Review: Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates

Inheritance of Secrets opens with its narrator, Juliet, in the Adelaide morgue to identify the bodies of her viciously murdered grandparents, Karl and Grete Weiss. It’s the great and terrible blow that cracks her life wide and fills it with doubt, grief, fear and danger. 

As she and her estranged sister Lily try to understand what’s happened, and to disprove the accusation that their beloved grandfather was a secret Nazi, they uncover answers to some of puzzles surrounding their family trauma.  

Through a series of flashbacks, the reader gets to see what actually happened when Karl Weiss travelled to Australia as a migrant on the Fairsea, and subsequent events that lay in wait for 60 years until a killer came to call. The two storylines eventually converge, but only when both young Karl and present-day Juliet have faced some serious threats.

Threat hangs heavy in the air throughout Inheritance of Secrets – the elusive Lily is clearly involved in some very shady dealings which leave her fearful and furtive, though her instincts may help her and Juliet in the long term. Juliet’s journalist friend Ellis has fingers in multiple pies. Things aren’t helped by Juliet’s ambitious fiancé, Jason, who is less interested in helping Juliet than in making partner at his firm.

Sonya Bates leads us through carefully the morass of accusation, confusion and threats, leaving us to doubt until late in the piece about Karl’s real history. Juliet is frequently rather hapless, as we all would be under the same conditions, but when the crisis reaches a peak, she’s resourceful. Her complex relationship with her Lily, Ellis and Jason add texture and complications to what’s already a fraught time for her, and you easily get as enmeshed in her private life as in the investigation.

The prose zips along and the reader has the pleasure of watching Juliet reconnect with Lily, realise some important things in her life and come to a renewed sense of herself by the conclusion.

A very satisfying read with a conclusion that fits Juliet’s character and the book’s themes of inherited secrets.

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Lockdown Fiction: A Box for Wishes

A Box for Wishes - a poem prompted by Improbable Press's prompt blog!

The latest Improbable Press prompt had me thinking in rhyming couplets. It might be a little pat at the ending, but I enjoyed the challenge.

Don’t forget to take a look at the IP Blog and try some of their writing prompts yourself!

A Box for Wishes

I have a box for wishes
And every day it fills
I wish for better luck
And I wished for better skills
I wish to curse an enemy
And wish to bless a friend
I wish for happy endings
And I wish that things won’t end

I have a box for wishes
Full of envy-laden sighs
I wish I wrote like Shakespeare
I wish that I could fly 
I wish to be a mermaid
And I wish to be an elf
I wish to be a warrior
And I wish to be myself

I have a box for wishes
And every night it clears
It’s empty in the morning
Free to fill with all my fears
I wish to find a balance
And wish to make a win
I wish that I was good enough
Or forgiven for my sins

I have a box for wishes
And wish instead of do
I need to give up wishing
And create my world anew
So from today I practise
And build experience and skill
Today I give up wishing
And instead of wish, I will.

Quintette of Questions: Jenny Blackford

Today I ask Jenny Blackford five questions about her new book!

1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how hard was it to pick a title?

It’s called The Girl in the Mirror, because it all started with a story of two girls seeing  each other through an oval mirror on the wall of the bedroom that they both live in, in an inner-city terrace house, over 100 years apart. (Even before that, it started with a very old oval mirror in our old terrace house, in which I always half-expected to see something not in the room.)

The working title was Dead Girl in the Mirror, which I changed after some workshopping with helpful SCBWI authors. They thought it might put book-buying gatekeepers off, though probably not the 8 to 12 year old target demographic.

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

Felicity Kendall at around 12 years old would make a wonderful modern Maddy – sweet, enthusiastic, caring, idealistic, perhaps a little apt to be picked on, but working through that to a spirited defiance.

And I need someone dark-haired, determined and smart, for Clarissa, who is 14 in the 1890s. Someone who will mutter under her breath at her tyrannical Aunt Lily, and jump to the conclusion that Lily is a serial poisoner, and that redback spiders are her evil henchmen. And who will smile indulgently at the ghost of her dead brother Bertie clattering up and down the stairs, laughing. Dare I ask for the young Elizabeth Taylor? She could stamp her feet magnificently as Clarissa.

