Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail

Alexabder altmann A10567Title: Alexander Altmann A10567

Author: Suzy Zail

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Black Dog Books

Published: 1st May 2014

Format: Paperback

Pages: 290

Price: $18.99

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

Book Bingo Four – Historical

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And just like that, it is Book Bingo Saturday again, and I’m crossing off my next square. This is a blogging activity I do with Theresa Smith and Mrs B, and we’re aiming to fill thirty squares this year instead of twenty-five. There are couple that I have filled but as the review posts are not ready to go yet, I am unable to use them. I am able to fill historical this week, and there are many books I have that would fulfil this square, so it was a tough call to make, but I am filling it with a new book, The Familiars by Stacey Halls.

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The Familiars was reviewed on this blog here, and is set in 1612, against the backdrop of the notorious Pendle Witch Trials during the reign of King James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots. Here, the witch trials and attitudes to witches are shown through the eyes of women and those who were caught up in the trials and those who benefitted from the services of midwives, some of whom were convicted and executed as witches. it is an intriguing story, with themes and characters that aren’t often explored in literature about this period.

the familiars

At this stage, I am now one-sixth of my way through this challenge – five squares out of thirty have been completed, and the rest will hopefully fill up easily, though some may be a challenge, such as romance – I may have to settle for one that touches on romance. Given these categories are rather quite open, many books should be able to be stretched to fit each one.

Look out for Book Bingo Five around the second of March!

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The Familiars by Stacey Halls

the familiars.jpgTitle: The Familiars

Author: Stacey Halls

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Zaffre

Published: 4th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 432

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: ‘Assured and alluring, this beautiful tale of women and witchcraft and the fight against power was a delight from start to finish’ – Jessie Burton, bestselling author of The Miniaturist.

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn’t supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.

Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong.

As Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the North-West, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye?

Soon the two women’s lives will become inextricably bound together as the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood’s stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.

Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

~*~

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is four years into a marriage that has thus far, produced no heir for her husband, and she is enduring yet another pregnancy when she takes on a young midwife named Alice amidst the Jacobean ear witch-trials under James I and VI of England and Scotland. The book sees Fleetwood struggle through a difficult pregnancy as Alice helps her as best she can, and as Fleetwood works to decipher a letter from her husband that indicates she will not survive the current pregnancy – but is there more to this letter than Fleetwood can tell, and will she confront her husband about it?

Simmering in the background are fears of witches, and accusations against entire families of women, and some midwives, The Familiars explores the stories and legends behind the Pendle witch trials – taking place in 1612, when this book is set, and accounted for about 2% of all witches who were executed. Taking on this historical period in fiction is very interesting – it is not one I usually see, and when it is, it is focussed on royalty, or the actual witch trials, rather than the people at the peripheral, and how the absence of a midwife accused of witchcraft affects a life. Also, I felt the term witch hunt was never more accurate, as these people were accused of something they never did, and where accusations between families and against people were dealt with swiftly and without much consideration based on the testimony of a child. Eerily, the case of Louisa Collins, discussed in an earlier blog post, rested upon the same kind of testimony. This resulted in twelve people being executed during the summer of 1612.

Where many witch trial stories and  novels focus on the actual trials, and the polarising sides of the accused versus the accusers, and who is right based on the evidence left behind recorded by the victors and winners in history, The Familiars takes real people – Alice and Fleetwood and those they know – into a realm where the women involved and affected directly and indirectly tell the story.

Primarily told through Fleetwood’s eyes, and where secrets are slowly revealed throughout the novel at the right time, and that makes for an intriguing plot and mystery that is woven throughout the story. The strength of the story is the very feminine and female driven character and plot – where the men – Roger and Robert, are only there on the side. in fact, for much of the novel, they are absent or travelling, allowing Fleetwood and Alice to take charge of the story. The simmering fear of witches felt primarily male in this story – Fleetwood, though concerned, was not as convinced as the men in her life.

Based on real people, it is interesting to wonder if the real Fleetwood was like her fictional counterpart, and how she definitely did react to what was going on around her. Historical fiction is always a favourite of mine, especially when it explores eras not often explored or perspectives we don’t often hear from.

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Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

best foot forward.jpgTitle: Best Foot Forward

Author: Adam Hills

Genre: Non-Fiction/Comedy

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 31st July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 355

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: One of Australia’s biggest comic personalities, much-loved host of Spicks and Specks and the hit UK TV show The Last Leg, Adam Hills’ charming and witty memoir is a lesson in following your heart, being positive and discovering that what makes you different also makes you unique.

