Interview with Eleanor Limprecht, Author of The Passengers

On the blog today, I am delighted to host Eleanor Limprecht, author of The Passengers, published on the 21st of February, and reviewed on the blog as well. Eleanor has kindly answered some questions about the book, war brides and her research process, so I hope you enjoy and that it gives some insight into a very interesting book and a history not often taught in classes.

Hi Eleanor, and welcome to The Book Muse. I’m happy to host you here today.

Hi Ashleigh and thanks for having me!

I’ll start by saying how much I enjoyed The Passengers. It had a little bit of everything, and I liked that each journey was connected by the sea and the cruise, and a sense of self for both Sarah and Hannah. This was a very well executed story.

Thank you very much.

Now down to the questions.

Was there anything in particular that got you interested in the stories of war brides from Australia during the Second World War, and what was this?

There were two things – firstly, in 2013 I took my family to visit my Great Aunt Marge Fogel in San Diego, she was living in a retirement home and we met her boyfriend, Bert, who was in his 90s. Bert was telling us how he’d been to Sydney in the 1940s on R and R, when the war was on, and how he remembered, ‘the beautiful girls, and how they loved to dance’, and he told me how many Americans had married those Australian girls. It got me thinking – wondering how those marriages had turned out.

 

Then we were visiting a family friend of my husband’s a year or two later in Northern NSW and his wife spoke of how her aunt had married an American GI during the war and ended up moving to Kilmarnock, Virginia – and she’d never seen her again. I knew the town of Kilmarnock very well as one of my best friends is from Kilmarnock, and it’s a very small town, and I was intrigued by how that woman would have settled in. The culture shock coming from Sydney, the sheer distance, and then that knowledge that she had never returned. That her family never saw her again.

Prior to World War Two, had war brides been a common societal change in the modern world, or did this trend, and these experiences evolve as a result of American troops staying in Australian cities after 1941?

War brides have been around as long as there have been wars fought in foreign lands. However, what changed with World War II is the numbers of women who married foreign soldiers. Up to 15,000 Australian women are estimated to have married American GIs and moved to the US, but even more German and British brides married foreign soldiers. So war brides were around, particularly during World War I, but the numbers grew massively in WWII.

If inspired by family, are there any interesting stories from family members that informed the narrative and characters you have created?

They are more second hand stories, the ones I related above. But there is also my own story: that I met and fell in love with an Australian man while travelling in Italy in 2001. We spent less than a month together and a year later I left my home, my family, the degree I was studying for, my friends…everything (except my dog – I brought my dog) and moved to Australia to be with him. So in a deeply personal way I related to the stories of these women. I compared my own experience and felt privileged to have the ability to travel back and forth, to FaceTime with my mother and sister, to have the freedom to work and travel and expect some degree of equality. These women really ventured into the unknown. They were incredibly brave.

One thing I am always interested in is how much research authors do, and what kind of sources they use. How many sources and what kinds of sources did you consult for this novel, and which were the most informative and useful?

I love the process of research, and I can get a little carried away! I read everything I could find about war brides – the best sources were social histories and interviews in which the women spoke about their experiences. Trove is an excellent source of old newspaper and magazine articles. I went to the Australian War Memorial and read the pamphlets and letters in their archives, I spent a night on board a restored bride ship in Long Beach, The Queen Mary, which is now a floating hotel, and I travelled up the West Coast of the United States to interview two war brides from Australia who met and married American GIs.

The most informative and useful sources were the women themselves, just meeting them in person and seeing the way they have straddled two worlds – fully at home in neither. One has a collection of old Arnotts biscuit tins and porcelain koalas and kangaroos in her house, but only managed to get back to Australia thirty years after leaving. That was the most moving thing to me, seeing their strength in the face of adversity, how they built new lives, sometimes with everything against them. I also love the coincidences – the reason I was able to meet the war brides on the West Coast of the US is because I was doing a writing workshop in Portland Oregon in 2016. My first day there I sat down in the cafeteria for lunch at a table with a complete stranger. We got to talking, I mentioned that I had come from Australia, and she said: “My mother was Australian.” It turned out that her mother was an Australian war bride. It was the most extraordinary coincidence, and her mother’s story which she told me was one of the most moving and transformative to the way I thought about the novel.

