Review: The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: The Secret Years

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin  August 2015

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Status: Read from August 23 to 25, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Secret Years is Barbara Hannay’s 49th book, in which she blends a contemporary and historical narrative to present an engaging novel about family, heroism, heartbreak and love.

Army logistics officer Lucy Hunter is relieved to be home in Townsville after her six month deployment in Afghanistan but she isn’t prepared for the changes in store for her. Her mother has exchanged her childhood home for a sterile condo apartment she is sharing with a new man, her grandfather’s health is failing, and her fiance, Sam, has cold feet. With several weeks of leave ahead of her, Lucy is at a loose end until she discovers a box of wartime memorabilia that contains clues to her family’s history that neither her mother or grandfather are willing to talk about. Hoping to understand the secrets of the past, Lucy travels to Cornwall, a place where she just might find her future.

Moving between the past and present, the narrative shifts between Lucy’s journey to unravel her family’s secrets, and the story of the relationship between Lucy’s cattleman grandfather, Harry, and his aristocratic bride, Georgina. Emotions run high in both timelines through scenes of wartime drama, desperate passion and captivating romance.

I liked Lucy and I sympathised with her desire to understand the past. The mystery stems from the discord between Lucy’s mother, Ro and Lucy’s grandfather, Harry, which Lucy learns is related to her mother’s brief time in England. I also enjoyed Lucy’s romance with the dashing Nick.

But it was the story of Harry and George’s courtship and marriage that I found particularly entrancing. Their love is touching, and their wartime experiences are exciting, if also sobering.

The story takes us from Australia’s coastline and outback, to London during the Blitz, from the wild bluffs of Cornwall to the jungles of Papua New Guinea as the Japanese invade. Both the contemporary and wartime settings are vividly described, as are the characters experiences of them.

The Secret Years is well written with appealing characters and a moving story. Another winning romance.

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Review & Giveaway: Long Bay by Eleanor Limprecht

 

Title: Long Bay

Author: Eleanor Limprecht

Published: Sleepers Publishing August 2015

Status: Read from August 15 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Drawing on official documents and extensive general research into the period, author Eleanor Limprecht blends fact and imagination to create a convincing narrative that tells the story of a woman forgotten by history in her novel, ‘Long Bay’.

Born in Paddington, New South Wales in 1885, Rebecca Sinclair was the fourth of six children, raised by her mother who was widowed when Rebecca was two. She married at nineteen, birthed a daughter, and four years later, alongside her husband, was convicted of manslaughter for the death of a mother of three who died after an abortion procedure performed by Rebecca went wrong. Rebecca was sentenced to three years hard labour in Long Bay and while imprisoned, Rebecca birthed her second daughter.

Limprecht builds on these known details of Rebecca’s life with her imagination, informed by research, creating a story that depicts a childhood of poverty, a marriage marred by bigamy and violence and the events that led up to the tragic event that resulted in her being jailed. Long Bay illustrates an era where women had limited control over their lives and often struggled under the weight of deprivation and hardship.

There is no doubt that Rebecca’s story is fascinating and I was intrigued by the details of her life, but the writing is often quite dry and unsentimental, lacking the emotion that could have breathed more vitality into the narrative. Yet the story is rich in period detail, evoking the city landscape and era well.

A thoughtful and readable novel, I did enjoy Long Bay. I feel it is a story that will interest readers of both historical fiction and non fiction, especially those curious about women’s lives and issues at the turn of the century.

GIVEAWAY

Courtesy of the author, I have 1 print edition of Long Bay to giveaway to an Australian resident

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Review: The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

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Title: The Beast’s Garden

Author: Kate Forsyth

Published: Random House AU August 2015

Status: Read from August 11 to 12, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Inspired by the Grimm Brothers fairytales, most notably ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, a variant of Beauty and the Beast, Kate Forsyth weaves a compelling tale of romance, war, heartbreak and courage in The Beast’s Garden.

