Christmas Lilies by Jackie French

Christmas LiliesTitle: Christmas Lilies

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 15th November 2019

Format: eBook

Pages: 48

Price: $2.99

Synopsis: Paris,Christmas 1914

Despite her love for Huw, Elspeth will not give up her espionage work while World War One rages. She will wear his ring around her neck, and marry him when the war is over.

But a pregnant unmarried woman cannot, officially, work either. Sent on a secret mission into occupied Belgium, and unable to contact Huw, Elspeth begins to realise she is risking not just herself, but also her unborn baby. As danger escalates, will there ever be a joyous Christmas for Elspeth, Huw and their child?

For those who love the Miss Lily series, this is a story about the ‘army of women’ who played such a major role in World War One, but were left out of official histories. It is also a story of a love so strong it will survive until the chance to bloom again.

~*~

The war everything thought would be over by Christmas still rages across Europe, scarring the fields of France and Belgium throughout the bitter, cold months. In Paris, Elspeth, and Huw, meet up. Here, Huw wishes for her to marry him. Yet Elspeth, part of an espionage network linked to Miss Lily, does not want to give her spy work up. So in a compromise, she promises to marry him at the end of the war.

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However, discovering she is pregnant, Elspeth heads into occupied Belgium on a secret mission, where she soon realises her unborn baby is at risk as well, and danger escalates over the months of her pregnancy. What will a dangerous mission mere weeks after giving birth to her child mean for Elspeth and those around her?

Continuing the stories about the ‘army of women’ who played a major role in the events of the war, yet were left out of the official histories, Christmas Lilies gives these women a voice. Where the first Miss Lily Christmas story takes place during the first peacetime Christmas since 1913, one of hope that the world will right itself, this one has a sense of despondency and danger as well as hope. The hope that the war will end is coupled with the danger the characters face, and the uncertain despondency of when the war will end, how it will end and who – if anyone – in Miss Lily’s circle, will survive.

These books are a little extra for fans to read in between the main books – which explain much of what occurs in these ones as well, so far, so not all need to be read. Astute readers of all may pick up on things in this one and book three – regardless of which order we have read them in. This made putting some pieces together fun, and intriguing, and of course, added to the mystery the pops up in The Lily in the Snow at the start, which of course, is resolved by the end.

The novella is out later this year, and I am looking forward to reading and reviewing it here over November or December – when it is released. Once I have read that, I will be up to date with Miss Lily until the next book comes out, which should be next year, and I am very keen to read it and find out what happens.

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The Lily in the Snow (Miss Lily #3) by Jackie French

The Lily in the SnowTitle: The Lily in the Snow (Miss Lily #3)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 480

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The world is at war, and women are working, often behind the scenes, in areas from nursing to espionage. And despite their many successes, these are the women the men don’t see.

Unimaginable danger creeps ever closer to Miss Lily and her loved ones . . .

Amid the decadence and instability of Berlin in the 1920s, a band of women must unite to save all that is precious to them.

With her dangerous past behind her, Australian heiress Sophie Higgs lives in quiet comfort as the Countess of Shillings, until Hannelore, Princess of Arneburg, charms the Prince of Wales. He orders Sophie, Nigel – and Miss Lily – to investigate the mysterious politician Hannelore believes is the only man who can save Europe from another devastating war.

His name is Adolf Hitler.

As unimaginable peril threatens to destroy countries and tear families apart, Sophie must face Goering’s Brownshirt Nazi thugs, blackmail, and the many possible faces of love.

And then the man she once adored and thought was lost reappears, and Sophie will be confronted by the girl intent on killing the mother who betrayed her family in the war: Miss Lily.

The third book in the Miss Lily series, The Lily in the Snow is a story filled with secrets that also explores the strength of friendship and the changing face of women in this new Europe.

 

~*~

 

The third book in the Miss Lily series starts moving into the end of the 1920s, with the looming economic crisis that will become The Great Depression, affecting the whole world, and creating the foundations for the Nazi regime of the 1930s and 1940s in Germany. Sophie and Nigel have not seen Miss Lily for many years – and their twins, Rose and Danny, who are nearly three. They are living their lives when a young girl named Violette – claiming Lily Shillings is her mother. Her arrival disrupts Shillings just as Hannelore and David, Prince of Wales, start trying to get Sophie, Nigel and Miss Lily to meet with the politician, Adolf Hitler. Forced into a trip to Germany, Sophie, Nigel, and their family are drawn into a world of espionage, Brownshirts, anti- Semitism and various other ideas about what Hitler called “degenerates” through blackmail, as people question Miss Lily’s absence amidst political and economic turmoil.

