Two Reviews in One! The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart: Holly Ringland

This book is so amazing it gets two reviews! 

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

Holy Ringland

Harper Collins Publishers Australia

ISBN: 9781460754337

 

Description:

The most enchanting debut novel of 2018, this is an irresistible, deeply moving and romantic story of a young girl, daughter of an abusive father, who has to learn the hard way that she can break the patterns of the past, live on her own terms and find her own strength.

 

After her family suffers a tragedy when she is nine years old, Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her estranged grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak. But Alice also learns that there are secrets within secrets about her past. Under the watchful eye of June and The Flowers, women who run the farm, Alice grows up. But an unexpected betrayal sends her reeling, and she flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. Alice thinks she has found solace, until she falls in love with Dylan, a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.

 

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a story about stories: those we inherit, those we select to define us, and those we decide to hide. It is a novel about the secrets we keep and how they haunt us, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive. Spanning twenty years, set between the lush sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, Alice must go on a journey to discover that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.

 

 

My View:

This is a very very, very special read– unique; the sense of place, the credible, flawed characters (I have come across people who share some of the characteristics portrayed here), a narrative of such sadness juxtaposed against the overarching optimism of the prose, the way unique Indigenous stories and culture are woven into the narrative…I could continue to rave and rave.  But I won’t, this is a book you must read for yourself, with no spoilers and no hints of what awaits Alice’s life.

 READ IT.

 One more thing – the cover art is award winning!

 

Brenda’s Review:

The days when her father wasn’t home were the best of all for young Alice Hart. She and her mother would tend the garden together, finding a calm and peace that was never around when he was there. Alice adored her mother and was terrified of her father. But at nine years of age, a tragedy meant Alice had to live with her grandmother – a woman she had never met – on a flower farm a long way from the seaside that was the only home Alice had known.

Gradually Alice came to love the flowers and their meanings. The way they spoke when words were too hard. Learning the language of flowers created a peace within Alice – until her peace was shattered. With her heart broken, she fled the farm and all it had meant to her, driving without knowing where she was headed. Alice’s unexpected destination was deep in the Australian desert where the Sturt’s desert pea was prolific and filled with meaning.

Haunting and dangerous – that was her time in the middle of Australia. But would Alice ever find solace? Could she make peace with her past and finally look forward to the future?

Enchanting; heartbreaking; divine! Stunning; spectacular; poignant! What a debut! The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is all that and more, by an Australian author I’ll be keeping an eye out for from now on! Holly Ringland’s debut novel is full of depth and emotion; the story of a young girl who had to find the strength to live a life which was so different from the one she had envisioned. The cover of the book is beautiful – I was drawn to it – the beginning of each chapter with the type of Australian native flower and its meaning adds more to the story. Holly Ringland has captured the essence of Australia, and I have no hesitation in recommending The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart highly. 5+ stars!

With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my digital ARC to read and review.

 

Post Script: The Cowgirl – Anthea Hodgson

The Cowgirl

The Cowgirl

Anthea Hodgson

Penguin Random House

Michael Joseph

ISBN: 9780143797265

 

Description:

Teddy Broderick has lived on her farm almost all her life, committed to the rhythms of the country – seeding, harvest, shearing and the twice daily milking of the cow her grandmother has looked after for years, but she dreams of another life, in the wide world away from the confines of her property.

 

She thinks she knows her home and its community inside out, until her grandmother Deirdre announces there is a house buried on the property, and Will Hastings, an archaeologist, is coming to dig it up again.

 

As they work together to expose Deirdre’s past to the light, the stories they tell bring them together and pull Teddy further away from her home.

 

But what is hidden in Deirdre’s childhood house that she needs to see again before she dies – and why? What is it that stops Teddy from living the life she truly wants? And will she ever find her freedom?

 

 

My View:

A uniquely rural Australian coming of age story that tips it hat at the #MeToo movement.

 

Anthea Hodgson writes empathetic characters that challenge societal pressures to confirm and be controlled. Sometimes there are small victories, though the scars form the many skirmishes take a long time to heal.  Ultimately this is an uplifting book that will bring a tear, all be it a happy tear, to your eye.

Post Script: The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us

Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Pan Macmillan Australia

ISBN: 9781509842827

 

Description:

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.

 

You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife. You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love. You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.

 

Assume nothing.

 

Twisted and deliciously chilling, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s The Wife Between Us exposes the secret complexities of an enviable marriage – and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

 

Read between the lies.