3. What five words best describe your story?

A spidery, ghostly, suspenseful, middle-grade mystery

4. Who is your favourite fictional team/couple?

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (from Dorothy Sayers). Though I also have a soft spot for Morse and Lewis, and Lewis and Hathaway. Also Vera and whatever unfortunate subordinate she is growling at in any series.

5. What song reflects a theme, character, relationship or scene in your book?

Given the plague of redback spiders that are evil Aunt Lily’s allies, who could go past Boris the Spider, by The Who?

About The Girl in the Mirror

The Davitt award judges said, “Separated by more than a hundred years, and brought together through a mysterious mirror, Maddy and Clarissa provide comfort and wisdom at a time when they feel desperately alone. The girls band together to defeat a creeping evil that threatens the lives of their families.

The Girl in the Mirror is a refreshingly contemporary time-slip mystery. Maddy and Clarissa are intensely relatable with their shared frustrations at the way in which they are dismissed by the adults in their lives. Jenny Blackford has captured the pains of early adolescence – loneliness, fear, uncertainty – in a gripping mystery that is perfectly pitched to the middle readers who will love it.”

Buy The Girl in the Mirror

About Jenny Blackford

Jenny is a Newcastle-based author and poet. Her middle-grade historical mystery The Girl in the Mirror appeared from Eagle Books in 2019, and won the 2020 Davitt Award for Best Children’s Crime Novel.

Her poems and stories for children are regularly published in the School Magazine, and have appeared in Our Home is Dirt by Sea: Australian Poetry for Australian KidsStories for Nine Year Olds and other great anthologies.

Pitt Street Poetry has published three collections of her poetry: The Loyalty of Chickens and The Duties of a Cat, both suitable for people aged 11+, and The Alpaca Cantos, suitable for adults and Young Adults. Her poetry awards include firsts in the Thunderbolt Prize for Crime Poetry and the Humorous Verse section of the  Henry Lawson awards (twice).

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Review: The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey

It’s 1922 and Perveen Mistry, a lawyer from Bombay, has been called to the kingdom of Satapur to help resolve a conflict about an underage maharajah’s education. Jiva Rao’s mother and grandmother disagree bitterly on the best choice and as they’re observing purdah, Perveen, a woman, is the only lawyer who can visit them.

Along with trying to understand everyone’s perspectives so that a fair decision can be reached, Perveen soon learns that the circumstances of how Jiva Rao’s father and older brother died are dodgy, to say the least.  Other factors add complexity to what should be a simple legal consultation – including the relationship between colonial British influence in what is nominally an independent kingdom and the royal household; Perveen’s unexpected attraction to the local agent of the British Raj; and the complex layers of social behaviours when the characters populating the story are from a huge variety of religious, cultural, social and class backgrounds.

Sujata Massey’s Perveen is the perfect guide through this complicated landscape. Educated in England, politically aware, articulate and thoughtful, Perveen explores the layers and facets of 1920s India. She’s an outsider in more ways than one – a woman, a lawyer, a Parsi with personal history she’s not in a hurry to share, a quiet supporter of Ghandi, and an ordinary citizen trying to negotiate with a royal household conscious of its status but also how that status is peculiarly beholden to British powers.

The Satapur Moonstone is wonderfully textured in its characters and their interactions. It shows off India’s multiplicity as a nation without getting heavy handed or lecturing, because we see it all through Perveen’s eyes, and for her, it’s all India too. Descriptions of the Agent’s station and its staff and the social circle surround it, are as vivid as those of the other locals, the jungle and the palace.

The mystery evolves at a good pace – slowly at first, while we (through Perveen) grow to understand all the players and to realise that everyone has secrets.  As these get untangled, the pace of the plot picks up and dashes us towards a satisfying conclusion.

I’d finished The Satapur Moonstone before I realised that Perveen had first appeared in A Murder at Malabar Hill. Not having read it is no barrier to enjoying this book – but I’ll certainly be picking it up now!

Buy The Satapur Moonstone

Words are like oxygen