Sophie’s ideas of love will be tested as she grapples with love for home, love for family, and love for those who have shaped her life since before the Great War. During their travels, the man Sophie loved during her time in Australia after the war reappears. Sophie is caught between all these people she has loved – and what everything she is facing in Europe and the coming threat from Germany will mean for her.

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As the Miss Lily series moves through the twentieth century, the politics of the time start to shape what the characters do and who they are. Sophie has changed since she first arrived at Shillings in 1913 – in many ways. She has fallen in love, is married and is a mother to beautiful twins. But she’s still not content to sit back and let men tell her what to do. She is determined to see if she can help convince David to pull his support from Hitler, and not support the National Socialist party of Germany, to prevent another war. She wants to convince Hannelore that Hitler is not going to help Germany. Helping Violette is important too – and Violette was a really lovely addition to this series – there were lots of things I loved about her as she grew into her role in Sophie’s life, and the way she at first, came across as impulsive and dangerous, but once she had a home and security, she proved her loyalty to Sophie, Green and the rest of the Shillings family over their time in Germany.

I have loved the Miss Lily series since it first came out a few years ago, and I am working my way through the Christmas stories as well – with a couple to go to read and review. These novels approach the first half of the twentieth century – so far up to the start of the Great Depression – through the lens of the women of the era and what they did – and the stories that are untold. Many people know women served in various ways on the home front or as nurses in World War One, but what is less known is the role of women as spies, collecting intelligence and tracking troop movements, or blowing up bridges. These women were known as La Dame Blanche – and would use knitting to send codes and messages – which is woven throughout the Miss Lily novels intricately. It is these actions that helped defeat Germany.

In this novel, Jackie French delves into the dark, horrifying mind of Hitler and Nazi ideals – repeating them for context, and distinctly showing Sophie and Nigel’s discomfort and unease with these ideas – as Nigel is both Nigel and Miss Lily – comfortable as both, it seems, and they support Doctor Hirschfeld, who tells them about his theories about sexuality and gender, and identity and acceptance. It is these ideas, and Nigel/Miss Lily – that are an example of what Hitler dislikes – and the results are heartbreaking. We know what is to come, and we know what happens within ten years of this novel closing. These conflicting ideas show how one man can twist a country to believe what he tells him, and how he can alter so many lives – and take the world in an entirely different direction than if he had perhaps been stopped, if the ideas of someone like Dr Hirschfeld had been allowed to flourish beyond the secrecy Sophie and Nigel witnessed in 1929.

Economic turmoil is present in this book too across Europe, and this unease is always at the back of everyone’s minds as they settle into relative peacetime – and work towards preventing another war. As Sophie plans to take her family back to Australia, she prepares to protect those closest to her. Even as she does this, there are still some secrets that are kept from her – all for her own protection, she is told. These secrets drive the novel, and there are hints towards things coming in the next book. It is interesting reading these books in hindsight, knowing what happens, and what is to come, and wanting to warn the characters. Ever astute though, Sophie can see what must be done, with the knowledge she has. And Jackie French has cleverly managed to combine what she knows with what her characters would have known or felt they would have known in the 1920s to create a realistic world and one that I can’t wait to get back to when Sophie Vaile returns next year.

Rebel Women Who Changed Australia by Susanna de Vries

rebel women who shaped australiaTitle: Rebel Women Who Changed Australia

Author: Susanna de Vries

Genre: Biography

Publisher: Harper Collins Australia

Published: 15th April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 592

Price: 34.99

Synopsis: Celebrate the women who changed our nation. From Lillie Goodisson, pioneer of family planning, to Eileen Joyce, world-famous pianist, Enid Lyons, our first female cabinet minister, Stella Miles Franklin, who endowed our most celebrated literary prize, and Dr Catherine Hamlin, whose fistula hospitals in Africa have given hope to thousands, Australian women have made a difference to our own country and the world.

While the history of Australia is rich with the accounts of the deeds of men, women’s contributions have often been overlooked. This updated and condensed edition of Susanna de Vries Complete Book of Great Australian Women remedies that and celebrates, for a new generation, women who broke the mould, crashed through ceilings, and shaped the nation in the fields of medicine, law, the arts and politics.

These are women who helped to forge the Australia we know today.

