The Green Mill Murder by Kerry Greenwood (Phryne Fisher #5)

Title: The Green Mill Murder

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: February 2005

Format: Paperback

Pages: 276

Price: $22.95

Synopsis: Phryne Fisher’s fifth mystery intrigues with excitement, glamour, murder, dance halls and blackmail.

Dancing divinely through the murder and mayhem of her fifth adventure, the elegant Phryne Fisher remains unflappable.

Gorgeous in her sparkling lobelia-coloured georgette dress, delighted by her dancing skill, pleased with her partner and warmed by the admiring regard of the banjo player, Miss Phryne Fisher had thought of tonight as a promising evening at the hottest dancehall in town, the Green Mill.

But that was before death broke in. In jazz-mad 1920s Melbourne, Phryne finds there are hidden perils in dancing the night away like murder, blackmail and young men who vanish.

Phryne Fisher’s fifth adventure leads to smoke-filled clubs, a dashingly handsome band leader, some fancy flying indeed across the Australian Alps and a most unexpected tryst with a gentle stranger.

Independent, wealthy, spirited and possessed of an uninhibited style that makes every one move out of her way and stand gawking a full five minutes after she walks by Phryne Fisher is a woman who gets what she wants and has the good sense to enjoy every minute of it!’ Davina Bartlett, Geelong Times

~*~

In her fifth adventure, Phryne finds herself dancing her feet away at a dance marathon where the prize on offer, a car, would ensure a wonderful future for the winner. A night of what began as frivolous dancing, ends in murder, and Phryne is drawn into the case yet again, assisting Detective Inspector Jack Robinson as she endeavours to uncover the murderer, and another case, involving a returned serviceman, whose noted absence has caused quite some alarm in the family. Following the trail of the case to help a young couple caught up in the confusion, and taking on more work to track down the serviceman, Phryne’s adventures yet again see her tango with death and danger, all whilst maintaining the elegance and with the same gusto and exuberance that strikes fear into the heart of her maid, Dot. Phryne must use all of her talents to solve this one, and ensure the best outcome for all.

The late 1920s, with the world on the brink of The Great Depression, half a decade away from Hitler rising to power in Germany, and a decade out from what would become The Second World War, Phryne’s world is one of uncertainty for some, a generation scarred and tainted by a war that took thousands of lives, eloquently shows the divide between classes at the time, and drops hints at the political situation of the time – where Communism was feared, and where women like Phryne were a mystery, a shock and an interest to many. In each story, Kerry Greenwood has shown this world as it was – not in an idealised way, but in a way that touches on the discomfort felt during these times in an accessible way to a modern audience. Phryne’s cases often involve everyday people, unlike the Rowland Sinclair series, which is steeped in even more history and politics, as well as murder during the 1930s, but this works for the series, and each story can be read in isolation or consecutively from one through to twenty. It is a delightful series, and the fifth novel is no exception, taking Phryne to greater heights as she flies over the Australian Alps to solve a case.

Here, she spends time with the missing serviceman, and encounters a wombat with a one track mind when it comes to potatoes – a fact that might just come in handy later. Stuck in the wilderness of the Alps, Phryne must band together with Vic, the ex-serviceman to survive and arrive home in one piece to hear about Dot’s outing to a ball with her beau, Constable Hugh Collins.

In true Phryne style, she tackles brothers pushed to the brink by mothers, mothers who are good at putting on a show to manipulate people, and a host of other characters from the grateful and understanding to the harried and snarky, whose attitudes do little to worry and distract Phryne, whose ability to adjust her behaviour and speech patterns from class to class, and city to country, makes her somewhat of a chameleon. Phryne gets better and somewhat naughtier with each book, and she always finds herself in the wrong place at the right time, much to the horror of her maid and most of the police force, apart from Jack, who seems quite taken with her guts and bravery, and willingness to help out. Where the police often cannot got, Phryne does, and she certainly helps them solve the cases in each book, and ensures the best outcome possible.

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She Be Damned by MJ Tjia

She be Damned_Front_Cover.jpgTitle: She Be Damned

Author: M.J. Tjia

Genre: Historical Crime

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 251

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: London courtesan or professional sleuth?