Adam Hills was a quiet primary school kid with a prosthetic foot who did all his homework and only spoke when spoken to. His dad sparked in him a love of comedy, and together they’d spend hours watching and listening to the likes of Peter Sellers and Mel Brooks. So when it was Adam’s turn to speak, he made sure he was funny.

Once he hit high school, comedy was Adam’s obsession (along with a deep love for the South Sydney Rabbitohs). While his mates were listening to Iron Maiden and AC/DC, he was listening to Kenny Everett and Billy Connolly. And when a report card came home with a comment praising his sense of humour, he was far prouder of that than his grades (his mum not so much).

Adam’s shyness and his missing foot never held him back, though wearing thongs was tricky. While other teens snuck off to meet girls and drink cheap booze, Adam snuck off to see a young Jim Carrey perform. After that, a steady diet of Rodney Rude, Vince Sorrenti and Robin Williams led this sheltered, virginal university student from The Shire to his first stand-up open mic night on his 19th birthday.

In Best Foot Forward, Adam describes his early years on the Australian comedy scene sharing gigs with Steady Eddy and Jimeoin, how he coped the first time he died on stage, his early-morning apprenticeship in radio, touring the world’s comedy festivals, the magic of Spicks and Specks and his hosting gig for the 2008 Paralympics that led to his hit UK TV show The Last Leg. Kermit the Frog, Whoopi Goldberg, Barry Humphries, Billy Connolly – Adam’s learned from the best. In this charming and witty memoir Adam Hills shows how hard work, talent and being proudly different can see you find your feet.

~*~

Growing up in the Sutherland Shire, Adam Hills ‘ love of comedy was sparked by his dad – watching and listening to Mel Brooks, and Peter Sellers on family trips to the South Coast for holidays in the car, which led to him listening to Billy Connolly in place of the popular music his high school friends were listening to at the time. And having a prosthetic foot was normal for him – it just was, in the way that many disabled people who have grown up with their disability know it’s part of them and their identity – an everyday, normal part of life that they live with and adapt to.

Adam Hills is one of my favourite comedians in Australia – and I adored and still adore watching Spicks and Specks on TV. Best Foot Forward is Adam’s journey from growing up in the Sutherland Shire to entering the comedy scene in various clubs and festivals across Australia and Europe, to the making of Spicks and Specks. In it, Adam talks candidly about family life, his missing foot, and the people he meets and interacts with, all with the uniqueness that makes him wonderful to watch and listen to. From early morning radio to comedy tours, Adam is completely himself in this book, and he seamlessly integrates all his experiences with his sense of humour throughout the book.

What I liked about this book was Adam’s honesty and openness – it was like having an extended chat with a very good friend, and the kind of conversation that engages everyone wholly and takes you along for the ride, laughs and all. Much of the book is focussed on Adam’s journey to comedy, and through radio, though when he was asked to help co-host a show for the Paralympics in 2008, this was where Adam found a community of disabled people. People like him, his age, and younger, who had missing limbs, or no limbs. Adam had previously mentioned that he had never really thought of his prosthetic as a barrier because there were many things he could do that people who had what he saw as more restrictive disabilities couldn’t do – but the Paralympics changed his mind – and this is a very important part of the book. Many disabled people will and might be able to identify with the way Adam felt. The feeling that because you can do many things, you’re not as worse off as some, despite there being some limitations. Adam articulates this really well, and in a really relatable and understandable way for readers. Adam’s eloquence when discussing his disability and the way he dealt with it, the use of humour to cope, and as an ice breaker, and how the Paralympians made him feel was the most powerful aspect of the book for me. Adam is truly one of my favourite people in the entertainment industry.

Fans of Adam Hills will enjoy this candid and entertaining book, and yes, I had a go at his Substitute test in the chapter on Spicks and Specks. Throughout, I heard Adam’s voice clearly – which made it a genuine and exciting experience. I hope others who enjoy Adam’s comedy and Spicks and Specks will enjoy this as much as I did.

Best Foot Forward will be filling next week’s Book Bingo Square for Comedy – thank you Adam!