Dr Agnes Bennett – Dr Dagmar Berne – Nancy Bird Walton – Edith Cowan – Fanny Durack – Stella Miles Franklin – Mary Gilmore – Sister Lillie Goodisson – Dr Catherine Hamlin – Eileen Joyce – Annette Kellerman – Sister Elizabeth Kenny – Kundaibark – Louisa Lawson – Joice Nankivell Loch – Enid Burnell Lyons – Mary McConnel – Nellie Melba – Roma Mitchell – Oodgeroo Noonuccal – Sister Lucy Osburn – Margaret Rose Preston – Henry Handel Richardson – Joan Rosanove – Rose Scott – Ella Simon – Dr Constance Stone – Florence Mary Taylor – Kylie Tennant

~*~

Rebel Women Who Changed Australia brings to life many stories that have been hidden for a long time – and some that might not have been wholly known, mixed in with the few whose names are often known. Of the women in this book, I probably had heard of and knew something about at least eight, whilst the rest I may have only heard in passing or never heard at all in my history lessons – something that I think can effectively be included without denying other important events and figures their place in history. They all matter, why shouldn’t we teach them all?

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Books like this allow hidden history to be revealed, and it covers white women, Indigenous women, rich women, and poor women. Women whose families had different ideas about what they should do, and women whose families supported them and helped them. These women all made different sacrifices or changes in their lives, and never let anyone else define them.

They each had a different journey, and passion but what unites them is their stories have often been hidden, forgotten or even framed alongside those of men, as many of the women in the medical field were. They fought to have their voices heard, and eventually did. Sometimes, they may have received credit in their day, and other times, it may have been assigned to a man in their field or lives – and only later did they get equal billing.

But now, we are hearing these stories and it makes history richer – and interesting as well. It allows women who achieved things in times when they were expected to do not much more than marry and have kids within society to be showcased, and gives girls heroes to look up to who aren’t passive princesses (although, in some fairy tales, the girls do hold their own. One just needs to read the originals instead of the sanitised, watered down versions).

What I’m enjoying about books like this is it shows women as more than what history books represent them as at times, and identify who they are and what they did, what made them exceptional for their time. It allows for readers of all ages to see what women could do, not only what they were expected to do, proving that these unstoppable rebel women refused to let anything, and anyone stop them reaching their goals. They pushed through barriers as much as possible, and at times, worked in their field until they were physically unable to, but by that time, they had made their mark and will forever be remembered for their remarkable achievements in the face of various barriers and attempts at resistance. A book that would effectively complement any Australian history course, and many women overlap, and indeed knew each other, and seeing these connections made it interesting as well.

Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Women Doctors of the Great War by Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

women to the frontTitle: Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Women Doctors of the Great War

Author: Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

Genre: History, Non-Fiction

Publisher: Ebury Press/Penguin Random House

Published: 2nd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $34.99

Synopsis:At the outbreak of World War I, 129 women were registered as medical practitioners in Australia, and many of them were eager to contribute their skills and expertise to the war effort. For the military establishment, however, the notion of women doctors serving on the battlefield was unthinkable. Undaunted, at least twenty-four Australian women doctors ignored official military policy and headed to the frontlines.
This book explores the stories of the Australian women who served as surgeons, pathologists, anaesthetists and medical officers between 1914 and 1919. Despite saving hundreds of lives, their experiences are almost totally absent from official military records, both in Australia and Great Britain, and many of their achievements have remained invisible for over a century. Until now.
Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee have compiled a fascinating and meticulously researched account of the Great War, seen through the eyes of these women and their essential work. From the Eastern to the Western Fronts, to Malta, and to London, we bear witness to the terrible conditions, the horrific injuries, the constant danger, and above all, the skill and courage displayed by this group of remarkable Australians. Women to the Front is a war story unlike any other.

~*~

I spent many years in high school and university studying history – modern and ancient, and across Australia, Europe and the Middle East, Rome and Greece when it came to Ancient History – at least when it came to courses. Beyond that, I have tried to read diversely, to fill in the gaps of a predominantly male driven historical record where women and other groups were not always present, or at least, not acknowledged. The one course I studied that was perhaps the most diverse – yet still concise due to the twelve week semester – was women’s history, where each lesson covered a different aspect and practice across the world, and where our further reading, text books and assignments gave a broader view of practices such as foot binding, sati, or widow burning, and many others that informed and built on my knowledge.

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Yet when it came to Australian history, I heard about the suffragettes but I learnt about them in depth in Society and Culture, and learned much more about World War One and Two in history – from the Australian, British and German perspectives across years ten, eleven and twelve. I learned about the causes, the battles, and the key figures. I learned that women were part of the war effort on the home front and as nurses – but not much else.

