Beyond Belief by Dee White

beyond-beliefTitle: Beyond Belief
Author: Dee White
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Published: 1st April 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 264
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: Inspired by the true story of Muslims who saved the lives of Jewish children in the Second World War.

In 1942, in the Grand Mosque in Paris, 11-year-old Ruben is hiding from the Nazis. Already thousands of Jewish children have disappeared, and Ruben’s parents are desperately trying to find his sister. Ruben must learn how to pass himself off as a Muslim, while he waits for the infamous Fox to help him get to Spain to be reunited with his family. One hint of Rubens true identity and he will be killed. So will the people trying to save him.

But when the mosque is raided and the Fox doesn’t come, Ruben is forced to flee. Finding himself in the south of France, he discovers that he must adjust to a new reality, and to the startling revelation of the Fox’s true identity.

~*~

Most Holocaust stories revolve around the camps, or the Jewish ghettoes and areas of Europe invaded by the Nazis. Whilst some stories tell of people who flouted Nazi rules to hide Jews, there are other stories not told. Dee White has sensitively and evocatively told one of these stories in Beyond Belief with careful research, and interaction with Holocaust survivors, Muslims who knew the history explored in the novel, and sensitivity readers.

In 1942, the Grand Mosque in Paris is more than just a mosque – it is a safe haven for Jewish children, hidden from the Nazis as they wait to be reunited with their families, saved from the horrors of the camps – known people at the time, but the true horrors and events were not something they knew about, at least Ruben, Daan, Amra and the other characters. They know they are separated from their families and do not know when they will be reunited.

It is both hopeful and filled with the harsh realities of the war and the Holocaust. Paris is held by the Nazis, who make their presence known, storming into the mosque and searching for Jewish children. The Imam protected them, up until the mosque is raided and Hana, Momo, her brother, and Ruben make a dash for their lives with Evette and Fida, and run into people they never thought they’d see again and set out on a journey that will reveal who the Fox is…and unite them as family.

AWW2020Learning these stories enriches our understanding of the history we know, and the history we do not know. Until I read this book, I knew nothing of the role mosques and Muslims, in particular the Grand Mosque in Paris had in hiding and helping Jewish children survive the Holocaust. It is an important story, as it shows the humanity in the world, and teaches us that whilst Judaism, Christianity and Islam are separate religions – yet they worship the same God, and this is what Ruben learns in the mosque – that humanity and the kindness of people will get him through, and to trust those around him – to trust Evette and Fida.

I came to love all these characters and initially, I thought I would savour this book, yet I inhaled it in two or three sittings – it was one that was compelling, where I needed to know what happened next, who survived, how they escaped and so many other threads and events that take place in the latter half of the novel that are crucial to what happens. I loved Amra and Hana, they were wonderful, in the face of great tragedy, faced everything that came towards them bravely with Ruben.

This is an important book – we need to know this history and this book has the header ‘Heroes of the Holocaust’ – I hope this is going to become a series because I think it would make a really good one, especially if it explores lots more lesser known stories and histories of this time period.

June 2020 Wrap Up

 

The Modern Mrs Darcy 11/12

AWW2020 – 67/25

Book Bingo – 12/12

The Nerd Daily Challenge 45/52

Dymocks Reading Challenge 23/25

Books and Bites Bingo 15/25

STFU Reading Challenge: 9/12

General Goal –110/165

 

In June, I managed to read eighteen books in total, fourteen by Australian authors, and all but one of those were Australian women authors. Fifteen of the eighteen were by women authors from Australia and the United Kingdom, and my reading crossed all kinds of genres and audiences this month as I work towards my yearly reading goals.

Towards the end of the month, I participated in an Emma versus Pride and Prejudice read-along with some blogger friends – it seemed several of us went with Emma- perhaps because we had not read it yet and had already read Pride and Prejudice – and two of us found we could use it for a classics book bingo square.

I’m moving slowly through my stacks of books to read, and will hopefully be on top of all of them soon.