You’ve told Hannah and Sarah’s stories in alternating first person narrative, and both in a present tense format. Was there any reason to do this, or was it a natural progression as you wrote the novel?

The present tense came about because I was also writing Sarah’s memories, and I wanted to delineate between the memories (in the past tense) and the present voyage with Hannah. So it happened fairly naturally. I did experiment with third person narrative voice several times during drafting, but it didn’t have as much power. My previous two novels have been in third-person limited voice – it is generally what I prefer – but I found the intimacy of first person here integral because it is a story being told.

Sarah’s experience after marriage was interesting, and I found it intriguing that Roy’s mother supported her leaving, and Roy seemed to hint that he didn’t want to come. Was Sarah’s experience of leaving, getting a job and divorce and eventually settling down with Jim a common one that came through in your interviews? Why or why not?

I don’t think Roy knew that Sarah was going to leave, but the experience with the mother-in-law being hostile was certainly a common one. A lot of war brides felt as though their mother-in-laws resented them for not being American, and a lot of the brides found themselves having to live with the in laws because of the post-war housing shortages. Getting a divorce was not a common experience, but it was certainly one which I heard and read about, there were definitely marriages which did not work out and there were also instances of the war brides marrying another American. There were also those who went back to Australia. I also realised while researching this story how many unhappy marriages were just tolerated because divorce was frowned upon. But there were definitely divorces as well.

You’ve managed to write for a modern audience whilst at the same time, maintaining certain attitudes of the time, but presenting them in a way that readers will understand these were the attitudes of the time, such as the line “take delivery of his wife after signing for her” – referring to the collection of war brides at the other end. Was this a challenge for you, to maintain authenticity of the time and write for a modern reader? Why/why not?

I have a real desire to maintain this authenticity so I’m really pleased that you found this to be the case. The novel I wrote before this, Long Bay, gave me so much experience in how to avoid placing my own sensibilities on my characters; understanding the social fabric of the time and what their desires, capabilities and expectations would have been. I wrote Long Bay as part of a Doctorate of Creative Arts at UTS and the Professor of History Paula Hamilton advised me early on in my degree to consider carefully how the way we think is a product of the time we live in, and the expectations that society has placed upon us. Discovering what these expectations are is always an important part of my research process.

Sarah’s struggles are with leaving her family, and Hannah’s are with her health – the journey back to Sydney felt like a healing process for both of them and brought Sarah’s story full circle from her departure in 1945. Was this what you intended for the characters?

It is certainly what happened, but I’m not sure that I intended it because I’m not much of a planner when I’m writing. I’m more of the “sit down and write what comes to you” school. It probably takes more drafts but I find the process of discovery enjoyable. And when I discovered what Hannah struggled with I realised that in hearing her grandmother’s story, Hannah gains new perspective on her own. And in journeying back to Australia, Sarah has to confront her past. I was very close to both of my grandmothers, and I loved hearing about their lives and considering the challenges they had to face, and how I would have managed in the same circumstances.

When she leaves Sydney, there are some children travelling with their mothers to meet their fathers in America – which was more common – wives with or without children

 

Wives (and fiancées) without children were more common, but there were plenty of children and babies. For instance – a typical ship was the SS Monterey which arrived in San Francisco in March, 1946 with 562 Australian and New Zealand war brides and their 253 children on board. All of the war brides had free passage to America. Interestingly, fiancées were allowed free passage but a $500 bond had to come from the American fiancé which would cover the return trip to Australia should the marriage not take place three months after arrival in the US!

Was the cruise motif meant to be used as a journey and transitions into new lives at both ends for both women, and what inspired you to use the cruise motif in this way?

 

I didn’t think I would write part of the novel on a cruise ship, but I was so captivated by the experiences of the war brides on the ships to the US that it got me thinking about how travel is this time of limbo – of being stuck between. And sea voyages make for a longer period of limbo, there is more time to consider where you are coming from and where you are going.

