When We Were Warriors by Emma Carroll

when we were warriors.jpgTitle: When We Were Warriors

Author: Emma Carroll

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Faber

Published: 3rd June 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: An irresistible return to World War Two for the Queen of Historical Fiction.

A body washed up on the beach…
Evacuation to an old house with forbidden rooms and dark secrets…
An animal rescue service…

Set in World War Two, Emma Carroll explores the resilience, resourcefulness and inventiveness of children when their lives fall to pieces. Introducing some compelling new characters, as well as revisiting some familiar settings, these adventures are sure to win over new readers, as well as fans of old favourites such as Letters from the Lighthouse and Frost Hollow Hall.

Air raids, rationing, the threat of invasion: everyday life in wartime Britain is pretty grim, and often pretty dull.

That’s what Stanley thinks, anyway – until his home is bombed and he’s evacuated to a remote old house with the mysterious name Frost Hollow Hall…

It’s what Olive thinks too – until she finds a body washed up at Budmouth Point…

Velvet just wishes she could be useful – and when the air-raid warden brings in a ban that puts all the pets in peril. she grabs her chance.

Three thrilling stories about three different children, who find adventure, courage, untrainable dogs and an impossibly tall American GI where they least expect it.

~*~

Literature and stories set in World War Two for children don’t shy away from the fear and horrors of the war years. Instead, they tell the stories through the eyes of the children, and in a way that younger readers can grasp and relate to without going too far into the darkness of the war or making it too happy. They have a really good balance, and Emma Carroll’s latest, When We Were Warriors does not disappoint.

Here are three separate novellas, about three different children during the war, connected by displacement, air raids and places of isolation, and the presence of Americans in Britain during the days of the war following America’s entry in 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbour.

In The Night Visitors, Stanley and his sisters are evacuated to Frost Hollow Hall, and are told not to go near the lake. And not to disturb the mistress of the house. There seems to be a mystery surrounding everything there, and when an American GI turns up, secrets start to come out with revelations that change them all. Here, Emma shows what the reality of evacuees was, and how they adapted to their surroundings in days when fear drove so many things.

In the second story, Olive’s Army, the children and young people of Budmouth Point discover a body on the beach – the body of a German soldier, whose identity becomes confused with Ephraim, the lighthouse keeper. Ephraim is arrested, and the children must prove he is innocent and stop a German invasion. Also present in this novel, is the shadow of the Nazi concentration camps, and the Kindertransport that one character, Esther, was on. Carroll relays this part of the war simply, within a few sentences but still conveys the reality of what Jewish people went through during the war. Again, the American GI shows up to help solve the mystery.

Finally, in Operation Velvet, Velvet sets out to save the animals of her friends and family, after an air raid warden puts forward rules that put them in danger. when she discovers a dog with puppies, together with her friends and the help of an American GI, she saves all the pets and finds homes for the puppies.

With several things connecting these stories, this is a great book, and I really enjoyed the way the connections were at first, surface: the war, seen through the eyes of children, invasion, evacuation and threats. Astute readers will notice the less obvious, or at least more subtle link as they read, and get to the end where things become clearer. It is cleverly put together and shows how war affected people differently through three very unique experiences.

The True Story of Maddie Bright by Mary-Rose MacColl

Maddie Bright.jpgTitle: The True Story of Maddie Bright

Author: Mary-Rose MacColl

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 504

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In 1920, seventeen-year old Maddie Bright is thrilled to take a job as a serving girl on the royal tour of Australia by Edward who was then Prince of Wales. She makes friends with Helen Burns, the prince’s vivacious press secretary, Rupert Waters, his most loyal man, and is in awe of Edward himself, the boy prince.

For Maddie, who longs to be a journalist like Helen, what starts as a desire to help her family after the devastation of war becomes a chance to work on something that matters. When the unthinkable happens, it is swift and life changing.
Decades later, Maddie Bright is living in a ramshackle house in Paddington, Brisbane. She has Ed, her drunken and devoted neighbour, to talk to, the television news to shout at, and door-knocker religions to join. But when London journalist Victoria Byrd gets the sniff of a story that might lead to the true identity of a famously reclusive writer, Maddie’s version of her own story may change.

