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Elizabeth & Zenobia by Jessica Miller

This mysterious, imaginative debut from Australian author Jessica Miller wrapped round my mind like out-of-control ivy in a neglected garden. And while Elizabeth would find that image terrifying, I think Zenobia would be delighted.

Elizabeth is moving with her father, a broken-hearted botanist, back to his childhood home: a sprawling mansion in a state of decay. Accompanying them is Elizabeth's friend Zenobia, who her father will keep on insisting is imaginary. Lacking the love and attention she craves from her father and with only the house's governess and her tutor for company, Elizabeth is not having a good time. Zenobia, on the other hand, enthusiastically embraces their new home and is intent on finding ways of contacting spirits that might inhabit the house. Elizabeth reluctantly joins in her investigations. But the pair may get more than they sceanced for as they unravel a mystery involving her father's missing sister, a disappearing-reappearing gardener and the story of a plant kingdom scrawled in her father's journals.

I found Elizabeth & Zenobia intelligently written, with just the right balance of spooky and light-hearted, and full of surprises that kept me guessing. The climax of the book is unexpected and thrilling. Equally unexpected was the story's heartwarming ending. You might be more of an Elizabeth than a Zenobia or vice versa, but either way I suspect you will be satisfied and I hope this book gets the attention it richly deserves.

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