Not long after I moved to Australia, my Grandma Lorraine and my Great Aunt Marge took a cruise to Sydney from San Diego, we picked them up and saw their cruise ship, the huge white behemoth at Circular Quay, and they told us the stories of playing bridge and dancing. And I remember thinking then that a cruise is a return to a slower pace, which was part of why my grandma loved them. There was nowhere else to be. And when I thought further about this, I realised it was the perfect place for Sarah to remember, and tell, her story.

As a finale, could you give some more insight into war brides and their experiences, and how an experience like Sarah’s would have been viewed in society at the time?

 

I think we’re coming to realise that the experiences of war brides were an integral part of the stories we tell about WWII. For so long these stories have been dismissed as the ‘domestic’ side, but I think they are incredibly important. Women certainly had more freedom to work, to fall in love, to be in control of their own lives during World War II. But when the war was over there was a backlash, and those who married men who had been away at war found themselves dealing with a generation of husbands who were scarred by their experiences and didn’t have the language to talk about it. Women were told to ‘not ask him too many questions’. They were meant to stay at home and raise the children, but now they had experienced so much more.

Sarah’s experience would have been looked down upon. Australian women who married Yanks were disparaged by Australian men and the Australian media. In America, they were given a hard time for ‘stealing’ American men – who were in short supply post-WWII. And then divorce was highly controversial as well. Sarah would not have been viewed well in society at the time, which was what would have discouraged her from speaking openly about her experiences. Divorce is something we discuss now quite openly, but in the recent past it was still a great source of shame.

 

Any further comments on anything you think I have missed?

No, this was so thorough and I hope my answers are useful and not too long!

Thank you for allowing me to interview you, and appearing on my blog.

Thank you Ashleigh for reading my novel, asking such thoughtful questions, and for having me on your blog.

 

All the best – Eleanor

the passengers

The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht is published by Allen & Unwin. $29.99. Out now.

You can purchase The Passengers through Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-passengers-eleanor-limprecht/prod9781760631338.html?bk_source=PASSENGERS&bk_source_id=QWEEKREVIEW

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The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

sealwoman.jpgTitle: The Sealwoman’s Gift

Author: Sally Magnusson

Genre: Literary, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette/Two Roads

Published: 13th February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A woman’s story lost from history – in 1627 Icelandic islanders were abducted and sold into slavery in Algiers; but what happened to the women and children and, specifically, to the pastor’s wife?

‘A remarkable feat of imagination… I enjoyed and admired it in equal measure’ Sarah Perry, author of THE ESSEX SERPENT

In 1627 Barbary pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted some 400 of its people, including 250 from a tiny island off the mainland. Among the captives sold into slavery in Algiers were the island pastor, his wife and their three children. Although the raid itself is well documented, little is known about what happened to the women and children afterwards. It was a time when women everywhere were largely silent.

In this brilliant reimagining, Sally Magnusson gives a voice to Ásta, the pastor’s wife. Enslaved in an alien Arab culture Ásta meets the loss of both her freedom and her children with the one thing she has brought from home: the stories in her head. Steeped in the sagas and folk tales of her northern homeland, she finds herself experiencing not just the separations and agonies of captivity, but the reassessments that come in any age when intelligent eyes are opened to other lives, other cultures and other kinds of loving.

THE SEALWOMAN’S GIFT is about the eternal power of storytelling to help us survive. The novel is full of stories – Icelandic ones told to fend off a slave-owner’s advances, Arabian ones to help an old man die. And there are others, too: the stories we tell ourselves to protect our minds from what cannot otherwise be borne, the stories we need to make us happy.

Icelandic history has been brought to extraordinary life..An accomplished and intelligent novel’ Yrsa Siguroardottir, author of WHY DID YOU LIE?

