The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

the blue rose.jpgTitle: The Blue Rose

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Vintage/Penguin Random House

Published: 16th July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Moving between Imperial China and France during the ‘Terror’ of the French Revolution and inspired by the true story of the quest for a blood-red rose.

Viviane de Faitaud has grown up alone at the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, for her father, the Marquis de Ravoisier, lives at the court of Louis XVI in Versailles. After a hailstorm destroys the chateau’s orchards, gardens and fields an ambitious young Welshman, David Stronach, accepts the commission to plan the chateau’s new gardens in the hope of making his name as a landscape designer.
David and Viviane fall in love, but it is an impossible romance. Her father has betrothed her to a rich duke who she is forced to marry, and David is hunted from the property. Viviane goes to court and becomes a maid-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette and a member of the extended royal family. Angry and embittered, David sails away from England with Lord Macartney, the British ambassador, who hopes to open up trade with Imperial China.

In Canton, the British embassy at last receives news from home, including their first 2019 Badgereports of the French Revolution. David hears the story of ‘The Blue Rose’, a Chinese fable of impossible love, and discovers the blood-red rose growing in the wintry garden. He realises that he is still in love with Viviane and must find her.

~*~

Every two years, I eagerly await the new Kate Forsyth book for adults. Usually, this is a fairy tale infused historical fiction, and usually takes inspiration of fairy tales from the European canon, by authors and collector’s such as The Brothers Grimm or lesser known French authors, such as Charlotte Rose de la Force. The Blue Rose, Kate’s 2019 release, is based on a Chinese folk tale of the same name, based around the idea of making the unattainable a possibility. Using this folk tale as her basis, Kate sets her story during the French Revolution, and the discovery of a blood-red rose, discovered in China in 1792 and taken back to Europe.

Starting in 1788, not long before the beginning of the French Revolution, Kate’s story begins with Viviane, daughter of a marquis, meeting a gardener, David Stronach, one of the many historical personages who appear in the novel – whilst Viviane and her family are amongst the only fictional characters who appear. David is tasked with designing a garden for Viviane’s father, and the two form a friendship that blooms into love as the world around them starts to rumble towards a revolution that will change France forever.

When Viviane’s father discovers David and his daughter wish to marry, he drives David away, tells Viviane he is dead and marries her off to a Duke and sends her off to Versailles with her new step-mother to be a maid-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette. Slowly, the rebellions begin to whittle away at the aristocrats, or aristos as they are referred to, and Viviane’s husband is killed. As the revolution moves forward, and Louis, Marie-Antoinette and their children are moved away from Versailles, the upper class are arrested, put on trial and guillotined, David travels to China in search of the blood-red rose.

While Viviane lives in constant threat of being arrested, and guillotined as many people are day after day, she takes refuge as a scullery-maid. David travels to China, where he learns about their culture, and legends of roses and love. Both thinks the other is dead as news trickles slowly back to David about the revolution through his travels. Viviane listens to the daily guillotining of many people, just waiting for her time, and hoping Pierrick, the son of a staff member from her childhood home will find her.

As the book moves between revolutionary France and David’s travels to and around China, the plot is richly gown and told through the characters and history of both countries – Revolutionary France and Imperial China, where traditional practices such as foot binding shock David and the crew, as they have never seen or heard of it before. Kate deftly reflects the reality of shock on David’s part, but uses the Chinese characters such as Father Li that he interacts with to explain what it means culturally. She manages to communicate cultural communication in an exceptional way, and in a way that the reader can understand, but that also reflects not only the different cultures, but the times in which the people lived, whilst still showing each character as an individual in their own right.

Kate is, to me, a genius when it comes to historical fiction, because she gets the balance just right. The characters are flawed and well-rounded, they are individuals who suit their setting and plot, and she infuses her historical setting with fairy or folk tales exceptionally well. When she describes the smells, sights and sounds of revolution and the guillotine, it feels like, as the reader, I was in France at the time. Kate makes it all feel so real, that you can feel the fear, wonder and everything in between as it unfolds on the page. And in China, it was the same, and the feelings of uncertainty filtered throughout both too: what was going to happen, what was it going to be like? This, as well as Kate’s ability to end a chapter or section with a mystery to come, are the things that have me coming back to her books each time one comes out. She pulls together history and mystery in a magical way, where, whilst a love story, is rich with how the historical setting affects the characters, and what they have to go through to survive, to live. The romance is the reward, but the journey is the richness of the story that makes it the romance so satisfying.

