The Legacy of Beauregarde by Rosa Fedele

THE_LEGACY_OF_BEAUREGARDE_BOOKCOVER_1024x1024.jpgTitle: The Legacy of Beauregarde

Author: Rosa Fedele

Genre: Australian Noir/Suspense

Publisher: MoshPit Publishing

Published: 10th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 424

Price: $39.95

Synopsis:‘You could lose someone down there, couldn’t you? Anyone could get buried under the concrete slab, and no one would even know!’

The Beauregarde women have lived in the shadow of The Seminary for four generations. And there is nothing conventional about Marcela, or her family.

When the decadent and obsessive Gordana acquires the iconic Sydney property and invites a television crew to film the building’s transformation into a magnificent showpiece, strangers suddenly penetrate Marcela’s world, each with a dark secret of their own.

But Marcela conceals a sinister bond which inextricably ties her to the derelict estate, holding the power to not only unravel Gordana’s grand designs, but expose bloodstained treachery, long-buried betrayals and lies.

A decadent and eccentric tableau of theatre and treachery, old secrets and betrayals; exploring friendship, guilt and obsession … slipping between characters to gradually reveal a century-old mystery.

#australiannoir

~*~

The Legacy of Beauregarde takes place over several months during 1990 in Sydney, surrounding a family legacy, and the renovation of what was once a home and Seminary linked to them, and the mysteries of the people who have lived there and been involved with the family. Marcela’s family have lived in the shadow of the seminary for generations – but when Gordana acquires it to renovate on a television show reminiscent of Grand Designs, these strangers that enter Marcela’s world and shatter the sense of calm she has built around her for many, many years.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs well these characters, friends of Gordana  Claudia, Madeleine and her husband, and Ilijana and her brother, Dan, are present, and their stories and links to the Seminary and Marcela are woven throughout – and there are mysterious incidents and deaths happening, and each character, whilst trapped within their own lives and dilemmas, is somehow linked to all the other ones – and each chapter is told from a different characters perspective, which at first , feel like individual stories linked simply by time and place, by the setting of the novel.

The premise of this book, and the basic plot is intriguing, with gothic, mystery and suspense elements that are engaging for the reader, yet at the same time, confusing for the first several parts, until the links and connections between characters hinted at early in the novel become clearer and more concrete, culminating in a series of unforeseen and tragic events that will rattle each and every character to their core.

With so many characters, it did get a little confusing at times, especially when a new one popped up quite suddenly and unexpectedly – adding to the feeling that each chapter at first felt like an individual story that somehow had a link to the overall plot of Marcela and her family, and what they experienced throughout the years and what their history was – which was hinted at throughout as well and came full circle towards the end. In time I got used to it though, even though there were a couple who only made a couple of appearances, and I wasn’t sure what their purpose was – it still worked for the novel.

The personalities and relationships that make up The Legacy of Beauregarde speak to feelings of abandonment in some, and reliance in others, a feeling of who can be trusted and who can’t, and why – perhaps illustrating the complexities of relationships, human nature and society, and how different environments, circumstances and people can have both positive and negative influences on us as children and adults.

As the characters tell their stories and the century old mystery is gradually revealed, the fluctuating pacing ensures that it is unclear who has what motives and indeed what those motives are until the end – which makes the mystery compelling.

This is a book with many threads to make sense of, and threads that weave together slowly, which I found I needed perseverance and patience for, and even though it may not be one of my top reads for the year – it was still enjoyable and for readers who enjoy a meandering mystery with lots of twists and turns like this, I highly recommend it. The meandering ensures the suspense is kept up throughout the novel and potentially, never really leaves.

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The Far-Back Country by Kate Lyons

the far back country.jpgTitle: The Far-Back Country

Author: Kate Lyons

Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 27th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A superbly written and compelling novel about the bonds of family and home set against the outback landscape.

In 1979, at the age of fourteen, Ray McCullough ran away from his home on a western New South Wales sheep property following a violent confrontation with his dad, Jim McCullough. He left behind his mother, Delly, and his sisters, Ursula and Tilda.

Now forty-one, Ray works as an itinerant cook and labourer across the remote outback. A practical man in love with history and landscape, Ray leads a solitary life, convinced he’s inherited Jim’s streak of violence. Ray has spent his life running away from memories of family and home.

When the body of a man is found in a country pub along with Ray’s identification, Ursula believes that she can finally lay to rest the search that has defined most of her adult life. After Ursula collects Ray’s belongings, she begins to follow the tracks left by Ray across the far-back country, each one leading her closer to understanding the man he became and why he disappeared all those years ago.

