Mudlarking: Lost and Found of the River Thames by Lara Maiklem

mudlarking.jpgTitle: Mudlarking: Lost and Found of the River Thames

Author: Lara Mailkem

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 15th October 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 320

Price: $32.99

Synopsis:  Mudlark (/’mAdla;k/) noun A person who scavenges for usable debris in the mud of a river or harbour

Lara Maiklem has scoured the banks of the Thames for over fifteen years, in pursuit of the objects that the river unearths: from Neolithic flints to Roman hair pins, medieval buckles to Tudor buttons, Georgian clay pipes to Victorian toys. These objects tell her about London and its lost ways of life.

Moving from the river’s tidal origins in the west of the city to the point where it meets the sea in the east, Mudlarking is a search for urban solitude and history on the River Thames, which Lara calls the longest archaeological site in England.

As she has discovered, it is often the tiniest objects that tell the greatest stories.

For thousands of years human beings have been losing their possessions and dumping their rubbish in the River Thames, making it the longest and most varied archaeological site in the world. Lara Maiklem has trekked miles along the banks of the Thames, scouring the shores for over fifteen years in pursuit of the objects that the river unearths: these objects tell her about London and its lost ways of life. Where others only see the detritus of city life, expert mudlarker Lara Maiklem unearths evidence of England’s captivating history, with some objects dating back as far as 4 AD, when London was an outpost of the Roman Empire, up to the present day. A mudlarker can expect to find Neolithic flints, Roman hair pins, medieval buckles, Tudor buttons, Georgian clay pipes and Victorian toys.

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Discovering history and archaeology is a unique process for everyone – from those who study the fields and work within them writing books and reports, to those whose interest lies in simply discovering the facts through these sources, and finally, people like Lara Maiklem, a mudlarker. A mudlarker is someone who scavenges for debris in the mud of a harbour or river.

For Lara, this scavenging area is the River Thames, stretching from the Tidal Thames and all the way through Central London. As a result, Lara has divided the book into sections of the River Thames, and within each section, it appears that different times in history are reflected in certain areas, from prehistoric times to the current day, where Lara discovers items made of all kinds of materials, from coins to buttons, old toys and remnants of war uniforms and battles that shaped the history of London and give a deeper insight into the lesser known stories than what is written in the history books.

Whilst discovering toys and buttons, Lara has also discovered old printing press letters, which have been used in the book, and she also gives a brief history of the printing press, and upper and lower case: Upper Case letters, or capital letters, where in the upper case of the press. So, naturally, the smaller letters, known as Lower Case, were in the cases below. This was one of the most interesting stories amongst many, where the items were not linked to anyone in particular, and perhaps this is what makes them so interesting because they would have belonged to someone whose name we might not know from history, and it is the potential to discover these stories and make links to those that have come before, as well as ensuring that even those without a voice are in a way, recognised even though their stories and names may never be known.

This is a history book with a difference: it gives insight into a world that is often hidden or unknown and provokes the ideas that history and archaeology is everywhere. It makes you wonder what could be in the waterways in other areas other than London, and what this could mean for local histories and what it could contribute to local, national and world history. It provided a unique and personal view of how mudlarking works, and the individual journey it can take you on, exploring the ethics and personal questioning of what to do with items, and when to collect them, as well as what to collect. It depends on the value the individual sees in them, and what one person sees will be different for someone else.

With Love from Miss Lily by Jackie French

with love from miss lily.jpgTitle: With Love from Miss Lily

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Harper Collins

Published: 20th November 2017

Format: eBook

Pages: 100

Price: Free download from publisher website

Synopsis: From the author of Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies comes a moving and heart-warming story that is perfect for Christmas – and beyond.

December1918

This first peacetime Christmas should be perfect.

But this is a ceasefire, not peace. Influenza ravages Europe and the hospital supplies. Sophie ordered six months ago have not arrived from Australia.