June – 18

Book Author Challenge
Elementals: Battle Born Amie Kaufman Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Lilies, Lies and Love Jackie French Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Kid Normal and the Final Five Greg James and Chris Smith Reading Challenge
Toffle Towers: Fully Booked Tim Harris and James Foley Reading Challenge
Monty’s Island: Scary Mary and the Stripey Spell Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Wonderscape Jennifer Bell Reading Challenge
When Rain Turns to Snow Jane Godwin Reading Challenge, AWW2020
League of Llamas: Undercover Llama Aleesah Darlison Reading Challenge, AWW2020
League of Llamas: Rogue Llama Aleesah Darlison Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Kensy and Max: Freefall Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Silk House 

 

Kayte Nunn Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle

 

Pamela Rushby and Nellé May Pierce Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Roxy and Jones: The Great Fairy Tale Cover Up Angela Woolfe Reading Challenge
Alexandra-Rose and Her Icy Cold Toes by

 

Monique Mulligan and Kate Fox (Illustrator) Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Meet Mia by the Jetty Janeen Brian and Danny Snell Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Meet Sam at the Mangrove Creek Paul Seden and Brenton McKenna Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts  Kathryn Harkup Reading Challenge
Edie’s Experiments: How to Be the Best Charlotte Barkla Reading Challenge, AWW2020

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Eadie by Caroline Beecham

Finding EadieTitle: Finding Eadie

Author: Caroline Beecham

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

AWW2020

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

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

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

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

 

The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke

unadoptablesTitle: The Unadoptables

Author: Hana Tooke

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The amazing humour and world-building of Nevermoor meets the wisdom and warmth of Rooftoppers in this most un-ordinary adventure about five amazing children . . .

‘Milou,’ Lotta said softly. ‘We need adoption papers to leave. And no one except that horrid merchant wants us.’
‘Well then,’ replied Milou with a grin. ‘We’ll just have to adopt ourselves.’

In all the years that Elinora Gassbeek has been matron of the Little Tulip Orphanage, not once have the Rules for Baby Abandonment been broken. Until the autumn of 1880, when five babies are left in outrageous circumstances: one in a tin toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack, and finally, one in a coffin-shaped basket.

Those babies were Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou; who were swiftly and firmly deemed ‘the unadoptables’. Twelve years on the children still have each other – until the fateful night a most sinister gentleman appears and threatens to tear them apart. The gang decide to make a daring escape, fleeing the frozen canals of Amsterdam for an adventure packed with puppets and pirate ships, clock-makers and cruel villains – and with only a scrap of a clue to guide them to their mysterious new home . . .

~*~

The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke is set in Amsterdam in the 19th century, in a world where orphans contend with pirates, puppets, clockmakers and cruel villains to find a home and a place where they truly belong. Fenna, Lotta, Sem, Egg and Milou are known by the matron of Little Tulip Orphanage as the unadoptables. Lotta has twelve fingers, Fenna is a mute, Egg has a shawl that reminded the matron of rotten eggs, Sem arrived in a wheat sack, and Milou arrived on a full moon – and has theories about where her real parents and believes they’re coming for her.

When Rotman comes to adopt the five orphans, Milou and her friends realise something is wrong, and they escape, only to find themselves pursued by Rotman and the Kinderbureau, as they try to make a life at the Poppenmaker theatre where Milou believes her parents come from. Whilst here, Milou uncovers several secrets and together with her friends, forms her own family – yet she is still keen to solve the mystery of Bram Poppenmaker.

This book was filled with mystery, history, and a sense of doom at times that would always give way to hope and wonder. Here there are five children – determined and hopeful that they can have a good life. Instead of waiting around they make one for themselves. And whilst doing so, they uncover crimes and mysteries that bubble beneath the surface from page one – there is always a sense of whimsy and wonder yet at the same time, a sense that something doesn’t feel quite right – as though at any moment, something could go horribly wrong – and nobody is quite sure what it will be or how to handle it.