~*~

1627, Iceland. A remote island is ravaged by Barbary pirates, and 400 Icelanders were taken captive, and transported to Algiers, at the time part of the Ottoman Empire, to be sold into slavery to sultans and council members and their families, and into harems or to whomever can pay the right price. Families are ripped apart, children taken from their parents. Many die in the coming days and weeks from fevers and diseases they’ve been isolated from on their island. Ásta is separated from her eldest. Egill, and her husband, Ólafur, and it will be almost a decade before she is reunited with her husband. Her younger children, Marta and Jón are able to stay with her – though the slave master’s whims must be met swiftly, and without questioning. As Ásta and her fellow enslaved Icelanders await a ransom payment, they do their best, and what they can to survive. Ásta finds solace in the Icelandic sagas she heard as a child, and eventually, the tales of Scheherazade and the Arabian nights. Time passes, and she begins to question where she came from, and who she is as she uses the Icelandic sagas to tame her master and calm herself. hoping one day for freedom, a freedom that could come with a price she may never forgive herself for paying.

The clash of Icelandic and Arabic culture and religion are a shock to Ásta, who watches as the other enslaved women who survived the journey and initial few days and weeks take on their new culture to fit in and survive, and as her children take on the religion of the enslavers and have their entire identity reshaped. It is a story about slavery, yes. It takes an instance of slavery that I had previously not known about. The image most people have of slavery is linked to colonisation, and The American Civil War – but there are many stories of slavery, of the worldwide slave trade that are not always spoken about. Like other slave masters, Cilleby tries to justify the actions of the Barbary pirates by saying it had been done to other groups before, suggesting that throughout human history, all groups at one stage or another have tried to enslave each other for their own purposes and power. I found this to be quite interesting, and it embarked on a journey for Ásta of survival and love for her children, and a longing to be home. It speaks to the pain of being ripped away from all you know, from home and family, and displaced in an alien world that does not feel so welcoming to you. The raw feelings of Ásta’s isolation come through explicitly and clearly for the reader, as does her horror at the way the other women she came over with so willingly take to the life they’ve been forced into, take to marrying those who buy them and converting to Islam because it means freedom from being a slave – her horror at turning her back on her own religion and her own family is apparent, and is executed effectively.

Whilst the history of the enslaved Icelander’s becomes the backbone to this story, at the heart is the role of women and their voices, lost in the original sources. Ásta’s name is found in a record of the ransom, but not referred to in the Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egillsson: Captured by Barbary Pirates in 1627, and its translation that the author has referred to. Using the sources available to her and a little creative licence based on these sources, Sally Magnusson has raised Ásta’s voice, and made her the primary story teller through, dipping in and out of other perspectives of the slave owners and Ólafur to tell a well-rounded story about the times and the complexities of human nature. Through Ásta, the life of a slave is revealed, though it is the life of a female slave, unable to participate in certain areas. The trepidation and fear she feels in her new life reverberates throughout, and as she loses herself and loses hope in her own faith and family is eloquently dealt with, and sensitively shown. Each element of the story has been carefully thought out, researched and written to give scope to each of the characters, and reveal their flaws and their positives. They are human, and they show human emotions and are subject to how they feel at the time, and not how people tell them to act or feel. I found this to be very effective and it ensured a story with a decent pace. The settings of Iceland and Algiers are excellent contrasts, the cold and hot, the barren and the lively, and the feeling of home and the different ways each are a home to the characters. Though it shows very strict gender roles. Ásta’s attempts to move out of what is demanded of her but at the same time, use it to her advantage, were written with great detail and interest.

Understanding that slavery has many layers and has affected many countries at different times is something that this book highlights, using an example not often heard about. In the author’s note, Sally mentions that slave trade as happening all over the world at the time of the 1627 raid on the coast of Iceland, that it wasn’t an isolated incident. Telling the diverse stories of slaves and the slave trade shows how vast it was across the entire world, not just the stories and histories we hear about and are taught.

I found it hard to find a favourite part as each section was all so different and each had something I enjoyed about it, though Ásta’s chapters were ones I always looked forward to, and what she did in circumstances she had no control over. It was a great story, and one that shows a different side to the history of slavery and the power of traditional stories and storytelling.

Booktopia

The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht

the passengers.jpgTitle: The Passengers

Author: Eleanor Limprecht

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher:  Allen and Unwin

Published: 21st of February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 344

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A luminous novel about love by an acclaimed rising star of Australian literature.