And the old woman in Ward 3 will not stop knitting.

Yet even in war-torn Europe, Christmas miracles are possible, as a stranger reveals the extraordinary story of how thousands of female resistance workers sent coded messages, including the most important message a woman can send.

And somehow Christmas does arrive, the perfect Christmas, with love from Miss Lily.

~*~

As a fan of the Miss Lily series, it has taken me a while to get around to reading the Christmas eBooks – partly because with much of my time spent as a quiz writer writing and reading on a screen, I enjoy a good break with a nice paperback. However, these are short, and can be read in a sitting, so I am aiming to read them all and review them here on my blog as they give much more to the Miss Lily series than  we read on the pages in the longer books, the third of which I am currently reading, set in the years leading up to Hitler’s grab for power, and I predict, a few books that will delve into the tumultuous 1930s and World War Two – the war that Sophie and her friends are hoping to avoid.

In the first Miss Lily Christmas story, which I will also be trying to read again during December with the rest of my Christmas reads, Sophie is running an influenza hospital at the end of the Great War. As she nurses an elderly woman through the last days of her life, Sophie is asked to pass on a message – and some knitting. An English intelligence officer recognises what the knitting means – and reveals the chain of European spies – La Dame Blanche – who knitted codes into their knitting across Europe during the war, to help defeat Germany.

2019 BadgeI was able to read this in one sitting, as it was short, and it provides a good link between the novels. The time jumps with each book work very well, and pick up just where they need to. What this Christmas story does is show the calm after the war, and the hope that leads into the next twenty years – all whilst ripples of unease filter through. It also shows the hope that the end of the war, and Christmas brings to those still waiting to get home, and the magic of Miss Lily’s kindness through what she sends to the hospital to see them through Christmas.

Miss Lily may not be physically present in this short story, but her spirit is, and her love for her ‘lovely ladies’ like Sophie is. Europe has been ripped apart by war, but the first Christmas of peace – The Christmas after the armistice – holds hope as a special delivery arrives in the snow. As a fan of Miss Lily, Jackie French, and Christmas, I adored this book and am looking forward to reading the other Christmas stories to see what they add to the series.

The Starthorn Tree (The Chronicles of Estelliana  #1) by Kate Forsyth

starthorn treeTitle: The Starthorn Tree (The Chronicles of Estelliana  #1)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 1st May 2002

Format: Paperback

Pages: 500

Price: $16.95

Synopsis:

Under winter’s cold shroud, the son of light lies.

Though the summer sun burns high in the skies.

With the last petal of the starthorn tree

His wandering spirit shall at least slip free…

Nothing can save him from this bitter curse,

But the turning of time itself inverse.

The young Count of Estelliana lies sleeping as still and cold as if he was dead. His mysterious slumber has subjected the people of his land to the harsh rule of Lord Zavion, the cold and ruthless Regent.  But when Durrik, the son of the town’s bell-crier, involuntarily prophesizes the count’s death before the entire starkin court, he catapults himself and his best friend Pedrin into the adventure of their lives.

Pursued by starkin soldiers, they must seek refuge in the Perilous Forest, home to the dangerous and unpredictable wildkin. It is only when they are forced into the company of the spoilt starkin princess, Lisandre and her servant-girl Briony that they begin to realise the meaning of Durrik’s riddle. But if they are to waken the count and save their people, they must survive the hazards of the forest where the sinister Erlrune of Evenlinn awaits them…

~*~

The Starthorn Tree was one of those books I just happened to stumble across at the age of sixteen during a visit to the big three level Dymocks in the city. I was looking for something new to read when my eyes fell on this book in the children’s section. It was the first Kate Forsyth book I picked up, and had an autographed edition sticker on it – my first for both, and as I found out from Kate over the weekend after showing her a picture, it is also a first edition – I will be hanging onto this one!

