Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s brilliant career began by Libby Hathorn

Miss Frankin.jpgTitle: Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s brilliant career began

Author: Libby Hathorn

Genre: Historical Picture Book

Publisher: Hachette/Lothian

Published: 28th May 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 32

Price: $26.99

Synopsis: A fascinating story about Miles Franklin, one of Australian literature’s most significant women, written by one of the biggest names in children’s literature.

This is a story about iconic Australian writer Stella Miles Franklin, namesake of two major literary prizes, during her brief but formative time as a governess in rural New South Wales. Teenager Stella Miles Franklin has to work to help support her family. Stella is unhappy in her job and longs for the freedom and excitement of city life. While working, she meets a young orphan girl, Imp, who is almost as feisty as Stella herself, and who spurs the older girl to follow her dreams.

Inspired by events in Miles Franklin’s lifeMISS FRANKLIN is told by multi-award-winning author Libby Hathorn and acclaimed illustrator Phil Lesnie and includes a facts page about Stella Miles Franklin.

~*~

Picture books are not something I review often – but when I do, they are ones that I simply fall in love with and that have an empowering, and important message in them. Recently Hachette sent me a new picture book by Libby Hathorn, about Miles Franklin and her journey to becoming an author.

2019 Badge

As a teenager, Miles Franklin had to take on a governess job to earn money for her family. In this story, she encounters a young girl named Imp, who seems disinterested in learning yet afraid of something at the same time. Miles manages to draw Imp out of her shell, and together, they both learn that it is okay to take a chance – and this leads to Miles getting her first novel published by Henry Lawson.

Picture books like this introduce children to history and people that sometimes are never encountered, and at other times, only encountered in adulthood. Now, children will have the chance to meet her at a young age and find out more about who she is as they get older. The accompanying illustrations suit the story text and the historical setting of the story.

It is as much a story about encouraging you to follow your dreams as it is about how Miles got to where she did and became such a well-known author that we now have a prize for women authors named after her: The Stella Prize. This is the kind of picture book I would have adored when I was younger because it is so different to what is usually out there and there seems to be a trend these days for picture books centred around history and significant women in history, and I hope this trend grows.

Book Bingo Eleven – A place in the title

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Welcome to my eleventh book bingo with Theresa and Amanda. This time, I am checking off a book with a place in the title. I had intended to add this in last fortnight, but checking to see how everything would fit in has me aiming to do one square per post for the next fourteen posts to make sure everything is spread evenly.

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The asterixed titles are ones that are going to appear in future posts. It looks like I only have four slots left to fill, so hopefully I can stretch what I have left to the end of the year, as we have planned with this card. However, where a text row has BINGO next to it, I have added in my bingo graphic to reflect this, and will do the same when the relevant post goes up as well.

the french photographer

My square was a book with a place in the title. This one was going to be easy to fill, but hard to choose as there are many books that have a place in the title. I chose Natasha Lester’s latest, The French Photographer. Set during World War Two, it follows the story of Jess May, inspired by Lee Miller as she heads into various war zones and camps across France, and encounters sexism, an orphan and societal expectations that she refuses to bow down to. When she meets Victorine, Jess’s life will change – i many ways. The book flashes between the 1940s and the present day, leading to a storyline that is tragically beautiful and uniting, highlighting the importance of friendship, love and family throughout the ages and generations. I also had the chance to interview Natasha as part of the blog tour, and the interview can be found here.

Row Four:

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Outback:

Book set on the Australian Coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

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

Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

BINGO!

I have read a book for each category in Row One Down – a couple of these posts are yet to go live but this post and the bingo week posts for these books will reflect gaining a bingo.

Rows Down:

Row One:  – Bingo

A book with a red cover: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim – #AWW2019*

Book by an author with the same initials as you:

Themes of science fiction: The Lost Magician by Piers Torday*

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

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

Literary: Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide – AWW2019

Row three:

Novel that has 500 pages or more:

Fictional biography about a woman from history:

Themes of justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Book set on the Australian coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

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

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Well, that’s another fortnight down – come back next week for more book bingo!

Alice to Prague by Tanya Heaslip

Alice to Prague.jpgTitle: Alice to Prague

Author: Tanya Heaslip

Genre: Memoir/Non-Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 6th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:What happens when a young independent Northern Territory country girl decides to follow her dreams and go off in search of adventures abroad? An honest, often funny, bittersweet memoir of love, loss and belonging; of the hard-won understanding around where home lies.

