Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman

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Title: Stars Across the Ocean

Author: Kimberley Freeman

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 450

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The powerful new novel from Kimberley Freeman.

A rich and satisfying story of two women with indomitable spirits and the high costs they have to pay for being strong-minded, from the author of the bestselling LIGHTHOUSE BAY and EMBER ISLAND.

1874: Only days before she is to leave the foundling home where she grew up, Agnes Resolute discovers that, as a baby, she had been abandoned with a small token of her mother: a unicorn button.

Agnes always believed her mother had been too poor to keep her, but after working as a laundress in the home she recognises the button as belonging to Genevieve Breckby, the beautiful and headstrong daughter of a local noble family. Agnes had seen Genevieve once, in the local village, and had never forgotten her.

Despite having no money, Agnes will risk everything in a quest that will take her from the bleak moors of northern England to the harsh streets of London, then on to Paris and Ceylon. As Agnes follows her mother’s trail, she makes choices that could cost her dearly. Finally, in Australia, she tracks Genevieve down. But is Genevieve capable of being the mother Agnes hopes she will be?

~*~

aww2017-badgeStars Across the Ocean opens in the present, in first person. Victoria, or Tori as she prefers, has travelled from Australia to England to assist her ailing mother, who following an accident at work, is recovering in a rehabilitation centre. Tori is sent by her mother to her office to recover some work she has, and in the process, Tori finds a letter from about 1855: To My Child, Whom I Could Not Keep. And so begins Tori’s adventure into the past, via this letter, which abruptly ends and transitions from the first person perspective of Tori in the present and the letter, to 1874, third person, and Agnes.

Agnes Resolute is a foundling child of Perdita Hall in Hatby, Yorkshire. She has lived there for nineteen years, since her abandonment as a baby, with only a unicorn button the only clue to her past. Putting together her memories of a young woman named Genevieve from Breckby Hall, and a connection to the button, Agnes sets off on a journey to London, where she becomes the companion to Marianna Breckby, Genevieve’s sister and someone whom Agnes hopes, can help her find Genevieve.

Her time in London is cut short as she travels to Paris, where Genevieve’s son, Marianna’s nephew, Julius, finds her and listens to her story, and decides to help her find out about her family, telling her a few secrets of his own that make her question their relationship and what they might mean to each other. From Paris, Agnes travels alone to Ceylon to find Genevieve, and instead, finds a former lover, whose stories about Genevieve lead Agnes to Melbourne, Australia and the theatres. It is here that Agnes hopes to find Genevieve and have her questions answered,

Throughout the novel, it flicks back to the present as Tori struggles to put the letter together, with several sections missing, and whilst she is trying to solve the mystery of the letter, she is also struggling with her own demons back home in Australia, the lack of contact with her husband, and her ailing mother, who seems to need constant care.

It is a story about a young woman finding her place in the world, and reuniting with a mother who wanted her despite her family, and finding an unexpected love in the process. The romance was done exceptionally well, because the characters were given a chance to be their own people first and foremost; Agnes was allowed to be her own woman for a time, and find answers to questions she had had for years. It was a small part of the novel, but at the same time, a nice addition to a story that became about knowing who you are and not accepting what other people expected of you. There are two endings to this – the ending to Agnes’ story and the ending to Tori’s story. One was satisfying in many ways, and the other was a little abrupt, though realistic in relation to the plot. However, this second ending still left me wanting to know more, and wanting to know what else Tori and her mother would find out.

A delightful historical fiction story set in Victorian London, with a heroine who in some ways, fits into the gender expectations of the time but is still her own person and refuses to be tied down – the kind of character who can spread her wings when she wants to, and come home when she needs to. It is a lovely tale, and I hope to read it again soon.

A great read for lovers of historical fiction, and anyone who has read and enjoyed authors such as Kate Forsyth.

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2017 Sydney Writer’s Festival

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The Sydney Writer’s Festival is held annually across various precincts of Sydney, with many ticketed and free events across the five days of the festival. This year, the dates are the 22nd to the 28th of May.

Each year, the Sydney Writer’s Festival presents over 300 events, with audiences of over 100,000 people over the week travelling to the harbourside events and many other precincts that host the festival. Whilst the hear of the festival is at heritage wharves in Walsh Bay, there are also events at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Town Hall, the suburbs of Sydney and the Blue Mountains. The spread of these events means many can participate, but planning a day or days will need to be done carefully, to ensure getting to and from venues that aren’t that close.

One such event this year is the Keeping Company: Characters Across A Series, where Lynette Noni (Medoran Chronciles, Pantera Press) will be appearing and talking about writing characters in a series, as the title suggests. Other YA authors including Garth Nix will be in attendance. This could be a very interesting panel, but all of them sound good, and it is very hard to choose which ones to attend and which locations to focus on when booking and choosing.

