Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

The Poison Principle – Gail Bell #20booksofsummer

Book 1

Non-Fiction 4*s
Non-Fiction
4*s

Here is the very first of the books I’ve read in my 20 Books of Summer 2016! To find out about the rest of the books on my list, I have dedicated a page which if all goes according to plan will include the entire list of my book reviews by 5 September 2016.

And what a start to the challenge – this is one of those fascinating books where you don’t know quite what you are about to learn from one page to the next. If you too love learning more about poisons and those who administer them, you can’t go wrong with this book. Even for those of you who don’t have quite the same niche interest as me, there is plenty to ponder on the literary side, those myths, fairy tales through Shakespeare and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and taking in a few other’s along the way.

The backbone of the book is the discovery the author made that her paternal Grandfather had poisoned two of his young sons in their Australian home in 1927. The author started to unravel the truth behind this family tale in 1980 by contacting her Grandmother’s sister who one afternoon agreed to be interviewed and told her the facts, the background to the perpetrator William Macbeth, and what life was like for the family at the time, and afterwards.

The book does read a little like a stream of consciousness but fortunately that stream is one of knowledge coupled with intelligence so it maintains a loose kind of structure. Along the way we learn about the origins of some of the popular poisons, famous poisoners which include those who used this method as suicide, forensics and even a poisoned circus elephant gets a place in this eclectic read.

My interest in poisoners has me fairly well-versed in the most infamous of this group including Crippen, Florence Maybrick, Madeline Smith amongst a whole host of others and I got to know some new ones too with the mini case histories the author provides us with. Gail Bell also looks at the notion that poisoning was a woman’s crime, sneaky and devious and using the traditional woman’s nurturing hand to provide poison rather than sustenance. She examines the statistics which bear out the truth that most non-accidental poisonings are against family members. As you can tell there is a lot to enjoy and discover but perhaps as a pay-off there is little that goes too deeply below the surface which I have to confess suited me perfectly – this is perhaps a friendlier read than the more learned book that The Secret Poisoner was and fortunately doesn’t include the gut-wrenching descriptions of poisons doing their work in the human body. What Bell does give us is a look at what action different poisons take on the body, a physiological study rather than one of the symptoms which again, I use the word again, was fascinating!

I have to confess that the subject matter took a turn for the truly bizarre when the author gave some of the characters, including Cleopatra, an imaginary rescue through quick action of those around them, for me the book could have lost these imaginations.

By the end of this meandering look at a whole range of poisoners both real and literary, we find out the truth of what happened to the poor Macbeth boys. A sad tale indeed for the whole family, including the author’s father who was fostered out to a rural farm to carry out chores for his bed and board.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Hayley of Rather Too Fond of Books who took the time to suggest this one to me following my review of The Secret Poisoner – that’s the best aspect of book blogging – I would never have come across this book, published in 2002 by Macmillan without such a recommendation.

To see what everyone else is reading look out for #20booksofsummer on twitter or go and check out the list of participants at Cathy 746 and of course the lovely Cathy herself, who came up with this challenge!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Last Woman Hanged – Caroline Overington

Non-Fiction 4*s
Non-Fiction
4*s


On 8 January 1889, Louisa Collins, a 41-year-old mother of ten children, became the first woman hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol and the last woman hanged in New South Wales.


Caroline Overington has researched the story behind Louisa Collin’s four, yes you read that correctly, four trials for murder. One of the three trials was in relation to the deaths of her first husband Charles Andrews in January 1887, the cause according to the doctor who signed his death certificate was Acute Gastritis, three were in relation to her second husband Michael Collins the man she married just three months after the demise of the first. Michael Collins died on 8 July 1888 of what the post mortem indicated was arsenic poisoning.

This book not only takes us through the suffering of both men as they writhed for days in agony with stomach pain but the job of the somewhat incompetent hangman – Nosey Bob, those who presided over the trials and most importantly the clamour of women’s voices to commute the death sentence passed when Louisa was finally declared guilty in respect of the death of Michael.

