Keeping Up Appearances by Tricia Stringer

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

No – this has nothing to do with the British sitcom about Hyacinth Bucket. This story is about what we all do to some extent, some more than others, at some stage in our lives. If you are lucky enough to be a parent, it’s a lifetime journey.

The book begins with an article in the Country Courier, 24 November 1970, reporting on the success of a recent Back to Badara celebration. But this is not where this story begins. In fact, it is where it ends. The reader is first introduced to Paige, a single mum with three children, ranging from pre-school to high school age who has fled her home in Victoria to hide from family. Through her search on Google, she had found a cheap rental in a rural town of around three hundred people in South Australia.

The next three chapters introduce families from the town and some of the dramas they are experiencing. It was at this stage that I was having great difficulty placing all the characters that had been introduced. It took some keeping up with all the family connections. Fortunately, the author had provided family trees which did help with clarification.

Once Paige has settled in and enrolled her two older children in their respective schools, she is a bit at a loss, although she still has a lively pre-schooler to look after. Reading a notice at the primary school, she decides to attend a fitness class in the town hall. From here the reader follows Paige as she becomes accepted into this small community. The town of Badara is like any other small country town surrounded by farms, with families who have lived in the district for generations.

They work hard to keep their identity alive and their community together, supporting each other through the highs and the lows. The community hall is where most of the social activities occur, and this is where Paige goes for her fitness class with her small son in tow. Unfortunately, the numbers are low and the instructor, from out of town, doesn’t feel it is worth her while to travel for so few attendees. The hall itself is also a problem.

As the story progresses, the reader becomes privy to family secrets that the owners want to keep hidden. When there is talk of retrieving a time capsule, one of the town elders becomes worried by something she has written when she was a teenager. Paige has her own secrets and what dominates, particularly in the older characters, is the honour of the family, how others might see and judge them.

I loved the diversity of personalities within the characters. Jean with her ‘conciliatory wisdom’ (283) always thought well of everyone and was able to brush over absurd situations. Marion was the organiser while Briony was paranoid about the image her family presented to others. Her cry was always, “We can’t let people find out” (161). Paige had her insecurities believing she was failing as a mother because she never had much money and she found it hard to accept charity. But she would come to learn that in a community such as this, even though there were fall outs, when needed they were there for each other, and they all had special skills that they could pool to make the Back to Badara celebrations such a success.

Paige had discovered that the five amazing women, from whom she’d kept her distance and even felt a little terrified of when she’d first come to Badara, were now her friends and through everything that had happened, they had all realised that by trying to keep secrets and keeping up appearances many people had been unnecessarily hurt.

The cast of characters in this story is wide and covers all age groups. Although the story is more about Paige and the women of the town, the male characters also have a major role to play in the story. There are many lessons for life to be learned from this novel.

2022 marks the 10th anniversary of the author’s first publishing contract with Harlequin Australia, now part of HarperCollins Australia.

Tricia Stringer is a bestselling author of novels across three genres: women’s fiction, historical saga and rural romance. Her first book, Queen of the Road, won Romantic Book of the Year in Australia and she has been shortlisted for more awards. Since then, she has produced over a book a year.  Her historical saga; Heart of the Country, Dust on the Horizon and Jewel in the North are set in the unforgiving landscape of nineteenth-century Flinders Ranges.

Once I had become acquainted with all the characters, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them better and became involved in their lives and friendships. I also believe that the lessons they learned were ones we could all benefit from. I thoroughly recommend this book

Keeping Up Appearances


By Tricia Stringer

HQ Fiction – an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises (Australia)

ISBN: 978-1-4892-7083-2

$32.99; 464pp


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