Finding Eadie by Caroline Beecham

Finding EadieTitle: Finding Eadie

Author: Caroline Beecham

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The author of Maggie’s Kitchen and Eleanor’s Secret delivers another compelling story of love and mystery during wartime.

London 1943: War and dwindling resources are taking their toll on the staff of Partridge Press. The pressure is on to create new books to distract readers from the grim realities of the war, but Partridge’s rising star, Alice Cotton, leaves abruptly and cannot be found.

Alice’s secret absence is to birth her child, and although her baby’s father remains unnamed, Alice’s mother promises to help her raise her tiny granddaughter, Eadie. Instead, she takes a shocking action.

Theo Bloom is employed by the American office of Partridge. When he is tasked with helping the British publisher overcome their challenges, Theo has his own trials to face before he can return to New York to marry his fiancee.

Inspired by real events during the Second World War, Finding Eadie is a story about the triumph of three friendships bound by hope, love, secrets and the belief that books have the power to change lives.

~*~

AWW2020

Caroline Beecham’s stories about women in World War Two are mainly set on the home front, and look at lesser known stories about what women did in the war, and the various industries that contributed to the war effort on the home front. In Finding Eadie the publishing industry and books play a large role, alongside the mystery of Alice Cotton, her absence, and the three friendships – Alice and Ursula, Alice and Theo and Alice and Penny – that drive the novel. The truth of Alice’s absence is known to very few  people – she is pregnant and must go away to have her child, before returning with a story that explains why she has one. Yet soon after the birth, Alice awakens to discover her daughter, Eadie missing, and a note from her mother that sets in motion a search for Eadie that takes many weeks and months. At the same time, Theo Bloom, from New York, has come to save Partridge Press in London – and in time, Alice is helped by three friends in her search for Eadie, combining her research with an idea for books that will save the publishing house. But Theo will find he saves much more, and the power of love and friendship will change everything.

Finding Eadie is a story of family, love, and friendship – love of one’s child, love of books and reading, and love of all kinds – it does not shy away from the harsh realities of the war and what Eadie and Ursula face either. Caroline has confronted these issues head on and allowed the reader to see them for what they were – even when using a simple scene or a few simple words – it works to evoke a sense of the times and place, and what these characters faced or had to hide to appear acceptable to society. It was perhaps this that made Ursula and Alice’s friendship the strongest for me and the most meaningful. They both faced being shunned by society for who they were, and to me, they found comfort and solidarity in each other – they did not reject the other based on these circumstances, for they knew what it was to be rejected for who they were.

This beautiful friendship, the support from the beginning of the book, and Ursula’s care for, and faith in Alice was one of the most powerful and most enduring aspects of the novel- from the publishing house to the events towards the end of the book, it was clear that Ursula was truly there for Alice, as were Penny and Theo – and everything they helped her with led to the climatic final chapters, and an acceptance of everything that had happened to lead to those events. It is a touching story that proves family is what we make it and sometimes our friends become our family. It also shows that friendship is powerful, and the damage, or near damage that secrets can do.

My other favourite thing about this book was the focus on publishing and books during the war, and what they meant to people during this time – both on the home front and soldiers in the battlefields. They were a comfort – like they are during the pandemic – they gave people some place else to be during those hard times. This book is as much an ode to books and publishing as it is to friendship and justice. This is done in an exquisite and sensitive way, that reveals a dark underbelly of wartime London, with a touch of hope even in the midst of secrets, all bound together by the power of books and some determination and grit from all the characters to bring about real change – and that is based on real events of the 1940s.

 

Edie’s Experiments #2: How to Be the Best by Charlotte Barkla

Edies Experiments 2Title: Edie’s Experiments #2: How to Be the Best
Author: Charlotte Barkla
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Puffin
Published: 2nd July 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 240
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: Edie’s experiments in how to win at life continue . . . but how will she cope with a new rival?
I’m Edie and I’m obsessed with science.
So I was sure that Annie B and I would win the Eco Fair competition.
Then Dean Starlight arrived and started sabotaging our project.
Now the competition has become an epic science battle of robotic spider attacks, exploding foam and sneaky spying.
Dean thinks he’s the best scientist of Class 5Z, but we’ll show him …
~*~

Edie is settling into school at Cedar Road Primary in 5Z, with her friend Annie B, whilst still competing with Emily James, who feels the need to win everything and is very over the top when she does. Just as Mr Zhu, their teacher has announced a science competition for years five and six, former student, Dean Starlight arrives from a stint at a school dedicated to science, and begins to enthral the class, as well as sabotaging Edie and Annie’s project – but his reasons why are a lot more complex than anyone knows. As the pranks and experiments get bigger and more competitive, Edie will find out why Dean is under pressure – and hopefully, they can beat Emily James!

