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The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

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“Alice would always remember this day as the one that changed her life irrevocably, even though it would take her the next twenty years to understand: life is lived forward but only understood backward. You can’t see the landscape you’re in while you are in it.”

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a first novel by Holly Ringland, is the story of Alice and her journey through time, and one I know I can recommend without reservation.

We meet Alice first when she is a young girl, daughter of Clem and Agnes Hart, living on an isolated farm in Australia. Clem is an abusive man and both Alice and Agnes experience the brutality of his anger. This part of the story was tough to read but necessary to understand the rest. Agnes teaches Alice the language of flowers, and each chapter begins with information about native Australian flowers and their meaning and description. Agnes also reads to Alice and instills in her a love of books, and the escape reading, especially fairy tales, provides from the harsh reality of their lives.

When tragedy strikes Alice is only nine years old, and she is given into the care of her paternal grandmother, June. June has her own demons and takes on this responsibility with some reluctance. But, she comes to love Alice and does all she can to protect her, though by hiding from Alice secrets that might best have been revealed, she does harm.

June owns a flower farm, Thornfield, a sort of retreat and place of safety for women who have lived with domestic violence or have a need to withdraw from the world. Here June will do all in her power to keep Alice safe. For June it is a second chance to raise a child, to attempt to make amends for the damage her son inflicted on Agnes and Alice. This world of women is a good place to raise a child, and there is comfort and constancy in the gardens.

But, sometimes history has a way of repeating itself, and as June sees Alice mature into a young woman, infatuated – perhaps in love – with a young man she considers unsuitable, she steps in and ends the relationship. June’s second serious act of deception.

Though June would keep Alice on the farm forever, the choice to leave is made by Alice alone. She flees to a remote town in the outback and begins, on her own, to make a life for herself. For the first time in her life, now in her twenties, she is making her own decisions; she finds work, she finds friendship – and she may have found love.

But, once again, life becomes almost unbearably hard, and hard to read about, before Alice sees that only she can make a change that will allow her to be free of the past, and make a better future for herself.

I loved this book, the setting and the characters, and the writing, and anyone who has an interest in plants and gardening will especially appreciate the botanical content of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.

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