Victoria and Abdul: The Extraordinary True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant by Shrabani Busi

victoria and abdul.jpgTitle: Victoria and Abdul: The Extraordinary True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant

Author: Shrabani Busi

Genre: Non-fiction, History

Publisher: The History Press

Published: 21st Jult 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $24.99

Synopsis:

Tall, handsome Abdul Karim was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. An assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, he suddenly found himself a personal attendant to the Empress of India herself. Within a year, he was established as a powerful figure at court, becoming the queen’s teacher, or Munshi. Devastated by the death of John Brown, her Scottish gillie, the queen had at last found his replacement, but her intense and controversial relationship with the Munshi led to a near revolt in the royal household.
Victoria & Abdul explores how a young Indian Muslim came to play a central role at the heart of the Empire at a time when independence movements in the sub-continent were growing in force. Yet, at its heart, it is a tender love story between an ordinary Indian and his elderly queen – a relationship that survived the best attempts to destroy it.

~*~

Often the most interesting stories that come from the historical record are the ones that we do not learn about on a school syllabus, but that we discover by chance, or that come out years after the event – whatever that event may be, and are told with a truthfulness and raw emotion, and that complement what we already know about history and add to our understandings and the record that was either wiped clean or hidden by those who did not want it known, and there are many examples of this throughout history. One such example is one that, until the movie came out last year, I had not known anything about, and ticks off the two movie categories in my Pop Sugar Reading Challenge, and my book bingo this year. After the movie, which spanned the final jubilee year of Queen Victoria, I was intrigued about the story, and where it had come from, and how Abdul had fared after he went back to India – as we were only given a small glimpse at the end of the movie. What I discovered was what we saw in the movie, and much, much more.

So I tracked down the book, Victoria and Abdul: The Extraordinary True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant. Starting more than ten years earlier than the movie, with the Golden Jubilee in 1887, and ending in 1901, after the Queen’s death in the January of that year. During his time in England, Abdul Karim saw two jubilee celebrations – the Gold and the Diamond, and the heart of the English Empire, and became a good friend and Munshi to the Queen. His arrival, and elevation to roles beyond that of servant, and the trust Queen Victoria placed in him during her last years was seen by her family and household staff as undesirable, and they tried at every turn to undermine the Queen and her decisions, in particular her son, Bertie, who would become King Edward the VII, whose subsequent line would consist of King George the VI, who saw England through World War Two, and the threat of the Nazis, after his brother, Edward the VIII abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

But Queen Victoria stuck to her guns and continued her Urdu lessons with Abdul filling many journals, so she could speak with her Indian servants, Abdul, and his family when they arrived to live with him in England, and she ensured that they were well-looked after, another thing her family and staff felt was an affront to the image of royalty and the empire. What follows is an intricate story of the inner workings of Queen Victoria’s house and her delightful friendship with Abdul, and the respect she showed him, giving him a decent wage, helping his family and learning his language. In a time in history when many people would have seen Abdul as a subservient in England, and very much did, the Queen treated Abdul with respect and as an equal, treasuring her journals and letters from him. Upon her death, Abdul and his family returned to India, and a parcel of land, but the correspondence he had had with his Queen, were destroyed by her family and household staff.

In a world of prejudice and racism, Abdul broke barriers with Queen Victoria and into her society, and was then scrubbed from history until recently, or if not scrubbed, largely ignored when his influence was so significant upon one of the longest reigning monarchs of England, known as the Empress of India at the time. This is a book that needs to be read by history lovers, and those intrigued by the hidden histories that we have not had much of a chance to hear about.

Booktopia

The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

turn of midnight.jpgTitle:  The Turn of Midnight

Author: Minette Walters

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th October 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 472

Price: $32.99

Synopsis:For all those who love Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, and Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders comes the worldwide-bestselling Minette Walters’ compelling and fascinating historical novel of the Plague years.

As the year 1349 approaches, the Black Death continues its devastating course across England. In Dorseteshire, the quarantined people of Develish question whether they are the only survivors.

Guided by their beloved young mistress, Lady Anne, they wait, knowing that when their dwindling stores are finally gone they will have no choice but to leave. But where will they find safety in the desolate wasteland outside?

One man has the courage to find out.

Thaddeus Thurkell, a free-thinking, educated serf, strikes out in search of supplies and news. A compelling leader, he and his companions quickly throw off the shackles of serfdom and set their minds to ensuring Develish’s future – and freedom for its people.

