Tales from the Bush by May Gibbs and Jane Massam

TALES-BUSHTitle: Tales from the Bush
Author: May Gibbs and Jane Massam
Genre: Children’s Fiction/Picture Book
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Published: 6th February 2017
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 24
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: Available now from Scholastic Australia, Tales from the Bush is the next book available in the ‘Tales from’ series of stories inspired by May Gibbs lovable Australian bush characters, celebrating 100 years of Gumnut Babies.
Join Snugglepot and Cuddlepie for some wonderful adventures in the Australian bush. Fall in love with May Gibbs’ classic characters as they go camping in search of treasure, garden with Little Ragged Blossom and deal with mischievous Mrs Snake!
This beautifully illustrated storybook is perfect for shared reading before bedtime and introduces children to the beauty and diversity of the Australian bush.
All royalties from the sale of May Gibbs products support the work of The Northcott Society and Cerebral Palsy Alliance in providing services to Australian children living with disability and their families.

~*~

aww2017-badgeIn the third book of the series, Tales from the Bush, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie search for treasure, left behind by a Banksia man (who are big in this book, but the ones they encounter are not bad), on the riverbank, following footprints to find the gold of years past, and instead, find a much more valuable treasure that they will always have. Then, they plant a garden with Little Ragged Blossom, their new friend, from a necklace of what they thought had been berries, and create a world of beauty for her.
When the Bush Dance is about to be held, they encounter Mrs Snake, whose mischievous ways have caused everyone to abandon her, and Mr Lizard to revoke her invitation to the Bush Dance. These charming stories are full of friendship, and the undying kindness and curiosity of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie that generations of Australian children have come to adore. They are a delightful bedtime read, and great tool to help children learn to read and gain confidence whilst learning about the Australian bush, and its flora and fauna. The fantastical elements that these stories and the originals have brought to the wildlife and wild flowers of Australia, in a world that many have written about over the years, and a world that is as much a part of the Australian identity as other parts of our history and literature.
I enjoyed reading this book – for me it was a quick read and I think it is an ideal book for children learning to read. This series captures the original magic of May Gibbs for a new audience and readership in a new century where technological toys compete with books for our attention.

Buy the books here:

https://www.maygibbs.org/

or here:

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The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

the last namsara.jpgTitle: The Last Namsara

Author: Kristen Ciccarelli

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 3rd October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A gripping YA crossover series from a spectacular new voice in the genre Once there was a girl who was drawn to wicked things

Asha is a dragon-slayer. Reviled by the very people she’s sworn to protect, she kills to atone for the wicked deed she committed as a child – one that almost destroyed her city, and left her with a terrible scar.

But protecting her father’s kingdom is a lonely destiny: no matter how many dragons she kills, her people still think she’s wicked.

Even worse, to unite the fractured kingdom she must marry Jarek, the cruel commandant. As the wedding day approaches, Asha longs for freedom.

Just when it seems her fate is sealed, the king offers her a way out: her freedom in exchange for the head of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard.

And the only person standing in her way is a defiant slave boy . . .

THE LAST NAMSARA is an extraordinary story about courage, loyalty and star-crossed love, set in a kingdom that trembles on the edge of war.

~*~

Asha’s story begins on a dragon hunt, where the identity she has been given her whole life is made obvious from the beginning of the novel. The Old Stories that have been outlawed draw the dragons to her, and, following the name she has ben given, Iskari, she kills them in an attempt to atone for a crime she committed as a child. Asha’s scars tell her story, and cause the people of her city to fear her. Asha has been the stories of her destiny and what killed her mother for years and believed them – without anyone to tell her otherwise, she believes them. Until the day a young dragon prevents her from killing the First Dragon, Kozu, and awakens questions within that will lead her to do wicked and dangerous things to prevent more tragedy from befalling her family, and to prevent events that she has been desperately trying to avoid with the help of someone she never thought she would become close to. As what I hope is the beginning of an intriguing series, it has a little bit of everything, including a touch of romance that does not overtake the rest of the story and overshadow what Asha and those who gather around her eventually to help uncover the truth will have to do.

First and foremost, this fantasy novel is about Asha finding her identity, and uncovering secrets that have been kept from her so that those who wish to harm her can control her and ensure she does what they want, when they want it, and without question. Along the way, Asha’s worldview is shattered, and she befriends a slave, a skral, and learns his name: Torwin, going against centuries of tradition, and connecting with him in a way that puts them both at risk, and that mirrors the Old Stories, told in between sections of the first half of the novel, showing how they have shaped the world and how people like Asha’s father and Jarek, the man her father wants her to wed, fear what does not need to be feared – including the dragons that Asha has been made to hunt and must now protect.

