When the Ground is Hard by Malla Nunn

When the ground is hardTitle: When the Ground is Hard
Author: Malla Nunn
Genre: Crime/Mystery, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: June 2019
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: This CBCA short-listed book is a stunning and heartrending mystery set in a Swaziland boarding school about two girls of different castes who bond over a shared copy of Jane Eyre.
SHORTLISTED: CBCA 2020 Awards, Book of the Year, Older Readers

Adele loves being one of the popular girls at Keziah Christian Academy. She knows the upcoming semester at school will be great with her best friend Delia at her side. Then Delia dumps her for a new girl with more money, and Adele is forced to share a room with Lottie, the school pariah, who doesn’t pray and defies teachers’ orders.

As they share a copy of Jane Eyre, Lottie’s gruff exterior and honesty grow on Adele, and together they take on bullies and protect each other from the vindictive and prejudiced teachers. When a boy goes missing on campus, Adele and Lottie must work together to solve the mystery, in the process learning the true meaning of friendship.

A Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2020 Notable Book, Highly Commended in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, winner of the 2019 Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection, winner of the Children’s Book Committee’s 2020 Josette Frank Award and shortlisted for the 2020 LA Times Book Prize for Young Adults.

~*~

In apartheid-era Swaziland, Adele Joubert and Lottie Diamond attend Keziah Christian Academy – a boarding school for mixed race students. These are the students who are somewhere in the middle of the racial and social rankings based on the apartheid system but are still separated from white and black communities based on the laws of the time. Adele has been part of the popular crowd. That is, until her slot in the pretties is taken by a richer girl. Adele is relegated to sharing a room with the poor student, Lottie Diamond, and Dead Lorraine’s room.

At first, Adele and Lottie struggle to get along, but find connection in books, specifically Jane Eyre, and a time when you can be cast out and bullied for the slightest difference. As Lottie and Adele’s friendship with each other, and fellow student, Darnell, grows, the two girls face bullies and tragedy together. They fight for their place to belong, and stand up against vindictive and at times, racist teachers.

AWW2020The disappearance of a fellow student brings them closer together, and they learn more about themselves, each other and their heritage than they ever knew, and Adele finds that she can be herself with Lottie. She doesn’t have to pretend like she had to with her former friends. Lottie is a true friend, and she guides Adele through a tricky few weeks as the two girls form a bond that ensures they will always have each other when they face the cruelties of their school, society and the Bosman family.

Set in the 1960s, this book is threaded with the undercurrents and impacts of
racism, oppression and apartheid in a world that isn’t accepting of difference, illustrated through the treatment of students based on wealth, how the Bosman family treats Keziah students through racism, and the power he thinks he should have over them. It is also shown through the teachers – the assumption that the American missionary teachers are better than those they work with, and how Adele is also treated differently to Lottie at times, based on wealth and preconceived ideas.

This book speaks to the heart and difficulties of South Africa and Swaziland under the rule of apartheid. The rules and laws are threaded throughout as Adele tells her story of the first few weeks of the new school year, and her experiences. Some are universal, and some are unique to her and her society. This is what makes the book powerful. The thrum of an African heart beats throughout this novel, and evokes a sense of time, place and character. The land is a strong aspect a strong character. It is perhaps stronger than the Christian religion Adele tries to uphold. It is Lottie who unlocks this power within Adele, the shared Swazi and Zulu identity, and shows her that she can accept all parts of her identity.

I can see why this book has received so many awards, commendations and nominations. It is diverse yet seen through eyes that not many of us have. It is an experience that some readers won’t know much about, but there are universal themes of friendship, class, race, and gender that everyone will find something they can relate to. Adele and Lottie were powerful, diverse and complicated characters, who helped each other grow throughout the novel and found something that connected them more than anything that had ever connected Adele to the popular girls.

As I read this book, I could smell and hear Africa, I could feel Africa. The animals, the grass, the voices and the music. It is woven delicately and subliminally through the narrative, and presents a backdrop that gives When the Ground is Hard a true sense of place and transports the reader to a time and place when things were grim, but where the power of friendship could bring light to people’s lives.

