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.

The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks

the year the maps changedTitle: The Year the Maps Changed

Author: Danielle Binks

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette/Lothian Children’s Books

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: One extraordinary year will change them all…

Sorrento, Victoria, 1999. Fred’s family is a mess. Her mother died when she was six and she’s been raised by her Pop and adoptive father, Luca, ever since. But now Pop’s had to go away, and Luca’s girlfriend Anika and her son have moved in. More and more it feels like a land-grab for family and Fred is the one being left off the map.

Even as things feel like they’re spinning out of control for Fred, a crisis from the other side of the world comes crashing in. When a group of Kosovar-Albanian refugees are brought to a government ‘safe haven’ not far from Sorrento, their fate becomes intertwined with the lives of Fred and her family in ways that no one could have expected.

~*~

At eleven, almost twelve years old, Fred’s life is changing rapidly. Her adoptive father, Luca, has been seeing Anika, and has recently allowed Anika and her son, Sam, to move in with them. She’s in her final year of primary school, and Pop, who usually lives with them, has had to go into hospital in the next town. It’s 1999, the year before the Y2K panic, two years before an incident in New York would change the world forever. It’s the first time the idea of refugees and war crosses the consciousness of Fred and her friends in Sorrento beyond what they have been taught about past wars. In this year, Fred will grow up, find out what family is, and who she can rely on in a world that is beginning to change in so many ways.

There were so many things I loved about this book – its 1999 setting was very relatable, and I was a year older – 12-13 than Fred was in the novel, so some of what she felt with her changing body, and friends, I could understand. It was my first year of high school and like Fred, the first time that refugees and discussion about current wars crossed my path – most likely in history, and some of what I saw on the news. Like Fred, Kosovar seemed so far away, at first, it was hard to understand. Fred’s life will change in many ways in this year, and Danielle has used maps as a metaphor for physical changes in locations, borders and lives – as well as a way of understanding the world and how the maps we know were and have been created.

There are some very cool nineties references I loved – watching movies on VHS, sleepovers, and a time before computers and technology like iPhones became something just about everyone had and used every day – a time when switching off the computer really meant switching off, and we sent hand-written invitations for parties. Kids rode bikes in their neighbourhoods, and we read newspapers in print.

AWW2020Whilst this nostalgia made the book feel comfortable for me, the idea of a refugee facility near my home was something unknown to me, and as we explore this phenomenon and the reaction to refugees through Fred and Sam, as they deal with the changes in their family, showed how much kids can notice what is going on around them, and what it means to have ethics and morals, and what happens when doing the right thing morally might not be the right thing legally. This conflict comes into being strongly, as Luca is a police officer and is at times, caught between what he believes is right and what he must do within the confines of the law and his job. It is about the conflicts we face in life in all their measures, and how we deal with them.

I enjoyed this book – it was like heading back to a world before everything changed – or before we became aware of what things were like for people outside our circles, as it was an age where we were likely to encounter some of these things for the first time, or at least, an age where we may have the clearest memories of these things happening. It will vary from person to person, and experience to experience. What Danielle has done here is to capture one experience through the eyes of one child during this time, and how she made sense of it all.

I recommend this to enthusiastic middle grade readers, and those older, as it can offer something to each reader and readership.

The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester

the paris secretTitle: The Paris Secret

Author: Natasha Lester

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 460

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A wardrobe of Dior gowns, a secret kept for sixty-five years, and the three women bound forever by war… from the New York Times bestselling author of THE FRENCH PHOTOGRAPHER.

England, 1939
 Talented pilot Skye Penrose joins the British war effort where she encounters her estranged sister, Liberty, and childhood soulmate Nicholas Crawford, now engaged to enigmatic Frenchwoman Margaux Jourdan.

Paris, 1947 Designer Christian Dior unveils his extravagant first collection to a world weary of war and grief. He names his debut fragrance, Miss Dior, in tribute to his sister, Catherine, who worked for the French Resistance.

Present day Australian fashion conservator Kat Jourdan discovers a secret wardrobe filled with priceless Dior gowns in her grandmother’s vacant cottage. As she delves into the mystery, Kat begins to doubt everything she thought she knew about her beloved grandmother.

An unspeakable betrayal will entwine all of their fates.

THE PARIS SECRET is an unforgettable story about the lengths people go to protect one another, and a love that, despite everything, lasts a lifetime.

~*~

Skye Penrose dreams of flying and following in the footsteps of her mother and Amy Johnson – yet when war breaks out, and all civilian flying is grounded, Skye finds another way to help the war effort with the ATA – transporting planes between bases for repairs and when they need to be turned into scrap metal. During her tenure doing this, she is reunited with her childhood friend from Cornwall, Nicholas Crawford, and the sister she hasn’t seen since she was eighteen – Liberty. Skye then meets Margaux Jourdan, and from here, it weaves in and out of World War Two as Skye and her fellow pilots fight for their right to fly, fight discrimination and eventually, find that they have to hide their own secrets as the novel progresses and the war heads further and further into darker days and eventually, towards the end.