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Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

seven little australians.jpgTitle: Seven Little Australians

Author: Ethel Turner

Genre: Historical Fiction/Children’s literature

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 1st October 2003 (1894 originally)

Format: Paperback

Pages: 192

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: ‘Without doubt Judy was the worst of the seven, probably because she was the cleverest.’Her father, Captain Woolcot, found his vivacious, cheeky daughter impossible – but seven children were really too much for him and most of the time they ran wild at their rambling riverside home, Misrule.Step inside and meet them all – dreamy Meg, and Pip, daring Judy, naughty Bunty, Nell, Baby and the youngest, ‘the General’. Come and share in their lives, their laughter and their tears.

~*~

Amongst Australian literature, and especially children’s literature, women were amongst the first to publish it. Charlotte Waring Atkinson, great-great-great-great grandmother to my favourite author, Kate Forsyth, wrote the first children’s book published in Australia in 1841 – “A Mother’s Offering to Her Children” by a Lady Long Resident in New South Wales. And fifty-three years later, one of the best-loved children’s books to come out of Australia was published – Seven Little Australiansby Ethel Turner, published in 1894. The first time we meet the Woolcot children – seven of them – at nursery tea whilst their father, and step-mother feast downstairs with guests on food the children would never see in their wildest dreams. The children – Meg, Pip, Judy, Nell, Bunty, Baby and the General – are not quite what one would expect of Victorian children, and as the author says, they are not the paragons of good that their English cousins appear to be. Rather, they are filled with mischief and delighting in disrupting their father. Of the seven, Judy is the naughtiest and the cleverest – she is the one who comes up with the plans and whose clever actions are met with anger and astonishment. Their home is aptly called Misrule, for nobody – not the household staff, not their stepmother, Esther (and mother to the youngest, The General), nor their father, can tame the seven and their wild, and frantic ways. It is Meg, the eldest, who displays the most decorum but still cannot corral her younger siblings and falls under the influence of what other girls her age deem as proper.

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Each of them will laugh and cry, and learn harsh, life lessons that will stay with them long after the final page turns. Even as Judy is forced off to boarding school near Katoomba, the rest of the children do not relent in their mischief, and indeed, drive their parents spare with concern, worry and exasperation – but the story is not about the parents, it is about the children, and an idea of what a nineteenth century Australian child growing up on an estate would have, or might have, been like.

It is a uniquely Australian story about the life and lives of the pre-federation days of the New South Wales colony. They are lives filled with ups and downs, with tragedy and with love. It is a book that will warm your heart, and shatter it to pieces, and will stay with you long after turning the final page.

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The Little Fairy Sister by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Grenbery Outhwaite

little fairy sister.jpgTitle: The Little Fairy Sister

Author: Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Grenbery Outhwaite

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: NLA Publishing First Edition

Published: 1st May 2013

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 112

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: ‘The Little Fairy Sister’ is a real fairy story of Bridget’s adventures among the wee people. She meets the most delightful little creatures: the Dragon-fly, the Kookaburra, the Lizard, the Teddy Bears, the Pelican, as well as the Mannikins, the Merman, and of course the Fairies.

This facsimile of The Little Fairy Sister, popular with children of the 1920s, has been reproduced by the National Library of Australia from an early edition of the book. Ida Rentoul Outhwaite’s enchanting illustrations will appeal to children as much today as they did yesterday.

~*~

Many children in Australia have been, and still are, brought up on a European tradition of fairy tales that have their roots in oral, salon and literary traditions: Oscar Wilde, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Charles Perrault and other French salon writers, including Charlotte Rose de la Force, and Hans Christian Andersen. Stemming from there, collections from Andrew Lang – his rainbow fairy books, and English authors such as John Jacobs would have largely shaped the fairy tale world children come to inhabit. In the early twentieth century in Australia, a young woman  named Ida Rentoul turned her hand to creating images of fairies, drawing fairies and whimsical creatures into a uniquely Australian setting, combining them with Australian flora and fauna.

Bridget is an only child who is doted on by nurse and her parents – and when she falls asleep after her father tells her a story of the little sister she was told went to live with the fairies, she falls into a world of magic, of fairies and talking animals, much like Alice did when she tumbled down the rabbit hole of Lewis Carroll’s classic Wonderland. In this new world, Bridget shrinks down to the size of a fairy as she explores the world of talking animals, a fairy queen, wonder, magic and a bushland paradise that is both quintessentially European in the tradition of a fairy land, and yet also, quintessentially Australian as native fauna and flora populate the world Bridget finds herself in. Accompanied by dragonflies, pelicans, a kookaburra and a myriad of other creatures that populate the world of fairy tales, and bridge the gap of the real and fairy tale worlds of Australia and the European tradition – where the familiar tales are transported into an equally familiar landscape for Australian children.