1920, 1981 and 1997: the strands twist across the seas and over two continents, to build a compelling story of love and fame, motherhood and friendship. Set at key moments in the lives of Edward and Diana, a reader will find a friend and, by the novel’s close, that friend’s true and moving story.

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Author: Mary-Rose MacColl

~*~

Maddie Bright is seventeen when she is employed as a serving girl on the 1920 Royal Tour of Australia by Prince Edward, who would go on to become Edward VIII for a time in 1936. Soon, her talents are noticed by members of the Prince’s staff – Helen Burns, the press secretary and Rupert Waters, and she ascends to the position of letter writer, where she finds herself in awe of the prince, known as the ‘people’s’ prince – in a similar way that Diana was the ‘people’s’ princess of the 1980s and 1990s. What starts as a way to help her family earn some more money in a post-war Australia as nations around the world start to rebuild after The Great War, abruptly ends when the unthinkable happens.

In 1981, Maddie is watching from afar as Diana Spencer prepares to marry Charles, the Prince of Wales, the grandson of King George VI, Edward VIII’s brother. She now lives alone in Brisbane, with her neighbours for company. But in 1997, shortly after the death of Princess Diana, Maddie meet with a London journalist, Victoria, who was covering Diana’s death, and gets whiff of Maddie’s story and heads off to Australia, where she will discover a secret about her family that will have a rather large impact on her life.

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As the novel moves in and out of 1920 , 1981 and 1997 – three key years in the history of the Royal Family, and also in the fictional lives of Maddie and Victoria, and the way the lives of Victoria and Maddie intersect, and the secrets that Maddie has kept for over seventy years – how will this impact on Victoria and her family if she gets to meet Maddie? The lives of Edward and Diana are in some ways similar: both are popular and tragic, and progressive for the times and eras they live in. They are also both charming and appear to understand the wounds of others. We all know what Diana did for those she visited in poorer communities and countries, for AIDS patients. For Edward, it was making contact with members of the Commonwealth who had lost family in the war and apologising for his family’s war. Apologising for dragging them into it – which is perhaps in stark contrast to the inside figure we see – the charming, secretive figure whose contact with women he shouldn’t have is kept hush hush on the tour, even though his staff know.

Despite the stories being quite different, and separated by decades, the story is woven across time, seas and continents, and the impact that Edward, Diana and the tragic events in their lives mirrored each other, and yet in Diana’s case, the outcome was much more tragic. This book cleverly takes three, seemingly unconnected lives, and tugs at the strings of history, family and friendship to create a mystery where all the hints are there – but the question is how and when they will be resolved – and in some ways, if. In this story, Maddie is also an author, and the story of her life is interspersed with excerpts from her novel that hint at what the truth behind the secrets she has kept are.

Moving in and out of 1920, 1981 and 1997 – Maddie’s parts are told in first person, and Victoria’s in third person – which suits the novel, the characters and overall narrative. Everything is carefully revealed in this novel, almost purposefully, so that the reader knows details when they need to know it, and just as the reader finds things out in this way, the characters find things out when they need to. I loved that this was about family and friendship, and the power of breaking away from situations that weren’t right for each character – though we all know of Edward’s abdication in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson. The tragedy of these figures highlights how hard it must be to be in the spotlight constantly, but also, what the consequences can be for how they represent themselves, and the perceived way they represent the monarchy.

It is an intriguing story that at first, I thought would need a great deal of concentration because it felt so in depth and involved with so many strands and differing perspectives between Maddie and Victoria and told in first and third person. Yet it is a seamless transfer between Maddie’s fiction, between time periods and between first and third, Maddie and Victoria, that the entire book went by in a matter of days. It combines fictional characters and real-life figures well and in a seamless way, and has an authenticity about it that suggests something like this could have happened had someone like Edward had dalliances like the book hints at. It also explores the polarising cult of celebrity, and the hate versus the love of people like Edward and Diana, and also, ways celebrity can harm people’s lives.