London, 1863: Women in Waterloo are turning up dead, their sexual organs mutilated and removed. When another girl goes missing, fears grow that the killer may have claimed their latest victim.

The police are at a loss and so it falls to courtesan and professional detective, Heloise Chancey, to investigate.

With the assistance of her trusty Chinese maid, Amah Li Leen, Heloise inches closer to the truth. But when Amah is implicated in the brutal plot, Heloise must reconsider who she can trust, before the killer strikes again.

~*~

The popularity of amateur sleuths, historical crime and cosy crime means that there has been an explosion of these books of late – reviving the days of Agatha Christie and her characters, Poirot and Miss Marple, and joining the ranks of The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, Rowland Sinclair and modern amateur sleuths such as Mma Precious Ramotswe and Inspector Ashwin Chopra (Retd) in their quests to rid the world of criminals and crime. The latest, just as unique character to join them is Heloise Chancey, a courtesan in London during the 1860s, who is called upon to discreetly look into cases for some of London’s important people, or into the cases that nobody really worries about. Heloise becomes embroiled in a murder mystery about prostitutes turning up dead, minus their sexual organs in Waterloo when a young girl in the upper classes, Eleanor, goes missing. Her father and Sir Thomas, Heloise’s employer, believe she has met the same fate as the prostitutes, and employ Heloise, and require the utmost discretion, as she can go places that the police cannot, or will not. Together with her maid and companion, Amah Li Leen. Together, they will inch closer to the truth – but when Amah is embroiled in the plot, Heloise must use all of her wits to find the real culprit before they strike again.

BW Mirandi TjiaDebut novels, especially for a series, are crucial to establishing the character and style of the story and the author to the reader. They cement the setting for readers and with any luck, have them wanting more – often the mark of a series that will be successful and gain a loyal following. Heloise Chancey’s debut ensures that she has a place as a character and the author, M.J. Tjia, will have fans who will eagerly await her next book. It didn’t take me long to read this one, and I quite enjoyed it. It had strong characters, revealed their histories slowly, and still left some questions unanswered for future books, and allowed the reader to unfold the story with the protagonist, which is often quite fun in mystery stories, and allows the pacing to move along effectively.

In an engaging plot, M.J. Tjia’s characters become their own entity, each with their own flaws and strengths that make them engaging. Heloise is as stubborn as she is elegant, Amah is as snarky and sarcastic as she is honourable and faithful. Together, they work, and though Amah is at times disdainful of Heloise’s chosen occupation, she nonetheless puts up with her antics, whilst delivering some harsh truths to her mistress and ensuring she has done her best to prevent disasters happening to Heloise during her adventures and investigations.

True to the Victorian period, the male characters overwhelmingly concern themselves aww2017-badgewith Heloise’s delicate feminine sensibilities – sensibilities that Heloise doesn’t have, nor does she subscribe to, leaving the men quite shocked that she doesn’t faint all the time, whilst still maintaining her standing and the characteristics of a Victorian lady. She is, at the same time, appropriate for the time period, whilst standing out and away from the societal expectations of the time, ensuring a strong character with an intriguing story. I hope that Heloise has more stories and more secrets to come, and I await her further adventures eagerly.

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A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill (Rowland Sinclair #8)

Flat Cover_Gentill_ADL_2017Title: A Dangerous Language

Author: Sulari Gentill

Genre: Crime Fiction

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Set against the glamorous backdrop of the 1930s in Australia and overseas, A Dangerous Language is the latest in the much loved, award winning Rowland Sinclair Mysteries.

When Rowland Sinclair volunteers his services as a pilot to fly the renowned international peace advocate, Egon Kisch, between Fremantle and Melbourne, he is unaware of how hard Australia’s new Attorney-General will fight to keep the “raging reporter” off Australian soil. In this, it seems, the government is not alone, as clandestine right-wing militias reconstitute into deadly strike forces.

When a Communist agent is murdered on the steps of Parliament House, Rowland Sinclair finds himself drawn into a dangerous world of politics and assassination.

A disgraced minister, an unidentified corpse and an old flame all bring their own special bedlam. Once again Rowland Sinclair stands against the unthinkable, with an artist, a poet and a brazen sculptress by his side.