Friendship is front and centre again in this book, as is science, and environmentalism – we get more insight into Edie and her family, her friends and the other things they enjoy, and the challenges that they face throughout their lives and at school. Dealing with a new student that everyone else knows and who seems too perfect is threaded throughout the narrative – Dean comes across as annoying but there is more to his story – and it is fun and interesting unfolding this with Edie, as tings become clearer and clearer throughout the novel in the lead up to the science fair.

AWW2020Environmentalism is a strong theme throughout this book, from Edie’s shower experiment to the final projects for the science competition and is a theme that is very on topic at the moment. It is a theme and conversation that is relevant to everyone, whether we are scientists or not, and something that everyone can do something about, even if it’s not as big as Edie’s grand plans. But we can all do something small within our abilities and what is available to us.

Again, this book has something for everyone – about the power of friendship and support from those around us, about how high expectations can fail, and what it means to come together and solve problems as a team, even when that person has been mean to you – finding out what is behind Dean’s behaviour is eye opening for everyone, and he seems to be a pretty cool character by the end. Maybe in future books he will team up with Edie!

The universality of the themes of family, friendship, cooperation and environmentalism ensure that all readers will enjoy this book and series, and the scientific experiments give it an element that makes science look fun for kids and allows kids who like science to engage with the story and the characters. It is a charming addition to this series, and it will be interesting to see where this series goes in the future.

Aussie Kids: Meet Mia at the Jetty by Janeen Brian and Danny Snell

Meet miaTitle: Meet Mia at the Jetty

Author: Janeen Brian and Danny Snell

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 64

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: Aussie Kids is an exciting new series for emerging readers 6-8 years.

From a NSW Zoo to a Victorian lighthouse, or an outback sheep farm in WA to a beach in QLD, this junior fiction series celebrates stories about children living in unique places in every state and territory in Australia.

8 characters, 8 stories, 8 authors and illustrators from all 8 states and territories!

Come on an adventure with Aussie Kids and meet Mia from South Australia.

Hi! I’m Mia
Jim is coming to stay with us soon.
I want to show him the jetty, beach and island.
But I don’t want my bossy sister Alice to take over.
So I have a plan . . .

~*~

In the other Aussie Kids book being released this month, Mia lives by a jetty in South Australia. She’s excited to have Jim come to stay and can’t wait to show him around her jetty and the world she lives in – but she doesn’t want her big sister, Alice, taking over! So Mia comes up with a genius plan that she hopes will show Jim how clever she is.

Another story that takes place over one day, exploring the coast and its sights as Mia introduces Jim and the reader to her world. Again, this book shows the diversity of Australia and its people, where they live and the kind of things they enjoy doing.

AWW2020Janeen Brian is a wonderful author, and her story here is as engaging and delightful as her other book from this year, Eloise and the Bucket of Stars. This lovely story about friendship, sibling rivalry and discovering the world around you in a new and fascinating way is a beautiful addition to this series.

Much like the other books in the series, Mia’s adventure takes place over a single day, or part of a day, and each story is its own entity but collaboratively, they showcase an Australia that is in some ways familiar and in other ways not so familiar across the board – depending on what the readers and children know. This series will build their reading confidence, vocabulary, and knowledge of diversity and the country they live in.

A lovely story that all readers will enjoy and that will help children build their vocabulary and reading confidence, accompanied by fun and joyful illustrations by Danny Snell.

