The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

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Title: The Pearl Thief

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Genre: Children’s/YA Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st July, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 408

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: From the internationally acclaimed bestselling author of Code Name Verity comes a stunning new story of pearls, love and murder – a mystery with all the suspense of an Agatha Christie and the intrigue of Downton Abbey.

Sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her family’s ancestral home in Perthshire for one last summer. It is not an idyllic return to childhood. Her grandfather’s death has forced the sale of the house and estate and this will be a summer of goodbyes. Not least to the McEwen family – Highland travellers who have been part of the landscape for as long as anyone can remember – loved by the family, loathed by the authorities. Tensions are already high when a respected London archivist goes missing, presumed murdered. Suspicion quickly falls on the McEwens but Julie knows not one of them would do such a thing and is determined to prove everyone wrong. And then she notices the family’s treasure trove of pearls is missing.

This beautiful and evocative novel is the story of the irrepressible and unforgettable Julie, set in the year before the Second World War and the events of Code Name Verity. It is also a powerful portrayal of a community under pressure and one girl’s determination for justice.

~*~

The Pearl Thief is set in England in 1938, in the year that preceded the incoming storm of World War Two, preceding Hitler’s march across Europe, and it’s characters show no indication that they are aware of the impending threat to their lives. Julie is on her way home from boarding school – a final summer at her family’s ancestral home before it becomes a school On her way hoe, Julie is attacked, and a well known archivist from London goes missing, presumed dead. And it is the McEwen family, a family of Travellers, who become caught up in the mystery after taking care of Julie and getting her to hospital. When Julie notices the family pearls have gone missing, she tries to piece together the night she was attacked, and slowly, a mystery unfolds. Whilst the investigation surges on, even with a lack of evidence, the suspicious eye is cast over the McEwens, despite Julie’s protestations that they could not have done it, questioning the reasoning everyone has. Amidst all this, the treasure trove of Murray pearls has gone missing, and Julie is determined to find it, and together with her brother, Jamie, and the McEwens, she strives to solve the theft – and a murder, with results that are as surprising as the rest of the novel.

For Julie, it is a final childhood summer, where she can relive the good memories and make some new ones, but at the same time, new discoveries about her mother and the McEwens, and her interactions with Ellen and her brother, have Julie questioning what she knows about herself and her feelings, but the world that she has known in comparison to Ellen’s world, and what they learn from each other through their new-found friendship. Like any friends, they had their disagreements on things and it took them a while to see that what something meant to Ellen, meant something different to Julie and vice versa, encapsulating the formation of an unexpected friendship between the two girls.

There are moments when the novel does not dwell on the mystery of the missing pearls and murder of the archivist, but rather, on the formation of the relationships between Julie and the Travellers, and how this begins to affect her and how she sees herself and the world. This character development ensures a solid grounding for the story, and even though the mystery was intriguing, it was nice to see the realistic approach that didn’t involve the obsessive nature and drive to solve the mystery, but rather, a nice balance between getting the characters and plot right to get from beginning to end, and allowing the characters to overcome hurdles and distractions, but ultimately, solving a mystery that had a very unexpected outcome, and an enjoyable journey to get there as a reader.

The Pearl Thief is marketed towards the children’s and Young Adult market, but I still enjoyed it and the setting that seemed to sing from every page – the Scottish landscape, and the speech of the characters cemented the time and place effectively. A great novel for anyone who likes mysteries, adventure and intriguing characters.

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Unsung Heroes: The House Elves of Harry Potter

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There are many heroes in Harry Potter: James and Lily Potter, whose selfless sacrifice leaves their son an orphan, but is never forgotten throughout the series, Sirius, Harry’s godfather, who gives up twelve years of his life in the notorious wizarding prison, Azkaban, when former friend, Peter Pettigrew blasts away a street full of Muggles and leaves a finger behind, leaving the Wizarding World thinking he is dead, when he is living as a rat with the Weasley family. Mr and Mrs Weasley, who open their homes and their hearts to Harry from book one, when he is lost on King’s Cross, trying to get onto Platform 9 ¾. And then there are Professors McGonagall and Snape, who protect Hogwarts, and Harry, until the end, in their own ways, with McGonagall ensuring that Harry gets through his OWLs, despite the cruelty of Dolores Umbridge, and ensuring he is able to get the Battle of Hogwarts under way. And Snape, whose hatred for Harry runs deep, spends the series as a double agent, and his death to ensure Voldemort doesn’t find Harry, despite this hatred. As readers, we all remember these heroes. But there is one group of heroes we don’t hear much about, at least in the movies, but they have a much bigger role in the books. The house elves.