So when I came across Women to the Front, I was overjoyed because here was the book that would have made some of what I studied more interesting. Here, I discovered one hundred and twenty-nine women doctors went to the various theatres of war as surgeons and anaesthetists, pathologists and medical officers – not just nurses. These one hundred and twenty-nine women did not let the patriarchal system wear them down or chase them from the medical profession – they pushed forward, became doctors in the decades leading up to the war and volunteered to go.

At first, of course, they were often denied. They were called ‘lady doctors’, the assumption being they couldn’t handle the battlefield reality the men heading over would face. Of course, these 129 women went on to prove the society wrong. These women were serving their country and doing their jo, a job they loved doing and that at the time, was probably not as common as it is today, due to societal expectations from parents, and all those around them, often based on class. Books like this – fiction and non-fiction, driven by women and what they can do, not just romance, are amongst my favourite because they fly in the face of what is expected or assumed women will do and like. Allowing girls and women to read and access stories like this is important because it allows them to see what they can do and be beyond what popular culture often shows.

Their stories are collected here in five parts, each divided into a year of the war, and from there, into chapters that are then divided by theatre and location for each woman or several women who worked together. From Gallipoli to Ypres and Passchendaele, the battlefields of France and Belgium, and the many men they helped and treated after battles, this book tells the stories that I wish we had learned about in history, or at least been given a side box on in text books to investigate on our own for assignments – which I tried to do for one on war memorials in Sydney – but found that for the one I wanted to do, I could not access enough information to write a decent report.

These days, we are getting more diverse historical accounts, and whilst many of these women were white and had British heritage, it is still important to read and know these stories – it shows that the war was experienced by more than just men at the front or doctors. So these stories about women doctors from Ruth Lee and Heather Sheard are an important addition to the historical record, and could be used as a text book, or even placed on a reading list for a history course that touches on or focuses on World War One.

At the end of the book, there is a biography of each woman. Some are shorter than others, so much like anyone in history, sometimes more is known about one than another, yet each has their own unique story. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I’m continuously seeking the untold histories that were either ignored or erased by those who wrote the history books.

The Bad Mother’s Book Club by Keris Stainton

the bad mothers book clubTitle: The Bad Mother’s Book Club

Author: Keris Stainton

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Trapeze/Hachette

Published: 23rd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 266

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: This book club only reads wine labels – the laugh-out-loud novel from ebook bestseller Keris Stainton

Since moving to the Liverpudlian seaside after her husband’s career change, Emma Chance’s life consists of the following: long walks on the beach (with the dog), early nights (with the kids) and Netflix (no chill).

Bored and lonely, when Emma is cordially invited to the exclusive cool school-mums’ book club, hosted by Head of PTA and footballer’s wife, Jools Jackson, she thinks her luck may finally be about to change. She soon realises she may have made a grave mistake when she realises it’s all about books, and less about wine and gossip – but it’s always better to stick things out, isn’t it?

Or not.

After a few months and a few awkward moments involving a red wine on white carpet accident and a swear-word incident involving Jools’s daughter, Emma is ungraciously kicked out of the book club. Exhausted and exiled, she decides it’s about time she fights back against the shame and humiliation. Enlisting the help of some similar-thinking mums, Emma sets up her own book club – no cleaners, polite conversation or reading required: this is the BAD MOTHER’S BOOK CLUB.

 

~*~

 

Living near Liverpool after moving for her husband’s new job as a football manager, Emma Chance finds herself in a new environment to navigate – school parking politics, the PTA and managing to be herself whilst at the same time, putting a good face forward for her husband as he works with the footballer husband of Jools Jackson, who invites Emma to her exclusive book club. However, this book club turns out to be more than what Emma bargained for, and an incident involving Jool’s daughter sees her kicked out. So with fellow mum’s – Beth and Hanan – they start their own book club – The Bad Mother’s Book Club as they all try to navigate school, being a mum and the delicate politics of the PTA and surviving Jools – that is, until something Jools has been trying to hide comes out and she finds that letting Emma in is only going to help her.

In a refreshing story about female friendship, this novel combines light-hearted elements and humour with the struggles that we don’t always want others to see, but that we can’t always hide and eventually, need to ask for help with. It is not depressing, though has a few moments of gravitas that hit home that anyone can be vulnerable and imperfect – but it shows that these moments are okay because whoever we are, we all have them.