In between the stories of Margaux, Skye and Nicholas and those they work with, is the 2012 story of Kat Jourdan, Margaux’s granddaughter, who uncovers a trove of Dior dresses in her grandmother’s Cornwall home, and a link to the well-known designer. It is here that she starts unravelling Margaux’s past when Elliott Beaufort starts asking questions about a Margaux Jourdan, an ATA pilot and SOE agent who helped the French Resistance and survived imprisonment and escaped. As Kat delves further into the mysteries with Elliott, and finds out about Skye, Margaux, Nicholas, and Liberty, she begins to question what she knows.

AWW2020The novel weaves in and out of the years leading up to World War Two, World War Two, the years just after the war and 2012, telling the reader and Kat the story as it moves along – as though Kat is reading the diaries of those from that time. Each part and perspective is richly brought to life through all the senses and a range of emotions as the war lurches on, and Skye faces loss over and over again, in many ways, tearing her apart from what she knows.

Cleverly, Natasha Lester ensures that the reader does not get lost in the changing characters – each part is clearly marked as to whose story it is, and each part is told in third person, making the transitions seamless and at times, they feel like they are sitting side by side – as something in the past happens, it feels like it might relate to the future.

Fashion plays a big role in this book – the Dior dresses are key to Kat finding out who her grandmother really is, and what happened to Margaux, Skye and Liberty – and why Elliott is determined that Kat’s Margaux is the one he is looking for.

Natasha Lester does something amazing with her books – she puts female history front and centre – and makes this the focus of her book, and leads us gently, and delicately into the romance at the end – much like Kate Forsyth and Jackie French in their historical novels where women are front and centre. The story is about what the women did, and how they coped in the face of sexism and discrimination, and assumptions about what they could do. This is what draws me to these books – seeing the women like Skye as active participants in history and learning about topics and perspectives that I had never known about even with all my reading. These are perspectives that are not always shared widely and books like this give an introduction to this history and for me, a deeper and further interest in trying to find out more. The happy ending was great too – and left me with a huge smile on my face.

Natasha also drops her clues very carefully and cleverly, and I enjoyed trying to work out who was who with what I was given – a very nicely written mystery!

I hope all of Natasha’s fans enjoy this book when it comes out, as it covers so many things – war, friendship, family, and love of all kinds, and illustrates the complexities of history in an accessible manner.

Isolation Publicity: Interview with Danielle Binks – literary agent, blogger and author.

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 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.

One of my first interviews for this venture that I have called Isolation Publicity is an interview with Danielle Binks – literary agent, fellow book reviewer and author. Her debut novel, The Year the Maps Changed is due for release with Hachette on the 28th of April 2020, and I had hoped to participate in the blog tour run by AusYABloggers. As I wasn’t able to, I decided to interview Danielle about her new book, and plan to read it as soon as I can.

the year the maps changed
The Year The Maps Changed by Danielle Binks, out 28th April 2020.

Hi Danielle, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. How did you get started working in the arts and publishing industry, and what was your first job?

A: I was really lucky once I finished up doing RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing course (and after a year of still-working in my uni job at the local post-office) an internship program came up with the Australian Publishers Association, for a paid internship at one of (I think?) five placements around Australia. There were two going in Victoria, and I nabbed one. That was my foot in the door – and luckily, after my six-month internship that indie publisher decided to keep me on! I was a publicist and editor for a few indie-publishers over about 3-years, before getting tapped on the shoulder one day by Jacinta di Mase … she’d read my freelance writing for Kill Your Darlings digital and liked what I had to say about Aussie YA in particular, and offered me a job working as a literary agent with her. I joined her in 2016 and have never looked back – even as being a literary agent never even crossed my mind until she offered me that opportunity, I now can’t think what else I’d rather be doing!

2. As a literary agent, what is it about a book that makes you go wow, this has to be published?

A: Chills. I can’t quite describe it – but there are just some books you read and, no matter how raw and unpolished the writing or ideas may be, there’s something in their delivery that just makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It’s that X-factor that’s so hard to describe. But it’s the exact same feeling you have as a reader, when you begin a book and just *know* you’re reading the exact perfect story for this point in time, and you’re reading something that’ll be a new favourite. That’s what I look for as an agent too – to first fall in love with a story as a reader.

3. As I follow you on Twitter, I feel I should know this, but what is your favourite young adult or middle grade series?

A: Oh, gosh – ask me this same question next week and it’ll totally change. I’ve got to say, a series I keep returning to in YA is Melina Marchetta’s set in the Saving Francesca universe – that continued with The Piper’s Son and concluded last year with The Place on Dalhousie. I don’t even care that that’s a series starting in YA and gradually progressing to adult-fiction – I just love those characters, and reading them is like going home and catching up with old friends. I also have a deep and abiding love for Melina’s fantasy The Lumatere Chronicles trilogy, big love and respect for The Tribe series by Ambelin Kwaymullina, and The Grisha by Leigh Bardugo. In middle-grade, it’s gotta bet the American series Gaither Sisters by Rita Williams-Garcia (P.S. Be Eleven is pretty much a masterpiece). I also love the Binny UK-series from Hilary McKay.

4. I am yet to read The Year the Maps Changed and hope to do so soon. What inspired you to write this novel for the middle grade readership?

