Another novel that has been in my TBR pile for some time that I have finally read and could kick myself for not having done so long ago. It was the cover that sucked me in and the setting, a boarding house - the 'House on the Hill' - in Northern Queensland in the 1920s – a refreshing change of setting. It follows the stories of three sisters, Belle, Molly and Josie, each of them forced to make difficult choices in life.
On her way home after touring with a theatre group that has fallen apart, Belle's train is held up by flood waters and she gets to know the handsome Greek cafe owner, Nicos, and also the mysterious and glamorous Sylvia who suggests that Belle has a future on the Sydney stage. Belle is destined to be increasingly torn between her love of performing, her need to make a living, and her attraction to Nicos.
Molly is a domestic goddess in every way – she's a great cook and can copy and sew a designer gown in no time flat. Her love interest is Fred, a fisherman who aims to get his own trawler before marrying Molly and settling down. Little do either of them know of the devastating event that will irrevocably change both their lives.
The eldest sister is Josie, who dreams of a university education and works as a governess on an isolated station in the outback. While there, she gets caught up in events beyond her control and her dreams come crashing down so she must return to the House on the Hill to re-evaluate her future.
This is a delightful book made all the better by the fact the writing so accurately reflects this period in Australia in description, dialogue and attitude and the author clearly knows her stuff.
The lead characters have flaws yet are all appealing – Belle in particular, her flightiness at odds with having to face the practicalities of life. Josie's strength and stubbornness are explored beautifully. Molly's attempts to remain optimistic with her refusal to accept the inevitable are heartbreaking. Nicos reflects a lot of characteristic macho Greek maleness, and many of the lesser characters all have their charms, fleeting as many of them are.
I don't know if a sequel was ever planned, but I didn't quite want to let go of these people – and I congratulate Estelle Pinney on her delightful novel that deserves to have an audience wider than just Australia.
4 1/2 stars