The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning

It was an odd engagement present. Heirloom or not, such gifts were not usually covered in grime and dust. Pip sneezed as she started unpacking four boxes of antique French pots: copper boilers, streaked and mottled with watermarks, so when the soft morning light reflected off the pots and hit the white walls of the tiny worker’s cottage, they rippled with rainbows. Some of the pots were so large Pip had to brace herself to lift them out of the boxes. When she pulled off the lids, their blackened insides were etched and lined with age.

When she moves in to a tiny workers cottage with her fiance, Jack, Pip really doesn’t have room for the set of large copper pots her parents send as an engagement gift, but she is determined to have them on display. They bear memories of her childhood and a deeper connection Pip doesn’t completely understand. but the warmth of the copper pots might not be enough to keep Pip’s plans on track. She wants to get her PhD project finished before she and Jack get married and travel, but Jack is impatient, and wants everything to happen now.

In 1427, Artemisia, the cook at the Chateau de Boschaud also has copper pots. she is busy preparing the dishes, the settings, even the special bathing waters for the Lord and his bride. It is tough work, but it is made easier by Artemisia’s secret. this will be her last day at the chateau: soon she will be free and ready to build a new life.

The stories of Pip and Artemisia are separate, yet there are connections across the many centuries between their lives, and Artemisia’s vast knowledge of herbs cooking are not only reflected in Pip’s interests, but are even shared through treasured finds. Readers will want to trace the adventures of each, o find out whether happiness is possible for either, or for both.

The Midsummer Garden is a satisfying blend of contemporary and historical fiction, with each story compelling and well wrought, and the links between the two intriguing. Themes of happiness, of family lore, relationships and self fulfillment are explored and food lovers will enjoy the culinary detail.

The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760294748

From the Wreck, by Jane Rawson

He felt it first when the horses shifted and cried. they had been muttering among themselves all day, but this was different, a note of panic in it. The horses aren’t yours to care about, George, he reminded himself. He went from cabin to cabin and collected the crockery and cutlery smeared and encrusted with an early dinner, the passengers getting ready for bed.

Aboard the steamship Admella, George Hills is counting his blessings. he has nearly earned enough from his shipboard life to marry his sweetheart. but ti strip is different. the horses are restless and George sees a strange figure lurking among them. When the ship hits a reef and is wrecked, this strange figure, in the shape of a woman, is marooned with George, and somehow their lives become intertwined.

From the Wreck is an oddly compelling tale, with an intriguing premise of a historical event intertwined with the life of an alien being, seeking both a place to belong and an understanding of earth and of life. Spanning the years following the wreck of the Admella in 1859, the story blends what is known of George Hills, the author’s great-great grandfather, with the speculative fiction exploration of existential loneliness.

Hard to classify, but that is what makes the story so intriguing.

From the Wreck, by Jane Rawson
Transit Lounge, 2017
ISBN 9780995359451

Daughter of Mine, by Fiona Lowe

It was a family to be proud of, and throughout the one hundred and seventy-five years since the Mannering brothers had crossed the Moorabool River, there’d always been at least one branch of the family living in Billaware. It gave Harriet a reassuring sense of tradition and a great deal of family pride.

Harriet Chirnwell’s life is perfect – which is how she always planned it to be. Descended from the Mannering family, who pioneered the farming district,  with a successful career as a surgeon, an equally successful husband and a daughter who will follow in her footsteps, life could hardly be better. Her sister Xara  has a more chaotic life, married to a farmer, and with a severely disabled daughter and twin sons. A third sister, Georgie, lives in Melbourne, where her busy teaching job leaves her little time to mourn the loss of her still born baby.

But life for all three gets a whole lot more complicated when their mother, a year after their father’s sudden death, turns up to a birthday party with a strange man on her arm. Edwina has always been reserved and very very proper. Now she is glowing with happiness, and happy to cause scandal. But soon, her scandal is overshadowed by an even bigger one.  the lives of the Chirnwell sisters are thrown into turmoil as revelation after revelation shakes their lives.

Daughter of Mine  is a story of family secrets, mothers, daughters and sisters set in rural Victoria and crossing generations.  With complex issues explored, there are many highs and lows, but ultimately this a moving story of the bonds between sisters.

Daughter of Mine , by Fiona Lowe
Harlequin, 2017
ISBN 9781489220349

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, by Adrian Mckinty

The wood is an ancient one, a relic of the vast Holocene forest that once covered all of Ireland but which now has almost completely gone. Huge oaks half a millennium old; tangled, many-limbed  hawthorns; red-barked horse chestnuts.
“i don’t like it,” the man behind the man with the gun says.
“Just put up with it, my feet are getting wet too,” the man with the gun replies.
“It’s not just that. It’s those bloody trees. I can hardly see any-thing. i don’t like it. It’s spooky,
so it is.”
“Ach, ya great girl ya, pull yourself together.”

