A Dream of Italy by Nicky Pellegrino

A Dream of Italy.jpgTitle: A Dream of Italy

Author: Nicky Pellegrino

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 26th March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 330

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The No. 1 bestselling author makes southern Italy come alive in her most captivating, delicious drama yet

Here is your chance to buy your own home in southern Italy for less than the price of a cup of coffee. The picturesque mountain town of Montenello is selling off some of its historic buildings for just ONE EURO each. To be considered as a future resident of Montenello contact the town’s mayor, Salvio Valentini. 

Many people read Salvio’s advertisement with excitement. Elise is in her twenties and desperate to get on the property ladder. Edward wants to escape a life he finds stifling. Mimi is divorced and starting afresh. And there is one person whose true motivation won’t be clear for some time.

These four people all have a dream of Italy. And it’s going to change their lives. The passionate and gorgeous new novel by Nicky Pellegrino, the bestselling author of A Year at Hotel Gondola.

~*~

I had never read Nicky Pellegrino’s books until I received A Dream of Italy. I wasn’t sure what to expect – I knew it was going to be the intertwining stories of several people who purchase run down homes in an Italian village for one Euro under a cunning plan by the town’s mayor to repopulate Montenello.

Elise, who longs for more than what she has, heads off on her own, leaving her fiancé when he refuses to follow her. She is joined by Mimi, divorced and looking for something of her own. A gay couple from Australia join them, and a fourth whose true motivation isn’t clear. What is clear is that they each have dream of a life in Italy – but what these dreams are might not be clear to them when they arrive.

Reading is my way of travelling to different times and places, and this one took me to Italy where I really want to visit one day. For now, I will read about it and travel that way.

It is hard to pin down a favourite character, as I liked them all and they all had something unique to offer to the story and each other. I can say that I liked that the friendship bonds that formed between the characters across the story were more important than romance, and when there was a hint of romance between two characters, it was not forced or pushed when it didn’t work out. For me, this added an air of realism that I have, in the past, found romance novels do not always have, and the relationship is forced, and feels stifled. This one did not, and the relationship that does eventuate is not the one that is expected, making for a delightful twist.

This is one that I enjoyed, but perhaps won’t read again. It is one I know people will enjoy and look forward to sharing it with people, and passing it onto others who will enjoy it.

The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

9781760631871Title: The Honeyman and the Hunter

Author: Neil Grant

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Rudra is an Indian-Australian boy at a crossroads, poised to step into the world of adulthood and to discover his cultural heritage and how that might truly define him. A wonderful exploration of dual heritage, cultural identity, family and the power of storytelling.

The sea is inside his blood. Cursed, or blessed, on both sides.

When sixteen-year-old Rudra Solace dredges up a long-hidden secret in his father’s trawl net, his life in the sleepy fishing village of Patonga shifts dramatically. It is not long before Rudra is leaving Australia behind, bound for India on a journey of discovery and danger.

A wonderfully compelling tale of belonging and loss, of saltwater and mangroves, of migration and accepting change; a story of decisions that, once made, break through family histories like a cyclone swell.

~*~

Rudra Solace is sixteen, and about to start year eleven at school on the Central Coast of New South Wales when two things happen: his didima, his grandmother, arrives for a visit from India, and whilst on his father’s fishing boat, Rudra finds a tiger skull, and this sets forth a series of dreams and events that lead him and his mother on a journey back to India, and the village Nayna grew up in on a quest he never thought he would ever have to go on, let alone think about. What culminates is a family story crossing countries, cultures and continents, where the intersection is Rudra himself, and he is the anchor for all these stories.

I read a lot of Australian literature, and there is always something familiar about it, even if it is set in a place I have never been – perhaps this is because there are many versions of Australia we see in our media, and movies and television, so even if one has never been to a country town, if you’ve watched Blue Heelers orDoctor Doctor, you still understand the feel. Yet there is nothing like reading something set somewhere you have been or live and recognising the places and names. Not many books are set on the Central Coast of New South Wales, so when this one arrived and I saw that it was, I was very interested to see how the region would be used in the story.

