All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: A Little Bird by Wendy James

on December 9, 2021

A Little Bird
Wendy James
Lake Union Publishing
2021, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}: A homecoming snares a young woman in a dangerous tangle of lies, secrets, and bad blood in this gripping novel by the bestselling author of An Accusation.

Running from a bad relationship, journalist Jo Sharpe heads home to Arthurville, the drought-stricken town she turned her back on years earlier. While some things have changed—her relationship with her ailing, crotchety father, her new job at the community newspaper—Jo finds that her return has rekindled the grief and uncertainty she experienced during her childhood following the inexplicable disappearance of her mother and baby sister.

Returning to Arthurville has its unexpected pleasures, though, as Jo happily reconnects with old friends and makes a few new ones. But she can’t let go of her search for answers to that long-ago mystery. And as she keeps investigating, the splash she’s making begins to ripple outward—far beyond the disappearance of her mother and sister.

Jo is determined to dig as deep as it takes to get answers. But it’s not long before she realises that someone among the familiar faces doesn’t want her picking through the debris of the past. And they’ll go to any lengths to silence the little bird before she sings the truth. 

This has all the best elements of Australian rural crime

Josephine is returning to the small, dusty drought-prone place where she grew up. It wasn’t a particularly happy childhood, after her mother and baby sister vanished never to be seen again when Jo was around 8 years old. What was a missing persons investigation was closed when Jo’s father received a letter from her mother saying she wasn’t returning and after that, it was just assumed she’d left of her own volition. Jo has had to live with the fact that her mother took her sister with her but not her, her whole life. Her father turned to the bottle and Jo left town as soon as she finished school and hasn’t been back much. Until now.

She’s been offered a job to take over the local flagging newspaper, a mysterious benefactor paying for her employment. The catch is, she can only report positive stories and news. Whoever funds the paper isn’t interested in crime or bad happenings. It’s good times only – the bigger papers in the bigger cities can handle anything dark. Jo finds this….odd but goes with it. She covers local school events, functions, feel-good community stories but in being back in town, the disappearance of her mother and her sister is always on her mind.

Jo is a tough, independent type of character. She practically had to raise herself, she’s been on her own for a long time. Her relationship with her father is rough but not unsalvageable although the two of them have a lot of baggage and things to work through but they’re not the types to sit down and air it all out. Being back in her hometown is complex for Jo, there are all sorts of memories to confront. A lot of people she knows still live there and sometimes that’s good…..sometimes, not so.

Quite unintentionally, Jo discovers some things that make her realise that her mother’s leaving might not be as straightforward as it seems all those years ago and why none of her attempts to find her have ever been successful. Jo wants answers because I think that anyone in her position would want to know if their mother had chosen to leave them behind, in such a way. Or had they been a victim of something that meant that they weren’t able to return. A lot of Jo’s character has been shaped by her mother leaving and the story is excellent at showing the reader this without going into long inner monologues from Jo.

I also really enjoyed the character of Jo’s father. Mick Sharpe is a complicated character – a very young father, who attracted a girl from a very different background to his. A girl that then disappeared when they were still only in their mid-20s, leaving Mick a single father to Jo. He didn’t cope well with that and made mistakes but not through lack of caring about Jo or not wanting to be there, I don’t think. He’s always lived close to the poverty line, worked a hard physical job for not much financial reward and found solace in drink. He was a tough, reticent, very rural-Aussie-man type of character who does not do well talking about his feelings and often avoids things but still has ways of showing that he does care quite deeply for Jo and was very shook by the disappearance of his wife and baby daughter.

I found this incredibly engaging from the first page. I really wanted to know what had happened to Jo’s mother and sister and felt like this book did such an amazing job of showcasing the small town, the difference between some of the bigger properties with wealth behind them and those who have much less. Jo’s feelings about her return come across well as do her feelings about her father and her childhood. I also loved her connection with someone she knew when she was still living there and was hoping that’d play out in a particular way.

Wendy James is excellent at endings and honestly? This book has another fabulous one. Very clever.


Book #223 of 2021

Book #93 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

One response to “Review: A Little Bird by Wendy James

  1. Wendy’s a great Newy writer. This one sounds excellent.

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