The Girl She Was by Rebecca Freeborn

TGSW_3DTitle: The Girl She Was

Author: Rebecca Freeborn

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published:  31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 392

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: ‘She’d long ago stopped wondering whether anyone would find out what she’d done. It was in the past, and Layla didn’t dwell on the past.’

At the cafe in the small town of Glasswater Bay where she works after school, seventeen-year-old Layla enters into a volatile relationship with her married boss.

Twenty years later, she receives a message from her former boss’s wife.

As Layla relives the events from her youth that have shaped her present, her past starts to infiltrate her life in a way she can no longer ignore.

She’s run from her town, her friends and the memory of what she’s done. Now she must face them all.

~*~

At thirty-seven, Layla feels she finally has her life under control. She’s married, has kids and a good job – she has come a long way from her final year in Glasswater Bay and the affair with her boss at the café – and the events that led to her family fleeing the town shortly after she graduated high school. She has spent the past twenty years running from that, until a message from someone in Glasswater Bay appears – I know what you did­ – and Layla’s memories begin to resurface.

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As she grapples with what happened, and with facing the people she left behind, Layla finds who she can really trust, and starts to face not only what she did but also what happened to her, and how she and everyone around her, everyone who was affected by it, feels.

In another novel – my third this month at least – that pings back and forth between present and past, this one uses a different tactic to tell Layla’s story. Each chapter is clearly labelled then and now – to delineate where we are in Layla’s story, and the ‘then’ chapters are told in first person, in Layla’s perspective of what happens, and the ‘now’ chapters in third person, but also through Layla’s eyes. Because it is told in this way, the reader gains a good understanding of who Layla is, who she was and why, how and what led her to each of these stages. It deals with some pretty heavy stuff, which comes out much later in the novel, and is a topic that might upset some readers, so just a heads up if you are sensitive or can find it difficult to digest stories centered around possible abuse and power imbalances. The novel also celebrates female empowerment and friendship, new and old, that form as a result of something – or someone – pulling people together over unexpected experiences and circumstances.

This is a powerful book that hints at issues surrounding the #MeToo movement as referenced in the author’s note at the end and assures the reader that speaking out can help – and trusting in the people who love you can help. It also deals with the issue of not being sure what to do, and what happens when people question themselves. Layla shows that it is okay to be scared and reluctant, and also shows what it can feel like when finally admitting what has happened, and how doing this can start healing wounds and repairing relationships.

 

The Good Turn (Cormac Reilly #3) by Dervla McTiernan

the good turnTitle: The Good Turn (Cormac Reilly #3)

Author: Dervla McTiernan

Genre: Crime

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 24th February 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Some lines should never be crossed. Police corruption, and investigation that ends in tragedy and the mystery of a little girl’s silence – three unconnected events that will prove to be linked by one small town.

While Detective Cormac Reilly faces enemies at work and trouble in his personal life, Garda Peter Fisher is relocated out of Galway with the threat of prosecution hanging over his head. But even that is not as terrible as having to work for his overbearing father, the local copper for the pretty seaside town of Roundstone.

For some, like Anna and her young daughter, Tilly, Roundstone is a refuge from trauma. But even this village on the edge of the sea isn’t far enough to escape the shadows of evil men.

~*~

The Good Turn is the third Cormac Reilly novel, but the first I have read, and I found it very easy to get into, even though I haven’t read the first two, which I will now go back and do. This novel is set in 2015 – and centres around a series of seemingly unrelated crimes and people, and evolves into two separate storylines revolving around Cormac Reilly, whose enemies start to undermine him as he looks into the disappearance of Peggah Abbassi with his team in Galway. When the case comes to an abrupt end, Peter Fisher is sent to Roundstone. In his exile, he is forced to work with his father, faces what looks like further police corruption, in a town where community policing supposedly is the goal. Amidst all of this, Anna Collins and her daughter, Tilly had arrived in Roundstone from Dublin – has their arrival coincided with the series of events occurring around the other cases, or is it a separate reason for their arrival?

