Billy Sing by Ouyang Yu

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Title: Billy Sing: A Novel

Author: Ouyang Yu

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st April 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 144

Price: $27.95

Synopsis: William ‘Billy’ Sing was born in 1886 to an English mother and Chinese father. He and his two sisters were brought up in Clermont and Proserpine, in rural Queensland. He was one of the first to enlist in 1914 and at Gallipoli became famous for his shooting prowess.

In his new novel, Billy Sing, Ouyang Yu embodies Sing’s voice in a magically descriptive prose that captures both the Australian landscape and vernacular. In writing about Sing’s triumphant yet conflicted life, and the horrors of war, Yu captures with imaginative power what it might mean to be both an outsider and a hero in one’s own country. The telling is poetic and realist, the author’s understanding of being a Chinese-Australian sensitively informs the narrative.

The result is a short novel of great beauty that impacts way beyond its size. A novel that is searing yet fresh, delicate yet brutal, a masterful habitation of another life. Billy Sing is arguably one of Ouyang’s finest works to date.

~*~

Billy Sing tells the story of one of the first Australians to sign up for the First World War in 1914. In the days before the army policies of not admitting non-whites to the AIF, Billy Sing’s story is brought to life, illuminating the rush of war alongside racial tensions and assumptions of a society where to many, skin colour was more important, though this importance seemed to melt away in the trenches of Gallipoli, where Billy Sing became known as the Murderer or the Assassin due to his skill as a sniper. This novel tells his story – of his family, his own feelings and his war time experiences and the years that follow in a first person narrative that allows the reader to enter Billy’s thoughts and feelings.

The son of a Chinese Father and English Mother, Billy spent his life trying to balance his Chinese heritage, and the beliefs of his father, with the English heritage and beliefs of his mother, as well as an Australian upbringing, and a feeling of home not really being China, but not really being England – whereas his war bride wife longs to remain in her home in Scotland, pushing Billy to forget that his home is truly Australia in a way. He questions his Chinese-Australian identity, which is where the similar heritage of the author comes in, informing the experiences with care and in a way that illuminates what it means to straddle two very different cultures in a country that whilst these days, is rather diverse, in the early twentieth century, was not as welcoming of the diversity we see today.

Ouyang Yu’s experience as a Chinese-Australian informs Billy’s story and gave him an authentic voice, especially to a figure in Australian history that I did not learn about during my history studies, despite the contributions he made to the fight at Gallipoli and during the First World War. It is an eye-opening book, revealing how some soldiers weren’t viewed as valuable at times during the war and after based on something like race, and highlighting the differences between what it was like in the trenches – where Billy’s mates didn’t seem to care he had Chinese heritage, only that he had their backs compared to later treatment post war and how that impacted on Billy as a person, how he saw himself and the way he devalued his contribution later in the narrative.

Written without chapter breaks, it is a fairly quick read, but no less powerful than something twice its length. Perhaps a good read for students studying the First World War in history to compare with some of the other tales and legends of figures during that time.

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Bran Conaghan

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Title: We Come Apart

Authors: Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

Genre: YA, Children’s literature, poetry

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st March, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: YA rising stars Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan join forces to break readers’ hearts in this contemporary story of star-cross’d lovers.

Jess would never have looked twice at Nicu if her friends hadn’t left her in the lurch. Nicu is all big eyes and ill-fitting clothes, eager as a puppy, even when they’re picking up litter in the park for community service. He’s so not her type. Appearances matter to Jess. She’s got a lot to hide.

Nicu thinks Jess is beautiful. His dad brought Nicu and his mum here for a better life, but now all they talk about is going back home to find Nicu a wife. The last thing Nicu wants is to get married. He wants to get educated, do better, stay here in England. But his dad’s fists are the most powerful force in Nicu’s life, and in the end, he’ll have to do what his dad wants.

As Nicu and Jess get closer, their secrets come to the surface like bruises. The only safe place they have is with each other. But they can’t be together, forever, and stay safe – can they?