~*~

A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill marks book number thirty eight in my Australian Women Writer’s challenge for 2017, and as usual, has not failed to impress and of course, distress at times. Now in 1934, inching closer to the threat of war, Rowland is in Melbourne, purchasing a new car to replace his beloved Mercedes, that met with destruction in the almost fatal car race of the previous book, Give The Devil His Due. The trip back from Melbourne with Clyde Watson Jones and Milton Isaacs, an artist and poet whose political allegiances, especially on Milt’s account, have put Rowland in his brother’s firing line of anguish, should be uneventful. However, their sojourn through Canberra, where they are to meet Edna, Milt stumbles across the body of a Communist on the steps of Parliament House – an event that beings the tumultuous venture to get Egon Kisch into Australia, and speaking out against the Fascist tendencies that Rowland and his friends witnessed in Germany in Paving the New Road. When Rowland’s brother, Wilfred, comes onto the scene, Rowly must do whatever he can to keep his plans to help Egon away from his conservative brother – who nonetheless knows that the Fascists are dangerous. Even so, the big brother is also keen to pry his mostly apolitical brother away from the influence of those Rowland chooses to keep company with.

aww2017-badgeIn this eighth venture, politics begins to have a larger focus than in the previous seven novels, where it was present, but had less impact on the plot. In this novel, it seems nobody is safe from the clashes between each side – this is what makes the novel gripping, as it ensures that those who hurt Milt and Rowly (poor Rowland was in the wars a bit in this one again) are shrouded in mystery. As always, I enjoy the Rowland Sinclair novels, and this one was two years in the waiting, and rightly so in the end, because it captured the political turbulence and environment of the 1930s in a way that is accessible to those just discovering it, and highlighting some aspects and characters that are perhaps less well-known than others during this time.

Fiction often offers parallels to history or contemporary times, and it is not hard to see BW_Author_Photo_Gentill_2016how the dangerous language that Rowland and his friends opposed in 1934 from Fascists and the conservatives of the time is repeating itself today. The feelings of powerlessness that the ordinary people had against those in politics and with influence that can encourage this dangerous language Rowland dislikes are felt through Milt and Clyde throughout the novel, and in particular Clyde during a boat cruise from Fremantle to Melbourne, where they must ensure Egon gets to Melbourne safely, and in Traveller’s Class, Rowland is able to get Egon as far as possible on his trip. The social class contrast between Rowland and his friends appears even more so in this book, where class and politics have become crucial to the evolution of the plot and characters at the stage of the series. The history of this turbulent period is woven into the plot and is sometimes the motive behind the crime, such as in A Dangerous Language. I also enjoy the inclusion of historical figures and people throughout that had an impact on history – this gives the stories an authenticity to them that is both exciting and informative at the same time.

As always, Rowland takes a few hits from people trying to cover up their crime, or another secret, and his brother Wilfred, battle-weary by now from saving the family name, is still faithful to Rowland, if a bit pompous at times. I do feel for Rowly when Wilfred loses his temper, as so often happens when Rowland stumbles into something he didn’t intend to. As polar opposites, Sulari has created exceptional characters in the Sinclair family, and their friends, including the heartbreak that Rowland’s own mother doesn’t recognise him, but sees him as his long-dead brother, Aubrey, an ongoing theme throughout the series that Rowland takes in his stride, and that Sulari has written exceptionally well. The Rowland Sinclair series is one that gets better with each subsequent mystery, and the uniquely Australian settings are in themselves a character – from Woodlands estate in Sydney, to the family property at Yass, and each place Rowland and his friends visit. They are often the unwilling detectives at first, dedicated to their art and friendship, but also dedicated to speaking out when and where they need to, to ensure that the dangerous language that Egon Kisch is trying to warn against does not infect the way of life that many in Australia enjoy. Once they are involved in the crime, it seems they cannot help themselves, and Rowland, as an honourable person, is always at hand to warn Colin Delaney of new information they stumble across.

An excellent addition to this series, and I look forward to the next one, which will hopefully be out soon!

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The Last Hours by Minette Walters

Title: The Last Hoursthe last hours.jpg

Author: Minette Walters

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 27th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 568

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: For most, the Black Death is the end. For a brave few, it heralds a new beginning.

When the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in Dorseteshire in June 1348, no one knows what manner of sickness it is or how it spreads and kills so quickly.

