Monday 23 October 2023

The Butterfly Collector by Tea Cooper

A little bit of history, a little bit of romance, a little bit of suspense. What else could I ask for?

I have a passion for well written, Australian historical fiction and The Butterfly Collector certainly fits that category. From the start the story had me invested.

This is the first time I have read a Tea Cooper story and I have already bought another for my reading pile.

It is a delicious blend of fact and fiction, told in two timelines and two locations - Morpeth NSW 1868 and Sydney 1922 - but does not confuse the reader.

The story begins in 1922 when Verity Binks, a journalist, is sacked from her job at Sydney Arrow newspaper. It is a common situation post World War I to open positions for soldiers returning from active service. However, her editor is happy to publish, and pay for, any stories of interest she sends him.

When she receives an invitation to a masquerade ball along with a butterfly costume, she embarks on an investigation that has her in Morpeth where her father was born.

Verity’s father was a well-known journalist and Verity is keen to follow in his footsteps by writing an interesting article.  When an anonymous parcel arrives containing an invitation to the Sydney Artists’ Masquerade Ball and a butterfly costume her curiosity is piqued.

At the ball, she is introduced to Mr Treadwell who asks her to write the history of the Treadwell Foundation which supports unmarried mothers and their babies.

Her research takes her back to Morpeth, her grandfather’s birthplace.

The visit results in linking with the other storyline of the book as she learns about her connections with the Breckenridge.

The second story line is set in Morpeth in 1868 where we meet Theodora and her three sisters Florence, Constance, and Viola. They are mourning the loss of their parents and brother when a steamer ship hit a reef and sank.

Florence decided their period of mourning was over and they should go to Sydney and put themselves back out into society and find husbands.

In addition to preferring to painting and enjoying her mother’s garden to socialising, the thought of travelling on a steamer like her parents did terrifies her.

While painting in the garden, she discovers a butterfly never seen in Australia. She knew the famous nature illustrators, the Scott sisters and is keen to follow in their footsteps.

Her search to find them again leads her on an adventure.

Clarrie is a maid working for the reverend but fires her when he discovers she is pregnant. She and the baby’s father, Sid, have not been able to marry but find a local midwife, Maud, prepared to deliver the baby and look after him for a fee when Clarrie finds work with Theodora.

Our next character is Redmond, Sid’s employer at the local newspaper. Redmond is keen to spend time with Theodora and asks Sid if Clarrie would be a chaperone on a butterfly search on a river island.

Theodora and Clarrie get on well and Theodora offers her a job.

As the story continues, we learn that Clarrie and Sid are Verity’s grandparents.

I highly recommend The Butterfly Collector to fans of Australian historical fiction and readers who like to relax with a good story and learn at the same time.

My thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Australia for a copy of The Butterfly Collector by Tea Cooper in exchange for an honest review.

My rating 5*

Sunday 24 September 2023

New Horizon by Nick Udall

Sadly, I did not finish New Horizons. I was happy to sit down with an easy read after reading a psychological mystery, but by the time I got 30% through I was totally bored with the story. In fact, I skipped a whole chapter about a wrestling match.

Set between the 1960s and 1980s, history is not blended in well. It seems to be there for the sake of it rather than setting the scene. At the same time I didn’t get a feel for the industrial town of Manchester and the struggles of its people.

The writing was OK and the characters lacked substance.

I am sorry I can only rate this book as 1* 

Tuesday 29 August 2023

The Fountain by John A Heldt

A tale of time travel, history, danger, romance, and family relationships.

While this is a time travel book, as with all John A. Heldt’s books, it is so much more.

John skilfully combines a good story with a well-researched history. I have all of his books and he has never failed to entertain with his family-based time travel stories.

The Fountain is the first book of his new Second Chance series and after being introduced to the Carpenters, I look forward to the next in the series.

The three main characters are ageing siblings Bill, Paul and Annie. Bill (81) has just been widowed, Paul (75) is dying from lung cancer and Annie (72) is confined to a wheelchair.

All are childless and wonder what there is left in life. When Bill, a retired folklore and mythology professor, hears about a fountain of youth in La Paz, Mexico that could not only give them a second chance it would also mean travelling back in time to a simpler lifestyle. They don’t hesitate in making their decision. They sell their house and possessions and convert the proceeds into gold.