Isolation Publicity with Tanya Heaslip

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

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

an alice girl

Tanya Heaslip grew up in the Northern Territory and has lived in Prague during eighties and nineties following the fall of the Berlin Wall before coming back to Australia. Last year she released Alice to Prague, and this year, she has released the prequel in the midst of a pandemic – and like many authors, has had her publicity opportunities diminished due to the implications of lockdown and social distancing restrictions. One way she is getting word about her book out is through blogs and interviews such as this one.

Hi Tanya, and welcome to the Book Muse

  1. To begin, can you tell my readers who may not have read An Alice Girl or Alice to Prague a bit about each book?

 

Both books are memoirs. An Alice Girl is the prequel to Alice to Prague. An Alice Girl is set during the 1960s and 70s and explores my life as a young girl growing up in Central Australia on an isolated cattle station. Alice to Prague chronicles my journey to the Czech Republic in 1994, following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

 

 

 

 

  1. You grew up in the remote Northern Territory – when you weren’t studying, or mustering cattle with your dad, what sort of games did you play with your siblings?

We played a game called “cattle duffers” on horseback. It was the most fun game, with goodies and baddies; the baddies were always trying to steal the cattle and the goodies trying to get the cattle back. We never actually had real cattle to play with – Dad would have hung us upside down if we’d messed with his precious cattle – but we didn’t need them as our imaginations were so vivid that we could gallop around on horseback and chase them in our mind’s eye.

 

 

 

  1. Do you all still live in Alice, and what is it about the area that drew you back there after exploring the world?

 

I’ve lived in many places but I now live back in Alice Springs. I think it’s mostly the land that’s drawn me back – the raw power of the red outback, the space, the huge blue skies and the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges that fill my heart with joy – it’s a place where I feel most centred, strengthened, grounded, and where I feel I most belong. Of course, I have family here as well so it’s a double calling.

 

 

 

  1. Many of my readers will have never experienced School of the Air or Correspondence School – how did these differ from your experiences at boarding school, and did you find they complemented each other in any way?

 

Correspondence School was done remotely, using written sets of lessons, overseen by a governess, and School of the Air was half an hour each day on the wireless with a real live teacher in the Alice Springs studio. We couldn’t see her or the other students but we could hear them all and put faces to their names. Every day we wore jeans and riding boots and relished the freedom and independence of the way we studied. If Dad needed cattle work done, he would pull us out and work would come first; we have to make up for it on the weekend.

This was incredibly different from boarding school, where I found myself locked away in an all girl’s school of 700 students, studying in traditional classrooms, wearing uniforms, and trying to learn the niceties of being one of many students, instead of one of three (the other two having been my younger siblings). There was certainly no getting out of school there!

It is difficult to see how I different types of education complemented one another as they were so different but there is no doubt my early studies set me up for “real school” as I was academically equivalent in almost every way once I got to boarding school. However what I lacked were art skills, sports skills and the capacity to ‘navigate’ a classroom with other students. That took a long (and often painful) time to learn.

 

 

  1. An Alice Girl is going to be/was released on the 19th of May. Did you have to cancel any events or festival appearances due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, and what were they?

I had to cancel everything! I was launching at the NT writers festival in Darwin and the Margaret River readers and writers Festival in Margaret River and I had book events lined up in every state. Within three days, my four months worth of hard work in setting up these events and appearances vanished before my eyes. It was initially a very tough time. I had to learn to “pivot” as they say in Silicon Valley and find new ways to publicise my book!

 

 

  1. While growing up, you loved to read – which authors and books did you gravitate towards during the sixties and seventies, and what was so special about them for you?

 

The books I gravitated towards were the ones that were held by the Alice Springs School of the Air. Mum would go into Alice Springs once a month to get supplies and return with a box of books. They were mostly Enid Blyton with a dash of Heidi and Swallows and Amazons. I adored them all. They were all about children having adventures without parents, and set in incredibly beautiful places – green, soft, cool with lots of water. Every chapter was short and ended with a cliffhanger. They took me to other places and told me about other worlds “overseas”. I was a naturally curious child and this style of mystery book, filled with beautiful landscapes, drew me in. I couldn’t get enough of these books. I was an insatiable reader. It filled my imagination so that I felt like I was truly there when I read them. And of course, then we had our own stories – the Silver Brumby books by Elyne Mitchell, which we adored, and Colin Thiele, whose best book for me was February Dragon, because it was all about bushfires, which we understood from personal experience on the land.