Hana Tooke manages to move through nineteenth century Amsterdam wonderfully – showing readers the city, and the canals in detail that etches them in the reader’s mind, and also, makes the city feel as though is its own character. I loved the way the mystery was woven throughout, and not immediately solved, but tiny crumbs and clues dropped at just the right time, and the orphans were resourceful, and all had character arcs and growth that worked well with the novel, especially Milou. I think she was my favourite, although it was hard to choose one as they were all great characters. What worked well with this novel was its setting – because this allowed Milou and her friends to escape easily – these days, with phones and technology, it could be harder – doable, but the mystery would be solved sooner than Milou solved her family mystery.

In a very unordinary, exciting and unusual adventure, this new middle grade offering is fantastic, filled with whimsical illustrations, it pulls you into a different world of puppets and trickery – and villains like Gassbeek and Rotman, where you cheer for the orphans. Whenever Gassbeek and Rotman were around, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up – a warning that something wasn’t right, and I found myself reading late into the night to finish this one – I had to find out if Milou and her friends found their family, and if Milou was right about Bram Poppenmaker. It felt like so many familiar children’s novels and yet at the same time, felt so unique and so fresh that I don’t think there is anything to compare it to, yet it would sit comfortably with books like Nevermoor on a shelf of wondrous tales that have a sense of magical realism about them and that make their world feel so real, I could easily fall in and find myself living there.

A great new middle grade novel!

Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts by Kathryn Harkup

death by shakespeareTitle: Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts
Author: Kathryn Harkup
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma
Published: 2nd July 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 368
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: William Shakespeare found dozens of different ways to kill off his characters, and audiences today still enjoy the same reactions – shock, sadness, fear – that they did more than 400 years ago when these plays were first performed. But how realistic are these deaths, and did Shakespeare have the knowledge to back them up?

In the Bard’s day death was a part of everyday life. Plague, pestilence and public executions were a common occurrence, and the chances of seeing a dead or dying body on the way home from the theatre were high. It was also a time of important scientific progress. Shakespeare kept pace with anatomical and medical advances, and he included the latest scientific discoveries in his work, from blood circulation to treatments for syphilis. He certainly didn’t shy away from portraying the reality of death on stage, from the brutal to the mundane, and the spectacular to the silly.

Elizabethan London provides the backdrop for Death by Shakespeare, as Kathryn Harkup turns her discerning scientific eye to the Bard and the varied and creative ways his characters die. Was death by snakebite as serene as Shakespeare makes out? Could lack of sleep have killed Lady Macbeth? Can you really murder someone by pouring poison in their ear? Kathryn investigates what actual events may have inspired Shakespeare, what the accepted scientific knowledge of the time was, and how Elizabethan audiences would have responded to these death scenes. Death by Shakespeare will tell you all this and more in a rollercoaster of Elizabethan carnage, poison, swordplay and bloodshed, with an occasional death by bear-mauling for good measure.
~*~

Shakespeare probably has the most deaths of any author – over 250, as Kathryn Harkup states – at least the in-play ones whether they happen onstage or offstage behind the scenes or between scenes. In Death by Shakespeare, using history, science and the brad’s own plays, Harkup looks at the various ways the characters died, and the creative licence Shakespeare took with some of them in light of what he was likely to have known when he was writing, and what we know now of poisons and physiology.

With each method of death, Kathryn illustrates how it played out in the text of the play and how actors in the plays, especially in Elizabethan and Jacobean times, portrayed these deaths to avoid harm to them but make it look realistic for the play and the audience. It is filled with incredible attention to detail in this way, and in the way that the plague years affected Shakespeare and his writing, and the always present spectre of death that was around his life in an ever-present way. Much like our current situation with COVID-19, the plague years throughout Shakespeare’s life shut everything down and this was when Shakespeare would write some of his works. It touched him personally too – killing his eleven-year-old son, Hamnet.