To reach the fountain they must travel to Mexico and enter an almost unknown cave. They enter the fountain and emerge in 1905. But things are different – Bill is now a young man of 23, Paul a cancer free teenager of 17 and Annie a 14 year old with a healthy body.

They must then find a way to get from Mexico to Oakland, California. Once in California they settle in and make friends. Bill finds a job and the two younger ones enrol in school but there is still one thing worrying them – the 1906 San Francisco earthquake especially when none of them can remember exactly when it will occur.

The Carpenters fitted in well to their new age. They had a few slip ups, particularly with jargon or slang terms, but it was fun to see them wriggle out of it.

The Fountain is much more than a time travel book. Heldt combines time travel with family relationships, history, romance, and heartbreak.

As always, he manages to combine all these genres without graphic sex or foul language. His history is well researched giving the reader a definite sense of time and place.

Aged 74 myself, I was able to relate to Bill, Paul and Annie and their wish to go back in time to a younger version of themselves. The difference is I have a son and grandchildren, they have no one but each other.

They are marvellous characters, quiet achievers, and caring souls.

We have a clear impression of Heldt’s main characters from the start and it was interesting to see that influenced who they were in 1905. Nothing was lost in the relationship between them or their attitudes to others and their distinct personalities remained unchanged.

Widower Bill has just buried his beloved wife after 54 years of marriage and is somewhat lost. While she is not strictly a character in the book she was much loved by his siblings and a strong influence on their lives.

Paul’s background is a bit clearer. He is a disgraced soldier, has been married three times and now coming to terms with living with terminal cancer. He had the most to gain from a second chance and was a delightful, caring young man in 1905.

Annie is used to her life confined to a wheelchair but is still frustrated with the limitations especially not having children. The opportunity to be free of it and relive a young life appeals greatly and she embraces life in 1905 with enthusiasm.

My favourite character though was Cassie, a teacher at the school where Bill has a job to assess the teaching staff and where Annie and Paul attend school. She’s smart, feisty and beautiful but she and Bill don’t hit it off in the beginning.

The other characters include Cassie’s family and another student, Pauline Wagner.

But in a John A. Heldt book you never know who you will meet and in this case, we meet Jack London, author of Call of the Wild and White Fang as well as US General Frederick Funston.

Every character has been well cast. They are believable and likeable. In fact, they are the key to the story.

The story is told from several points of view – the three siblings and Cassie. This does not confuse the reader as each chapter is titled with the name of the character.

As with all his books, Heldt’s blending of history and an imaginative story is creative with a gradual build up in tension. It all comes together in a relaxing and absorbing read.

As part of a series The Fountain is a complete story but Heldt leaves you wanting more. I am looking forward to reading the next in the series Annie’s Apple.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

My rating 5*


Friday 11 August 2023

Lyrics for the Loved Ones by Anne Goodwin

Lyrics for the Loved Ones is the bitter-sweet story of Matilda Windsor (Matty) who has been moved from a mental health institution to a nursing home in Cumbria. She is planning her 100th birthday but due to Covid lockdown plans need to be modified. 

It is the third book of the series about Matty.

The story begins as Matty is celebrating her 99th birthday but her thoughts and plans turn to celebrating her 100th. She plans a big function where she can perform on stage. There are also plans for her to be reunited with her daughter she was forced to give up for adoption.

But plans are thwarted when Covid hits and the nursing home goes into lockdown. The Black Lives Matter protests and the Windrush scandal are also featured but without much depth.

It is an emotional read interspersed with humour.

The setting alternates between West Cumbria and Bristol

The writing is good, but its wordiness was a little challenging as was following the relationships between the characters. However, the difficulties with the characters and their background may be due to not having read the previous stories in the series.

Although it is supposed to be suitable as a standalone novel I feel if I had read the two previous books I may have got more from the story. I don’t recall mention of it being part of a series when I requested it through LibraryThing Early Reviewers

This is the main reason for my low rating.

I found the story confusing, but it would appeal to a reader who likes to delve into complex relationships. I also recommend reading the other two first.

Overall, the book didn’t really work for me. 

Rating 2*