The Wild Way Home by Sophie Kirtley

the wild way homeTitle: The Wild Way Home
Author: Sophie Kirtley
Genre: Historical Fiction, Time Slip
Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia
Published: 15th September 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: When Charlie’s longed-for brother is born with a serious heart condition, Charlie’s world is turned upside down. Upset and afraid, Charlie flees the hospital and makes for the ancient forest on the edge of town. There Charlie finds a boy floating face-down in the stream, injured, but alive. But when Charlie sets off back to the hospital to fetch help, it seems the forest has changed. It’s become a place as strange and wild as the boy dressed in deerskins. For Charlie has unwittingly fled into the Stone Age, with no way to help the boy or return to the present day. Or is there?

What follows is a wild, big-hearted adventure as Charlie and the Stone Age boy set out together to find what they have lost – their courage, their hope, their family and their way home.

Fans of Piers Torday and Stig of the Dump will love this wild, wise and heartfelt debut adventure.

~*~

Every so often, a book comes my way that has an intriguing and mesmerising cover, that invites you to dive in and enter the world within the covers. Sometimes these are books that must be savoured, and other times, the story just pulls you along for the journey, and before you know it, you’ve read the entire thing in one sitting. The Wild Way Home by Sophie Kirtley is one of those books that will fit into both categories – to be savoured, yet also one of those books that can be devoured.

Charlie’s brother Dara is born with a serious heart condition, and Charlie runs, afraid of what is going to happen. He ends up in the forest near his home, yet it is vastly different to what he knows – no path, no access to the road, and a young boy dressed in animal skins is lying near the river. Charlie soon works out he has been transported to the Stone Age. Lost and alone, he helps Harby, the boy he tries to help, find his family and baby sister, facing unknown dangers along the way as he tries to get home to his time and his family.

Sophie Kirtley’s first novel is a historical fiction time slip with a difference – not many time slip books are set in prehistoric times like the Stone Age, and this is what makes it stand out. Where most timeslip books explore the difference in dress or how characters understand the world, this one takes it a step further, throwing in a language barrier – the language of Stone Age people, and the English that Charlie knows in 2020. It presents challenges at first as Charlie and Harby get to know each other and find a way to communicate so they can help each other ‘make safe’, as Harby puts it.

It is an adventure as well, and the world is showcased in a clear and concise way that builds a mental image for the reader – and contrasts the Stone Age of Harby with the 2020 world that Charlie lives in, through Charlie’s comparisons of the two and how he identifies areas – the names he knows them as. It also touches on what they mean to Harby and Charlie – but mostly Charlie as the story is told through his eyes and perspective as he navigates this strange world and his journey home to his family.

At its heart, this book is about family and friendship, and the love of family and friends, and the support we need in hard times. It looks at the fight or flight response in the face of something unbearable and something that cannot be controlled, and the differing responses we have and how far we will go to be with those we love. It is a wonderful, and touching debut that has the power to inspire and comfort – showing that in thousands of years of humanity, the desire to protect one’s family has never really left us. Middle grade readers and above will enjoy this story.

The Wolves of Greycoat Hall by Lucinda Gifford

the-wolves-of-greycoat-hallTitle: The Wolves of Greycoat Hall

Author: Lucinda Gifford

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Walker Books Australia

Published: 2nd September 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 224

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A deliciously funny tale, with equally amusing illustrations, about being judged for what, rather than who, you are.

When Boris and his parents learn that Scotland is re-introducing wolves, they leave their mansion in Morovia for their Scottish homeland. But these wolves aren’t planning to settle in the wild, oh no! Instead, they book into the exclusive Highland Hotel, from where they plan to enjoy Scotland’s best tourist spots and cuisine. But is Scotland ready for holidaying wolves? Especially such hungry ones? And why are certain people so unhappy to see them? From spooky dungeons to scheming developers, the Greycoats’ new adventure is full of surprising discoveries.

  • A deliciously funny tale, packed with amusing illustrations, about being judged for what, rather than who you are.
  • The lively, heavily-illustrated text will appeal to fans of Alex T. Smith (Claude series) and Chris Riddell – making this a must-read junior fiction novel, with engaging pictures and jokes for all ages.
  • Important theme: At its heart, this is a story about our very refined wolves being judged for what they are, rather than who they are.