 

League of Llamas #4: Rogue Llama by Aleesah Darlison

.jpgTitle: League of Llamas: Rogue Llama
Author: Aleesah Darlison
Genre: Humour
Publisher: Puffin Books Australia
Published: 2nd July 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 144
Price: $9.99
Synopsis: High-action, high-adventure and high-humour – the League of Llamas series is perfect for fans of Diary of a Minecraft Zombie and The Bad Guys.
League of Llamas secret agent Phillipe Llamar is on the run! Determined to clear his name after being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Phillipe dons a disguise and goes on the hunt for the true criminal – one Ratrick Tailbiter. But the more Phillipe investigates, the less the case makes sense and the more things start becoming suspiciously . . . smelly.
From Ratopia to Catagonia, Phillipe’s journey leads him far from home. Will he be able to solve this mystery alone? Hunted by friends and enemies alike, this is Agent 0011’s most daring adventure yet!
~*~

Phillippe, League of Llamas Agent 0011, is on the run. Ratrick Tailbiter has framed him, and now Mama Llama has sent Elloise and Lloyd to get Phillipe back. But Phillippe is determined to prove his innocence – and will take any risk to do so. Phillipe is far from home as he tries to clear his name and restore his reputation in the League of Llamas and ensure the rat who tricked him and those working with Ratrick do not succeed in their evil plans.

What’s a llama to do? When Lloyd turns up, he decides to help Phillipe – and the two orchestrate disguises and a way to stay hidden and remain on the run – as they try to clear Phillipe’s name. But what do the rats and other characters have in store for the llamas?

Returning to the world of the llamas, who are hot on the tail of the badger, General Ignatius Bottomburp, this story is yet another escapade in a world that mirrors ours, but with animals – each country named for a certain animal – Catagonia, Ratopia, Chickenlovakia – and many more. In my interview with Aleesah, she mentioned this was the final League of Llamas book – you can find out more about what she said about it on Friday in her Isolation Publicity interview!

In this thrilling conclusion to the League of Llamas series, Phillipe must rally his friends around him, prove his innocence and capture Ratrick and those who framed him for blowing up a statue. On his journey, Phillipe meets many animals, and takes on many disguises – including a giraffe! The story is fast-paced and filled with humour that readers of all ages can appreciate – and is a book that can be read out loud or silently and still have the same entertaining effect on the reader, regardless of their age. It is accessible and interactive, and this is what makes it a great book for all ages.

AWW2020Confident readers will gobble these books up, perhaps in one sitting, although it is also fun to stretch out – and is suitable for junior readers, middle grade readers and beyond to be entertained, expand their vocabulary and to discover a world of words and fun with the friendly llamas. I loved reading these books – they are something different in the world of Australian children’s literature. They have in-jokes for adults – though I’m not spoiling this, you’ll have to read the books to find them for yourself! And will make kids laugh.

Animals as spies is very effective – llamas, and another author has crime solving pigeons – what next? We’ll have to just wait and see.

League of Llamas #3: Undercover Llamas by Aleesah Darlison

LOL 3Title: League of Llamas #3: Undercover Llamas

Author: Aleesah Darlison

Genre: Humour

Publisher: Puffin Books Australia

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 144

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: High-action, high-adventure and high-humour – the League of Llamas series is perfect for fans of Diary of a Minecraft Zombie and The Bad Guys.

After failing to apprehend some dangerously peck-happy hens, the League of Llamas are going undercover! But these aren’t any ordinary secret identities – Phillipe, Lloyd and Elloise are joining Bruno Llamars (and his grumpy manager, Wally Chimpopo) as band members on the pop star’s next tour . . . to Chickenlovakia.

As the stakes – and tensions – climb higher and higher, will the LOL agents’ cover be blown before they can track down their feathery foes? Only time and some rather alarming discoveries will tell!

~*~

The League of Llamas – Phillippe, Elloise, and Lloyd, led by Mama Llama – are tasked with an undercover mission to uncover the plot of the chickens from Chickenlovakia led by Hilda. Whilst they are undercover as band members with Bruno Llamars, they are tasked with finding out what they can about a secret organisation linked to Chickenlovakia and to apprehend the chickens that have eluded them once before. But who can they trust? Is Wally Chimpopo on their side or is he trying to help the evil hens? It is up to the secret agent llamas to find out and stop the evil plot Hilda hopes to launch on the world.

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League of Llamas is filled with humour, and nods to the real world, as well as the tropes of spy stories – it takes these tropes and makes them fun and accessible for kids, and older readers who enjoy a good laugh. These books are great for reading out loud, to yourself or for parents to read with kids – the alliteration and nods to things adults would know about and appreciate in the context of what they know are cleverly tied into an engaging and amusing story for younger readers eager for that bridge between early readers and middle grade books. It is set in a world that resembles Europe but in a very unique and different way. It has good guys and bad guys, which highlight the contrast between good and evil. Yet at the same time, if you dig a little deeper, it shows the depths that the characters will go to so they can achieve their goals.