It is also powerful because the story is told by two women – Maddie and Victoria, rather than the male figures around them who are in a more peripheral role, though still present, and still having an impact – Victoria and Maddie control the narrative and the direction the story goes in. A very well-written, and tightly plotted story, where the lives of women are mirrored in each other – Maddie, Diana and Victoria yet also starkly different in many ways, giving each figure their own power and vulnerabilities.

Booktopia

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

the things we cannot say.jpgTitle: The Things We Cannot Say

Author: Kelly Rimmer

Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 420

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A searing page-turner of family secrets and the legacy of war by the Top 10 bestselling Australian author of BEFORE I LET YOU GO
2019 
Life changed beyond recognition for Alice when her son, Eddie, was born with autism spectrum disorder. She must do everything to support him, but at what cost to her family? When her cherished grandmother is hospitalised, a hidden box of mementoes reveals a tattered photo of a young man, a tiny leather shoe and a letter. Her grandmother begs Alice to return to Poland to see what became of those she held dearest.

WWII Alina and Tomasz are childhood sweethearts. The night before he leaves for college, Tomasz proposes marriage. But when their village falls to the Nazis, Alina doesn’t know if Tomasz is alive or dead.

2019 In Poland, separated from her family, Alice begins to uncover the story her grandmother is so desperate to tell, and discovers a love that bloomed in the winter of 1942. As a painful family history comes to light, will the struggles of the past and present finally reach a heartbreaking resolution?

Inspired by the author’s own family history, The Things We Cannot Say unearths a tragic love story and a family secret whose far-reaching effects will alter lives forever.

~*~

There is always something powerful about novels set in times of war or tragedy – they reveal something about who we really are, and the lengths people will go to so they can protect those they love, their family, their friends, and in Poland during the war, those they might not even know. The Things We Cannot Say is a dual storyline, told from the perspective of two generations – Alina, in the early 1940s, and her granddaughter, Alice, in 2019.

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We meet Alina and Tomasz first, at a wedding in the Soviet Union, and then we slip into 2019, where Alice is with her son Eddie, who has autism, and is doing all she can to support him and her family when her beloved babcia,her grandmother, Hanna, becomes ill and is rushed to hospital. From here, Alice’s journey begins as her routine with Eddie is suddenly her routine is thrown into jeopardy, but when she discovers the app she uses to communicate with Eddie works for Hanna, and is sent on a quest to Poland to uncover Hanna’s past, and the secrets of a family she never knew.

In 1941, Alina and her family watch as the German invasion of Poland, which started in 1939, slowly round up Jews, take over farm houses and turn Polish families out, and send Polish citizens off to work for the Reich in camps. From her farmyards, she can see the black smoke billowing from what he learns later is Auschwitz-Birkenau, the smell unlike any other. She helps her friend, Tomasz, after his father is killed, and her family helps him further, until it becomes too dangerous, and Alina must leave Poland – and never look back.

Alice and Alina alternate on average, one to three chapters at a time, depending on what aspects of the story need attention, and in each perspective, family plays a large role: Alina and her family, and their attempts to defy the Nazis will sacrifice so much for the freedom and safety of some. Whilst in 2019, Alice is grappling with helping Eddie, and being there for her daughter and husband as well. When herbabcia sends her off to Poland, she can only hope that her family won’t implode while she is gone.

Woven throughout, is the love story of Tomasz and Alina, which at first, didn’t feel as obvious as some, and i liked this – I liked that it wasn’t the focus and developed and some things just happened spontaneously. In the time of war for Alina, her family and Tomasz, there are words that cannot be spoken, because of fear, and in the future for Hanna and Eddie, words that cannot physically be spoken – which makes the title very fitting, and shows the different ways that people find to communicate when they cannot physically speak – whatever the reason.