I look forward to every Kate Forsyth release, and try to get them all. A new Kate Forsyth book is always a highlight for me and will hopefully be re-reading many of her books very soon.

Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail

Alexabder altmann A10567Title: Alexander Altmann A10567

Author: Suzy Zail

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Black Dog Books

Published: 1st May 2014

Format: Paperback

Pages: 290

Price: $18.99

Synopsis: The story of a young Jewish boy who must learn to trust others to survive. Based on a true story.

Fourteen-year-old Alexander Altmann doesn’t need to look at the number tattooed on his arm. A10567: he knows it by heart. He also knows that to survive Auschwitz, he has to toughen up. When he is given the job of breaking in the commander’s new horse, their survival becomes intertwined. Alexander knows the animal is scared and damaged, but he must win its trust. If he fails, they will both be killed.

  • Notable Book, Older Readers, Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards, 2015
  • “A confronting but gripping novel … a powerful story of hope, adversity and redemption.” Junior Books+Publishing
  • Suzy’s first book for young people, The Wrong Boy, was short-listed for the 2013 CBCA Book of the Year awards and the 2013 Adelaide Festival Award for Literature.

~*~

In the years towards the end of the war, more and more prisoners – Jews, homosexuals, the clergy and many other groups the Nazis wanted to imprison and get rid of were sent to the many concentration camps the Germans set up across Europe and the Third Reich throughout the war. In this story, though, a Jewish boy at Auschwitz-Birkenau has his story told.

Alexander Altmann has been at Auschwitz for several weeks towards the end of the war. During roll call one day, he volunteers to join the Horse Command, where he is recruited to train the commandant’s new horse, Midnight. But Midnight is a troubled horse, and Alexander knows it will take time to gain his trust – much more than the kapo and Commandant have given him. Yet he also knows that to survive, he must train Midnight to the standard the commandant wishes.

2019 BadgeAlexander sees much brutality at the camp and survives it all with the help of his friend, Isidor, and training Midnight. But as the camp starts to disintegrate as the war pulls to a close, Alexander faces a new fight for survival.

Based on a true story Suzy heard at the Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, Alexander Altmann A10567 takes a topic that is dark, and depressing, and tells a story that younger readers can access, and understand though the eyes of a child. It takes the backdrop of war, and shows what people had to do to survive in those conditions, and how they were so conditioned into not knowing their names, that an act of kindness from someone in the group responsible for their fate meant the world to them. It also shows that small things like a horse, could bring some semblance of humanity back for them.

The Holocaust and World War Two is a touch subject and time in history to read about. Suzy Zail has managed to capture the horrors in a way that is both dark and realistic, and shows that is was truly traumatic, but at the same time, there is a sense of humanity in the characters and this ensures that the voices of the young are heard. There are true horrors in this book. Yet it is written in a way that these horrors are deftly communicated to younger readers to introduce them to the Holocaust, or complement learning about it and give it context and a human face to those who suffered. Kike Morris Gleitzman and Jackie French, she shows the realism of history through the eyes of a child, who still has hope and holds onto that hope through dark times.

Beatrix the Bold and the Curse of the Wobblers by Simon Mockler

beatrix-the-bold-and-the-curse-of-the-wobblersTitle: Beatrix the Bold and the Curse of the Wobblers

Author: Simon Mockler

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Bonnier/Piccadilly

Published: 1st July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:Ten-year-old Beatrix is very good at telling jokes, dancing and throwing knives. She also happens to be a queen of a distant land – though she doesn’t know that yet. She also happens to be the queen who is quite possibly destined to lead the Wobblers to bold victory over the Evil Army – though she doesn’t know that yet either.

Beatrix lives in an enormous golden palace with Aunt Esmerelda the Terrible and Uncle Ivan the Vicious, but as she’s only been allowed to see one new room per birthday, she’s only ever been inside ten rooms of the palace. Her aunt and uncle have always told her that if she goes beyond the woods outside the palace she’ll fall off the edge of the world.

And the Dark, Dark Woods and all that lies beyond must be avoided at all costs – what if the dreaded Wobblers were to get her? But finally, the veil Beatrix has been living under is starting to slip. Beatrix knows she needs to be bold. Beatrix knows she needs to look for answers. And she’s about to get them.