As previously stated there are things in this series for adults and kids – and I’ve also read and reviewed the fourth book – there are only four books in this series, as I discussed with Aleesah in my Isolation Publicity, appearing here on the sixth of July. I loved this book, and think kids and readers of all ages will enjoy it!

 

Aussie Kids: Meet Sam at the Mangrove Creek by Paul Seden and Brenton McKenna

sam mangrove creekTitle: Meet Sam at the Mangrove Creek

Author: Paul Seden and Brenton McKenna

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 64

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: Aussie Kids is an exciting new series for emerging readers 6-8 years.

From a NSW Zoo to a Victorian lighthouse, or an outback sheep farm in WA to a beach in QLD, this junior fiction series celebrates stories about children living in unique places in every state and territory in Australia.

8 characters, 8 stories, 8 authors and illustrators from all 8 states and territories!

Come on an adventure with Aussie Kids and meet Sam from the Northern Territory.

Hi! I’m Sam
I have a new throw net.
My cuz, Peter, and I can’t wait to try it out.
We want to catch a BIG barra!

~*~

The fabulously diverse and entertaining Aussie Kids series continues, this time in the Northern Territory, with Indigenous characters Sam, and his cousin Peter as they go fishing in the local mangroves. But what happens when they can’t use the new net to catch fish? Here we have a fabulous story told by Brenton McKenna for kids aged six to eight.

The Aussie Kids series are simply told, but they don’t talk down to kids. They give the story in an accessible, fun and relatable way in each story for all kids and open the world up to them as well. It shows a world that kids outside Northern Territory might not have experienced, and allows them to experience it through the page, in an accessible way for all readers, whilst showing the diversity of the Australian population and giving Indigenous kids representation in the literature and books that they read.

Much like the other books in the series, it takes place over a single day, or part of a day, and each story is its own entity but collaboratively, they showcase an Australia that is in some ways familiar and in other ways not so familiar across the board – depending on what the readers and children know. This series will build their reading confidence, vocabulary, and knowledge of diversity and the country they live in.

Combined with lovely illustrations by Paul Seden, this story is delightful in every way. It is a fabulous addition to his series and I hope all readers enjoy this new story.

 

The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle by Pamela Rushby, Nellé May Pierce (Illustrator)

Mummy SmugglersTitle: The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle
Author: Pamela Rushby, Nellé May Pierce (Illustrator)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Walker Books
Published: 1st July 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 336
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: A crumbling castle, a moat full of crocodiles, a catastrophe of kittens, and let’s not forget the villains and the mummies! This rambunctious story has it all.
England 1873
Orphaned twelve-year-old Hattie travels to the remote and mist-shrouded Fens to live with her great uncle Sisyphus and great aunt Iphigenia: Egypt-obsessed relatives she has never met.
Iphigenia, desperate to save their castle home from ruin, hosts ancient Egyptian mummy-unwrapping parties in London, aided by the mysterious and sinister Ravens.
When the mummy supply unexpectedly runs out, the family embarks on a perilous (and illegal) search for more, a thousand miles up the Nile. But Hattie is haunted by the wandering souls of long-gone Egyptians. And soon she makes an audacious dash to free them – with very unexpected consequences.

• A potent blend of fantasy and historical happenings are at the core of this extraordinary interface between fact and fiction. ·
• From an author who has experienced the remnants of the ancient world first-hand by going on a number of archaeological digs.
~*~

Hattie – or Hatshepsut – was just a baby when she was found outside of Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple. Since then, she has spent some of her life at Howling Hall, and the past few years at boarding school – Miss Fractious’ Boarding Establishment for Young Ladies. That is, until she hears her Uncle Heracles has been eaten by a crocodile. So Hattie now has to go live with her great uncle Sisyphus and great aunt Iphigenia – and becomes caught up in their fascination with ancient Egypt.

Their journey in Egypt with the Ravens is perilous. There to illegally procure mummies, Hattie and her family are escorted by Omar Shaydi, and his daughter, Amal – who is there to be a companion to Hattie. Yet when Hattie finds out what the Ravens are up to, she must use all her wits and ideas to find out how to prove they’re doing the wrong thing and save her new home.