‘I loved it! I laughed and cried and it was very hard to put down.’ Fleur McDonald, bestselling author of Where the River Runs

‘A story of love for country, for home.’ Toni Tapp Coutts, author of A Sunburnt Childhood

In 1994, with a battered copy of Let’s Go Europe stuffed in her backpack, Tanya Heaslip left her safe life as a lawyer in outback Australia and travelled to the post-communist Czech Republic.

Dismissing concerns from family and friends that her safety and career were at risk, she arrived with no teaching experience whatsoever, to work at a high school in a town she’d never heard of, where the winters are frigid and plunge to sub-zero temperatures.

During her childhood on an isolated cattle station in Central Australia, Tanya had always dreamed of adventure and romance in Europe but the Czech Republic was not the stuff of her dreams. On arrival, however, she falls headlong into misadventures that change her life forever.

This land of castles, history and culture opened up to her and she to it. In love with Prague and her people, particularly with the charismatic Karel, who takes her into his home, his family and as far as he can into his heart, Tanya learns about lives very different to hers.

Alice to Prague is a bittersweet story of a search for identity, belonging and love, set in a time, a place and with a man that fill Tanya’s life with contradictions.

2019 Badge

~*~

In 1994, Tanya Heaslip, who had grown up in the Australian outback on a farm, and attended boarding school in the city, heads off to live in Prague, in the Czech Republic for year – only three years after the collapse of Communism, and five years after she saw the Berlin Wall come down. Heading there to teach English, she enters a world that is unfamiliar, and in some ways, is still clinging onto the Communist past, yet at the same time, trying to embrace the new way of life and venture into a new world. Unable to speak Czech, Tanya had to rely on the generosity of the Czechs who spoke some English, and the keen students at her school like Pavel and Kamila who loved learning from her. She found ways to connect with her students through Australian songs like Waltzing Matilda, and met Karel, a man who would help her find her way in Prague, who she would fall in love with. Yet their cultural differences and understandings of love and relationships did not always see eye to eye.

The Prague that Tanya visited and lived in is very much the Prague I visited in 2007- where remnants of Communism still cling on, and where the first MacDonald’s built in Prague is opposite the Museum of Communism – which goes through the history of Communism in the Czech Republic from 1948 until the Velvet Revolution.

What we know of Communist era Prague and Eastern Europe from the Western tradition, and what the people Tanya became friends with told her have a stark difference for understanding and interpretation. Where the West – and Tanya – believed it was oppressive, people like Karel said they found it safe – they knew where they lived, where they worked and how their lives would turn out. The fall of Communism had made that uncertain for some people yet given hope to others.

Visiting in 2007, there are still elements of Communism amongst the new capitalist areas, and the old, medieval icons such as the Astronomical Clock. Each of these elements combines to create a unique city that has seen many changes, war, revolution and everything in between. Its identity is clear in Tanya’s memoir as one that has been cobbled together of all these elements, and one that continues to grow in Europe. Tanya’s story is amazing and intriguing – and the way she adapted to life in Prague illustrated how anyone might have to adapt to any environment starkly different from the one they are familiar with.

Where Tanya had the freedom to head back to Australia, and younger students expressed a desire to leave Prague and head to what they saw as freer nations, people like Karel expressed that they could not leave their lives for uncertain futures or places. In this meeting of East and West, Tanya discovered through discussions with her students at the school, legal institutions and a ministry, that both sides had been fed a narrative that suited their respective governments. That everyone had a valid viewpoint but some things simply did not translate or crossover – and only Tanya could make the decisions she needed to make about her life and her future – which she touches on at the end, and where she ends up in Australia, a decade after her journey to Prague.

This book gave an interesting insight into travelling to and around a former Communist country in the years just after the changes came forward, and the difficulties in transitioning from one to the other, and the conflicts of those who want change, those who don’t, and those who have come from an entirely different place where definitions of freedom and security are very different. It is eye opening and engaging – and I could picture Prague as she wrote about it – the River Vltava, Charles Bridge and all the ancient architecture peppered with newer, Communist bloc buildings. An interesting read for all into history and Prague, and for those who have visited or want to visit.

Book Bingo Nine – Double Bingo and BINGO – Row Six Across completed.

BINGO!.jpg

Literary and Romance

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It’s the end of April, and another Book Bingo week with Amanda and Theresa. This time, I am ticking off two squares as another double bingo week, but also, I have a complete bingo with the sixth across row, as seen below:

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Row Six:

Literary: Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide – AWW2019

Crime: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – AWW2019

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Romance: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Comedy: Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

Northanger AbbeyRomance was one that I wasn’t sure how I would fill, as it is not a genre I read often or gravitate towards. Rather, I prefer the romance to be subtle and to happen alongside the core story, and where the characters have much more to them than it feels like many romance novels do. So, in my quest to read as much Jane Austen as possible this year, and books inspired by Jane’s works, I chose Northanger Abbey.