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The Starthorn Tree begins with Durrik and Pedrin listening to orders from the bell-crier, set forth by the Regent for the coming summer for all boys their age to help build a tower. But during a dinner at the palace, Durrik has a vision of the death of the count, stuck in an everlasting sleep in the palace, unable to be awoken by any remedies. He has been struck down by the same mysterious drink that took the life of his father and several others. Fleeing their home, Durrik and Pedrin soon stumble across Lisandre and Briony – and together, they venture deeper into the Perilous Forest, searching for a way to save Lisandre’s brother, the count. But with Zavion’s spies after them, and danger looming from the wildkin – can the four children – a combination of starkin, wildkin and hearthkin, find a way to work together and save their beloved country?

With each of her novels, Kate Forsyth works fairy tale motifs into them. Towers, those stuck in an enchanted sleep, princesses, and many more to create her stories. Drawing on this rich and diverse fairy tale history, she creates worlds like Estelliana that are captivating and when reading, it feels like no time has passed and as though you are within the story itself, so it felt like the pages just flew by. In this one, she sets everything up well, and the journey is both exciting and filled with peril, creating a fantasy world that has everything from Australia’s master storyteller. The amount of fantasy novels written by Australian authors has boomed since 2002 – but Kate Forsyth’s Starthorn books and her Eileanan books are the first ones I remember seeing, buying and reading – though I am sure there were others. It was these books that were my gateway into Kate Forsyth’s books and works as a whole, and I have a great many on my shelf today.

I could not put this one down and am starting the second one as soon as I am able to over the next few days. This was Kate’s first book for children as well – so many firsts with this book for her and me – which makes it really special. I am keen to see where The Wildkin’s Curse takes us – and how things have changed in Estelliana since Durrik, Briony, Pedrin and Lisandre’s original journey.

Book Bingo Twenty-One – BINGO for two rows and Written by an author over 65.

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Welcome to week twenty-one of Book Bingo for 2019 with Amanda and Theresa. This week, as well as being able to give a BINGO to two of my rows, I am crossing off the written by an author over 65 square. Age ones are a challenge because it’s not always obvious what age range an author is in, unless there is an indication in the author biography, or through their publishing history. For this square, I had two options, but as the other option fits into another category, I went with a picture book by Libby Hathorn, about Miles Franklin and her life before she became an author.

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Miss Franklin by Libby Hathorn is a fictionalised account of Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin’s time as a governess, prior to her becoming well known as Miles Franklin, the well-known Australian author who has two prizes named for her: The Stella Prize, aimed at women writers in Australia, and the Miles Franklin Award, which recognises many in Australian writing. This was a review book, and one of the few picture books I have reviewed on my blog so far, but it was so enticing that I knew I had to include it and it was a perfect for this challenge.

Miss Frankin

BINGO!

Row Five: Bingo (Across)

Written by an Australian Man: The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

Written by an Australian Woman:Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019

Written by an author over the age of 65: Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s Brilliant Career began by Libby Hathorn – #AWW2019

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

BINGO!

Row Four: – BINGO (Down)

Novella no more than 150 pages: Deltora Quest: The Forest of Silence by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019

Memoir about a non-famous person: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Themes of inequality: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – AWW2019

Book set in the Australian mountains: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – AWW2019          

Written by an author over the age of 65: Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s Brilliant Career began by Libby Hathorn – #AWW2019

Romance: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

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See you in two weeks with post twenty-two!

The Orange Grove by Kate Murdoch

the orange groveTitle: The Orange Grove

Author: Kate Murdoch

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Regal House Publishing

Published: 11th October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 250

Price: $22.90

Synopsis: Blois, 1705. The château of Duc Hugo d’Amboise simmers with rivalry and intrigue. Henriette d’Augustin, one of five mistresses of the duc, lives at the château with her daughter. When the duc’s wife, Duchesse Charlotte, maliciously undermines a new mistress, Letitia, Henriette is forced to choose between position and morality. She fights to maintain her status whilst targeted by the duchesse who will do anything to harm her enemies. The arrival of charismatic tarot reader, Romain de Villiers, further escalates tensions as rivals in love and domestic politics strive for supremacy.