The Beast’s Garden opens in 1938 as Hitler begins to persecute the Jewish population of Berlin. Nineteen year old songstress Ava Falkenhorst is stunned by the violence, and horrified when close family friends, the Feidlers are targeted simply for being Jewish. When Ava’s childhood friend Rupert is transported to Buchenwald, and her father threatened with arrest, Ava permits the attentions of Leo von Lowenstein, a high ranking handsome Nazi officer torn between duty and honour. Though their marriage secures Ava’s father’s safety, Ava, who is determined to help the Feidlers and others like them, can’t trust that Leo will not betray her and hides her subversive activities, unaware that her husband is also working against the regime he serves.

With authentic and compelling detail Forsyth explores life under the Nazi regime in the lead up and during World War Two. The terrible suffering of the Jewish population and their attempts to defy Hitler are exhaustively documented, but rarely is mention made of the Germans who rebelled against the Gestapo in both small and significant ways. Forsyth acknowledges the efforts of the German people who risked their own lives to mitigate the attrition, and real historical figures, such as Admiral Canaris, and Harro and Libertas Schulze-Boysen of the Red Orchestra Resistance, who actively worked to disrupt Hitler’s rule.

Not that Forsyth shies away from illustrating the experience of Nazi rule for the Jewish. Threads of the story illustrate the harrowing experiences of Rupert, imprisoned in Buchenwald, a concentration camp ruled by Karl-Otto Koch and his sadistic wife known as The Witch of Buchenwald; and life for Rupert’s sister, Jutta, in Berlin as she becomes involved in the resistance and struggles to stay one step ahead of the SS.

It is the relationship between Ava and Leo that echoes the fairytales we are familiar with. Ava, the innocent, brave beauty, Leo the ‘Beast’; an unlikely love, besieged by tragedy, that blooms, like the roses that feature in their courtship. Rich characterisation ensures neither Ava nor Leo are mere cliches, and though there is a happy ending, it is hard won.

Skillfully crafted, The Beast’s Garden is another magnificent historical novel seamlessly melding truth and fiction, from Kate Forsyth. A wonderful tale of daring and courage, of struggle and survival, of love and loyalt, this is a ‘must read’.

Please CLICK HERE to learn more about Kate Forsyth and The Beast’s Garden

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AWW Feature: Kate Forsyth, Fairytale Retellings and The Beast’s Garden

Forsyth, Kate

I am honoured to welcome Kate Forsyth to Book’d Out today to celebrate the release of her latest book, The Beast’s Garden.

Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of more than thirty books, including The Witches of Eileanan and Rhiannon’s Ride fantasy series for adults. She completed a doctorate in fairytale retellings and the novels that have come out of this fascination include the winner of the 2015 American Libraries Association Prize for Historical Fiction, Bitter Greens, and  The Wild Girl .

Filled with danger, intrigue and romance, The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of the Grimm brothers’ ‘Beauty and The Beast’, is a beautiful, compelling love story set in a time when the world seemed on the brink of collapse.

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“It’s August 1939 in Germany, and Ava’s world is in turmoil. To save her father, she must marry a young Nazi officer, Leo von Löwenstein, who works for Hitler’s spy chief in Berlin. However, she hates and fears the brutal Nazi regime, and finds herself compelled to stand against it.

Ava joins an underground resistance movement that seeks to help victims survive the horrors of the German war machine. But she must live a double life, hiding her true feelings from her husband, even as she falls in love with him.

Gradually she comes to realise that Leo is part of a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. As Berlin is bombed into ruins, the Gestapo ruthlessly hunt down all resistance and Ava finds herself living hand-to-mouth in the rubble of the shell-shocked city. Both her life and Leo’s hang in the balance.”

My review of the The Beast’s Garden can be read HERE but first please take the time to read Kate’s guest post…

Fairytale Retellings

by Kate Forysth

I have loved fairy tale retellings ever since I read Eleanor Farjeon’s enchanting ‘Cinderella’ novel, The Glass Slipper, in primary school. Back then, there were only a few fairy tale retellings around – Eleanor Farjeon’s The Silver Curlew and Nicholas Stuart Grey’s The Stone Cage and The Seventh Swan among them.