As with all these reconstructions of historical crimes one of the main questions is was Louisa guilty of the crime that meant ‘that she hanged from the neck until she was dead.’ It’s certainly far from clear cut, but that isn’t the main thrust of the book which is far more about women’s rights at a time they were treated as children. Louisa hanged on order of laws made by parliament of which she had no say in. She lived a life forever in the fear of abject poverty; if her husband didn’t work, she, and her children, wouldn’t eat and there was no way out of the never-ending cycle of child-birth, the last of Louisa’s babies had recently died when just a few months old.

Louisa isn’t the most sympathetic of characters, but once the death sentence had been passed those women who did have a voice, through their husbands and fathers, began clamouring for the sentence to be commuted. Although some of these were unconvinced of her guilt, by no means all were. There was after all the unpalatable truth that whilst thirty-six men had been unable to reach a consensus of guilt, Louisa was hung on the verdict of the final trial. Al of this carried out in the space of a few short months with a dwindling population of suitable jurors. Quite why there was so much will to retry this woman until the verdict of guilt was reached is unclear,but e can assume that powerful men were clearly determined that their presumption of guilt was the right one.

There is a fair amount regarding the politics of New South Wales at the time of the trials which to be honest meant little to me sitting as I do well over one hundred years later on the other side of the world, but they sound very similar to politics everywhere with the distinction that Australia was at this time trying to move away from being a penal colony to a fully-fledged independent country.

This was a fascinating read although at times I felt that I was bludgeoned by the repletion of information that this was a man’s world and Louisa had no say in the laws. I understand the argument but if Louisa did set about to murder two husbands in such an agonising fashion, she probably understood that if her crimes were discovered that the law was going to act. After all hanging wasn’t a rarity, although in New South Wales the last women prisoner had her sentence commuted.

The afterword takes us through the next few years where due to their vociferous campaigning Australian women were the first in the world to get the vote and spread the word to the rest of the world, including Britain. We also catch up with what happened to Louisa’s children and other key members of the case. A satisfactory ending to a book which gives a factual account of Louisa’s life and trials while bringing to the forefront a fight that would live long after her body had been cut down from the scaffold.

Last Woman Hanged is from my own collection of books, chosen not for the historical factor of this true crime but following my read of the author’s I Came to Say Goodbye which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Hypnotist’s Love Story – Liane Moriarty

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction
4*s

I was in need of a light read to cheer me up and fortunately I had just the right type of book sat waiting for me on my bookshelf. I love Liane Moriarty’s writing style, plenty of wry observational humour to give an edge to what essential is a romantic tale, albeit one with a dark underbelly.

We stood together, the hypnotist and me, our faces close to the windows. When you stood that close, you couldn’t see the sand below, just the sea, a sheet of flattened, shiny tin that stretched out to the pale blue line of the horizon. ‘I feel like I’m at the helm of a boat,’ I said to the hypnotist, who seemed excessively delighted by that comment and said that was exactly how she felt, her eyes round and shiny like a children’s entertainer.

Our hypnotist, or rather hypnotherapist, is Ellen a woman who has been fortunate enough to be left a beautiful house on the beach by her grandparents. She is in her thirties, a woman in charge of her own destiny, a woman who has decided to see whether internet dating can find ‘the one’ after a few failed relationships. She meets Patrick, widower and father to eight year old Jack and a man who is being stalked by an ex-girlfriend Saskia. Ellen is one of life’s good people, she believes in her job but is she really ready for this relationships, one with enough baggage to sink a battleship?

I think this book would have quickly become quite boring had it not been for the fact that we hear from Saskia herself, a character I actually had a certain amount of sympathy for especially as Ellen was just a little bit too good to be true, certainly at the beginning of the book. Saskia does realise that what she is doing is a little on the odd side, she just isn’t quite sure how to give up following Patrick in her spare time… but what will she do when she realises the relationship with Ellen is getting serious?

So it’s serious. The hypnotist has met Jack. As far as I know that’s the first woman he’s introduced Jack to since me.
I wonder what he thought of her.
She doesn’t really seem like a kid person. Too spiritual and floaty. Children like earthy, real people who get down on the floor and play with them. I can’t imagine someone who talks about ‘light filling your body’ sitting in a sandbox.