~*~

What happens when Scotland decides they want to reintroduce wolves? The Greycoats of Morovia find out and they plan to head off on a new adventure, where they will make new friends and where the humans of Portlessie  welcome the wolves amidst a fight against a developer, who wants to turn a local castle into an exclusive resort, cutting the residents off from their beloved beach.

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Boris and his parents, Leonora and Randall, soon find themselves embroiled in a fight for Drommuir Castle, and a fight to be accepted. Some people in Scotland barely bat an eyelid at the presence of the Greycoat family, in a delightful reminiscence of Paddington Bear, whose presence as a bear in London is delightfully accepted and never questioned as well. There are those determined though, to see the wolves driven from Portlessie, especially when Boris starts digging around in the history of the town and castle, both of which are linked to his family.

The story is lavishly illustrated by Lucinda, whose words and images work together in an energetic and immersive way, pulling readers into the story and into Scotland, a world of thistle and tartan, bannocks and Scottish tablet.

Boris and his family face discrimination on their trip to Scotland, and this forms the crux of the novel. It is a story about acceptance, and not judging based on one’s appearance, but the content of character, and accepting people for who they are and how they identify, especially geared towards readers aged seven and older.  It is a powerful story about community, and pulling together to resolve conflict, and find a way to defeat the big wigs who are always trying to take advantage of the society and destroy what is most precious to them.

This story appealed to me because of its setting first, and the idea of wolves s the characters, which made it unique. History-loving Boris shows children that being true to yourself, being a good person and standing up for what you believe in are all very powerful characteristics to have. He also makes history cool, and I am currently loving this wave of characters who are promoting a love of words, books and history, rather than making these characters seem like they must change to suit popular ideas.

The Wolves of Greycoat Hall is a delightful novel that works exquisitely as a stand-alone novel and brings wolves and Scotland to life in an imaginative and beautiful way that allows readers to immerse themselves in a world that is real and fantastical at the same time. Confident readers will enjoy this book, and the ending will leave you wanting more from the Greycoats and their adventures.

 

The Daughter of Victory Lights by Kerri Turner

cov-daughterofvictorylights-final_2_origTitle: The Daughter of Victory Lights

Author: Kerri Turner

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 20th January 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An enthralling story of one woman’s determined grab for freedom after WW2 from a talented new Australian voice.

‘PART CABARET, PART BURLESQUE, AND LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE EVER SEEN BEFORE! GENTLEMEN, AND LADIES IF YOU’VE DARED TO COME, WELCOME TO …

THE VICTORY!’

1945: After the thrill and danger of volunteering in an all-female searchlight regiment protecting Londoners from German bombers overhead, Evelyn Bell is secretly dismayed to be sent back to her rigid domestic life when the war is over. But then she comes across a secret night-time show, hidden from the law on a boat in the middle of the Thames. Entranced by the risqué and lively performance, she grabs the opportunity to join the misfit crew and escape her dreary future.

At first the Victory travels from port to port to raucous applause, but as the shows get bigger and bigger, so too do the risks the performers are driven to take, as well as the growing emotional complications among the crew. Until one desperate night …

1963: Lucy, an unloved and unwanted little girl, is rescued by a mysterious stranger who says he knows her mother. On the Isle of Wight, Lucy is welcomed into an eclectic family of ex-performers. She is showered with kindness and love, but gradually it becomes clear that there are secrets they refuse to share. Who is Evelyn Bell?

~*~

World War Two. Evelyn Bell volunteers for an all-female searchlight regiment during the Blitz, much to her sister, Cynthia’s chagrin. Once the war ends, she is lost, and for several years she is trapped in her sister’s home. She’s forced to take care of things there, and help with her nephew, Spencer, whom she loves. Her sister is traditional, but Evelyn longs for something more. When she stumbles upon a secret dance show at night, she knows she has found a way to break free and forge her own path, and her own identity away from what everyone around her expects her to do. Here, aboard the Victory, she finds her place, and she finds family, friendship and love, as well as tragedy.

