AN ENCHANTING READ / A DIFFICULT LOVE STORY / TESTING THE BONDS OF SISTERHOOD / MAPPING DIGGERS’ ROLE IN WWI’S FINAL MONTHS
THE LOST FLOWERS OF ALICE HART Holly Ringland FOURTH ESTATE, $33
Domestic violence and the lies that surround it — rarely is the topic explored in such a beautifully written, hopeful and enthralling tale. Alice’s beginnings in life are rooted in her parents’ abusive relationship. Tragedy intervenes and Alice is thrust into a new life with a family of scarred yet strong women who surround her with love — and flowers — but tell her little of her past. So when she suffers the ultimate betrayal at the hands of this “family”, she runs, and it’s not surprising that abuse and denial are repeated in Alice’s adult life. Ultimately, what leads Alice to break the cycle is the discovery and understanding of her own story, and acceptance of the love and trust of other women. There are few giveaways that this is a first novel. Indeed, while tackling such a tough topic, it’s an enchanting read. The fiery centre of Australia is where her life combusts. Yet, like the remarkable ability of flowers to bloom in the harshest of environments, and with the gentle and wise advice of Aboriginal elders, it’s where her life begins its regeneration as she learns to love and live her story.
Hopeful SUSAN MCNAIR
THE ONLY STORY Julian Barnes RANDOM HOUSE UK, $33
The premise for Julian Barnes’ latest offering is that each and every one of us has a story — the story of our love. And how accommodating are we of the stories of others? Well, this one is set out to challenge. About 40 to 50 years ago, 19year-old Paul goes along to the village tennis club one day hoping for a game and there meets Susan, 48, merry despite her loveless marriage. As narrator Paul notes, this is the worst romance for his parents to contemplate. What follows are meditations on love, the trials and tribulations of the relationship, the effects on those around them, and how far they will go to maintain it surrounded as they are by the more conventional stories. There are moments of levity, shock, affection and increasing sadness. At the end, the abiding question is: is it better to have loved?
VERDICT: A difficult love LEE HOWARD
BEFORE I LET YOU GO Kelly Rimmer HACHETTE, $30
They’re sisters who were incredibly close as kids, but now they couldn’t be more different. Lexie has thrown off the shackles of a difficult childhood to be a doctor. But Annie is a drug addict who’s never been able to forget her dark days in a religious cult. And when she reconnects with Lexie in a desperate 2am phone call, it’s to plead for help because she’s pregnant. For Lexie, it’s an all-too-familiar scenario, but this time there’s a child involved. Under Alabama law, Annie is facing child endangerment charges and jail for exposing her unborn child to drugs. Rural NSW author Kelly Rimmer tears at the heartstrings with this tale of a dysfunctional family complicated by drug addiction and the arrival of an innocent baby. Emotions are further tested by the death of the girls’ beloved father, an estranged mother and the lingering effects of the controlling cult. Just how far can that sisterly bond stretch before it snaps?
VERDICT: Moving CARINA BRUCE
AUSTRALIANS ON THE WESTERN FRONT 1918 VOL 1 David W. Cameron PENGUIN, $35
We are now in the final year of the World War I centenary commemoration and the books about the war inevitably focus on the final months of the conflict. This work is the first of two volumes that concentrate on the Australian troops’ final year on the Western Front. David W. Cameron is a meticulous recorder of events and military tactics and strategies. This first volume concentrates on March and April 1918, when the Germans launched their massive offensive. Cameron assiduously marshals details of the critical role the Australians played, while balancing it with a keen sense of humanity. He also quotes German sources to give a fresh perspective. Those with a deep interest in military planning will find much of this fascinating, including the detailed maps. Sir John Monash’s important role in the war’s resolution awaits in volume two.
VERDICT: Vivid NICK RICHARDSON