The book divides each method into its own chapter, with an appendix that divides Shakespeare’s works into Comedies, Histories, Tragedies and Poems and outlines who died and how into tables – a good quick reference. In looking at the deaths, and how likely they would have been, or how they might have been, or should have been, executed, Kathryn Harkup has pulled so many things together to create an informative and intriguing book, on deaths and how realistic they are. The plays will be enriched by this knowledge and give depth to further discussion and analysis and interpretations. It was a fascinating read that gave the literary, historical and scientific aspects equal weighting, and made it easy to understand for all readers. I came to this book from a historical and literary stance but found that the author explained the scientific information in an easy to access and understand way. It is also good as a reference for writers in their own writing, and filled with random facts that might be useful for a trivia night – if you can remember them all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A wonderful read for all readers aged eight and older.

The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

AWW2020

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

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

A wonderfully gothic and transfixing read.

 

Isolation Publicity with Christine Bell

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

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

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

 

NoSmallShameCOVER 98

Hi Christine and welcome to The Book Muse

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

  1. Which local booksellers do you regularly use?

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Thank you Christine

 

Isolation Publicity with Dee White

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


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

Dee White small author photo 2019 colour
Dee White has two books coming out, or that have come out during this pandemic – Beyond Belief, and Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training – she has discussed them both here in one of my longest interviews yet! So it is interesting and exciting to get so many different interviews and responses, and shows how diverse our writing industry is in many ways. Like many authors, the release of Dee’s books was affected by the pandemic, and events have been cancelled. Dee agreed to take part in my series to promote these books and hopefully reach her readers.

Hi Dee and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. You’ve got two new releases that I am featuring here – one of which I do have on order. Could you tell my readers about each of them?

Beyond Belief is a work of historical fiction inspired by the true story of Muslims at a Paris Mosque who saved Jewish children during WW11. It tells the story of eleven year-old Jewish boy, Ruben and his family who are fleeing the Nazis and French police after more than 13,000 Jews were arrested and taken to concentration camps during the Vel D’hiv roundup on 16 and 17 July 1942.

Eddy Popcorn also features an eleven year-old boy, but couldn’t be more different. Eddy Popcorn is contemporary, humorous illustrated fiction. Eddy has been grounded for the school holidays for not doing his homework. Faced with not seeing the beach, or his mates, for the WHOLE holidays, Eddy puts all of his frustration into a helpful book for kids: Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training.

2. Beyond Belief is the one I have on order, and was published in early April – can you tell my readers what it is about, and where the idea came from?

As I mentioned earlier, this book is inspired by a true story that I stumbled upon when I was researching another book, Paris Hunting. (Still a work in progress.) After the roundup, Ruben’s parents leave him at the mosque where they know he will be safe while they go looking for his sister Rosa who has been missing for some months. Ruben must wait for there for the infamous Fox who will take him to Spain to be reunited with his family. (The Fox is also inspired by a real historical character). At the mosque, Ruben must learn how to be a Muslim. One hint of his true identity and he’ll be killed, and so will the people trying to save him.

3. Following on from the previous question, Beyond Belief explores one of the untold stories of World War Two. What draws you to these kinds of stories, and how do you think we can get them into classrooms and mainstream discussions of history?

I feel like there’s so much we can learn from the past but also so much that we can relate to the modern world. Racism and propaganda are still issues we face today. In Paris and in other parts of Europe in the late 1930’s the Nazis instigated a campaign of hate against the Jews. They produced posters showing Jews taking over the world and stealing people’s hard earned money. They forced Jews from the ghettos to ‘act’ in films. They dressed them up in opulent clothes and forced them to walk past Jews dying on the streets of the ghettos to convince the general public that these people didn’t even care about their own race. It was all fake news, but people believed it. They used this propaganda to dehumanise the Jews so that when atrocities were committed against them, people wouldn’t step into help. They used these campaigns of hate to turn people against the Jews in much the same way that the Howard government used the fake ‘children over board’ campaign to turn modern day Australians against refugees. They tried to make us believe that parents were throwing their children overboard to save themselves and this was proven not to be true.