 

 

My View:

I am a lover of the domestic noir and this book held some remarkable twists and surprises which I delighted in.  Domestic violence favours no particular socio economic group, and this novel highlights how appearances can be deceiving – how the public and private domains do not always reflect a congruent lifestyle.

 

Be worried. Be thrilled. Be pleased when you discover the ending.

 

Post Script: Music and Freedom – Zoë Morrison

Domestic Violence/Intimate Violence…and so it begins; “And instead of thinking this is unfair, and he is monstrous, I was starting to think, no, I am not very good at this, not at all, I must be such a disappointment. And to start to think such things, was almost the worst part.”(p.142)

music-and-freedom

Music and Freedom

Zoë Morrison

Penguin Random House Australia

Vintage

ISBN: 9781925324204

 

Description:

A gripping and beautifully written novel in the tradition of Elizabeth is Missing and the work of Elizabeth Harrower.

 

I have no use for forgiveness, not yet. But other ideas like that, kindness, for example, I think that is fundamental. Resurrection;

I like that too. And love, of course, love, love, love.

 

Alice Murray learns to play the piano aged three on an orange orchard in rural Australia. Recognising her daughter’s gift, her mother sends Alice to boarding school in the bleak north of England, and there Alice stays for the rest of her childhood. Then she’s offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, and on a summer school in Oxford she meets Edward, an economics professor who sweeps her off her feet.

 

Alice soon finds that Edwards is damaged, and she’s trapped. She clings to her playing and to her dream of becoming a concert pianist, until disaster strikes. Increasingly isolated as the years unravel, eventually Alice can’t find it in herself to carry on. Then she hears the most beautiful music from the walls of her house …

 

This novel’s love story is that of a woman who must embrace life again if she is to survive. Inspiring and compelling, it explores the dark terrain of violence and the transformative powers of music and love.

 

 

In breaking news:  The winner of The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction in 2016 is Music and Freedom by Zoë Morrison.

Music and Freedom is Morrison’s first novel. Set over a period of 70 years, it is a profound and moving portrait of one woman’s life, ranging from rural Australia in the 1930s to England in the modern day. In the tradition of Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Strout and Ann Patchett, Music and Freedom digs deeply into the marriage, relationships and ambitions of its central protagonist, Alice. The novel examines what it means to suffer regret and heartbreak, to make difficult choices and live with the consequences, and to find hope and passion in your darkest hour.

 

Guest judge Maxine Beneba Clarke says, ‘Exploring themes of love, loneliness, and the price of artistic expression, Music and Freedom is an ambitious and considered debut novel. Morrison’s characters are vividly drawn, and their relationships portrayed with exquisite sensitivity. The novel is engaging and structurally sound. Morrison writes about sound and music with a joy and poetry even the unmusical can appreciate – providing a stunning and heartfelt counter to the dark relationship that forms between the two main characters. Music and Freedom is challenging, stylistically sure, accomplished, and consistent. Above all though, it is simply a good story, beautifully written.’

The Prize judges were united in considering the novel a sophisticated and intelligent work of fiction that demonstrated the author’s keen eye for detail and her extraordinary ability to write about classical music. The judges felt the novel to be deserving of a wide readership, both within Australia and overseas. Mark Rubbo, managing director of Readings, described Music and Freedom as a ‘stimulating, thought-provoking and immensely satisfying book’.     http://www.readings.com.au/the-readings-prize-for-new-australian-fiction

 

 

My View:

Domestic Violence/Intimate Violence…and so it begins; “And instead of thinking this is unfair, and he is monstrous, I was starting to think, no, I am not very good at this, not at all, I must be such a disappointment. And to start to think such things, was almost the worst part.”(p.142)

 

 

This is a poignant look at relationships, intimate violence, isolation and resurrection – a very powerful read. Through most of the book I was filled with a deep sadness… a deep brooding sadness reflective of the emotions and situations I was reading about. The portrayal of domestic violence/intimate violence was subtle and so accurate my heart ached for the protagonist, Alice. Yet the author does not wallow in angst on these pages, the control over and violence is intelligently handled and juxtaposed against the wondrous joy, connections and succor that music brings Alice until that too is manipulated and used like a weapon against her.

 

Alice’s journey, her resurrection, is uplifting and bittersweet. Music revives her. Love uplifts her.

 

This is a read in one sitting, deeply moving, lyrical, musical and wonderful read!