The list of authors is diverse, from well-known authors to ones that might not be well-known but are just as good.

The Sydney Writer’s Festival unites writers from various forms of writing and backgrounds, including the best contemporary novelists, screenwriters, musicians and writers of non-fiction – some of the world’s leading public intellectuals, scientists and journalists. The finest writing and story telling are at the core of the Sydney Writer’s Festival; the programming is diverse and is driven by ideas and issues that animate a broad spectrum of literature.

The program is live, and you are able to purchase tickets and book events, as well as exploring the program to see what events will be the best options for you to attend.

There are many wonderful authors appearing at the festival this year, including S.D. Gentill, author of the Hero Trilogy, published by Pantera Press, who is hosting a Mining Mythology event on the Tuesday. Her trilogy delves into Greek Mythology and the idea of heroes and betrayal. Other events and authors will cover specific books, or genres of writing, and even hot button topics that can have an impact on what and sometimes how we write.

This is a festival that I hope to be able to go to, if I can decide on the events I would like to attend, as there are a few that interest me.

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Some of my Favourite Australian Authors

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Today is Australia Day, and I usually spend it quietly with books, often by an Australian author such as Kate Forsyth, Sulari Gentill, Anita Heiss,  or Jackie French. Many of the Australian authors I enjoy are women authors, and their books genre blend and tell the stories of characters who may be forgotten or silenced, a-waltz-for-matildathe invisible stories that history may have forgotten, such as Jackie French’s Matilda Saga, which begins in 1894 in book one, and by book seven, is in the 1970s. It deals with the silenced voices I mentioned before – the women and children left out of the record, or simply associated with a husband’s name, or the fictional daughter of the swaggie of Waltzing Matilda, whose imagined existence and therefore imagined erasure from the song by Banjo Paterson brings Matilda O’Halloran of the Matilda Saga to life.

the-girl-from-snowy-riverOver the course of seventy years, the Matilda Saga tells the story of women’s rights, of wars – The Boer War, World War One, World War Two and Vietnam by book five The Ghost by the Billabong, which I am currently reading, those left behind on the home front, and the road-to-gundagaiinnocents whose lives are turned upside down. It tells of the inter-war period between World War One and The Great Depression, and how orphaned teenagers like Flinty McAlpine raised families, after injuring her back, and how Blue escaped a prison-like home to find her family, and how Nancy went to Malaya to get her sister-in-law home, and found herself trapped in a prisoner of war camp by the Japanese on a small island off Malaya. The most recent books focus on Jed Kelly, and as I’ve just started book five, I’m still getting to know her and her story, but she comes to Drinkwater – Matilda’s property – and the characters that link all the books together – to find out who her great-grandfather is. Jackie French weaves history and imagination together to create this world and those who worked behind the scenes and brings the forgotten stories to light – the women, the orphans, the Indigenous Australians whose voices are clear in these books. Each book can be read alone, however, reading them in order has helped me see all the connections and links.rowly-7

the beasts gardenAnother Australian author I enjoy is Kate Forsyth. Her historical fiction stories also place the female character in the centre. My favourite is The Beast’s Garden, set in World War Two Germany, where Ava works to subvert Nazi power, whilst married to a Nazi, one whom she loves but at the same time fears, unsure of what he will do should he find out about her Jewish friends and their resistance, or her work against the Nazis. The power of a subversive voice not often heard in literature is what gave The Beast’s Garden it’s heart and power: we saw the impact of the Nazi regime through Ava’s eyes. What it did to her family, her friends, and what having a Spanish mother did to her, how it affected her as she lived with typically Aryan sisters. Even though this doesn’t tell the story of an Australian character, it is definitely one of my favourites.

I have only read one Anita Heiss book so far, and that was Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms, set in World War Two and told by an Indigenous narrator, Mary, who comes to care for the Japanese Prisoner of War hebarbed-wire-and-cherry-blossoms-9781925184846_lg.jpgr family is hiding. The book delves introwly-1o various prejudices in the community at the time of war, and how they felt towards each other. As I read this, I had the question in the back of my mind: Did societal expectations drive the behaviour of some? The book dealt with the history nicely, and again, used voices not often heard in the history books to tell those experiences – perhaps something the history books need more of to have a rounded understanding of the war as a whole, even on the home front. Using silenced voices like Heiss, Forsyth and French have done makes the story more powerful, gives it more impact.
For a final Australian author I enjoy, I turn to Sulari Gentill, author of the Rowland Sinclair series. Rowland isn’t a silenced voice, but his adventures in crime solving, and his journeys to England, Nazi Germany , and his time between Sydney and Yass, artist Rowland Sinclair and his friends, fellow painter, Clyde, the sculptress, Edna, and Milt, the communist, Jewish poet, whose lines are all plagiarised from the well known poets, comprise a crime solving team that come to assist the police rowly-4throughout the series. Poor Rowly has been shot, stabbed, beaten, and in a car accident, and has come through it all. He is an Australian gentleman. It is another fabulous series by a great Australian author.