The Church proclaims it a punishment from God but Lady Anne of Develish has different ideas. With her brutal husband absent, she decides on more sensible ways to protect her people than the daily confessions of sin recommended by the Bishop. Anne gathers her serfs within the gates of Develish and refuses entry to outsiders, even to her husband.

She makes an enemy of her daughter by doing so, but her resolve is strengthened by the support of her leading serfs … until food stocks run low and the nerves of all are tested by their ignorance of what is happening in the world outside. The people of Develish are alive. But for how long? And what will they discover when the time comes for them to cross the moat?

Compelling and suspenseful, The Last Hours is a riveting tale of human ingenuity and endurance against the worst pandemic known to history. In Lady Anne of Develish – leader, saviour, heretic – Walters has created her most memorable heroine to date.

From the press release: June 1348: the Black Death enters England through the Port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands. A culture of terror and superstition quickly sweeps across the land as news of the Black Death travels far and wide.

In the demesne of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people’s future – including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs. Strong, compassionate and resourceful, Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together, they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing serfs inside the walls. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures. Lady Anne’s people fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the safety of the demesne? And how safe is anyone in Develish when a dreadful event threatens the uneasy status quo…?

~*~

It’s 1348 and The Black Death, known in the fourteenth century, has arrived in Dorsetshire, England. It has come upon them quietly, with the arrival of Lady Anne’s husband back from a quest to find daughter Eleanor a husband. Aged just fourteen, Eleanor will quickly learn some harsh truths about her life, and the world around her. In an effort to prevent the pestilence from entering the demesne, Develish, Lady Anne instructs the serfs to be brought inside, and will not allow anybody across the moat, or inside – including her husband. Whilst the Church is driving the message home that the pestilence is a punishment from God, Lady Anne protects her people without daily confession. Labelled a heretic for turning away from the Church at this time, and finding new ways to keep the pestilence at bay, Lady Anne is supported wholly by loyal, leading serfs, but makes an enemy out of her daughter. With food stores running low, will Develish continue to be the haven that Lady Anne has tried to create? Or will everyone, including Lady Anne and Eleanor, begin to fray at the edges and turn on each other?

The Black Death and the Middle Ages is not a period of time I have encountered often in literature – it is a period of time that was as significant in history as Culloden, Mary Queen of Scots and the First and Second World Wars – and I seem to have encountered more stories that use these other events and people or aspects of these events and people as a basis for the story. The Last Hours looks to be the first of at least two books, maybe more, as there is a preview for the follow-up out next year, and given the ending, I came away in search of more answers, but still enjoyed the story.

Placing a female hero at the centre of the story in a time when a woman’s position in society was determined by the men around her, and having everyone see her as the authority was executed wonderfully – as there were still reminders from Eleanor and Father Anselm that Lady Anne’s authority would be cut short when another Lord from another demesne arrived and took control of Develish. With the turning tide of the pestilence, Lady Anne’s daughter feels the strain of what is going on and what is to come, and begins to take her anger out on those around her – though little do they know what she is hiding from them, something that she herself is perhaps unaware of at first – and which I felt shaped her character. She was hard to like, whereas her mother was a likeable character, and Minette has done well at showing the breadth of personalities amongst the serfs and the others at Develish.

minetteEach of these characters have flaws and strengths that reflect the fragility of humanity and religion, revealing these flaws for what they are and showing that they do not make someone a whole person. The flaws in religion are revealed through the doctrine of absolving sins to make the pestilence go away, but still seeing those that undertake this act dying within days or weeks of contracting it. And so, Lady Anne posits a different view – that piety or lack thereof, is not the cause, and a faithful serf and six others set out, across the moat and into the unknown to find out what is happening beyond Develish and to bring back supplies. But will they work out the source of the pestilence on their journey?

The Last Hours is a gripping novel of intrigue and explores an historical event that devastated so many during the fourteenth century, and coupled with a terrible event that threatens to rock the status quo of Develish, these two events will certainly bring devastation in more ways than one to the demesne, and shake the foundations to the core. And is Lady Anne a saviour, or a heretic? Either way, she is a memorable heroine, and I hope to see more of her soon. Those who enjoy historical fiction with a hint of subversiveness and mystery will enjoy this book.