But what use is freedom that cannot be gained lawfully? When Lady Anne and Thaddeus conceive an audacious plan to secure her people’s independence, neither foresees the life-threatening struggle over power, money and religion that follows …

~*~

Picking up soon after the end of The Last Hours, which came out last year, The Turn of Midnight begins in 1348, and ends in 1349, during the dark days of the plague coming to England, and devouring the land and people, except for those sheltering in the demesne of Develish, overseen by Lady Anne after the death of her husband, Sir Richard. Out on a journey to find survivors and information are serfs led by Thaddeus Thurkell, whom she trusts on this quest, and eventually will head out on a quest of her own to help him. Back at home, her daughter Eleanor is ill, and needs care and help to survive in the absence of her mother. As the novel progresses, truths and scandals threaten to come out about Thaddeus, Eleanor, and religious leaders continue their plot against Lady Anne, threatened by her knowledge and authority as a woman who oversees Develish. The Turn of Midnight is the epic conclusion to The Last Hours and wraps up the threads that began in that book and leads to a conclusion that is satisfying and enjoyable, ensuring that the characters all get their stories wrapped up and resolved nicely.

This duology explores a time in history – medieval history and the plague, known as the pestilence throughout the novel, and the dynamics of power between the classes – the nobles and the serfs, and the religious figureheads, and their roles in the demesne, as well as gender and the ways the religious figures try to use claims of heresy, and other accusations against Lady Anne to take over – will they succeed, or will the demesne remain in Lady Anne’s control?

Allied with Lady Anne are the household staff she leaves in charge of Eleanor and the household, much to the chagrin of the religious factions. In the fourteenth century, religion played an important role, and despite being religious, Lady Anne’s skills and desires to teach Eleanor and Isabella were frowned upon by the church. It is also a novel of humanity at its best and worst. At its best, Lady Anne’s decision to bring in the healthy people of all classes and ages, saving her demesne from the plague. It is a novel filled with history, and intrigue, and mysteries that are woven in and out, throughout each perspective that is told, back and forth between the quest and the demesne and what is happening, ensuring that story is given a full body and dense, yet amazingly intricate threads and characters that revolve around a variety of issues around gender, class and religion that are still in play today, and that still affect people all around the world today in a variety of ways.

Like other historical fiction, the themes are universal, ideas around humanity and destruction, but placed in a different setting, and testing people in different ways and with different societal implications and challenges that change and evolve over time. It is one of those novels which is dense and intense, yet at the same time, summons you and begs you to read on, because there is so much to know, so many unanswered questions that need to be resolved. It does this nicely, and in a satisfying way that shows the expectations of people are not always right, and that people who try to undermine those they wish to will not always succeed.

Booktopia

Gendered Reading: Why Do We Still Insist on Gendering Books?

Over the past few months and years, I have been following online discussions about the way people gender reading – not only the act of reading, as a pursuit that girls are said to prefer, but the books we give younger children and what we expect of them as they grow and how they develop their reading tastes. Trends in publishing for children and young adults, but especially children, at that age of discovering independent reading and what they enjoy for themselves, can be gendered – targeted stories about princesses being saved for girls, and boys playing sports for boys, for example, are the two extremes. Girls are frilly and passive, boys are dirty and active. It sometimes seems that there is no in between, and children are often presented with books chosen by adults, the ones who buy the books – which, when you only know a few brief facts about a child, can be hard, because what if you buy the wrong book? Understandably, people like to play it safe, and that is where gendered reading can come in.

 

AWW-2018-badge-roseYesterday, I followed Word of Mouth TV and Jacqueline Harvey on Twitter as they tweeted and chatted about and at the Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture, with the Australian Society of Authors and the Children’s Book Council of Australia, on the issue of gendered books and reading, and how adults in the lives of children – whether implicitly or explicitly, in schools and libraries, guide children towards books “for girls” or “for boys”. Which brings me to the question – just what are boy books versus girl books? Well, apparently, if you’ve been following the discussions, a few things boys won’t read, or are said to be discouraged from reading:

 

– a book with love in the title

– a book with a girl on the cover

– a novel (boys apparently prefer comic books)

– a girl in the title

– a female author.

