The Republic of Birds by Jessica Miller

republic of birdsTitle: The Republic of Birds
Author: Jessica Miller
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Text Publishing
Published: 3rd March 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: Olga loves the stories of the old cartographers and pores over their ancient books and maps, trying to unlock their secrets. Sometimes, she thinks she can even feel through the maps— almost see into them—as if by magic.
But magic is banned in Tsaretsvo, ever since the war with the birds that divided the kingdom, and the powerful magic wielding yagas have long been banished. Now, any young girl who shows signs of being a yaga is whisked away to Bleak Steppe—to a life, so the story goes, of unspeakable punishment.
When the bird army kidnaps Olga’s sister in a surprise attack on the human kingdom, Olga realises she has to venture into the Republic of Birds to bring her back. But first, she must learn to unlock her magical ability. As her journey takes her into the hidden world of the yagas and the wilds of the Unmappable Blank, Olga discovers the truth about the war with the birds—and learns just how much is at stake.
Inspired by Russian folklore, The Republic of Birds is a rich middle-grade fantasy adventure for readers of Karen Foxlee, Jessica Townsend and Philip Pullman.
~*~

Set in a fantasy world with Russian influences, The Republic of Birds revolves around Olga and her family. Olga is twelve, and on the verge of turning thirteen – the year she will take part in the Spring Blossom festival. Yet Olga fears what will happen if and when she starts showing signs of magic – of being a yaga. With magic banned in Stolitsa, Olga knows that once she starts exhibiting signs of magic she will be sent away to a place known as Bleak Steppe – where stories of girls being punished abound.

Yet as Olga prepares for the Spring Blossom celebration, she inadvertently sends something dear to her away with the birds – and must summon all her talents – innate and magical – to reunite her family.

AWW2020Wow, what a book! This was very different to what I have read in the past, yet using fantasy, fairy tale, and folk tale elements combined with elements of real world Russia, and feels like its set in the early decades of the twentieth century, but in a fantasy setting, the events and technology that exist in this world could be vastly different to what we know. This is what makes it even more inviting and intriguing and allows the reader to be immersed within a fantastical world that has elements of darkness yet also is a story of female empowerment and courage. And of course, maps.

Maps marry magic and birds, and feminine power to create a world that is exciting and highly driven by women’s stories and lives – which is thoroughly enjoyable. I loved that the beginning had a slower feel to the latter half of the book and reflected those days of innocence before everything started to become real and dangerous for Olga and her family. Once the action got going, I found that the pages that flew by – and I think that Jessica got a really good balance between the slow bits and the fast bits to make an exciting and engaging story for all readers aged nine and over to enjoy.

Rich with folklore, it is a great next read for fans of His Dark Materials, Nevermoor and many other books that have been influenced by folklore and fairy tales within their plots. It is a captivating story that evokes many emotions – courage, love and fear, as well as wonder as you explore the world with Olga as she navigates the reality of her world, and discovers the truth behind the lies that she has been told throughout her life about yagas and Bleak Steppe.

Books that read like a folktale are always a favourite of mine – they allow the reader to uncover familiar tropes and characters, but wearing different outfits and within a different context, and this is what makes it magical. These sorts of novels expand on the traditional fairy and folk tales that are known aroind the world, and in doing so, bring them to life in a new and fantastic way. These are books that I would have loved as a kid, and continue to enjoy reading to this day.

With many thanks to Text publishing for the review copy I received this week.

The River Home by Hannah Richell

the river homeTitle: The River Home

Author: Hannah Richell

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 25th February 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The river can take you home. But the river can also drag you under… The new novel from bestselling author Hannah Richell. A wise and emotionally powerful story of a broken family and the courage it takes to heal.

The river can take you home. But the river can also drag you under…

‘It’s something she learned years ago – the hard way – and that she knows she will never forget: even the sweetest fruit will fall and rot into the earth, eventually. No matter how deep you bury the pain, the bones of it will rise up to haunt you … like the echoes of a summer’s night, like the river flowing relentlessly on its course.’

Margot Sorrell didn’t want to go home. She had spent all her adult life trying not to look behind. But a text from her sister Lucy brought her back to Somerset. ‘I need you.’

