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.

AWW2020

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 Vanishing Deep by Astrid Scholte

the vanishing deepTitle: The Vanishing Deep

Author: Astrid Scholte

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 416

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Astrid Scholte, bestselling author of Four Dead Queens, brings fans a thrilling new standalone YA fantasy where the dead can be revived…for a price.

Two sisters. One dangerous secret. Twenty-four hours to uncover the truth.

Seventeen-year-old Tempest was born into a world of water. The most skilled diver on the Equinox Reef, she searches drowned cities with her older sister Elysea, seeking out old world treasures to trade for Notes. After Elysea mysteriously drowns, Tempest scavenges the ruins alone, driven to collect enough Notes to buy her sister’s life for 24 hours, and to finally learn the secret she had kept until her last breath.

However, once revived, Elysea convinces Tempest to break her out of the Palindromena research facility and they embark on a dangerous journey to discover the truth about their parents’ death. But they’re pursued by two Palindromena employees desperate to find them before Elysea’s time is up, and to prevent them from uncovering the secrets behind the revival process and the true cost of restored lives.

Dead or living, everyone must pay the price.

~*~

As Tempest awaits to revive her sister, she reflects on what led to this day – the death of her parents five years ago, and three years after that, the death of her sister, Elysea. While she waits, Lor, posing as a Warden named Raylan at the Palindromena facility where people can pay Notes to spend a final twenty-four hours with a loved one waits to begin the revival process for the sisters. Elysea and Lor both have secrets – yet it is only Elysea’s secret that Tempest is desperate to know about. Yet Elysea’s realisation of what is happening leads to a breakout, and search for the truth in a gripping and exciting twenty-four hour journey, told in alternate perspectives through Lor and Tempest’s eyes as they travel from Palindromena to Equinox and to party islands on a journey to seek answers they’ve been denied for many years.

AWW2020Reading a fantasy book – whether a stand-alone, duology, trilogy or part of series, especially when it is by an Australian author with what felt to me like a very Australian flavour is always exciting. It’s great to see the Australian literary landscape across the board booming and growing, especially with fantasy. The Vanishing Deep is a fantasy set in a future where the landscape and world – presumably somewhere like Australia, has been adversely affected by rising sea levels. It is referred to as the Old World, which was destroyed by the Great Waves – all hint towards a world changed forever by a climate emergency and series of disasters that led to lives now being lived on Reefs and isles, and has a sense of discomfort about a possible future, and some readers may find the themes of death uneasy or distressing, though it is shown off the page initially, and the issues around death and revival build throughout the novel, and how the characters deal with it. It can be confronting, but not overly so, and I felt was dealt with in a sensitive and evocative way that shows the realities of life and death and shows the conflict of comfort and distress at spending another twenty-four hours with a loved one.  The unsettling feeling of a world engulfed in water is filled with senses – the salty smell of the sea, a constant feeling of being wet, intermittent sounds of silence and swirling waves, and fishy and salty tastes, all work together with the words on the page and a sense of distress and foreboding for what is going to happen to make this a high stakes story that is fast paced and can be very hard to put down. This makes it thrilling and exciting as well, and I am sure will find readers amongst young adult, fantasy and many other audiences.

Whilst Tempest is a teenager – she’s seventeen – the loss of her parents and her sister within a few years of each other has meant she has had to grow up far more than others her age on the Equinox may have done. Yet she still exhibits the feelings, and doubts that someone her age would, and I felt this balance and the way she grapples with having to act like an adult whilst still a child herself was well executed, and done in a way that will hopefully appeal to all those who enjoy Young Adult books. As this is a stand-alone, the story is encapsulated within wholly, and manages to combine themes of friendship and family in a way that gives hope to the reader, even in a world where things have gone horribly wrong.

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

early riser .jpgTitle: Early Riser

Author: Jasper Fforde

Genre: Fiction/Mystery/Adventure/Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Hodder & Stoughton

Published: 31st July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Jasper Fforde’s first standalone novel – full of the imagination, wit and intelligence that has made Fforde a Number One bestseller.