I think I’m drawn to these stories because they show the power of human kindness … and that we are all people, regardless of religious beliefs or place of birth. The interfaith solidarity between the Jews and the Muslims crossed all religious and historical boundaries. It was simply an example of genuine human concern for other humans. During the war there were examples of this all over the world between many different races. During my research I discovered an amazing organisation called I Am Your Protector. https://iamyourprotector.org/ I really believe in their ethos. They do amazing things. They are, “a community of people who speak out and stand up for one another other across dimensions of religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Through our work, we transcend perceived lines of division between different communities and endeavour to change the way people view the “other”. We share knowledge, stories, and tools that inspire people to become each other’s protectors.”

In February, the Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino announced that the Holocaust would become compulsory learning for Years 9 and 10 and I think that’s a great start to bringing books like Beyond Belief into schools. With themes like racism and fake news, books like Beyond Belief aren’t just a way to examine the past, they’re also relevant today. I think that all we can do is try to get the word out about books like Beyond Belief (like you are doing with your blog) and through social and mainstream media to make schools aware that these books are available and how valuable they can be in the classroom. Publishers like Scholastic also provide curriculum-based teacher’s notes to help.

4. Your other new release, Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training, was released on the first of May – what is this about, and is it a stand-alone, or part of a series?

Eddy Popcorn’s character and story are inspired by my boys when they were around eleven or twelve. I love the ironic humour of kids at this age. Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training is about the pre-teen relationship between kids and adults – that time when kids are starting to question the world around them and whether parents actually have all the answers. I love this age because kids are starting to develop their own perspective on the world and it’s often very funny.

Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training is the first book in the series illustrated by Ben Johnston, whose illustrations are amazing. I’d never met or spoken to him, but he really seemed to connect with Eddy and his story. The second book in the series, Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Teacher Taming is coming out with Scholastic Australia next year.

5. With both of these books released in the midst of a pandemic, what events, launches and appearances did you have to cancel?

I had a launch at our local library and one at the Little Bookroom organised … and of course these were both cancelled. I had received a grant to do a month long artist residence at a remote regional Victorian school in May/June but this couldn’t go ahead either. I had planned a three-month book tour (in my caravan Luna) from Melbourne to Townsville and return with school, library and bookstore visits and events booked in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. I also planned to visit isolated regional areas because I feel they often miss out on having authors visit their towns and schools. All this had to be cancelled. There were also a number of writer’s festivals that had booked me to appear and these didn’t go ahead either.

6. Did you always want to be a writer, and what do you think you would have been if you hadn’t gone down the publishing road?

I wanted to be a writer since I was seven, but it wasn’t considered a ‘proper job’ at that time so when I left school I actually went into insurance, which I hated, and then marketing and advertising. From this I was able to get a job as a copywriter so at least I was writing and from there I went into journalism. But even when I was working in insurance, I still wrote in my own time. I was compelled to write. For me it has always been as essential as breathing.

7. What are the craziest, or most outlandish things you have done in the name of research for one of your books?

Probably doing a tour of the Paris sewers for Beyond Belief. It was certainly the smelliest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve also been up in a hot air balloon and invented and trialled my own weapons in the name of research.

8. Where have you travelled to research your books, and which of these places has been the most interesting or your favourite?

My research has taken me to different parts of Australia and the world including Amsterdam, New York and Paris. Paris would definitely have to be my favourite. The month I spent in Paris researching Beyond Belief (Thanks to a Creative Victoria VicArts grant) was amazing. Everything just seemed to fall into place. And the information I needed seemed to find me. I was given an interpreter, Laetitia for the sewer tour and she was so lovely. She also happened to be a Muslim who spoke Arabic and she helped me to verify the authenticity of the events I was writing about. Her next door neighbour was the mother of a Rabbin so Laetitia was able to get me into a synagogue in Paris as well.

9. When it comes to research – how do you begin your research process, and are some topics easier to research than others?