The Last Namsara explores trust, family and identity, and illustrates how those we least expect can become the only ones we can trust. Asha is scarred – and has a paralysed arm from the events at the beginning of the novel, but she does not let this stop her, especially when everything comes to a head and she does what she never thought she would do, and puts herself in danger. It is these dangerous events that lead to the final events of the novel, and presents the reader with more questions than answers during the final chapters, that will hopefully be answered in a future novel, to wrap up the strands that felt they had more of a story to be told.

It is a gripping story that didn’t take me long to read, as it had a decent pace, not too fast or too slow, and intrigue that had me wanting to know what was going to happen next. A great read for fans of Young Adult, and Fantasy Literature.

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The Secret Books by Marcel Theroux

the secret books.jpgTitle: The Secret Books

Author: Marcel Theroux

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Faber Fiction

Published: 27th September, 2017

Format: Hardback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A world on the brink of catastrophe. A two-thousand-year-old mystery. A lost gospel. Both a page-turning adventure and an examination of the stories that humans are willing to kill and die for.

Seeking adventure, a young man flees the drudgery of shopkeeping in Tsarist Russia to make a new life among the bohemians and revolutionaries of 19th century Paris.
Travelling undercover in the mountains of British India, he discovers a manuscript that transforms the world’s understanding of the historical Jesus.
Decades later, in a Europe threatened by unimaginable tragedy, he makes a despairing attempt to right a historic injustice.

This breathtaking novel by the award-winning author of Far North and Strange Bodies tells the extraordinary tale of Nicolas Notovitch and his secret gospel.

It is the epic story of a young man on the make in a turbulent world of spies and double-cross, propaganda and revolutionary violence, lost love and nascent anti-semitism – a world which eerily foreshadows our own era of post-truth politics.

Based on real events, The Secret Books is at once a page-turning adventure and an examination of the stories that humans are willing to kill and die for.

~*~

With most historical fiction novels, it is easy to delineate between the history behind the story, and the fictional elements the author has employed – whether it is characters, or integration of time travel, employed in books such as the Outlander series, or an alternate history, where elements can be changed but some aspects remain historically the same to ensure a degree of authenticity. The Secret Books by Marcel Theroux takes these aspects and turns them on their head, making the reader question what is real, and what is not, and in doing so, has written a clever piece of literary fiction that captures a figure and a moment in time linked to his family, and that interrogates the Pali Gospels, looking at the lost years of Jesus in a historical context, with a touch of spirituality thrown that illuminates the doubt that the religious scholars the main character interacted with had when he presented them with his theories.

Nicolas Notovitch was a real person, the one who looked into these lost years and tried to bring them to the attention of the world, suggesting that the gospels had somehow ignored these years in favour of spreading the message they wanted. At the same time, it explores the journey Nicolas took that led him to these gospels, and down a path of love, marriage and fatherhood, beginning during the late nineteenth century and moving forward into the early decades of the twentieth century, the First World War and eventually, the beginnings of the Second World War. Nicolas’s obsession with proving the existence of these books will cost him – he does not know what until it happens, and I felt him have his heart broken and the rug ripped from beneath his feet. In following a passion for discovering something of historical importance, he had sacrificed the passion and love of family. Prior to discovering these manuscripts and investigating them, Nicolas had escaped his dreary life in Russia for a new bohemian one in Paris, where he meets a variety of characters who introduce him to new ways of thinking such was McGahan, a female journalist in a male dominated world – one aspect that had me questioning whether this was set in current times, a time travel story or whether the author was having a bit of fun with the history – and I feel it was the latter as it left me questioning whether that would have been possible in the time period and social structure of the time.

With each section book-ended by quotes, it was an unusual yet intriguing format that questions what we know about history and what is known about Biblical history, and how these books could alter our understanding of religion and history, and how it might impact religious scholars. It interrogated how people respond to the unknown with fear, something that happens in many areas and places. It was an intriguing book, but one that needs focus to be read, and fully appreciated. It may not be the best before bed book, but it is indeed one that will have an audience out there – and one that can be appreciated by anyone with an interest in history and society.

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The Australian Reading Hour

AustralianReadingHourFacebookPost1200x6281

It’s a simple idea, but one that has many benefits, and that can introduce children to something that they will hopefully develop a lifetime love for and continue to do for the rest of their lives. What is it?