The Far-Back Country is an extraordinary story about memory, mistaken identity, false knowledge and how the idea of family can define us.

~*~

Ray McCullough has spent most of his life as an itinerant worker, going from job to job, and town to town, after running away from home at the age of fourteen in 1979. For most of his life, he has lived alone, afraid his father’s violent streak lives on in him. Twenty-seven years later, his sisters, Ursula and Tilda have come to see if a body found in a country pub is him – his identification is on the body, and the police need to know if it is him – and this sets in motion a string of events that move backwards and forwards between Ray and Ursula as Ray tries to escape his past, and Ursula continues her search for him, and for the truth of where he is, where he has been and what happened to him.

AWW-2018-badge-rose

For years, it has been a mystery, and the early 2000s story is peppered with memories of their childhoods, and what led to their departures from the family home, and the splitting of their family across country NSW. Family secrets abound in this story, and are more often than not subtly hinted at, and not wholly revealed. Clues are instead dropped for the reader to discover what is going on for themselves as they read.

Ray’s journey begins in December 2006, and Ursula’s in June 2007 – after that, their chapters alternate and whilst there is some overlap with the people they meet, because each chapter is written with a six month distance depending on the character arc being told, they are never in the same place at the same time, but they meet and interact with the same people as Ray gets further and further away from his family, and Ursula finds herself getting closer to finding him and finally uncovering and putting long-forgotten and long hidden family secrets to rest.

Because of this style, the story meanders a little through country NSW but is no less interesting – it did take me while to realise how Ray and Ursula’s stories were written, and the timeline, but there was one scene near the middle that made sense and helped to cement my initial thoughts about the way it had been structured and confirmed the settings of each character. Ray, whilst still on his solitary journey, makes an effort to find Ursula and connect with her, only to find she isn’t where he thought she was. And so, as the brother and sister appear to keep missing each other, the mystery deepens throughout the novel.

The intriguing story of Ray and Ursula’s relationship ebbs and flows, and the truth is slowly revealed, though perhaps not really confirmed, adds to the mystery and secretive realm that their family has lived in for many years. It is also a novel about how family can define us, and who we are – and how we separate this from our sense of self. With the mistaken identity of the body at the start, Ray can fashion a new life for himself, yet his sister is determined to track him down and find answers.

A strange, yet intriguing read that sparked more questions than answers, but is at the same time a fresh mystery that takes a family on a journey they didn’t expect.

 

The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

the peacock summer.jpgTitle: The Peacock Summer

Author: Hannah Richell

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $29.99

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady

the yellow house.jpgTitle: The Yellow House

Author: Emily O’Grady

Genre: Literary Fiction, Crime, Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The winner of the prestigious literary award that has launched over a hundred authors – the Australian/Vogel’s Literary award

Winner of the 2018 The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award

Even before I knew anything about Granddad Les, Wally and me sometimes dared each other to see how close to the knackery we could get. It was way out in the bottom paddock, and Dad had banned us from going further than the dam. Wally said it was because the whole paddock was haunted. He said he could see ghosts wisping in the grass like sheets blown from the washing line. But even then I knew for sure that was a lie. 

Ten-year-old Cub lives with her parents, older brother Cassie, and twin brother Wally on a lonely property bordering an abandoned cattle farm and knackery. Their lives are shadowed by the infamous actions of her Granddad Les in his yellow weatherboard house, just over the fence.

Although Les died twelve years ago, his notoriety has grown in Cub’s lifetime and the local community have ostracised the whole family.

When Cub’s estranged aunt Helena and cousin Tilly move next door into the yellow house, the secrets the family want to keep buried begin to bubble to the surface. And having been kept in the dark about her grandfather’s crimes, Cub is now forced to come to terms with her family’s murky history.

The Yellow House is a powerful novel about loyalty and betrayal; about the legacies of violence and the possibilities of redemption.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe Yellow House is Cub’s story about her family, told from the point of view of ten-year-old Cub. Living in semi-rural Queensland, she is the granddaughter of an infamous serial killer -Grandad Les – who died shortly before she, and her twin brother, Wally, were born. She knows that there are secrets in her family – though she doesn’t know exactly what at first, though the rest of her family do. Her mother has always kept her hair short like Wally’s – which frustrates Cub. But one day a cousin and aunt – Tilly and Helena- move into the yellow house where Grandad Les lived, and things start to change. The town they live in has always whispered about Cub and her family, and seen them as feral – which, in some ways they are – yet are they feral because that is how people see them, and because of the legacy of Les? Or, are they simply feral and their genetic link to Les simply gives people a reason to justify their hate?