As Margot, Lucy and their eldest sister, Eve, reunite in the house they grew up in beside the river, the secrets they keep from each other, and from themselves, refuse to stay hidden. A wedding brings them together but long-simmering resentments threaten to tear the family apart. No one could imagine the way this gathering would change them all forever. And through the sorrow they are forced to confront, there is a chance that healing will also come. But only if the truth is told.

The new novel from bestselling author Hannah Richell. A wise and emotionally powerful story of a broken family and the courage it takes to heal.

~*~

The River Home opens with a mysterious passage hinting at a tragedy, something gone terribly wrong – a mystery that promises to unfold itself as the novel progresses and weave itself along the river in the title of Hannah Richell’s latest novel, The River Home. It centres around three sisters – Eve, Lucy and Margot Sorrell as they come together for Lucy’s whirlwind wedding. Yet Margot is resistant – holding onto secrets from the past that led to her leaving her family.

As Margot returns, old tensions resurface and whilst the novel goes between Lucy, Eve and Margot in the present and their parents and childhood in the past, the reasons Margot doesn’t want to return are slowly revealed, as are other secrets that Eve wants to keep quiet. Yet whilst all together in their childhood home with partners, Eve’s daughters, their parents and their father’s new partner, old secrets come to the surface, and new secrets burst forth throughout, culminating in the finale that is both heartbreaking and hopeful, bringing to life how unspoken secrets and tensions can rip a family apart and then bring them all back together.

AWW2020It is for Lucy that they come together, where all past ills are somewhat forgotten, and bridges start to be constructed. It is Lucy who urges them to do this – to heal themselves. Her heartbreaking story is raw and filled with every emotion possible – joy, fear, sadness, love and uncertainty. The three sisters have lived their entire lives with their mother as a best-selling author, and her story is woven throughout this family saga, written eloquently and in a way where each character gets to tell their story. Lucy is full of life, yet her secret will rock the family. Margot has been holding onto hers since she was sixteen – ever since the school play, and the incident that drove her away from her family at seventeen. And Eve is determined to hide her secret from her husband, to maintain the order and proper life she has led for thirty years. These secrets, and how they are revealed to the reader and to the other characters are each done with great impact, rocking the world for everyone involved and threatening to cause new rifts. Yet in the aftermath, when they discover Margot’s secret, that knowledge brings them together and allows the family to begin healing and gives the Sorrell sisters the courage to go on with the challenges that life is throwing at them.

Hannah Richell has delivered another enthralling family story, where the focus is the love of family and between family – extended and immediate, as they grapple with challenges in life, and takes place over a weekend as it goes back and forth in time, and in doing so, sets up for the secrets that are to be revealed and gives great insight into the characters and their lives. She has managed to capture the full range of emotion – from joy to despair on the page and everything in between, this is a book for fans of Hannah Richell, and the books like this that get a perfect balance between drama, secrets, happiness and what it means to be part of a family. I do hope others enjoy it as much as I did, as it is refreshing to see family love front and centre of a novel, rather than it always being romantic love.

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

deathless girls.jpgTitle: The Deathless Girls

Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Genre: Historical, Gothic, Fantasy

Publisher: Bellatrix/Hachette

Published: 24th September 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Gothic, intoxicating, feminist and romantic – this is the breathtakingly imagined untold story of the brides of Dracula, by bestselling author Kiran Millwood Hargrave in her much-anticipated YA debut.

Gothic, intoxicating, feminist and romantic – this is the breathtakingly imagined untold story of the brides of Dracula, by bestselling author Kiran Millwood Hargrave in her much-anticipated YA debut.

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…

~*~

Kizzy and Lil are Travellers, whose lives change forever when they are enslaved by Boyar Valcar and taken from their community. Lil tells the story – so everything we see is shown through her eyes, and her understandings and feelings for her sister, and those she meets at the castle, like Mira, and her love for her brother and those she fears she will never see again.

In the castle, as they work, rumours swirl around about what happens to the girls who disappear – until Kizzy is taken, and this sets in motion a series of events that leads Mira, Fen and Lil to search for and save Kizzy and brother Kem from an unimaginable fate – but at what cost. and where will everything lead them all?

Set a few hundred years in the past, maybe three or four hundred years, The Deathless Girls follows Kizzy and Lil as they are ripped from a life they know and into one that they will ever escape from. It draws on the myths and stories of Dracula and his brides, and their untold story. The first half move slowly, as pieces of the puzzle are slowly revealed and as hints towards the fates of Kizzy and Lil are dropped for the reader to follow – and it is done quite cleverly, so whilst it is slowly, it doesn’t feel slow or meander too much.