‘A stunning exploration of hope and desire, fear and control, this story is full of heart and heartbreak’
ASHLEY HAY, author of The Railwayman’s Wife


‘A compelling novel about the bruises inflicted by fate and by ourselves, and the blessings to be found in resilience, determination, and love.’
DEBRA ADELAIDE, author of The Household Guide to Dying

Sarah and Hannah are on a cruise from San Diego, California to Sydney, Australia. Sarah, Hannah’s grandmother, is returning to the country of her birth, a place she hasn’t seen since boarding the USS Mariposa in 1945. Then she, along with countless other war brides, sailed across the Pacific to join the American servicemen they’d married during World War II.

Now Hannah is the same age Sarah was when she made her first journey, and in hearing Sarah tell the story of her life, realises the immensity of what her grandmother gave up.

The Passengers is a luminous novel about love: the journeys we undertake, the sacrifices we make and the heartache we suffer for love It is about how we most long for what we have left behind. And it is about the past – how close it can still feel – even after long passages of time.

‘Two women, two generations, two countries, two journeys. Eleanor Limprecht gracefully navigates the crosscurrents of history and creates vibrant characters from the extraordinary true experiences of Australian war brides. Sarah and Hannah’s urgent search for love and wholeness moved me in both senses: they touched my heart and I still feel I am churning across the Pacific with them. A deeply satisfying novel.’
SUSAN WYNDHAM, former literary editor, The Sydney Morning Herald

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseSixty-nine years after leaving her home in Australia, Sarah is heading home with her granddaughter, Hannah, on a cruise, the same way she left at the end of World War Two, to join the man she married, Roy, an American soldier serving in the Pacific theatre of the 1940s war. Up until the age of sixteen, Sarah had lived on a farm, and attended school, but just before World War Two breaks out, Sarah and her parents and brothers move to the city, where they must find work. When her brothers sign up for the war, Sarah watches them leave, and finds herself working as a typist for the Americans when they start to arrive. Caught between falling in love and loyalty to her family, Sarah has a choice to make when Roy proposes to her. They wed, and it is several years before they can be reunited in Roanoke, Virginia, and their reunion is not without its struggles – struggles that are not helped by Roy’s conservative parents. Soon, Sarah finds herself separated and alone. She soon reconnects with Jim, the Navy officer who was kind to her on her journey from Sydney.

Hannah is in her early twenties, and at constant war with anorexia. For her, this trip is a way to have time away from the stresses of her nursing course, and help her grandmother reconnect with the home she hasn’t seen for almost seventy years, having left when she was the same age Hannah is now. Struggling to keep up appearances and hide her reasons for not eating on the cruise, Hannah listens as Sarah tells her the story of how she became a war bride, and when the war hit the shores of Australia in February 1942, when Darwin was bombed by Japan. Both journeys have been on ships, one on the SS Mariposa, a luxury liner that had been repurposed for military personnel, and then again at the end of the war for the war brides and any children they had with them from Sydney to San Francisco, and the other a cruise ship taking them back to Sydney. Both journeys are transitions in the lives of the women, points at which things change for them, and alter their lives dramatically.

The Passengers is part historical fiction, part family drama, with two engaging female leads with vastly different experiences and lives on a journey to connect the present with the past and reconnect with family and homelands. With touches of romance that add to the story but do not overtake it, it is a nicely written book, and well researched, showing that not every war experience and not every war bride experience was the same. Eleanor Limprecht has shown the complexities of human nature and isolation in its various forms through each of the characters and their struggles to show how life can affect people and what can come out of it to make things better and the importance of family.

Read my interview with Eleanor here when it goes live.

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Book Bingo Three: A book by someone over 60, a book by an author you’ve never read before.