In my late teens I discovered Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip, and then read Jane Yolen’s heartbreaking retelling of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set in World War II. I also loved C.S. Lewis’s retelling of the Eros & Psyche myth, Till We Have Faces, told from the point of view of Psyche’s ugly sister.

I began to be fascinated by the idea of using old tales in new and unexpected ways – telling the story from the point of view of the villain, for example. Each new reimagining illuminated the tale in surprising ways.

Retelling old tales is not a new fad.

Fairy tales, myths and legends have never been static. For as long as they have been told – which could well be more than 300,000 years – tales have been shaped and changed and altered by whoever told the tale. As humans explored the world, making contact with other cultures and other storytelling traditions, their tales travelled too … and were adopted and transformed for their new audiences.

Writers such as the 16th century Neapolitan courtier, Giambattista Basile, took old tales from the oral tradition and spun new stories out of their threads. He was a soldier in the service of the Venetian Republic, the heart of the Renaissance trade routes, and so is likely to have heard stories from many different cultures.
The French fairy tale writers in the 17th century did the same. They invented their fabulous tales … but were inspired by older tales that they had heard or read. Even the Grimm brothers – who began by wanting to record folktales as close to the oral tradition as possible – ended up rewriting them.

Hans Christian Anderson sometimes wrote new tales in the style of the old, and sometimes retold old tales in the style of the new. Oscar Wilde did the same.

Sometimes all that is left of the old oral tales are echoes – a god who must not be seen becomes a hideous beast, for example. A goddess who reawakens each spring becomes a sleeping princess.

So fairy tales have inspired and influenced writers as long as people have been taking up their quill to create. And they continue to retold, reimagined, subverted, and invented by writers to the present day.

Sometimes fairy tales are retold in such a way that their hidden messages about sexual desire are made explicit. Some turn the tales inside-out so their bloody lining is revealed.

Others prefer to modernise and sanitise the tales to make them more palatable to a modern-day audience (which is now commonly young children in a way that was not true in the early days of oral storytelling).

One famous Disney reversal of a fairy tale is its version of The Little Mermaid.

The original story – written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1836 – ends with the little mermaid flinging herself into the ocean after her prince marries another.
Disney’s 1989 version ends with the little mermaid turning into a human and marrying the man of her dreams.

Which is the right version, the true version?

The answer is … both of them and neither of them.

For fairy tales belong to all of humanity, and they survive – like a virus – by adapting to the culture that hosts it. A fairy tale that is not retold eventually dies, powerless and forgotten. A fairy tale that is retold, however, goes on living as long as someone continues to retell it.

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Review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Title: The Book of Speculation

Author: Erika Swyler

Published: St Martins Press June 2015

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Status: Read from June 27 to July 01, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In Erika Swyler’s gorgeous debut novel, The Book of Speculation, Simon Watson receives an old ledger that once belonged to a traveling carnival in the mail, along with a note mentioning a connection to his late mother’s family. Struggling with his recent redundancy, the inevitable crumbling of his family home into the sea, and the return of his sister, Simon develops an obsession with the book which reveals a troubling history. For generations, the women of his family, all with a talent for holding their breath, including his mother, have drowned on the same date.

Dual narratives reveal Simon’s growing concern for his fragile sister as July 24th approaches, and the truth of the tragic curse that has haunted their family since the early 1800’s beginning with Evangeline, ‘The Atlantis Mermaid’. Similar themes are reflected in both tales – lust, guilt, love, betrayal, loss, and magic, and tangible connections are drawn with a tattered deck of tarot cards and the appearance of horseshoe crabs.

“At the corner of a page, just above a quickly jotted note about oppressive heat and fog, is a delicate brown illustration of a horseshoe crab. I shut the book and leave the house as quickly as my ankle allows. I need to get into the water, to clear my head….On the sand, crabs scramble around my feet and over each other. The tide has come up since the afternoon, hiding the thousands more horseshoes that lurk beneath.”