Each mystery is seemingly separate – and moves between Galway and Roundstone and also back in time – where hints are dropped about Tilly and Anna, but enough is held back throughout about each mystery that it drives it towards the end, and lays out those we think are guilty, those who people think cannot be guilty and at times, totally throws a spanner in the works when it comes to uncovering what is going on. Slowly, each case and tragedy starts to intersect, and slowly weave together to bring the novel to its conclusion, and the way Cormac, Peter, Anna and Tilly figure out their lives and resolutions to the issues at work and with family that bubble throughout the novel, across Ireland and Europe.

AWW2020This was the first Cormac Reilly book I read in the series, and whilst I am guessing some things in it refer back to the previous books, I found that I was able to follow everything really well despite not having had a chance to read them yet. It was written and told in a way that I feel readers can read from any point and go back to the previous books – each story is its own encapsulated event much like the Phryne Fisher books or the Rowland Sinclair books – each case is its own event and sure, some things from the past might be mentioned in passing, but if the main plot doesn’t hinge on these mentions, it is a joy to read.

Dervla McTiernan also reveals things when it is necessary for the reader to know, and she doesn’t overdo descriptions – she gets the balance of what we need to know and leaving enough up to the imagination really well done, and to me, this is what makes a good crime novel – where we’re told what we need to know without going over the top, but at the same time, given a chance to guess, or fill in gaps for ourselves. It adds to the experience of reading the novel, and I will definitely be going back to the first two books now – hopefully this year.

The Irish setting was also lovely – I love Ireland, and this book marks off several challenge categories, including a book bingo one for later in the year, so keep an eye out for that post. Moving between the small and larger settings worked well too, as it showed that nowhere is ever truly safe or free from insidious crimes and characters – just that these crimes might manifest themselves in different ways and be perpetuated by different people – as it is with all crimes anywhere. It is a series that I will now be eagerly following – and am pleased that I have the two previous books – as well as many others by other authors – to tide me over until the next Cormac Reilly comes out.

Peter, Diedre and Cormac are great characters – not perfect – they are human and flawed and they can recognise these flaws. They are also there for each other, and I liked the dynamics that I got to experience between them throughout the novel and the way they interacted with other police officers, those in their personal lives and in their wider communities. Another great crime novel from an Irish-Australian author I will be watching with keen interest.

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.

As Happy as Here by Jane Godwin

as happy as here .jpgTitle: As Happy as Here

Author: Jane Godwin

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Lothian Children’s Books/Hachette

Published: 23rd July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 275

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A beautiful coming-of-age story about three teenage girls from very different backgrounds who find themselves sharing a hospital ward, for fans of Kate DiCamillo and Fiona Wood

Three teenage girls from very different backgrounds find themselves sharing a hospital ward. When they witness a crime in the park below their window, they bond over trying to solve the crime and each one undergoes a profound change.

A beautiful coming-of-age story about identity, expectation, class, justice, society, fairness, and, above all, kindness.

Evie would never have met Lucy and Jemma if the accident hadn’t happened. But here they are, sharing a hospital ward. When the three girls witness a crime in the park below their window, it sets off a chain of events that will change each of them forever, and force Evie to confront what it means to grow up, and how to live truly, with courage, as yourself.

~*~

2019 BadgeAfter Evie is injured on the way home from running training, she ends up in hospital with injuries to both legs that are going to take a long time to heal. She ends up sharing a ward with Lucy, recovering from pneumonia and Jemma, who has been rushed in to have her appendix taken out. Aged between twelve and fourteen, the three girls are recovering when they witness strange goings below their hospital window. At the same time, Lucy notices some of her things go missing, and Jemma, despite being on a strict post-surgery diet, is constantly heading down to the hospital kiosk to buy food and drink she isn’t allowed – but where is the money coming from?