Recognising the names and picturing the locations made the experience of reading the first half enjoyable and immersive, but the section set in India was just as immersive and felt just as real to me. It is a story driven by family and culture, by heritage and stories, where beliefs come into conflict with each other as Rudra works through what he knows, what he is taught and what those around him believe – and how to make sense of these things for himself in his own mind. Incorporating migration and how family histories affect us, The Honeyman and the Hunter does a good job of bringing all these themes together.

BLOOMSBURY ANNOUNCE EMILY GRAVETT FOR COLOUR ILLUSTRATED EDITION OF J.K. ROWLING’S QUIDDITCH THROUGH THE AGES

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Bloomsbury Children’s Books today announce Emily Gravett as the artist who will create stunning images for an illustrated edition of J.K. Rowling’s Quidditch Through the Ages, sold in aid of Comic Relief and the author’s international children’s charity, Lumos. Publishing on 1stOctober 2020, this classic from the Hogwarts Library will be gloriously reimagined in a large, colour gift edition by the innovative and award-winning Gravett. She will use mixed media to capture the wit and spirit of J.K. Rowling’s wonderful text, using a deft combination of her signature pencil style, colour illustration, handmade realia and ingenious digital techniques.

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Emily Gravett: Illustrator

Emily Gravett is a bestselling author/illustrator and has won the Kate Greenaway Medal twice. On being commissioned for this project, Emily said, I am over the moon to be illustrating Quidditch Through the Ages. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would ever be asked to illustrate anything from the Potter world, but from the minute I sat down at my desk and started jotting down ideas I realised I may have landed myself my dream job. I am waking up each day excited to get to work. ’

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Mandy Archer, Harry Potter Editorial Director and Head of Brand, said of Emily’s selection, When we began our search to find an illustrator forQuidditch Through the Ages, Emily was always at the very top of our wishlist. She is a true original. Emily has the courage to take form and content into exciting and unexpected directions, infusing her work with an infectious sense of playfulness and fun. We cannot wait to see where she is going to take this brand new illustrated edition. 

 

Emily Gravett was born in Brighton, UK. After leaving school with few qualifications, she spent eight years living on the road before taking the BA Illustration course at Brighton University. She won the Macmillan Prize for Illustration with her first book, Wolves, which went on to win the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award for Illustration and marked the beginning of an international career creating extraordinary and innovative books for children: Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears won the Kate Greenaway Medal for her a second time. Her own picture books are published in more than 20 languages and she has also collaborated with some of the most creative writers working today including Julia Donaldson, A.F. Harrold, and Matt Haig.

Gravett joins fellow Greenaway winners Chris Riddell and Jim Kay, and fine artist Olivia Lomenech Gill in a world-class team of illustration talent chosen to create colour illustrated editions of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Hogwarts Library books.

Quidditch Through the Ages was first published in 2001 and is arguably the most famous sports book in the wizarding world.  The book contains all you will ever need to know about the history, the rules – and the breaking of the rules – of the noble sport of Quidditch. Packed with fascinating facts, this definitive guide charts the game’s history from its early origins through to the modern-day sport loved by so many wizard and Muggle families around the world. With comprehensive coverage of famous Quidditch teams, the commonest fouls, the development of racing brooms, and much more, this is a must-have sporting tome for all Harry Potter fans, Quidditch lovers and players. Quidditch Through the Ages is published in aid of Comic Relief and Lumos.

Quidditch Through the Ages Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Emily Gravett

Published in hardback October 2020. Deluxe edition will also be available.

Mermaid Holidays: The Talent Show by Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas (illustrator)

the talent show.jpgTitle: Mermaid Holidays: The Talent Show

Author: Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas (illustrator)

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages:120

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Sophia, Willow, Chloe and Olivia have been best friends since they were merbies. Even though they don’t go to school together, whenever they come home to Turtleville for the holidays, they are inseparable.

