Your Preview Verdict: The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer by Ilsa Evans

Your Preview Verdict: The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer by Ilsa Evans

Two women abduct and hide out with their four-year-old granddaughter Avery, who they suspect is being harmed. They both love Avery … shame they can’t stand each other. A wise and witty novel for readers of Sophie Green and Brooke Davis.
What would you do to protect a child?

Beth’s daughter Cleo and Shirley’s son Daniel used to be married. Now Cleo is in gaol for supposedly contravening a family violence order, and Daniel has full-time care of their four-year-old daughter, Avery.

When Shirley suspects that Daniel is harming Avery, she enlists Beth to abduct their own granddaughter, even though the two women can’t stand each other. They are joined on the run across country Victoria by Winnie, Shirley’s own 89-year-old tech-savvy mother, and Harthacnut, Beth’s miniature schnauzer.

The abduction gives rise to crises both personal and social, as Shirley’s large and interfering family – including her toxic son – struggle to come to terms with her actions, amid a whirl of police investigation and media excitement. This heartfelt, wise, witty and wholly original novel explores the lengths we may go to for those we love, and the unintended damage folded into daily life.

Read some great reviews from our Preview readers here:

I enjoyed reading this novel very much…..relatable woman living ordinary lives who are catapulted into doing extraordinary things by difficult family circumstances. We are shown how issues like child neglect and abuse, difficult relationships, intergenerational misunderstandings, media circuses and the justice system can impact on situations and twist personal and public opinions. Shirley, Beth and Winsome, the grandmothers and great grandmother of young Avery go into hiding for the most important reason of all….to protect the child from suspected neglect and abuse. They are not hardened criminals “on the run”. At 59, 60 and 89….they survive on their wits and humour, along with the odd glass of wine and episodes of “Vikings”. Can they manipulate an outcome that will buffer the effect on their families and help heal the pain and confusion? Ilsa Evans writes with warmth and a realism that struck a chord with me. Empathy shines from every page and hope that even the most challenged characters can be redeemed and find their way back to family. After all, at the end of the day isn’t that what life is all about? Thanks to @BRPreview for the advance copy in exchange for honest review. Lesley, SA, 5 Stars

Dysfunctional family life leads to the intervention of a grandmother taking matters into her own hands at the expense of relationships with other family members. Never get between a child and her grandmother. The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer brings together two people who don’t necessarily like each other but share a common bond – their 4 year old granddaughter Avery, who is currently growing up in a single parent situation. Avery’s mum is serving time for breaching an AVO. There is a good blend of compassion, sensitivity and love (both the unconditional and the tough varieties) and perceived betrayal balanced out with an appropriate amount of humour. The characters are very relatable – a mixture of flawed, loving, surprising, angry and mostly likeable. Ilsa Evans has written a book with the very serious topic of domestic violence mixed with emotion and humanity. It’s not often you read a book where the heroine is a grandmother. I found this book to be very enjoyable, easy to read and totally plausible. Grahame, NSW, 5 Stars

What great read The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer was. I really enjoyed how the story was told from various characters point of views so you got a good insight into the families and what makes them tick. My favourite has to be Winnie the often overlooked and underestimated Great Grannie who ends up being the heroine. A well written book that’s got surprisingly deep topics yet still has humour and humanity. Highly recommend. Simone, WA, 5 Stars

The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer is my first book by author Ilsa Evans and what a delight it has been! Beth Patterson gets a surprise visit from her four-year-old granddaughter Avery and her other grandmother Shirley Conifer early in the morning. Shirley was concerned that Avery is being neglected in her son Daniel’s care while her mother is in prison. So, to protect Avery – Shirley, her 89-year-old mother – Winnie, Beth, and her miniature schnauzer Harth plan to take a trip till Daniel owns his mistakes. What was supposed to be a week-long plan turns out to be a months-long escape from the police, media and their own families. The grannies unintentionally become outlaws. My favourite character is Winnie, she is witty, tech-savvy and her one-liners left me laughing. Also, watching Beth and Shirley trying to get along was just hilarious. This book is full of family drama and each character and their eccentricities are written so realistically well. There are multi-character PoVs, but thankfully it was easier to keep track of it all. I would highly recommend this book with such quirky grannies (and a great granny) on the run. Divya, NSW, 5 Stars