Well, I’m afraid if you want to know how this all pans out, you’ll just have to read the book.

Although not my favourite of Liane Moriarty’s books, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, with a good range of characters, including her speciality, the odd-balls that actually resemble people I’ve met in my life, the one that exists outside books. With a few sub-plots principally around Ellen’s clients, oh and not forgetting her caustic mother and her two kindly god-mothers there is far more meat to this romance, than well, just romance! Although this book is fairly long at getting on for 500 pages but the tale moves at quite a pace especially as the multiple strands keep the story lively and moving forward. I’d say this is perfect beach reading but it worked well for me on a cold and windy day wrapped up in a blanket while my mind was transported to a much warmer and sunnier Australia.

Other books by Liane Moriarty

Little Lies (2014)
The Husband’s Secret (2013)
What Alice Forgot (2010)
The Last Anniversary (2006)
Three Wishes (2004)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

This House of Grief – Helen Garner

Non-Fiction 5*s
Non-Fiction
5*s

Telling the tale of a court case of Robert Farquharson, an Australian man on trial for killing his three sons. The undisputed facts are that the car that Robert Farquharson was driving ended up in the dam, the father escaped but the sons didn’t even make it out of the sunken vehicle. The truth of what happened that night, well that may never truly be known…

Helen Garner saw an item on the news and thought to herself that Father’s Day evening in 2005 and hoped that it was a tragic accident. When Robert was committed to trial she sat in the court room every day with a young gap-year student, listening and watching and this book is the result. Her quest to understand what happened and why is unwavering, yet without the prurient feel some true crime books have.

Do you think the story he told the police could be true – that he had a coughing fit and blacked out at the wheel? There is such a thing. It’s called cough syncope. The ex-wife swore at the committal hearing that he loved his boy’s. So? Since when has loving someone meant you would never want to kill them? She said it was a tragic accident – that he wouldn’t have hurt a hair on their heads.

Never before have I read about a murder trial in such detail, as Garner doesn’t just give us the facts, she recreates the court room with its moments of high drama and the low energy of the listeners to three days of evidence given by the police about tire tracks and tufts of grass. Although we don’t get descriptions of the jurors, for obvious reasons, everything is scrutinised, seemingly gently but missing nothing. Helen shares with us the ups and downs not only of the overarching trial but the mood of the jurors, the latest hot topic from the journalists, the sympathy she herself feels towards Cindy the boy’s mother but also towards Robert and his steadfast family. She puzzles at parts of the evidence, gives us the ‘everyman’ view from comments she overhears, she talks to Cindy’s parents, the man who runs the coffee stall, the gap-year student who has the certainty of the young We are given the smallest details that tell a lot about the mood in the court room, not just from the energy and passion of the defence and prosecution lawyers, but the drooping of a head, the fingering of a shirt collar and the stillness when significant evidence is given or refuted.

This is such a compelling read as Garner spends her time in court acting like one of the jurors, although she doesn’t bear their huge responsibility of listening to conflicting experts, possible mistakes that could be dismissed in any other arena, but in court are subjected to endless questioning that results in either point of view become entirely irrelevant. She feels for the men and women who are on the witness stand.

The repeated order ‘Just answer the question’ came to sound like a gag or a bridle. How crude, how primitive were the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in the face of questions on which so much hung!

Garner is not a juror though, so she is also is able to include the evidence not presented to them, the evidence that is withdrawn on different grounds.

This book covers both the original trial and a later re-trial by which time feelings have solidified and those attending have aged. The book covers a total of over three months of court time which is condensed into roughly 300 pages of engaging prose, an absolute must read for those who want the inside knowledge of a court trial, in some ways far removed from that which we see on TV and in films but in others, just as you’d expect.

Never before have a read a non-fiction book that has so effectively transported me to a scene, like Garner herself, the days I spent reading this evocative, detailed yet accessible book, I pondered over the phrases used by the accused, I winced at the evidence given by the friend and I applauded the jurors for their tenacity.