I loved reading about Peabody’s spectacular traveling carnival. The characters of The Wild Boy, the Seer, the Mermaid and Peabody himself are vividly drawn, their dark secrets are haunting and tragic.

“Heralded by a glorious voice, a troupe of traveling entertainers arrived. A mismatched collection of jugglers, acrobats, fortune-tellers, contortionists, and animals, the band was presided over by Hermelius H. Peabody, self-proclaimed visionary in entertainment and education, who thought the performers and animals (a counting pig deemed learned, a horse of miniature proportions, and a spitting llama) were instruments for improving minds and fattening his purse.”

The pace of the novel is measured, reflecting the melancholic, often close, atmosphere of the novel. The tension builds slowly in both timelines, as the truth of the curse is unraveled. The prose is often beautiful and enhanced by the illustrations that accompany it.

The Book of Speculation an enchanting tale.

“She knows that her name will find its way into his speculations. So will his. Because there are things you do for people you’ve known your whole life. You let them save you, you put them in your books, and you let each other begin again, clean.”

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Review: Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale

 

 

Title: Palace of Tears

Author: Julian Leatherdale

Published: Allen & Unwin June 2015

Status: Read from June 10 to 12, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Set in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales Palace of Tears is a generational saga of family, passion, secrets and vengeance from debut author Julian Leatherdale.

The shifting third person narrative unfolds from the perspective of several characters, Angie and her mother Freya; Adam’s wives, Adelina and Laura; Laura’s daughter, Monika; and in the present day, Lisa, Monika’s daughter. Only briefly do we hear from Adam Fox, the owner of the Palace and the man who connects these three generations of women.

Lisa’s interest in the past is triggered when, during a visit with her ailing mother, Monika laments the mysterious fate of Angie, the ‘girl who broke Adam Fox’s heart’. The name is unfamiliar to Lisa and curious she decides to investigate, contacting Palace historian Luke Davis. Over the course of the novel, Leatherdale unravels a family history marred by untimely death, adultery, betrayal, heartbreak and revenge. What became of Angie remains a mystery til the very end with a surprising twist.

Leatherdale firmly grounds his fictional characters in time and place. Adam Fox’s Palace is modeled on the Hydro Majestic Hotel, opened in 1904 in the tiny township of Medlow Bath in the upper Blue Mountains and he ably describes the opulence of the hotel and the magnificence of the setting. The author also references several relevant historical events of the first half of the twentieth century from the wartime internment camps, to the deadly influenza outbreak that swept New South Wales, to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Antipodean tour, enriching the story with intriguing detail.

The tale is well structured, despite shifting between multiple perspectives and time periods. The story is well paced, with plenty of twists and turns in the plot to maintain interest. Descriptions, particularly of the setting are vivid, and

Melding history and fiction, Palace of Tears is an entertaining novel and an impressive debut from Julian Leatherdale.

“Nothing was achieved without risk and cost. The allure of the mountains had taught Adam that lesson…. The mountains offered up vistas of inspiration, horizons of wonder where the mind dared to leap and the imagination to soar. It enriched the spirit, breathed hope back in to the wounded heart. Yet there was always that reminder of the fall: vertigo’s strange seduction that dragged you down the bright waterfall into the shadow of the valley below. Mortality, failure, despair – all these must be acknowledged. Adam realised, over time, that his beloved mountains expressed the inner drama of his own soul.”

CLICK HERE to read How the Hydro Majestic inspired the Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale

 

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Guest Feature: How the Hydro Majestic inspired the Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale

I’m happy to introduce Julian Leatherdale to my readers today.  Julian Leatherdale’s first love was theatre. On graduation, he wrote lyrics for four satirical cabarets and a two-act musical. He discovered a passion for popular history as a staff writer, researcher and photo editor for Time-Life’s Australians At War series. He later researched and co-wrote two Film Australia-ABC documentaries Return to Sandakan and The Forgotten Force and was an image researcher at the State Library of New South Wales. He was the public relations manager for a hotel school in the Blue Mountains, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Palace of Tears is Julian Leatherdale’s debut novel. Set in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales it is a generational story of family, passion, secrets and vengeance.

