The Valley of Lost Stories by Vanessa McCausland. (2020).
**4.5 out of 5 stars**
Four women and their children are invited to the beautiful but remote Capertree Valley, west of the Blue Mountains. Once home to a thriving town, only an enigmatic Art Deco hotel remains – and an unsolved mystery. In 1948, Cara Black walked into the night and was never seen again. As the valley beguiles and haunts the women, each has secrets of their own. Nathalie with a damaged marriage; Emmie, yearning for another child; Pen, struggling as a single parent; and Alexandra, hiding in her famous husband’s shadow. But as the story of what happened 70 years earlier unravels, one of these women also vanishes which forces devastating truths to the surface.
I loved this author’s debut novel and her second has proven just as excellent. The story alternates between two timelines: the present with the four families staying at an extremely isolated hotel; and the past where Cara Black has disappeared, which is really more about a woman named Jean who has unexpectedly come to a crossroads in her life. I enjoyed both timelines and thought they complemented each other well. Given the synopsis, I was surprised when I started the novel to discover that Nathalie, Emmie, Pen and Alexandra were not friends when the book begins (only Nathalie and Alexandra already had a friendship). However I did like seeing the relationships fall into place and learning more about each woman and her respective drama as the storylines developed. It was a great acknowledgment that everyone you see and know has their own issues in their lives, even though they may seem perfect at a glance and you may envy them.
Overall: a very well-written and engaging novel that will attract fans of many genres: Australian fiction; contemporary fiction; mystery fiction; and historical fiction.