An extraordinary, high-impact, high-emotion collaboration between two Carnegie honoured rising stars of YA.

~*~

We Come Apart is the story of two troubled teens, who find themselves in the same repatriation programme, and are drawn to each other, and way from the bullies that plague Nicu because of who they think he is, and the friends that Jess realises she can’t really trust, and whose troubled home life has left her slipping through the cracks. At first they just watch each other, unsure of how to approach each other. But when they do, a friendship begins to blossom, and they are drawn to each other’s company, sharing how they feel, their fears, and what they wish for. Jess wants to escape her stepfather, Terry, Nicu doesn’t want to go back to Romania and marry the girl his parents have chosen for him. He wants to stay and save Jess. Together, they plan a way to leave their lives for a new life. But tragic events may mean that they are ripped apart forever.

Jess and Nicu’s stories are at first isolated and individual, and they slowly begin to intertwine, and bring the two together. I enjoyed reading their story in verse form, it was not only interesting but a fairly quick read and an absorbing one with an ending I didn’t see coming. Seeing two teenagers who had found themselves in trouble with the police and from vastly different families – who each expectations and in a way, didn’t respect Nicu and Jess for who they were, and their different attitudes and personalities that came through in the poetry were ignored or not respected by those around them other than each other.

This novel shows how well a story can be told through verse, in a dual perspective and shows that the bonds of friendship and those we choose to be around can sometimes be the strongest.

Told in verse, alternating between Nicu and Jess, at first individual poems about what leads them to where they meet, moving into poems of observation, and into poems that mirror each other as they interact. Telling a story in verse is an interesting method. It gets the story across just as effectively, and tells the story through emotions. It allowed for the characters to show the kind of people \ they were and what they came from. It was as much a story of friendship as it was love, and is a great book for the young adult audience.

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A Letter from Italy by Pamela Hart

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Title: A Letter from Italy

Author: Pamela Hart

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 14th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 353

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Inspired by the life of the world’s first woman war correspondent, Australia’s Louise Mack, the most gorgeous love story yet by Pamela Hart.

1917, Italy. Australian journalist Rebecca Quinn is an unconventional woman. At the height of World War I, she has given up the safety of her Sydney home for the bloody battlefields of Europe, following her journalist husband to the frontline as a war correspondent in Italy.

Reporting the horrors of the Italian campaign, Rebecca finds herself thrown together with American-born Italian photographer Alessandro Panucci, and soon discovers another battleground every bit as dangerous and unpredictable: the human heart.

~*~

aww2017-badgeA Letter From Italy opens with Rebecca bidding a fond farewell to her husband Jack before he departs on a journalistic assignment, leaving her in Italy, where she must wait for him to return, whilst working on her journalistic career, and finding stories that will see her departure from the Women’s Pages of the newspaper she works for to the serious, hard hitting journalism that at the time, was seen as the domain of the male journalist, as was the role of war correspondent, reporting on all aspects of the war, whereas Rebecca was encouraged to report on what affected the home front and women, rather than the battles and bombings that destroyed lives. Using her knowledge of the area and a kind hearted American photographer with Italian heritage, Sandro to help her, Rebecca starts writing stories that matter, and sends them to the newspapers, whilst hoping her husband is still alive, and showing the male journalists that she can cope. Her feminist views come out when young Italian girls are surprised at how many rights she has as a woman, that she can vote – and that she doesn’t need to do what her husband says.

A revelation of just how supportive Jack has been of her career comes later in the novel – and pushes Rebecca to confront the editors and work on more articles to get herself – and Sandro, her photographer noticed, especially after a small village is bombed during the course of the war, and tragedy seeps into every corner.

During this time, one of the journalists Rebecca thought she could trust begins to act suspiciously, the results of which were surprising – and led to events that I could not have expected.

The budding romance between Rebecca and Sandro is slotted in nicely – I liked that it was hinted at here and there, through their thoughts, and that their ambitions in photography and journalism were given a lot more attention, creating well-rounded characters whose relationship was one of respect, and friendship, as well as love, in a time of war.