The turning point, where Kizzy is taken, is where it picks up. More questions arise but these foreshadow what is to come and what the rest of the book had been heading towards. Whilst not the ending I had hoped for, it was perhaps what I had expected from the title and the hints that had been dropped throughout the novel – especially when it came to some of the characters.

This book is aimed at a young adult audience – and I don’t think you need to know the Dracula myths or stories to enjoy it – it can stand alone as its own story, but can also be read alongside a reading of the Dracula stories and myths that people do know. Either would make for an interesting discussion and reading, as each explore different themes. Here, the power of the women involved and their choices and lives, and what leads them to their fate are highlighted. They have agency and personhood, rather than just being a passive victim.

Whilst a vampire novel in a way, the vampire element, and Dracula element only becomes clear towards the latter half. For the first half or so, the divining by Cook and the other things that are hinted at could have led to anything, which is perhaps what makes it powerful and different to what usually constitutes a vampire novel. I’m sure there will be a very keen audience for this book, I I hope future readers enjoy it.

Matters of the Heart by Fiona Palmer

matters of the heart.jpgTitle: Matters of the Heart

Author: Fiona Palmer

Genre: Fiction/Jane Austen retelling

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 27th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 330

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A classic love story about manners, men and modern romance retold by bestselling Australian author, Fiona Palmer

Western Australia, 2019: The Bennets are a farming family struggling to make ends meet. Lizzy, passionate about working the land, is determined to save the farm. Spirited and independent, she has little patience for her mother’s focus on finding a suitable man for each of her five daughters.

When the dashing Charles Bingley, looking to expand his farm holdings, buys the neighbouring property of Netherfield Park, Mrs Bennet and the entire district of Coodardy are atwitter with gossip and speculation. Will he attend the local dance and is he single? These questions are soon answered when he and Lizzy’s sister Jane form an instant connection on the night. But it is Charlie’s best friend, farming magnate Will Darcy, who leaves a lasting impression when he slights Lizzy, setting her against him.

Can Lizzy and Will put judgements and pride aside to each see the other for who they really are? Or in an age where appearance and social media rule, will prejudice prevail?

Australia’s bestselling storyteller Fiona Palmer reimagines Jane Austen’s beloved classic tale of manners and marriage, transporting an enduring love story in this very twenty-first century novel about family, female empowerment and matters of the heart.

~*~

Over the years, many myths, fairy tales and classic works have been retold in many ways in books, for the stage, and for the screen. Jane Austen is no exception, and perhaps one of the stories that has been retold the most is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.Most retellings or adaptations of Pride and Prejudicetake place during the Regency period, but every so often, something new comes along, whether that is the time period or the country or culture the story is set in. Pride and Prejudice is one of those stories where you can take the general idea and characters, and it will translate extremely well into a myriad of settings with the necessary tweaks.

2019 BadgeMatters of the Heart is one such retelling, and it is set in Australia in 2019. In Coodardy, Western Australia, Longbourn is a struggling farm. Lizzy Bennet returns home from an early morning walk with her dog, Pippa, to hear the gossip about Charlie Bingley, who has bought the neighbouring farm, Netherfield. Lizzy’s mother, Margaret, is determined to meet Charlie, a very eligible bachelor that Kitty and Lydia know more about than Lizzy as a match for Jane. From here, Matters of the Heartfollows the basic premise of Pride and Prejudice, where the romance is a result of the arguing over manners and expectations.

Mrs Bennet – Margaret – still wants her daughters, especially Jane and Lizzy – to make a good match in this one, yet she is also a woman who has a complex role as well, who encourages her daughters’ passions, but much like the Bennet matriarch of the original, is overly concerned about money and how people see her, and unfortunately, as in the original, the way Mrs Bennet acts and speaks starts to  impact how the Bingleys and Will Darcy start to see and understand Jane and Lizzy as being just like their mother, whilst Lizzy judges Will because he is reserved and seemingly cold – until she sees him come to life on the farm and hears him talk about his sister.