Northanger Abbey is the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be completed for publication in 1803, but the last published in 1817. It is a satirical look at the Gothic novels of the time, and the coming of age story of Catherine Morland, wishing for happiness and morality over money and wealth like other young women of her age. She loves to read and seeks others like her as friends. On a sojourn to Bath with family friends, she meets Henry Tilney, and Isabella Allen, and becomes friends with Isabelle, visits with the Tilneys and is eventually forced home after a series of misunderstandings. At the core is Catherine’s growth and understanding of real life, which is vastly different to her novels. At the same time, she has fallen in love with Tilney and they eventually marry on the final page.

Jane Austen Reading Challenge 2019

The romance in this novel is subtle, and develops slowly and cautiously alongside friendship, novel reading and ideas of class and acceptability of marriage. The subtlety of the romance allowed the characters to grow for themselves and not be pushed into a certain way of thinking by other characters. Of course, there are misunderstandings that led to the desire to correct things and set things straight, but at the same time, because it is subtle, it worked well and that’s why I enjoyed it.

ZebraLiterary

 

For this category, I chose a book sent to me by Writing NSW to review for their blog. Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide. In this book, there are many short stories, from different perspectives and about different things – a more in-depth review is here. But this classifies as literary because it simply has that feel to it, and when I think about it, these stories don’t have a distinct genre – sometimes literary fiction does, but sometimes not. Sometimes, they just slot into general fiction but because the strength of the stories are driven by the characters, rather than the plots, which are written so subtlety, that at times, they do not become clear until the end, which makes them powerful and intriguing.

Moving forward, I have about eight months left to fill the bingo card, and some are going to be harder but that’s part of the challenge, and sometimes, the review books just easily slip into a category, sometimes I have to seek one out.

Until next time!
Booktopia

The Suicide Bride: A Mystery of Tragedy and Family Secrets in Edwardian Sydney by Tanya Bretherton

suicide brideTitle: The Suicide Bride: A Mystery of Tragedy and Family Secrets in Edwardian Sydney

Author: Tanya Bretherton

Genre: True Crime/History

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 23rd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 315

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: From the author of the acclaimed THE SUITCASE BABY – shortlisted for the Ned Kelly and Nib awards – comes the chilling story of a charlatan, a murder-suicide, and a family tree so twisted that it sprouts monsters.

Whenever society produces a depraved criminal, we wonder: is it nature or is it nurture?

When the charlatan Alicks Sly murdered his wife, Ellie, and killed himself with a cut-throat razor in a house in Sydney’s Newtown in early 1904, he set off a chain of events that could answer that question. He also left behind mysteries that might never be solved. Sociologist Dr Tanya Bretherton traces the brutal story of Ellie, one of many suicide brides in turn-of-the-century Sydney; of her husband, Alicks, and his family; and their three orphaned sons, adrift in the world.

From the author of the acclaimed THE SUITCASE BABY – shortlisted for the 2018 Ned Kelly Award, Danger Prize and Waverley Library ‘Nib’ Award – comes another riveting true-crime case from Australia’s dark past. THE SUICIDE BRIDE is a masterful exploration of criminality, insanity, violence and bloody family ties in bleak, post-Victorian Sydney.

~*~

I’ve only read a few true crime books, and the last one I read revolved around the last woman hanged in New South Wales – Louisa Collins in 1889. A mere fifteen years later, a spate of suicide brides would crop up in Sydney – women who were murdered by their husbands, and the husbands would later commit suicide. In the case explored in Tanya Bretherton’s new book, a husband a wife died, but also, four children were left parentless, orphaned and their fates were left to the state, which in the early twentieth century was a lot less caring than it is today, especially towards orphaned children like Mervyn, Bedford, Basil and their sister, Olive, who at the time of her parents deaths, was ill in hospital.

2019 BadgeThe lives of Alicks and Ellie Sly were taken with a razor, at the hand of Alicks – and nothing was left to help the children, apart from any money left over from the sale of all their possessions to pay off any debts, and then money would be given to orphanages for the care of the three boys, whilst Olive was adopted and given a new name, a new identity, and nothing much is heard about her after that happened. Her brothers went sent to Catholic orphanages, and as Tanya recounts, each had a very different experience and reaction while staying there, resulting in very different outcomes in their later lives as a result of the violence they had seen early on in their lives.