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Barney Greatrex: From Bomber Command to the French Resistance – The Stirring Story of an Australian Hero by Michael Veitch

barney greatrexTitle: Barney Greatrex: From Bomber Command to the French Resistance – The Stirring Story of an Australian Hero

Author: Michael Veitch

Genre: History/Biography

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $35.00

Synopsis: The incredible untold World War II story of Australian hero BARNEY GREATREX – from Bomber Command to French Resistance fighter.

A school and university cadet in Sydney, Barney Greatrex signed up for RAF Bomber Command in 1941, eager to get straight into the very centre of the Allied counterattack. Bombing Germany night after night, Barney’s 61 Squadron faced continual enemy fighter attacks and anti-aircraft fire – death or capture by the Nazis loomed large. Very few survived more than 20 missions, and it was on his 20th mission, in 1944, that Barney’s luck finally ran out: he was shot down over occupied France.

But his war was far from over. Rescued by the French Resistance, Barney seized the opportunity to carry on fighting and joined the Maquis in the liberation of France from the occupying German forces, who rarely took prisoners.

Later, Barney was awarded the French Legion of Honour, but for seventy years he said almost nothing of his incredible war service – surviving two of the most dangerous battlefronts. Now, aged 97, Barney Greatrex has revealed his truly great Australian war story to acclaimed bestselling author Michael Veitch.

~*~

The legends, stories and tales that make up Australian history cover nearly everything about our country, and every Australian student is taught about the ANZAC legend, and the formation of this legend on the battlefields of Gallipoli and Word War One at various fronts throughout Europe, creating an image that has been carried through the decades since for each war, each battle and every serving member over the past century. In school, we learn in general terms about major battles, and about some important figures. It is the individual stories, – the heroic and the flawed aspects of the people they are about, that give our national story about our role in the wars an interesting colour and human face to them.

There are probably many stories that need to be told of the men and women that fought, but recently I read the story of Barney Greatrex, a RAAF/RAF bomber who, after being shot down over France, spent several months fighting the Gestapo in France with the French Resistance, striving to free France from German occupation and destruction – acts which would in the end, see him rescued and ultimately, France freed from German occupation at the end of the war.

Barney’s story begins in the leafy suburbs in Sydney Pymble, where he attended Knox Grammar in the decade before the war. During his time here and at The University of Sydney, Barney had been part of the cadets, something that prepared him somewhat for the rigours of military life. His training took him to 61 Squadron, and the task of bombing Germany during the Allied counterattacks. Facing enemy fighter attacks, and anti-aircraft fire night after night, each return to base, Barney was grateful to be alive. Until the aircraft he was in with six other men was shot down.

Barney was rescued by the French resistance, and joined the fight with the Maquis to liberate France from occupying German forces. It was to be many months before Barney’s family knew he had survived and was safe, and before he was able to return home, but not before endlessly recounting his experiences to the military.

Awarded the French Legion of Honour, Barney remained silent about his story for seventy years. In Michael Veitch’s latest book, he has done so. It is a story that should be read and taught alongside the stories of other heroes and battles, as it as much a part of the ANZAC story as they are, and gives a human face to a part of history that I have only ever known through statistics and facts, and that many more people may have only been exposed to through Fawlty Towers. Being able to read stories such as Barney’s when I studied Australian history in high school and at university would have made the far-reaching impacts of the war more interesting. We know the facts of much of the war, and the numbers of those who served, who died, through the Australian War Memorial and other books. These facts are, in general, not difficult to find, and are important to give background to the stories of individuals. As someone who has studied history, sometimes statistics and well known legends aren’t enough – sometimes it is the unknown stories, the stories that give the war a human face – whether on the home front, in battle or through people like Anne Frank, where war can really hit home for many people. These human stories allow people who may not have studied history, as I have to understand the war, and what people affected by it might have gone through during those years. This is why we need individual stories to be told alongside the facts. So that the ordinary people, not just the well-known generals and politicians, have their voices heard, their experiences understood.

