women are working, often behind the scenes, in areas from nursing to espionage. And despite their many successes, these are the women the men don’t see.

Unimaginable danger creeps ever closer to Miss Lily and her loved ones . . .

Amid the decadence and instability of Berlin in the 1920s, a band of women must unite to save all that is precious to them.

With her dangerous past behind her, Australian heiress Sophie Higgs lives in quiet comfort as the Countess of Shillings, until Hannelore, Princess of Arneburg, charms the Prince of Wales. He orders Sophie, Nigel – and Miss Lily – to investigate the mysterious politician Hannelore believes is the only man who can save Europe from another devastating war.

His name is Adolf Hitler.

As unimaginable peril threatens to destroy countries and tear families apart, Sophie must face Goering’s Brownshirt Nazi thugs, blackmail, and the many possible faces of love.

And then the man she once adored and thought was lost reappears, and Sophie will be confronted by the girl intent on killing the mother who betrayed her family in the war: Miss Lily.

The third book in the Miss Lily series, The Lily in the Snow is a story filled with secrets that also explores the strength of friendship and the changing face of women in this new Europe.

 

~*~

 

The third book in the Miss Lily series starts moving into the end of the 1920s, with the looming economic crisis that will become The Great Depression, affecting the whole world, and creating the foundations for the Nazi regime of the 1930s and 1940s in Germany. Sophie and Nigel have not seen Miss Lily for many years – and their twins, Rose and Danny, who are nearly three. They are living their lives when a young girl named Violette – claiming Lily Shillings is her mother. Her arrival disrupts Shillings just as Hannelore and David, Prince of Wales, start trying to get Sophie, Nigel and Miss Lily to meet with the politician, Adolf Hitler. Forced into a trip to Germany, Sophie, Nigel, and their family are drawn into a world of espionage, Brownshirts, anti- Semitism and various other ideas about what Hitler called “degenerates” through blackmail, as people question Miss Lily’s absence amidst political and economic turmoil.

Sophie’s ideas of love will be tested as she grapples with love for home, love for family, and love for those who have shaped her life since before the Great War. During their travels, the man Sophie loved during her time in Australia after the war reappears. Sophie is caught between all these people she has loved – and what everything she is facing in Europe and the coming threat from Germany will mean for her.

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As the Miss Lily series moves through the twentieth century, the politics of the time start to shape what the characters do and who they are. Sophie has changed since she first arrived at Shillings in 1913 – in many ways. She has fallen in love, is married and is a mother to beautiful twins. But she’s still not content to sit back and let men tell her what to do. She is determined to see if she can help convince David to pull his support from Hitler, and not support the National Socialist party of Germany, to prevent another war. She wants to convince Hannelore that Hitler is not going to help Germany. Helping Violette is important too – and Violette was a really lovely addition to this series – there were lots of things I loved about her as she grew into her role in Sophie’s life, and the way she at first, came across as impulsive and dangerous, but once she had a home and security, she proved her loyalty to Sophie, Green and the rest of the Shillings family over their time in Germany.

I have loved the Miss Lily series since it first came out a few years ago, and I am working my way through the Christmas stories as well – with a couple to go to read and review. These novels approach the first half of the twentieth century – so far up to the start of the Great Depression – through the lens of the women of the era and what they did – and the stories that are untold. Many people know women served in various ways on the home front or as nurses in World War One, but what is less known is the role of women as spies, collecting intelligence and tracking troop movements, or blowing up bridges. These women were known as La Dame Blanche – and would use knitting to send codes and messages – which is woven throughout the Miss Lily novels intricately. It is these actions that helped defeat Germany.

In this novel, Jackie French delves into the dark, horrifying mind of Hitler and Nazi ideals – repeating them for context, and distinctly showing Sophie and Nigel’s discomfort and unease with these ideas – as Nigel is both Nigel and Miss Lily – comfortable as both, it seems, and they support Doctor Hirschfeld, who tells them about his theories about sexuality and gender, and identity and acceptance. It is these ideas, and Nigel/Miss Lily – that are an example of what Hitler dislikes – and the results are heartbreaking. We know what is to come, and we know what happens within ten years of this novel closing. These conflicting ideas show how one man can twist a country to believe what he tells him, and how he can alter so many lives – and take the world in an entirely different direction than if he had perhaps been stopped, if the ideas of someone like Dr Hirschfeld had been allowed to flourish beyond the secrecy Sophie and Nigel witnessed in 1929.

Economic turmoil is present in this book too across Europe, and this unease is always at the back of everyone’s minds as they settle into relative peacetime – and work towards preventing another war. As Sophie plans to take her family back to Australia, she prepares to protect those closest to her. Even as she does this, there are still some secrets that are kept from her – all for her own protection, she is told. These secrets drive the novel, and there are hints towards things coming in the next book. It is interesting reading these books in hindsight, knowing what happens, and what is to come, and wanting to warn the characters. Ever astute though, Sophie can see what must be done, with the knowledge she has. And Jackie French has cleverly managed to combine what she knows with what her characters would have known or felt they would have known in the 1920s to create a realistic world and one that I can’t wait to get back to when Sophie Vaile returns next year.