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We are first introduced to house elves with Dobby, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He has, unbeknownst to his masters, the Malfoys, run away from their Manor to try and prevent Harry from returning to Hogwarts for his second year. He has stopped Ron and Hermione’s letters from arriving, and has now come to cause havoc to ensure his expulsion. Yet, in a further act of deviousness, he closes the barrier at King’s Cross, and once Harry is finally at Hogwarts, tampers with a Bludger that injures Harry, and results in the bones being removed from his arm by the wildly inadequate, yet egotistical Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart. At the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, after discovering Dobby serves the Malfoy family, Harry presents the diary of Voldemort to Lucius in a sock, which he flings aside and Dobby catches it – setting him free, as the only way a house elf can be released from his or her servitude is with clothing.

Dobby makes another appearance in book four, where Harry, Ron and Hermione find him working in the Hogwarts kitchens with Winky, who, until the beginning of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, had worked for the Crouch family. Dobby comes to Harry’s aid again in the second task when he brings him Gillyweed, to help him breathe underwater to save Ron, and so it turns out, Fleur Delacour’s younger sister.

In book five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dobby again helps Harry (this time without injuring him) find a secret place where Dumbledore’s Army could meet and Dobby delivers, showing him how to find The Room of Requirement, and then warns Harry that they have been discovered. During this time, Harry also employs Dobby to spy on Draco Malfoy so he can find out what he is up to, and then gives Kreacher and Dobby various tasks during this time. Dobby defends Harry against Kreacher’s screeching that Draco would make abetter master as well – proving his loyalty to Harry, and showing that house else are just as loyal and heroic. Later on, Kreacher becomes loyal to Harry following the death of Sirius, and together with Dobby, brings Mundungus Fletcher to Harry in the final book when they are searching for the Horcuxes.

Dobby, who has been the house elf who has received the most amount of page time so far, though was not as involved in the movies as he should have been, makes the ultimate sacrifice at Malfoy Manor when Harry, Ron and Hermione are captured and plot to save Luna Lovegood, Griphook and Garrick Ollivander from the Malfoys. As they Apparated out of Malfoy Manor, Bellatrix Lestrange threw a knife at Dobby, and upon their arrival at Shell Cottage, Harry discovered Dobby’s fatal injury.

Dobby, who had dedicated his last years to helping Harry, uttered his final words in Harry’s arms: Harry Potter, He was buried near Shell Cottage, under a headstone that reads:

Here lies Dobby, a free elf.

Kreacher only appears in the last few books, and at first, endears himself to nobody, lamenting the death of his mistress, Mrs Black, and lacking respect for his new master, Sirius. Influenced over the years by Dark Wizards and their thinking, the respect Kreacher is shown by Harry and Hermione is what makes him begin to help them with Dobby, and lead the House Elves of Hogwarts into the Battle of Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This is missing in the movies, and the omission of the role of the house elves in the books from the movies is perhaps what makes them the unsung heroes of the series. As Kreacher only has a small part, much smaller than Dobby, but just as important – both have been mistreated, and are seen as lesser beings by many wizards. They are valued by Harry, Ron and Hermione – and therefore are loyal to them. Whilst Dobby is faithful to Harry and will defend him against anyone, Kreacher takes a bit longer to come around, and it is Harry’s kindness in allowing him to keep some Black family relics in his bed, and speaking to him as an equal that eventually brings Kreacher around, and follows his orders to go to Hogwarts. It is his loyalty that makes Kreacher lead the other house elves into the battle when Dobby is no longer there to give that help.

Dobby and Kreacher are the two most significant house elves in the series but they are all heroes in the end, giving their lives and freedom for Hogwarts, which is as much their home as it is Harry’s, and they will defend it, even if they are not ordered to. This act, and the many acts of Dobby that ensured Harry’s survival, show that somebody small can be a hero. Amongst the heroes that are remembered from the series and the Battle of Hogwarts, it is not always the house elves that are remembered. On this anniversary, 20 years of Harry Potter, the house elves shall be remembered, and it all started with an elf with eyes the size and colour of tennis balls called Dobby.