The Australian Reading Hour, this Thursday, the fourteenth of September, is the day we are all encouraged to stop what we are doing for an hour and pick up a book and read – by ourselves, to any children in our lives or in a group at work, at a library, or at home. It is a time for Australians of all walks of life to rediscover or introduce themselves to the joy and magic of reading, and to share this with those around them.

Children who know adults who readReading can benefit children and adults: in children, reading has been shown to help them form an identity, and set them up for success in the future, and in adults, it can help to reduce stress by 68%, more than listening to music, going for a walk or having a cup of tea.

As part of the initiative, The Australian Reading Hour encourages booksellers, libraries and teachers to do any or all of the following:

  • Organise reading events
  • Coordinate author events,
  • Promote the initiative in store and on social media, something that readers and book bloggers can do actively as well,
  • And promote their favourite Australian books.

Reading a gripping novel causes positive biological changes in the brain that can last for days.To participate in The Australian Reading hour register here and designate one hour of your day on the fourteenth to reading something you enjoy, in the format you enjoy. I haven’t elected my hour yet but hopefully I will be reading a review copy of A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill, and if not, another Australian book. The book does not need to be Australian but this even can help promote reading Australian authors just as much as it promotes reading, and will hopefully give readers the chance to explore a new book and find new authors that contribute or have contributed to our sense of being Australian through our literature over the past centuries.

When tested for empathy, readers of narrative fiction achieved significantly higher scores than other groups.

The Australian Reading Hour is sponsored by: The Australian Society of Authors, Australian Library and Information Association, Australian Publisher’s Association, Australian Bookseller’s Association, Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, Australian Literary Agents Association, ACT Government Libraries, NSW Public Library Associations, Northern Territory Government, Northern Territory Library, Queensland Public Libraries Association, Government of South Australia, State Library Public Services, Tasmania: Explore the Possibilities, Learn, Discover, Access, Public Libraries Victoria Network, Public Libraries Western Australia.

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The Strange Disppearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan (Baby Ganesha Agency #3)

baby ganesh 3.jpgTitle: The Strange Disppearance of a Bollywood Star

Author: Vaseem Khan

Genre: Crime and Mystery

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Hachette Australia

Published: 16th May 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In the third delightful Baby Ganesh Agency novel, Inspector Chopra investigates the darkly glittering underbelly of Bollywood when a film star vanishes into thin air…

The enchanting new Baby Ganesh Agency novel sees Inspector Chopra and his elephant sidekick investigating the dark side of Bollywood.

Mumbai thrives on extravagant spectacles and larger-than-life characters.

But even in the city of dreams, there is no guarantee of a happy ending.

Rising star and incorrigible playboy Vikram Verma has disappeared, leaving his latest film in jeopardy. Hired by Verma’s formidable mother to find him, Inspector Chopra and his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, embark on a journey deep into the world’s most flamboyant movie industry.

As they uncover feuding stars, failed investments and death threats, it seems that many people have a motive for wanting Verma out of the picture.

And yet, as Chopra has long suspected, in Bollywood the truth is often stranger than fiction…

~*~

Ashwin Chopra, his wife, Poppy, and their little elephant, Ganesha return in this third instalment of the wonderful Baby Ganesh Agency series. This time, the star of an upcoming Bollywood movie, Vicky Verma, has gone missing at a promotional performance for the movie and his role, with Chopra and Ganesha in the audience. Together, they watch him vanish and supposedly reappear on stage, and from there, the investigation begins. Chopra speaks to the movie company, and the director, PK Das, Bijli Verma, Vicky’s mother and anyone else who has ever worked with or known Vicky during his attempts to find him. At the same time, Chopra’s partner, Rangwalla is caught up in an investigation amongst a eunuch community, where he goes undercover to investigate the activities they are being lured into, and so, he agrees to help the Queen find out what is going on. As Rangwalla and Chopra investigate their cases, ACP Rao, the officer whom Chopra bested in the last book during the Koh-I-Noor investigation, simmers in the background as a threat to Chopra and his case, leading to a series of events that Chopra, Ganesha, Poppy and their friends must find a way to get out of so that Chopra can find Verma and the person, or people who took him. But, as with any case, things are not what they seem, nor are they as simple as one might think, and Chopra’s confusion and disillusionment with the Bollywood industry and the way they operate, illuminating the way these people treat others, and this is contrasted with the case Rangwalla looks into, and the slums where the eunuchs live, their isolation from society and the way they are seen by others, as something to be discarded almost – but still retain their humanity and appreciate what Rangwalla does for them.