This holidays, something super exciting is happening  Turtleville’s first Talent Show! Sophia can’t wait. She was born to perform! The besties enter as a group, but will Sophia’s love of the spotlight ruin everything?

Whatever happens, the show must go on!

~*~

The start of a new series – for any age group – is always an exciting thing as a book reviewer, and getting to review the very first book is something I love doing, especially when it captures the imagination and proves itself to be magical and exciting, and hopefully, have a very wide appeal to younger readers. This month sees the release of the first title in a new series about four best friends who are mermaids – aimed at younger girls but anyone can read it if they want to.

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Mermaid Holidays: The Talent Show is the first in the new series by Delphine Davis and illustrated by Adele K Thomas. It looks as though each mermaid is going to be given a different colour, which is highlighted for that mermaid in the colour of the book, pages and the illustrations. In this case, pink for Sophia Seashell, who takes a starring role in the first book as she convinces her friends to participate with her in the local talent show during their school holidays – but when Sophia decides it will be a mess to showcase all their talents, and not just singing, they might never make it to the show at all. Can Sophia and her companion seahorse, Smedley, find a way to make it work for everyone, so they have a chance at the prize?

This was a fun read that younger readers will enjoy reading with a family member, or by themselves for the first time as they explore friendship, and the ups and downs of having friends, ultimately showing that having fun is more important than winning. And that sometimes, doing things you’re unsure about can be as much fun as doing the things you are familiar with. The most important thing is to have fun with your friends – and this is a good message to send to kids of all ages and genders, to teach them to appreciate people.

Adults can also learn from children’s books like this, and might learn the same lessons, and might have ideas reinforced or be reminded of what being a child is like. Overall though, it was a fun read and one I hope other people enjoy when it comes out.

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The True Story of Maddie Bright by Mary-Rose MacColl

Maddie Bright.jpgTitle: The True Story of Maddie Bright

Author: Mary-Rose MacColl

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 504

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In 1920, seventeen-year old Maddie Bright is thrilled to take a job as a serving girl on the royal tour of Australia by Edward who was then Prince of Wales. She makes friends with Helen Burns, the prince’s vivacious press secretary, Rupert Waters, his most loyal man, and is in awe of Edward himself, the boy prince.

For Maddie, who longs to be a journalist like Helen, what starts as a desire to help her family after the devastation of war becomes a chance to work on something that matters. When the unthinkable happens, it is swift and life changing.
Decades later, Maddie Bright is living in a ramshackle house in Paddington, Brisbane. She has Ed, her drunken and devoted neighbour, to talk to, the television news to shout at, and door-knocker religions to join. But when London journalist Victoria Byrd gets the sniff of a story that might lead to the true identity of a famously reclusive writer, Maddie’s version of her own story may change.

1920, 1981 and 1997: the strands twist across the seas and over two continents, to build a compelling story of love and fame, motherhood and friendship. Set at key moments in the lives of Edward and Diana, a reader will find a friend and, by the novel’s close, that friend’s true and moving story.

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Author: Mary-Rose MacColl

~*~

Maddie Bright is seventeen when she is employed as a serving girl on the 1920 Royal Tour of Australia by Prince Edward, who would go on to become Edward VIII for a time in 1936. Soon, her talents are noticed by members of the Prince’s staff – Helen Burns, the press secretary and Rupert Waters, and she ascends to the position of letter writer, where she finds herself in awe of the prince, known as the ‘people’s’ prince – in a similar way that Diana was the ‘people’s’ princess of the 1980s and 1990s. What starts as a way to help her family earn some more money in a post-war Australia as nations around the world start to rebuild after The Great War, abruptly ends when the unthinkable happens.

In 1981, Maddie is watching from afar as Diana Spencer prepares to marry Charles, the Prince of Wales, the grandson of King George VI, Edward VIII’s brother. She now lives alone in Brisbane, with her neighbours for company. But in 1997, shortly after the death of Princess Diana, Maddie meet with a London journalist, Victoria, who was covering Diana’s death, and gets whiff of Maddie’s story and heads off to Australia, where she will discover a secret about her family that will have a rather large impact on her life.

