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Monday, December 10, 2018

The Widow of Ballarat by Darry Fraser

Title: The Widow of Ballarat
Author: Darry Fraser
Publisher: 19th November 2018 by Harlequin Australia, HQ
Pages: 318 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 4.5 crowns

A compulsively readable story of passion, adventure and a woman's quest for independence set against the colorful backdrop of 19th century Bendigo and the goldfields of Ballarat.
1854, Ballarat, Victoria When Nell Amberton's husband is shot dead by a bushranger, there are few who grieve his passing, and Nell least of all. How could she miss the monster who had abused her from the day they wed - the man who had already killed his innocent first wife? But his death triggers a chain of events that seem to revolve around the handsome bushranger who murdered him - a man to whom Nell, against her better judgment, is drawn.
But Nell has far more than a mysterious stranger to worry about. With a mess of complications around her late husband's will, a vicious scoundrel of a father trying to sell her off in matrimony, and angry relatives pursuing her for her husband's gold, she is more concerned with trying to ensure her safety and that of her friend, goldfields laundry woman Flora, than dealing with the kind of feelings that led her astray so catastrophically before.
After the violence on the goldfields, Nell's fate also hangs in the balance. It seems that, after all, she might need to do the one thing she has avoided at all costs...ask for the help of a man.
My Thoughts

‘She would venture onto the digging fields for one last time, to take a walk over the damaged, sad hills filled with empty holes and dashed dreams.’

Set in the goldfields of Ballarat in the aftermath of the Eureka Stockade, Darry Fraser takes you on a fabulous journey of what it would have been like for women during this transitional phase in history. Whilst certainly interesting to read of key events from this period, this is not the main focus of the book. The main focus is in fact the role of women and one in particular, Nell Amberton.  Here is a women (in a time when marriage was the only accepted form of legitimacy) who endures an abusive relationship, tries to realise life as a widow, attempts to become independent and build a new life for herself, all whilst dealing with some shady characters. Nell and her friend Flora, provide a fabulous insight into the life for a woman in extreme circumstances of living on the goldfields.

Darry provides you with a strong historical setting of the day to day living and often tenuous prospects of life on the Ballarat goldfields in Australia of the 1850s. Seeing it through their eyes, you will feel yourself transported back trying valiantly to eke out an existence. How wonderful to view it from a female perspective, the silent partners in this often futile escapade to make a fortune.

The characters are rich and engaging. Nell and Flora representative of female tenacity, the father and nephew the ugly domineering male, that was thankfully, balanced against the gallant Finn - what a fabulous ‘bushranger’ he made! Fear not the obvious cliches, as issues of independence after marriage and the wearing of pants give a little taste of the momentous changes that would ultimately unfold for women. In a time when Aussie authors are making their mark in rich historical fiction, Darry has done a fabulous job with some wonderful storytelling and puts herself right up there with the best.

So if you like a good story, women attempting to exert independence, throw in a dashing hero to assist, then this will be the book for you. Life was hard, especially so for women who were often regarded as male property; this tale saw me eagerly awaiting what would unfold next for the harsh circumstances of being, ‘The Widow of Ballarat’.

‘Nell looked about her, at the rough and tumble of the camp, at the dust and the dirt, the hard, worn-down faces of men and women alike. The white people, the black people, the yellow people, myriad languages, the bellowing, the brawling, the children of all races on the diggings, scampering about, their dirty faces and patched clothes evidence of the fickle luck on the fields.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Other Wife by Juliet Bell

Title:  The Other Wife
Author: Juliet Bell
Publisher: 2nd November 2018 by HQ Digital
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: romance, retellings, contemporary
My Rating: 2.5 crowns

Outback Australia, 1981
After a terrible childhood, Jane comes to Thornfield as nanny to the adorable Adele, watched over by the handsome and enigmatic Edward. Plain and inexperienced, Jane would never dream of being more than his hired help. But swept up in the dramatic beauty of the Outback, she finds herself drawn to Edward. And, to her surprise, he seems to return her feelings.
But Jane is not the first woman Edward has pledged to make mistress of Thornfield.
As a child, Betty was taken from her English home and sent for adoption in Australia. At first, no-one wanted her, deeming her hair too curly, and her skin too dark. Until the scheming Mr Mason sees a chance to use Betty to cement a relationship with the rich and powerful Rochester dynasty…
When Jane discovers Betty’s fate, will she still want to be the next Mrs Rochester?

My Thoughts

I am a Bronte fan, so this combined modern adaptation/retelling looked inviting. To place a Jane Eyre type character in outback Australia 1980s sounded a clever undertaking. So whilst it is not necessary to have read Bronte’s original, it does make for a more engaging comparison to be made. Despite what would be obvious necessary changes, it would be intriguing to see how this fateful tale would unfold in new contemporary rural circumstances.

Told through the viewpoints of both Jane and Betty (aka Bertha), Bell provides the reader with significant background details of both women. Both stories contain great sadness with childhoods filled with abandonment and therefore, some understanding of the present day woman current in the narrative, becomes clear. My first problem here is that, I never felt I fully understood, or was provided, with the reasons for Betty’s anxiety/madness. Innuendo was insufficient for me to appreciate this crucial factor and combine that with her obvious lucid moments, I often found myself confused.

‘Edward thought she was mad. Grace thought she was mad.’

Then there is Rochester. Never ever could he be viewed as likable from the original, but here he was absolutely despicable. Not much more to say but a really unlikeable character from beginning to end. I liked that ‘Thornfield’ was in remote outback Australia - but was that because it fit nicely as a modern adaptation? I don’t have a problem with adaptations veering from the original and although many of the incidences could be likened, there were just as many that were different. Especially the ending.

What I did struggle with was the overall theme of terrible male characters and the use of sex as power in a wide range of scenarios and rather fanatically. I hated the silly quips such as, ‘Maybe the father will fall in love with me and ask me to marry him, like in The Sound of Music’ - good grief! Finally, to be honest, I did not enjoy the writing style - rather disjointed at times which may be the result of me learning that the author, Juliet Bell, is in fact the collaborative pen name of authors Janet Gover and Alison May.

‘We are of this land. We know how to wait. We should go on strike like the Gurindji.’ ‘How long do we wait? It took ’em ten years at Wave Hill.’

I held such hope for this tale as I truly believed that they had all the components necessary to write a really good adaptation. Sadly, it totally missed the mark for me as key points just did not add up.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release