Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman

stars across the ocean

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.

Booktopia

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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.

The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs

 

Title: The Joyce Girl

Author: Annabel Abbsjoyce-girl

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 30th August, 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: James Joyce was her father. Samuel Beckett was her lover. The stunning fictionalisation of the life of Lucia Joyce.

Paris, 1928. Avant-garde Paris is buzzing with the latest ideas in art, music and literature from artists such as Ford Maddox Ford and Zelda Fitzgerald. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of controversial genius James Joyce, is making her name as a dancer. But when Lucia falls passionately in love with budding writer (and fellow Irish expat) Samuel Beckett he is banned from the Joyce family home.

1934. Her life in tatters, Lucia is sent to pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung. For years she has kept quiet. Now she decides to speak.

Profoundly moving and stunningly written, The Joyce Girl brings to light the untold tale of Lucia Joyce. It will entrance and educate you. You will fall in love with this compelling woman, but she will break your heart too.

 

~*~

The reader first meets Lucia Joyce in 1934, speaking with Dr Carl Jung, psychoanalyst, in Zurich. For years, she has been silent, kept secrets to herself. The story unfolds and flashes back to 1928 and beyond as Lucia recounts her story to Jung, though a bit reluctantly at first. As the story is told in first person from Lucia’s point of view, the reader understands the world she lives in from her perspective, sees the way her friends, family and acquaintances treat her from her perspective. Lucia is a dancer, determined to turn it into a career. Though she is constantly thwarted by her mother, and said to be her father’s muse, Lucia is determined. Determined to dance, determined to be loved. When her father’s new writing friend, Samuel Beckett, arrives to help her father – James Joyce, or Babbo, as she calls him – Lucia begins to fall in love.

As the story unfolds, Lucia’s dreams of love, and dancing continue to be thwarted and her parents demands that she cease dancing and take up another profession and other classes to help her father start to wear her down. From Paris to Ireland and back, the constant comings and goings of her father’s Flatterer’s, and her family’s determination to keep her down, Lucia’s story is heart breaking. Jung’s determination to get to the bottom of what is causing her pain at times sends Lucia further into herself, denying her feelings.

The clairvoyance that she exhibits, called her Cassandra moments by her father, only contribute to the events that bring her into contact by 1934 with Carl Jung.

Though much of the novel covers the years between 1928 and 1932, every so often it flashes to 1934 and Lucia’s time with Jung in Zurich, who is determined to find a way to help her, even if it means sending the person who has never given up on her away. Jung’s determination to get to the crux of Lucia’s hidden problems eventually comes to fruition, and the revelation and the fall out is as shocking as how she came to be put into the hands of Jung for treatment.

Avant-garde Paris, where art, literature and music in the late 1920s and early to mid 1930s reigned, at least in Abbs’ novel, set the backdrop for a well-written novel from a point of view that might not always be heard. The voice of family of well-known writers, or artists, such as Lucia’s, is not one that I have ever heard, nor is it a common one. Having read Ulysses by James Joyce, it gave insight into the sort of man he might have been – a man so obsessed with writing the perfect novel that he almost neglects his family to the point of his children finding ways to rebel against him, and leaving his wife to deal with this fallout. Lucia’s story is also about doing what you can to follow your dreams against the odds, and trying to break free even when everything works against you and thwarts your every attempt at freedom. The world where art was valued that preceded the devastation of the late 1930s and the 1940s highlights the differences in whose art was valued, and what art was valued in certain people. The Zurich conclusion brings it back home that even the most creative people have their own hidden secrets and problems. Lucia’s story is well rounded, and well thought out with characters that have been created thoughtfully from source material. Well worth the read for anyone, whether they are familiar with Joyce’s work or not.