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey

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Title: The Stolen Child

Author: Lisa Carey

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 10 January 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 325

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: On an island where dreams can come true, be careful what you wish for

St Brigid’s is a remote island off the west coast of Ireland. It is a barren place and its small community is dwindling. But according to rumour it is a magical place, home to a healing well.

Two sisters, Rose and Emer, have resisted the call of the mainland. Rose is beautiful, blessed with love and many children. Emer is unlovely and, worse still, she is cursed – by the strange currents that run through her fingers.

When a dazzling stranger alights on St Brigid’s, she is shunned. She has come in search of a miracle, and the islanders keep their secrets close. But gradually she insinuates her way into the sisters’ lives, and even Emer opens her heart.

Little do they realise that her quest will endanger the lives of all who remain on the island. Passion will endanger everything they hold dear.

~*~

The Stolen Child opens almost where it ends, though this finale is still shrouded in a fog of mystery that slowly unravels as the novel proceeds. Twin sisters Rose and Emer have spent their lives on the island, Rose quite happy with her brood of twin girls and husband, Emer longing to get off, and holding her only son, Niall, close to her. The arrival of a stranger brings a series of events and tragedies to the island. Gradually, these events lead to something devastating, and slowly drive wedges between friends and family who were once all close, connected by the island, blood and friendship, and the bonds they share become frayed, by whom though, nobody can agree.

The stranger, Brigid, is at first shunned and gossiped about by the women, her connection to the island and her presence questioned. As time goes on, barriers break down, Brigid’s story is revealed through flashbacks, and she comes close with Emer, and her son Niall, slowly chipping away at the walls Emer has built around her due to fear. Emer though, still holds onto old traditions and superstitions about fairies, “the good people”, and curses, and magic, despite the weekly visits to Mass made by the island. When she is trapped on the island with her brother in law during a dark storm that traverses three days, one event sets the wheels in motion for tragedy. The dangers that they will have to face, and the realities of Brigid and her presence, soon impact the lives of everyone who lives there.

A captivating yet eerie story, with a touch of gothic literary characteristics mixed in with old Irish traditions and a struggle against what is known and the unknown of the modern world, The Stolen Child evokes the fear of loss – loss of love, of family, of friendship and of self. It evokes the creation and breaking down of relationships and has characters that question the conventions and expectations that surround them. The relationships in this novel are mainly between women: there are male characters, though other than Niall, they are secondary to the women, and what they feel for each other. The various relationships between Rose, Emer, Brigid and Rose and Emer’s mother, are the ones that dominate the novel, the ones that give it the power and emotion for the reader. Brigid and Emer’s relationship builds out of distrust into a sort of respect, where Brigid slowly coaxes Emer from her shell, and into friendship, with the possibility of something more.

What I liked most about this novel was that I didn’t know what was coming with each chapter. It allows for the characters to grow and be complex, whilst still allowing the essence of who they all are to shine through. It has a mystery within that requires being read to the final page to be solved, and yet still has an air of wonder once the final page has been turned.

A moving and tender read, where the sea and the island are as much characters as the human characters, the givers and takers of life that these island women live by, It evokes emotion, and weaves a tale that illustrates the realities of prejudice, isolation and fear, and how these can change at the drop of a hat at times.

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017

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Six years ago, in an attempt to read and review more books by Australian Women Writers, the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge came about to encourage readers to read and review more books, and it runs from the first of January to the 31st of December each year.

Within the challenge, there are four challenge levels. The first three are named after prominent Australian Women Writers who have had an impact on Australian writing. They are:

  • Stella: read 4 – if reviewing, review at least 3
  • Miles: read 6 – if reviewing, review at least 4
  • Franklin: read 10 – if reviewing, review at least 6
  • Create your own challenge: nominate your own goal e.g. “Classics Challenge”.

As this is my first year, I have decided to go with the Miles level, and read six, and review at least four of those – with any luck, I will have some nice options in the coming months from review books and purchases by some favourite authors such as Lynette Noni, Kate Forsyth and Sulari Gentill. Most of my books are likely to be fiction, and I may do a few re-reads if I need to.