A Letter from Italy is a fascinating historical novel that explores gender expectations and assumptions, and how at first glance, not everyone is who they seem to be. It shows how tragedies like war can show people for who they really are.

It is a novel that incorporates history, and the tragedy of war, with expectations of gender and the traditions of one country that have been around for generations, and the contrast of these with a young country, women’s rights and the freedom Rebecca has. This contrast also illustrates that though Rebecca has the freedoms to vote and be a journalist, she is in some ways hampered by gender expectations and assumptions.

The first Pamela Hart novel I have read, and one of the better romance novels I have read where the characters are more than just the love story, and have goals of their own that they set out to achieve before a bittersweet happily ever after.

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Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

traitor coverTitle: Traitor to the Throne

Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy

Publisher: Faber/ Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th January 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 592

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The second installment of this highly-acclaimed trilogy, Traitor to the Throne throws the irrepressible Amani into a world of espionage, harems, and the Sultan himself.

This is not about blood or love. This is about treason. Nearly a year has passed since Amani and the rebels won their epic battle at Fahali. Amani has come into both her powers and her reputation as the Blue-Eyed Bandit, and the Rebel Prince’s message has spread across the desert – and some might say out of control. But when a surprise encounter turns into a brutal kidnapping, Amani finds herself betrayed in the cruellest manner possible. Stripped of her powers and her identity, and torn from the man she loves, Amani must return to her desert-girl’s instinct for survival. For the Sultan’s palace is a dangerous one, and the harem is a viper’s nest of suspicion, fear and intrigue. Just the right place for a spy to thrive… But spying is a dangerous game, and when ghosts from Amani’s past emerge to haunt her, she begins to wonder if she can trust her own treacherous heart.

~*~

Opening where the Sultan’s guards have captured Amani, the Rebellion and the Rebel Prince, Ahmed, soon find a way into the palace to rescue her. The rescue that takes place sets in motion a series of events that endanger Amani and the rebels, the Djinni and the Demdji like Amani – children of mortal women and Djinn, marked by a vibrant colour of hair, or, like in Amani’s case, blue eyes that stand out against her desert girl features. She is known as The Blue Eyed Bandit, and the Rebellion has come to the palace.

Later, kidnapped by someone she thought she could trust and hidden away and controlled in the Sultan’s harem, where she has been stripped of her powers, Amani uses her instincts from her time in the desert, in Dustwalk, to survive the dangers of the palace and the harem, where fear, intrigue and suspicion rule the women there and their daily lives. Using these characteristics to her advantage, Amani spies on the harem and the Sultan – bringing danger to Amani and those she cares about, and making Amani wonder if she can trust herself.

I received this to review initially not realising it was the second book in a trilogy – even though I hadn’t read the first one, I picked up the plot fairly quickly and have bought the first one to read and fill in any gaps I may have. Amani’s world – a world inspired by Sultans and Djinni, where magic and technology are at war and at the same time, being forced together to fight the same war, and where everyone fits into the world nicely, and comes together to create a diverse cast in many ways was one of my favourite things about this novel. It had strong characters, but they were still flawed, plans weren’t perfect and things still went wrong. And not everyone was who Amani thought they were.

As a reader, I enjoyed the mystery and intrigue connected to characters like Tamid, Leyla, Rahim and several of the harem girls, and the Sultima. Even the minor characters had an important role to play, and I certainly had several surprises along the way, when things that I did not expect were revealed. The cliffhanger ending had me reading it twice – I am eager to find out what happens and how things get resolved. As with any war, good and bad people die, and even those who are neither good nor evil, but benevolent or ambiguous face the prospect of death in a war that has been plaguing Miraji and its neighbours.

The first person perspective of Amani, peppered with a few chapters from an outside perspective, such as a Djinni, works well. When she is cut off from the Rebels, Amani has to rely on anything she can hear in whispers from around the palace and her own instincts to get by. She is a resourceful character. I enjoyed reading about a fantasy world in a desert. In Amani’s world, it is set during a time when technology is beginning to take over from magic and superstition – perhaps akin to times in our own world history like the Industrial Revolution, but in a Arabic-like setting. Religion and beliefs are hinted to, but not named – showing that Amani’s world and their traditions are different to our own.