I absolutely loved this book!! It kept me up almost all night because I couldn’t stop reading. Sure there are elements of abuse, family disfunction and ageism but I found it a heartwarming story of three senior women taking matters into their own hands and along the way finding friendship where they didn’t believe it was possible. What would we do to protect a child? What would they do to protect their grandchild? This story showed that the love of a granddaughter shows no bounds and that they will do anything to protect their precious little girl. I loved the main characters, each with their own issues. I loved their feistiness and laughed at their interactions. This story gives insight into the struggles of needy emotional women who hook up with a narcissistic partner. The conclusion was very satisfactory. Thankfully author avoided any Disney ending. I have already recommend this book to my friends and now I recommend to anyone who enjoys a good read. I’m off to find more of her books and read them too. Nell, NSW, 5 Stars

Two women, different as night and day but united in the love that they share for their granddaughter. Avery is the child born from a toxic relationship between Daniel and Cleo. Cleo is unable to care for Avery, so Daniel is supposed to. When Avery goes to stay with her grandmother and she notices something amiss she does what any grandmother would do and protects her, enlisting the help of Avery’s other grandmother. This is a story of courage, love and understanding. Its also a story where loyalties and forged and also divided. Nicola, VIC, 5 Stars

What a wonderful read. I loved the three main characters from the very first – all so different but complementary, but also quite believable. My favourite was Winnie. I want to be just like her when I’m that age. She’s a gem! This is an imaginative book full of little surprises. I kept wanting to flick forwards to see if the ‘grannies’ did get away with the abduction successfully. Ilsa Evans has successfully looked into the minds of older women and what makes them tick. This book gets a big tick from me. Chris, VIC, 5 Stars

The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer is often funny, but has its serious moments. Shirley has found herself with a dilemma to do what is right and alienate her son or do nothing. She decides to do something and includes Winnie her mother and Avery’s other grandmother Beth. Beth and Shirley dislike each other but find that through a mutual love for their grand daughter they need to take some drastic measures. The journey they go on sees them fix their relationship and to look at the relationships that they have with their children. The book addresses issues such as ageism the effect of social media and the issues of abuse, in a not heavy way. What struck me was how people especially mothers defend their children’s toxic behaviour. I could not put down this book and was sad when I finished it, which to me is the sign of a good book. Vanessa, NSW, 5 Stars

Funny, and yet thought-provoking, this book is completely unique in its plot and narrative. The two grandmothers, Shirley and Beth, take Avery, a four year old girl, away from her father, as they suspect that the child is being abused. This journey isn’t easy since they are accompanied by Shirley’s mother Winnie and Beth’s dog, Harth along with the fact that Shirley and Beth don’t get along well. This book discusses child abuse, emotional abuse and several other social issues in an obvious but funny manner. What I loved the most about the book is how fast the story rolled-out and how the characters are portrayed; with their flaws, mistakes and emotions described in their own perspective, each character was close to being true than fictional. Additionally, I loved how the ending was shaped which was non-typical for fictional characters and focused on showing that even after a roller coaster ride, some people remained unchanged. There is a lot of wine, wit and some wins and an amusing read that will make you chuckle between the pages. Fasmina, NSW, 5 Stars