Once upon a time, in a land far away, lived a small girl, and a big secret. The girl’s name was Beatrix, and the secret was … well, you’ll find out soon enough.

Beatrix is a bold and clever young thing, but she has also never left the palace where she lives – because then she might fall off the edge of the world or get eaten.

Er – really?

What is this big secret everyone’s keeping from her? Beatrix decides it’s time to look for answers. And with her trusty sidekicks Oi the Boy, Dog the dog and Wilfred the Wise, she can do anything.

~*~

Beatrix the Bold and the Curse of the Wobblers is the first in a new trilogy by Simon Mockler, about a princess who has spent her entire life so far in a palace of locked doors with her Aunt Esmerelda the Terrible and her Uncle Ivan the Vicious (who is probably no more vicious than a kitty), and for years hasn’t known anything about her parents. Until she overhears her uncle talking about her and battle plans. This discovery sets in motion a series of events that leads Beatrix to escape the palace, discover that her aunt doesn’t really want to protect her, and find new friends – Oi, Dog and her tutor, Wilfred, who help her plan to take down the Evil Army and find her family.

Beatrix’s story is set in a distant past and land, far removed from our own. However, the author including references to our world, usually as comparisons to how Beatrix does things in her world. These will work really well for a younger audience, and are not overdone, and nor do they take away from the story being told.

Beatrix is not like other princesses. When she’s not reading, watching her aunt paint the palace servants in gold paint, or at school, she’s playing chess and battles with her uncle Ivan. As the story progresses. Beatrix uncovers the secrets that have been kept from her, by the very person who was meant to be protecting her. From here, Beatrix’s quest, with Oi, dog and Wilfred, is to seek out her parents and real home – and save them from dangers that were predicted when she was a baby.

This delightful start to a new trilogy is enthralling and engaging and will appeal to a broad audience of readers. Filled with adventure, magic and everything enjoyable about this kind of book, and I am looking foward to the next two in the trilogy.

Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French

Somewhere around the corner.jpgTitle: Somewhere Around the Corner

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction/Timeslip

Publisher: Harper Collins

Published: 2nd March 1994

Format: Paperback

Pages: $16.99

Price: 288

Synopsis:Just shut your eyes and picture yourself walking around the corner. that’s what my friend told me. Somewhere around the corner and you’ll be safe. the demonstration was wild, out of control. Barbara was scared. She saw the policeman running towards her. She needed to escape. She closed her eyes and did precisely that: she walked somewhere around the corner – to another demonstration – to another time. Barbara was lucky she met young Jim who took her out of this strange, frightening city to his home. It was 1932, when Australia was in the grip of the depression, and Jim lived in a shantytown. But Barbara found a true friend and a true home – somewhere safe around the corner.

Notes from Jackie French: Some notes on the book

Awards: 1995 CBC Honor Book for Younger Readers; shortlisted 1995 WA Children’s Book of the Year; shortlisted 1995 ACT COOL Award; shortlisted 1995 NSW Family Therapist’s Award

~*~

Barbara is alone at a demonstration in Sydney, in 1994. She bumps into an old man, who tells her about a girl who once told him to just walk around the corner to find safety. When she dopes, she feels herself being pulled and called into another world – another time. When she opens her eyes, she’s in another demonstration, this time in Sydney during 1932 and the Great Depression. She’s rescued by Young Jim, who takes her back to his home in a shanty town called Poverty Gully, where she meets Ma, Dad, Thellie, Elaine, Joey and Harry, as well as Gully Jack, the Hendersons, Dulcie at the dairy farm and the local police officer, Sergeant Ryan. Here, though times are hard, Barbara finds a family, and a safe place and friends. She’s welcomed into the O’Reilly family wholly and adored by all, and cared for carefully by everyone in the O’Reilly circle as she finds a way to adapt to this strange new life in a valley filled with hope, love and family during a time in history when many were unemployed and homeless, and trying to make do with what they had, and get whatever work they could get – struggles that lasted until the outbreak of war, when those who could entered the army, others entered industries that helped the war effort and economies across the world were rebuilt slowly.