It is a powerful story of the Australian spirit to dig in and never give up. Barney put his life at risk twenty times in the air, and then for months on end on the ground, before returning home to try and live a normal life – or as normal as he could for himself and his family. Those interested in history, military history, and Australian history can now know Barney’s story, and hopefully it is one that will be looked at in history class alongside other important battles and figures from Australia’s experience in the Second World War.

I found that the story was told sympathetically and without judgement, where Barney’s words told the story, and Michael Veitch was the vehicle that drove them out into the world. Eloquently told, and written so that it’s not jargon heavy, but terminology used can be worked out in context or looked up if the reader needs to, it is a gripping story of one man’s willingness to fight for what he believed in and keep himself alive.

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We That Are Left by Lisa Bigelow

we that are left.jpgTitle: We That Are Left

Author: Lisa Bigelow

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A moving debut novel about love and war, and the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, hope and despair.

Melbourne, 1941. Headstrong young Mae meets and falls head over heels in love with Harry Parker, a dashing naval engineer. After a whirlwind courtship they marry and Mae is heavily pregnant when she hears that Harry has just received his dream posting to HMAS Sydney. Just after Mae becomes a mother, she learns Harry’s ship is missing.

Meanwhile, Grace Fowler is battling prejudice to become a reporter on the afternoon daily newspaper, The Tribune, while waiting for word on whether her journalist boyfriend Phil Taylor, captured during the fall of Singapore, is still alive.

Surrounded by their friends and families, Mae and Grace struggle to keep hope alive in the face of hardship and despair. Then Mae’s neighbour and Grace’s boss Sam Barton tells Mae about a rumour that the Japanese have towed the damaged ship to Singapore and taken the crew prisoner. Mae’s life is changed forever as she focuses her efforts on willing her husband home.

Set in inner Melbourne and rural Victoria, We That Are Left is a moving and haunting novel about love and war, the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, and how servicemen and women are not the only lives lost when tragedy strikes during war.

~*~

aww2017-badgeIn 1941, Australia is at war against Germany, and as they advance through Asia and the Pacific, Japan. Those in the armed forces at bases and at sea are away from their families, who are trying to make do back home. In Melbourne, two women’s lives will be inexorably changed by the events to come in Malaya, Singapore and at sea that are to come. Mae’s husband, Harry, has been assigned to the HMAS Sydney, and Mae, having just given birth, is at home under the care of family, and kept at arms length by Harry’s family at times. When the Sydney goes missing, Mae’s world begins to fall apart, and she is held together by her family, and her friends, Sam and his wife, Claire, whose kindness heals her and will eventually help her come to terms with what has happened.

In Melbourne, Grace Fowler has begun work as Sam’s secretary at the Tribune, where she meets Phil Taylor, who eventually takes a correspondents posting in Singapore to do what he can for the war, and is subsequently captured by the Japanese in 1942 after the fall of Singapore. Throughout his absence, Grace graduates from secretary to writing in the women’s pages and attending a memorial service for the HMAS Sydney, where she spies Mae – the only time they appear in the same section of the book, but do not interact. Through their separate lives, the story is about how these women, the ones that are left behind, cope with the looming war and loss of loved ones, whether dead or captured, and how they deal with grief and their hopes and dreams for themselves and their families.

We That Are Left as a novel, is more historical fiction, an homage to those left behind. Lisa got her title from the poem often read out on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day each year, For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The realities of war and war at home are a major theme in We That Are Left. By focussing in on the stories of two women, with very different lives, like the many authors who have explored World War Two in literature, Lisa Bigelow has given a human face, another aspect of humanity lost and humanity found to the war. It explores motherhood and family tensions and resolve through Mae’s story, and the staunch belief in the best outcome, even if the reality is the opposite, and the time it can take for some people to come to accept the reality they are faced with in times of war, illustrating that grief affects people differently, and acceptance of a loss can take years. Through Grace, we see the fight of a young woman who yearns to be more than a wife and a mother, more than a secretary or teacher biding her time until she weds and has babies. Grace is head strong and determined to show she can do more than answer phones and write about knitting – she can write about a daring escape and capture of enemy prisoners of war, she can write about the human side of a story, catching the spirit behind the facts that so many reporters relied on, and she is praised for it by many.