The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer by Ilsa Evans is a tale of high adventure and humorous drama. Shirley Conifer has a content life with a loving husband, three grown children, a job she loves at the community centre and an adorable 4-year-old grand-daughter, Avery. Avery’s parents are Shirley’s son Daniel and Cleo, daughter of Elizabeth. When Shirley suspects Avery is being abused by her father she confesses her concerns to Beth and Winnie, Cleo will soon be released from jail and extreme matters must be taken and they kidnap Avery. As the ladies go on the run and the police take chase you will go through all the highs and lows with them. I liked that the book addressed the issue of domestic violence, and there was a lot of action and suspense. The grandmother characters were all rather enjoyable, and it was refreshing to read portrayals who aren’t the typical sweet, old, ladies. Where you would expect broken, bitter relationships, Ilsa Evans shows the enduring power of loyalty, love, and forgiveness. She writes very well, and I found the book an easy and quite involving read. Whether you like complicated parents, and their relationships with their children, or unusual families, readers who enjoy books about dysfunctional families and family drama will find something here. Melissa, SA, 5 Stars

The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer is a story about the kidnapping of Avery by her 2 grandmothers, a great grandmother and a dog. Yet this book is so much more. It is touching and poignant whilst exploring the themes of domestic violence from different points of view. Absolutely loved this journey the book took me in and would say this is the book of the year for me. Great read and highly recommend! Katarzyna, VIC, 5 Stars

I really enjoyed this. It’s full of heart and humanity, and manages the remarkable balancing act of being both very funny and taking the issue of domestic violence very seriously. It’s about many things. Family, love, guilt, domestic abuse, and friendship, to name some. There’s a strong vein of humour running through the novel, but also a lot of sobriety. Whenever it touches on domestic abuse, the novel takes it very very seriously. Although domestic abuse sets the plot moving, this novel is more strongly about women’s perspectives on life. Women who are overlooked and resent it; women who are overlooked and take advantage of it; the joys and struggles of motherhood; the rivalries and friendships between women. I loved the diverse characters, their different perspectives, their ability to communicate them and ultimately come to understand each other. The writing style is lively but understated. It was easy to keep turning the pages because I wanted to spend more time with the characters and see what they would say next. This was a thoroughly enjoyable novel. Although difficult issues are covered, the novel feels more light than dark. Readers will love the characters and care about what happens to them. Lorraine, ACT, 5 Stars

This was a thought provoking book that dealt with how people cope when they need to make difficult decisions. Shirley had to take drastic steps to protect her granddaughter, and along the way, discovered a lot about herself and those closest to her. I loved that the book explored the strength of older women and the complexity of many relationships. Despite the heavy topic, it was an easy read with lots of laughs. Kim, NSW, 4 Stars

At first glance, this book looks to be a light hearted grannies on the run story. What you find are heart warming moments sprinkled with laughter while delving into some serious topics. What length will a mother go to in order to protect their child? How far would a grandmother push to keep her grandchild safe? And how much further could we all go in life with the right friendships supporting us? It will challenge how you think about abusive relationships, but also ageism (thanks to the absolutely delightful 89 year old Winnie). Set in modern day Victoria Australia, it had me giggling at moments and appreciating the women in my life. It also made me miss my grandmother A LOT! Tess, TAS, 4 Stars

When Avery Conifer is abducted, the last person you would expect to take her is her grandmother, Shirley. Shirley is a nurturing, caring and doting mother and grandmother. She makes excuses for her children’s bad behaviour but when she suspects her granddaughter is being abused by her son, she wrestles with her conscience and decides to take matters into her own hands. Enter Beth, Avery’s maternal grandmother and the antithesis of Shirley. Beth is organised, matter of fact and can appear aloof. Together with Shirley’s 89 year old mother, Winnie they take Avery and go on the run. Being polar opposites Shirley and Beth don’t get along but are both single minded in protecting their grandchild. This provides the backdrop for the story and Winnie provides light humorous relief as she surprises people who underestimate the elderly. The story highlights how women can show their strengths in different ways through open affection to setting boundaries. It challenges us to think is the bond between mother and child stronger than a grandmother and her grandchild and would we sacrifice the relationship with our son or daughter for our grandchild. It is a heart-warming story of love, family and unexpected friendship. Lynette, SA, 4 Stars