I am looking forward to reading book one, and then book three when it comes out, and seeing how the war concludes – and how Amani and the Rebellion finish what they started.

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Announcement: Cover Reveal for Illustrated Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

hp20_230.jpgSince 2015, one of my favourite series has had illustrated editions released for each book, and this year not only marks the twentieth anniversary, already discussed in a previous post, but aphilosophers illustrated.jpeg new addition to the already released illustrated editions:

To coincide with the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter, the third title in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, will be released in an illustrated edition on the third of October 2017. Like the previous two chamber illustratedillustrated editions, Jim Kay has illustrated the story, and brought iconic aspects of the novel, such as the Knight Bus, seen here on the cover, to life. This hardback edition will have a ribbon marker, head and tail bands, illustrated end papers, and has over 115 colour images. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite of the series, and I can’t wait to see the illustrations to accompany the Dementors and the Boggart scenes.Azkaban cover

Like the rest of the illustrated series, it will be published in 21 languages. The illustrated editions began coming out in October 2015, when the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone came out, with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 2016. Jim Kay’s reimagining of JK Rowling’s work has sold over one million copies worldwide of the first book.

The entire series has now sold over 450 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 79 languages. It was voted as the nation’s (United Kingdom) favourite book in 2013 in a Booktrust poll.

Jim Kay is a Kate Greenaway Medal winner. The front cover depicted here shows the Knight Bus as it picks up Harry when he runs away from Privet Drive at the beginning of book three.

Expect a darker tone and mood to the images as they reflect the change in tone of the writing and story as the series begins to enter darker territory and the threat of Voldemort begins to rise.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Illustrated edition by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay

Published in hardback on 3rd October 2017

AU$59.99

336pp

Order Harry Potter here:


Ariadnis by Josh Martin

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Title: Ariadnis

Author: Josh Martin

Genre: YA/Fantasy

Publisher: Quercus Children’s Books/Hachette

Published: 14th February, 2017

Format: paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The first in a breathtaking and unique series, packed with magic, prophecy, and a thrilling competition. The stakes of Ariadnis have never been higher.

Back then I thought that if it weren’t for that cliff, our cities would be one and there would be no need for all this fierceness toward each other. But then I learned about pride and tradition and prophecy, and those things are harder than rock.

Joomia and Aula are Chosen. They will never be normal. They can never be free.

On the last island on Erthe, Chosen Ones are destined to enter Ariadnis on the day they turn eighteen. There, they must undertake a mysterious and deadly challenge. For Joomia and Aula, this means competing against each other, to end the war that has seethed between their cities for nine generations.

As the day draws nearer, all thoughts are on the trial ahead. There’s no space for friendship. No time for love. However much the girls might crave them.

But how you prepare for a task you know nothing certain about? Nothing, except that you must win, at whatever cost, or lose everything.

~*~

Ariadnis is set in a fantasy future, where our world is referred to as The Old World, and belief systems that draw from ancient Greek mythology and society, including clothing and names, and the city names: Metis and Athenas. For nine generations, Athenas and Metis have sent two Chosen Ones to enter Ariadnis for a mysterious, and deadly challenge, where only one can survive. In Ariadnis, it is Aula and Joomia who will enter Ariadnis for this task, and prepare from the day they turn seventeen for the impending event. Accompanied by their companions who have been helping them prepare, Aula and Joomia will eventually come together for their challenge, whilst tragic events unfold in their homes, and the ones they thought they could trust start to show their true colours, and leading to Aula and Joomia finding a way to work through it, and adhere to the challenge set before them.