Angie loved Mr Fox’s magnificent, absurd hotel. In fact, it was her one true great love. But … today Angie was so cross, so fed up with everybody and everything, she would probably cheer if a wave of fire swept over the cliff and engulfed the Palace and all its guests.
A sweltering summer’s day, January 1914: the charismatic and ruthless Adam Fox throws a lavish birthday party for his son and heir at his elegant clifftop hotel in the Blue Mountains. Everyone is invited except Angie, the girl from the cottage next door. The day will end in tragedy, a punishment for a family’s secrets and lies.
In 2013, Fox’s granddaughter Lisa, seeks the truth about the past. Who is this Angie her mother speaks of: ‘the girl who broke all our hearts’? Why do locals call Fox’s hotel the ‘palace of tears’? Behind the grandeur and glamour of its famous guests and glittering parties, Lisa discovers a hidden history of passion and revenge, loyalty and love.
A grand piano burns in the night, a seance promises death or forgiveness, a fire rages in a snowstorm, a painter’s final masterpiece inspires betrayal, a child is given away. With twist upon twist, this lush, strange mystery withholds its shocking truth to the very end.

My review is posted HERE, in the meantime, please read on to learn what inspired Palace of Tears.

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HOW THE HYDRO MAJESTIC INSPIRED THE PALACE OF TEARS – JULIAN LEATHERDALE

Three years ago, I decided I wanted to write a family saga set in the Blue Mountains. I have lived here for over twenty-five years and never tired of its sublime and savage beauty. But I soon realised that my family saga needed something else besides poetic landscape and atmosphere. It needed a building at its heart that would be the family’s inheritance and keeper of all its memories.
Like many locals, I have long been fascinated by the Hydro Majestic, one of our best-known landmarks apart from the Three Sisters. As drivers head west through the tiny township of Medlow Bath in the upper Mountains, they still do a double-take at the sight of this grand Edwardian-era hotel that stretches for over a kilometre along the escarpment.

With its distinctive dome and crenellated wings, the Hydro has always struck me as a kind of madman’s castle. Perched on the cliffs high above the Kanimbla valley, wrapped in fog and snow in winter and blue haze in summer, what could be a more perfect setting for a tale of family secrets and Gothic mystery?

Mark Foy is probably best known for his luxury department store in Sydney but he had already taken a huge gamble back in 1904 with his Hydro Majestic, the first health retreat of its kind in Australia, modelled on the spa hotels of Europe. He spared no expense on lavish décor, a gallery of expensive artworks, a hydropathy clinic with a German doctor, and luxuries and mod cons such as Turkish coffee and a telephone in every room. The clinic was short-lived but the hotel itself thrived as a mecca for the rich and famous well into the 1920s and 1930s. Guests included the Russian Ballet and one of the world’s richest women, German armaments heiress Baroness Bertha Krupp.

The more I researched the Hydro’s past the more its imaginative appeal deepened. I did not want to write a fictionalised history of the hotel itself. Instead I wanted to use elements of its history to create my own opulent hotel in the bush, the Palace at Meadow Springs, and the story of its visionary owner Adam Fox and his wives, lovers, daughters and grand-daughter.

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In October 2014, the Hydro Majestic was reopened, restored to its former glory under new owners and inspiring wonder in me all over again. While still writing my first draft, I was lucky enough to have a behind-the-scenes tour of the hotel still under refurbishment. Standing under the dome, it was easy to imagine the swank Edwardian balls and raucous jazz-age fancy dress parties held here, the society ladies gossiping on their lounges in Cat’s Alley while their husbands played billiards or retired to the smoking lounge.