2017 Sydney Writer’s Festival

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The Sydney Writer’s Festival is held annually across various precincts of Sydney, with many ticketed and free events across the five days of the festival. This year, the dates are the 22nd to the 28th of May.

Each year, the Sydney Writer’s Festival presents over 300 events, with audiences of over 100,000 people over the week travelling to the harbourside events and many other precincts that host the festival. Whilst the hear of the festival is at heritage wharves in Walsh Bay, there are also events at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Town Hall, the suburbs of Sydney and the Blue Mountains. The spread of these events means many can participate, but planning a day or days will need to be done carefully, to ensure getting to and from venues that aren’t that close.

One such event this year is the Keeping Company: Characters Across A Series, where Lynette Noni (Medoran Chronciles, Pantera Press) will be appearing and talking about writing characters in a series, as the title suggests. Other YA authors including Garth Nix will be in attendance. This could be a very interesting panel, but all of them sound good, and it is very hard to choose which ones to attend and which locations to focus on when booking and choosing.

The list of authors is diverse, from well-known authors to ones that might not be well-known but are just as good.

The Sydney Writer’s Festival unites writers from various forms of writing and backgrounds, including the best contemporary novelists, screenwriters, musicians and writers of non-fiction – some of the world’s leading public intellectuals, scientists and journalists. The finest writing and story telling are at the core of the Sydney Writer’s Festival; the programming is diverse and is driven by ideas and issues that animate a broad spectrum of literature.

The program is live, and you are able to purchase tickets and book events, as well as exploring the program to see what events will be the best options for you to attend.

There are many wonderful authors appearing at the festival this year, including S.D. Gentill, author of the Hero Trilogy, published by Pantera Press, who is hosting a Mining Mythology event on the Tuesday. Her trilogy delves into Greek Mythology and the idea of heroes and betrayal. Other events and authors will cover specific books, or genres of writing, and even hot button topics that can have an impact on what and sometimes how we write.

This is a festival that I hope to be able to go to, if I can decide on the events I would like to attend, as there are a few that interest me.

Booktopia

London Bound by CJ Duggan

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Title: London Bound

Author: CJ Duggan

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th March, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 322

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: Like so many of her university friends, Kate Brown is London bound, but unlike her friends – who had the chance to enjoy the beer, sights and attractions of the UK – Kate is instead visiting her grandmother (who may or may not be the devil).

Wanting nothing more than to be a normal, independent twenty-something living it up in ol’ London town, Kate finds herself a prisoner in her grandmother’s Kensington terrace, daydreaming about the holiday that could have been. But when Kate is almost run over by the ridiculously good looking Jack Baker, it leaves her wondering if being out and about is such a good idea after all, especially when she catches herself laughing at his jokes.

One thing Kate knows for sure is that she has to avoid Jack at all costs. But with her balcony facing his, you can pretty much guarantee Kate’s London adventure is going to be anything but boring . . .

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aww2017-badgeNovels that centre on a romance aren’t usually what I enjoy reading, but C.J. Duggan has managed to balance the romance aspect with character and plot development well. In London Bound, Kate Brown has moved to London to experience the city for herself, and work on her blog. Living with her grandmother, who seems to be the devil incarnate to Kate, she has several encounters with neighbour, Jack, who holds back much of his life as he gets to know her. When Kate stumbles across her grandmother’s secret room, she is inspired and begins to flesh out her blog, showing it to Jack and watching it grow. Inevitably, a romance develops and they hit a rocky moment, that is quickly resolved, and like many romance novels, results in a happy ending.

Whilst the romance factor in this book didn’t capture my interest, it was the London setting and Kate the writer that made the book enjoyable for me, even though I could guess how things would be resolved at the end. Jack was a more interesting character than I anticipated, and he was rather entertaining in the bar and at other moments, and during his interactions with Nana Joy.I found that each character had their own growth within the story – whether it was realising something about themselves or other people, or a combination of both, and to me, that made it more than just a romance, it had a romantic love but also a familial connection and love and a friendship.

Kate and Jack’s romance and subsequent relationship didn’t happen as soon as they met, or as soon as the novel began. Instead, it slowly developed along with the plot and Kate’s imagesblogging plans, and her desire to see more of London than the rooms she occupied.

The refreshing thing about this book was the meat to the plot and characters. The mysterious male figure was a bit of a trope but at least Jack had a pleasant side, which made him likeable. I’m still not a total fan but it was an enjoyable and quick read, and suited for fans of the author and genre.

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