The contrast between the cases shows the spectrum of society in Chopra’s Mumbai, and shows that money cannot buy affections or humanity, a theme that weaves through both cases eventually, and as Chopra comes to the conclusion of his third case, the flaws of humanity and the way people react in the face of the truth illustrates that you cannot judge someone without knowing them or only knowing a public persona that they might hide behind – but the way Vaseem Khan has presented this moral was effective and done in a way that wasn’t overtly obvious, but could still be understood by the reader.

Poppy was at her finest in this book – she is a strong, capable character who has flaws and vulnerability and can be every bit as sneaky and deceptive as her husband – skills that she has picked up from Chopra. She is fast becoming a favourite of mine, because she takes no prisoners and doesn’t give up on those she cares about. And how could I not mention the star of the series, Baby Ganesha, the little elephant that started it all when he came to Chopra as an inheritance from a dead relative. Ganesha is more than just a pet – he is a special elephant whose diet consists mainly of Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate, a habit that not even Chef Lucknowwallah or Poppy can break him of. Ganesha knows when to help, and when his Chopra is in trouble – and he has saved the day before, and is loyal to Chopra, Poppy and Irfan in the fiercest way possible.

This third story with its dual plot meanders at a gentle pace, and without a hint of unnecessary gore and violence. When things get complicated and dangerous, Poppy finds a way to sort things out and ensure nobody gets hurt. As in the first two books, Ganesha comes to Chopra’s rescue at least once, and is perhaps the true hero of the series, even though it is usually Rangwalla and Chopra who uncover the truth, sometimes in unconventional and unexpected ways. The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star is a wonderful addition to a series with a difference, and one that will hopefully continue for many years to come. I look forward to next year’s book, and hopefully, many more after that.

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The Children of Willeseden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

willesden laneTitle: The Children of Willesden Lane

Author: Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A true story of courage and survival during World War II, and a celebration of the power of music to lift the human spirit.

Jewish musical prodigy Lisa Jura has a wonderful life in Vienna. But when the Nazis start closing in on the city, life changes irreversibly. Although he has three daughters, Lisa’s father is only able to secure one place on the Kindertransport. The family sends Lisa to London so that she may pursue her dreams of a career as a concert pianist. Separated from her beloved family, Lisa bravely endures the trip and a disastrous posting outside London before finding her way to the Willesden Lane Orphanage.

Here, her music inspires the other children, and they, in turn, cheer her on in her efforts to make good on her promise to her family to realise her musical potential. Through hard work and sheer pluck, Lisa wins a scholarship to study piano at the Royal Academy. As she supports herself and studies, she makes a new life for herself and dreams of reconnecting with the family she was forced to leave behind.

Based on the true story of her mother, Mona Golabek describes the inspirational story of fourteen-year-old Lisa Jura Golabek’s escape from Nazi-controlled Austria to England on the famed Kindertransport.

~*~

The human stories of World War Two, whether on the home front, or about those fleeing persecution, are the ones that always have the biggest impact on me when reading about them, because it can be easy to forget that wars were more than just the statistics of dead and injured, and easy to forget the human cost – not just in life and limb, but in loss of family, loss of country and loss of self. The stories about these people whether true, based on a true story or imagined and based on history, broaden the story told in history books and go beyond the statistics. The Children of Willesden Lane is one such story of the human face and the human cost of World War Two, and Nazi occupied Austria prior to the war.

In 1938, Germany enacts the Anschluss, annexing Austria, and placing it and its citizens under Nazi control. Just like the past five years in Germany, the Nazi Party begins to erode the rights of the Jewish citizens in Austria. In Vienna, Lisa Jura is forced to stop her piano lessons because she is Jewish – her teacher is heartbroken, but there is nothing else they can do, and so, Lisa’s mother teaches her until a spot opens up for Lisa on the Kindertransport to take her to London, away from the clutches of the Nazis, and where her family will make every attempt they can to join her as soon as possible. In London, Lisa finds her way to Willesden Lane, where she becomes part of a family of refugee children, and through her music, finds a way to get through the war, eventually gaining a spot in a music program, and a job playing piano at a hotel, which gets her through the dark days of the war.

Playing the piano at Willesden Lane gives Lisa and the other children, and those taking care of them, Mrs Cohen and Mrs Glazer a chance, even if just for an hour, to escape the war and the damage it is doing to London and Europe, and the hearts and souls of those directly impacted by the war and what has come out of the Nazi regime. It is a story of hope amidst tragedy and war, retold for children aged ten to fourteen, and anyone interested by Lisa’s daughter, Mona.