The introduction states that Ida would allow her family – mother, sisters and later, her husband, Grenbery, to put text and stories to her images. The text that accompanies Ida’s images of Bridget and The Little Fairy Sister was written in 1923, by her husband, Grenbery, and has been reproduced in the facsimile edition in this new print. Ida is known as the queen of the fairy book in Australia, and though her work is uniquely Australian, hr work is filled with echoes of Lewis Carroll, Arthur Rackham, Kate Greenaway and Aubrey Beardsley – where European tradition meets Australian wilderness.

It is an enjoyable and easy read, where the combination of European fairy tales and Australian nature, flora and fauna creates a new world, though sadly a little unknown these days, and so this reprint of the original facsimile of the 1920s edition brings it back to life for a new audience, and deserves a place in our literary canon, and the fairy tale canon of literature in Australia and around the world, to show how tradition can marry with a new world that is familiar and unfamiliar at the same time to people.

This book marks of my final book bingo square for the year, a forgotten classic, which will go up in December.

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P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones

p is for pearl.jpgTitle: P is for Pearl

Author: Eliza Henry Jones

Genre: Young Adult, Literary

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 19th of February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A POIGNANT READ BURSTING WITH HEARTACHE, GRIEF AND SMALL-TOWN FAMILY SECRETS THAT WILL DRAW YOU IN UNTIL THE FINAL PAGE’
– Gabrielle Tozer, award-winning author of The InternFaking It and Remind Me How This Ends

Seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn P. Pearson has become very good at not thinking about the awful things that have happened to her family.

She has also become used to people talking about her dead mum. Or not talking about her and just looking at Gwen sympathetically.

And it’s easy not to think about awful things when there are wild beaches to run along, best friends Loretta and Gordon to hang out with – and a stepbrother to take revenge on.

But following a strange disturbance at the cafe where she works, Gwen is forced to confront what happened to her family all those years ago. And she slowly comes to realise that people aren’t as they first appear and that like her, everyone has a story to tell.

From the talented author of the celebrated novels In the Quiet and Ache comes a poignant and moving book that explores the stories we tell ourselves about our families, and what it means to belong.


PRAISE

P is for Pearl is a complex, authentic exploration of grief, friendship, mental illness, family and love, sensitively written by a writer whose voice will resonate with teen readers.’  Books+Publishin

~*~

Gwendolyn P. Pearson hides the dark family secrets that have plagued her family for years very well, and she is good at it. For years, the small Tasmanian town of Clunes has whispered and spoken about her mother, who died when Gwen was a child, one of two family tragedies that happened within months of each other. Gwen has her best friends, Loretta and Gordon, school and running to distract her – that is, until a strange incident at the cafe she works at triggers a memory, and Gwen must confront her memories. When new kids, Ben and Amber arrive in town, Gwen is torn between letting them be, and befriending them and their aunt. As she tries to hide secrets from everyone and hide from her past, it is Ben who will show her that the surface of someone is not always what they seem, and that it is okay to be angry when you are hurt.

AWW-2018-badge-roseP for Pearl completes my book bingo for the first half of 2018 – this will be in a separate post next Saturday, and then I am embarking on round two, using the same card but hopefully, different books as much as I can. First written when Eliza was sixteen, P for Pearl is the world of tragedy and loneliness seen through the eyes of a teenager whose understanding of what happened is coloured by what she wants to believe, and what, as a child, she was told or led to believe. Through narrative and diary entries, Gwen’s story is slowly revealed, and we see the pain she has been in for years, slowly emerging and bubbling its way to the top following the smashed windows at work.

Gwen’s family – her father, stepmother Biddy, step-brother Tyrone and half-sister Evie, are all key figures in the way Gwen experiences her life, and of them all, she seems to feel closer to Evie at first, and a little distanced from the rest of her family, perhaps feeling a little lost in it all. Tyrone is older – and at first, is rather annoying but later, I found something endearing about him and the way he genuinely cared for Gwen, which comes through gradually as she comes to terms with her confusion and pain. In the end, Tyrone, Ben, Loretta and Gordon are the ones who help her come through her pain and the realisation of the painful family history that has haunted her.

P for Pearl is aimed at teenagers but is a novel that speaks to the grief and complicated events and tragedies in life that we all face and endure. Gwen’s voice is genuine, and works well in the novel, as is the character growth and learning little bits about characters as the novel progresses. A greet novel to check off my final bingo box.

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