It is a great read for anytime – for sitting at home, a holiday or just a touch of light reading – there are many layers in this book to be enjoyed and it is nice to see imperfect characters of all types who acknowledge their flaws and where characters are allowed to be themselves and have concerns, and talk them out without being dismissed. Between mystery appointments and school, the women of the book club, Emma Beth and Hanan must also manage to find a way to raise their children and ensure each child is not ignored. For Emma, this means doing whatever she can to help her son settle in at school, ad watching him struggle, whilst her daughter, Ruby, pushes herself with more work and stress than Emma first realises until each family joins together for a trip for a school project and barriers are broken down and they come together to help each other – another element of the book I enjoyed, showing that everyone is different and has a different path, but no matter what these differences in race, gender or sexuality, friendships can be formed through common bonds of parenthood and hobbies – in the case of this novel.

I enjoyed taking a break from my usual hefty reading in historical fiction, fantasy and literary fiction to explore this world, where friendship is the key to the story, and it is something that we need more of for all readers – whatever their age or gender, and wherever they are at their stage of life.

Blog Tour #1: Review of The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

the botanists daughter.jpgTitle: The Botanist’s Daughter

Author: Kayte Nunn

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 31st July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 388

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower . . .

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father’s quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed ‘Spring 1886’ and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.

In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .

‘I loved The Botanist’s Daughter. I was transported to the 1880s and Chile, to contemporary Sydney and Kew. A gripping, warm-hearted read’
JOY RHOADES, author of The Woolgrower’s Companion

‘The riveting story of two women, divided by a century in time, but united by their quest to discover a rare and dangerous flower said to have the power to heal as well as kill. Fast-moving and full of surprises, The Botanist’s Daughter brings the exotic world of 19th-century Chile thrillingly to life’ KATE FORSYTH

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This review and upcoming Q and A with the author are part of a blog tour with Hachette during August.

AWW-2018-badge-roseElizabeth Trebithick lives in Victorian England, in an old house, alone after the death of her father and sister’s marriage. Headstrong and determined to make her own way in the world and not be confined to the female universe that society, her sister and brother in law seem bent on setting out for her, Elizabeth sets out on a quest presented to her by her father before his death – to Chile to find a rare plant with miraculous qualities, that might have the answers and cures to many ailments, but getting it from Chile to England will be the challenge. But so will life aboard a ship for many months, and then life in South America: falling in love, making enemies and the consequences that come with hiding secrets and secret missions.

In Australia in 2017, Anna’s discovery of a tightly sealed box containing a diary, sketches and watercolours, as well as a hidden secret that draws Anna into the mystery of the diary of Elizabeth, known at first as ‘E’ – it ruptures her ordered life of work, and routine, and beings to force her to face her own demons, the memories of her past still haunting her as she tries to let go and move on with her life – which is why she has created such a well-ordered schedule, so life doesn’t overwhelm her. When the box she finds triggers a mystery that potentially involves her family, Anna leaves to go to England to trace the story of Elizabeth and the flower she was searching for – the Devil’s Trumpet. Keen to find out more about Elizabeth, and the diary, Anna’s trip takes her to London, Kew and Cornwall – to meet a descendant of Elizabeth’s father whom she hopes will be able to help her solve the mystery of the diary and paintings. With the help of her sister, Vanessa and friends who also work with plants, Anna’s interest is caught: and it is a mystery that had me turning each page diligently and eagerly as she met botanists in England at Kew, and found a kinship with them, and a shared interest in botany that Anna will soon learn hits much closer to home than she, her mother or her sister ever realised.

Elizabeth and Anna are strong, wilful characters whose driven presence gives the book its strength. It is through these characters that the world of botany comes to life, the smells and sounds of both centuries and cities, and the scent of flowers wafts around as you read – even the unfamiliar plants and scents filter through, and come to life in the imagination. The characters in both timelines were so full of life and complexities, both linked by a love of botany, which shines through, as does their determination not to let families, times or other people define what they do and who they are – they are allowed to be themselves and – particularly Elizabeth – work within the confines of what is expected of them whilst maintaining a sense of self and individuality that springs in a lively form from the page.

With a few twists and turns, the mystery of the diary, sketches and forgotten stories and family are solved, and brought together in a riveting ending that has whispers of the past potentially coming through on the very last page.

A well written novel, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. My Q and A with Kayte will appear on the blog on the 12th of August as part of the blog tour with Hachettte.