Not only did this retelling and the original have a touch of romance in it, but the main premise is the idea of manners and what happens when we prejudge people based on minimal interaction or gossip. Also, many of the events are similar, just with a twenty-first century flavour, and a uniquely Australian flavour that makes it exciting and enjoyable to read. It also deals with modern ideas of the roles of men and women in a country town, and preconceived  notions of who makes a good farmer or not, and all the surprises along the way that make the story ebb and flow to the pattern and timeline of the original Pride and Prejudice. Placed in the twenty-first century, the climax happens quite differently, and is effectively done so that it works within the original base narrative and the new setting.

Like Jane Austen’s original characters, these ones are flawed and complex, and not entirely perfect, though some seem to think they are. Lizzy and Jane are my favourites, because they are true to their modern selves, but also their origins from the 1800s. As the main focus of the novel, they get the most attention with sisters Mary, Kitty and Lydia popping in and out as they are needed in the story. It has a bit of everything – humour, romance and most importantly, the strength of women and their ability to stand on their own two feet, even in the face of people thinking they are unable to do certain things – old prejudices that in some areas have not gone away.

Overall, this was a very interesting take on an older story, and one that I would recommend it to fans of Fiona Palmer, and fans of Jane Austen.

A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison

a-pinch-of-magic-9781471124297_lg.jpgTitle: A Pinch of Magic

Author: Michelle Harrison

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Published: March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $16.99

Synopsis:‘A SPELLBINDING STORY, STEEPED IN MAGIC. I ADORED IT’ – Abi Elphinstone, author of Sky Song 

Three sisters trapped by an ancient curse.

Three magical objects with the power to change their fate.

Will they be enough to break the curse?

Or will they lead the sisters even deeper into danger? …

The enchanting new story from Michelle Harrison, author of the bestselling THIRTEEN TREASURES trilogy 

Praise for A PINCH OF MAGIC:

‘BRILLIANT’ Emma Carroll, author of Letters From The Lighthouse

‘This delightful tale fizzes with magic and races along at a fantastic pace. This book completely charmed my socks off!’ Alex Bell, author of The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club

‘Simply phenomenal! A breathtaking quest for survival and freedom, bursting with brave heroines, enchanted objects and deadly dangers. And at its heart is a powerful and beautiful message of sisterly love and loyalty overcoming jealousy and betrayal’ Sophie Anderson, author of The House With Chicken Legs

‘What a glorious book this is! I was utterly captivated by the Widdershins sisters’ Lisa Thompson, author of The Goldfish Boy

‘Take three sisters, add the cruellest of curses and a pinch of magic, and you’ll have a tantalising tale you cannot put down’ Tamsyn Murray, author of Completely Cassidy

‘Gutsy and rude, full of warts-and-all family love, Harrison’s latest has the wry enchantment of an E Nesbit classic’ Guardian

‘A fabulous magical adventure’ Sunday Express

‘Fantasy and adventure appear on every page of this spellbinding tale’ The Daily Mail

~*~

Three sisters – Betty, Fliss and Charlie – live in Crowstone with their grandmother. Their father is in jail, and their mother is dead. Crowstone is like a small English village, but seemingly without the trappings of the twenty-first century. Opening on Halloween in the days and weeks before Betty turns thirteen. They’ve never been allowed to leave Crowstone’s bounds, but in a daring attempt, Betty and Charlie try – only to be dragged back home by their grandmother, and the story of an old curse within the Widdershins family, that condemns them to stay within the bounds of Crowstone – or they’ll die.

Fliss and Betty decide to do some digging – they uncover links to Sorsha Spellthorn, whose story is woven throughout the novel as the girls work to break the curse that was laid upon their family one hundred and fifty years ago. The question is – how will they do it, and will they succeed?

This book was a recommendation from the awesome, friendly Merrill at Book Face, Erina Fair, my local indie bookshop where I find the majority of my reads outside of review books and quiz writing books. I’ll be talking about them in another post about Love Your Bookshop Day, which was yesterday, the tenth of August.

Back to the book – and I loved it. Filled with magic, mystery and family ties, it is a delightful and wonderful book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and found myself longing to get back to it whenever I had to put it down so I could find out what was going to happen to the Widdershins. It is exactly the kind of book I love, and I think it is fabulous that the staff at Book Face know what to recommend to me – and when, because it feels like this week was the right time to read this book.