AWW2020In 1963, ten-year-old Lucy is living with her aunt, unwanted and unloved, when she is whisked away to the Isle of Wight. Here, she finds a home where she is loved and accepted, but where she still has many unanswered questions. Will her new family answer them?

I interviewed Kerri at the end of April as part of my Isolation Publicity series, and as a thank you, she sent me a signed copy of her latest book, The Daughter of Victory Lights. Four months later, I have managed to get to this after managing to get on top of my very large review stack that kept coming for so long, and that will no doubt start to pile up again. This book is set partly in World War Two, but mostly during the post-war years of the early fifties and the early sixties.

Evie’s story is exceptional. She led a life of freedom and danger during the war, and going back has not been an easy adjustment for her, and nor were the years aboard the Victory, yet she was accepted in this place, as was her daughter, Lucy, whose life informs the second half of the novel. Drawing on imagination and various historical accounts and instances, Kerri has created an evocative and emotionally charged book that celebrates uniqueness, family, and the idea that family is what we make of it, not always those we are related to. It also examines the idea that sometimes, the two are intertwined, often in unique and unexpected ways.

Double narratives like this are always intriguing, and often, they alternate between the different time periods as the future character uncovers information about their relative in the past. Yet that wouldn’t have worked with this one. Evelyn’s story needed to be told in one go, as did Lucy’s, to grasp the tragedy and heroism, and inner strength of these characters and their lives. Lucy’s story was equally important and gave the novel its emotional pull and the strength of familial love and support that as a reader, I wished Evelyn had received from her family.

It is at times turbulent and there are moments filled with worry, hoping the worst won’t happen, followed by revelations that are bittersweet and hopeful. Lucy is a strong character and determined not to let anyone continue to lie to her as her aunts have done. I devoured this book within two days, engaging with the characters and their struggles.

The power in this story is in the family relationships, and the role certain people play in our lives, whether they are biologically related or not. It is tragic and hopeful, and a testament to the power of the human spirit and our ability to recover physically, mentally and emotionally after experiencing trauma, and the lengths we will go to so we can pull through.

 

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.

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.

 

When Rain Turns to Snow by Jane Godwin

when rain turns to snowTitle: When Rain Turns to Snow
Author: Jane Godwin
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 30th June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 280
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: A beautiful and timely coming-of-age story about finding out who you are in the face of crisis and change. Perfect for fans of Kate DiCamillo, Fiona Wood and Emily Rodda.
A runaway, a baby and a whole lot of questions…
Lissa is home on her own after school one afternoon when a stranger turns up on the doorstep carrying a baby. Reed is on the run – surely people are looking for him? He’s trying to find out who he really is and thinks Lissa’s mum might have some answers. But how could he be connected to Lissa’s family – and why has he been left in charge of a baby? A baby who is sick, and getting sicker …
Reed’s appearance stirs up untold histories in Lissa’s family, and suddenly she is having to make sense of her past in a way she would never have imagined. Meanwhile, her brother is dealing with a devastating secret of his own.
A beautiful and timely coming-of-age story about finding out who you are in the face of crisis and change.

~*~

When Lissa meets Reed, she’s determined to find out who he is – and where he came from. Yet Reed has other ideas, and desperately needs Lissa’s help to look after Mercy, whom he says is his niece. When Reed tells Lissa he thinks he has a connection to her family. Eager to get Reed to leave and go home, Lissa agrees to help, and finds that she is drawn into his mystery.

At the same time, she is trying to find her place in a new friendship group, after her best friend, Hana, has moved across the country to Western Australia. Her older brother, Harry, is going through his own issues and secrets, and her dad is moving on with his life in Beijing. Lissa feels caught between everything – wanting to please everyone as she tries to find out how to be herself. Lissa and Reed’s story intertwines in ways they never thought possible and uncover secrets that have been hidden from everyone in this touching coming of age story about identity, love, family and friendship.

Jane Godwin has a delightful way of taking events and instances of everyday life and turning them into something special. Her last book, As Happy as Here, is set in a hospital, with a mystery unfused throughout. When Rain Turns to Snow begins with a family, with friends and evolves into a mystery about identity and how teenagers find their place in the world, their families and with their friends.