 

However, as adults, parents, teachers, booksellers and librarians, we encourage girls to read widely, but still within what is seen as “acceptable” for girls: no crime, no violence, passive princesses! LOVE! As a girl reader who has read widely since the age of six, war and crime have never been a deterrent. Spies? GREAT, I love Kensy and Max, and so do many other boys and girls when I read the reviews – and adults. Yet, Jacqueline Harvey has only had the chance to present to one or two groups of just boys – rather than mixed groups or just girls, and George Ivanoff pointed out that he saw that the boys in the mixed group were just as enthralled as the girls – excellent news for Kensy and Max, Alice- Miranda and Clementine-Rose. In my view, anyone can read anything they desire, and that they feel ready for – readers should be free to explore the world around them, so whenever I see people asking for “boy books” or “girl books”, I often feel the desire to point out that books do not have a gender, they are just books. Kensy is exactly the kind of girl character I would have enjoyed as a kid – because she was so different and refused to be overly girly.

 

So why do we encourage these reading habits? Is it because we associate reading with characters in popular culture like Hermione Granger and Rory Gilmore (By the way, two of my favourite characters), or even Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds? The lack of male characters who enjoy reading, and who aren’t broody and sullen like Jess Mariano, also of Gilmore Girls? Girls as readers seem to have a few role models to look up to when it comes to reading and seeing themselves as readers but also as people who have interests beyond reading. Boys, it seems, are always shown as the hero, or the nerd (Spencer, but he’s an adorable nerd, and a positive reading role model), or Jess, who often faced unfair comparisons with certain literary men, like Holden Caulfield, whilst Rory, and indeed girls, have many to be compared to. Supporting characters can be readers if they are boys – Percy Weasley, but often, they fade into the background, and so, it feels, does reading as a pleasurable activity for our boys.

 

Of these characters I know of, Spencer, Rory and Hermione are the three whose reading is prominently and positively portrayed – to the point where other characters don’t blink. And when the other male characters in these books and shows – Derek Morgan, Harry and Ron, Dean or Logan – are shown as sporty and brave, or disinterested in reading (Ron), or a someone who would rather disrupt learning than learn (Logan), we don’t blink either. My point is these, whilst exceptionally well written characters, and ones I can either love or hate in varying degrees, are characteristic of how we portray what it means to be a boy or a girl, and therefore, what activities and indeed, books we desire them to read. And perhaps this is why we are seeing a trend in books aimed at both boys and girls by authors like Kate Forsyth and Jacqueline Harvey, and George Ivanoff, and a trend in reimagined fairy tales for girls who dare to not be a passive princess – gone are the days of the prince saving the day, Rapunzel can save herself now!

 

And books aimed at both boys and girls that tell stories of men and women, across a diverse group of people, who have dared to be different to what their respective societies, cultures, nations and times in history expected of them, and why Disney movies are starting to pull back on ending it with the marriage of the main male and female characters. There are quite a few to name that have done this over the years, but the three recent ones that stand out to me are Frozen, Brave and Moana, where it was love of family that saved the day. Sure, Anna might have ended up with Kristoff (I had Hans picked as the villain from the start – if they look too good to be true, they probably are), but it was the love she had for Elsa, and Elsa’s love for her – their acts of true love, that drove the movie and the idea that love does not have to be romantic to be powerful. It is the same love we see in Kensy and Max, and in the Other Worlds series, especially in book two, Beast World, narrated by a girl, Xandra, who is also disabled. George Ivanoff wrote her really well and made sure she was represented as a disabled girl in a way that wasn’t demeaning. In our Twitter conversation, he said he had written books one and three with a male protagonist, and two and four with a female protagonist, and hoped boys reading them would continue with the female characters.

 

Unpacking gendered reading and representation of this in film and other media is not going to be resolved in this one post. It requires self-reflection, and asking ourselves why do we hope boys will begin a series with a boy and continue reading the books narrated by a girl? Why do we assume boys are naturally more interested in comics, sports and certain male-coded things rather than fairy tales or girl spies, or anything that girls are supposed to inherently be drawn to? We assume, we don’t ask, unless we think the child is old enough to decide for themselves – and at what age do we start this? Before they start school? When they’re learning to read? Somewhere in between, or only once they hit age ten? My own reading experiences are varied. I read Narnia at age nine, and books like The Wind in the Willows, The Neverending Story and a few others that might have been deemed “boy books”. I also read what are likely deemed “girl books”: The Babysitters Club, Seven Little Australians, Little Women (many, many times), and The Secret Garden, amongst many others. These days, I read whatever I can, and whenever I can. I read books by women, by men, by both, by people with various identities, and books aimed at boy, girls and everyone in between. I laugh with Bridget, I spy with Kensy and Max, I paint with Rowly, and explore all avenues of history with Kate Forsyth. I traverse London with Charles Dickens, and solve crimes with Phryne, and so many others that I cannot list, otherwise this will become an exegesis rather than a blog post.