In a society where status is a matter of life and death, Henriette must stay true to herself, her daughter, and her heart, all the while hiding a painful secret of her own.

~*~

Set almost nine decades before the French Revolution and the beheading of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, The Orange Grove explores the intricacies and relationships of powerplay at a court like Versailles in 1705, as a duc takes on yet another mistress, as well as his wife, Charlotte. Charlotte, his wife, and his mistresses are aware of each other, and how they can fall in and out of favour with the duc.

When a young mistress falls pregnant, Charlotte, the duc’s wife and the one who is supposed to be producing him legitimate male heirs (but has thus far failed to do so and has her own secrets bubbling along throughout the novel that are cleverly revealed slowly), she asks another mistress, Henriette, to choose her loyalties – Charlotte, or the mistresses?

Soon, Romain de Villiers, a tarot reader arrives, and more tensions and political intrigue enter as he finds himself drawn to Charlotte, and the implications that this, and the whispers of witchcraft bring to the palace and its domestic politics as people try to keep secrets and favour.

Cleverly built around early eighteenth century gender politics, domestic politics and fears of the unknown and keeping up appearances, The Orange Grove looks at life and death, and the importance of status, and how even the slightest indiscretion can flip the narrative for anyone, and alter their lives in ways that they never thought possible, whilst coming to conclusions that were not quite expected.

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Most historical fiction novels focus on a big event, through the eyes of specific characters, yet this one focuses on a very tight, and deeply complicated chateau in France during the years of the ruling aristocracy, and the privileges they enjoyed and could exercise over whomever they wished, tossing people away and punishing them in ways that these days seem a bit extreme, yet made sense in the context and understandings of the world these people inhabited. These characters are all flawed – none are wholly good nor are they wholly evil. They are ruled by human emotions of love, desperation and self-preservation, which makes this a very interesting novel as we get to see how people respond to certain conditions and the lengths they will go to so they can save themselves – sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Pages and Co #2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James

tilly 2.jpgTitle: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales

Author: Anna James

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 24th September 20189

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 400

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A magical adventure to delight the imagination. The curl-up-on-the-sofa snuggle of a series from a uniquely talented author.

Tilly Pages is a bookwanderer; she can travel inside books, and even talk to the characters she meets there. But Tilly’s powers are put to the test when fairytales start leaking book magic and causing havoc . . .

On a wintery visit to Paris, Tilly and her best friend Oskar bravely bookwander into the land of fairytales to find that characters are getting lost, stories are all mixed-up, and mysterious plot holes are opening without warning. Can Tilly work out who, or what, is behind the chaos so everyone gets their happily-ever-after?

The second enthralling tale in the bestselling PAGES & CO series.

~*~

Picking up a few weeks after the events of Tilly and the Bookwanderers, where Tilly’s mother returned, after being trapped in the pages of A Little Princess. As Bea adjusts to being back in her daughter’s life, the Underlibrarian, Amelia Whisper, is ousted and a new Underlibrarian, who wishes to create more authoritarian rules in the book wandering world, without thinking about how it will affect anyone, starts imposing his power. So just before Christmas, Tilly and her friend, Oskar, head to Paris to spend a few days with Oskar’s father. While there, Clara, Oskar’s grandmother, takes them to her friend’s bookstore:  The Faery Cabinet, owned by another bookwanderer, Gretchen Stein.

While there, Tilly and Oskar bookwander into a book of fairytales, where they discover a world fracturing and their book magic is leaking, causing havoc in the fictional world. After returning home, they discover an untoward plot to change fairytales and book magic. In an attempt to plug all the plot holes appearing, Tilly and Oskar will do whatever they can to find out who is behind it – but will they make it home for everyone’s happily ever after?