I usually begin my research online, but I always love to visit the actual place I’m writing about if I can. It’s definitely easier to find out about some topics than others. France didn’t actually acknowledge their part in the Holocaust until about 1995 and memorials came much later so it wasn’t that easy to find out some things. Beyond Belief was also emotionally hard to research because of the nature of the subject matter. It was just so awful to visit Holocaust centres and memorials and see the faces of babies and small children who had been murdered. It was also a deeply personal story for me because my father and his parents were forced to flee Nazi occupied Austria.

I’m currently researching an historical fiction set in Australia, The Explorer’s Niece, and that’s proving difficult too because there are discrepancies between the information I’ve uncovered. And two of the local historians were at odds over it and disagree on dates and events. The research process is never smooth sailing. There are always places where you stumble. But that’s part of the challenge and fun of it. I love research because you never know where it will take you and your characters. If I do research online I always try and verify its authenticity in some other way through museums, libraries or a local historical society or by visiting the place myself and talking to people.

10. You’re also a certified writing teacher. Do all your classes take place face to face, or do you also teach online, and how has this been affected by the pandemic?

I’ve been running online writing classes for kids for almost ten years now. My students come from all over the world … From USA, UK, Australia and India, to Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, so that part hasn’t really been affected by the pandemic. But I also do face-to-face workshops and appearances at festivals, libraries and schools and these have all been cancelled. Also as I mentioned, my one month artist-in-residence, would all have been face-to-face workshops with students from prep to Year 8. I also mentor writers of all ages and this is often done via email so that hasn’t changed either.

11. Is the History, Mystery and Mirth tour still going ahead, or has it been cancelled or postponed – alternatively, has it been adapted into an online tour like some other festivals have?

Unfortunately I’ve had to cancel the tour for this year because of the closure of state borders and also schools are very busy at the moment with all the online learning. They have their hands full just trying to deal with the basic curriculum and paperwork and parents and technology fails etc. Perhaps I might be able to go ahead with tour next year. I’m currently in talks with the school I was going to be doing the artist-in-residence at, and hopefully that will go ahead in 2021. I am doing some online events still. I run the writer’s bootcamps at the CYA festival, which will be happening online in July. I’m also running an online workshop on creating compelling characters through SCBWI ACT on 28 June and that will feature Ruben from Beyond Belief and Eddy.

12. Who else is – or was – involved with the History, Mystery and Mirth tour?

I was organising this tour myself, but I’d scheduled a number of events through SCBWI in various parts of Australia and at a number of schools and festivals. And of course there was my artist-in-residence in Yarrawonga, which was to be part of the tour.

13. Apart from novels for children and young adults, have you had any other writing published elsewhere?

I’ve had many articles published in newspapers and magazines and online and I’ve written for a number of blogs. I started the Kids’ Book Capers blog at Boomerang Books and as well as my own blogs I ran a blog for a school for four years. When my kids were 2 ½ and 8 months old, we travelled around Australia in tents (with the family dog) for about 18 months and as we travelled I wrote articles for publications like Practical Parenting, Good Weekend and Go Camping.

14. Do you have a favourite writing companion or spot to write your novels in?

My goat Molly used to be my muse but sadly, she passed away when she was 14. I’m a bit of a nomadic writer and don’t have a single place that I work. I love writing outside and I love being in the location that I’m writing about and immersing myself in the setting.

15. Do you prefer to write with a notebook and pen, or on the computer, or a combination?

I always start out writing with a notebook and pen. It’s more portable and works well outside because I don’t have to worry about screen glare. Even in the editing process, if I have to rewrite a section I tend to do it with a notebook and pen. It seems to make it easier for me to immerse myself and connect more closely with my story and characters.