 

 

During this blog post, I have worked in the binary because many discussions I read do. This is a whole other level that needs unpacking, the inclusion of all genders, and perhaps a really good reason why we should refrain from using the terms “boy books” and “girl books” – and just go with books so we can all feel included, and all find our way to characters we identify with. This layer is something I do not have enough of an understanding about yet, and will leave to those who do to comment on and write about – and leave it at we need to stop gendering our books and reading habits. Just Read.

 

A list of books that we can all enjoy, whatever our gender:

Kate Forsyth

Chain of Charms series

The Gypsy Crown

The Silver Horse

The Herb of Grace

The Cat’s Eye Shell

The Lightning Bolt

The Butterfly in Amber

Jacqueline Harvey:

Kensy and Max series

Kensy and Max: Breaking News

Kensy and Max: Disappearing Act

George Ivanoff

Other Worlds series

Other Worlds: Perfect World

Other Worlds: Beast World

Other Worlds: Game World

Other Worlds: Dark World

frogkisser

 

Garth Nix

Frogkisser!

Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Have Sword, Will Travel series

Have Sword, Will Travel

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie

Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Comment with your books that you’d recommend to anyone regardless of gender – I have based this on what I have read!

 

Book Bingo Twenty-two – a prize winning book, a book by someone over sixty, and a book with a yellow cover.

Book bingo take 2

With 2018 rushing towards its busy, and warm conclusion, and in consultation with my fellow book bingo players, I have assigned some previously read books to the following categories, and have assigned my prize-winning category is taken up this time by 2007 Aurealis Best Children’s Book winning series, The Chain of Charms by Kate Forsyth, and have utilised other books in different squares from last time for others this time.

Book bingo take 2 .jpg

Rows Across – update:

Row #2 –

A book with a yellow cover: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng – AWW2018

A book by an author you’ve never read before: If Kisses Cured Cancer by T.S. Hawken

A non-fiction book:

 A collection of short stories: Fairy Tales for Feisty Girls by Susannah McFarlane – AWW2018

A book with themes of culture: Relic of the Blue Dragon (Children of the Dragon #1) by Rebecca Lim – AWW2018

 

Row #3:  – BINGO

A book written by an Australian woman:Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey (Kensy and Max #2) – AWW2018, The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – AWW2018

A book written by an Australian man: Captain Cook’s Apprentice by Anthony Hill

A prize-winning book: Chain of Charms series by Kate Forsyth – 2007 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Fiction – AWW2018

A book that scares you: What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra – AWW2018

A book with a mystery: The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes (Mitford Murders #1)

 

Row #5

A book that became a movie:

A book based on a true story:

A book everyone is talking about:

A book written by someone under thirty: The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady – AWW2018

A book written by someone over sixty: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French – AWW2018

 Rows Down update:

Row #1 –

A book set more than 100 years ago: The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #1) – AWW2018

A book with a yellow cover: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng – AWW2018

A book written by an Australian woman: Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey (Kensy and Max #2) – AWW2018

A forgotten classic:

A book that became a movie:

Row #3: –

 A memoir: No Country Woman by Zoya Patel – AWW2018

A non-fiction book:

A prize-winning book: Chain of Charms series by Kate Forsyth – 2007 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Fiction – AWW2018

A book with non-human characters: A Home for Molly by Holly Webb, Beast World by George Ivanoff

A book everyone is talking about:

Row #5 – BINGO

 A Foreign Translated Novel: The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti

A book with themes of culture: Relic of the Blue Dragon (Children of the Dragon #1) by Rebecca Lim – AWW2018

A book with a mystery: The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes (Mitford Murders #1)

A book with a number in the title:

A book written by someone over sixty: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French – AWW2018

AWW-2018-badge-rose

Row three across and row five down are my bingo rows this time around!