 

 

 

  1. You grew up in isolation – a state that many of us are finding ourselves in at the moment – have the skills you learned as a child helped you cope with the current isolation, or is it too different to the isolation of the cattle station?

 

There is a difference in the two types of isolation, in that the Covid isolation is enforced and panic driven, whereas the isolation of my childhood meant freedom and space and endless opportunities for daydreaming and escapism. However that isolation trained me well so that I’m very self-disciplined and able to work on my own – after all that’s how I did my schooling – and so I guess in some ways it has helped me manage this time. Resilience, independence and discipline are woven deeply into my DNA and for that, at any time, I feel very thankful.

 

 

  1. Do you still have those first stories you wrote on your typewriter as a child, and what do you think they taught you about writing and storytelling?

 

Oh my goodness yes I do but I wouldn’t let anybody read them! They really are atrocious! They are all about children having adventures in English lands or English children having adventures in the bush and demand a great stretch of imagination! But I wrote so many stories that I think I became a writer and storyteller without realising it.

 

  1. You studied to be a lawyer after boarding school – what made you decide to go down this path, and has writing been a welcome break from this career?

 

I became a lawyer because I had the marks is to get into law school at University and the teachers therefore said I should do law. I didn’t know anything about law, what it was or what it meant. I fell into it and spent much of my life trying to escape it! Writing is a joy as it lets me go back into that space of imagination. However I’ve had to keep working to pay for that privilege of writing! So it’s not really a break from my career – I write and work simultaneously.

 

 

  1. What area of law did you/do you work in, and where did you practise law after graduating university?

 

I’ve worked in almost all areas of law but specialised in property and civil litigation. I’ve practised law in almost every part of Australia, except for Victoria, and even appeared in front of the High Court, which is the pinnacle of success for a young lawyer! I felt like I’d really made it that day!

 

 

  1. You’re living in Alice now, and you’re currently the Regional Vice President of the Northern Territory Writer’s Centre – first, what do you do in this role, and second, do you do it as well as practising law?

 

I was the regional Vice President for two years and now I am the President. It is a busy role as numerous issues constantly arise that require strategic management, plus I work closely with the executive to ensure that the NTWC delivers programs and benefits to writers as planned. It is not a paid role so I definitely do it as well as practising law! Work goes on, whether I’m in the President’s role or writing or doing anything else.

 

  1. How has the NT Writer’s Centre helped and supported you during your career as a writer?

 

There is nothing more fabulous than having a group of people to connect with when you’re writing, both for support and encouragement, and to bounce ideas around. I’ve also done a number of courses through the NTWC which helped me hone my skills and learn to become a better writer.

 

  1. Has the NT Writer’s Centre had to cancel or adapt any of its program’s due to the pandemic?

 

The NTWC had to cancel its Festival which was devastating but cross fingers it will be resurrected in October this year. The NTWC has also “pivoted” and put a lot of the events online, which has been marvellous, so that people haven’t missed out on everything that was planned. And the NTWC has just finalised and seamlessly delivered its Chief Minister’s Book Awards online, so it’s doing a fantastic job despite all the pressures it is under.

 

  1. What sort of support has the NT Writer’s Centre offered local authors at this time?

 

It offers courses that encourage and support, and the current NTWC online focus gives more people to engage when they are isolated.

 

  1. When buying books, which local booksellers do you frequently use?

 

I am passionate about supporting local book sellers, especially as we only have one indie bookshop in Alice “Red Kangaroo” and one in Darwin “the Bookshop Darwin”, so they are the only bookshops I use. I’ve launched both my books at them both and done events there and I have a wonderful cooperative relationship with both. To be honest, I can’t sing the praises of Red Kangaroo and the Bookshop Darwin enough, and feel so lucky that we have them. Despite the pandemic, both of them have also “pivoted” and done their best to provide books and opportunities to their customers, and are still keeping the doors open, which is a blessing, and in large part thanks to their hard work which has created its own loyal following. My mantra of late has been “Go indie bookshops!”