16. Do you have a favourite bookseller you’re trying to support during these tough times?

That’s a really hard one. All the booksellers are amazing and having a difficult time too. My local bookseller New Leaves doesn’t have an online store, but you can post your order through a slot in their front door and they deliver to your door. (Good old fashioned country service) Squishy Minnie is also wonderful. They’re in the next town and they have an online store and they have gorgeous books for kids and teens. And I love The Little Bookroom who are always so supportive of me and other creators and they have my books in store and online as well. Collins Booksellers in Sunbury always so enthusiastic about my work too.

17. Which authors or books are you always drawn to?

I love books with heart and a touch of humour and a bit of mystery … and of course, history as well. I love Bren MacDibble’s books because they have so much heart and originality and her characters are always so memorable. Wendy Orr’s books are like that too and I particularly like her historical fiction like Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Kathryn Gauci is also an amazing author who writes adult historical fiction. I love Rebecca Stead’s books and Jessica Townsend and Nova Weetman and Chrisse Perry and Adam Wallace and Michael Gerard Bauer. There are just so many wonderful books and authors out there.

18. Many authors I have interviewed have also been involved in reading, writing and literacy programs – is this something you do as well?

I have worked in schools and with individuals on a voluntary basis, helping with reading, writing and literacy, but I’m not associated with any particular organisation.

19. Are all your books published by one publisher, or do you work with different publishers?

I work with different publishers. Beyond Belief and Eddy Popcorn are published by Scholastic, my picture book Reena’s Rainbow is published by EK books, I’ve had books published by Pearson Australia and my YA novel Letters to Leonardo was published in Australia by Walker Books and by Mazo Publishing in USA and UK.

20. How would you like to see people supporting the arts and artists in this time, and beyond the pandemic?

The best way that people can support the arts and artists is to engage with art and spread the word about it. Buy books and music and artworks. Go to live shows and festivals and if you like what you read, heard or saw, tell people about it. One of my local bookstores keeps selling out of Beyond Belief and that’s because people keep recommending it to others. Of course reviews are great too. If you like a book, review it on Goodreads or online bookstores.

21. What books do you have planned for the future?

I’m working on Eddy 2 – Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Teacher Taming, and I have another historical fiction, The Explorer’s Niece. I’m working on Paris Hunting which is the book I was working on when I stumbled across the story that became Beyond Belief. I also have another historical fiction in the pipeline, Canary Girl and another humorous junior fiction work in progress, Will Smite the Nearly Fearless Knight. So plenty to stop me from getting bored!

Anything you wish to say that I may have missed?

Wow, thank you for your great questions and for having me on your fabulous blog.

I have a Youtube channel  and you can find out more about me at my website  or on social media at Dee White Author.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that I’ve been making Pop Motion videos (stop motion videos using popcorn) for Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to the Apocalypse and it is so much fun! In his pop motions, Eddy shares his experiences and tips on how to survive the pandemic. Eddy’s pop motions can be viewed on my Youtube channel and through Eddy’s page on my website. I’m also happy to do workshops in schools about using pop motion as a storytelling tool.

Thanks Dee!

Book Bingo Six 2020 Themes of Crime and Justice

Book Bingo 2020 clean

Welcome to the June edition of Book Bingo with Theresa Smith Writes and Mrs B’S Book Reviews. This time around, I am checking off Themes of Crime and Justice with the tenth book in the Rowland Sinclair series by Sulari Gentill, A Testament of Character.

Book bingo 2020

Rowly and his friends take a detour on their way home from China and find themselves in America looking into the death of an old friend of Rowly’s. As the story progresses, Rowly and his friends fall deeper into a mystery of deaths, and who killed Daniel, as well as who Otis Norcross is, and where he is. In terms of justice, it has more to it than just solving the crime. The justice system that gives certain people preferential treatment or deems certain proclivities criminal – and how Rowly and his friends help those they are working with deal with these issues in 1930s America. These issues are not always overt, but they are bubbling there and hinting at what is to come and why things are the way they are.

ATOC_3D

I’m finding this book bingo a bit easier. It means that there is the chance that all books will be read, reviewed and scheduled long before December, which is a bonus in trying to get through it all easily.