Australia DayLast time, Australia Day by Melanie Cheng slotted into the short story square, and yet this time, it fits into the yellow cover category this time. A series of short stories about life in Australia, and the varying experiences within society, aiming to capture the breadth of society and the different ways people react to, and deal with how they are perceived, and what is expected from the Australian experience, or perhaps in some cases, Melanie plays on the conflict between what is expected and who her characters are – varying between race, gender, class and sexuality to try and give a well-thought look at how Australia and Australia Day, isn’t the same for everyone, whatever their identity, and that it never will be. By revealing uncomfortable truths about Australian society in a way many people can relate to and understand.

Miss Lily 1Another book I recycled this time was Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French – which fitted into the over 500-page square last time. This time, it fits into a book by someone over sixty – I did this again to make it easier filling the remaining categories with books I am in the middle of, and some I am yet to find. A historical fiction novel set during World War One, Sophie is sent to London to a school to learn how to be a lady – yet it is much more than that – she learns the ways of spying and using her feminine ways to find out about the war, and eventually, play a part in the war on the front line, in a time when the world is in tatters, and where men and women are dying everyday as battles rage across Europe, leaving Sophie’s home relatively untouched by the guns of war. Jackie French has been writing for all age groups for many years, and has been a favourite of mine since I was thirteen, and read Somewhere Around the Corner, which I still have my shelf. Another good book that fit more than one square.

My final square is the prize-winning book square. Ordinarily, this would go to a single book, however, with the flexibility we have given ourselves in this challenge, I have assigned it to a series I read this year within two weeks (had I not been so sick, it would have been a week). The Chain of Charms series by Kate Forsyth won the Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Fiction in 2007, for the whole series, comprised of six books, and won for books 2-6, i the long fiction category:

Kate Forsyth, The Silver Horse, The Chain of Charms 2, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Herb of Grace, The Chain of Charms 3, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Cat’s Eye Shell, The Chain of Charms 4, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Lightning Bolt, The Chain of Charms 5, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Butterfly in Amber, The Chain of Charms 6, Pan Macmillan

The series follows Luka and Emilia during the final days of a tyrannical reign during the time of Oliver Cromwell, trying to track down charms from each Roma family in the south regions of England, to reunite them and their families to bring back their good luck and fortune, and also, help stop the violence growing around them, and release their families from prison. It is a charming tail about friendship, and family, tying in historical fact and belief to create a world that children and any other readers can escape to.

Again, all my books are by Australian Women Writers. My aim was for each to be a unique book, but as I am cutting it fine, I’m not sure that will happen, so recycling will happen at times. Onto my next Book Bingo in two weeks time!

Booktopia

Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

Lennys book of everythingTitle: Lenny’s Book of Everything

Author: Karen Foxlee

Genre: Literary Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th October 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: 19.99

Synopsis: Our mother had a dark heart feeling. Lenny’s younger brother has a rare form of gigantism and while Lenny’s fiercely protective, it isn’t always easy being the sister of ‘the giant’. A book about finding good in the bad that will break your heart while raising your spirits in the way that only a classic novel can.

Lenny, small and sharp, has a younger brother Davey who won’t stop growing – and at seven is as tall as a man. Raised by their mother, they have food and a roof over their heads, but not much else.

The bright spot every week is the arrival of the latest issue of the Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia. Through the encyclopedia, Lenny and Davey experience the wonders of the world – beetles, birds, quasars, quartz – and dream about a life of freedom and adventure. But as Davey’s health deteriorates, Lenny realises that some wonders can’t be named.

A big-hearted novel about loving and letting go by an award-winning author.

Such a big heart and not a beat out of place.‘ – MELINA MARCHETTA

Tough, tender and beautiful.’ – GLENDA MILLARD

Unforgettable.’ – ANNA FIENBERG

Karen Foxlee, you’re a genius.‘ – WENDY ORR

~*~

Lenore Spink, known as Lenny, has a younger brother called Davey who won’t stop growing – by the age of seven, he is as tall as a man, and Lenny is often mistaken as his younger sister. They live with their mother, Cynthia, and Lenny dreams of her father, Peter Lenard Spink, returning one day. In all the years Davey has been alive, he hasn’t. When Davey has to go away for tests to see why he keeps growing, Lenny’s mother enters a competition to win a complete build it yourself encyclopaedia set from a company called Burrell’s – and so, Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia becomes a crucial part in the way Lenny and Davey cope with life before, during and after Davey’s diagnosis, as they get each new set of entries for the alphabet and the covers to bind them together, creating a set on the shelf that they dip into, and re-read their favourite bits. Along for the ride with them is Davey’s imaginary pet golden eagle, Timothy, who goes everywhere with them, and will go with them when they run away to Canada to find Peter Lenard Spink. But when they find out how sick Davey is, all dreams of heading up north are quashed, and Lenny uses the Build-It-Yourself Encyclopaedia, and her attempts to find her father, and any other Spinks, to cope with what is happening, and find a way to understand it. With a touching, bittersweet ending, this book is filled with love, family and friendship.