As Helena and Tilly move in, Cassie – Cub’s older brother – begins to change in his demeanour and makes a new friend – Ian – whose presence is immediately disconcerting to Cub and sets the entire family on edge and sends them hurtling towards a precipice that begins to crumble as tragedy begins to touch their lives again.

Whilst Cub is a great little spy and seems to catch onto things easily and find things out. having the story – what she has been told, what she sees and what she finds out throughout the novel – is all filtered through her understanding as a child. Her perception of some things seems quite simplistic -thinking her Mum doesn’t like her, wanting to know if she’s anyone’s favourite. and wanting to be friends with Tilly and doing what she can to try and get along with her cousin.

Throughout the novel, there is always the feeling that something bad is going to happen, like watching the cliffhanger of a television crime drama and knowing that the dread you feel will come to pass, but hoping it won’t, and hoping things will change at the last minute. When certain events happen, when some characters enter the story, there is always the feeling of knowing that either something will happen to that person, or that another person is bad news – Ian was one such character that filled me with dread, and fear, knowing there is something ominous about his presence but not quite being able to put your finger on it.

What I liked was the way Emily balanced the not so normal aspects of the lives of Cub’s family – the way Cassie acted, her mum, whom I didn’t like at all and found myself wishing she cared a bit more about Cub than she actually did – with the normal, everyday actions of going to school, coming home and doing homework, meals and all the rest of the things families usually do. As Cub learns about and comes to terms with the murky family of her history, she is faced with tough decisions and knowledge that she must find a way to deal with.

Emily O’Grady’s novel is an intriguing look at human nature and how assumptions about family and who you are related to can colour what people think of you – and what happens when these secrets come out – and how far some people are willing to go to hurt people and cover it up.

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P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones

p is for pearl.jpgTitle: P is for Pearl

Author: Eliza Henry Jones

Genre: Young Adult, Literary

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 19th of February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A POIGNANT READ BURSTING WITH HEARTACHE, GRIEF AND SMALL-TOWN FAMILY SECRETS THAT WILL DRAW YOU IN UNTIL THE FINAL PAGE’
– Gabrielle Tozer, award-winning author of The InternFaking It and Remind Me How This Ends

Seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn P. Pearson has become very good at not thinking about the awful things that have happened to her family.

She has also become used to people talking about her dead mum. Or not talking about her and just looking at Gwen sympathetically.

And it’s easy not to think about awful things when there are wild beaches to run along, best friends Loretta and Gordon to hang out with – and a stepbrother to take revenge on.

But following a strange disturbance at the cafe where she works, Gwen is forced to confront what happened to her family all those years ago. And she slowly comes to realise that people aren’t as they first appear and that like her, everyone has a story to tell.

From the talented author of the celebrated novels In the Quiet and Ache comes a poignant and moving book that explores the stories we tell ourselves about our families, and what it means to belong.


PRAISE

P is for Pearl is a complex, authentic exploration of grief, friendship, mental illness, family and love, sensitively written by a writer whose voice will resonate with teen readers.’  Books+Publishin

~*~

Gwendolyn P. Pearson hides the dark family secrets that have plagued her family for years very well, and she is good at it. For years, the small Tasmanian town of Clunes has whispered and spoken about her mother, who died when Gwen was a child, one of two family tragedies that happened within months of each other. Gwen has her best friends, Loretta and Gordon, school and running to distract her – that is, until a strange incident at the cafe she works at triggers a memory, and Gwen must confront her memories. When new kids, Ben and Amber arrive in town, Gwen is torn between letting them be, and befriending them and their aunt. As she tries to hide secrets from everyone and hide from her past, it is Ben who will show her that the surface of someone is not always what they seem, and that it is okay to be angry when you are hurt.

AWW-2018-badge-roseP for Pearl completes my book bingo for the first half of 2018 – this will be in a separate post next Saturday, and then I am embarking on round two, using the same card but hopefully, different books as much as I can. First written when Eliza was sixteen, P for Pearl is the world of tragedy and loneliness seen through the eyes of a teenager whose understanding of what happened is coloured by what she wants to believe, and what, as a child, she was told or led to believe. Through narrative and diary entries, Gwen’s story is slowly revealed, and we see the pain she has been in for years, slowly emerging and bubbling its way to the top following the smashed windows at work.