Lissa’s story is a powerful one, – and there are many strands of her story that all readers can relate to – family dynamics, school, friendship groups, secrets, and many other instances that people will find something in. It is a touching story, that is neither too fast or too slow – it has a decent pace, and from the start we know there will be more to the story than we are told initially.

AWW2020

I thought this was a lovely story, sensitively dealt with on all levels. The story is told mostly through Lissa’s eyes, which gives it the perspective needed to experience what she is feeling. Yet every other character has a voice and they are all given equal room on the page to tell their stories. The way they intertwine is intriguing and evolve throughout the story to a hopeful conclusion that brings all the strands of the stories together, It is at times light, and not too heavy. I found it a very moving and delightful read, and hopeful even when things seem like they won’t work out.

Jane Godwin’s characters and stories are relatable and accessible – she does what she can to make her stories, characters and the situations they find themselves in diverse and relatable for her readership. It is a lovely story that I hope the readers it finds will enjoy.

Eloise and the Bucket of Stars by Janeen Brian

eloise and the bucket of starsTitle: Eloise and the Bucket of Stars

Author: Janeen Brian

Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism

Publisher: Walker Books Australia

Published: 1st June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Left in a pail at an orphanage as a baby, only something magical can save Eloise from a miserable life and give her the one she’s always dreamed of.

Orphaned as a baby, Eloise Pail yearns for a family. Instead, she lives a lonely life trapped in an orphanage and made miserable by the cruel Sister Hortense. Befriended by the village blacksmith, Eloise soon uncovers some strange secrets of yesteryear and learns that something terrible may be about to happen to the village. As troubles and dangers mount, she must learn who to trust and choose between saving the village or belonging to a family of her own. Unless something truly magical happens…

  • A powerful tale of how magic weaves its way into the real world.
  • Explores themes of belonging, what it takes to be a friend and what constitutes a family.

~*~

Eloise has spent her whole life in an orphanage run by the cruel Sister Hortense. Sisters Genevieve and Bernard, Sister Genevieve in particular, try to help Eloise, and make things a little more bearable for her. Eloise has never been adopted – trapped in a cruel place that doesn’t value her. Her only place of solace and friendship with the local blacksmith, and his horse, Dancy. Her lessons with Sister Genevieve are cut shortly after Janie Pritchard, a newly orphaned girl arrives. At first, Eloise wants nothing to do with her, but the two soon become friends, and start to unravel the mystery of the poisoned water, and the unicorn stories that Sister Genevieve has told them.

Eloise wants a family more than anything – but Sister Hortense has a secret that has prevented this from happening and will do anything to punish and break Eloise, making her watch the Littlies get adopted and leave the orphanage with new families, and punishing her when she starts to look happy. But with a curse threatening the village, and whispers about men wanting to hunt the unicorn for their own gain. What will Eloise sacrifice to save the unicorn and her village?

Eloise and the Bucket of stars is a charming, delightful and magical story – set in an orphanage during Victorian times, it shows the hardships faced by orphans, and the treatment they received in places like the orphanage Eloise lived in. It also shows how harmful beliefs can be when taken to the extreme and the lengths people like Sister Hortense will go to protect dark secrets – even from those they work with, just to make sure they’re not outed as what drives her to punish Eloise.

AWW2020At its core, this is a story about friendship, being yourself and family – and what makes a family. How does someone like Eloise find a family, and find love, when every time she finds herself in a place where she is happy, it is taken away from her. The world is shown through Eloise’s eyes – and you truly feel for her. Eloise drives this story, and it is slow and lyrical on purpose – we’re meant to feel the drudgery and frustrations of Eloise’s daily life, and her feelings of hopelessness. It is gentle yet when action is required, it happens when and where it needs to.

Family and friendship are strong themes here, where the characters let their individuality, and bonds of friendship shine through the uniformity that Sister Hortense forces upon them. Sully, the cook, is one of Eloise’s friends. Everyone can see how Sister Hortense treats Eloise – but what will make her realise she needs to stop?