AWW-2018-badge-rose

This was a surprise arrival with my last Allen and Unwin package, and I immediately felt it was going to be good – the cover alone is charming and exquisite – originally die-cut to create the image that overlays the title, I found it inviting and intriguing – what could these mysterious maps mean? Each section is sign posted by a year, a growth spurt in Davey, and a letter entry for the encyclopaedia, connecting each event to a specific letter, and what that meant to Lenny and Davey over the years that spread across the book. This is a book that is not aimed at any one age group – it is universal in its scope and story – with aspects that we can all relate to and recognise in our own lives. We’ve all known the joy of knowledge, of receiving something in the post that we have either been waiting for or that comes as a pleasant surprise. The act of learning something new is an experience we have all had – and encountering our favourite books or topics.

We also, most of us, know the love of family and friends, the comings and goings of people in our lives, and the fragility of life and death, and the challenges that come with caring for someone with an illness or disability and how it impacts everyone in their lives – the challenges and sacrifices, that are made, as well as the love that is shared, and the sense of community that can come about, as they do for Lenny and her family.

This is a novel with a big heart, about a different kind of love than many novels explore – family love – a love that is just as important as romantic love and deserves more focus in the stories we consume. Lenny’s journey also involves accepting what is happening to her brother and is a catalyst for how she comes to understand the world around her.

This is a book with a big heart, that teaches us about love and letting go of those we love, and the strength it can take for this to happen, and the places we can draw it from. I enjoyed this book, it was one of those rare books that refuses to leave you long after closing the last page. It is one that can be enjoyed by many, and I hope it is, and I hope it is as powerful for other readers as it was for me,

Booktopia

Bright Young Dead (Mitford Murders #2) by Jessica Fellowes

bright young dead.jpgTitle: Bright Young Dead (Mitford Murders #2)

Author: Jessica Fellowes

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 9th October 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 392

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The second in the bestselling The Mitford Murders series of Golden Age-style crime novels, soon to be a major TV drama from the makers of The Crown.

‘All the blissful escapism of a Sunday-night period drama in a book’
THE POOL ON THE MITFORD MURDERS

As the glamour of the Bright Young Things crashes into the world of the Mitford sisters, their maid Louisa Cannon finds herself at the scene of a gripping murder mystery.

Meet the Bright Young Things, the rabble-rousing hedonists of the 1920s whose treasure hunts were a media obsession. One such game takes place at the 18th birthday party of Pamela Mitford, but ends in tragedy as cruel, charismatic Adrian Curtis is pushed to his death from the church neighbouring the Mitford home.

The police quickly identify the killer as a maid, Dulcie. But Louisa Cannon, chaperone to the Mitford girls and a former criminal herself, believes Dulcie to be innocent, and sets out to clear the girl’s name . . . all while the real killer may only be steps away.

~*~

Picking up three years after the end of Mitford Murders, on the cusp of the second Mitford sibling, Pamela, turning eighteen, Bright Young Dead sees the return of nanny, Louisa Cannon, and the Mitford siblings – the elder two, Pamela and Nancy are at the forefront of the crime solving, along with Louisa Cannon, who acts as their chaperone, and their policeman friend, Guy Sullivan, partnered with a female constable, Mary Moon. Guy and Mary are busy investigating a crime ring known as the Forty Elephants, and later, a murder that takes place at Pamela’s eighteenth birthday party. During a treasure hunt, one of the guests, Adrian Curtis, brother to Charlotte, is found dead, and the maid, Dulcie, who becomes linked to the Forty Elephants, is accused of the crime. But things are not as they seem, as Louisa, Pamela and Nancy will soon discover, there are many more secrets being kept by Dulcie, as well as many more suspects to consider – suspects that Guy’s boss dismissed but that Guy, Mary, Louisa, Pamela and Nancy are keen and willing to look into and bring the real killer to justice.