I came across this book on Guy Savage’s book blog where he reviewed this book and as a result bought myself a copy – a purchase I certainly didn’t regret. I already have my eye on Joe Cinque’s Consolation by the same author and I’m sure my willpower will fail before too long as this is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Out of the Silence – Wendy James

Historical Fiction  5*'s
Historical Fiction
5*’s

I love history, particularly social history that explores the lives of women, and this book fits really well into this area of interest. Wendy James has taken the real life story of a young girl named Maggie Heffernan who lived in Australia at the turn of the twentieth century and added a fictional background to the crime she was tried for. To complement Maggie’s story we also have Elizabeth Hamilton’s story, a slightly older woman, an unwilling spinster, who works as a governess and later at a school run by Vida Goldstein. For those of you who know as little about Australian history as I do, in 1903, Vida Goldstein was the first woman in the British Empire to stand for election in a national parliament, woman having been given the vote much earlier in Australia than either the UK or the US. As Elizabeth’s story unfolds she gives an insight into the suffragette movement in Australia at this time as seen through a bystanders view rather than with the full force of Vida’s passion for the cause.

Maggie’s story is told in the first person and follows her movement from eldest daughter helping her rather cold mother out at home in the fabulously named Dederang, to being shipped off to the nearby town of Yackandandah to help out relations before moving away on her own accord gaining a permanent position as a servant. All through her narrative I knew that her love affair with Jack Hardy was doomed and yet I still hoped that the ending would be different so affected was I by the voice Wendy James gave her.

Being caught out in this dress is shame enough, but just as he comes by I am squeezed right down the front of the cart, poking about as if hunting for something or other, so he comes upon me unawares an when he asks, ‘Is everything all right miss? Can I help you with anything?’ I am not expecting it and hit my shin hard on the bench.
When I have recovered enough to speak, I ask him what he thinks he is doing, what sort of fool is he to come creeping up on a person in such a way?
‘My apologies, miss,’ he says, ‘but I wouldn’t say I was creeping – this is a public path, y’know, an thee was nowhere else for me to walk. I just thought you might have been in some difficulty, being all doubled over like that…’
‘It was nothing,’ I tell him. ‘I had… dropped my glove, is all, an was hunting for it.’ This is so plainly a tale – it is as warm a day as we ever get an there’s not a single glove in evidence – that I add in a tone that Ma would be proud of, ‘Which a person’s got a perfect right to do without being frightened out of her wits by a complete stranger.’

Elizabeth’s story is told through her journal entries and letters to her brother who is in New York, far away from their birthplace in Edinburgh, this is much drier in tone and consequently it took longer for me to get as emotionally involved in her story, which although much less dramatic than Maggie’s, illustrates how for many women the only way they would feel fulfilled was to marry but Elizabeth’s fiancé had died in a tragic accident shortly before she moved to Melbourne. Elizabeth’s story also gives us the insight into Vida’s life, a woman who has decided that improving the lives of woman and children was her goal and this couldn’t be combined with marriage. In fact all three women were fighting against not only circumstance but the freedom to have any real choices about their lives.

9 May

First typing class today. Girls very enthusiastic. Only one parent objecting to it calling it an unnecessary evil. The same parent, incidentally, who opposed his daughter’s algebra lessons. The girls father is a member of the lower house, formerly a grocer who mae his fortune during the gold rush. She tells us he can’t see the point (and nor can she for that matter). Why train her to do things she’ll never need? not as if she’ll ever have to earn her living he says. Which is fortunate, really… 

These lives collide when Maggie is arrested and Vida organised a campaign both during and after the trial which successfully proved to her country that she was able to run such a sustained media blitz, helped by the fact that she didn’t fit the stereotypical view of a suffragette. With Elizabeth on hand to help Vida out with the campaign and accompanying her on visits to Maggie these three women, with very different backgrounds meet.

Wendy James doesn’t judge any of the three women featured in this book, although the facts are overlaid with fiction and maybe Maggie’s story is given the most positive spin possible, it was still eminently believable and I didn’t get the feeling that sometimes happens in these types of books, that the author wanted me to come to a certain conclusion, rather she had confidence that her story was enough and the reader could make their own mind up about the choices made by each of the women.

