“The chance discovery of an antique wedding dress weaves together the fascinating stories of three women from different eras: Sophie, in hiding from a troubled past; Belle, who must lose everything to learn what really matters; and Martha, forced to give up those she loves in order to avoid exposure.
It’s 1931 and Belle Bartholomew has arrived in rural Sweet Wattle Creek to claim her inheritance – a run-down grand hotel formerly owned by Martha Ambrose. Determined to solve the mystery of her birth and the reason why she was bequeathed the hotel Belle runs into difficulties with the townsfolk and their desire to keep their secrets safe.
Sixty years later Sophie Matheson is on a quest to find Belle and her family after discovering the wedding dress. The Sweet Wattle Creek Centenary brings more challenges when her past catches up and she must fight for all that matters to her. Who were Belle and Martha and what links their lives together?”
When an old wedding dress mistakenly lands on the steps of the newspaper where she works as a journalist, Sophie Matheson is intrigued by both the beauty of it as well as the two names written on the inside of the box. With the Centenary celebrations of Sweet Wattle Creek imminent, she determines that if she can figure out its provenance and the tale held within its lace, velvet and pearls, this could prove to be a worthy story to accompany the dress at its display.
Approaching Ian, the historian and co-ordinator of the event, together they begin to delve into the past to uncover the secrets that the dress keeps within its folds. But Sophie has her own secret, one which is fed to the reader piecemeal, heightening the mystery surrounding her presence in the small town. Being thrust into the limelight however, is one thing she never bargained on and, as a consequence, her carefully held secret is soon uncovered, bringing danger to the door that she has tried to keep shut so that her and her son remain safe.
In our historical timeline, we are introduced to Belle whose story is set during the Great Depression. A somewhat wealthy and sheltered young woman, she soon finds out that things may not be as they seem when her father suddenly dies and she is left to fit together the pieces of the puzzle around her heritage. It’s a journey of self-discovery and one that will take her from her gentrified upbringing to the dusty streets of Sweet Wattle Creek and the property she has mysteriously inherited. Met with the secretive veneer of the town residents who are averse to welcoming strangers into their midst, even in times of hardship, Belle, with her innocence, warmth and gentle nature will need to dig deep to figure out what it is she really wants.
Dual timelines are one of my favourite styles of writing because, basically, you’re getting two stories in one but it’s not often that an author manages to pull both off to perfection. Ultimately, most dual timelines will have one storyline which is stronger than the other – not in this case! Kaye Dobbie has done a brilliant job in weaving an aura of mystery around her two strong heroines – Belle in the historical timeline and Sophie in the contemporary – along with a fantastic sense of place which dragged me back in time to the Depression era (and back to the 1980’s) as I became equally invested in both these women’s stories. In her own words, Kaye describes Belle as a woman who “goes into emotional retreat but finds herself learning to live again” whilst Sophie “has to navigate a life she never expected to lead”.
Kaye writes with an authenticity that makes it obvious she has researched her subjects well and I cannot believe that I have not yet read anything by her before. In taking this wedding dress and weaving two different tales around it, she has layered it with history, family, grief, fear, second chances and love with plenty of mystery to keep the story moving forward.
In doing so, Kaye has sewn together the threads that tie the common problems of past eras to our very own. Domestic violence is just one of them and, given the fact that it has recently been highlighted in Australia as an urgent issue which needs to be addressed, I have no doubt that Sweet Wattle Creek will resonate with many.
From its stunning cover artwork to its great pacing and, despite the reason behind Sophie’s presence in the town, this is a light and gentle read that will appeal to your imagination while it touches both your heart and your sentimental mind.
I wish to thank JAM PR and the publisher, Harlequin Books Australia, for inviting me to take part in the Sweet Wattle Creek Blog Tour and for providing me with a hard copy for review.
About the Author
She has been writing professionally ever since she won the Grafton Big River short story contest at the age of 18.
Her career has undergone many changes, including writing Australian historical fiction under the name Lilly Sommers and penning romance novels as Sara Bennett.
Kaye has written about, and been published in, many countries, but her passion for Australia shows in her current Harlequin Mira novels.