 

  1. What can people do during these hard times to support authors and their work?

 

Buy books. Buy books. Buy books. And buy them from your local bookshop. Or support your library. Do whatever you can to encourage authors to keep going!

 

  1. You’ve lived in Alice, Adelaide and Prague – have you lived anywhere else, and how did each of these places shape who you are?

 

I lived in so many places in addition to Alice, Adelaide and Prague – Darwin, Perth, Margaret River, Sydney, a short stint in Brisbane – and lots of short stints in different parts of WA. They have all shaped me in different ways but the best part has been the arts and writing groups that I found along the way so I’ve been able to do music, singing, acting and writing where ever I’ve lived, and I’ve learned so much more about life by living through the eyes of other places. I think each placement people I’ve met there have broadened my thinking and made me braver and more courageous, not to mention more grateful and optimistic. Travel is the best thing you can do in life, I think.

 

  1. Do you prefer to write by hand, typing on a computer or with a typewriter, or do you use a combination?

 

I write by hand and a computer – sadly I no longer have my typewriter – and I also use Dragon NaturallySpeaking from time to time, because nearly 20 years ago I gave myself carpal tunnel in both wrists from writing, and so have to juggle the way I write on a daily basis, so that I don’t overuse my hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders and back.

 

  1. If you weren’t a writer or lawyer, what career do you think you would have embarked on?

 

I would have been a journalist. That was what I wanted to do before the teachers at school talked me into doing law. Being a travelling foreign correspondent was my dream. So I guess throughout my life I’ve been frustrated journalist and reluctant lawyer, combining both wherever I go – doing enough law to support my travels and the chance to write about other people places!

 

  1. Do you think you’d ever write a fiction book, and what age group do you think you’d write for?

 

That’s such a good question! I used to write mountains of fiction when I was a kid but law stripped that creative side from me, and really took my imagination, and I have struggled for years to get it back. I think it’s a process. First, memoir and non-fiction to try and recover my creativity and imagination. Once I’ve done that, hopefully I’ll be ready for fiction! I always thought I’d write children’s adventure stories, like the ones I loved growing up, but now – who knows – my main goal is just to unearth and bring back that sense of creativity and freedom I had when I was a child and could write unfettered. That’s my dream!

 

Anything I may have missed?

 

A wonderful chance to chat – thank you so much, Ashleigh!

 

Thank you Tanya

 

 

 

Book Bingo Eight 2020 – Themes of politics and power

Book bingo 2020

 

Welcome to the August edition of Book Bingo with Theresa Smith and Amanda Barrett. This month I am checking off the square for themes of politics and power. In some books, the themes of politics and power are very overt, and very obvious to the reader. This can be because of the gender of a character, a setting or the overall themes within the book that might be exploring something political in an allegorical, tactile or obvious way. However, there are those books that have themes of politics and power where the politics are often a lot more subversive, less obvious to the reader until something happens, and it becomes clear that there are much more sinister things happening than we’ve been led to believe. One such book, and the book that I have chosen to mark off this square is the March release of a stand-alone novel, The Vanishing Deep by Astrid Scholte.

the vanishing deep

Set in a world where people are governed by water, where diving is a job, and where a facility called Palindromena assists loved ones in a final farewell, The Vanishing Deep reveals that there is more to Palindromena than people know. Told over twenty-four hours in alternating perspectives of Tempest and Lor, The Vanishing Deep explores the power and politics behind a facility like Palindromena, and the way they control death, and the threats to those who try to expose them for what has gone wrong, and how they silence opposition. Whilst much of this comes in the latter half of the novel, the issues of who has power over whom, who allows people to come and go on the Reefs in this new world are constantly hinted at, and told that this is just how we live now – these aspects are not questioned as highly as the integrity and ethical behaviour of Palindromena.

Whilst it is a Young Adult novel, it does deal with some heavy themes, such as death and corruption. The way these are written about is accessible, but readers should be warned in case they find darker issues a bit distressing. It is in no way graphic yet can tug at the heartstrings and throw a few curveballs at the reader. It is an exceptional example of what happens when someone tries to play God and abuses their power to exploit those they see as expendable.