The new standalone novel from Number 1 bestselling author Jasper Fforde. 

Imagine a world where all humans must hibernate through a brutally cold winter, their bodies dangerously close to death as they enter an ultra-low metabolic state of utterly dreamless sleep. All humans, that is, apart from the Winter Consuls, a group of officers who diligently watch over the vulnerable sleeping citizens.

Charlie Worthing is a novice, chosen by a highflying hero Winter Consul to accompany him to the Douzey, a remote sector in the middle of Wales, to investigate a dream which is somehow spreading amongst those in the hibernational state, causing paranoia, hallucination and a psychotic episode that can end in murder.

Worthing has been trained to deal with Tricksy Nightwalkers whose consciousness has been eroded by hibernation, leaving only one or two skills and an incredible hunger; he’s been trained to stay alive through the bleakest and loneliest of winters – but he is in no way prepared for what awaits him in Sector Twelve. There are no heroes in Winter, Worthing has been told. And he’s about to find out why…

~*~

It has been many years since a Jasper Fforde novel has been released, and of all his books, my two favourite series are the Thursday Next books, and the Nursery Crimes books – both of which I hope get updates soon, so I can find out what happens to my favourite characters. In Early Riser, the first stand-alone novel by Fforde, which is filled with the same satire, the same references to history, popular culture, entertainment and reading, as the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series his readers have come to know and love. Yet this is a different world to that of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, set in another alternate United Kingdom, this time in Wales, where humans spend the entire winter hibernating – and where a select few have volunteered to stay awake through winter to ensure everyone makes it through.

Charlie Worthing is one such volunteer. It is his first Winter awake, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time – there is an outbreak of viral dreams that start to kill people, and Charlie must work with the Winter Consul, and contend with the Wintervolk and those infecting the dreams of the hibernating folk and killing them.

This is a sort of dystopian, alternate universe that is quintessentially British, and charmingly so, with the presence of After Eights, Tunnocks Tea Cakes and a tongue-in-cheek humour that I have come to expect and love in Fforde’s works. It is a humour that knowing some of the references, such as his cheeky nods to The Sound of Music, that knowing where they are from helps you appreciate them all the more, and it is so typically Fforde – he manages to get the balance of respect and satire just right, and it suits the book and the character of Charlie so well -one wonders if Charlie has ever crossed paths with the Nursery Crime Division and Thursday Next – books I must read again, and am hoping for continuations of.

The cruelty of Charlie’s first Winter is evident in how the Consul treats him, in the hints at hazing and how different departments perform this – where one might be akin to pranks and drills, Charlie’s hazing is said to be more like making tea and doing laundry – that is, until he is given a promotion to take on heavier duties and investigations into the dream deaths. Fforde cleverly shows how this happens but using subversive and discreet language – nothing is obviously stated, and Charlie is constantly warned about the consequences of falling asleep. Part mystery as well as satire as Charlie investigates what happens, he soon finds himself uncovering secrets about people he thought he knew and finding out things he never thought he would.

Fforde manages to capture something unique about the world, about history and literature, and British culture that is entertaining, informative and amusing. He uses the punching up rule of humour, mixed in with equal delectable dollops of parody and satire to complement the seemingly insane and odd mystery that makes sense in the dystopian alternate universe of Wales that Fforde has created for Charlie to live in, with an ending that is both conclusive and open enough for readers to imagine what happens next. It is a novel that will appeal to Fforde fans and hopefully those who appreciate a tongue in cheek humour and nods to things we’ve all encountered or heard of at some stage, which makes the reading experience richer and more enticing when you can understand these references.

Jasper’s first novel in about four years, Early Riser is the beginning of what will hopefully be a barrage of new books, and updates on our favourite characters and stories. I enjoyed being back in the world of Jasper Fforde and can’t wait for his next offering – which I hope will be soon. In the meantime, I plan to re-read the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, that latter of which only has two books at this stage.

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