Victorian England and Egypt – two worlds in great contrast, but in this novel, brought together delightfully for this story, and again, ancient and modern are contrasted in both settings, which sets up the story for the events and timeline that make the story so compelling. From the first line about hearing about the demise of one’s relative at the jaws of a crocodile, to the mummy-unwrapping parties that the author notes say were common during the time the novel was set, and then into Egypt, where ancient and modern are contrasted, the novel centres Hattie and Amal within their worlds of what is expected of girls their age and what these two girls want to do. Amal lives in a world where tradition dictates what she should be doing, yet her desire to learn maths and science drives her to make her own choices and fight, and Hattie, frustrated with the schooling she has received so far would rather learn about ancient Egypt, history and mythology. Thrown together on the illegal search led by Amal’s father, the two soon find out that they have more in common than they thought – and one of those things is that they both suspect the Ravens. Together, when Hattie begins to feel the spirits of those they’re disturbing, Amal notices.

AWW2020Yet it is the Ravens who cast a shadowy threat over the trip – their ability to influence Sisyphus and Iphigenia is not lost on Amal and Hattie, and the two decide to work out what the two are up to…if they can. But Hattie might not be able to reveal the truth until she is back in England – and to do that, she’ll need to come up with a very clever plan to find out what the Ravens are up to and save her new home. The Ravens are the kind of characters who set off alarm bells from their first appearance. They give the book its unsettled feeling. It is as though nothing will feel right until Hattie finds out what they are up to and finds a way to reveal the truth about their scheming.

This book combined Victorian England, Ancient Egypt and strong female characters in an exciting way. Amal, Iphigenia and Hattie drive the story, and Sisyphus and Omar have their role too, and I quite found great uncle Sisyphus a lot of fun – he quite enjoyed letting Iphigenia and Hattie explore their interests, so he was a really good character to have in there. Pamela Rushby has also researched this very well and explains what she had to research and the liberties she took in her author notes about each separate topic in the back of the book – which will spark further interest and research for readers.

It is cleverly put together and the history and fantasy elements in a way that makes it feel seamless and entirely possible – and makes the reader want to find out what happens next – it was one that I did not want to put down. It is clear that Pamela’s research and experience has informed much of what she has written, and this brings a sense of authenticity to the book that makes it come alive on the page and in the imagination of the reader. There is a sense of place and time in this novel – as though the modern and ancient converge and bring about a story that is evocative and intriguing that works as a stand alone, yet would also be delightful with a sequel.

A wonderful read for all readers aged eight and older.

When Rain Turns to Snow by Jane Godwin

when rain turns to snowTitle: When Rain Turns to Snow
Author: Jane Godwin
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 30th June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 280
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: A beautiful and timely coming-of-age story about finding out who you are in the face of crisis and change. Perfect for fans of Kate DiCamillo, Fiona Wood and Emily Rodda.
A runaway, a baby and a whole lot of questions…
Lissa is home on her own after school one afternoon when a stranger turns up on the doorstep carrying a baby. Reed is on the run – surely people are looking for him? He’s trying to find out who he really is and thinks Lissa’s mum might have some answers. But how could he be connected to Lissa’s family – and why has he been left in charge of a baby? A baby who is sick, and getting sicker …
Reed’s appearance stirs up untold histories in Lissa’s family, and suddenly she is having to make sense of her past in a way she would never have imagined. Meanwhile, her brother is dealing with a devastating secret of his own.
A beautiful and timely coming-of-age story about finding out who you are in the face of crisis and change.

~*~

When Lissa meets Reed, she’s determined to find out who he is – and where he came from. Yet Reed has other ideas, and desperately needs Lissa’s help to look after Mercy, whom he says is his niece. When Reed tells Lissa he thinks he has a connection to her family. Eager to get Reed to leave and go home, Lissa agrees to help, and finds that she is drawn into his mystery.

At the same time, she is trying to find her place in a new friendship group, after her best friend, Hana, has moved across the country to Western Australia. Her older brother, Harry, is going through his own issues and secrets, and her dad is moving on with his life in Beijing. Lissa feels caught between everything – wanting to please everyone as she tries to find out how to be herself. Lissa and Reed’s story intertwines in ways they never thought possible and uncover secrets that have been hidden from everyone in this touching coming of age story about identity, love, family and friendship.

