Review: Allegra in Three Parts – Suzanne Daniel

Allegra in Three Parts

Suzanne Daniel

Pan Macmillan Australia

ISBN: 9781760781712




From Suzanne Daniel comes an outstanding debut novel, capturing 1970s Australia with warmth, humour and a distinctive voice. I can split myself in two . . . something I have to do because of Joy and Matilde. They are my grandmothers and I love them both and they totally love me but they can’t stand each other. Eleven-year-old Allegra shuttles between her grandmothers who live next door to one another but couldn’t be more different. Matilde works all hours and instils discipline, duty and restraint. She insists that Allegra focus on her studies to become a doctor. Meanwhile free-spirited Joy is full of colour, possibility and emotion, storing all her tears in little glass bottles. She is riding the second wave of the women’s movement in the company of her penny tortoise, Simone de Beauvoir, encouraging Ally to explore broad horizons and live her ‘true essence’.

And then there’s Rick who lives in a flat out the back and finds distraction in gambling and solace in surfing. He’s trying to be a good father to Al Pal, while grieving the woman who links them all but whose absence tears them apart. Allegra is left to orbit these three worlds wishing they loved her a little less and liked each other a lot more. Until one day the unspoken tragedy that’s created this division explodes within the person they all cherish most. Suzanne Daniel is a journalist and communications consultant who has also worked for ABC TV, the Sydney Morning Herald, the United Nations, BBC (London) and in crisis management and social services. For the past twenty years she has served on community, philanthropic and public company boards. Suzanne lives in Sydney with her husband and family. Allegra in Three Parts is her first novel.


My View:

I am sitting here in my flares, a recent “op shop” purchase, I love flares, I am searching for the musical references mentioned in this novel; I love the music of the seventies.

At the time (the 70’s) I was too young to appreciate that I was growing up female in the middle of the Women’s movement, the liberation. The movement was happening around me and I largely benefited from the struggles of my peers. Helen Reddy’s powerhouse song “I am Woman” was the anthem we all sang.

But I digress. I am meant to be reviewing Allegra in Three Parts – and in a     roundabout way I am.

Allegra in Three Parts has many story arcs – the Women’s Liberation movement being one of them; the setting up of women’s safe houses/refuges from family violence, the challenge of attaining equal pay and conditions, education for women, the harnessing of trade unions to improve work conditions…so much more is introduced to us by the characters of grandmothers Joy and Mathilde. Joy is at the forefront of the movement, with her Liberty Club. Mathilde clearly feels that education and a good job are the key to a woman’s success and independence and she is determined that Allegra will have those opportunities. They both want the best life possible for Allegra.


Suzanne Daniel also creates a space here to discuss the role of fathers in family and in particular as role models for their daughters when we are introduced to Rick – Allegra’s father. As the narrative progresses his influence on the family and Allegra increases – in a positive way.


The characters of Rick and the grandmothers are great devices to open up discussion surrounding grief, loss and resilience.


There are so many more social issues subtly probed in this novel – so gently are they introduced that you hardly are aware of the lessons being shared; on racism, multiculturalism, on being different, of bullying, of class and privilege…


More than issues this is a book about growth and healing, forgiveness, families and love and the importance of being loved.


“There’s no formula for happiness that’s guaranteed to work

It all depends on how you treat your friends and how much you’ve been hurt

But it’s a start, when you open up your heart

And try not to hide, what you’re feeling inside

Just open up your heart.”  (p249, ‘Open Up Your Heart’ G W Thomas)


I loved this book!




Guest Review – Her Mother’s Secret – Natasha Lester

Her Mother’s Secret

Natasha Lester

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 9780733634659



1918, England. Armistice Day should bring peace into Leonora’s life. Rather than secretly making cosmetics in her father’s chemist shop to sell to army nurses such as Joan, her adventurous Australian friend, Leo hopes to now display her wares openly. Instead, Spanish flu arrives in the village, claiming her father’s life. Determined to start over, she boards a ship to New York City. On the way she meets debonair department store heir Everett Forsyth . . . In Manhattan, Leo works hard to make her cosmetics dream come true, but she’s a woman alone with a small salary and a society that deems make-up scandalous.

1939, New York City. Everett’s daughter, Alice, a promising ballerina, receives a mysterious letter inviting her to star in a series of advertisements for a cosmetics line. If she accepts she will be immortalized like dancers such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Ginger Rogers. Why, then, are her parents so quick to forbid it?

HER MOTHER’S SECRET is the story of a brave young woman chasing a dream in the face of society’s disapproval.