Photos, memoirs, interviews and newspaper stories filled my imagination, suggesting fertile details or incidents for my own story. A visit by Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in 1921 inspired a confronting séance scene that reveals a dreadful truth for Adam Fox and his wife Adelina.
The filming of a silent movie (now lost) at the hotel with its erotic Spider Web dance made the perfect backdrop for Adam Fox to meet his young lover Laura.

In 1942, the Hydro became a US military hospital for wounded soldiers; it is where Adam’s daughter Monika sneaks in to meet ‘Yanks.’

With its own dramatic past, the Hydro was a gift for a writer but one that had to be handled with care, resisting the temptation to overwhelm my readers with wonderful oddities from my research. History always had to serve story-telling, not the other way round. As the story developed, the Palace, my fictional half-sister of the Hydro Majestic, became a character in her own right.
Writing is always a journey full of surprises. For me, one of the greatest joys of writing Palace of Tears was to rediscover the place where I live through the eyes of the past.

Every morning, as I drop my daughter off at her primary school, I drive past the ruins of a grand guest house on the corner of the highway. As part of my research, I now know the story of the fire that destroyed my daughter’s school and this guest house on one fateful day in December 1957.
I look at them both quite differently now and think of the people in my village who lived through that day. It is a humbling experience but also an uplifting one, a tribute to the power of stories.

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Review: In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Title: In the Unlikely Event

Author: Judy Blume

Published: PanMacmillan June 2015

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Status: Read from June 02 to 04, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

As a young girl, I devoured everything written by Judy Blume, from Superfudge to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Forever as well as her adult novels Smart Women, Wifey, despite the fact I wasn’t yet even a teenager. I remember being excited when her third adult novel, Summer Sisters, was published in 1998 and seventeen years later we finally have a fourth and, Judy Blume herself confesses, her last, In the Unlikely Event.

While the tone and style of Blume’s writing remains remarkably familiar, the subject of this novel is quite different from what some may expect. Inspired by a series of passenger airplanes crashed in Elizabeth, New Jersey within a three-month period in 1951–1952, the author brings to life three generations of families, friends, and strangers, who are all profoundly affected by these events, either directly or indirectly.

While Blume employs multiple points of view in the narrative it is teenager Miri Ammerman who has the strongest voice. Against the background of such frightening community tragedy, Miri struggles with the typical trials of adolescence, such as identity, friendship, family and first love. Meanwhile her Uncle Henry makes his name as the journalist who covers the incidents, her best friend, Natalie, is haunted by a plane crash victim, and an elderly man mourning his wife beds down on her grandmother’s couch. The large cast may be off-putting to some readers but I felt the the varied perspectives enriched the narrative.

Blume successfully brings to life the facts surrounding the New Jersey plane crashes, honouring the real life victims of the tragedies. She authentically evokes the era that heralded social change in America, exploring issues such as changing morality and political unrest.

Written with genuine compassion and insight, and with finely drawn characterisation, In the Unlikely Event is an engaging story of life’s ordinary and extraordinary events.

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Review: The Confectioner’s Tale by Laura Madeleine

 

Title: The Confectioner’s Tale

Author: Laura Madeleine

Published: Black Swan Publishing May 2015

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Status: Read from May 19 to 21, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Unfolding through dual timelines, The Confectioners Tale by Laura Madeleine is a pleasant blend of history, romance and light mystery.

In the present (well, 1988), Cambridge PhD candidate Petra Stevenson is desperate to protect her adored late grandfather’s reputation from being sullied by a biographer promising to reveal his role in an old scandal. Anxious to deflect any dishonour, and hoping to discover a more benign truth, Petra doggedly works to piece together events that took place in Paris nearly 70 years ago.

The alternating narrative is set during 1909 in Paris and slowly reveals the story of Guillaume (Gui) Du Frere, a railway labourer from Bordeaux, his forbidden romance with Mademoiselle Jeanne Clermont, the daughter of a famous Parisienne confectioner, and ultimately the scandal involving Petra’s grandfather.