A: I hope you like it when you do! … I started thinking of this idea way back in 2016, when I decided to delve into this big Australian event that happened in 1999 called ‘Operation Safe Haven’ when our then-Government began the biggest-ever humanitarian exercise, of offering temporary-asylum to Albanian-Kosovar refugees of the Kosovo War and NATO Bombings.

For a long time I wrestled with whether or not to make the book YA or MG – I thought, I was known to be a big fan and supporter of young-adult literature, and back in 2016 (even though I consumed a lot of American middle-grade lit) the readership wasn’t as clearly-defined in Australia then. But what tipped me into deciding to go all-in on MG was the fact that in 1999, I was eleven going on twelve. So I decided my protagonist would be too; and once I made that decision it was so easy to remember what that age and year was like, and my protagonist – Fred – seemed to spring fully-formed in my mind.

Between 2016 and now, MG also really took off in Australia; Jessica Townsend, Nova Weetman, Jeremy Lachlan, Bren MacDibble, and Zana Fraillon (to name a very few!) all wrote these gorgeous and ground-breaking books that really carved out that space in Australia, so by the time Maps was ready it was very clear who the book would be for.

5. It feels like we’re in a Golden Age of Australian Middle Grade fiction at the moment from a reader and reviewer’s perspective. What do you think, as an agent, author and also, if you’d like, a reader as well?

A: I’m so glad you think that, because I literally just wrote an article for Books+Publishing about this very topic! And it’s an article following-up something I wrote in 2016 for them, called ‘Unstuck in the Middle’ which was kind of looking at how robust and plentiful the MG readership was in America (especially after a book like R.J. Palacio’s Wonder became a mega-bestseller) but how in Australia, everyone was still grappling with what it was and who it was for.

Now, MG has always existed in Australia (books by Leanne Hall and Barry Jonsberg, Morris Gleitzman and Ursula Dubosarsky spring to mind) but those books would often win awards, or get labelled as ‘junior fiction/kids books’ or ‘young adult’ – and there didn’t seem to be an acknowledgment of the spectrum that also exists for those trickier middle-years of (roughly) 8-12. But Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon really went a long way to defining modern MG in Australia (and at opposite ends of the genre-spectrum too) and carving out that space for the tricky in-between age-group. So many Aussie editors were aware of what was happening in America and the clearly-defined readership according to them, and the success of those books in Australia signalled them to just … go bananas and embrace! And they have. It was also things like ‘The Readings Children’s Book Prize’ acknowledging MG, and also The Text and Ampersand Prizes, putting a spotlight on the readership with their unpublished manuscript award-winners.

So it was a lot of ingredients that have gone into creating this ‘Golden Age’ of MG in Australia, for sure. And like most things … timing is everything.

6. Do you have a favourite middle grade author or series, past or present – or even both?

A: Gosh, look – I am a fan of contemporary fiction across all readerships so it’s the likes of Rebecca Stead, Jacqueline Woodson, Gary D. Schmidt, Nova Weetman and Emily Gale for me. All current-MG authors who I just adore and admire and I’m always on tenterhooks waiting for new books from them.

7. When you’re not reading middle grade, what do you enjoy reading, and what has been a favourite read recently?

A: Anyone who follows me anywhere, I hope, knows that I’m a HUGE romance-reader and fan. Everything from historical to paranormal; I just finished Kylie Scott’s latest romance The Rich Boy and loved it (it is adult though, not suitable for younger readers!) As an agent I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneaky-peek at Jenna Guillaume’s next book (the new stand-alone, follow-up to her debut What I Like About Me) it’s called You Were Made For Me and it’s so funny and romantic and brilliant. Think: Weird Science meets Jenny Han.

My go-to (adult!) romance authors are; Sarah Mayberry, Courtney Milan, Helen Hoang, Mhairi McFarlane, Lisa Kleypas, Sarah MacLean, and I’m hanging out for the TV series adaptation Bridgerton (based on Julia Quinn’s books!). I also have the sequel to The Royal We – The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan – geared up on my Kindle, thanks to NetGalley!

8. What is your favourite festival, or do you have a favourite, and why or why not?

A: I went to Clunes Booktown for the first time last year, and that quickly became a new fave that I have to get to again! I’m also a big fan of The YA Room’s YA Day – just for the ingenious way they’ve found to bring the YA-lit community together in Melbourne, in a really lovely event that I hope continues to grow and thrive.

9. Do you have a favourite bookseller – which one, and why are they your favourite?

A: I have so many! Readings, Better Read Than Dead, Mary Martin, The Little Bookroom, Rabble Books, The Younger Sun, Avenue Bookstore, Antipodes … but my local independent in Mornington is Farrells and I love them so much (and they’ve been such a staple of my childhood, and now adulthood) that they even have a cameo-appearance in The Year the Maps Changed.

10. The important stuff: Cats, dogs, or both for a writing and reading companion?
A: Both! Always both! I have a very cat-like dog called Murray, so I feel he’s the best of all worlds.

11. Do you have a Hogwarts house, and which one would you be in if you attended the school?

A: Slytherin, baby. Cunning! … actually; whenever I take a quiz I literally end up like Harry and get a fair amount of Gryffindor and Slytherin in equal amounts. I guess it depends what mood I’m in.