Gwen’s family – her father, stepmother Biddy, step-brother Tyrone and half-sister Evie, are all key figures in the way Gwen experiences her life, and of them all, she seems to feel closer to Evie at first, and a little distanced from the rest of her family, perhaps feeling a little lost in it all. Tyrone is older – and at first, is rather annoying but later, I found something endearing about him and the way he genuinely cared for Gwen, which comes through gradually as she comes to terms with her confusion and pain. In the end, Tyrone, Ben, Loretta and Gordon are the ones who help her come through her pain and the realisation of the painful family history that has haunted her.

P for Pearl is aimed at teenagers but is a novel that speaks to the grief and complicated events and tragedies in life that we all face and endure. Gwen’s voice is genuine, and works well in the novel, as is the character growth and learning little bits about characters as the novel progresses. A greet novel to check off my final bingo box.

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The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

the burning chambersTitle: The Burning Chambers

Author: Kate Mosse

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 608

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Bringing sixteenth-century Languedoc vividly to life, Kate Mosse’s The Burning Chambers is a gripping story of love and betrayal, mysteries and secrets; of war and adventure, conspiracies and divided loyalties…

Carcassonne 1562: Nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father’s bookshop. Sealed with a distinctive family crest, it contains just five words: SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE.

But before Minou can decipher the mysterious message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes her destiny forever. For Piet has a dangerous mission of his own, and he will need Minou’s help if he is to get out of La Cité alive.

Toulouse: As the religious divide deepens in the Midi, and old friends become enemies, Minou and Piet both find themselves trapped in Toulouse, facing new dangers as sectarian tensions ignite across the city, the battle-lines are drawn in blood and the conspiracy darkens further.

Meanwhile, as a long-hidden document threatens to resurface, the mistress of Puivert is obsessed with uncovering its secret and strengthening her power…

~*~

In 1562, France is caught in a war between the Catholics and the Huguenots – a Protestant movement who faced persecution from the Catholics and were called heretics. Carcassonne and Toulouse are at the centre of this novel, where Minou Joubert is charged with taking care of her brother – Aimeric, sister – Alis and the bookstore that her father owns in his absence when she stumbles upon a Will, and a note delivered to her, inscribed with She knows that you live. And so, Minou sets off on a journey to discover the person behind the note and find her father, and ask about her past, and makes discoveries that will forever change her life. Amidst this mystery, is the backdrop of religious conflict between the Catholics and the Huguenots, the latter considered to be heretics, and the ownership of a Protestant Bible feared. On her journey, Minou meets Piet Reydon, a Huguenot convert, who has his own mission. Their missions and tasks will cross paths, leading to a confrontation where it seems those who want them dead, such as the mistress of Puivert, where Bernard Joubert was headed, might just succeed.

The Wars of Religion in France were a sequence of eight civil wars between the Catholics and the Huguenots, ending in millions dead or displaced over the thirty-six-year conflict. If modern wars are much to go by – I don’t think very much has changed since the 1560s.  In a time of darkness and brutality, Kate Moss has done an excellent job showcasing this dark history for what it was, and what it meant to so many – that two factions of the same religion, who followed the same God, and a similar religious text to fall into war seems unfathomable these days, yet for people like Minou and Piet, was very real, and very harsh.

It is a very long book – dense with historical fact, and strong women who did what they could to fit in, were strong and brave and yet at the same time, appropriate for their time – they knew what they had to do, and how to act. Minou, the main character, is caught between these wars and her heritage – she has always known she is not quite like her family – and the way Mosse has dealt with this ensures the mystery is intriguing and holds its own for the entire book, and is also sensitive, showing that Minou’s heritage was something that was worth another woman pursuing her over, going to extreme lengths to draw Minou into her deluded game of cat and mouse. It is this mystery that drives the novel, and the shorter chapters in italics are at first a mystery, making the reader wonder who this person could be – until later in the novel, when things start to become a little clearer, but are still a little murky and need to be resolved. Opening 300 years in the future in South Africa – a time and place that we will hopefully return to soon, hints at what is to come, in a strange yet mystical way. What connection do these characters have with those in 1562?

It is a dark history, and the book is one that a genre cannot be pinned down to. It has history, mixed with suspense, with a touch of romance woven throughout that happens as the war progresses, with the dark, gothic backdrop and mystery that influence everything the characters do. The reader is swept up into the story, living in these times along with the characters, which shows that Kate Mosse’s sense of time and place is evocative and highly emotive.

This is the first in a series. with book two, The City of Tears, due in 2020. A rather long time to wait, but given the depth of this book, will be well worth it for the deepening research that Kate Mosse will be undertaking for it.