 AWW-2018-badge-rose

In my third book bingo posts of the year, I have two books to report on – a book by an author I have never read before, and a book by someone over sixty. Both of these books have already been reviewed on my blog, so I have linked back to the longer reviews in this post.

oceans edgeSquare seven, a book by an author I have never read before has been filled by The Secret’s at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier, and it is Kali’s debut novel, and draws on family history and the geography of Western Australia to craft a story that is filled with ups and downs, and characters who are flawed and complex. It is a story about family, and sacrifice, and the lengths that some people will go to so they can protect family, and hide secrets that threaten those they care about. Set in the Great Depression, it shows a side to Australian history and life often not heard about in history books and draws on issues of Aboriginality and how the government defined this during the 1930s, injecting some of the hidden history not taught in schools into the novel. I enjoyed this debut, and hope Kali writes more.

My next square checked off is a book published by someone over 60. Eventual Poppy Day eventual poppy dayby Libby Hathorn (b 1943) fits into this square. Eventual Poppy ay is another story inspired by family history, in this case, a family link to the battlefields of World War One and what would become known as Remembrance Day and Anzac Day, where poppies would become the symbol of a generation lost to the ravages of war. It flicks between the story of Maurice in the war, and his great-great nephew in the twenty-first century, trying to find his place in the world. It is a moving story that gives a sense of what the war was like, the suffocating trenches and the feelings of helplessness during the stalemates.

Both of these were historical fiction as well, as I feel many of my books this year will be. Keep an eye out for my next post in two weeks time with more updates.

book bingo 2018.jpg

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The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

the wicked cometh.jpgTitle: The Wicked Cometh

Author: Laura Carlin

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, Hachette Australia

Published: 13th February, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 343

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Even in the darkest of times, you cannot bury the truth . . . A debut historical novel that will appeal to fans of Sarah Waters and THE ESSEX SERPENT.

THE WICKED COMETH will take readers on a heart-racing journey through backstreets swathed with fog to richly curtained, brightly lit country houses; from the libraries and colleges of gentlemen, to sawdust-strewn gin palaces where ne’er-do-wells drink and scheme, all told through the eyes of a heroine with nothing to lose. 

The year is 1831.

Down murky alleyways and in filthy hovels, acts of unspeakable wickedness take place and vulnerable people begin to disappear from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.

When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the mysterious Rebekah Brock. But both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations as whispers from Hester’s old life return to poison the present. Something is lurking in the black heart of their city, and it is more depraved than either of them could ever imagine . . .

~*~

Every city has its secrets, and so do the people who live in them. Hester White is run over by the cart of an aristocrat and injures her ankle. The gentleman, Calder Brock, insists on taking her back to his family home to heal, and she is soon turned into a project, for Calder’s mysterious sister Rebekah, whose indifference is off-putting, but the whispers about missing maids and girls are more concerning. Hester’s life in hovels and alleyways has changed now that she is in the Brock home, but the dangers that the maids and servants whisper about girls who have disappeared without a trace, and Hester knows she must find out what has happened, or potentially meet the same fate the others did. Initially afraid of Rebekah, Hester runs to save her life, only to discover the dark and dangerous truth about people she thought she could trust.

In her life, Hester, the narrator, has seen two Londons: the rich, opulent one of the Brocks, and the slums she lived in, the parsonage she grew up in. Through Hester’s eyes we see how her experiences being poor and rich affect her, and her ability to move between the two worlds is effective, especially as the novel is told in first person. When Hester is talking about Rebekah, there are hints that it is more than respect and friendship, but I felt that this grew and developed over the novel and complemented the mystery nicely. Hester’s father regaled her with stories about his travels. building up an ideal London in her young mind. Orphaned at eleven, Hester is living with an alcoholic Uncle Jacob, and her Aunt Meg, who encourages her to leave to save herself from the rage of Jacob.

When Calder takes her in to prove even those from the gutter can be educated, much like Henry Higgins tries to prove with Eliza in Pygmalion, Hester assumes a persona of ignorance, though she has been taught to read and write by her father. The mystery slowly unfolds, and towards the middle of the story, it starts to move faster than the beginning as Rebekah and Hester undertake their own investigations and try to stop the dark disappearances. The slow beginning acts as a deceptive set-up, lulling the reader into a false sense of security before slowly chipping away at this feeling through maid’s whispers and Hester’s doubts as she tells the story. This is used effectively to begin the mystery, which soon becomes the main story, and the relationships develop as the mystery goes on. I quite enjoyed the mystery, though it was quite dark, and disturbing, but highlighted the depravity that exists in society, and the lengths that people will go to in order to hide this depravity and present a respectable front to society.