Tanya Bretherton looks at the circumstances surrounding the deaths, and the evidence and records that are available, and at the way society at the time dealt with the deaths and aftermath, particularly in regards to the children, and finding guardians, and paying off debts to them, and the sad fact that Alicks and Ellie had nobody come forward to mourn, or help with the children – much of their debts were paid off with the sale of their few possessions, and charity took care of the rest. Throughout the book, the stories of the children are woven throughout as Tanya tries to uncover what really happened – using the historical timeline and gazing at it through a sociological lens and the social implications of this within Edwardian society, and the importance placed on funerary rights and debt over the welfare of young children.

Where did Alicks get the idea to kill his wife, and then himself? This is a question that remains unanswered, as does the why scenario. Without any suicide note, the true motives of Alicks will likely never be known. We can only guess at why he committed the murder-suicide in 1904. Maybe Alicks had debts he couldn’t pay and saw no other way out. Maybe knowing someone, the church, would step in to help. Perhaps he assumed family or neighbours would step up. Or maybe his motives were much more nefarious, and he didn’t care what happened to his sons and daughter. Tanya Bretherton doesn’t appear to have uncovered any criminal links or issues beyond debt they owed. Yet it is the not knowing that suggests it could be more than the idea that only debts were owed, and because there is little, if any, evidence to suggest why this happened.

As we can only speculate, as Tanya has done, perhaps it was a combination of things: debts, societal pressures, and a combination of the age old debate of nature versus nurture: where the brain functionality of a person is determined at birth, or whether the way we are raised has an impact on who we become and what we do. Having studied some sociology, I like to think its a combination, that neither one nor the other can inherently determine the actions one will take. Of course, there is always the element of choice in these scenarios. What i found fascinating about this is that there are no definitive answers – given the policing and forensic processes of the time, a lot less notice would have been taken of compromising the evidence and crime scene. So we may never know the truth, but there were many suicide brides in the months surrounding this case, including one case from the same family, a sibling of Alicks weeks or months later. The Sly family appeared to have many secrets throughout the generations,  and at least two of the brothers thrived quite well, and not much is known of Olive after her adoption. So for their father and relatives, were they predestined to kill, or did something awful happen to each Sly man to make the commit the crimes? This is where the nature versus nurture argument becomes tricky, because the nature of the family based on the murder-suicides would suggest a proclivity towards crime not really seen in the kids – at least, not violently. Nurture however, takes a look at how they were raised, first in the family and then the orphanage where it sounds like they weren’t nurtured in the way one might expect a child to be cared for. Which suggests that how we turn out is a combination of nature, nurture, our experiences and unique character – perhaps the younger children were able to adjust at a faster or easier rate than the oldest boy. What is certain though, is that we will never know all the answers, and the book, and my analysis is just mere speculation based on what we have present.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames

7 OR 8 DEATHS.jpgTitle: The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna

Author: Juliet Grames

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Published: 23rd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 438

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A perfect book club and holiday read that crosses from mountainside Calabrian villages in the early 20th century to Hartford, Connecticut after the immigration boom and will appeal to fans of Elena Ferrante, CAPTAIN CORRELLI’S MANDOLINALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE and BROOKLYN.

When I tell you Stella Fortuna was a special girl, I hope you aren’t thinking small-town special. Other people would underestimate Stella Fortuna during her long life, and not one of them didn’t end up regretting it.

Hundred-year-old Stella Fortuna sits alone in her house in Wethersfield, Connecticut, crocheting blankets and angrily ignoring her sister, Tina, who lives across the street. Born into abject poverty in an Italian village, Stella Fortuna’s name might mean Lucky Star, but for the last century, her life has been defined by all the times she might have died. Up until now, Stella’s close bond with her sister has been one of the few things to survive her tumultuous life, but something has happened, and nobody can understand what it might be. Does the one life and many (near) deaths of Stella Fortuna have secrets still to be revealed, even to those who believe they are closest to her?

By turns a family saga, a ghost story, and a coming-of cranky-old-age tale, Juliet Grames’s THE SEVEN OR EIGHT DEATHS OF STELLA FORTUNA lays bare the costs of migration and patriarchal values, but also of the love and devotion that can sustain a family through generations, in a sprawling 20th century saga of a young woman with a fire inside her which cannot be put out.