It’s 1988 and Belfast is besieged by troubles. So on one is surprised when a drug dealer is murdered, and once the initial interest has passed, no one would be surprised if it was never solved. But Detective Inspector Sean Duffy isn’t one to give up. There is something about this case that means he just can’t let it go – even when he finds his career, his marriage and, finally, his life threatened.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is the seventh title featuring Sean Duffy, a stubborn detective who works hard, but also drinks before lunchtime, smokes at every opportunity, and isn’t afraid to break the rules in the quest for right. The setting of the stories – in a Belfast in the midst of ‘the troubles‘ – is both interesting and increases the drama, with physical threat an ever-present reality for a policeman, especially a Catholic one such as Duffy.

Acton packed, with a touch of humour.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, by Adrian McKinty
Serpent’s Tail, 2017
ISBN 9781781256923

The Pretty Delicious Café by Danielle Hawkins

One Wednesday in October I spoilt a perfectly good spring evening by going to bed with a book called Run, Bobby, Run. Hugh at the deli had lent it to me that afternoon when I dropped in for twenty kilos of coffee beans, promising a gripping, fiendishly clever read, and after a solid fortnight of my late Great-Aunty Sheila’s Anne Hepple novels I thought that sounded like just the thing.
It wasn’t.

The Pretty Delicious Café’ is set in a small town on the coast in New Zealand. Lia and her friend Anna run a café that gets very busy in tourist season. Sounds idyllic. And it is. Or would be, if life hadn’t also introduced pre-wedding nerves in your business partner … who is about to marry your twin brother … and an ex-boyfriend who won’t take no for an answer … and two differently challenging parents who live (luckily) in different places … and a business that’s not yet on firm footing. Lia has it all, and then some. On the night ‘The Pretty Delicious Café’ begins, she also has a prowler.

Lia is just trying to make a go of life. She has loving but eccentric family and friends around her and she’s doing her best to make a go of the café she co-owns. But it’s hard to keep your focus when an old romance is over, a new one may just have appeared, your partner is behaving strangely and you feel you are parenting your parents. ‘The Pretty Delicious Café’ is full of love and laughter, drama and excitement. An entertaining peek into small town world, jam-packed with character and charm. Recommended for readers who like their stories fast-paced and with a happy ending.

The Pretty Delicious Café, Danielle Hawkins
HarperCollins 2016 ISBN: 9781460752586

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Storm and Grace, by Kathryn Heyman

…she is screaming, the way he wanted,
the way he promised she would…

Grace Cain loves diving, and is in Sydney completing her degree so she can make a career beneath the ocean. But when she meets Storm Hisray, world-famous freediver, her world is rocked. She has never met anyone like him. He convinces Grace to follow him back to his home on an idyllic Pacific island. There life seems perfect, and soon Storm is teaching Grace to dive like him, alongside him. They will be a freediving couple.

But as Storm pushes Grace to dive deeper, push herself further, cracks start to appear. Is it Grace who matters to Storm, or being the best, being noticed?  Grace becomes increasingly aware that she is deeper water than she could have ever imagined.

Storm and Grace is a haunting novel. The reader is drawn into the beauty and the terror of freediving – and of life with a charismatic man who will stop at nothing to manipulate those around him. The voices of other women, other victims, of Storm and men like him, narrate parts of the novel, so that the reader sees the danger  long before Grace, an unusual technique which keeps pages turning.

Beautiful yet terrifying, this is a remarkable novel.

Storm and Grace, by Kathryn Hayman
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781743313633

 

Available from good bookstores and online.

 

 

Bloodlines, by Nicole Sinclair

‘It’s running, Clem,’ she says. ‘And I’m not running.’
‘It’s not running, it’s smart. It’s giving you time. And Sam…’ He sees her wince and then, quietly: ‘It gives Sam some space too. And time. God, the bloke must be shattered.’
She stiffens.
Maybe she’ll cry, he thinks. He could reach for her then, sit by her, draw her onto his lap., this broken girl of his, and cradle her like he did when she was a child.

Beth is thirty-one years old and trying leave her past behind. A terrible break up has seen her flee to the family farm in wheatbelt Western Australia but her wise dad, Clem, thinks she needs to go further away: to Papua New Guinea. Despite her reservations, Beth soon finds herself living on a remote island, working alongside her aunt at the school she runs. As she adjusts to life in a different land, amidst a very different culture, she also reflects on the events which have brought her here.

Running alongside Beth’s story is the story of her mother, Rose, who met and fell in love with Clem when she moved to Western Australia but who died when Beth was a child. Clem’s story, both before and since, is also gradually revealed.

Bloodlines is an amazing debut novel, deftly weaving the entwined stories of Beth and her mother, in settings as vivid as they are disparate. Beth’s life has been filled with love, but also with sadness, and her need to make sense of it takes her to a strange, welcoming but unfamiliar land. Sinclair’s love of both Papua New Guinea and of Western Australia shows through in her vivid recreation of the two settings, and her characters fill the pages with their big, complex personalities.