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This was the first Jackie French book I read – back in year seven English, with Mrs Cohen. I have read Jackie French and historical fiction since then, sometimes on and off depending on what I could find, and what was available in the library, as well as all my other reading, and I still have all my Jackie French novels – including my copy of this one from year seven. It was also one of my earliest introductions to events like the Depression, and it made the events of 1932 accessible to a younger audience in a truthful and reflective way, without shying away from the truth, but at the same time, without being too overwhelming – a lot of her books do this and they are filled with such great emotion and spirit, I am currently trying to read or re-read all the ones by Jackie that I have.

Her books are often inspired by real people she knew or knows, coupled with the untold stories in history, the voices ignored such as the poor, women, disabled, and many other groups often left out of the discourses. This is why they are so powerful, and why Somewhere Around the Corner which has been out for twenty-five years this year, based on the publication information I found, and in my yes, has not only stood the test of time, but reflects society then and what many experienced, and what some people face today – job and housing insecurity. It holds up because these experiences, and the experiences of Barbara and the O’Reillys, are and can be universal.

Living in 1932 with the knowledge of what is to come, the O’Reilly’s see the things Barbara tells them as wild stories, and fantasies at times, though Young Jim and Thellie believe her. What I loved about this story, and all of Jackie’s stories, is the equal prominence she gives to plot, history and characters, neatly bringing them all together to create eloquent and insightful stories, often set during times of hardship or times of social change and upheaval, and seen through the eyes of those often not heard in the history books – making these stories powerful for all to read and learn from.

I am glad I finally read this again after finding my copy – as my first introduction to Jackie French, and time slip, young adult and historical fiction novels, it is very special to me, and I hope it will be read and enjoyed by others as well.

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay

aunt who wouldnt die.jpgTitle: The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die

Author: Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: John Murray Press

Published: 9th July 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 170

Price: $27.99

Synopsis:At eighteen, Somlata married into the Mitras: a once noble Bengali household whose descendants have taken to pawning off the family gold to keep up appearances.

When Pishima, the embittered matriarch, dies, Somlata is the first to discover her aunt-in-law’s body – and her sharp-tongued ghost.

First demanding that Somlata hide her gold from the family’s prying hands, Pishima’s ghost continues to wreak havoc on the Mitras. Secrets spilt, cooking spoilt, Somlata finds herself at the centre of the chaos. And as the family teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, it looks like it’s up to her to fix it.

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is a frenetic, funny and fresh novel about three generations of Mitra women, a jewellery box, and the rickety family they hold together

~*~

When Somlata marries into the Mitras household, she is poor, and they are doing their best to hold onto the wealth they once owned. Somlata is unsure of the family, especially the matriarch, Pishima, who lives alone in rooms on the second floor, hiding a jewellery box, her dowry, from the rest of the family so they cannot sell it to maintain their wealth.

When Pishima dies, she instructs Somlata to hide the jewels and gold, and despite the whispers from the family, her secret is never uncovered. Yet the ghost of Pishima will not leave Somlata alone and over the years, as her daughter grows, Somlata must find a way to rid herself of the ghost – a ghost that the rest of the family doesn’t believe in.

Through three generations – Pishima, Somlata and Boshon, the daughter of Somlata, the story of the aunt who died and her ever present ghost is told using humour, a light-heartedness and generational conflicts that all people of all cultures and nationalities can relate to at times.

It is funny, and charming, and a quick read – I managed it in one night. At first, the connections are not obvious. Yet they are cleverly revealed across the story, linking in with each other eventually to form a distinct and unique story of India and its traditions and the new world the characters of the story find themselves living in.

The ghost that haunts the pages of this story for me came across as someone watching over the family and mysterious jewellery box, presenting a different facet to the person it represents to Somlata and Boshon, who share different perspectives of the world and the ghost.

In a short book, it conveys the clash of three generations over traditional expectations, and what each woman wants or expects from life as family secrets and history are slowly revealed. Told in four parts from the perspectives of Somlata and Boshon, this unique, family story is entertaining and light, whilst dealing with the societal issues the women in the story overcome in a clear and concise way. A great read for all.

Deltora Quest Omnibus #1 by Emily Rodda – Deltora Quest wrap up

Deltora Quest 1.jpgTitle: Deltora Quest Omnibus #1

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st October 2008

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 774

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Here, for the first time, the eight books of the international best-selling fantasy series Deltora Quest are brought together in one superb volume.

For centuries, the evil Shadow Lord has been plotting to invade Deltora and enslave its people. All that stands against him is the magic Belt of Deltora with its seven gems of great and mysterious power.