What would you do to protect your child/grandchild/great-grand child? In this witty novel, Shirley and Beth, who usually can not stand each other, take their granddaughter, Avery, when they suspect her dad, Daniel, of being abusive and negligent. The pair, along with Shirley’s mum, Winnie, and Beth’s dog, Hartha, go from the quiet eastern suburbs and criss cross Victoria to stay away from authorities until Beth’s daughter/Avery’s mum is released from the corrections centre. Although there are some serious topics that arise, The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer, is actually a book that can start conversations. Amanda, VIC, 4 Stars

This was a different story of Beth and Shirley and their granddaughter Avery. Beth’s daughter Cleo is in jail for breaching an AVO and Shirley’s son Daniel doesn’t seem to be looking after Avery well. With concern Beth and Shirley decide to take Avery away until Cleo is out of jail. They end up accompanied by Shirley’s mother Winnie and Beth’s miniature schnauzer. After this family, police, media and the community get involved while the grannies remain on the run. Beth and Shirley don’t really get along, but are trying for their granddaughter. It took a little while for me to get involved with the characters, but when they were on the run and having to deal with different personalities it really opened up. I loved some of the ways they tried to connect and definitely think Winnie should have been on the cover as she was so much more than initially thought. This is a wonderful celebration of family, what it means and that it isn’t always perfect. I also really enjoyed the bit players and finding out more about their story. Would highly recommend – even better is that it is set in Australia. Tara, SA, 4 Stars

Beth and Shirley are grandmothers on the run with their 4 year old grand-daughter Avery, an elderly great-mother and a little dog. Their personal differences of personality, out-look on life and family circumstances test their resolve that the decision they made to abduct and hide away their grand-daughter was the right one. The impetus for the abduction is overwhelming concern that Shirley’s son, Daniel, has been seriously negligent in caring for his daughter who he now has sole custody of whilst his wife, Cleo, is in jail. There are a number of issues that need to be resolved as they seek to protect Avery from the adults that are supposed to care for her but are consumed by their own significant personal issues. How do we support the young and vulnerable when relationships break down? What are the risks and choices we make to intervene if it means going against the law and the opposition of others? Domestic situations are difficult to resolve and in this case every family member has a different view of what the grandmothers have done and whether they acted appropriately. Enlightenment comes when the key individuals accept their weaknesses and strengths to work together for a common outcome. Christina, VIC, 4 Stars

A delightful read. The subject matter – the suspected abuse of a young girl at the hands of a family member – meant this could have gone to dark places but Ilsa Evans has managed to keep the tone upbeat and steady. The main characters are flawed but loveable and you can’t help but cheer them on. Definitely a book I could read in one sitting if work didn’t get in the way. Jen, NSW, 4 Stars

Two grandmothers (Shirley and Beth) and one great grandmother (Winnie) abduct their granddaughter as they fear she has experienced physical abuse and neglect from her father who has custody of her whilst her mother is in prison. As a new grandmother this storyline resonated with me as I would do anything to protect my grandchildren from harm. I particularly liked the way the three main characters developed. Although they had all met one another in the past they had preconceived ideas of what the other was like. It was interesting to see over the course of the story how each woman’s life experiences shaped how they now reacted to life. By the end of the book the women had developed respect and liking and tolerance of each other despite their individual personalities. I especially liked the characterisation of Winnie who had been ignored previously due to her age but demonstrated that she had mental acuity and technological skills which helped with the planning and execution of their time in hiding. I feel that the last chapters of the book were a bit ‘twee’ and detracted from the overall quality of this book. Jan, WA, 4 Stars

Who doesn’t love a ‘grannies on the run’ story! The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer is a wonderfully written novel that finely balances the quirkiness of two nannas and a great-grandmother absconding with their 4 year-old granddaughter, with the gravity of domestic abuse. I loved the viewpoints from different characters and the constant reminder that we never really know what is going on with those around us, so judging them is pointless. The story kept an engaging pace, and I looked forward to picking the book up each evening with a ‘what are they up to now?’ keenness. A book with plenty of wit, realistically flawed characters and a cleverly unique plot. Michelle, NSW, 4 Stars