Much World War Two literature focuses on the Holocaust – in this one, it is present, and has an impact on the reader and characters, but it is the story of how one Catholic family is willing to sacrifice everything to help those being discriminated against by people who are brutal and will go at any lengths to achieve their own means as well.

Kelly Rimmer created a very realistic world – I could smell the burning bodies, see the woods, and even though I haven’t been, imagine a post-war and wartime Poland, a country that after the war, was under Soviet Control until 1991, and having visited another country that had been in the Communist Bloc, the Czech Republic, I could imagine the contrast of older buildings, versus the Communist buildings and the more modern ones – a mixture of various times in history and a contrast of the bleak Communist era, and the old, historical buildings, as well as hints of modernity creeping in. I imagine it is similar in Poland.

The power of this story is in the characters, and what they do to protect and care for their families, and because it was inspired by the author’s own family history, it is a very meaningful and personal story – the characters are alive and vibrant, and the world that they inhabit is one that history will never forget, that these people and their families will never forget. There are many events in history we need to remember, many things that should never be forgotten. That is why novels like this are powerful and needed: so we don’t forget the human cost is more than just numbers on a page.

Booktopia

Beauty in Thorns Revisited – And Stepping into the World of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in Canberra.

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In 2017, I was lucky enough to be approached by Penguin Random House to review Kate Forsyth’s book, Beauty in Thorns, the story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and in particular, William Morris (Topsy), Ned Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the women who inspired them:  Janey Burden, Lizzie Siddal, and Georgie MacDonald, and in the final section, Georgie and Ned’s daughter, Margot. Ned, Dante and William used the women in their lives as models for their paintings based on myths, literature and fairy tales – amongst other themes. Some of the most famous paintings by these artists feature in the story, and it opens with John Everett Millais painting one of the most well-known Pre-Raphaelite works, Ophelia, based on a character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

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Kate Forsyth is my go-to author, the one I will always read and devour within days – her adult, young adult and children’s fiction. Beauty in Thorns focusses on the stories of the women – and how they affected the art, what they themselves created, and why they created what they did. The men still have a role and voice, but it is Lizzie, Janey, Georgie and Margot whose voices are at the front and centre of the novel. The intricate links between all these people and those who come in and out of their lives, end in tragedy in some cases, but happiness in others. The art they created was seen as radical for their time, and Kate Forsyth hints at this when the artists discuss progress and reviews and shows. Reading this the first time was magical, but when I found out that a selection of the paintings were going to be shown in Canberra, I knew I wanted to see them – and not just as images on a screen or in a book (though I did buy the guide and a book of Christina Rossetti’s poetry), and we headed down for a few days.

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Ophelia, by John Everett Millais, featuring Elizabeth Siddal.

Starting from many paintings I was unfamiliar with, I saw the progression of subject matter, from the everyday themes, to modern life, faith, truth to nature, romance, portraits, and the ones I knew about, the ones linked to myth, fairy tale and literature, the latter themes being the ones focussed on in Kate’s novel, and the ones that everyone heading to the Tate or this exhibition likely knows about, but all their art is exquisite and it’s easy to see why they chose to paint in this style, and why Kate Forsyth was drawn to them.

2019 BadgeSeeing the paintings for myself, and reading the book during my visit, brought them to life more than ever before. The book coming to life in this way was magical and enriching, and brought a new dimension to the novel, knowing what the end result of what had occurred in the novel, and knowing the stories behind the paintings, and the names of the models that weren’t always credited on the placards, but are mentioned in the guide, was very enjoyable.

I’ve linked back to my original review here too but being able to visit the world Beauty in Thorns is based on was amazing, and I have bought a few post cards to display in my room of my favourite paintings.

Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Australia's Sweetheart.jpgTitle: Australia’s Sweetheart

Author: Michael Adams

Genre: Biography

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 29th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 404

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: This is the fascinating story of Mary Maguire, a 1930s Australian ingenue who sailed for Hollywood and a fabulous life, only to have her career cut short by scandal and tragedy. Packed with celebrity, history and gossip, AUSTRALIA’S SWEETHEART is perfect for readers of SHEILA and THE RIVIERA SET.