Brenda’s Review:

The elation of everyone around in Leonora East’s small village of Sutton Veny was high – the war was over; it was Armistice Day 1918 in England and the celebrations continued long into the afternoon. But joy soon turned to despair as Spanish Flu struck viciously – Leo spent her time dispensing medicine from her father’s chemist shop, praying that it would help. Late in the night, as she wearily entered the home where her father was waiting, she was devastated to find him struggling to breathe.

After his death, a grieving Leo decided she could no longer remain in the country. Her desire to create cosmetics that women the world over would want to wear had her sailing to New York City with her best friend Joan. Leo had made herself a deep rich red lipstick in her father’s chemist shop – but the shock from the self-righteous at the scandal she was causing by wearing it only caused Leo’s determination to strengthen. Meeting up with Everett Forsyth on the journey was fortuitous; he was one of the department store Forsyths from London and he was going to build another in Manhattan. His interest in Leo’s cosmetics gave her some confidence…

1939, twenty years later, Leo had been through much – a widow and continuing to work hard, she always looked to the future. Meantime, Everett’s nineteen year old daughter Alice was a devoted and extremely promising ballerina. But the letter Alice received one day at the dance studio was to change her life in a most unexpected way. Why though were her parents so angry? Confusion filled her mind – what could she do?

Her Mother’s Secret by Aussie author Natasha Lester is brilliant! The strength of character of Leo is phenomenal – the way women were treated in the early part of the century; the heartache and loneliness as she was ostracised by the elite of society – and she still held her head high! The author has historical fiction down to a fine art; her meticulous research is obvious. I thoroughly enjoyed Her Mother’s Secret, reading it in a matter of hours. A highly recommended 5 star read.


Guest Post – BURLESQUE DANCING – Is it Naughty or Nice? Belinda Alexandra

Please welcome Belinda Alexandra to my blog .

Belinda has been published to wide acclaim in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland, Poland, Norway and Russia. She is the daughter of a Russian mother and an Australian father and has been an intrepid traveller since her youth. Her love of other cultures is matched by her passion for her home country, Australia, where she is a volunteer rescuer and carer for the NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES)

Author image Belinda_6456_credit Elizabeth Allnutt

Belinda’s new book Southern Ruby is out now.

Southern Ruby cover image

Southern Ruby

Belinda Alexandra

Harper Collins Australia

Forbidden love. Family secrets. A twist of fate. The stunning new generational saga from Belinda Alexandra, bestselling author of Tuscan Rose and White Gardenia. In New Orleans – the city of genteel old houses and ancient oak trees covered in Spanish moss, of seductive night life, of Creole culture, voodoo and jazz – two women separated by time and tragedy will find each other at last.Amanda, orphaned as a child and suffering the loss of her beloved grandmother, has left Sydney in search of a family she never knew. Ruby, constrained by the expectations of society and class, is carrying a lifetime of secrets. Amanda’s arrival sparks revelations long buried: a double life, a forbidden love, and a loss that cannot be forgotten.Southern Ruby is a sweeping story of love, passion, family and honour. Alternating in time between the 1950s and the eve of Hurricane Katrina, it is also a tribute to a city heady with mystery, music, and superstition, which has borne the tumults of race and class and the fury of nature, but has never given up hope


BURLESQUE DANCING – Is it Naughty or Nice?

Belinda Alexandra – Guest Blog


The Evangelist, Billy Graham, described Bourbon Street, New Orleans in the 1950s as the ‘middle of hell’. It would have certainly seemed that way to him with the port city’s notorious bars, jazz clubs, prostitution and mafia activity. Not to mention its burlesque clubs, where beautiful women in costumes of silk and feathers removed items of clothing piece by piece in a tantalising dance until they had stripped down to nothing more than jewelled pasties and rhinestone G-strings. Although it all seems innocent in comparison to today’s strip joints and hard core pornography, it was hot stuff in the sexually repressed 1950s.

With regards to modern burlesque as performed by artists such as Dita Von Teese, there is an argument about whether burlesque is a an empowering feminist art form, or whether it is demeaning and objectifying. The answer to this seems to lie mainly in the eye of the beholder and what they define as either ‘feminist’ or ‘empowering’. Compared to mainstream media, burlesque does seem to be more welcoming to a variety of body types, sexual orientations, ethnicities and ages – with some of the earlier stars such as Tempest Storm still performing well into their seventies. Heterosexual women make up most of the audiences that go to see Dita Von Teese perform so if objectification is taking place, these days it’s by women.