For me the strength of the novel lay in the historical timeline, I liked the characters of Gui and Jeanne, delighted in their meeting, their secret romance, and despaired when scandal threatened to destroy them. I also thought the author’s depiction of early twentieth century Paris was evocative, and I enjoyed being behind the scenes of the Clermont Patisserie.

An easy, simply plotted story with a satisfyingly sweet conclusion, The Confectioner’s Tale is a novel with general appeal.

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Review: Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

 

Title: Church of Marvels

Author: Leslie Parry

Published: Hachette Australia May 2015

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Status: Read from May 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Church of Marvels is an atmospheric and haunting tale set in New York during the late 1800’s that unfolds from the perspectives of four compelling characters, whose lives eventually converge.

Leaving behind her twin sister, Isabelle Church fled to Manhattan in the wake of the Coney Island fire that killed her mother and destroyed the Church of Marvels, the carny show in which Isabelle starred. No one knows why she left, where she is, or what secrets she keeps.

“I haven’t been able to speak since I was seventeen years old. Some people believed that because of this I’d be able to keep a secret. They believed I could hear all manners of tales and confessions and repeat nothing. Perhaps they believe that if I cannot speak, I cannot listen or remember or even think for myself – that I am, in essence, invisible. That I will stay silent forever. I’m afraid they are mistaken.”

With her mother dead, and her twin sister gone, only Odile Church remains at Coney Island, the spinning girl on the Wheel of Death. When a letter from her sister finally arrives she heads to Manhattan, determined to find her.

“At first glance the twins looked alike – they were both freckled and hazel eyed, with thick blonde hair and the snub nose of a second-rate chorus girl. But that was where the similarities ended, Unlike Belle, with her lithe and pliant acrobat’s body, Odile had a permanent crook in her neck and a slight curve to her spine.”

Sylvan Threadgill is nineteen, abandoned as a young child, he makes his living as a night-soiler, and boxes for a few extra pennies. One night he finds a baby girl half drowned in the effluent and rescues her.

“Under their breaths they called him Dogboy. He’d been puzzled over and picked apart all of his life – the skin of a Gypsy, the hair of a Negro, the build of a German, the nose of a Jew. he didn’t belong to anyone. They started at him with a kind of terrified wonder, as though he was a curiosity in a dime museum. One of his eyes was brown, so dark it nearly swallowed the pupil, and the other pale, aqueous blue.”

When Alphie Leonetti, once a ‘penny rembrandt’, is first introduced she is waiting for her husband, Anthony, to rescue her from the notorious Blackwell’s Asylum in the East River, the last thing she remembers is an argument with her disapproving mother in law. Desperate to escape she befriends a mute inmate with startling skills.

“Alphie curled up and covered her face with her hair, then cried her voice away. She couldn’t bear it; she’d come so far from her days a s a girl on the street, a bony runaway with shoes made from paper, waiting there on the corner with her paint stand and jars. And here she was, through some cruel reversal, sent back to the anonymous hive, trapped in a room full of women who were not missed and not wanted, who would wear the same dress every day until it disintegrated on their hungry frames-a dress she too wore, formless and smelling of some previous disease…”

With evocative phrasing Parry creates memorable characters and vivid settings, from the seedy shores of Coney Island to the dark, narrow streets of inner Manhattan, and the bleak horror of the asylum marooned in the middle of the East River.

A novel that demands attention, the lyrical prose of Church of Marvels tells a complex, suspenseful mystery that sometimes appears scattered, but is eventually brought to a stunning resolution.

“We can be a weary, cynical lot – we grow old and see only what suits us, and what is marvelous can often pass us by. A kitchen knife. A bulb of glass. A human body. That something so common should be so surprising – why, we forget it. We take it for granted. We assume that our sight is reliable, that our deeds are straightforward, that our words have one meaning. But life is uncommon and strange; it is full of intricacies and odd, confounding turns.”

 

Church of Marvels is available to purchase from

Hachette Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Amazon AUvia Booko

US Cover

BookDepository  I Amazon US I Indiebound

and all good bookstores.

 

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