I can’t wait to read more books by Wendy James, this is easily my favourite read of the year so far, admittedly aided by my keen interest in the subject matter but definitely enhanced by the sheer quality of the writing.

More Historical Crime

The Murder Tree – Alan Veale
Not Guilty – Christine Gardner
Death at the Priory – James Ruddick
Quiet Dell – Jayne Anne Phillips

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Last Anniversary – Liane Moriarty

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

I couldn’t resist another book by Liane Moriarty after having really enjoyed the three I’ve read previously and in The Last Anniversary we are introduced to the most colourful array of characters, each distinctive and ranging in ages from babies to the eldest resident of Scribbly Gum who is ninety. Now I don’t know about you but the name of the island, derived from the name of a native tree, meant this book already deserved a read without a seventy year old mystery of an abandoned baby to spice things up.

All Liane Moriarty’s books have been very different but what they all have in common is superb writing which draws on everyday observations of life at its best and bleakest. In this readable tale we have the enduring ‘Munro Baby Mystery’ which has put the island of Scribbly Gum on the map, bringing tourists to their guided tour with good food to sweeten the suspected horror which occurred all those years before and every year on the anniversary of the day when Connie and Rose found the abandoned child they named Enigma, a special evening is held with entertainment and food, the food features quite largely in this book so it is probably a good idea to have some on hand to avoid saliva spotting the pages/screen.

With a large family Enigma has two daughters, three grandchildren as well as a couple of great-grandchildren you would have thought that Connie would have left her house to one of them when she died, but she didn’t, instead she chose to leave it to Sophie Honeywell a former girlfriend of Thomas, who is flighty and perhaps a little shallow and has a propensity for blushing, all quite unlike a stereotypical woman approaching her forties. In anything but the most expert of hands this character would be irritating but I didn’t get very far through the book before I was rooting for Sophie, hoping desperately that the family would welcome her and that she wouldn’t do anything stupid.

Sophie’s girlfriends become quite deranged. There is a frenzied debate. It’s brains versus brawn! But solicitors can be brawny! Gardeners can be brainy! Aunt Connie was clearly referring to the gorgeous gardener. Aunt Connie’s opinion is no longer relevant. She must not sleep with either of them. She must definitely sleep with both of them…..
Sophie’s girlfriends are starting to annoy her, just a bit.

Although on the surface this is a lighter book than The Husband’s Secret or Little Lies, there are plenty of issues explored, many to do with parenting, and there are plenty of examples right across the spectrum from Sophie who was adored from the moment she was born, to Grace who tells a truly jaw-dropping tale of her childhood and of course we have Enigma who was too young to remember her parents and instead had the substitute two teenagers to mother to her while they found their way in the world.

Callum still hasn’t turned the television back up. ‘I can’t believe you’ve never told me this’
‘It’s not that interesting. I don’t know how your parents disciplined you.’
My father roared at me and my mother chased me round the house brandishing whatever she happened to have in her hand…..’

This isn’t a book to examine to closely for realism but it is a wonderful tale to lose yourself in with something for everyone, romance and mystery can be a winning combination especially when served with a healthy dollop of truisms.

He still remembers how he felt watching her cry her heart out at her dad’s funeral. Margie was always such a Daddy’s Girl and it made him want to punch something because there was nothing he could bloody well do to fix it for her.

At times I laughed especially as Sophie stored up funny anecdotes for her friends, and at other times I found I had a serious lump in my throat as the emotion all got too much for me!

If you haven’t read any of this author’s books which in my opinion are all worth five stars here are my reviews:

The Husband’s Secret
What Alice Forgot
Little Lies

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Hello From The Gillespies – Monica McInerney

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction
4*’s

I think we’ve all had the misfortune at some time to receive one of those cheery Christmas missives which inform us what a successful, enviable life their writer has enjoyed over the last year, often appended by photographs of the family looking suitably satisfied with themselves. Angela had written such a missive for each of the thirty-three years of her marriage, proclaiming her love of the Australian outback to those she left behind in England, her blissfully happy marriage and of course information regarding her four children’s equally happy and successful lives, to her neighbours, friends, doctor and a myriad of other recipients from near and far.