I really wasn’t sure about this book, particularly with the idea of child abuse. But this book surprised me. It really showed the reality of family drama, mixed with the hilarity that ensures when the two grandmothers and one great-grandmother are all cooped up together with a small child. The author handled the seriousness of suspected child abuse sensitively which I appreciated. Mixed with funny, quick and authentic writing, I found the theme of ageism, trial by social media and the basic need of wanting to protect a vulnerable child, a perfect mix. Funny and thought-provoking – a lovely read. Rochelle, VIC, 4 Stars

What a delightful surprise this book was. I expected it to be a light hearted fun book but it was a lot more than that. Yes there were plenty of laughs but it also went so much deeper. Shirley is worried her granddaughter is being abused, after questioning her son and even calling child welfare anonymously with no results, she decides to take matters into her own hands and along with her elderly mum she takes her granddaughter Avery away. She firstly goes to the other grandmother Beth, who joins in on the abduction, starting what ends up being a police hunt/media circus throughout Victoria . What makes things tricky is Beth and Shirley do not like each other. The story is told from the view point of women only – all ages. The grandparents, the police officer, the girlfriend, the mother, the daughter and even Avery. I went through the whole gambit of emotions while reading this book, I found myself wanting to pick it up constantly to see how things turned out. Thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend this book. Vikkie, QLD, 4 Stars

“It might take a village to raise a child but perhaps it only took a couple of older women to protect one,” page 241. Avery is a four year old child who is the apple of both her grandmother’s eyes. When Shirley (Avery’s paternal grandmother) fears Avery is being harmed, she enlists Beth’s help (Avery’s maternal grandmother), and along with Shirley’s nearly 90 year old mother, the four set off on the run. As they tackle the difficulties of attempting to stay anonymous, and cover their tracks to reduce the risk of being found, their personalities, experiences and frustrations with life and family are revealed. There are 13 narrators in this book, all women, all providing a glimpse into a different perspective of Avery and her family’s world. The hero of this story is Avery’s great grandmother Winnie (Winsome). Often dismissed, ignored and thought to be useless by her family members, she is the backbone to the plan to keep Avery safe. She is tech-savvy, witty and can read people well. She carefully manipulates her family members like pawns in a game of chess, with the ability to plan many steps ahead, never losing sight of the end game which is to keep Avery safe and the family together. Priscilla, ACT, 4 Stars

This book made me so happy. No mean feat after 9 weeks of lockdown. This is a story about family and the strong women – the mothers & grandmothers- that give so much. When a confronting situation arises – the suspicion of neglect – of their grandchild Avery, Shirley & Beth take action. And so commences an ‘abduction’, a road trip of sorts into regional Victoria and an unlikely alliance. With the addition of Winsome (Shirley’s) mother and her surprising knowledge of technology plus the bearded dog – Harthacnut – they evade the police & media to keep Avery safe. Lisa, NSW, 4 Stars

As the title suggests it really was unusual! Four year old Avery is the granddaughter of Shirley Conifer and Beth Patterson. Shirley’s son Daniel having married Beth’s daughter Cleo. Cleo is in jail having contravened a family violence order and Daniel who has been living apart from Cleo has had Avery in his care. Shirley (who really likes wine) suspects Daniel of mistreating Avery and although she and Beth (who rarely sees Avery) don’t get along at all she decides to pay Beth a visit. She takes along her 89year old mother Winnie with her, mainly because she feels Winnie will be neglected if she leaves her at home. The three decide to abscond with Avery, well planned but not always as planned! This book is so funny and the characters really interesting. From Shirley’s unusual personality to Beth’s organisational skills it is so good, not forgetting Winnie who only adds to the humour! Gillian, QLD, 4 Stars

The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer had me chuckling from the first page and Ilsa Evans managed to tell a story of sensitive social issues with compassion and humour. A wonderful story of family dynamics, love and friendship. Sue, NSW, 4 Stars