12. Favourite Beatles song, and why?

A: I LOVE THIS QUESTION! I actually think it’s Blackbird for me. I just think it’s the most beautiful tune and poetic lullaby. And then it’s kind of a two-way tie for Hey Jude and Let It Be.

13. What is your favourite Jane Austen novel, and why?
A: Sense and Sensibility. Colonel Brandon. That’s it. That’s … everything.

14. Who played Darcy better – Colin Firth or Matthew McFadyen?
A: Laurence Olivier. Seriously: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=643d0KOkMl8

15. What inspired you to start working in the arts industry, and what did you study at university?

A: Let’s see – when I first finished high school I knew I wanted a job *writing* because that’s what I loved. So I had it suggested to me, that I should become a journalist. So I trotted off and did that at Monash within a Communications degree but I hated it – and was always being told to stick to WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE & WHY and not to give any purple prose. In my last year of study, we had to choose an internship within a publishing medium and I decided to do this crazy thing of seeing if I could try and work with kid’s books – which I did; scoring an internship at Black Dog Books (now, Walker Books) in Melbourne. It was eye-opening for me; this realisation that there are so many different areas of work in books publishing, and that I could maybe work within that industry too! So I went off and studies Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT, while also getting my own book-review blog Alpha Reader – http://alphareader.blogspot.com/ – off the ground as I delved further and further into books realms. That was it. Letting myself dream of working with books, reading more, and making that my hobby too.

16. The arts industry is important to Australia, especially now. Do you think people will come to appreciate the arts more after this crisis while they consume books, music and television shows that we need the arts around to produce?

A: Look; everything that people are reaching for is ART. Be that a television show, movie, video-game, comic-book, audiobook, or interacting with the number of museums and art-galleries who have found creative ways for people at home to do virtual-tours. So much of what is alleviating personal pain and boredom, that is continuing to connect people, is … ART. And as the saying goes – the world without ‘art’ is just ‘eh’. I think we’re all feeling that right now, and I hope that as people reach for those mediums and art forms – I do hope that realise that they are reaching for creativity, and then connect that to the people who made it happen. Benjamin Law says this all so much better than I can, in his Guardian Article – and I really do pray that the Government acknowledges that too. That film and TV alone is a $3-billion-dollar industry in Australia, and at times of crisis we’ve all reached for art in some capacity – and art is hurting right now, and needs our help.

I think it all comes back to … if you asked Australians right now, what they want to happen after all this – I’m betting most would say they’d like everything to go back to normal. Well, normal in Australia is the Arts. It’s having the option of ducking into an act during the International Comedy Festival. It’s planning a weekend-getaway in Clunes for Booktown Festival. Hearing of a great exhibit at NGV you can take an international visitor to. A band starting up at the pub. That’s normality, because art is … life. If we want it to be here when this is all over, we have to protect it now – in little and big ways. That means Government crisis packages, and it means individuals requesting digital titles of new books at their libraries, and (if they can!) ordering books from their local independent bookstores.

17. Do you have any book, television, podcast or movie recommendations to get us through these trying times over the next few months?

A: I want to recommend that you all reach for what works for you, in the moment. Don’t feel guilty that you binged Fleabag (or Drag Race!) for the fourth time instead of reading The Complete Works of William Shakespeare or something. It’s all art, as I said – and it all helps us cope. That being said, I can tell you what’s working for me and if there’s any crossover with what works for you then – Hey! – maybe we do a Houseparty get-together and discuss it?

TV: Killing Eve, The Commons, Stateless, The Heights, Bluey, North & South
MOVIES: 10 Things I Hate About You, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, A League of Their Own, The Mummy movies, Jane Austen-anything
PODCASTS: Keep It, The Readings Podcast, The First Time Podcast, Booktopia Podcast, The Eleventh, How to Fail with Elizabeth Day.
BOOKS: Heartstopper by Alice Oseman, Wild Fearless Chests by Mandy Beaumont, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley and Please Don’t Hug Me by Kay Kerr.
MUSIC: The Beatles. Lizzo. Lorde. Goldfrapp. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend soundtrack. Hamilton: The Musical.

Any comments about something I may have missed?

Thank you Danielle, and congratulations on your book. I hope it finds its readers.

The River Home by Hannah Richell

the river homeTitle: The River Home

Author: Hannah Richell

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 25th February 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The river can take you home. But the river can also drag you under… The new novel from bestselling author Hannah Richell. A wise and emotionally powerful story of a broken family and the courage it takes to heal.

The river can take you home. But the river can also drag you under…

‘It’s something she learned years ago – the hard way – and that she knows she will never forget: even the sweetest fruit will fall and rot into the earth, eventually. No matter how deep you bury the pain, the bones of it will rise up to haunt you … like the echoes of a summer’s night, like the river flowing relentlessly on its course.’

Margot Sorrell didn’t want to go home. She had spent all her adult life trying not to look behind. But a text from her sister Lucy brought her back to Somerset. ‘I need you.’