In general, I read and review books by women writers not just in Australia, but from other countries too. As the books I intend to read are not out yet, I do not have covers for them yet, and these will be included in my reviews when I post them. I am aiming for mainly new releases but just in case, here are the other options I will go to if I necessary.

The Good People by Hannah Kent

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The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman

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The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

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There may be others but these are the ones that I am the most keen to read, alongside any new releases that come my way from publishers for reviewing purposes.

Best of luck to everyone participating in the challenge.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

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Title: The Little Paris Bookshop

Author: Nina George

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Abacus/Hachette

Published: 22nd December, 2015

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.

The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.

~*~

The Little Paris Bookshop takes place along the rivers of Paris and France, where Jean Perdu’s barge acts as a floating library, a literary apothecary where people come in search of words to heal their afflictions of the soul. Jean is unable to heal his own wounds though, and a letter sets him forth on a journey of healing, where he meets several people along the way who help him, including an author who starts to help him heal. It is whilst on this journey that Jean finds the courage to read the letter and seek out those that his beloved knew to find out what he wishes to know.

With a touch of romance, Nina George tells a story that utilises the physical journey of getting from Paris to the French countryside, with the emotional journey of healing after years of pain and wondering. It is a story that utilises the words of authors known and created to help the characters, and even brings a few characters together. As books become a sort of currency for a while, Perdu and his friend, Max Jordan, the author, find their way in the world they are in.

As they hit land, their journey takes them to the home of Perdu’s former lover and her family, where secrets are uncovered, and wounds begin to heal. It takes time, but Perdu hopes he will find his place and accept what he has left.

Initially, Nina George does not name Perdu’s former lover from twenty years ago, at least for a couple of chapters. In doing this, it adds to the sense of mystery about Perdu’s past, and what has led to him working on his barge, supplying his literary apothecary to people along the Seine. I enjoyed travelling to Paris, along the Seine and to Perdu’s final destination of Toulon, and the French countryside and coast. It is a well written book with a lovely story line and wonderfully round characters who have their own flaws and imperfections, which allows the reader to identify with them. Nobody is wholly good or bad, they have shades of grey, and all do and say things that may or may not be liked.

Again, a great read, not too heavy and not too light.

On The Blue Train by Kristel Thornell

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Title: On The Blue Train

Author: Kristel Thornell

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: October 2016

Format: paperback

Pages: 348

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: What really did happen to Agatha Christie during her mysterious eleven-day disappearance just as she was on the cusp of fame? An entrancing novel of creativity and grief.

 

Yes, she said, finally. Breaks are important. There are times when it’s wiser to get away. From it all.

 

It was the work of a moment, on 4 December 1926, Agatha Christie of London became Teresa Neele, resident of the spa hotel, the Harrogate Hydro. With her wedding ring left behind her, and her minimal belongings unpacked, Agatha’s lost days begin.

 

Lying to her fellow guests about the death of a husband and child, Teresa settles in to the anonymity she so fiercely desires. Until, Harry McKenna, bruised from the end of his own marriage, asks her to dance.

 

In this entrancing novel of creativity and grief, Kristel Thornell writes of Agatha Christie’s retreat from a life that had become too difficult. With verve and sensitivity, Thornell writes when Christie could not.

 

~*~

 

During a writer’s block in 1926, renowned crime writer, Agatha Christie disappears for just under two weeks, and assumes the name Theresa Neele during her stay at the Harrogate Hydro in Kristel Thornell’s fictionalisation of these events. The story is told from the point of view of Agatha Christie’s alternative persona, Theresa Neele, possibly brought on by trauma of the car accident she had had en route. In the eleven days she spends as Theresa Neele, she is another person, not a famous author, not a wife, and not a mother. Thornell’s story speaks for someone through the character she created for herself where perhaps Agatha Christie could not. This mix of fact and fantasy, a case where the true details may never really be known, or the full story not told, the mystery of the disappearance of the Queen of Crime is as intriguing as her characters Poirot and Miss Marple, and the genre of cozy crime that they contributed to that has brought about detectives such as Mma Precious Ramotswe, Inspector Ashwin Chopra and Thursday Next, in a variety of stories and cases that are still enjoyed today.

After reading it, questions still remain. What really made Christie disappear? Was she confused and disoriented? Or was she fed up with her husband and his philandering? Or was she just at her wits end with the novel she was working on at the time and needed a break? Thornell tries to answer these questions through the creative fantasy world that the facts and history have informed. It is a great read for fans of mystery, fans of Agatha Christie or a great introduction to the world that informed Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple. It is well written, and has a feeling of being written ninety years ago, as opposed to 2016. It is a sensitive treatment of a great mystery that was brought on by the very disappearance of one of the best known mystery writers in the world.

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