Thanks to the NSW Writer’s Centre for a copy of this to read

The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

the jade lily.jpgTitle: The Jade Lily

Author: Kirsty Manning

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 456

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:The Jade Lily is a sweeping story of friendship, loyalty, love and identity from the popular author of The Midsummer Garden.

Praise for The Midsummer Garden

‘This is a rich, sensual, and evocative novel, fragrant with the smell of crushed herbs and flowers, and haunted by the high cost that women must sometimes pay to find both love and their vocation.’ Kate Forsyth

‘…compelling, passionate and admirable.’ Australian Women’s Weekly

In 2016, fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather is dying. With only weeks left together, her grandparents begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century.

In 1939, two young girls meet in Shanghai, the ‘Paris of the East’: beautiful local Li and Viennese refugee Romy form a fierce friendship. But the deepening shadows of World War Two fall over the women as Li and Romy slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession and the desperate Shanghai Ghetto. Eventually, they are forced separate ways as Romy doubts Li’s loyalties.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. As she peels back the layers of their hidden lives, she begins to question everything she knows about her family – and herself.

A gorgeously told tale of female friendship, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage to shape us all.

~*~

Thirty-five-year-old Alexandra Laird has fled London, and returned home to Melbourne, to farewell her grandfather, who is dying. Together with her grandmother, Romy, Alexandra prepares herself for a life without him, and a new life in Shanghai, where she is being sent as a commodities trader for work. But there is a family secret that has plagued Alexandra and her family for decades, and she wants to piece it together. Her grandmother, and grandmother’s best friend, Nina, grapple with the ghosts of their past – first as Jewish refugees from Vienna, running to the only place – Shanghai – that would take them, and the years of war that tested them and that destroyed their families, and sent their lives spiralling into uncertainty, until they reached safe haven in Australia – but were still not free from the secrets they kept.

In 1938, Romy, and her parents, Mutti and Papa, are forced to flee VIenna in the aftermath of Anschluss and Kristallnacht in November. Setting off on an uncertain journey, they land in Shanghai, where they are first living in the French section of the city, and when the Japanese take over China and bring atrocities that spark memories of Kristallnacht to the forefront of Romy’s mind, into the Shanghai Ghetto. For a few years, Romy lives a fairly good life, with her friend, Li Ho, but the events following Pearl Harbour rip them apart, and have Romy doubting what she knew about her friend, and eventually, what the future holds in Australia, and with her new life with Wilhelm Cohen.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAnother World War Two historical fiction for me – but this time, set in the Asian region, where the Second Sino-Japanese War was happening around the same time as the outbreak of World War Two, and where the ghosts of what happened in Europe follow Romy and her new friends into Shanghai. It is a part of 1930s and 1940s, and World War Two history that I hadn’t heard about – where Jewish refugees could escape to Shanghai where other countries refused to take them. It is a book that deals with the heavy issues of what pushes humanity to the point they have to kill others for being who they are, for being what they cannot control, or for daring to speak out – where atrocities are displayed as a warning to others, and where secrets are an unspoken currency. Secrets, it seems, that span three generations, where they are kept protecting some people, but eventually need to come out – as Romy’s did for Alexandra, with the help of diaries and letters, and a new friend from Hong Kong, Zhang.

Reading about little known history is always interesting – it allows the reader to immerse themselves in a time and place they may not know much about, whilst letting them know what happened in an accessible way, especially when the author has done exceptional research to write the book. Kirsty Manning has done an exceptional job, researching and writing about a war that I had not known had taken place, and events that were shocking to read about. They are the kind of events that one cannot fathom ever happening, but they did, and they shouldn’t have happened, and nor should they happen again. If reading all these books about humanitarian atrocities has taught me, it is that we shouldn’t be letting these things happen still, or ever again.

The dual timeline is an effective device to tell the story, as it allowed for each key character to show what their lives were like at the time – and it helped make sense of the secret, slowly, and uncertainly revealed across the story, where hints of tragedy are woven in and out of each chapter, and where each character has been deeply affected by tragic events in varying ways. It allowed for a feminine strength and voice to be revealed at a time in history where they might not always be heard, and where they might have had cultural or familial restraints and expectations placed upon them.

The power that these stories have is to show what has happened in the past, and to hopefully, send the message to never let it happen again. I enjoyed this story for its strength of female characters, and the love of friendship, and of one’s child that can force someone into a decision and a secret that they might never be able to reveal to anyone, or at least, a secret that is sheltered and kept for so many years that revealing it is a struggle.

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