Jane Godwin has a delightful way of taking events and instances of everyday life and turning them into something special. Her last book, As Happy as Here, is set in a hospital, with a mystery unfused throughout. When Rain Turns to Snow begins with a family, with friends and evolves into a mystery about identity and how teenagers find their place in the world, their families and with their friends.

Lissa’s story is a powerful one, – and there are many strands of her story that all readers can relate to – family dynamics, school, friendship groups, secrets, and many other instances that people will find something in. It is a touching story, that is neither too fast or too slow – it has a decent pace, and from the start we know there will be more to the story than we are told initially.

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I thought this was a lovely story, sensitively dealt with on all levels. The story is told mostly through Lissa’s eyes, which gives it the perspective needed to experience what she is feeling. Yet every other character has a voice and they are all given equal room on the page to tell their stories. The way they intertwine is intriguing and evolve throughout the story to a hopeful conclusion that brings all the strands of the stories together, It is at times light, and not too heavy. I found it a very moving and delightful read, and hopeful even when things seem like they won’t work out.

Jane Godwin’s characters and stories are relatable and accessible – she does what she can to make her stories, characters and the situations they find themselves in diverse and relatable for her readership. It is a lovely story that I hope the readers it finds will enjoy.

The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

the silk houseTitle: The Silk House
Author: Kayte Nunn
Genre: Historical Fiction/Gothic Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 30th June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 380
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: Weaving. Healing. Haunting. The spellbinding story of a mysterious boarding school sheltering a centuries-old secret by the bestselling author of THE BOTANIST’S DAUGHTER
Weaving. Healing. Haunting. The spellbinding story of a mysterious boarding school sheltering a centuries-old secret…
Australian history teacher Thea Rust arrives at an exclusive boarding school in the British countryside only to find that she is to look after the first intake of girls in its 150-year history. She is to stay with them in Silk House, a building with a long and troubled past.
In the late 1700s, Rowan Caswell leaves her village to work in the home of an English silk merchant. She is thrust into a new and dangerous world where her talent for herbs and healing soon attracts attention.

In London, Mary-Louise Stephenson lives amid the clatter of the weaving trade and dreams of becoming a silk designer, a job that is the domain of men. A length of fabric she weaves with a pattern of deadly flowers will have far-reaching consequences for all who dwell in the silk house.
Intoxicating, haunting and inspired by the author’s background, THE SILK HOUSE is an exceptional gothic mystery.

~*~

Thea Rust has arrived in the British countryside to begin a new job – in the same year as the school’s first intake of girls occurs. Once there, Thea is faced with challenges from some of the staff as she beings her teaching and pastoral care for the girls, all of whom are fascinating and individual characters whose presence enriches the story and Thea’s experience. They are housed in The Silk House, exclusively for girls and separate from the main school.

The history of the house goes back to the 1760s, specifically, 1768-1769, when a new maid, Rowan Caswell arrives. Separate yet also intertwined with her story is that of weaver and silk designer, Mary-Louise Stephenson. It will be one of her designs, and another maid’s designs on the master of the house and determination to undermine her mistress and Rowan that form the tragic chain of events that form this part of the story and seep through the shadows of time into 2019, when Thea feels the ghosts and stories of the past needing to be told.

As the story weaves in and out of the late 1760s and 2019, the threads of the past find their echoes in the present in an evocative and hair raising way – like a gothic mystery from the past as ghosts and whispers ooze into the lives of the present, through The Dame and the stories that Thea reads in the archives and library. It is filled with mystery and the way it weaves history and witchcraft and the world of embroidery into the story through Rowan and Thea.

AWW2020

It is tinged with ideas of harmful and helpful herbs, of deception and at times, beauty. Rowan and Thea were my favourite characters, and I quote enjoyed that the majority of characters named and given agency were women – there were a handful of male characters named such as some of the teachers and Patrick Hollander – in a way, it turns some of the usual things we see in literature around, and the women have more agency than the men – despite the late 1760s being a time of witch hunts and when men had more agency. Characters like Tommy Dean in 1768 and Gareth in 2019, Theas fellow hockey coach, are stark differences to some of the other male characters with certain prejudices. They bolster the women and help them, which makes this a very rich story as well. It evokes a sense of the fight for equality and inclusion in exclusively male worlds that have never had to, and have resisted the inclusion of women and girls, and the empowerment of women and girls.