~*~

Books with this kind of title seem to be a kind of trend right now – The Seven Lives of Evelyn Hardcastle, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (by different authors), and now The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames, which covers one hundred years of a life that begins in a Calabrian village, and finishes the story in Hartford, Connecticut. Stella Fortuna’s many near death experiences are a mystery – how she survives being eviscerated, being crushed by a door, bleeding out and many other near misses including fate intervening to ensure she does not board a ship that goes down at sea with no survivors, to the final almost death as a very old woman. So what causes them? Does her name – Stella Fortuna, which translates to lucky star suggest something more than just pure luck? Is there something keeping her from dying, like a ghost?  Throughout the novel, there is the sense that something is always going to coming, with long lulls that lead into each near death – some very long ones that whilst interesting, perhaps could have been divided up or shortened for ease of reading. However, I can see why each chapter was the length it was as well, so it did work for the story, but page breaks are always nice, so you know when you can set it aside temporarily and come back to find out what is going to happen.

Each event is intricately written – with the reminders of each previous near death forming physically and emotionally for Stella and her family as they see her through her life and deaths, especially her sister Tina, with whom her relationship is constantly changing. At the heart of this rather unique and highly unusual novel is a family saga of immigration, life and death, and secrets that family keeps or questions that do not always have an answer.

I read this in over the course of four hours – so it is engrossing and intriguing, but I’m in two minds about it. On one hand, it is not one I am likely to revisit – despite the intriguing storyline, there were times when I felt like too much was happening to lead up to the death, and perhaps things could have been condensed. I felt like the first births of her children meandered a little, and then the rest were a brief run down to fit them all into the story. For me, whilst a very good chapter, this was one area where I felt some more balance between each child would be useful. However, I can also see that some of them were to play a more significant role towards the end than others, and that is why more time was spent on them.

My other thought it that this is the kind of book that someone might need to read a couple of times to fully appreciate it and understand – to peel back the layers, so to speak. Given there are many books like this out there, I may not have the chance to revisit this one and take everything in for a second time, but I do believe there is an audience out there for this book.

A work of fiction, it is written as though by a relative, a grandchild of Stella, who is never truly identified as Stella recounts her long life and all the strange and intricate events to her as a family history, so it almost reads as a biographical piece throughout. The flow was good – maintained by very little intrusion of the person putting Stella’s story to paper, apart from the beginning and end, where the story is introduced and concluded.

I hope other readers enjoy this book and find something interesting in it.

Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley

Eliza Rose.jpgTitle: Eliza Rose

Author: Lucy Worsley

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:The captivating debut children’s novel from popular television historian Lucy Worsley is an exciting and charming glimpse behind the scenes of the Tudor court.

I would often wonder about my future husband. A knight? A duke? A stable boy?
Of course the last was just a wicked fancy.

Eliza Rose Camperdowne is young and headstrong, but she knows her duty well. As the only daughter of a noble family, she must one day marry a man who is very grand and very rich.

But Fate has other plans. When Eliza becomes a maid of honour, she’s drawn into the thrilling, treacherous court of Henry the Eighth …

Is her glamorous cousin Katherine Howard a friend or a rival?

And can a girl choose her own destiny in a world ruled by men?

~*~

The Tudor years were fascinating, grim and violent, and the stories that are told don’t always reveal everything that happened behind the scenes of court – but rather, what Henry VIII wanted people to see and how the court projected itself. Eliza Rose Camperdowne – a fictional character who will become caught up in the intrigue and deception of court under two queens – Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, whose untimely fate concludes the book. Eliza’s world is changed when a marriage falls apart and she is sent away to train to be a lady in waiting, and then assigned with her cousin, Katherine Howard to become ladies in waiting to Anne of Cleves. Yet over the years of that marriage, the king, Henry, is taken with Katherine and divorces Anne to wed Eliza’s cousin.

What follows is the court and its intrigues seen through the eyes of Eliza, as she watches rules being broken, where for some, this can have harsh punishments, but for others, seems to have very few consequences until it is too late. Woven throughout is Eliza’s desire to break free of tradition as much as she can – and marry for love, not duty, as she has been trained to do her entire life.

In this sense, Lucy shows the headstrong, and feminist ideas of women throughout the ages, even though they may not have had the words to describe it, the feelings were still there for some of them. She effectively contrasts this with the demure women like Anne, and those who cling to tradition, like Katherine, but who use their wiles and some trickery it seems to reach the goals they have been aiming for: to marry King Henry VIII and become his queen. Katherine was wife five of six – the second to be beheaded for adultery, so the charges went. And after her death, fears are that Eliza could be tainted and tarred with the same brush and she must find a way to change her fate.

Filled with powerful women of all kinds and personalities, the male characters for the most part, are not heavily present in this book, but where they are, they definitely have an impact on the story and its outcomes. All the necessary characters perform their roles really well and it is a great historical read for those interested in Tudor history.