This tender story is about finding family and following your heart, and never giving up on your beliefs or compromising for anyone. Staying true to yourself and your dreams is a message at the core of this novel, and it moves gently and eloquently through towards this goal. It is one of those novels that demands time be spent with it to take everything in and let it sink in properly, following Eloise on her journey – the physical journey to get water every day and her own inner journey to finding family and friendship. It is Janie who sparks this journey and what will happen in the second half of the novel, and Janeen has created a beautiful story that will be beloved by many for years to come.

I loved this book – it evoked the same sense of wonder that The Secret Garden did all those years ago, with an orphaned child discovering magic beyond what she could ever imagine in a mundane world that didn’t appreciate her at first. Orphans are common in children’s literature and dealing with them in gentle ways, and each story is of course different, and this one had a sense of magic and wonder about it that many don’t, which is what made it so special and why I really enjoyed it, and hope that younger readers do as well.

The Giant and the Sea by Trent Jamieson, Rovina Cai (Illutrator)

the giant and the seaTitle: The Giant and the Sea
Author: Trent Jamieson, Rovina Cai (Illutrator)
Genre: Fiction, Eco-themes
Publisher: Hachette/Lothian Children’s Books
Published: 26th May 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Price: $26.99
Synopsis: A stunningly beautiful and powerful take on climate change, standing up for what you believe in, and the power of hope. With lyrical text by acclaimed author Trent Jamieson and illustrations by CBCA Award-winner Rovina Cai that will resonate long after reading. For fans of Shaun Tan and Armin Greder.
A giant stands on the shore, watching the sea. She never moves, never speaks, until the day she turns to a little girl and says, ‘The sea is rising.’
The brave girl takes the message to the town. But when the people refuse to listen, the giant must find another way to save them.
Perfect for the children of the Climate Strike, this is a lyrical and deeply moving story about climate change, standing up for what you believe in, and the power of hope.

~*~

A giant stares out at the sea – she can see something is wrong – the sea is rising. The young girl she meets tries to pass on the message – but the townsfolk ignore it – can the giant save them before it is too late? Climate change is a big topic now and has been for many years. Over the past few years, there have been many and varied books about climate change, how to reduce waste and various strategies on how to help. One of the latest books in this genre is The Giant and the Sea – which combines the real world issues of climate change and unwillingness to listen and act with a fantasy, far off world to illustrate what climate change is to younger readers and readers of all ages.

Trent Jamieson’s story gently and quietly tells the story of a world under threat from a rising sea. It can be read on several levels – the simplicity of needing to find safety, and as readers gain confidence or deeper understanding – what the rising sea and dark machine mean and how they are connected to climate change. From there, readers can work out that action must be taken. Trent’s simple yet complex and layered cyclical narrative is combined effectively with Rovina Cai’s illustrations, which are in shades of darker colours – browns and greys, black and muddied shades to show the despondency of the giant and the characters. At times it does feel hopeless – and this reflects the reality of the climate change issue that Trent is writing about.

It is one of those books that feels like it stays with you long after you read it, and it will. It is one that can be revisited over and over, taught in class and used as an example at all levels of education to teach about climate change or how to deal with climate change in literature and make it an accessible topic for all ages. This will be ideal to teach in classes across the board, and to open up discussions about climate change as well as differences of opinion, and how to talk about these issues with people who might not be as receptive to some issues.

This story really brought the issues to life, and because it ends the way it starts, it has a cyclical feel – that this is an ongoing issue and discussion that will always be talked about, always get attention. However, this book is also a warning that we need to act – and act soon.

Ideal for children aged four and over, this is a sensitive way to teach them about climate change and open up discussions about what is going on in the world today.

 

Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends by Charlotte Barkla

Edies Experiments 1Title: Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends
Author: Charlotte Barkla
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Puffin Australia
Published: 4th February 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 240
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: A new school, a classroom full of potential new friends and a science kit. What could possibly go wrong?
I’m Edie and I love science. So when I started at a new school, I decided it could be one giant experiment.

Can I give you some advice? Avoid sliming your entire classroom. You could end up in trouble with your teacher, your new classmates and the principal.