Battle of Book Week (Yours Troolie, Alice Toolie #3) by Kate and Jol Temple, illustrated by Georgia Draws A House

Battle of Book WeekTitle: Battle of Book Week (Yours Troolie, Alice Toolie #3)

Author: Kate and Jol Temple, illustrated by Georgia Draws A House

Genre: Humour, Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th August 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Alice Toolie – seriously famous Youtootuber – and her best enemy Jimmy Cook are back to fight another day in a whole new chapter of adventures from the CBCA award-winning writers of the Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers series.

Book Week is always the best week of the year! But when Alice Toolie and Jimmy Cook get involved, it’s set for disaster. From kooky costume ideas to accidental author visits, nothing is safe. It’s no wonder they’ve been fired as Library Monitors! The only way they’ll get their jobs back is by winning First Prize in the book parade. And that means working together. Can these two best frenemies leave their differences behind long enough to win the Battle of Book Week?

~*~

Alice Toolie is her school’s library monitor – but now her frenemy, Jimmy Cook, is also a library monitor, and neither seems to be happy about sharing these duties. With an author visit and Book Week approaching, the rivalry ramps up with their letters to each other in the library monitor notebook, and everything leads to something that sees them fired as library monitors – and determined to get their jobs back. What lengths will they go to so they can get their job back, and do their best to win the Book Week costume competition?

AWW2020Told in letters and notes, this is a fun and humourous read. It is the third in the series, but I found things easy to pick up, and would like to go back and read the other Alice Toolie books. Kate and Jol Temple have created a fun world, and story. With two distinct voices, it is accessible for middle grade readers of all ages and readerships and shows that sometimes the best solution is working together, and compromising, especially when things don’t go as well as you would like them to.

This Alice Toolie book is a celebration of books, in a humourous and fun way that kids will enjoy. There are many things kids will get out of this book, and I loved it – it has been years since I’ve been to a Book Week or the Scholastic Book Fair – and it felt familiar and fun, and a great joy to experience again through the eyes of these characters.

Using journal entries and letters to tell a story is something that needs to be done cleverly, and in a way that moves the story along – and Alice Toolie hits all these notes. It moves the story along and gives us enough of what has happened in between the letters to imagine what is happening. Finally, it evokes a sense of the characters – not only in the style of their handwriting, but in the way, they write and interact.     This makes the format work, as it allows the reader to get the most out of the book, and it is when these sorts of books work well in this way that I think they’re very effective and well-written.

A great book from Kate and Jol Temple.

Books and Bites Bingo That book you keep putting off: The Louvre by James Gardiner

books and bites game card

When it came to a book I keep putting off, it was hard. I usually don’t put a book off for the reasons many people do – it’s something they don’t want to explore yet, or something they’re being forced to read. For me, it came down to one that I had to put off because at the time, I had lots to get through for certain release dates, and this book came after the book itself was released. I often put books that arrive after release date off, unless it is for a blog tour. It helps me manage my schedule to work this way and ensures that I get through everything and get things done in time.

 

the louvre

The book that I chose for this category was The Louvre: The Many Lives of the World’s Most Famous Museum by James Gardner. When it arrived, I had lots to get through. Several books had arrived after release date, and I had many that were being released on the same day. As a result, I was trying to get through everything before it piled up too much. This was a fascinating exploration of the history of the Louvre – which started as a fortress, and evolved into a palace, and finally, the museum we know today, and was added to by a succession of French rulers and governments. Today it combines ancient and modern aspects for visitors and focuses on all aspects. It is dense and intricate – and has so much information, it is hard to condense it all here. If you’re interested in history, art, and architecture, it is a fascinating read.

The Louvre: The Many Lives of the World’s Most Famous Museum by James Gardner

Title: The Louvre: The Many Lives of the World’s Most Famous Museum

Author: James Gardnerthe louvre

Genre: Non-fiction, History

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 416

Price: $39.99

Synopsis: A meticulously crafted, sparkling history of the legendary museum in Paris.

Almost nine million people from all over the world flock to the Louvre in Paris every year to see its incomparable art collection. Yet few, if any, are aware of the remarkable history of that location and of the buildings themselves, and how they chronicle the history of Paris itself – a fascinating story that historian James Gardner elegantly tells for the first time.