The second in the series, I was again swept up in the inter-war and pre-Depression setting of England and London, where the Mitford family, especially the older girls, Pamela and Nancy, are starting to discover who they are, and where they fit into society, and the beginnings of the careers and actions that would make them famous, long before the darkening days of the later years of the nineteen thirties and World War Two. The years of the 1920s, at least for the Mitford sisters, were filled with decadence and parties, and a world caught between the dying years of the Victorian and Edwardian eras of Lord and Lady Redesdale (Mr and Mrs Mitford), and the new generation, embracing social change, the suffragette movement, and a freedom that the older generation refused to understand and tried to quash – ideals that Pamela and Nancy did their best to refute and rebel against, especially Nancy. The group in attendance at Pamela’s party are known as the Bright Young Things, who enjoy parties and treasure hunts. Little do they know what this treasure hunt will end with.

We met Nancy, and got to know her in the first book, and here, it is her sister, Pamela at the forefront, but we see more of Nancy’s character and development as an author here too, as well as their growing friendship with Louisa as the two sisters leave the nursery and the world of their younger siblings behind for adult lives, and the continuing investigations into murders that occur within their circles. Where one person sees a cut and dried case, a maid murdering someone in the social class she serves, and a guest of the Mitfords, the other see complexities that need to be uncovered, and links that are unsubstantiated – and the supposed links between the Forty Elephants and the murderer are questioned by Louisa, Nancy, and Pamela, and eventually, Guy and Mary. These characters are what makes the book – each one is unique and individual, and they complement each other, and create a crime fighting team that ensures justice will be done in a world where many take things at face value.

Filled with rich historical detail about underground clubs and how people managed to have frivolous fun amidst a society that at times, wanted things to be done properly and without being too out there or attracting attention, where morals were purported to be quite important and any hint of impropriety had devastating consequences. These rich historical details cement the story and setting, and are nicely contrasted against the modern feel of the main characters as they navigate a changing world.

While Guy and Mary investigate as police officers, and within the law and what their bosses will let them do, Louisa, Nancy and Pamela use their connections with various clubs and other people i the social circles they move around in to gather more information on Dulcie and her connections to the Curtis family, the Forty Elephants and anyone else who might have been involved. As the novel reaches its conclusion, the characters find themselves faced with the prospect that Adrian’s killer is a lot closer to home than they previously thought – or even considered, which ratchets up the tension, and reveals that the world of the Mitfords isn’t as perfect and as elegant as the parents of Nancy and Pamela like to think. The world their daughters are inheriting is going to be dark and dangerous and these few years before the reality of war hits show the freedom that will be lost in the coming years, and the collision of two different worlds within the same family. It is a series that explores the role of family and society, and the implications of stepping outside of these roles amidst murder and theft, and other crimes, and the changing roles of women, and the new-found freedoms young women like Nancy and Pamela, and later, their sisters, Diana, Unity, Decca and Debo would come to enjoy and understand.

This is a series that is just starting, and that has promise – for historical fiction fans, for crime and mystery fans and for anyone else interested in the series. What I like is that the crime is not always straightforward – that like in any good crime show or mystery novel, the first suspect isn’t always the one who has committed the main crime, though they may be linked to it or the victim in another way – nefarious or not. Like any good detectives, official or not, Guy, Mary, Louisa, Pamela and Nancy follow the case and the clues to ensure the murderer is uncovered and that the wrong person doesn’t take the fall for what somebody else did. All in a day’s work for these intrepid investigators. I look forward to the next book, to see which sister or sibling is the next to take a starring role and how far into the thirties and forties the series will take us.

Again, an intriguing read that swept me up in the mystery and the 1920s world. Keep them coming, because this is a series I adore.

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Book Bingo Twenty – A Book by an Australian Woman, A book that’s more than 500 pages and a foreign translated novel.

Book bingo take 2

It’s that time of the fortnight, when Book Bingo Saturday with Amanda Barrett of Mrs B’s Book Reviews and Theresa Smith of Theresa Smith Writes has rolled around. As this is my second go around, and after this week and next fortnight, I still have ten squares left, there will be a few posts where two or more squares are included, and where books used from last time will appear in a different square, to ensure complete coverage should I not be able to read something new for any square. As the year rushes towards the final months, I’ve got many books that will potentially fill each of the remaining squares in November and December.