Between the great slime fiasco, the apology cookie surprise and the wrinkle cream mix-up, I’ve discovered making friends isn’t an exact science!

~*~

Edie is about to start a new school – and she is uncertain about her new school and making friends. Yet she’s not sure how – until she decides to run a series of experiments to impress her new classmates and teacher – they all start well, but end in utter disaster, and start causing trouble for her at school with her teacher, her classmates and her principal. All Edie wants to do is make new friends – and her heart is in the right place, even though her execution might not be. She hopes she can fix things for everyone – but as she discovers during her experiments, there doesn’t seem to be a science or formula to making friends.

Edie’s story will be familiar to kids who have started a new school or moved somewhere new – and it explores the struggles of fitting in with new people and what is expected in the classroom, at school and with everyone. The rules of how to behave in order to fit in and make sure you’re doing the right thing are explored through Edie’s eyes as she tries to do whatever she can to make friends and get to know people.

AWW2020She has other obstacles – Annie B seems to like her, but Emily James who seems nice at first, starts to turn on Edie, and Edie misses her friend, Winnie. Edie is a delightful character, who is passionate about science and fun, and really, really wants to make friends and fit in. I loved that her parents were so supportive and talked her through things and made an effort to understand her – this showed a positive relationship that made the book even more powerful.

Even though Edie’s main love is science – kids who might have different interests will be able to relate to her, and it is also nice to see young girls represented in a variety of different ways in today’s children’s literature, especially books written by Australian authors. This is a really cool trend to be following as a blogger and reader, and the familiar spaces of school bring children into the story naturally with the setting, and then bring in different interests, diverse characters, and many other aspects that are growing and evolving in books. It is an interesting time to be reader and reviewer – across the board, as we see stories told from perspectives that ten years ago even, might not have been done. Books like this, whilst possibly aimed at girls interested in science – can be read and enjoyed by anyone because it also explores universal themes of school, fitting in, family, friends and fun, and being yourself – messages and themes that stick with us throughout our lives and that are not limited to being a kid. This is why I enjoy reading books for younger readers as well – the universal themes that we all grapple with.

A great read for all ages, all genders – anyone really, who loves a good yarn.

Isolation Publicity with Sonya Bates

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.

My next interview is with Sonya Bates, author of The Inheritance of Secrets, one of the shortlisted authors of the inaugural Banjo Prize with HarperCollins Australia – in 2018. I reviewed it here on the 20th of April, it’s review date. Sonya, like many authors who have appeared, has had events, launches and appearances cancelled due to COVID-19. She agreed to participate in my Isolation Publicity series – there are more to come, and I am waiting for some answers to pop back, so be on the lookout over the next few weeks.

Inheritance of Secrets

Hi Sonya, and welcome to The Book Muse,

  1. Where did the idea for your novel, Inheritance of Secrets, come from?

The idea for Inheritance of Secrets came from a character – the character of Karl from the historical thread of the novel. Karl is a fictional character who was inspired by my dad, who grew up in Germany in the same era, when Hitler was in power. Like Karl, he was drafted at the age of eighteen and sent to war. My dad was such a quiet, peace-loving person and I couldn’t imagine him being involved in such a terrible part of history. It made me want to write something that involved an ordinary person caught up in terrible times.

  1. What was it like growing up being aware of what your father went through?

It wasn’t something I thought about a lot. It’s not something he talked about. He was just my dad. But every once in a while, something would trigger thoughts about it. Like around Remembrance Day when the teacher would ask if anyone’s father or grandfather had fought in either of the World Wars. I never said anything, because he’d fought on the side of the enemy (we were living in Canada).  I needn’t have been embarrassed about that. He was an ordinary man fighting for his country like so many thousands of men on both sides of the conflict were doing.

  1. Do you think novels like yours with basis on real events and experiences, and presented in a fictional way, can help people understand the grey areas of history and people?