The world of Ariadnis, the last island on a fantastical Erthe with its characters inspired by Ancient Greece and Ancient Greek mythology, where ancient beliefs have come full circle and returned to replace what Aula and Joomia know as the Old World beliefs is an intriguing novel and beginning to a series. Josh Martin uses a first person point of view for each character, marking each change with their name. For this series, it works, as the reader needs to be able to see the world through the eyes of Aula and Joomia, first on their own, and then when they come together in the final sections of the book.

Having studied Ancient Greece and its mythology, the little nods to this culture were done very well, and integrated nicely into the plot, along with magic and the hints that our world is known as The Old World in the history of Erthe. Josh Martin also created two female characters who had their own strengths, and were capable, but also had flaws that they could recognise and had to work through. Each character had a distinct personality and appearance, where diversity had a place – on the last island on Erthe, it is possible that integration of various races and cultures has taken place, and this is what makes this work smoothly.

Deciding on a favourite character was hard – as both Aula and Joomia had things that could be liked and disliked about them, though their connection towards the end was powerful and well written, and it is nice to see a friendship forming as the main relationship in a novel aimed at the Young Adult market.

I’m looking forward to the next novel in the series to find out what how the challenge concluded, hopefully through the eyes of Aula and Joomia again.

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From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

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Title: From the Wreck

Author: Jane Rawson

Genre: Fiction, Historical

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st March, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: From the Wreck tells the remarkable story of George Hills, who survived the sinking of the steamship Admella off the South Australian coast in 1859. Haunted by his memories and the disappearance of a fellow survivor, George’s fractured life is intertwined with that of a woman from another dimension, seeking refuge on Earth. This is a novel imbued with beauty and feeling, filled both with existential loneliness and a deep awareness that all life is interdependent.

~*~

aww2017-badgeFrom the Wreck is inspired by the family history of Jane Rawson, and her great-great grandfather, who survived a shipwreck – the Admella, a steam ship that sunk off the coast of South Australia in 1859 – and the family he created afterwards. George is haunted through the book by the memories of those who died around him, and the strange woman – seemingly unearthly, and her presence around his son, Henry, born several years later. It is Henry that seems marked by the encounter with the woman, who entered George and Eliza’s house when Henry was born.

Years pass, and George continues to be haunted by the events surrounding the shipwreck and the strange woman who has simply disappeared, and whom nobody can find or recall. George starts to take his anguish out on his son, who yearns for knowledge, and feels rejection at his father’s anguish that stems from his experiences on the sea.

The woman who saved George, a being from another world, also feels anguish – she is displaced and unsure of where she is, lost, ripped away from her world in an unknown place – pre-Federation Australia. The anguish each feels mirrors each other throughout the novel, which tells George and Henry’s story in third person, and the mystical being’s story in first person. An unusual combination, I felt that it worked for this novel, and allowed the reader to explore the psyches of each character involved in a different way, and how they were connected to each other and the impending tragedy that would shake everyone involved to the core, and came as a shock whilst reading – a powerful shock that ensured I kept reading to see how it was all resolved.

From the Wreck is Jane Rawson’s third novel, and an unexpected addition to my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. It explores a family history and how tragedy can leave a mark – and not necessarily one that is physical or seen. The being and George are both seeking refuge and sanctuary after catastrophes that ripped them apart in some ways. It is done in an intriguing way, and in turning a mysterious historical figure into something mystical and unexplained for much of the book, utilising the voices of history, and family history, to tell the story.

Jane Rawson’s use of history and her own family history to tell the story with an injection of fantasy allowed the story to flow nicely, and gave it a good grounding, intrigue and rich characters, and positioned it within a historical time and place through the use of words no longer in use today commonly, attitudes towards others and the unknown, and how people dealt with tragedy, and family dynamics that evolved over time.

It was the first Jane Rawson book I have read, and I enjoyed the mystery and history that she wove together. The sense of the unknown can be unsettling but in a way that kept me reading. Historical fiction with a twist, it is an interesting novel and though deeply entrenched in the author’s family history, it is still something that readers of historical fiction may enjoy.

Thank you to Scott Eathorne for contacting me and giving me the chance to read this.

From the Wreck is available online through Angus and Robertson and Booktopia

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