Before the Louvre was a museum, it was a palace, and before that a fortress. But much earlier still, it was a place called le Louvre for reasons unknown. People had inhabited that spot for more than 6,000 years before King Philippe Auguste of France constructed a fortress there in 1191 to protect against English soldiers stationed in Normandy. Two centuries later, Charles V converted the fortress to one of his numerous royal palaces. After Louis XIV moved the royal residence to Versailles in 1682, the Louvre inherited the royal art collection, which then included the Mona Lisa, given to Francis by Leonardo da Vinci; just over a century later, during the French Revolution, the National Assembly established the Louvre as a museum to display the nation’s treasures. Subsequent leaders of France, from Napoleon to Napoleon III to Francois Mitterand, put their stamp on the museum, expanding it into the extraordinary institution it has become.

With expert detail and keen admiration, James Gardner links the Louvre’s past to its glorious present, and vibrantly portrays how it has been a witness to French history – through the Napoleonic era, the Commune, two World Wars, to this day – and home to a legendary collection whose diverse origins and back stories create a spectacular narrative that rivals the building’s legendary stature.

~*~

Today we know The Louvre in Paris as a museum, the home of great artworks such as the Mona Lisa, yet its history is far more complex than that, and begin as a fortress, and moving through the Renaissance, the Revolution and the Napoleonic Age, shifts from the fortress to a lavish palace that is added to over several hundred years by each leader, until it became the museum that millions flock to today.

Prior to the building, it was a place known as le Louvre – inhabited for over 6,000 years – until King Phillipe Auguste built a fortress in 1191. James Gardner explores this history in detail, exploring the different stages of the Louvre, when they were built, why they were built and who instigated the designs and buildings, all the way up to modernity, and the evacuation of the treasures of the Louvre during the war years – a plan set in motion long before the war started as the growing presence of the Nazis converged on, and threatened Europe. These accounts are intriguing and chilling – they evoke a sense of what the Louvre has seen and experienced over the years, a sense of history that is perhaps not always considered when people visit or think about the Louvre.

Nine hundred years of French history is explored here – giving life to the museum and city – and the role that the Louvre plays in the life and history of Paris, now and throughout history. It is only a fraction of Parisian and French history, but it is a part of the history that has perhaps had great influence on Paris and France, and influenced what people see in the city and museum.

Most people attend the Louvre to see certain things or because it is a popular tourist attraction – that is the face and the surface of the Louvre. Dig a bit deeper, and you will see that is has lived a rich and deep life. A life that is complex and troubled, but also extravagant and lavish – many lives that have contributed to what it has become today and what it is now known as.

The history is as interesting as the museum. This book is dense and detailed, yet it is accessible to those who wish to know more, and uses images of the museum and the collections to tell the story alongside the words – this works well as it allows the two mediums to work together and evoke a sense of what the Louvre is, what it was and what it may become in the future.

I took time to read this book, getting to know the Louvre and all its history – it is detailed and accessible, and shows that the history behind what we know is often times more complex than what we may know or what we are told – that there is often more below the surface than what we are shown or told about something. We can apply this to many things – too many to list here but the impact will always be the same. History is always more detailed and more complex than some sources lead us to believe, and being open to what has been hidden, or simply not told, or in the case of the Louvre, not widely known, is something that historians should be open to.

An intriguing read and one that history buffs and art lovers will find fascinating.

 

Finding Eadie by Caroline Beecham

Finding EadieTitle: Finding Eadie

Author: Caroline Beecham

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

AWW2020

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

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

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

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

 

Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition by Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble

Tashi 25Title: Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition

Author: Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 16th June 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 112

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Tashi’s adventures have been loved by children all over the world for twenty-five years. This special edition of the original Tashi book celebrates Tashi’s anniversary, and includes a story about Tashi’s first birthday, ‘Tashi and the Silver Cup’, and ‘Kidnapped!’ from Tashi’s Storybook.

OVER ONE MILLION COPIES SOLD!

For twenty-five years Tashi has been telling fabulous stories. He escaped from a war lord in a faraway place and flew to this country on the back of a swan. And he wished he would find a friend just like Jack. In this first book of his daring adventures, Tashi tells Jack about the time he tricked the last dragon of all. Now, a whole generation of readers will know that when Tashi says, ‘Well, it was like this …’ an exciting new adventure is about to begin. This special anniversary edition includes the stories ‘Tashi and the Silver Cup’ and ‘Kidnapped!’ together for the first time.