Each sister is unique, and brings something delightful and special to the story, where they journey through their area and even through time to race to break the curse. It has everything, as I said before, but it is especially wonderful because it focuses on family love, rather than romantic love, and the lengths family goes for to help each other. We need more books that focus on family, and this is one to add to the list.  I am looking forward to the sequel – if there is one – when it comes out.

Sisters and Brothers by Fiona Palmer

sisters and brothers.jpgTitle: Sisters and Brothers

Author: Fiona Palmer

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 372

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A poignant novel of heartbreak, adoption and family secrets by beloved bestselling Australian author, Fiona Palmer.

A poignant novel of heartbreak, adoption and family secrets

Emma
, a nurse and busy mother of three, has always dreamed of having a sister.
Michelle, at 46, wonders if it’s too late to fall in love and find her birth parents.
Sarah, career woman and perfectionist homemaker, struggles to keep up with the Joneses.
Bill, 72, feels left behind after the death of his adored wife.
Adam can’t stop thinking about the father he never had.
These five very different people are all connected but separated by secrets from the past. Sisters and Brothers will both break and warm your heart in a way that only bestselling Australian storyteller Fiona Palmer can.

‘Her books are tear-jerkers and page-turners’ Sydney Morning Herald

‘Fiona Palmer just keeps getting better’ RACHAEL JOHNS

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseSisters and Brothers  by Fiona Palmer explores the intricacies and complexities of family, and what happens when a family grows unexpectedly and has to face a crisis together. Bill, aged seventy-two, has recently lost his wife, and isn’t well – so it falls to his daughter, Sarah, to look after him. Just before his surgery and hospital stay, he discovers another daughter, Emma. At first, Sarah resists her new sister, Emma, yet at the same time, finds comfort in her, and confides in her, allowing her to become part of the family. At the same time, Adam, whose success as a florist and with his new life is taking off, starts to look for his father, and discovers a whole new family along the way.

As Emma, Sarah and Adam find their way to each other, Michelle, who has always wondered about her birth parents, begins to look for them, yet for her, finding a way to be happy is more important as she ventures into new territory with her cake-making business.

The love story in this novel primarily centres around family and the different ways love manifests with siblings, spouses, friends and children, mothers and fathers and everything in between. It explores family dynamics and what it means to find siblings as an adult, and how this can affect you and everyone involved. It is a powerful novel about family love, and the changes that sometimes come later in life to us and our families, and how we deal with them.

With each new revelation, Sarah begins to accept the larger family she had always wanted as a child but never had. When Emma finds out after her father’s accident that Bill is her father, the initial shock wears off after she meets Bill, and eventually Sarah – with whom a bond soon forms, and she helps Sarah with the stresses in her life and overcoming them. Two sisters, who never knew each other, are soon caring for each other, each other’s families and Bill as they each gain something, rather than lose something in the wake of tragedy.

Adam’s discovery of his father and sisters brings a new dynamic – with his partner, they are looking to grow their family with a child, but never expected siblings, nieces, nephews, and the father Adam never knew plus more, whilst Michelle seeks answers to her adoption, keen to find her birth mother and perhaps someone to love.

What I enjoyed about this novel was that it focussed on familial love and friendship in all its variations and inserted a few romantic subplots that evolved from the family-oriented plot line. It is always refreshing to read these kinds of books that acknowledge more than just romantic relationships and place family and friends at the forefront of the plot line. By exploring these relationships, and issues such as adoption, single parenthood and familial conflict, Fiona Palmer has created a story that will hopefully resonate with many people.

Another lovely, moving and poignant offering from Fiona Palmer, published by Hachette Australia.

Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer

before i let you goTitle: Before I Let You Go

Author: Kelly Rimmer

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 27th February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages:380

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Your sister needs you. But her child needs you more… A moving page-turner with a heart-pounding dilemma: Your sister or her baby. Who do you choose? Fans of Jodi Picoult and Jojo Moyes will love Australia’s Kelly Rimmer.

As children, Lexie and Annie were incredibly close. Bonded by the death of their beloved father, they weathered the storms of life together. When Lexie leaves home to follow her dream, Annie is forced to turn to her leather-bound journal as the only place she can confide her deepest secrets and fears…

As adults, sisters Lexie and Annie could not be more different. Lexie is a successful doctor and happily engaged. Annie is an addict – a thief, a liar and unable to remain clean. When Annie’s newborn baby is in danger of being placed in foster care, Annie picks up the phone to beg her sister for help. Will Lexie agree to take in her young niece? And how will Annie survive, losing the only thing in her life worth living for?