I started reading this series earlier this year and was hooked from the first chapter of the first book. I have loved it since discovering it, and with each book, a new library, and a new facet of literature and books is explored. Tilly’s favourite books are woven in again – especially Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden as she reconnects with her mother and her family works to reunite and maintain their love of books.

The magic in these stories are in their simplicity of the themes of family and reading, layered with the complexities of how different people react to books, words and the power of reading and words, and how they affect us or what they mean to us, whether spoken or written, and what each of these books means to each person who reads it.

Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales delves further into the history and mythology or book wandering, and who can do it and how, and reveals more secrets about Oskar and other characters that were hinted at in the first book, but left to the imagination – now we have our answers to this, but still await explanations about why Tilly can take things out of the books she wanders in, but nobody else can – this is a mystery that will be fun to uncover in the coming books.

Readers of all ages and genders will love this series – and they are the kinds of books that can be devoured or savoured, or both, and one that I will eagerly be anticipating the next release of – seeing as I managed to pick up this one just after it had been placed on the shelf in my local bookstore! Looking forward to more adventures with Tilly and Oskar in the future.

Maternal Instinct by Rebecca Bowyer

Maternal Instinct 750x1200Title: Maternal Instinct

Author: Rebecca Bowyer

Genre: Dystopian/Futuristic Fiction/Speculative Fiction

Publisher: Story Addict Publishing

Published: 7th October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 306

Price: $22.99

Synopsis:Australia 2040. No child lives in poverty and every child is safe. But at what cost?

19-year-old Monica never wanted a baby but the laws require her to give birth twice before she can move on with her life.

Now that her first son, Oscar, has arrived she’s not so sure she wants to hand him over to be raised by professional parents: the Maters and Paters.

~*~

In 2040, a new party is ruling the country – the Equality Party, and they have been since 2020. In this new world, biological parents don’t raise their children – they are raised by professional parents under a program linked to the G.D.S – the Genetic Diversification System. This system also oversees the National Service program – where young men – at eighteen – give their sperm to be matched genetically with girls – who must produce two children as part of their national service for the good of the nation. The girls then spend six months with their babies before the children are handed over to professional parents – Maters and Paters.

Monica has just had her first baby, and her story is at the centre of this. Raised in the system, she hasn’t really questioned it until she gives birth to her son, Oscar. Her mother, Alice, was among the first women to give their children over to the system she works within. Yet following the birth of her grandson, she watches as Monica struggles to come to terms with what she has to do, and from within, watches as the system she has come to trust begins to crumble from within as she notices the flaws, and hears secrets come out that shge never thought were possible.

Set in a not too distant future, knowing this could happen, or something like this could happen with the current political environment, and nations like America stripping back the rights women have fought so hard for, is terrifying. This book shows the flaws in any political system – even democracy and how far a party will take what they stand for to extremes that supposedly help people bit might do more harm than good in the long run. No political party is immune to something like this happening either.

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Even though this has been likened to The Handmaid’s Tale, it is distinctly Australian, and the women are still allowed to have a life and career – as long as they’ve gone through two pregnancies and procedures to ensure they do not have any further unauthorised pregnancies outside of the G.D.S. system. People often say there should be qualifications to become parents, but what would that lead to? A situation like the G.D.S. and the Mater and Pater system that Rebecca has written about is one way it might go, and in a way that is terrifying that this could happen.

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So perhaps this should be a cautionary tale about how not to conduct business or tell people how to raise their families, as well as not forcing people to use their bodies for the good of the state over their own health and well-being. I did enjoy this novel, as it was slightly different from what I usually read. It dealt with the potential for this situation eloquently and sensitively, showing that trying to genetically alter genes, or make sure there is as little sickness and as few variables in health as possible can backfire and come back to bite those who advocate for it on the arse.

A very well written novel, that I hope many people will enjoy and is part of my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. Thanks to Rebecca for sending me a review copy.