From my point of view, the burlesque described in Southern Ruby is empowering, albeit in a very quotidian way. My character, Vivienne de Villeray – Ruby – is the daughter of an aristocratic French Creole family that has whittled away its fortune in lavish living and she is forced to find some means of supporting her ailing mother and their one remaining loyal but aging maid. Deeply in debt and with her mother requiring a serious operation, there are few financial options available for Ruby to help her family other than to marry for money. Women’s wages were low in the 1950s: a sales clerk earned sixty cents an hour; a telephone operator, twenty-five dollars a week. The average wage for an American woman was less than twenty dollars a week and it was lower still in the south and for unskilled positions. Burlesque, on the other hand, could offer performers anywhere from $100 a week to $5000 dollars a week for the big stars like Lili St. Cyr and Tempest Storm.

Most of the dancers of the 1950s saw their performing not in terms of whether it was objectifying or not but whether it would allow them to help their families and get them out of poverty. For many of these women, it took them out of small towns and backwaters where their only future was to be pregnant and married at fifteen.

As Blaze Starr described it in Leslie Zemeckis’s book Behind the Burly Q: The story of burlesque in America:

Burlesque provided an opportunity to many girls, like me, to escape poverty. I come from the rural hills of West Virginia. My daddy had black lung. We were lucky to get a new pair of shoes once a year. But burlesque got me out of the hills and I saw things most girls will never see. I met presidents and governors. I made a lot of money and I loved it. I made real good friends with the other performers, like Val Valentine. She’s been my friend for decades.


While many of us take our university degrees and the opportunities available to us for granted, it is easy to judge the women of burlesque without truly understanding the restrictions of the era they lived in. I admire them for trying to gain some power, if only financial power, outside of the institution of marriage.

But there was a stigma around burlesque dancing even though the nudity was more suggested than actual, with net bras and body stockings, and the dancers weren’t known for being particularly promiscuous. While the women were revered by their audiences and able to afford haute couture and Cadillacs, they were often snubbed by department store clerks earning only fifty cents an hour for being part of the demimonde. When their performing days were over, most of these women never spoke of their dancing days to their husbands and children as their pasts were considered shameful.

The exotic and secretive world of burlesque was the perfect setting for Ruby’s double life: respectable Vivienne de Villeray living in genteel poverty during the day; the glamorous dancer, Jewel, by night.


Belinda Alexandra’s latest novel, Southern Ruby, is a story of double lives, family secrets and forbidden love set in New Orleans.

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Post Script: The Soldier’s Wife – Pamela Hart

This is a wonderful, intelligent, evocative and mesmerising 5 star read!

Book Cover The Soldier's Wife - Pamela Hart

The Soldier’s Wife

Pamela Hart

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 9780733633737



Ruby and Jimmy Hawkins are sure their love will last forever, despite Jimmy being sent to Gallipoli only weeks after their marriage. Amid the desperate battles of the Dardanelles, Jimmy dreams of the future they planned together and writes Ruby letters full of love and longing.

Back in Sydney, Ruby must face challenges she never could have imagined as a young country bride. Finding a place in the city and taking a job as a bookkeeper in a timber merchant’s yard, she discovers that working in a man’s world is fraught with complications, especially when her employer suffers a devastating loss and she is expected to take the reins.

When Jimmy returns wounded in both body and spirit, he and Ruby come close to losing everything in the aftermath of war. They must find a new way to live and to love if their marriage is to survive.


My View:

This war time novel brings unique voice to this work of historical fiction – it is unusual to see the war depicted from this view point – the view of a woman, a multifaceted view; the view of a wife, facing an uncertain future in her new home in Sydney, NSW, while her husband is overseas deployed in the war, the view of a compassionate friend  who is a great support when the Death Knock Telegrams are delivered, the view of a woman bravely entering the realms of a male dominated workplace where her opportunity to work is regarded as a privilege not a right by her male colleagues, and the view of a daughter discovering adult married life and responsibilities outside of the community of her childhood. And a very interesting view point – of the partner of a returned, injured soldier dealing with the physical and invisible injuries that war bestows on him. War leaves its stain on all that it comes in contact with.


This book was a joy to read – it had bold, wonderful, engaging transforming female protagonists on the cusp of emancipation and the narrative was filed with the tension, uncertainties, fear and the drama of war – both on the battlefield and off although most of the setting and action takes place is in inner city Sydney. The First World War is a backdrop that provides the tension and influences the characters life choices and destinies in this narrative. Ruby’s personal story is one that is engaging, positive and realistic of that time and provides a little slice of history for us all to understand: war affects us all, changes everyone and everything.


I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this book – historical fiction is not one I usually embrace but my view of historical fiction is rapidly changing, what a gifted writer you are Pamela Hart, thank you.