As they watch the comings and goings of people burying and digging things up close to the hospital, they begin their own investigation. Lucy and Jemma each check out the buried items, while Evie watches in between school times and physio sessions, and overbearing parents who come across as more worried about her getting back to running as soon as possible than the implications of Evie pushing herself during recovery and physio. This is more of a side story, but still important because it helps Evie grow and work out what she wants, separate from what her parents want as she works on her physio sessions, and forms a friendship with Lucy that is the kind of friendship readers of all ages need to be able to experience. With Jemma, things were a bit more complicated – whilst Evie and Lucy tried to be her friend and understand her, she did make it hard for them – but that was what worked about this book. Each character was individual and unique, and relatable on many levels to all readers, for many different reasons.

The events lead to something that the three girls never thought would happen and that will change them forever – they each grow throughout the novel in many ways, especially Evie, who realises that she might only be running to please her parents, and not herself – a realisation she comes to as the mystery below the window and the mystery of Jemma that slowly comes out as Evie coaxes it out of her, despite Jemma’s lies that she uses to cause friction in the room when she wants attention. It is a touching story of friendship, and a mystery – a soft mystery that could have unforeseen consequences for all three girls.

I really enjoyed this story. It defines friendship as a crucial element of life, and the hospital setting was dealt with well – not over done, and nicely balanced with everything else that was happening in the story. It is uplifting in some ways, but it still represents the realism of life and the differences we all face and how they can define us, but also, how they sometimes don’t. In reflecting the various differences in life, it shows that it is sometimes these differences that can bring us together.

Life Before by Carmel Reilly

life before.jpgTitle: Life Before
Author: Carmel Reilly
Genre: Crime/Mystery
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 6th May 2019
Format: Paperback
Pages: 345
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: Suspense and family secrets surround a pair of estranged siblings in a compelling debut thriller.
She knew she should talk to him. But what could she say? Once there had been blame to apportion, rage to hurl. Now she no longer had a sense of that. Who knew what the facts of them being here together like this meant. What was she to make of the situation? Scott lying unconscious here in this bed, unknown to her in almost every way. She a wife, a mother, but in her mind no longer a sister. Not a sister for a very long time now.

Lori Spyker is taking her kids to school one unremarkable day when a policeman delivers the news that her brother, Scott Green, has been injured and hospitalised following a hit and run.

Lori hasn’t seen Scott in decades. She appears to be his only contact. Should she take responsibility for him? Can she? And, if she does, how will she tell her own family about her hidden history, kept secret for so long?

Twenty years before, when she and Scott were teenagers, their lives and futures, and those of their family, had been torn to shreds. Now, as Lori tries to piece together her brother’s present, she is forced to confront their shared past-and the terrible and devastating truth buried there that had driven them so far apart.

Compassionate, wise and shocking, Life Before tells the gripping story of an ordinary family caught in a terrible situation. What if the worst thing you can imagine isn’t the worst thing to happen? How do you go on? And what steps will you take to protect yourself from further pain?

~*~

Life Before opens in 1993, with a country cop, Senior Sergeant Des Robinson has to attend an accident, with one fatal, and many injuries on the backroads of Northam. It is a tragedy that will touch many families and turn the lives of two in particular upside down, leading to a mystery about the fate of one family that is slowly revealed as the book goes back and forth between 1993, when the accident occurs, and 2016, where everything slowly comes out.

In 1993, Pam and Mick are living a normal life in Northam with their kids, Scott and Loren, both still at school and with promising futures ahead of them. One day, a terrible accident changes all that and Northam is never the same again. Months later, the town has to contend with another tragedy tearing a family apart.

2019 BadgeIn 2016, Lori is married, with two kids, and on her way to drop them at school when she’s informed her brother has been in an accident. He’s in a coma, and she’s listed as his only next of kin. at this point, we discover that her parents and oldest brother, Simon, are all dead – the big question is how and when. At first, Lori keeps Scott a secret from Jason. They’ve been estranged for over twenty years, since the tragedy that tore their family apart. Yet soon, their lives, and the lives of Lori and her husband Jason, will unexpectedly intersect and the mystery, crime and tragedies that made Lori who she is, will unravel and come to light.