The final chapters wrap up their stories, but in a realistic way, showing what life after the war means for different people in different situations. Rather than a happily ever after, it is just an ending. Life goes on, it is what it is for these women, who have shown varying degrees of strength and vulnerability throughout the novel, both with flaws that create well rounded characters and a story that is at times hopeful, but also gut wrenchingly sad in its realism.

Written to honour those who were left and those who came back but weren’t who they were, Lisa Bigelow’s inspiration came from family stories of her grandfather, one of the 645 sailors lost on the HMAS Sydney, and the death of her grandmother not long after. It is a story of hope and the ways we cling to our humanity in times of war. I found it to be very moving, and the little bit of romance between Grace and Phil was done very well and balanced out nicely with the bulk of Grace’s story and her fight to become a cadet and write for a paper. It is one of those stories that i think is too hard to give a starred review to, because there is something exceptional about it that giving it a starred rating cannot express eloquently or sufficiently.

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The Children of Willeseden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

willesden laneTitle: The Children of Willesden Lane

Author: Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A true story of courage and survival during World War II, and a celebration of the power of music to lift the human spirit.

Jewish musical prodigy Lisa Jura has a wonderful life in Vienna. But when the Nazis start closing in on the city, life changes irreversibly. Although he has three daughters, Lisa’s father is only able to secure one place on the Kindertransport. The family sends Lisa to London so that she may pursue her dreams of a career as a concert pianist. Separated from her beloved family, Lisa bravely endures the trip and a disastrous posting outside London before finding her way to the Willesden Lane Orphanage.

Here, her music inspires the other children, and they, in turn, cheer her on in her efforts to make good on her promise to her family to realise her musical potential. Through hard work and sheer pluck, Lisa wins a scholarship to study piano at the Royal Academy. As she supports herself and studies, she makes a new life for herself and dreams of reconnecting with the family she was forced to leave behind.

Based on the true story of her mother, Mona Golabek describes the inspirational story of fourteen-year-old Lisa Jura Golabek’s escape from Nazi-controlled Austria to England on the famed Kindertransport.

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The human stories of World War Two, whether on the home front, or about those fleeing persecution, are the ones that always have the biggest impact on me when reading about them, because it can be easy to forget that wars were more than just the statistics of dead and injured, and easy to forget the human cost – not just in life and limb, but in loss of family, loss of country and loss of self. The stories about these people whether true, based on a true story or imagined and based on history, broaden the story told in history books and go beyond the statistics. The Children of Willesden Lane is one such story of the human face and the human cost of World War Two, and Nazi occupied Austria prior to the war.

In 1938, Germany enacts the Anschluss, annexing Austria, and placing it and its citizens under Nazi control. Just like the past five years in Germany, the Nazi Party begins to erode the rights of the Jewish citizens in Austria. In Vienna, Lisa Jura is forced to stop her piano lessons because she is Jewish – her teacher is heartbroken, but there is nothing else they can do, and so, Lisa’s mother teaches her until a spot opens up for Lisa on the Kindertransport to take her to London, away from the clutches of the Nazis, and where her family will make every attempt they can to join her as soon as possible. In London, Lisa finds her way to Willesden Lane, where she becomes part of a family of refugee children, and through her music, finds a way to get through the war, eventually gaining a spot in a music program, and a job playing piano at a hotel, which gets her through the dark days of the war.

Playing the piano at Willesden Lane gives Lisa and the other children, and those taking care of them, Mrs Cohen and Mrs Glazer a chance, even if just for an hour, to escape the war and the damage it is doing to London and Europe, and the hearts and souls of those directly impacted by the war and what has come out of the Nazi regime. It is a story of hope amidst tragedy and war, retold for children aged ten to fourteen, and anyone interested by Lisa’s daughter, Mona.

It is a story that I didn’t know much about, but that will stay with me. Like other stories of escape from the Nazis, or Anne Frank’s story, and novels such as The Book Thief, and the three novels by Jackie French about this period in history: Hitler’s Daughter, Pennies for Hitler and Goodbye, Mr Hitler, it serves as a reminder of what men like Hitler can do, and what the attitudes they spread and justify can do to ordinary people who have done nothing wrong, using it to back up their ideology and effectively, scare people into silence. Lisa’s journey was powerful and emotional, and it gives a human face to a war fought less than a century ago, showing the power of the human spirit to triumph over hatred and adversity.

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