As Margot, Lucy and their eldest sister, Eve, reunite in the house they grew up in beside the river, the secrets they keep from each other, and from themselves, refuse to stay hidden. A wedding brings them together but long-simmering resentments threaten to tear the family apart. No one could imagine the way this gathering would change them all forever. And through the sorrow they are forced to confront, there is a chance that healing will also come. But only if the truth is told.

The new novel from bestselling author Hannah Richell. A wise and emotionally powerful story of a broken family and the courage it takes to heal.

~*~

The River Home opens with a mysterious passage hinting at a tragedy, something gone terribly wrong – a mystery that promises to unfold itself as the novel progresses and weave itself along the river in the title of Hannah Richell’s latest novel, The River Home. It centres around three sisters – Eve, Lucy and Margot Sorrell as they come together for Lucy’s whirlwind wedding. Yet Margot is resistant – holding onto secrets from the past that led to her leaving her family.

As Margot returns, old tensions resurface and whilst the novel goes between Lucy, Eve and Margot in the present and their parents and childhood in the past, the reasons Margot doesn’t want to return are slowly revealed, as are other secrets that Eve wants to keep quiet. Yet whilst all together in their childhood home with partners, Eve’s daughters, their parents and their father’s new partner, old secrets come to the surface, and new secrets burst forth throughout, culminating in the finale that is both heartbreaking and hopeful, bringing to life how unspoken secrets and tensions can rip a family apart and then bring them all back together.

AWW2020It is for Lucy that they come together, where all past ills are somewhat forgotten, and bridges start to be constructed. It is Lucy who urges them to do this – to heal themselves. Her heartbreaking story is raw and filled with every emotion possible – joy, fear, sadness, love and uncertainty. The three sisters have lived their entire lives with their mother as a best-selling author, and her story is woven throughout this family saga, written eloquently and in a way where each character gets to tell their story. Lucy is full of life, yet her secret will rock the family. Margot has been holding onto hers since she was sixteen – ever since the school play, and the incident that drove her away from her family at seventeen. And Eve is determined to hide her secret from her husband, to maintain the order and proper life she has led for thirty years. These secrets, and how they are revealed to the reader and to the other characters are each done with great impact, rocking the world for everyone involved and threatening to cause new rifts. Yet in the aftermath, when they discover Margot’s secret, that knowledge brings them together and allows the family to begin healing and gives the Sorrell sisters the courage to go on with the challenges that life is throwing at them.

Hannah Richell has delivered another enthralling family story, where the focus is the love of family and between family – extended and immediate, as they grapple with challenges in life, and takes place over a weekend as it goes back and forth in time, and in doing so, sets up for the secrets that are to be revealed and gives great insight into the characters and their lives. She has managed to capture the full range of emotion – from joy to despair on the page and everything in between, this is a book for fans of Hannah Richell, and the books like this that get a perfect balance between drama, secrets, happiness and what it means to be part of a family. I do hope others enjoy it as much as I did, as it is refreshing to see family love front and centre of a novel, rather than it always being romantic love.

The Killing Streets: Uncovering Australia’s first serial murderer by Tanya Bretherton

killing streetsTitle: The Killing Streets: Uncovering Australia’s first serial murderer

Author: Tanya Bretherton

Genre: History, Non-Fiction, True Crime

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 25th February 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: From the acclaimed author of THE SUITCASE BABY and THE SUICIDE BRIDE, the story of a series of horrific murders that began in 1930s Sydney – and a killer who remained at large for over two decades.

In December 1932, as the Depression tightened its grip, the body of a woman was found in Queens Park, Sydney. It was a popular park. There were houses in plain view. Yet this woman had been violently murdered without anyone noticing. Other equally brutal and shocking murders of women in public places were to follow. Australia’s first serial killer was at large.

Police failed to notice the similarities between the victims until the death of one young woman – an aspiring Olympic swimmer – made the whole city take notice. On scant evidence, the unassuming Eric Craig was arrested. But the killings didn’t stop…

This compelling story of a city crippled by fear and a failing economy, of a killer at large as panic abounds, is also the story of what happens when victims aren’t perfect and neither are suspects, and when a rush to judgement replaces the call of reason.

~*~

Modern Sydney has been connected to crime ever since the arrival of the First Fleet with the first lot of convicts from the UK, sent to serve out sentences for stealing bread, stealing clothes and many other crimes at what must have felt like the end of the world for those people. In 1930s Sydney, during the Depression, a violent murder occurred in Queens Park – followed by several others that were similar, and a few others had preceded the 1932 murder. It seemed Australia had its first serial killer.

AWW2020Yet in 1932, even though new forensic and crime scene recording techniques were coming to light – sketches and photography were used in conjunction as part of investigations – the police did not see the link between the initial deaths  – unfortunately laying some of the blame on the victim, due to their profession. Yet when Bessie O’Connor – an aspiring Olympic swimmer who lived a very different life to the other women – prostitutes – was murdered, the police hurriedly made the connection.

In these dark days, the police investigation appears to have been hurried somewhat in a desperate attempt to get the ‘sex slayer’ off the streets. Yet even once Eric Craig, who forever professed his innocence, was arrested – the killings continued after a brief break. The killer could have been a copycat, or perhaps in their haste, the police arrested the wrong man, and because of that, let the real killer go free for decades to come.