In a compelling mystery, Carmel Reilly reveals how a tragic accident can change the lives of a normal family, and an entire community forever, and lead to even more tragedy that drives two family members apart for two decades. It is about how a decision can change everything. Throughout the book, the two mysteries – the one in 1993, and the one that leads to Lori and Scott reuniting in 2016, are told in a way that a little information is revealed each time, yet not too much: Carmel Reilly holds back on what we really need to know until the climax of the book, like all good mysteries. It is compelling, and I wanted to read on to find out what had happened. It also ran at a decent pace: not too fast, so everything was resolved neatly, but also, not to slow so things dragged on. This is where going back and forth in what seemed like parallel mysteries worked well.

Throughout the novel, the reader is constantly wondering what happened with the accident, what happened to Lori’s family – how did they die, and when did they die? All clues point towards something unforeseen and that Lori has been on her own – apart from Jason and their kids – for a very long time. The hints are there that something awful happened, something that she feels she cannot talk about. Yet it is the careful and deliberate peeling back of the layers of the two crimes involving Scott that has made this novel a compelling and engrossing story, and a mystery well worth the read. Where some mysteries show the fracturing of a marriage due to the secrets one spouse has kept, Reilly holds Jason and Lori together, showing that both have had something rough to deal with in this case and life. The mystery really opens up and heats up when Jason goes to the ICU with Lori – what comes after this reveals much more than anticipated and even quickens the pace a little, but not too much.

Unlike most mysteries that end in a nice, clean resolution of an arrest, here, whilst we find out what has happened, this one has a unique ending. The crime may be solved, but there is still more to come for Lori and Jason, and Scott off the page. All in all, a very compelling read for crime and mystery fans.

The True Story of Maddie Bright by Mary-Rose MacColl

Maddie Bright.jpgTitle: The True Story of Maddie Bright

Author: Mary-Rose MacColl

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 504

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In 1920, seventeen-year old Maddie Bright is thrilled to take a job as a serving girl on the royal tour of Australia by Edward who was then Prince of Wales. She makes friends with Helen Burns, the prince’s vivacious press secretary, Rupert Waters, his most loyal man, and is in awe of Edward himself, the boy prince.

For Maddie, who longs to be a journalist like Helen, what starts as a desire to help her family after the devastation of war becomes a chance to work on something that matters. When the unthinkable happens, it is swift and life changing.
Decades later, Maddie Bright is living in a ramshackle house in Paddington, Brisbane. She has Ed, her drunken and devoted neighbour, to talk to, the television news to shout at, and door-knocker religions to join. But when London journalist Victoria Byrd gets the sniff of a story that might lead to the true identity of a famously reclusive writer, Maddie’s version of her own story may change.

1920, 1981 and 1997: the strands twist across the seas and over two continents, to build a compelling story of love and fame, motherhood and friendship. Set at key moments in the lives of Edward and Diana, a reader will find a friend and, by the novel’s close, that friend’s true and moving story.

MRM566 pic by David Kelly.jpg
Author: Mary-Rose MacColl

~*~

Maddie Bright is seventeen when she is employed as a serving girl on the 1920 Royal Tour of Australia by Prince Edward, who would go on to become Edward VIII for a time in 1936. Soon, her talents are noticed by members of the Prince’s staff – Helen Burns, the press secretary and Rupert Waters, and she ascends to the position of letter writer, where she finds herself in awe of the prince, known as the ‘people’s’ prince – in a similar way that Diana was the ‘people’s’ princess of the 1980s and 1990s. What starts as a way to help her family earn some more money in a post-war Australia as nations around the world start to rebuild after The Great War, abruptly ends when the unthinkable happens.

In 1981, Maddie is watching from afar as Diana Spencer prepares to marry Charles, the Prince of Wales, the grandson of King George VI, Edward VIII’s brother. She now lives alone in Brisbane, with her neighbours for company. But in 1997, shortly after the death of Princess Diana, Maddie meet with a London journalist, Victoria, who was covering Diana’s death, and gets whiff of Maddie’s story and heads off to Australia, where she will discover a secret about her family that will have a rather large impact on her life.