Kayte Nunn uses these themes extremely well and communicates them in sensitive and intriguing ways as she explores witchcraft, herbalism and the role of plants in embroidery and the tinctures Rowan makes and the implications of this for those in the Hollander household. It is a story of mystery tinged with gothic themes and ghosts, where some questions might be left unanswered or left up to the imagination of the reader – which I like to do with these sorts of novels. It gives the novel a sense of intrigue and mystery to the characters and delves deep into the idea of stories and identity, and equality.

A wonderfully gothic and transfixing read.

 

Isolation Publicity with Christine Bell

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

Christine released No Small Shame with Ventura Press in April, and like many authoors, had her events surrounding the release of the book cancelled. In this environment, reviews online and interviews like this are crucial in getting the word about the books out – in a time when authors cannot physically and socially connect with their readers, it must be done virtually. Christine also has a background in educational writing for reluctant readers, and this historical fiction novel was inspired by her own family history.

 

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Hi Christine and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. To begin with, what is the premise of your novel, No Small Shame, which came out with Ventura Press in April 2020?

 

No Small Shame is the story of a young Catholic wife faced with a terrible choice between love and duty during WW1. Mary O’Donnell sets out for Australia in hope of a better life, but one foolish night of passion with a boy from her village back in Scotland leads to an unexpected pregnancy and a loveless marriage. Mary’s journey from powerlessness to agency is an epic story of loyalty and betrayal, friction in families, and confronting the past before you can seek a future.

  1. What inspired this novel and its World War One setting?

The idea for the novel emerged through researching my family history. In 1913, my great-grandparents emigrated from the tiny mining village of Bothwellhaugh in Scotland to the new state-owned coal town of Wonthaggi in Victoria. While I was visiting the State Coal Mine Museum, a little voice kept whispering, ‘there’s a story here. There’s a story here and what a great setting!’ Instead of writing the novel I’d begun a few months earlier, I found myself researching the long-demolished village of Bothwellhaugh and pre-WW1 steam ship journeys to Australia. Once my main character, Mary, turned up, I could ignore the pull no longer and had to set aside the other novel and write Mary’s story.

 

  1. When researching the themes, characters and era of your novel, what sort of sources did you consult, and where did you begin your research?

My initial research was done through libraries and the internet. I accessed archived copies of local newspapers and spent hours in the Public Records Office of Victoria studying the correspondence files of the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine. I studied primary sources, such as: diaries, oral histories, letters etc. And I gathered more specific resources through historical societies and heritage centres: ie: booklets, texts, maps and photographs. During a research trip to Scotland, I visited a replica of miner’s rows from the era, ventured down a coalmine and visited the site of the demolished village of Bothwellhaugh. I met with a local park ranger and studied photographs and maps, and learned of some of the characters who’d once lived in the village. I walked the battlefields of France and visited several WW1 war museums to learn of soldier’s lives and read a lot of non-fiction to gain a greater understanding of the effects of war and shellshock.

  1. Did you complete your research prior to writing, or did you do some research as you wrote?

I did four months research while I fought the urge to switch novels. Once I commenced the writing, it seemed like I was continually needing to query or verify some small detail ie: When were matches invented? When did electricity come to Melbourne? How many days did it take a steamship to reach Australia from England? Plus I spent many hours researching the timeline and progress of WW1 and its impact on the Australian homefront?

 

  1. Was this story planned out when you began writing it, or was it written as you went?

I began with the idea of exploring the life and choices of a young immigrant coming to Australia in the hope of a better life. I wanted to use the timing of my great-grandparent’s migration to Australia – even though the story is fiction – so the war was always going to be a backdrop to the novel. From there, the plot developed organically which led me down a few dead ends while I worked out what I ultimately wanted the story to say. Writing without a plan, I loved the unexpected turns in the characters’ journeys. Some plot twists occurred naturally as a result of the character’s personalities and circumstances. I was shocked when I realised what would be the inevitable outcome for one character. My urge was to fight it, but after considerable research I realised it was consistent historically and too often true.

  1. What events were planned for the release of your novel prior to the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling them?