All those bright, happy letters, putting the best possible spin on their lives, making it sound as though the Gillespies were the luckiest, loveliest, most successful, well-balanced, supportive family in all Australia, and possibly even the world. She had always skipped over any troubles. Avoided mention of any tensions. Edited out any sticky subjects. It had felt like the right thing to do, even if she knew they sometimes sounded too good to be true.

This year Angela sits down at the family computer and can’t think of a word to say beyond the subject line ‘Hello From The Gillespies’ and instead writes a stream of consciousness about her children’s faults which include the delights of an affair, living a fake life, weight problems, over-dramatic and plain weird. She then moves onto her husband Nick who no longer talks to her, has become obsessed with family research and is planning a trip to meet Gillespies from all over the world in Ireland without her. With these details plus a toe-curling fantasy of another life in London, the path she might have taken if she hadn’t met Nick Gillespie, Angela has to abandon the letter to deal with a medical crisis. Little did she know that Nick having seen the Christmas letter had decided to be helpful and forward it to the 100 people on the distribution list.

At over 600 pages long I did wonder how the author was going to spin the fall-out of the letter laced with truth-serum, but she has cleverly added a twist that keeps the momentum moving and adding more warm-hearted details of a family under all kinds pressure. Monica McInereny manages to avoid the saccharine sweetness by keeping her characters real, especially those of her elder daughters who although pretty immature for their ages (early thirties) all come across as individuals with their own personalities, problems and sometimes novel solutions. The story spans the best part of a year in the life of the Gillespie family and although the ending was somewhat predictable it kept my spirits up as I battled the first virus of the winter season.

I received my copy of Hello From The Gillespies from the publishers Penguin Books (UK) ahead of the publication date of 6 November 2014 in return for this honest review.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Not Guilty – Christine Gardner

Historical Crime 4*'s
Historical Crime
4*’s

I chose this book because of my interest in historical crime, particularly those committed by women. Society, prefers to view the women as nurturing, caring and delicate. When a woman is violent it challenges that view and there is a need to find a cause, someone or something else to blame.

In 1910 Camellia McCluskey murdered her three young children; Dorothy, Ida and Eric using a shocking amount of violence. This book examines the documents relating to her trial in Bendigo, Australia.

Christine Gardner uses the reports in the newspapers along with the documents from the trial to invite the reader to decide whether the verdict reached by the courts was a just one. I like to read the contemporary views of the time, after all the newspapers reflected what the local community of the time were saying. Both the court and the papers were keen on working out what would motivate a mother to behave as she did and her common-law husband George’s behaviour was put under the spotlight. Camellia and George’s relationship was fraught to say the least so there was plenty for the community to mull over.

This is a short book that presents the evidence in a factual manner although I did feel the author did occasionally slip at times leading the reader to come round to her view of the Camellia, although having read the later evidence once Camellia was out of sight of the judge, I think most people would be in agreement with her.

This wasn’t a case that I had come across before and I found this book an interesting and informative read, although it the death of those poor children was particularly shocking.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

I approached Little Lies with trepidation, I really enjoyed The Husband’s Secret and What Alice Forgot , despite the subject matter in each book being entirely different. but would this long anticipated book match up to my expectations? In a word: yes, so I’m afraid this is going to be another gushing review.

Liane Moriarty creates the most believable of characters even if those characters and these characters are built up in layers through their interactions and the views of other observers; this is my favourite type of story-telling.

The story is set around Pirriwee Public School and in particular its fund-raising Trivia Night where someone is dead, but who is left unsaid. Mrs Ponder a kindly retired lady living close by heard the screams that ripped through the night air. Not only is the perpetrator a secret, we don’t know who died either so the mystery is two-fold. As those attending start to recount the months leading up to The Trivia Night to both journalists and police the finger is pointed squarely back to the kindergarten orientation day. Yes, you read that right the trail leads back to something that happened to poor five-year old Amabella, an assault where the aggressor was another five-year old.