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As the novel moves in and out of 1920 , 1981 and 1997 – three key years in the history of the Royal Family, and also in the fictional lives of Maddie and Victoria, and the way the lives of Victoria and Maddie intersect, and the secrets that Maddie has kept for over seventy years – how will this impact on Victoria and her family if she gets to meet Maddie? The lives of Edward and Diana are in some ways similar: both are popular and tragic, and progressive for the times and eras they live in. They are also both charming and appear to understand the wounds of others. We all know what Diana did for those she visited in poorer communities and countries, for AIDS patients. For Edward, it was making contact with members of the Commonwealth who had lost family in the war and apologising for his family’s war. Apologising for dragging them into it – which is perhaps in stark contrast to the inside figure we see – the charming, secretive figure whose contact with women he shouldn’t have is kept hush hush on the tour, even though his staff know.

Despite the stories being quite different, and separated by decades, the story is woven across time, seas and continents, and the impact that Edward, Diana and the tragic events in their lives mirrored each other, and yet in Diana’s case, the outcome was much more tragic. This book cleverly takes three, seemingly unconnected lives, and tugs at the strings of history, family and friendship to create a mystery where all the hints are there – but the question is how and when they will be resolved – and in some ways, if. In this story, Maddie is also an author, and the story of her life is interspersed with excerpts from her novel that hint at what the truth behind the secrets she has kept are.

Moving in and out of 1920, 1981 and 1997 – Maddie’s parts are told in first person, and Victoria’s in third person – which suits the novel, the characters and overall narrative. Everything is carefully revealed in this novel, almost purposefully, so that the reader knows details when they need to know it, and just as the reader finds things out in this way, the characters find things out when they need to. I loved that this was about family and friendship, and the power of breaking away from situations that weren’t right for each character – though we all know of Edward’s abdication in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson. The tragedy of these figures highlights how hard it must be to be in the spotlight constantly, but also, what the consequences can be for how they represent themselves, and the perceived way they represent the monarchy.

It is an intriguing story that at first, I thought would need a great deal of concentration because it felt so in depth and involved with so many strands and differing perspectives between Maddie and Victoria and told in first and third person. Yet it is a seamless transfer between Maddie’s fiction, between time periods and between first and third, Maddie and Victoria, that the entire book went by in a matter of days. It combines fictional characters and real-life figures well and in a seamless way, and has an authenticity about it that suggests something like this could have happened had someone like Edward had dalliances like the book hints at. It also explores the polarising cult of celebrity, and the hate versus the love of people like Edward and Diana, and also, ways celebrity can harm people’s lives.

It is also powerful because the story is told by two women – Maddie and Victoria, rather than the male figures around them who are in a more peripheral role, though still present, and still having an impact – Victoria and Maddie control the narrative and the direction the story goes in. A very well-written, and tightly plotted story, where the lives of women are mirrored in each other – Maddie, Diana and Victoria yet also starkly different in many ways, giving each figure their own power and vulnerabilities.

Booktopia

Book Bingo Five: A book set in the Australian Mountains.

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We’re now into March (How did that happen?) and my fifth book bingo for the year, and i have checked off seven of my thirty squares now. Initially when I got this card, I though this square – a book set in the Australian Mountains – might be a challenge, because I wasn’t sure what book would fit this square until I got The Orchardist’s Daughter from Allen and Unwin to review.

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Today, my friends Amanda and Theresa will also be posting a new book bingo post each, and each fortnight, it is always interesting to see what squares we fill and with what books, and whether or not we will be doing single or double bingos to make sure we fill all the squares by the end of the year. Some of my forthcoming reviews have been slated for certain squares but as they have not gone live yet, I will wait until those reviews are up to check off the squares.

orchardists daughter

The Orchardist’s Daughter is set in the south-east of Tasmania, around the mountains and forests. It is filled with various contentious relationships: a brother and sister, a husband and wife, Park Rangers and loggers, and humans and nature. It is a story with many threads that at the beginning, feel disconnected, but are still beautifully written, and that eventually weave together to create the overall narrative.

Check back in on the sixteenth for more book bingo action, and then again on the thirtieth of the month. With twenty-three squares to go, there might be some more double bingos coming your way.