The Unusual Abduction Of Avery Conifer centres on women and their relationships, especially those between mothers and daughters. It focuses on nurturing and what this looks like in each of the women’s lives. Ageing and how older people are often invisible or seen as irrelevant was another issue that this book explored. My favourite character in the book was 89 year old Winnie. Whip smart and incredibly protective of her family, she is also full of knowledge that has so far gone unnoticed. The novel covered some pretty heavy ground, but with the comic relief provided courtesy of three elderly ladies and a four year old girl it kept the story lighthearted, with several moments of laugh until you cry humour. I really enjoyed the beginning and the ending of this book but found that it did drag a bit in the middle with too many secondary characters being given their own chapters. The pace soon began to pick up though and I was keen to continue reading. The Unusual Abduction Of Avery Conifer provides a fresh take on ageing and its portrayal in contemporary fiction. I would recommend it to fans of Joanna Nell and Lisa Ireland. Brooke, VIC, 3 Stars

This is the story of the love that two very different women have for their families and the length that they would go to, for the safety of their family. This book took me a while to get into, however once I did, I was completely sucked in and needed to keep reading to find out how the story ended. We slowly got to learn more about the characters and this was interspersed with chapters introducing other side characters. I thought that this mostly worked, on developing the story, however their were some characters that I did not think needed their own chapter. The best character of the book was Winnie and every family needs their own Winnie, especially in times of trouble. Overall, I thought this book was enjoyable read, that touched on serious issues in a light hearted way. Rebecca, ACT, 3 Stars

Anyone who knows a grandma knows that they would do ANYTHING for their grandchildren. Shirley and Beth are no exception when it comes to their granddaughter, Avery. Although this story explored some heavier topics, such as child abuse, domestic violence and ageism, It was essentially an uplifting story told through the various characters in the narrative, and therefore kept shifting points of view. I found this to be very refreshing and different from many other novels I’ve read lately. My favourite (and most surprising) character was, of course, Winsome, who really brought a new perspective to how the members of our older generation are treated. Alison, VIC, 3 Stars

This book made me think about the lengths I would go to, to protect my loved ones. Madelaine, NSW, 3 Stars


Family, Love and Drama: Read an Extract from The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer by Ilsa Evans

Review | Extract

7 September 2021

Family, Love and Drama: Read an Extract from The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer by Ilsa Evans

    Witty and Thought-Provoking: Read Our Review of The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer by Ilsa Evans

    Review | Our Review

    6 September 2021

    Witty and Thought-Provoking: Read Our Review of The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer by Ilsa Evans

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        Publisher details

        The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer
        Ilsa Evans
        HQ Fiction
        01 September, 2021


        Beth's daughter Cleo and Shirley's son Daniel used to be married. Now Cleo is in gaol for supposedly contravening a family violence order, and Daniel has full-time care of their four-year-old daughter, Avery. When Shirley suspects that Daniel is harming Avery, she enlists Beth to abduct their own granddaughter, even though the two women can't stand each other. They are joined on the run across country Victoria by Winnie, Shirley's own 89-year-old tech-savvy mother, and Harthacnut, Beth's miniature schnauzer. The abduction gives rise to crises both personal and social, as Shirley's large and interfering family - including her toxic son - struggle to come to terms with her actions, amid a whirl of police investigation and media excitement. This heartfelt, wise, witty and wholly original novel explores the lengths we may go to for those we love, and the unintended damage folded into daily life.
        Ilsa Evans
        About the author

        Ilsa Evans

        Ilsa Evans has published fourteen books across a range of genres, from light fiction and short stories to memoir, murder mystery and YA fantasy. Two of her books have been shortlisted for the prestigious Davitt (Sisters in Crime) Awards, while her novel about domestic violence, Broken, was an Australian best-seller and selected as Women's Weekly Book of the Month. Ilsa also teaches creative writing students, writes social commentary, and has been published in several newspapers and online journals. In 2011, she received the Eliminating Violence Against Women (EVA) Award for online journalism.

        Books by Ilsa Evans


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