This story is about bullies, but not you’ll be relieved to hear just about small children hitting each other; this book explores the degrees the adults in this book exert their power over each other. After the opening chapter where the scene is set the author takes us back to the orientation day, using the excerpts from the interviews and the narrative from the main protagonists: Jane, the single mother, Madeline who is loud and says what she thinks and the very beautiful but distracted Celeste. Unfortunately the group of middle-class women that run the PTA are instantly recognisable to anyone who has stepped into a school. Pretentious, competitive and bitchy is how I’d sum them up. But Liane Moriarty manages uses her witty dialogue to undermine them without being quite so direct:

Renata and Harper attended the same weekly Support Group for parents of gifted children. Madeline imagined them all sitting in a circle wringing their hands while their eyes shone with secret pride.

They mean very, very well. They’re like, hmm, what are they like? They are like Mum Prefects. They feel very strongly about their roles as school mums. It’s like their religion. They’re fundamentalist mothers.

The pace of the plot is addictive managed by lots of revelations as the veneer of the characters are stripped back to reveal more complexity than initially imagined. This is the second book this week where I have stayed up late to find out what happened next as I read just one more chapter!

Despite the children being the background to the plot their characters are distinct, this is not some amalgamation of a random children used for cute effect, they behave randomly as real children do including the teenage Alice who is Madeline’s eldest daughter.

“I can’t even speak now!” Alice’s whole body trembled “I can’t even be myself in my own home! I can’t relax!” Madeline was reminded of Alice’s first ever tantrum, when she was nearly three and Madeline had been thinking that she was never going to have a tantrum, and it was all due to her good parenting.

Despite giving the previous books I have read by this author 5*’s this book surpasses them both and will be a book I recommend to everyone this summer as it has the right mix of the good read elements: drama, mystery, issues, characters and plot and no, I didn’t guess the ending, in fact I was way off!

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin UK for allowing me to review a copy of this book ahead of the publication date of 31 July 2014.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Wildflower Hill – Kimberley Freeman

Historical Fiction 4*'s
Historical Fiction
4*’s

I chose this book as I like dual time-line stories and this one has the twenties for the past and I am fascinated by the period sandwiched between the two wars. The stories shared are those of Emma, a ballerina who travels the world and Beattie, her Grandmother, a young woman, living in Glasgow in straightened circumstances.

Emma has it all, a nice apartment in London, a long-term relationship with Josh and her career as a famous ballerina when she is forced to take stock following an accident. She returns to her mother in Australia and is given the news that she has inherited Wildflower Hill from her Grandmother. As she starts to clear out the house still packed with Beattie’s belongings she finds a photo that leads her to discover more about her Grandmother’s life.

When the story opens in 1929, Beattie is living in Glasgow with her idealistic father and her downtrodden mother when she is introduced to a man who will alter her life forever.

Not only is this story set between different time-periods but their stories criss-cross between Scotland, England and Australia as we follow their trials and tribulations. For me Beattie’s story was the more compelling of the two as she battles many of life’s injustices, heeding her friend Cora’s words:
“There are two types of women in this world, those who do things and those who have things done to them.”
As the story switches from sleazy clubs to sheep-farming in Australia; from domestic servitude to success and we see Beattie ostracised for being a woman who didn’t follow the social dictates of the time.

Beattie’s story is far more interesting as she battles against the odds as the reader is constantly reminded that Emma’s life as a ballerina was a cossetted existence, because of this she was selfish until she goes to Wildflower Hill and learns more about her Grandmother’s life and appreciates those around her and takes the time to reassess her life and her values.

There were a couple of places in the book where the timing of events were muddled which should have been captured prior to going to print but these were minor and didn’t spoil the flow of this tale that touches on a number of issues that a woman such of Beattie would have encountered. There were some lovely touches where the narrative linked the two women’s lives however, I didn’t feel Wildflower Hill compared directly to Kate Morton’s books, as the publicity suggests. because although this is a dual time zone tale it didn’t have the same element of mystery. As book with two linked stories this made for an enjoyable foray into not only a different time period but also cross continents.