What do you do when your sister, an addict, tells you she’s pregnant and needs your help? BEFORE I LET YOU GO is the stunning new novel from Kelly Rimmer, internationally bestselling Australian author of THE SECRET DAUGHTER, ME WITHOUT YOU, WHEN I LOST YOU and A MOTHER’S CONFESSION.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseFor years, Lexie has looked out for her little sister, Annie. As children, they were happy, and safe, and enjoyed being close and playing with each other. For a few years, they live a happy life with their parents, until the day their father dies. The next twelve months alter the girls, and define them, and bring them closer together as Lexie does her best to take care of her mother and her younger sister, though she is still a child herself. Soon, their mother remarries and moves them away from all they know, into a world they hate, a place they don’t feel free. In Winterton, they are forced into an ideology and behaviour they wish to resist. To stay safe, Lexie doesn’t, and begs Annie to do the same, but Annie’s spirit refuses to break, and a separation of a couple of years before Annie can escape threatens to keep them apart forever. But the love they have for each other keeps them going, and ensures their reunion, until Annie starts to spiral, and fall into addiction, causing a two-year separation that ends when Annie calls Lexie in a panic: she’s pregnant and needs help. Lexie and her fiancé, Sam, step in, and get her into hospital, and do everything they can to help her. They ensure her baby is taken into a loving home -theirs – to ensure the child is safe and doesn’t have a disruptive start to life. But Lexie is constantly questioning herself, and Annie – unsure if they can make it through, and unsure about letting people in to help her – she’s been alone for so long, she feels she has to do things for herself.

Kelly Rimmer has told the novel in alternating perspectives – Lexie and Annie. Lexie tells her story in the present, as she interacts with Annie, Sam, the doctors and her mother, whilst Annie’s are told in journal entries, to Luke, who turns out to be the director of the rehab clinic she is at as part of her court ordered rehab, due to a chemical endangerment charge. Set in Alabama, the story explores the way the society and people involved viewed Annie as a drug addict, and the judgements placed on her, encapsulating the spectrum of how different people reacted and what they would try to do, or in some cases, not do to help. For Lexie, finding a way to let go and let others help her became her journey, as she watched Annie struggle to detox, so she could get back to her daughter, Lexie’s niece, Daisy. The story examines the dynamics of the sisters with each other, and those around them: Sam, the other doctors, those involved in Annie’s case, Daisy, and their mother, Deborah and step-father, Robert. Annie’s journal entries reveal more of their childhood than Lexie’s recollections – she has tried to move on, and distance herself from that life, whereas Annie’s experiences are laid out in the journal entries, where what she went through is revealed entry by entry. Combined, the sister’s story becomes whole, as secrets and reasons for being the way they are become clearer as the novel goes on.

The stark differences in the sisters is clear from the early chapters: Lexie, who found a way to fly under the radar of her stepfather and suffocating religious community, has in some ways thrived: she has studied, and become a doctor, has a house and a fiancé. Yet she has also built up walls that are shaken whenever Annie re-enters her life, and she’s spent years picking up the pieces on her own, without reaching out for help. She doesn’t know how to, feels like she has to do this alone because her mother nor anybody else has ever tried. Annie, several years younger, and unable to leave with her sister, suffers until she is fourteen, though she tries to change her attitudes and stop rebelling, she finds herself flying down a different path – a path of defiance. It is a story that is heartbreaking and hopeful, and eye-opening – the questions it raises are important ones surrounding addiction and blame, and what choices might be made at various points in our lives that trigger what is to come.

Nobody is perfect in this novel, they all have their flaws. Even Sam, who is perfect to Lexie, is still human and struggles to cope with the way Lexie deals with Annie and her issues. It is a tough topic to tackle and read about, but it is a book that aims to show differing views and understandings of addiction and how it impacts the user and their family, as well as the conflicting feelings of addicts and who to blame, or what to blame. At the same time, it is the touching story of two sisters whose harsh childhood set them on different paths, and what it took for them to escape and build their own lives.