Tanya Bretherton uses the facts at hand in articles, archives and various other sources to construct her book, and whilst she extrapolates what may have happened in some places due to gaps in the information she has access to, this I felt was done respectfully and in a way that tried to give something more to the history, and show just how a forced and quick investigation can result in the wrong outcome, and possibly, lead to the real killer never being caught. She humanises the victims, and makes sure we remember their names: Daisy, Rebecca, Vera, Hilda, Iris, Bessie, Betty, Lucy, Joan and Ada, whose deaths were not properly investigated, and where their gender was also a factor in how the police viewed these crimes – that somehow they’d done something wrong, yet they hadn’t. Tanya makes them human again, seen through the eyes of those that loved them rather than their killer, and also, illustrated the dynamics of Eric Craig, his upbringing and the stark contrast between the way his mother – Leah, and his wife – Mary-Caroline as they watched the trial, and what happened to their son and husband.

Tanya also manages to get the balance between the emotions linked to the deaths and cases, and the facts – they both contribute to construct a narrative where one can believe that Craig wasn’t the killer, that he was coerced into a confession due to shoddy police work, and lack of further investigation into other possible suspects in an attempt to make the killings stop. The killings Craig was accused of were the 1932 ones, but very similar killings took place from 1926 to 1944, and suggest the possibility of one serial killer across the eighteen years – but nobody can know for sure, which is what makes this book so interesting – it posits that there could have been at least two, but this is something we will never know, perhaps lost to history forever. Still, these stories open up a seedy and dark underside of a well-known city, illustrating a time of fear and uncertainty through a dark and murky mystery. Readers of crime and true crime will find this a fascinating insight into Australia’s history and crime and justice system.

The Nine Hundred: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune McAdam

the 900Title: The Nine Hundred: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz

Author: Heather Dune McAdam

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th January 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 438

Price: $34.99

Synopsis: The untold story of the 999 young, unmarried Jewish women who were tricked into boarding a train in Poprad, Slovakia on March 25, 1942 that became the first official transport to Auschwitz.

‘Books such as this are essential: they remind modern readers of events that should never be forgotten’ – Caroline Moorehead

On March 25, 1942, nearly a thousand young, unmarried Jewish women boarded a train in Poprad, Slovakia. Filled with a sense of adventure and national pride, they left their parents’ homes wearing their best clothes and confidently waving good-bye. Believing they were going to work in a factory for a few months, they were eager to report for government service. Instead, the young women-many of them teenagers-were sent to Auschwitz. Their government paid 500 Reichsmarks (about 160) apiece for the Nazis to take them as slave labour. Of those 999 innocent deportees, only a few would survive.

The facts of the first official Jewish transport to Auschwitz are little known, yet profoundly relevant today. These were not resistance fighters or prisoners of war. There were no men among them. Sent to almost certain death, the young women were powerless and insignificant not only because they were Jewish-but also because they were female. Now, acclaimed author Heather Dune Macadam reveals their poignant stories, drawing on extensive interviews with survivors, and consulting with historians, witnesses, and relatives of those first deportees to create an important addition to Holocaust literature and women’s history.

~*~

War had just broken out, and the Nazis were steadily marching across Europe, taking over towns, cities and countries, and rounding up Jews. Jews were being sent away to work or rounded up and sent to ghettos in their countries. They lost jobs, homes and education as the Nazis and the governments of each nation rolled out laws over the late nineteen thirties and early nineteen forties to limit the rights of Jews.

In March of 1942, just short of a thousand young, unmarried Jewish women were made to board a train in Poprad, Slovakia. They were told they were headed for a three-month work order – which turned into three years. The original 999 or 997 – taking into account one girl who died on the train and the discrepancies and spaces in the hastily typed and written records of all the girls by the SS (as uncovered by the author in her extensive research with survivors of this transport, such as Edith Grosman (#1970), and her work to fight against Holocaust denial) girls and women were at Auschwitz before the iconic railway tracks and gates proclaiming Arbeit macht frei – work makes you free- ever existed at the camp. These days, some of the buildings have been destroyed, and some of the survivors have led talks at the camp.

In the three years the original women were at the camp, they saw every other transport come, they watched as children, men and women were herded into the gas chambers, and they watched people they knew die from illness, on the fences or when they were shot. This transport is interesting, and as Heather Dune McAdam notes, despite the precise records kept by the Nazis, it has been absent in other Holocaust literature – the stories of the women untold, and not every name or number properly recorded at times, so information has been lost. It is the hidden story of the women that the Slovakian government paid the Nazis to take away, and of the original nine hundred, only a handful survived, and it is to these women, and their families that Heather Dune McAdam respectfully reached out to in the course of her research, as well as utilising various Holocaust and Jewish institutions across the world.

In her introduction, Heather outlines her research process both primary and secondary, and how when she spoke to Edith, Edith told her that she should tell everyone’s story – and that is what Heather has done with what she has found and been given. She acknowledges gaps, and tells us why she changed names, and gives us a list of the real names with their pseudonyms in the front of the book. What she is doing with this story is giving more of a human face to the Holocaust – a bigger truth as well, and letting the girls speak for themselves, despite having to imagine what some of those conversations might have been based on descriptions – she indicates these imagined voices using a dash, and quotation marks for actual conversations and testimony.