I was so excited and keen to get my choice of day and date, I booked my launch at Readings Hawthorn way back in December. So it was really disappointing when it became a casualty of Covid-19. I was also booked to be one of the featured authors at Dymocks Camberwell First Tuesday Book Club in April, but, sadly, that too had to be cancelled. I was very fortunate that I got to speak at the Women Writing History Day at Eltham Library the weekend before restrictions were enacted.

 

  1. Prior to having this novel published, you’ve had stories for younger readers published – can you tell my readers about these stories?

I’ve had over 30 short fiction titles published for children from picture story, middle-grade to YA for reluctant readers. I wrote mysteries, adventures and even a few humorous titles though I’d never call myself humorous. I loved to write action books where lots was happening. It’s interesting now to look back and see that as my children grew up, I began to write for an older and older readership!

 

  1. Are any of these works for children still available?

The majority of my children’s titles were published in the education market and so not available for purchase in general bookstores. It’s a few years since the last one was published, but, wonderfully, many are still selling and yielding royalties, plus ELR and PLR.

  1. What are the challenges writing for children versus writing for adults, and as someone who writes, or has written for both audiences, is one easier than the other?

Many similar craft skills are needed when writing for both children and adults. Young children need to be quickly engaged and love action and fun language. With illustrated texts the author needs to trust and leave room for the illustrator to contribute equally to the story. I found once I began writing novels, I gravitated to writing more gritty, complex characters and difficult situations. I love the scope of novel to explore the complexity of relationships and why people make certain choices.

  1. You’ve worked with CYA and SCWBI Victoria – what sort of grounding did these experiences give you for your career as a writer?

I loved my five years working as Assistant Coordinator with SCBWI Vic. It’s such a valuable and inclusive organisation and offers so many opportunities for writers and illustrators to gain knowledge, and meet both peers and industry contacts. Acting as a judge for CYA, I learned much about my own writing through reading the competition entries with a critical eye. Both my SCBWI and CYA roles were wonderful opportunities to contribute and give back, as well as make many friends and contacts in the publishing industry.

 

  1. What have you been doing to pass time since the pandemic shut many things down?

The day cancellations began, author Kirsten Krauth set up a Facebook group Writers Go Forth. Launch Promote Party. Within hours, posts appeared offering, authors who’d had launches or events cancelled, blog spots, interviews, the chance to apply for podcasts, among many other opportunities. An online launch became a real possibility and I instantly became very busy both organising it and responding to various opportunities, as well as those set up by my publicist. So through the pandemic, I’ve been busier than ever.

 

  1. Many people are turning to reading in these difficult times – what have you been reading, and what recommendations do you have for people?

I’ve bought a heap of new books in recent weeks and my TBR pile is about to topple off my bedside table. I try not to read fiction when I’m in the thick of writing, so during this promotion period for No Small Shame it’s a chance to catch up on some of the amazing historical fiction that’s coming out right now, including: Gulliver’s Wife by Lauren Chater; The Darkest Shore by Karen Brooks; The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning; The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams just to name a few.

  1. Which local booksellers do you regularly use?

 

Sadly, we don’t have an independent bookseller anywhere nearby but it’s usually no trouble for me to travel to an independent bookstore. I do buy from Booktopia on occasions and have been buying a lot of books online at present. I always go through the local store rather than order online through headoffice as I want the individual store to get the benefit of my purchase.

 

  1. How important do you think the arts are in Australia, now and in other times, and what can people do to support the local industry?

The arts are hugely important in Australia, though it seems they’re no longer well supported by the Government who deleted the Arts portfolio and shoved it in with infrastructure, transport and communications, as if the Arts is a floater that can be slotted in anywhere rather than acknowledged as an important contributor to this country’s cultural life and well-being. We need to support our creators more than ever and whenever possible send that message to the Government. Also please BUY BOOKS!

  1. When not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

I’m more dedicated to taking time out for activities away from my desk these days. I’m learning, albeit slowly, to play the piano. It’s been a lifelong dream and I’m learning to produce simple tunes – though strictly for my own enjoyment. I’m also getting into photography. I loved my recent writing residency (pre-Covid) on Norfolk Island which gave me time to practise photographing nature and some truly amazing sunsets and sunrises.

 

  1. Any plans for a future novel, and what are they?

I can’t give away too much yet. But my work-in-progress is set in the year directly after the First World War and tells the story of a young Australian soldier who stays on in France and the traumatic reason he refuses to go home.

Thank you Christine