 

 

 

Post Script: Look What You Made me Do – Fathers Who Kill- Megan Norris

One Australian woman is hospitalised every three hours and two more lose their lives each week as a result of family violence. But for some women there is a punishment more enduring than injury or their own death.

Megan Norris

Look What You Made Me Do  

Fathers Who Kill

Megan Norris

Echo Publishing

ISBN: 9781760061838

 

Description:

One Australian woman is hospitalised every three hours and two more lose their lives each week as a result of family violence. But for some women there is a punishment more enduring than injury or their own death.

This book is a timely exploration into the evil done by vengeful fathers who kill their own flesh and blood in order to punish wives who have chosen to end abusive relationships.

 

Focussing on seven different but equally harrowing cases of ‘spousal revenge’, author Megan Norris draws on her own observations as a former court and crime reporter, examining the murders of thirteen innocent children who became collateral damage in callous crimes committed by angry dads whose real targets were the children’s mothers.

 

From the harrowing 1993 kidnap and murder of three-year-old Kelly East in WA, to the chilling murder of Darcey Freeman whose dad hurled her from Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge in 2009, these stories highlight the chilling connection between intimate partner abuse and retaliatory homicide. They show it’s not only mothers who are in danger when domestic violence turns deadly.

 

 

My View:

 

True crime novels are not what they used to be, and I mean that as a complement to contemporary true crime writers.

This book in particular surprised me with its well-researched, personal and sensitive account of the crimes committed against women, it could not have been easy sitting in the courtrooms, reading the court transcriptions or speaking with the women here. For the women – it must have been like dredging up hell all over again – yet their voices are so powerful and so necessary if we want to stamp out this type of violence and prevent another child’s senseless death.  I applaud the writer and the women who bravely retold their stories.

 

One Australian woman is hospitalised every three hours and two more lose their lives each week as a result of family violence. But for some women there is a punishment more enduring than injury or their own death.

This is a remarkable book; not always easy to read, written with disdain for the perpetrators whilst highlighting the amazing resilience that some women are able to find when the most horrendous punishment is metred out to them. The problem of male “entitlement” is very evident; women seen as possessions, play things, trophies, and props to paint a false picture to the outside world …these narratives paint an ugly and harrowing truth.

The dialogue between men and women needs to change.  Now.

This is a book that needs to be read by all politicians, police, all public servants, doctors, nurses… and the men and women on the street. We all need to be aware, recognise the signs (when there are any), talk more, support more and speak the truth, stop turning a blind eye, listen more and as a community – put more resources into creating safe places for women to turn to and enforce intimate partner AVO’s.  “An AVO is an Apprehended Violence Order. It is an order to protect victims of domestic violence when they are fearful of future violence or threats to their safety. They are sometimes called restraining orders or protection orders.” (ww.legalaid.nsw.gov.au/what-we-do/community-partnerships/…/what-is-an-avo)

 

I predict a Ned Kelly award – and another EVA (Eliminating Violence Against Women) award for Megan Norris in the near future.

Post Script: An Isolated Incident – Emily Maguire

This one will get your attention! 

An Isolated Incident

An Isolated Incident

Emily Maguire

Pan Macmillan Australia

Picador

ISBN: 9781743538579

 

Description:

When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends.

 

Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm is Bella’s beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparent easygoing nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts only experience can bring.

 

As Chris is plunged into despair and searches for answers, reasons, explanation – anything – that could make even the smallest sense of Bella’s death, her ex-husband, friends and neighbours do their best to support her. But as the days tick by with no arrest, Chris’s suspicion of those around her grows.

 

An Isolated Incident is a psychological thriller about everyday violence, the media’s obsession with pretty dead girls, the grip of grief and the myth of closure, and the difficulties of knowing the difference between a ghost and a memory, between a monster and a man.

 

PRAISE FOR EMILY MAGUIRE

 

“At the heart of … Emily Maguire’s work lies an urgent need to pull away at the interconnecting threads of morality, society and human relationships.” Sydney Morning Herald

 

“what you get, along with a sharp mind and a keenness to investigate cultural confusions, is an engaging ability to put the vitality of the story first.” Weekend Australian

 

My View: This one piqued my interest as you may well notice.

 

Shoot this one straight to the top of my list of “Best Reads of the Year”. Brilliant, masterfully written.