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As the novel moves in and out of 1920 , 1981 and 1997 – three key years in the history of the Royal Family, and also in the fictional lives of Maddie and Victoria, and the way the lives of Victoria and Maddie intersect, and the secrets that Maddie has kept for over seventy years – how will this impact on Victoria and her family if she gets to meet Maddie? The lives of Edward and Diana are in some ways similar: both are popular and tragic, and progressive for the times and eras they live in. They are also both charming and appear to understand the wounds of others. We all know what Diana did for those she visited in poorer communities and countries, for AIDS patients. For Edward, it was making contact with members of the Commonwealth who had lost family in the war and apologising for his family’s war. Apologising for dragging them into it – which is perhaps in stark contrast to the inside figure we see – the charming, secretive figure whose contact with women he shouldn’t have is kept hush hush on the tour, even though his staff know.

Despite the stories being quite different, and separated by decades, the story is woven across time, seas and continents, and the impact that Edward, Diana and the tragic events in their lives mirrored each other, and yet in Diana’s case, the outcome was much more tragic. This book cleverly takes three, seemingly unconnected lives, and tugs at the strings of history, family and friendship to create a mystery where all the hints are there – but the question is how and when they will be resolved – and in some ways, if. In this story, Maddie is also an author, and the story of her life is interspersed with excerpts from her novel that hint at what the truth behind the secrets she has kept are.

Moving in and out of 1920, 1981 and 1997 – Maddie’s parts are told in first person, and Victoria’s in third person – which suits the novel, the characters and overall narrative. Everything is carefully revealed in this novel, almost purposefully, so that the reader knows details when they need to know it, and just as the reader finds things out in this way, the characters find things out when they need to. I loved that this was about family and friendship, and the power of breaking away from situations that weren’t right for each character – though we all know of Edward’s abdication in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson. The tragedy of these figures highlights how hard it must be to be in the spotlight constantly, but also, what the consequences can be for how they represent themselves, and the perceived way they represent the monarchy.

It is an intriguing story that at first, I thought would need a great deal of concentration because it felt so in depth and involved with so many strands and differing perspectives between Maddie and Victoria and told in first and third person. Yet it is a seamless transfer between Maddie’s fiction, between time periods and between first and third, Maddie and Victoria, that the entire book went by in a matter of days. It combines fictional characters and real-life figures well and in a seamless way, and has an authenticity about it that suggests something like this could have happened had someone like Edward had dalliances like the book hints at. It also explores the polarising cult of celebrity, and the hate versus the love of people like Edward and Diana, and also, ways celebrity can harm people’s lives.

It is also powerful because the story is told by two women – Maddie and Victoria, rather than the male figures around them who are in a more peripheral role, though still present, and still having an impact – Victoria and Maddie control the narrative and the direction the story goes in. A very well-written, and tightly plotted story, where the lives of women are mirrored in each other – Maddie, Diana and Victoria yet also starkly different in many ways, giving each figure their own power and vulnerabilities.

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Esther by Jessica North

EstherTitle: Esther

Author: Jessica North

Genre: Historical Biography

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 277

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The little-known rags to riches love story of a convict girl who arrived in Australia on the First Fleet. Much like another, better-known colonial woman, Elizabeth Macarthur, Esther successfully managed her husband’s property and became a significant figure in the new colony.

Esther only just escaped the hangman in London. Aged 16, she stood trial at the Old Bailey for stealing 24 yards of black silk lace. Her sentence was transportation to the other side of the world.

She embarked on the perilous journey on the First Fleet as a convict, with no idea of what lay ahead. Once on shore, she became the servant and, in time, the lover of the dashing young first lieutenant George Johnston. But life in the fledgling colony could be gruelling, with starvation looming and lashings for convicts who stepped out of line.