With Love from Miss Lily by Jackie French

with love from miss lily.jpgTitle: With Love from Miss Lily

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Harper Collins

Published: 20th November 2017

Format: eBook

Pages: 100

Price: Free download from publisher website

Synopsis: From the author of Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies comes a moving and heart-warming story that is perfect for Christmas – and beyond.

December1918

This first peacetime Christmas should be perfect.

But this is a ceasefire, not peace. Influenza ravages Europe and the hospital supplies. Sophie ordered six months ago have not arrived from Australia.

And the old woman in Ward 3 will not stop knitting.

Yet even in war-torn Europe, Christmas miracles are possible, as a stranger reveals the extraordinary story of how thousands of female resistance workers sent coded messages, including the most important message a woman can send.

And somehow Christmas does arrive, the perfect Christmas, with love from Miss Lily.

~*~

As a fan of the Miss Lily series, it has taken me a while to get around to reading the Christmas eBooks – partly because with much of my time spent as a quiz writer writing and reading on a screen, I enjoy a good break with a nice paperback. However, these are short, and can be read in a sitting, so I am aiming to read them all and review them here on my blog as they give much more to the Miss Lily series than  we read on the pages in the longer books, the third of which I am currently reading, set in the years leading up to Hitler’s grab for power, and I predict, a few books that will delve into the tumultuous 1930s and World War Two – the war that Sophie and her friends are hoping to avoid.

In the first Miss Lily Christmas story, which I will also be trying to read again during December with the rest of my Christmas reads, Sophie is running an influenza hospital at the end of the Great War. As she nurses an elderly woman through the last days of her life, Sophie is asked to pass on a message – and some knitting. An English intelligence officer recognises what the knitting means – and reveals the chain of European spies – La Dame Blanche – who knitted codes into their knitting across Europe during the war, to help defeat Germany.

2019 BadgeI was able to read this in one sitting, as it was short, and it provides a good link between the novels. The time jumps with each book work very well, and pick up just where they need to. What this Christmas story does is show the calm after the war, and the hope that leads into the next twenty years – all whilst ripples of unease filter through. It also shows the hope that the end of the war, and Christmas brings to those still waiting to get home, and the magic of Miss Lily’s kindness through what she sends to the hospital to see them through Christmas.

Miss Lily may not be physically present in this short story, but her spirit is, and her love for her ‘lovely ladies’ like Sophie is. Europe has been ripped apart by war, but the first Christmas of peace – The Christmas after the armistice – holds hope as a special delivery arrives in the snow. As a fan of Miss Lily, Jackie French, and Christmas, I adored this book and am looking forward to reading the other Christmas stories to see what they add to the series.

The Orange Grove by Kate Murdoch

the orange groveTitle: The Orange Grove

Author: Kate Murdoch

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Regal House Publishing

Published: 11th October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 250

Price: $22.90

Synopsis: Blois, 1705. The château of Duc Hugo d’Amboise simmers with rivalry and intrigue. Henriette d’Augustin, one of five mistresses of the duc, lives at the château with her daughter. When the duc’s wife, Duchesse Charlotte, maliciously undermines a new mistress, Letitia, Henriette is forced to choose between position and morality. She fights to maintain her status whilst targeted by the duchesse who will do anything to harm her enemies. The arrival of charismatic tarot reader, Romain de Villiers, further escalates tensions as rivals in love and domestic politics strive for supremacy.

In a society where status is a matter of life and death, Henriette must stay true to herself, her daughter, and her heart, all the while hiding a painful secret of her own.

~*~

Set almost nine decades before the French Revolution and the beheading of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, The Orange Grove explores the intricacies and relationships of powerplay at a court like Versailles in 1705, as a duc takes on yet another mistress, as well as his wife, Charlotte. Charlotte, his wife, and his mistresses are aware of each other, and how they can fall in and out of favour with the duc.

When a young mistress falls pregnant, Charlotte, the duc’s wife and the one who is supposed to be producing him legitimate male heirs (but has thus far failed to do so and has her own secrets bubbling along throughout the novel that are cleverly revealed slowly), she asks another mistress, Henriette, to choose her loyalties – Charlotte, or the mistresses?

Soon, Romain de Villiers, a tarot reader arrives, and more tensions and political intrigue enter as he finds himself drawn to Charlotte, and the implications that this, and the whispers of witchcraft bring to the palace and its domestic politics as people try to keep secrets and favour.

Cleverly built around early eighteenth century gender politics, domestic politics and fears of the unknown and keeping up appearances, The Orange Grove looks at life and death, and the importance of status, and how even the slightest indiscretion can flip the narrative for anyone, and alter their lives in ways that they never thought possible, whilst coming to conclusions that were not quite expected.

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Most historical fiction novels focus on a big event, through the eyes of specific characters, yet this one focuses on a very tight, and deeply complicated chateau in France during the years of the ruling aristocracy, and the privileges they enjoyed and could exercise over whomever they wished, tossing people away and punishing them in ways that these days seem a bit extreme, yet made sense in the context and understandings of the world these people inhabited. These characters are all flawed – none are wholly good nor are they wholly evil. They are ruled by human emotions of love, desperation and self-preservation, which makes this a very interesting novel as we get to see how people respond to certain conditions and the lengths they will go to so they can save themselves – sometimes with disastrous consequences.