review: THE BOTANIST’S DAUGHTER, Kayte Nunn

Synopsis (publisher)

Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower . . .

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father’s quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed ‘Spring 1886’ and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.

In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .

My Take

The novel is a romantic mystery, not my usual fare of crime fiction: written with a dual time frame, with over a century between them.

Anna is renovating a house in Paddington in Sydney, left to her by her grandmother when the builders find some intriguing objects sealed up in the wall. Anna has a gardening business, and has a “botanical” background. Intrigued by what she has found she tries to find out something about their provenance. As she reaches back in history, so the other narrative in the story reaches forward.

The second chapter takes us to Cornwall in 1886, where, at Trebithick Hall, Elizabeth’s dying father requests that she goes to Chile, to carry out a task that he had intended to do himself.

The two narratives are interlaced throughout and gradually Anna pieces together a family history that she had no idea about.

A good read.

My rating: 4.5

About the author (website)

Kayte Nunn is a former book and magazine editor, and the author of two contemporary novels, ROSE’S VINTAGE and ANGEL’S SHARE. THE BOTANIST’S DAUGHTER was Kayte’s first novel of transporting historical fiction, followed by THE FORGOTTEN LETTERS OF ESTHER DURRANT, set largely in the atmospheric Isles of Scilly.

I now live in the Northern Rivers of NSW and am also a mother to two girls. When not writing, reading or ferrying them around I can be found in the kitchen, procrasti-baking.

I love nothing more than a generous slice of warm cake, a cup of tea, a comfortable place to sit and a good book to read!

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Review: PRESERVATION, Jock Serong

Synopsis (publisher)

Preservation, based on the true story of the wreck of the Sydney Cove, sees master storyteller Jock Serong turn his talents to historical narrative.

On a beach not far from the isolated settlement of Sydney in 1797, a fishing boat picks up three shipwreck survivors, distressed and terribly injured. They have walked hundreds of miles across a landscape whose features—and inhabitants—they have no way of comprehending. They have lost fourteen companions along the way. Their accounts of the ordeal are evasive.

It is Lieutenant Joshua Grayling’s task to investigate the story. He comes to realise that those fourteen deaths were contrived by one calculating mind and, as the full horror of the men’s journey emerges, he begins to wonder whether the ruthless killer poses a danger to his own family.

My take

Told by 5 main narrators, with the reader often having to determine the identity of the narrator through the content, and written as part of a PhD in Creative Writing, Jock Serong brings to life a little known episode in the early history of the colony of New South Wales.

The Sydney Cove has come from India via a route that takes her around the western most tip of the continent, down the western side of Van Diemen’s Land, and then up the eastern coast of the island, only to be wrecked in what would become known as Bass Strait. The boat has a valuable cargo of rum and tea which are stored on Preservation Island when the crew takes to the long boat only to be wrecked again on the southern coast of New South Wales.  (A lovely set of maps has been provided to orientate the reader)

Those from the wrecked long boat, 17 of them, begin the walk to Sydney Harbour, over 500 miles to the north, but only 3 arrive. One of the Europeans keeps a journal but it is obvious from the re-telling of the tale once they reach Sydney Harbour that each of the survivors has seen the events very differently.

An interesting story, graphically told.

My rating: 4.8

I’ve also read
5.0, THE RULES OF BACKYARD CRICKET
5.0, ON THE JAVA RIDGE

Review: MAN AT THE WINDOW, Robert Jeffreys

Synopsis (publisher)

When a boarding master at an exclusive boys’ school is shot dead, it is deemed accidental. A lazy and usually drunk detective is sent to write up the report. Cardilini unexpectedly does not cooperate, as he becomes riled by the privileged arrogance of those at the school. He used to have instincts. Perhaps he should follow them now…

With no real evidence he declares the shooting a murder and puts himself on a collision course with the powerful and elite of Perth. As he peels back layers, the school’s dark secrets being to emerge. But is his dogged pursuit of justice helpful or harmful to those most affected by the man’s death?

Man at the Window is the first in the Detective Cardilini series, set in 1960s Western Australia.

My Take

It is 12 months since Detective Cardilini’s wife died and he has well
and truly dropped his bundle. Before Betty’s death he had the reputation
of hard bitten excellent detective but no more. Even his son Paul can’t keep him sober and on track.

St. Nicholas school has supplied Perth with many fine citizens, upstanding and successful businessmen, and it is the school that the police hierarchy attended. But the way in which they try to push any investigation of the death of the boarding master late one night, shot as he stands at the window of his room, does not sit well with Cardilini. Is it perversity or gut instinct that makes him declare he thinks the death is murder?

There are threats to the continuance of Cardilini’s career, already on the rocks, but he continues to follow tiny threads and eventually thinks he has worked out who did the shooting. Meanwhile his personal life appears to be getting back on track as he works on the garden that he has neglected for 12 months. Eventually his discoveries lead to an understanding of what caused the shooting, but also a dilemma about who to punish.

This is a very topical story, considering the moral dilemma that has recently faced our society, particularly related to institutionalised sexual abuse.

A very engaging start to what promises to be an excellent classic noir series.

My rating: 4.9

About the author

Robert Jeffreys has worked as an actor, teacher, builder, labourer, cleaner, real estate agent, personal security agent and playwright of the professionally produced stage plays Cox Four, Covert, The Simple Truth, and The Messenger. ABC Radio National featured his radio plays, Covert, which received an AWGIE award, and Bodily Harm. He has also published a poetry anthology, Frame of Mind. Robert’s debut novel, Man at the Window, is the first in the Detective Cardilini series, set in 1960s Western Australia.