This week sees three books – two by Australian Women, which gives me a bit of a double bingo for that square, and a bingo in a down row – Row Four, as seen below:

Book bingo take 2 .jpg

Row #1 down

 A book set more than 100 years ago: The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #1) – AWW2018

A book with a yellow cover:

A book written by an Australian woman:  Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey (Kensy and Max #2) – AWW2018, The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – AWW2018

A forgotten classic:

A book that became a movie:

Row #4 -BINGO (down)

 

A book more than 500 pages: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – AWW2018,

A collection of short stories: Fairy Tales for Feisty Girls by Susannah McFarlane – AWW2018

A book that scares you: What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra – AWW2018

A funny book: Archibald, the Naughtiest Elf in the World Goes to the Zoo by Skye Davidson, Illustrated by Ágnes Rokiczky -AWW2018

A book written by someone under thirty: The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady – AWW2018

Across:

Row #3:  –

 A book written by an Australian woman: Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey (Kensy and Max #2) – AWW2018, The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – AWW2018

A book written by an Australian man: Captain Cook’s Apprentice by Anthony Hill

A prize-winning book:

A book that scares you: What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra – AWW2018*

A book with a mystery: The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes (Mitford Murders #1)

Row #1 – –

 A book set more than 100 years ago: The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #1) – AWW2018

A book written more than ten years ago:

A memoir: No Country Woman by Zoya Patel – AWW2018

A book more than 500 pages: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – AWW2018

A Foreign translated novel: The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti

cherry tree

First off. a foreign translated novel – The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti. The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree is the story of nine-year-old Mafalda, who has a genetic condition known as Stargardt disease, affecting her vision that will eventually result in complete blindness, exploring a world of disability not often seen in books, and in a realistic, and touching way, using personal experiences to do so.

It is one of those rare books that allows disabled children and readers to see themselves in it, and to see that there are other disabled people out there, not just them. It makes these readers feel less alone, knowing other people live with disability whether it is the same one, or different ones. It is also about finding connections, and people who will stick by you throughout life, and help, and the reality of life and the ups and downs that affect us all. My longer review is linked here.

the clockmakers daughter

The next two books are by Australian women, and both fit into the square for A book by an Australian woman, and one fits into a book over five hundred pages. The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton. Published on the twelfth of September, The Clockmaker’s Daughter weaves in and out of time and space, between decades and centuries, and throughout generations of people all connected in some way to Birchwood Manor. The focus is on the 1860s, and the Magenta Brotherhood – an artistic guild that hints at Pre-Raphaelite influences, and dips into the early decades of the twentieth century, and hints at a character researching and reading about Birchwood Manor, whose story bookends those f the others, and reaches a conclusion that is a little ambiguous but at the same time, delightfully executed in a way that the stands of ambiguity are what makes the overall mystery work – not everything is straightforward or clean-cut, and not every answer will be uncovered, nor will any sense of justice necessarily be dealt out – or does it need to be? Was an honest mistake made, did people just not realise? It is these unanswered questions, that, even though the mystery of Birdie’s fate is solved in a way, nobody will ever know, and in this instance, it worked out really well.

Kensy and Max 2My third book fills the book by an Australian woman square as well – Kensy and Max: Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey. In the second book in the Kensy and Max series, the twins are in training to be spies at Pharos, and the headquarters called Alexandria during their Christmas break with their friends and teachers – who are also spies. After Christmas, they will set off to Rome with other classmates who are none-the-wiser to the spy training going on around them. Whilst in Rome, Kensy and Max receive more coded messages from their parents and are caught up in their first mission to save the Prime Minister’s son – but is one of their classmates somehow linked to the disappearance of the boy, or is it merely her family they need to be suspicious of? And which student does everyone need to look out for and avoid? Together with their new friends, Kensy and Max will solve the case – the first of many and keep hot on the trail of their missing parents. Will Kensy and Max finally be reunited with their parents?

Kensy and Max is a series for all readers – regardless of age and gender. They defy gender roles and are heroes for children today, where there are many books coming out where male and female characters defy stereotypes and take on their own identity rather than the stereotypes perpetuated by earlier works, which of course, drew on the world that inspired them. Kensy is the kind of girl hero I needed growing up, to have alongside Matilda Wormwood and Hermione Granger, the kind of character who isn’t what she seems and who stands up for herself and her beliefs and doesn’t let people define her – especially those who don’t like her. She is heroic yet at the same time, can be vulnerable and needs grounding – but threaten those she cares about, like her brother, and I reckon you’d be sorry! I adore this series and I cannot wait for future books to see where Kensy and Max take us next.

Thus ends my twentieth book bingo post of the year. Post twenty-one will be up in two weeks time.

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