It is a story that I didn’t know much about, but that will stay with me. Like other stories of escape from the Nazis, or Anne Frank’s story, and novels such as The Book Thief, and the three novels by Jackie French about this period in history: Hitler’s Daughter, Pennies for Hitler and Goodbye, Mr Hitler, it serves as a reminder of what men like Hitler can do, and what the attitudes they spread and justify can do to ordinary people who have done nothing wrong, using it to back up their ideology and effectively, scare people into silence. Lisa’s journey was powerful and emotional, and it gives a human face to a war fought less than a century ago, showing the power of the human spirit to triumph over hatred and adversity.

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The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting

sixteen trees.jpgTitle: The Sixteen Trees of the Somme

Author: Lars Mytting

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia: MacLehose Press

Published: 8th August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 405

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A 20th-century family saga of epic scale, by the author of NORWEGIAN WOOD.

By Norway’s bestselling novelist and the author of NORWEGIAN WOOD, a family story of epic scale.

Edvard grows up on a remote mountain farmstead in Norway with his taciturn grandfather, Sverre. The death of his parents, when he was three years old, has always been shrouded in mystery – he has never been told how or where it took place and has only a distant memory of his mother.

But he knows that the fate of his grandfather’s brother, Einar, is somehow bound up with this mystery. One day a coffin is delivered for his grandfather long before his death – a meticulous, beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Perhaps Einar is not dead after all.

Edvard’s desperate quest to unlock the family’s tragic secrets takes him on a long journey – from Norway to the Shetlands, and to the battlefields of France – to the discovery of a very unusual inheritance. THE SIXTEEN TREES OF THE SOMME is about the love of wood and finding your own self, a beautifully intricate and moving tale that spans an entire century.

Translated from the Norwegian by Paul Russell Garrett

~*~

The story that Norwegian author, Lars Mytting weaves is unusual, yet lyrical. In 1991, a young man, Edvard Hirjifell, begins an odyssey of discovery about his past, and the family he never knew, following the death of his grandfather, Bestefor. The mystery of his parents death begins the trip, and leads him to search for his grandfather’s brother, Einar, whom he hopes has not died, and will help him link the pieces of his past together. Edvard’s journey spans Norway, France and the Shetlands, discovering an unusual inheritance on the blood-drenched soils of the Somme from 1916, and a family legacy tainted by two world wars, and the horrors some of his ancestors were forced to go through. At times he finds himself questioning his identity, and as he finds people linked to his family, the puzzle pieces of his early life in 1971 begin to fall into place.

Translated into English from Norwegian by Paul Russell Garrett, The Sixteen Trees of the Somme was more character than plot driven, lending itself to literary fiction, and the subtlety within the writing that hinted at what was to come, what had happened and who someone was. As a result, the story was slowly revealed, each detail placed specifically to ensure maximum impact on the reader.

Initially I chose this book based on its title, hinting towards a story about the Somme and those who were there – however, both world wars were only mentioned implicitly in the early sections, and it was about half way into the story before the Battle of the Somme and the events of World War Two started to link up to Edvard’s family history, and what his French and Jewish ancestors had experienced, and how a soldier who had been at the Somme had come to impact his early life, and his link to that family. It became less about the wars themselves and more about the individuals in Edvard’s life who had been marked by war and tragedy. Through the eyes of Edvard, it reveals not only the tragedy and futility of war and sending young men off to fight, or punishing people for resisting a heinous regime, but the futility of being human, and the flaws we all have that an impact on the decisions we make and the way we act.

Translated books allow people who don’t speak the primary language of the author to read stories they may otherwise not get to engage with, and this is a bonus of having these books available. Some translations are exceptionally done, and capture the essence of the book, and as a reader, you can get a sense of the movement of the story. The Sixteen Trees of the Somme achieves this, and through a serious and sombre tone, Mytting communicated the desolation felt by Edvard and those whose stories and lives had shaped his.

Lars Mytting has created a story that crosses a century, and through the eyes of the main character, reveals how different people reacted to the history and to those they knew had been involved. The image at the beginning of a swastika on Bestefor’s car is indicative of wounds that have not healed, but that could also hint at remnants of other attitudes that were around during this time, and is just one example of the slow reveal techniques used in the novel, which did give it a slow pace, but it suited the story and style of the novel, and as such, I found it to be well written and engaging.

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