When the gems are stolen and scattered throughout the kingdom, the Enemy triumphs, and Deltora is lost. Abandoned by their king, suffering under the Shadow Lord’s cruel tyranny, the people live in ignorance, terror and despair.

But while most have abandoned hope, three unlikely companions have not.

The great gems have been hidden in fearsome places throughout the kingdom and are protected by terrible guardians. But Lief, Barda and Jasmine believe that they can be found. They cling to their faith that if the magic Belt can be restored, the Shadow Lord will be banished from their land. With only a sketchy map to guide them, the companions set out into the unknown.

So begins the perilous quest which has captured the imagination of millions throughout the world.

~*~

The Deltora Quest series, consisting of eight books, is the story of Lief, Barda and Jasmine seeking to restore the magical Belt of Del and defeat the Shadow Lord who has invaded their homeland. To start with, I have linked each individual review here in this post, listed below.

The Forests of Silence

Deltora Quest 1

The Lake of Tears

lake of tears

City of the Rats

city of rats

The Shifting Sands

the shifting san ds

Dread Mountain

Dread Mountain

The Maze of the Beast

The Maze of the Beast

The Valley of the Lost

valley of the lost

Return to Del

return to del

I read each book and this omnibus as part of the 2019 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge and for a few other challenges, fulfilling several categories, some which I managed to do by bending and reimagining the parameters given in the challenge. Currently, I have this one slated to fulfil my novel of 500 pages or more, as so far, I have not read one yet in all my reading this year so far, but am keeping this open in case something does come across my desk for review or general reading purposes.

Being able to read all eight books in this omnibus version was a very good thing, as I was able to flick backwards and forwards, putting the clues together from each book as I read it over the past few months in between my work as a quiz writer, editor and book reviewer. So, I finally finished it, and really enjoyed it. Throughout, each novel built on the previous ones, whilst still being individual stories. Yet their interconnection means that it is best to read them in order, so everything makes sense and fits in together like a puzzle or game while you read.

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In wrapping up this series, I have not been as expansive as other posts, as I have included each individual review. Astute readers will piece the clues together as they read, and each clue is cleverly included throughout, culminating in the final books to reveal the secrets that need to be uncovered.

Overall, it was a very engaging and action packed series, with the right amount of adventure, humour, darkness and light for readers of all ages to enjoy and engage with.

Return to Del (Deltora Quest #8) by Emily Rodda

return to del.jpgTitle: Return to Del (Deltora Quest #8)

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st November 2001

Format: Paperback

Pages: 132

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:Lief, Barda, and Jasmine have finally retrieved all the gems of the Belt of Deltora and now, in their final step towards overthrowing the Shadow Lord, they must find the true heir to the kingdom’s throne.

~*~

With all the gems of the Belt of Deltora intact, Lief, Barda and Jasmine set out back to Del, where they hope to defeat the Shadow Lord and find the true heir to the throne after the debacle with Dain. On their journey, they are plagued by those who work for the Shadow Lord and want to see them fail. But with protection from members of the seven tribes of Deltora to help escort them home, they hope to make it back and uncover the secrets they have been seeking for so long.

2019 BadgeIn the final epic adventure, Lief, Barda and Jasmine face more dangers from the Shadow Lord on their way home who are determined to prevent the trio from succeeding and restoring the heir, and order to the throne of Deltora. Through several more ups and downs, Lief, Barda and Jasmine arrive home safely – discovering more secrets upon their return about the true heir than they were expecting, resulting in a finale that is satisfying and enjoyable.

Finally, Lief is able to begin his journey home, after reuniting the gems with the belt. His journey home is a little easier than his journey to find the gems but is not without its challenges either. In this one, the threats coming after him are determined, but also, it seems, desperate to stop him.

Reading this series through to its end was a wonderful joy. It is a wonderful example of Australian fantasy for kids, and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading over the past few months. Following Lief’s journey has been fun, and enjoyable, and one that I hope to revisit and also read the further books in the subsequent series. It concludes the series nicely and neatly, with a good lead in to the next set of books, that will continue the adventures of Lief, Jasmine and Barda, that I am looking forward to reading.

Pulling together seven books worth of story succinctly, and all the clues that have been dropped throughout the previous seven books, Emily Rodda has connected each element together in a really good way, and intriguing way for readers of all ages. A good read, and a good conclusion to the series.