The book is a companion to the film of the same name, currently in post-production. Combined, it is hoped that they will contribute to education about the Holocaust, and add something to the #MeToo debate, showing that the issues around consent have always been an issue and shouldn’t be ignored simply because of the passage of time or accepted norms of the time. Heather’s other goal in writing this was so that these stories are told, and the Holocaust remains in our memories – not only in those affected and their families. It is an essential book that reminds us events like this should never be forgotten – and ideally, should never happen again. As intriguing as this book was, as interesting as I am in reading about and hearing the untold stories in history – this is a difficult read and rightly so. We should be made to feel uncomfortable with what happened to these girls, and what they went through. Those of us who do not have family who suffered like this, in an inhuman way can never fully understand what these girls and millions of other people like them from groups that the Nazis saw as a threat to Aryan purity went through, but books like this go a long way in highlighting what it was like for them. A dark, yet necessary book, highlighting themes of inequality, war, and the human need to survive beyond the worst imaginable prospects – and how those remaining managed to survive the years in camp, the death march and the final days at Bergen-Belsen, where many, including Anne Frank, died only fifteen days before the camp was liberated by the allied forces, and what happened to them in the days, weeks, months and years after they were freed, and where they all ended up in the years after the war.

Best books of 2010 to 2019

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In compiling this list, I had to go back to all my reading log lists – which I began in about 2006, and to date have over 1300 on my combined list. But in doing this, I discovered it was quite difficult to narrow things down to just a handful of ten or fifteen like Theresa did. In fact, there was one series that had one book a year from 2010 to 2019 that could have made up my entire list – but instead, it has comprised one entry as a series.

So, in no particular order:

The Matilda Saga (2010 – 2019)

The Matilda Saga began with A Waltz for Matilda in 2010 and ended this year with the ninth and final book, Clancy of the Overflow. It tells history from a different side – the voices often silenced based on race, gender, class or a combination of these, and other factors such as disability, and other experiences that are not always recorded in the history books. From 1894 to the 1980s, the series spans nearly one hundred years of changes in Australian society – from cars to Federation, to war and the social movements of the sixties and seventies. This is a series well-deserving of a place on this list.

Miss Lily series (2017-2019)

Miss Lily begins just before the outbreak of World War One and has taken us so far to the Wall Street crash of 1929, and the beginning of the Great Depression that would lead into Nazi Germany and another war that would see millions killed in concentration camps, and on the battlefield. With book four due out in 2020, this is a series I am watching keenly to see where it takes us and our beloved Sophie. The Miss Lily series also has three e-books set at Christmas, one of which I am yet to read.

Medoran Chronicles (2014-2019)

This has a place as a whole series because this is the series that got my blogging journey started seriously – when the publisher was looking for reviewers for the first book, Akarnae. I said I would, and from there, the blog grew, as did my love for the series, reviewing each subsequent book for Pantera Press over the years until the final one earlier this year, Vardaesia. From wonder to heartbreak, and everything in between, this series has it all, and the way certain aspects are executed are exceptional and done in a way that is heart-warming, heartbreaking, and very, very fitting for the characters.

Rowland Sinclair Mysteries (2010 – 2019)

Ahh, Rowly. I was introduced to Rowland Sinclair by the NSW Writer’s Centre when they were seeking reviewers with book two, and since then, have read the entire series and sent the reviews to Pantera Press. I am looking forward to reading more of these books as they come out. Poor Rowly has been through many beatings and been caught up in investigating many murders, attacks and with politics that are quite the opposite to his brother, Wilfred. Accompanied by sculptress, Edna, fellow artist, Clyde, and communist Jewish poet, Milton, Rowly travels the world and Australia during the turbulent 1930s as Europe hurtles towards yet another war, twenty years after the end of the war to end all wars.

Kensy and Max (2018-2019)

I have read all four available Kensy and Max books, and love them all. They’re fun, and engaging, and filled with danger, wonder, intrigue and friends. As spy kids, Kensy and Max – twins – are training with fellow students at Pharos, whilst trying to keep the kids who aren’t spies at school from discovering what they are up to, and travelling across the world on various missions. From London to Sydney, Rome and Paris, it seems trouble will always find Kensy and Max – but they will always manage to find a way out of it and get back to their family.

2010

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Now by Morris Gleitzman

2011

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One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

2012

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Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

2013

the wild girl

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

2014

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The Sequin Star by Belinda Murrell

2015

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The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

2016

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss

2017

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Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

2018

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Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters by Belinda Murrell

2019

488 Rules

488 Rules for Life by Kitty Flanagan

Again, many of these are Australian authors, some with multiple entries but their books just stayed with me and wouldn’t let me rest, for a variety of reasons. Of course, some appeared on my list for this year – as the books for the year, but these are the ones that made deep impacts on me, and the ones I can actually remember being published in these years – some I wanted to include I wasn’t sure but I loved them anyway and may need to write something about other books I have enjoyed at some point when things calm down. As for the ones with entries in both – these were ones that had such impact, it was difficult to choose which book from the series to include.