Mary Maguire was Australia’s first teenage movie star and she captivated Hollywood in the mid 1930s. Mary lived on three continents and was celebrated in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Los Angeles and London. Her life was lived in parallel with seminal incidents of the twentieth century: the Spanish Flu; the Great Depression; the Bodyline series; Australia’s early radio, talkies and aviation; Hollywood’s Golden Era; the British aristocracy’s embrace of European fascism; London’s Blitz; and post-war American culture and politics. Mary knew everyone, from Douglas Jardine, Don Bradman, Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan, to William Randolph Hearst, Maureen O’Sullivan and Judy Garland.

AUSTRALIA’S SWEETHEART in an irresistible never-before-told story that captures the glamour of Hollywood and the turbulent times of the twentieth century, with a young woman at its centre.

~*~

These days, it’s very hard to imagine Hollywood not being infiltrated by Australians. Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Heath Ledger, Margot Robbie and many more these days. But where did it all start? Who were the Australians who led the way, and paved the now well-trodden path that many Australian actors and actresses walk to Hollywood? The book I am about to review from Hachette is about Australia’s first teenage movie star – and her journey from small, local films in Australia, to captivating Hollywood in the 1930s, in a time of growing uncertainty in Europe. Throughout her life, Mary would live across three continents, and would be celebrated in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Los Angeles and London. She lived through events such as The Spanish Flu, The Great Depression and The Bodyline series. she saw the development of radio in Australia, talkies (films with sound) and aviation. She starred in films during Hollywood’s Golden Era and saw the British aristocracy – including her own husband – embrace European fascism and lived through London’s Blitz and post-war American culture and politics. She knew so many people that today, we know by name from film and history, but these times were also turbulent and uncertain for Mary, and Michael Adams carefully explores these in this biography.

When Mary Maguire’s stardom began, the world was falling at her feet, and her journey to America would be the beginning of many more Australians flocking to Hollywood to make their fortunes. Perhaps her influence also had an influence on the film industry at home, which over the past decades has produced memorable films such as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Moulin Rouge, The Dish and many more, and renowned directors such as Baz Luhrmann. These are stories we know about, and figures and movies that are always in our consciousness as Australians these days. But where did all this come from? From many places, but Mary Maguire was one of those people, and her story has been one that has been widely unknown until now.

This was a fascinating story to read, because it reveals an unknown story, of a woman who might be known to older generations, but has possibly been hidden from history, or simply ignored or forgotten until recently. A story that contributes in many ways to our entertainment history, but also a sense of what people went through during the 1930s and 1940s and the cut-throat world of Hollywood: how short careers could be, and the lengths people went to remain in films and maintain their career – keeping to a specific look and weight were important, and it seemed that whilst male actors maintained lengthy careers, female actors like Mary and Judy Garland might have had shorter ones – with factors like age, marriage and motherhood hinting at why they might not have the same success at thirty as they might at twenty. Nevertheless, it seems after suffering tuberculosis, her first husband being sent to jail, and losing her son, Mary attempted a comeback, but then decided to live a quieter life, though she still spent some time in the papers, with major events in her life being reported when they happened.

Mary Maguire’s life is fascinating and complex, from performing in her home town to starring in movies and being suspected of pro-fascist sentiments by MI5 during World War Two, and her struggles with illness and her marriage, to a second, more peaceful marriage in her later years. The whole time she was supported by her parents and sisters, who would eventually join her in London and America. It is a fascinatingly complex story, with too many layers to go into here. Each layer added something to who Mary would become, from a carefree young girl taking dance classes, to one with stars in her eyes and finally, to a woman who led a quiet, if troubled life until she died. She had suspicions follow her during the war years. In these days, she would be misquoted by the media – something not uncommon today either. She is an important figure because it shows how Australians were treated and seen in Hollywood, and perhaps the novelty that young Mary was at first. At the same time, the political dealings of her first husband darkened her later life, and knowing how she pulled through shows the strength of her character as a woman and an Australian.