That’s an interesting question. I know, from a reader’s perspective, I love historical fiction because it makes history personal. It puts the reader in a character’s head as they deal with the issues of the time, and gives history a sense of reality. It humanises it. It may also give readers a glimpse of the times of their ancestors, and allow them to connect with their own history. How factual it is depends on the author’s research and their understanding of the time, so in that sense it is, as is all history, one person’s perspective on the time period. But it can put a new slant on history, allow the reader to look at it from a new perspective and consider it in a different way. Novelists have been doing that for quite some time – think Jane Eyre, The Color Purple or The Book Thief. The stories of individual people behind the big events of history. And it’s becoming more prevalent in recent times, especially the telling of stories from the female perspective, which has traditionally been largely ignored in history. Hannah Kent’s novels are a great example, as is Molly Murn’s Heart of the Grass Tree. Inheritance of Secrets isn’t purely a historical novel, and the historical thread is deliberately linked to the contemporary story and designed to provide clues to the mystery. But early readers have said how interesting they’ve found it, and I love that they’ve connected with it.

  1. Roughly how long did it take you to write this novel?

From the first spark of an idea to publication? Probably ten years! But I wasn’t working on it all that time. The idea mulled around in my head for years before I started working on it. I was writing children’s fiction at the time as well as working in Speech Pathology. I dabbled around doing a bit of research and writing a couple of scenes. Ideas were building in my head, but I couldn’t seem to get them down. Finally I concluded that if I really wanted to tackle this, then I needed some dedicated time to write it. I took some time off and did just that. It took me about ten months to write the first draft. Then another couple of years editing before I thought it was close to ready for submission. I signed the contract with HarperCollins late in 2018.

  1. What sort of research beyond your father’s experiences did you undertake whilst working on Inheritance of Secrets?

 

Most of the research was done either online or in libraries and museums. I did talk to my dad some on the phone and when I visited him in Canada, but it wasn’t something he ever wanted to talk about, and so I didn’t pry about his own experiences. He shared a portion of his private memoirs with me while I was researching, and we spoke more in general terms, about the character Karl and what he might or might not have experienced. I relied more on reading memoirs and personal accounts, letters and diaries I found at the State Library or online. As well as scholarly texts on the time periods and the war years both in Germany and Australia. In 2018 I went to Germany and visited many of the museums dealing with the time before, during and after WWII, and also went to Halle (Saale) where Karl and Grete grew up, to walk the streets they would have walked and see the river park where they said their good-byes.

  1. What inspired you to enter the Banjo prize, and do you think it’s a good step for first time authors to take?

The Banjo Prize came at the perfect time for me. I’d done a number of edits on the manuscript, had feedback from beta readers, and felt I was almost ready to send it out to look for a publisher. I’d actually sent it off to a couple of agents, and while they weren’t prepared to offer me representation, they gave me detailed feedback that was immensely helpful. It was about that time that HarperCollins announced the launch of the Banjo Prize. I still wasn’t sure that the manuscript was ready, but basically thought, ‘You’ve gotta be in it to win it.’ So I did one last edit and sent it off with fingers crossed.

I think competitions like the Banjo Prize are a brilliant way for first time authors to get noticed. You can guarantee your manuscript will be read within a timely period for one, and if it does catch the attention of the publishers, even if you don’t win, being shortlisted for a competition looks great on your resume. And you never know, shortlisted manuscripts may be picked up, like mine was.

  1. After your manuscript was acquired, what did you have to do to get your work ready for publication?

The editing process can be a daunting one, especially the structural edit, but I knew that it would be the final step to making the book the best that it could be. For me, it involved fleshing out some of the characters, delving more into their relationships and expanding on the historical thread so that the character of Grete was more real to the reader. I think, coming from writing children’s fiction, my writing is quite spare. I’ve learned to say as much as I need to in as few words as possible, which is something I appreciate as a reader as well. I don’t like things spelled out too clearly. But going this step further with Inheritance of Secrets has made the book so much better. The editors at HarperCollins were brilliant. They didn’t tell me what to do, just pointed things out, asked questions and made suggestions, and then let me consider what was the best thing to do for the book. I think the changes will help the reader to form a stronger connection with the characters.

  1. A debut novel is an exciting event – what events did you have planned for the launch of your novel prior to the current crisis?