A touching, raw and emotional novel, Kelly Rimmer has done an eloquent job dealing with an issue that has many shades of grey, and no one answer or fix for it.

Booktopia

The Sister’s Song by Louise Allan

*Read in 2017, published review in 2018*
sisters songTitle: The Sister’s Song

Author: Louise Allan

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 2nd January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Set in rural Tasmania from the 1920s to the 1990s, The Sisters’ Song traces the lives of two very different sisters. One for whom giving and loving are her most natural qualities and the other who cannot forgive and forget.

As children, Ida loves looking after her younger sister, Nora, but when their beloved father dies in 1926, everything changes. The two young girls move in with their grandmother who is particularly encouraging of Nora’s musical talent. Nora eventually follows her dream of a brilliant musical career, while Ida takes a job as a nanny and their lives become quite separate.

The two sisters are reunited when Nora’s life takes an unwelcome direction and she finds herself, embittered and resentful, isolated in the Tasmanian bush with a husband and children.

Ida longs passionately for a family and when she marries Len, a reliable and good man, she hopes to soon become a mother. Over time, it becomes clear that this is never likely to happen. In Ida’s eyes, it seems that Nora possesses everything in life that could possibly matter yet she values none of it.

Set in rural Tasmania over a span of seventy years, the strengths and flaws of motherhood are revealed through the mercurial relationship of these two very different sisters. The Sisters’ Song speaks of dreams, children and family, all entwined with a musical thread that binds them together.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-rose
Most of the time when a novel contains love, it is the romantic kind, between two unrelated people, crossing paths and finding themselves tumbling head-first into a relationship, and its ups and downs, creating a much-loved genre amongst many readers. However, as someone who is not an avid fan of such novels, I always love it when I come across a novel where if there is romance, it is a subplot, or an element of the novel, and the main story shifts the important focus to something else, like family – a kind of love that is not often seen in many novels, but one that I have begun to see as creeping into books by Australian women writers, sometimes alongside a historical backdrop and some romantic love. It is this familial love that drives and instigates the plot of the debut novel by Louise Allan, The Sister’s Song.

 

Beginning in 1926 and set in Tasmania, and spanning the next seventy years, The Sister’s Song follows the lives of Ida and Nora Parker after their father dies, and their mother withdraws into herself. Nora is a gifted singer and piano player, and dedicated to faith, aww2017-badgeguided by the loving hand of her grandmother. Ida is the opposite, unsure of her place in the world, only knowing there are things she is not good at. When they grow up, their paths separate and Nora goes to the mainland to study music, against all her mother’s wishes, and Ida stays behind, becomes a nanny, weds, hoping to start a family. Their mother tries to keep Nora in Tasmania in the rural town they live in with their grandmother, pushing realism, not dreams, into their heads as the way to go. For Ida, this advice sticks with her but so does a feeling of wanting to be a better mother, a better sister. When Nora falls pregnant, she is sent home and married off to another man, and from here, the sister’s lives take a new turn, with Nora bearing the children Ida wishes she could, and each sister turning into what they never thought they would become.

Where Nora becomes more like their mother, Ida becomes more like their mother’s mother, and a supportive Aunt whose nephews and niece turn to in times of strife. Throughout the years, these sisters fight and come together, and ultimately, show the power of sisterly love through hard times. Spanning across seventy years, The Sister’s Song hints at the historical events Ida and Nora live through, but these moments are almost like passing ships as the reader becomes invested in the characters. I found that the love between the sisters, and Nora’s children was stronger, and had more depth in them than some romance novels I have read – deeper, more meaningful relationships always make a book more relatable and readable for me.

Louise Allan has created characters with flaws, that are not perfect and who make mistakes, and she allows them to make mistakes. She allows them to act and live within their time and frame of understanding as well, ensuring that their attitudes suit what they know, even if there are characters who find these attitudes shocking. Through Ida and Nora, various ways of living and thinking are explored, and understood over the years. It is a beautifully crafted story that shows everyone is human, and that everyone has the capability to follow their dreams, to fall, and to find their way back to who they once were, and the changing dynamics of family throughout time.

Ideal for readers looking for a new reader and a new author, and a refreshing take on the relationships that women have in literature and fiction. It’s always lovely to see one that doesn’t focus on falling in love, as it gives some variety and spice to female characters and their stories.

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