 

Raw, tough, agonizingly truthful… the male gaze is reflected in a mirror back to us.  These reflections are a constant in our (women’s) everyday life, look around you will recognise it too! Misogyny, discrimination, entitlement, double values, violence or threats of violence, intimidation, judgments – the worthy/unworthy, beautiful/other…  Women’s everyday experiences, decisions, choices are under scrutiny of the male gaze – women are judged on whether they wear makeup or not, clothes can be fashionable/slutty, friendliness mistaken for availability as a sexual toy, she discounts you – she is a tease, she is self-assured – she is a “ball breaker”… how can a woman win? How does a woman tell the good guys from the bad when they all wear the same disguise?

 

I think it is the “entitlement” that bothers me the most in this book (and in life). A woman walks down a street alone– she is cat called, whistled at, judged, sexualised. There is a lot of social media chatter about the unsolicited attention men thrust on women at the moment, which if she ignores quickly turns to insults and rage.  (If I had more time I would write you an essay on these type of behaviours) There is a great example of this in the novel. The ugliness and ordinariness of entitlement goes like this; (May is jogging, alone, in suburbia);

‘Hey what you running for, sweet girl?’

May’s pace didn’t alter, her head remained high, her gaze trained at six feet ahead. She was used to running in the inner city, where dick heads calling from cars were background noise.

‘Aww, just a question. Why you running? Sweet arse like that, don’t wanna go running it away.’

She kept moving, taking the next left, focussing her mind on retracing her route, determining whether to loop back at the next corner or go another few blocks. She realises only two or three cars had passed since she’d left the main road, tried to picture  the town map, figure out  a more direct route back to her hotel.

 

A car turned from the opposite corner, came towards her, headlights on high beam, then no headlights at all. May’s vision flickered and swam. She noticed how dark it was, how few houses there were on this street…

‘Come on girl. Stop for a second. Just a second.’

The car was right behind her, engine revving, keeping pace.” (p. 49)

 

Sounds all too familiar to me.

 

 

Domestic violence is another behaviour is succinctly showcased in this novel –   I love you, love you, love you… until you hurt me…or those around me…I love you but not the violence … “he’s a good bloke”( is he?) … until he isn’t. “He is a good bloke” (really?) …until he is provoked. Where is the responsibility? Vision is blinded when it comes to violence against women…he is a good bloke …he couldn’t possibly…

 

I think this is a book that will polarise. Those who tune out the politics will read a work of crime fiction, an intriguing and moving narrative of crime fiction. Those who absorb the depth of this writing will read a crime narrative set in a world of male entitlement, gender inequality, violence…a feminist’s tale.

 

Absolutely loved it!

 

 

Post Script: The Blood On My Hands – Shannon O’Leary

The Blood On My Hands

The Blood On My Hands

Shannon O’Leary

Createspace Independent Publishing Platform

ISBN: 9781519695871

 

Description:

Set in 1960s and ’70s Australia, “The Blood on My Hands” is the dramatic tale of Shannon O’Leary’s childhood years. O’Leary grew up under the shadow of horrific domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse, and serial murder. Her story is one of courageous resilience in the face of unimaginable horrors.

 

The responses of those whom O’Leary and her immediate family reach out to for help are almost as disturbing as the crimes of her violent father. Relatives are afraid to bring disgrace to the family’s good name, nuns condemn the child’s objections as disobedience and noncompliance, and laws at the time prevent the police from interfering unless someone is killed.

 

“The Blood on My Hands” is a heartbreaking-yet riveting-narrative of a childhood spent in pain and terror, betrayed by the people who are supposed to provide safety and understanding, and the strength and courage it takes, not just to survive and escape, but to flourish and thrive.

 

My View:

A particularly horrific and grim story of ongoing domestic violence and psychosis that is not addressed in the perpetrator’s lifetime – this is a uncomfortable book to read  –  imagine what it must have been like to endure? And endure Shannon O’Leary and her family did – the depravity here is unbelievable – if the author hadn’t qualified the read with “autobiography” you would think this was macabre crime fiction.

To enjoy or not to enjoy? No I can’t say I enjoyed this read – the wounds, physical and psychological were open, raw and bleed onto the pages – I could not enjoy. Compelling – yes. An incredible story of courage and survival – yes.  Can we learn from the mistakes made here? I think this should be read by all in the agencies working in the field of domestic violence and community health; more education and resources are needed in these areas.

 

Shannon O’Leary – you must be one amazingly strong woman.  Whenever I think life is tough for me, I will recall what you have endured.