‘The Tashi stories are some of my all-time favourites: a world within a world and a magical place for children to lose themselves in.’ Sally Rippin, bestselling author of Polly and Buster and Billie B. Brown

‘All children should meet Tashi. He can be their mentor on the road to reading, feeding their imaginations with fantastic stories. The Tashi stories have the evergreen qualities of classics.’ Magpies

‘I read my kids Tashi – it’s this story that they love.’ Angelina Jolie

~*~

Tashi is one of those series of books that children have loved since it the first book was published back in 1995 – and was one of those books that was always out at the library! And then it felt like it disappeared – or maybe it was just always sold out or borrowed when I checked. So this is the first time I’ve been able to read an entire Tashi book, written by Anna and her mother, Barbara, and delightfully illustrated by the late Kim Gamble, who died in 2016. I remember meeting Kim at school at an illustrator visit and buying his book You Can Draw Anything – which I still have, and he signed it. He was lovely and encouraging – and we all knew him as ‘the Tashi illustrator’, because Tashi was so big at our school!

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Anna and Barbara’s story about Tashi, and his adventures with dragons and giants, stories he tells Jack, are as well-known as many of the older stories and classics of childhood. It has a quasi-fairy tale/fantasy feel to it. Jack and his parents live in the real world, but Tashi is from another world where giants and dragons live, and where he has used his wits and tricks to get out of tricky situations and get back to his family. Anna and Barbara have told a whimsical and magical adventure for younger children about being brave, about family, and about friendship. Their words weave a special kind of magic around the reader. Even as an adult, I could feel the magic and wonder of the words just as they would be for younger readers.

The words are accompanied by Kim Gamble’s delightfully playful black and white illustrations that tell as much of the story as the words do and give life to the characters beyond the page. This is a delightful book that will enchant all ages and is sure to become an Australian classic that will be visited and revisited for generations to come.

 

Monty’s Island: Scary Mary and the Stripe Spell by Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford (Illustrator)

montys island 1Title: Monty’s Island: Scary Mary and the Stripe Spell
Author: Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford (Illustrator)
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: March 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 176
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: Monty lives on a perfect island in the middle of a magical sea. Sometimes the sea throws up something interesting … and Monty goes on an amazing adventure!
On a tiny island far away, in a sea that ripples with magic, Monty never knows what he might find…

Monty, Tawny and friends receive some startling news: Scary Mary and her pirate crew are on their way, looking for a new island to call home.

What can they do? There’s no way they can hide – especially when Bunchy accidentally turns the whole island stripy with her new magic wand.

It’s going to take one of Monty’s best ideas to save them!

An adventurous and delightful new series from beloved author Emily Rodda.

~*~

Emily Rodda’s new series for junior readers, Monty’s Island, is a fun new adventure. Set on a tropical island, a young boy, Monty, lives there with his friends, Marigold, Bunchy the magical elephant, Tawny the lion, Sir Wise the Owl and Clink the Pirate Parrot. As the day starts, the Laughing Traveller, a dolphin, swims by to warn Monty and his friends that the dreaded pirate, Scary Mary and her crew are headed towards the island – they want a new home. As they try to hide, Bunchy turns the whole island stripey in an attempt to hide them from the pirate crew. So what do they do? How will they break the spell and defend themselves and their home? Monty will have to come up with a brilliant idea to help his home and his friends!

The start of a new series is always exciting, and this one aimed at readers aged between six and eight is no exception. It is a child and animal driven world, where the characters stand together and find a way to solve their problems and challenges together. It is a story of family and friendship, with magic and adventure. This series, where the main character, Monty, and his friends, loos to be a promising and fun series for younger readers and anyone who likes a good story. It is filled with humour, magic and diverse characters who exist for who they are, and what they do. Each brings something unique, interesting and fun to the story.