Shortlisted for the prestigious TAG Hungerford Award in 2014, Bloodlines is a heart-filled book which questions the meanings of home and belonging in a way that will leave readers thinking long after the final page.

Bloodlines, by Nicole Sinclair
Margaret River Press, 2017
ISBN 9780994316875

Sapphire Falls, by Fleur McDonald

Fiona Forrest sat next to her dead husband’s coffin, staring at it dully. Music played softly in the background and she could smell the roses that filled two urns on stands nearby.
The church felt exactly like she did. Cold and empty.

Fiona and her husband Charlie were really happy: working side by side on their farm, and looking forward to a long future. But when Charlie is involved in a terrible shooting accident that eaves his mate Eddie dead, he struggles to cope. When he commits suicide, Fiona is devastated, but she is determined to keep the farm going. If only the rumours that she is selling the farm would stop.

Detective Dave Burrows has been on enforced leave. When he returns he finds that the case of Eddie’s death was not properly dealt with. When he starts to investigate he realises something doesn’t add up. The deeper he digs, the more he realises that something sinister is going on – and perhaps it is linked both to Charlie’s suicide and to the series of problems that seem to be plaguing Fiona’s farm.

Sapphire Falls continues bestselling author Fleur McDonald’s trend of blending rural Australian settings with strong female characters facing adversity and elements of mystery, for a unique form of crime fiction. Readers are kept guessing  along with the characters, and the mystery works well alongside the development of characters and interwoven subplots.

Good stuff.

Sapphire Falls, by Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760112646

Goldenhand, by Garth Nix

‘I’m a messenger!’ bawled the nomad. She was even younger than the young guard, perhaps having seen only sixteen or seventeen of the harsh winters of her homeland. Her lustrous skin was acorn brown, her hair black, worn in a plaited queue that was wound several times around her head like a crown, and her dark eyes appealing. ‘I claim the message right!’

With the Abhorsen, Sabriel, and her husband the King on holidays, the Abhorsen-in-waiting Lirael is responsible for protecting the Old Kingdom from the Dead and any Free Magic creatures. The last six months have been quiet, but two messages are coming her way. One, carried by a stranger from beyond the walls, is in danger of not being delivered because its carrier, a girl named Ferin, is being pursued by sorcerers determined to stop her. The other message, carried by a messenger hawk, is more successful in getting through. It’s from Nicholas Sayre, who Sabriel feared she might never see again. When she responds to the message she finds him unconscious, near to death. To help him heal, and to learn more about the taint of Free Magic he carries, she must take him to her childhood home with the Clayr. With Nicholas safe she must turn her attention to the other message – one which predicts great danger for the Old Kingdom.

Fans of the Old Kingdom series will be delighted with this latest installment, featuring favourite characters including Lirael, Sabriel, Nicholas and Sam, alongside new ones. Nix seemingly weaves his stories with the magic that is found in his world. The Old Kingdom is a richly woven setting, and the people and beings that populate it are intriguing. This is deeply satisfying fantasy at its very best.

With a bonus Old Kingdom story, Goldenhand is divine.

Goldenhand, by Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781741758634

 

Also in the Series:

Sabriel
Lirael
Abhorsen

Clariel (Prequel)

Wild Island, by Jennifer Livett

Reader, she did not marry him, or rather when at last she did, it was not so straightforward as she implies in her memoirs. Jane Eyre is a truthful person and her story is fascinating, but some things she could not bring herself to say. Certain episodes in her past, she admits, ‘form too distressing a recollection ever to be willingly dwelt upon’.

When Rochester and Jane Eyre are reunited after the fire that destroyed Thornfield, their love is definite but their future is not. soon, they decide they must embark on a journey to ascertain the real story of Anna, Rochester’s first wife. Harriet Adair, Anna’s carer, is invited to accompany them and soon they are bound for far away Van Diemen’s Land. Only Harriet and Anna reach Hobart where, they believe, they will find the answers to Anna’s past.

In Hobart, Charles O’Hara Booth, in charge of the Port Arthur settlement, is hoping that the secrets of his own past will remain hidden. Yet he may hold the key to Anna and Harriet’s quest. In the meantime, Harriet and a much recovered Anna have formed a friendship with Jane Franklin, the wife of the new Governor of the colony. For six years the pair live in Hobart, far away from Jane and Rochester and the story which inspired this one.

Wild Island is a curious, intriguing blend. Blending fictional characters, including those from Jane Eyre, with historical figures and events from the colony of Van Diemen’s Land of the 1800s, provides both an inside interpretation of the real events as well as an absorbing alternate history for Charlotte Bronte’s woman in the attic, and her carer.

Satisfying historical fiction.

Wild Island, by Jennifer Livett
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760113834