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The Upside of Over by JD Barrett

upside of overTitle: The Upside of Over

Author: J.D. Barrett

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 29th May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 298

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A scathingly brilliant new novel from TV scriptwriter J.D. Barrett, author of THE SECRET RECIPE FOR SECOND CHANCES, that explores sex, love and all the stuff in-between.

What happens when one of the country’s most popular identities goes from reading the news to being the news?

Olivia Law had always been the good girl. Great grades, perfect career, husband, house and hairdo. She’d learnt image was everything, so she refused to look below the surface of her life. When not at work, her minutes were filled with causes, chairing boards and dining at fabulous restaurants with her equally fabulous husband, David. She kept up the Botox, blow-dries and worked hard. It wasn’t enough, but whenever doubt crept in she’d head to a Pilates class or plan a renovation on her trophy house.

Then she turned 45.
Olivia wasn’t prepared for David to leave. The fact that they hadn’t had sex for two years should have triggered warning bells … it didn’t.

In an attempt to fix her broken marriage Olivia exposes herself like never before. But when her confession goes viral, the husband, house and job disappear. The woman who once offered glamorous reassurance and a steady gaze is labelled a princess of perversion. Humiliated, defeated, facing fifty shades of failure, she’s left wondering who the hell she really is? Stripped bare, she abandons perfection … and something remarkable happens.

Olivia Law just might get her sass back (and this time, it’s the real thing).

The brilliant new novel from J.D. Barrett about break ups, breakdowns and break throughs. Batteries not included.

 

~*~

Olivia Law has enjoyed a well-respected career as a newsreader and in the media for many years. And then her marriage falls apart, and she sends a private video to her ex-husband that is a little risqué, which somehow goes viral. What follows is the epic fallout that sees Olivia hit rock bottom, and it takes best friend Darcy, stepson, Finn, her best gay friends, Hugo and Ricky, and a few unexpected allies to pull her through. Escaping up to Byron, Olivia confronts her own sexuality and identity, finding friends in Leo, and Ace, and a new identity that she forges through an online personality, which is encouraged by her friends and her stepson’s mother, Karen and sister Ava. As she ventures into this new life, hints of why she was fired and how the video was leaked to the public start to come out, and sexual harassment cases start to emerge as Olivia’s videos begin to empower women to speak out about anything and everything and stand up for themselves. What will follow results in the reactions to what happens in these cases and how people try to make sure the least harm is done, and what happens when people are caught out.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe Upside of Over looks at how women in the entertainment industry can and at times, are treated once they reach a certain age, as though they have a use by date that society seems to impose on them for career, family, marriage. After her unsuccessful marriage, Olivia feels lost for a while and is questioning where she fits in, and whether she really has a place in the world anymore, which leads to her exploration of self. When she fails, that failure is what catapults her into a new life, and with a renewed sense of self. It is a funny book, that readers at cross roads of their life, and wondering about where they are going, J.D. Barrett writes about the forced invisibility and compliance of Olivia with humour and sass that ensures each page is a surprise and creates a story with charm as well as humour.

Of all the characters, I think Ricky, Hugo and Finn ended up being my favourites, and I was surprised by Karen, and the way she turned out to be such a good friend to Olivia in the end and backed her at every stage in the case that the network Olivia had worked for brought against her. I loved the diversity in this book – the ages, the genders, everything and the way the plot and everything else all flowed so seamlessly together, showing that the world isn’t always what we see on the surface, that there is more to people than meets the eye and peeling back the layers shows who we truly are.

In today’s world, where the #TimesUp movement was started with the revelations last year about Harvey Weinstein, this is an eerily prophetic book that looks at the inner workings of the television and media industries – what we see onscreen doesn’t reveal what happens behind the scenes, and the way the media treated Olivia in the novel – when it had never been her intention for the video to be leaked – illustrated the different ways media reports scandals depending on who is involved and the perspective they want to present. Where Olivia’s network tried to throw her under  the bus, when one of her former colleagues came through for her, I liked that, and thought it sent a powerful message that sometimes standing up for what is right, and doing everything possible to uncover the truth, even if it means risking your own career, is better than kowtowing to executives and what they want.

With the current wave of stories coming out against Hollywood producers, this could not be a more timely novel in my mind, and even though it doesn’t directly reference the #TimesUp movement or Weinstein, the shadows and hints about it are there, showing the fickleness of the outward appearance of perfection, and how quickly things can go wrong, but the upside of this is what Olivia made of it, and the voice that she gave to women all over through her venture – even those she didn’t expect to hear from.

Interview with J.D. Barret appears on this blog too.

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