Booktopia

Australian Women Writer’s Check-in three: thirty-one to forty-five

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My next fifteen takes me to book 45 of the challenge – The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell. In this set, I read a wide array of fiction – all by authors I had never read before, from contemporary fiction, to historical fiction, literary fiction, and kids’ books that delved into the world of spies, and one of my favourite periods of antiquity, the Minoans and the explosion of Akrotiri on Thera. I read a non-fiction book by Kitty Flanagan, which was more like an extended comedy routine, to mysteries and family legacies.

From World War Two seen through the lens of Jewish refugees in Shanghai, to book illumination in the middle ages, and the melding of various mythologies and histories to create unique characters and voices that stretch out across the decades and centuries to tell stories of war, family, fear and mystery, and the fun of child spies and wildlife adventures.

These next fifteen were recently completed and, the last fifteen will take me to the start of August. Just over half way done for the year, I have read four times what I pledged, and hope to read many more in the months to come, adding to my ever growing list.

Books thirty-one to forty-five

  1. The Jady Lily by Kirsty Manning
  2. The Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader
  3. Burning Bridges and Other Hobbies by Kitty Flanagan
  4. Bluebottle by Belinda Castles
  5. The Upside of Over by J.D. Barrett and Interview
  6. P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones
  7. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey
  8. The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady
  9. Ella and Olivia: A Wild Adventure by Yvette Poshoglian
  10. Kensy and Max: Breaking News by Jacqueline Harvey
  11. Swallow’s Dance by Wendy Orr
  12. We See the Stars by Kate van Hooft.
  13. The Far Back Country by Kate Lyons
  14. Beneath the Mother Tree by D.M. Cameron
  15. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

So far I haven’t mentioned favourites on any lists, because there have been so many on the others, but on this one, The Jade Lily, Kensy and Max, Swallow’s Dance and The Peacock Summer are the ones that stood out for me and that I enjoyed the most for various reasons, all stated in my reviews on these books.

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge Check-in One – books one to fifteen

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All year I have been meaning to write progress posts for every month, or every ten books. Until now, I have woefully neglected this activity, and having read 61 books already, am breaking it up into posts of fifteen – and will continue to do this until the end of the year/early 2019, making the collation of posts for my final wrap up of this challenge easier than last year’s attempt. Each list will be varied, with review books and ones I chose to purchase making up my count – they will be diverse in terms of story, genre, fiction or non-fiction, readership, age and as many other aspects of diversity as I have stumbled across on my reading journey – greatly depending on what I have been able to find, have been sent and what I have access to, but also, I choose books based on what I enjoy as well, and in doing so, I feel like I hit as much diversity in my reading as possible without too much trouble.

These lists – to date so far by today, are a little less than half of my total books logged for the year, which on the 11th of August, stands at 115, and counting. I have well surpassed my goal of fifteen for the challenge – a conservative estimate as I often have a list in mind of upcoming releases and books I own, yet also don’t always know what else will come my way. I find it best to underestimate – and then anything extra becomes bonus points.

So below is my first batch of fifteen out of sixty one, with links to each review.

First fifteen

  1. The Sister’s Song by Louise Allan
  2. The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett
  3. Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings by Janine Beacham
  4. Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner
  5. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier
  6. The Endsister by Penni Russon
  7. Graevale by Lynette Noni  
  8. Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn 
  9. Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen
  10. The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht and Interview
  11. Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French 
  12. Surf Rider’s Club #2: Bronte’s Big Sister Problem by Mary van Reyk
  13. Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer
  14. Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard 
  15. Mayan Mendacity by L.J.M. Owen 

Coming up next, posts sixteen to thirty of the Australian Women Writer’s challenge and at some stage, a Book Bingo wrap up post for both of my rounds of the challenge with Mrs B’s Book Reviews and Theresa Smith Writes.