AWW2020It is the little things that make the world of Monty’s Island easy to slip into and live in. I read this one in preparation for the second one, should I get it for review, and found it charming and delightful. The adventure in this story is on a smaller scale to Deltora Quest – which is aimed at confident middle grade readers whilst this is aimed at early readers. Long-time fans of Emily Rodda will love this new book and series, and it will bring a new generation of readers to her entire back catalogue.

Setting a series on an island, where the child character drives much of the action with his talking animal friends is something that I think many readers will be eager to experience – Monty is unrestrained in some ways yet in others, he still has things to learn. He is also a great problem solver, and loyal to his friends on the island. Friendship and individuality and coming together are the key themes in this novel, with encouragement and kindness driving the way for the friends to solve the problem of the Stripe Spell and Scary Mary.

This was a delightful book to read, and an excellent series opener. It sets the scene well, and opens the door for so many adventures to come. It is a series I will be watching eagerly!

Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air by Julie Hunt, Dale Newman

ShoestringTitle: Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air
Author: Julie Hunt, Dale Newman
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 2nd June 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: A gripping illustrated adventure about a travelling circus troupe, a future-telling macaw and a cursed pair of gloves that Shoestring must conquer once and for all. A companion to the award-winning KidGlovz.
‘Shoestring loved the sudden intake of breath when he stepped onto the rope. The upturned faces of the audience made him think of coins scattered at his feet, more coins than he had ever taken when he was a pickpocket.’

Twelve-year-old Shoestring is leaving behind his life of crime and starting a new career with the Troupe of Marvels. Their lead performer, he has an invisible tightrope and an act to die for. But trouble is brewing – the magical gloves that caused so much turmoil for KidGlovz are back.

When he’s wearing the gloves, the world is at Shoestring’s fingertips. It’s so easy to help himself to whatever he likes – even other people’s hopes and dreams. But when he steals his best friend’s mind, he’s at risk of losing all he values most.

A thrilling, heart-in-the-mouth adventure of ambition, friendship and the threads that bind from the award-winning creators of KidGlovz.

~*~

In a fantastical world, there is a young thief called Shoestring, who lives with the woman who raised him. Until now, he has been a thief for most of his twelve years. When the Troupe of Marvels finds out about his talent – walking on an invisible tightrope. Yet a troublesome pair of gloves that once caused mayhem are back, and taking control of Shoestring, making him steal unthinkable things – not just items, but pieces of people – the troupe sets out to help him and destroy the gloves, and get Shoestring back to the young boy they know.

With Shoestring able to take whatever he wants – even things that someone can’t see, trouble starts to brew as the gloves start to control Shoestring and convince him to do things he’d never think about doing. Things start to go wrong when he sets out to find Metropolis, May’s old parrot who has been kidnapped, and falls into the hands of Marm – this is where the mystery begins and where we find out more about what is behind the stories of Shoestring, Marm, May, Metropolis and the gloves begins and the action picks up as the narrative moves between Metropolis telling the story – these parts are in bold, whilst the rest of the story is told in prose, as a third person perspective tells the story. And evokes a sense of everyone telling their part of the story around the campfire.

AWW2020This technique is coupled with some illustrations with speech bubbles – the same style used in graphic novels, and all the illustrations by Dale Hunt make the world Shoestring and his troupe live in really come to life as you read. It is not one that can be dipped in and out of, nor read in one sitting. This is one of those books that must be savoured and enjoyed. It is one that needs to be savoured – that needs to be read over time, and where every page has a new clue as to what might happen but is also filled with twists and turns as Shoestring fights with the gloves and the control they have over him.

Magical, transient gloves that have a mind of their own is a worrying, curious and troublesome – what do these gloves want, and why are they targeting Shoestring and the troupe. It weaves the history of the characters and the world they inhabit throughout the narrative seamlessly, telling an evocative story of ambition and friendship, and the lengths people will go to so they can help those they care about. And how will they help Shoestring fix things? This is a story of loyalty and friendship, and family – and the sacrifices we make to help those we love and care about. It is a lovely book – one that will be loved by all readers over the age of eight and will enthral and enchant readers as they enter this fantastical world and have them on the edge of their seats as they go on the journey with Shoestring and the rest of the troupe.

It does refer back to a previous book by the same author and illustrator team, but enough information is given that they can be read separately, but also, together. It is a beautiful story, and one that will be loved and treasured.