The release of Inheritance of Secrets was still a couple of months away when COVID-19 reared its ugly head and things started shutting down. So while my publicist had all sorts of events in mind, not many had been booked. The official book launch at Dymocks Adelaide was cancelled, as well as a collaborative author event that some writer friends and I had booked at a local library. I was able to get around to meet booksellers in Adelaide and Brisbane in January, which was really nice. Everyone was very welcoming and enthusiastic about the book.

  1. When did you decide you wanted to write books and explore stories?

I’ve always liked to write. I wrote stories as a child, although I never showed them to anyone. And after university, I wrote stories to use in therapy when I was working in Speech Pathology. It was when my girls were small and I was taking time off from work that I started to consider writing with the intent of being published. I saw an ad in the newspaper for a correspondence course in writing for children. I needed something for myself, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was great fun, and rekindled my desire to write more. Soon after, I had my first chapter book accepted for publication, so that was very encouraging and the start of an ongoing pursuit of writing and being published.

  1. What was the book that made you fall in love with reading? Any particular reason that book stands out for you?

I don’t remember one particular book. I’ve loved reading since I was a kid. The whole family loved to read. Some favourites were Anne of Green Gables and the Little House on the Prairie series, so even then I loved historical fiction.

  1. War seems to be a common theme in lots of historical fiction at the moment – what is it about war that you think lends itself so well to telling a multitude of stories for a modern audience?

Another great question! I think times of extreme circumstances bring out the best and the worst in people, and can be a catalyst for strong human emotion. And war is definitely one of those extreme situations – especially a world war. People were fighting to survive, and when your family and your life is at stake, you may do things you wouldn’t do under ordinary circumstances. Both good and bad. It’s not something many of us growing up in the modern western world have experienced. Historical novels about war and desperate times put the reader into the head of the character and allow them to experience second-hand what they hope they never will see in real life. War stories may also give readers a different perspective on a period of history. They can put a face to the ‘enemy’, and provide a glimpse of them as a person, possibly provide some insight into their mind and motivation. Every story needs conflict and an antagonist, but no antagonist is completely evil, and revealing those layers of humanity is what makes a story compelling.

  1. What are you currently reading, and do you have a favourite author?

I’m currently reading The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams and also Silver by Chris Hammer. I don’t often read two at once, but it demonstrates my love for the two genres of historical fiction and crime. I also read contemporary fiction and recently finished Saving Missy by Beth Morrey. I have many favourite authors. Hannah Kent and Jane Harper are probably the two that come to mind as stand-outs.

  1. You’ve previously written for children – what have you written, and which one do you think you enjoyed writing the most?

I’ve written ten books for children and young adults, chapter books and high-interest low-reading-level books for reluctant readers. Most of them have been published by Orca Book Publishers in Canada. To be honest, the children’s novel I enjoyed writing most hasn’t yet found a publisher. It’s a science fiction adventure for middle-grade readers and was just so much fun to write – creating a whole new world and writing from an entirely different perspective. And great fun consulting with my brother on the technical aspects of it too.

  1. Has your career as a speech pathologist helped you understand story and language differently in any way?

I’ve worked in speech pathology for most of my life, so it’s hard to say how it’s influenced my understanding of story and language. Certainly my study of linguistics and speech pathology gave me a good grasp of grammar and the nuances of dialect and colloquial speech. And an understanding of basic story structure. But that’s something that all writers develop at one point or another. I think what working in this field has given me is an appreciation of the difficulties some people have with language and reading and the need to make story accessible to everyone, whether it’s through hi/lo books, audiobooks, graphic novels or even music.

  1. What do you think you’ll be working on for future stories, and will these be for adults or children?

I’m currently working on another adult crime novel. As with Inheritance of Secrets, it explores family dynamics, relationships and trust issues. That seems to be a recurrent theme in a lot of my writing, both for children and adults. Beyond that, I don’t have anything planned. I’ll work with the ideas that present themselves, whether for children or adults.

Anything that you think I have missed?

No, this has been very comprehensive and given me some interesting food for thought.

Thank you Sonya, and best of luck with your novel.  Thank you!