Esther was one of the first Jewish women to arrive in the new land. Through her we meet some of the key people who helped shape the nation. Her life is an extraordinary rags-to-riches story. As leader of the Rum Rebellion against Governor Bligh, George Johnston became Lieutenant-Governor of NSW, making Esther First Lady of the colony, a remarkable rise in society for a former convict.

‘North skilfully weaves together one woman’s fascinating saga with an equally fascinating history of the early colonial period of Australia. The resulting true story is sometimes as strange and thrilling as a fairytale.’ – Lee Kofman, author of The Dangerous Bride

~*~

Even though I have studied Australian history at various levels of my education, there are still many stories about the start of the invasion and colonisation that are not widely told or known. This is usually because they have not been recorded, the records have been hidden or they simply have not been included in our history books and the stories forgotten or neglected by those who held the power over what could be told.

Many people know about Bligh, MacArthur, Philips, and all the various white explorers who crossed mountain ranges and laid out trails. Some stories are known about free settlers, but even less is known about convicts and the Indigenous people – two areas where I am noticing more stories being told, and I think these stories are going to make the record of Australian history richer.

In this instance, the story I read focuses on the first Jewish woman to be transported to Australia on The First Fleet, Esther Abrahams. Transported for stealing twenty-four yards of black lace, Esther and her daughter, Rosanna, who was born in Newgate Prison, would be sent into service upon arrival for the duration of Esther’s sentence. Once she had arrived in the colony of NSW, and the free settlers and officers had established things, Esther was assigned to serve First Lieutenant George Johnston. She would soon become his lover, his wife, and after her sentence ended and they were married, circumstances would thrust her into the life of First Lady of the colony of New South Wales, and the mother of eight children.

Jessica North has used archives, diaries and letters to build her story, and show how the new arrivals from England and the Indigenous people tried to make connections, or butted heads when it came to misunderstandings of each other’s cultures and legal systems. It also, through the diaries of the white settlers and convicts, early attempts to communicate and in some ways, bring the cultures together, but also, the fear of each other and desires to be separate as much as possible. It felt like in these early days, at least in this story and based on the sources used, efforts may have been made to work together, in some respects. Showing these nuances that were previously hidden from my school and university education shows how hard it was on both sides – but that it was much harder for convicts and Indigenous people, because when it came to the colonial powers, these were two groups that had very little power and were beholden to the colonial laws brought with the English.

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It was a book that opened my eyes and mind up to what female convicts did to survive, and how brutal those early days were for all, but especially for some. It is easy to judge actions from afar, to boil things down to simplistic us versus them and ignore that not everything was like that. No doubt fear was something that affected everyone in the new colony and the way they operated and built their lives. I don’t think we will ever know the full story of some things, especially where we only have partial facts, or not many, or things missing from records. But in starting to find books that tell the stories of those who weren’t in power at time for a change, maybe we can build a fuller, and richer historical record of Australia, and get the opportunity to hear more voices, and hopefully stories that show all sides, the good, the bad and the in between. Knowing these stories will hopefully unite all Australians and show the depth of our multicultural society that has been going for much longer than the history books some of us have had access to tell us.

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Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen Reading Challenge Update

Jane Austen Reading Challenge 2019

 

I’ve always meant to read all the Jane Austen books, because she does satire and social commentary so well whilst still giving her characters nice, happy or at the very least, satisfying endings. I am also interested in her life, and reinterpretations of her works, so this year I have taken on the challenge to read as many of these as I can, starting, ideally, with the original novels.

To start, I chose Northanger Abbey, and will hopefully be reading Emma next – I plan to read them according to whichever I feel like reading at the time, and might read other Jane related books in between – some of which will be part of other challenges as well and have their own posts for reviews in their challenges. For the most part, the Jane Austen books will be reviewed in these posts.

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.

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. I wonder if in the 1800s, people caught the subtlety and social commentary in the same way we do today, or if they simply appreciated it for the romantic aspects and reflection of the upper classes. Either way, these stories have stood the test of time, and I look forward to reading Emma next.

 

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