So rather than one per year, I probably now have closer to up to five for each year, and many are fairly heavy in what they deal with, but some are lighter, and filled with humour. It was very hard to decide – I wanted to include everything possible! Okay, 2016 has two entries – but for very different reasons. Upon reading the reviews you will see why. So there you have it. The books that made the biggest impressions on me for many, many reasons over the past ten years. Some authors get multiple mentions – because they wrote books that had many impacts on me and they created worlds I never want to leave, and worlds I will have to revisit.

 

Best Books of….2019

Readings and Musings on all things books, Aussie authors and everything in between

As the year comes to a close, many in the book blogging and reviewing community, and the book community in general – radio shows, podcasts, authors – have been posting and recording about this. And let me tell you, it is hard, and often, so many good ones are left off, and to me, ranking them is just mean because how can you rank books? Especially all those ones that stayed with you.

I had hoped 2019 might be easier to start with – not only do I have the list with me now, but for 2010-2019 I need to go back into other lists and hope I have those records. Or at least be able to work out what books I read that were published between those dates. 2019 seems to be the easiest place to start – as I have that list easily at hand for now. Out of 196 read so far, I found fourteen I loved – and the majority are by Australian women. Of course, these are in no particular order of favouritism, simply the order I read them throughout the year as that was easier to copy across.

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Vardaesia by Lynette Noni

the french photographer

The French Photographer by Natasha Lester

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Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey

women to the front

 Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Australian Women Doctors of the Great War by Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

the blue rose

The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

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While You Were Reading by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus

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Kensy and Max: Out of Sight by Jacqueline Harvey

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There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

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Rebel Women who Changed Australia by Susanna de Vries

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The Glimme by Emily Rodda

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Weapon by Lynette Noni

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Pages and Co #2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James

The Lily in the Snow

The Lily in the Snow by Jackie French

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Clancy of the Overflow by Jackie French

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All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill

Even though we still have two weeks left in December, I’m trying to get as many of these posts ready as possible – with my full wrap up posts appearing at the very end of the month or early in the new year, as well as the start of all my reading challenges in 2020 as well.

Choosing best of lists is always hard – there are often so many good books, but this year I went with the ones that stood out for me. Some that did were published earlier than 2019 and will possibly make it onto the 2010-2019 list – which of course, is bound to be longer and have entire series on there as I simply cannot choose only one from each year. It feels like a betrayal to a whole series to do that!

So there you are – for once I was able to choose fourteen favourites!

 

Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess by Bettany Hughes

venus and aphroditeTitle: Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess

Author: Bettany Hughes

Genre: Biography, History, Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 12th November 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 242

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A vivid history of the ancient goddess Venus by the bestselling historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes

Through ancient art, evocative myth, exciting archaeological revelations and philosophical explorations Bettany Hughes shows why this immortal goddess endures through to the twenty-first century, and what her journey through time reveals about what matters to us as humans.

Charting Venus’s origins in powerful ancient deities, Bettany demonstrates that Venus is far more complex than first meets the eye. Beginning in Cyprus, the goddess’s mythical birthplace, Bettany decodes Venus’s relationship to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and, in turn, Aphrodite’s mixed-up origins both as a Cypriot spirit of fertility and procreation – but also, as a descendant of the prehistoric war goddesses of the Near and Middle East, Ishtar, Inanna and Astarte. On a voyage of discovery to reveal the truth behind Venus, Hughes reveals how this mythological figure is so much more than nudity, romance and sex. It is the both the remarkable story of one of antiquity’s most potent forces, and the story of human desire – how it transforms who we are and how we behave.

~*~

Many gods and goddesses from various religions and myth cycles from all over the ancient world have not only fascinated people throughout the decades and centuries, but often have many counterparts. Aphrodite and Venus are two such goddesses – the same goddess from two different societies, who have gone from Greek  to Roman origins, and have been found in other incarnations in other Near East or Middle Eastern ancient cultures where they have evolved and changed as the society has needed them in their pantheon of gods and goddesses in polytheistic religions that either pre-date or run concurrently with the monotheistic religions we associate with the modern equivalents of those places.

Bettany Hughes explores the Grecian and Roman sides of the same goddess – Aphrodite and Venus, and her role in art and the pantheon, and how she came to be in each tradition, and how this influenced arts, stories and other narratives and characters throughout history.

Venus-Aphrodite is a figure that is more than nudity, romance and sex. Like many gods and goddesses, she has many more roles and layers to her, and what she brings to mythology and the understanding of humanity and human emotion. This history adds to our understanding of a goddess who is often reduced to what she is known to represent and stand for in mythology, rather than the complexities behind what she does.

Rather than justify her actions throughout the various myth cycles, Bettany Hughes explores these as part of the history of Venus-Aphrodite and how she has been represented, and what this has meant in how she is viewed and builds on this with layers and complexities.

This is an intriguing book for anyone interested in antiquity, and especially women and their role in antiquity, which is only going to build on our understanding of women and their role in the ancient world. It will help bring to life these myths in a new and exciting way.