Hester’s narration allows the reader to see it all through her eyes, and experience her confusion, her guilt and the feelings she is unsure about that bubble to the surface when she is around Rebekah and thinking about her. It has elements of friendship and romance, and finding one’s own identity, and the development of this evolves with the mystery. It was nice to see a relationship develop over time and not be instantaneous, and get equal attention to a rather dark and intriguing mystery that took the characters through the shadows of London.

Booktopia

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

the war I finally won.jpgTitle: The War I Finally Won

Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Genre: Children’s/YA, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 2nd October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Like the classic heroines of literature, Ada wins our hearts as she continues her World War II adventures after the Newbery Honor–winning The War that Saved My Life.

When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—crippled in her mind as well as in her body. But who is she, she wonders?

Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their guardian, Susan, in a cottage in the English countryside, on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton and her daughter, Maggie, Ada’s dearest friend. Life in the crowded cottage is tense. Then Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? Everyone is horrified. Ada must decide—where do her loyalties lie?

The War I Finally Won is the marvellous conclusion to Ada’s powerful, uplifting story.

~*~

Ada’s life has changed since she ran away from home, where her mother kept her locked up and punished her for being born with a club-foot. Living as an evacuee with her brother, Jamie, and their guardian, Susan, Ada’s journey is not yet complete. Though she has had her foot fixed, and she now knows she is not what her mother said she was, she must find a way to discover who she is. As the war comes closer to British shores, Ada and Jamie’s lives alter significantly, and many changes uproot their lives. When Lady Thorton moves in with them because her home is commandeered for the war effort, Ada feels the safety and comfort she has begun to get used to feel threatened. Only Maggie’s presence and Susan’s understanding seems to calm her through times of turmoil and worrying about Jamie and feeling like she still has to take care of everyone. Soon, Ada becomes accustomed to having Maggie’s mother around, because it means Maggie gets to visit for school holidays. But when Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany arrives, Ada is caught between loyalty to those she loves and fiercely protects and welcoming another young girl who has been forced out of her home and away from all she loves. Soon, Ada discovers a way to be who she is and help Ruth adjust. It is a war she must fight within herself, whilst another war rages on outside – discovering who she is and overcoming the horrors of her past to find peace.

In the wonderful and touching conclusion to Ada’s story, The War I Finally Won, has Ada still struggling with her mother’s words, but finding ways to cope with her anxiety around events she is unfamiliar with. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has taken a devastating war and used it as the backdrop to personal wars – Ada, Mrs Thorton and Susan – and tenderly dealt with disability, both physical and mental, wars, death, love and loss, all through the eyes of an orphaned child during World War Two, and her brother, who can see and accept love for what it is – though Ada’s struggle to love easily is part of the story, and her vulnerability and confusion are ever-present.

Each character in the story is fighting a war. They are all involved and connected to World War Two – as evacuees, as hosts, as a mother and wife to a husband and son who are fighting in the war, a war of loss and of love, and identity wars, to find who they are in a new and frightening world. When the safety Ada is getting used to is threatened, she feels the war anew, and it is Lady Thorton who steps in to help her through it. Ada finds that in this new place in Kent, she has people who care about her: the Thortons, Maggie, Ruth, and Susan – she has always had Jamie, who does what he can to help his big sister throughout both books.

Like the first book, this one dealt with what are difficult themes in an eloquent and thoughtful way, approaching it so that readers of all ages can understand what is going on at their level and through their experiences. Through these characters, the personal and physical war is experienced in different ways, and learning to love and understand others is a key theme in the book.

With a satisfying yet realistic ending, The War I Finally Won is a great way to end Ada’s battle.

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Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn

eventual poppy day.jpgTitle: Eventual Poppy Day

Author: Libby Hathorn

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Angus&Robertson, an imprint of HarperCollins

Published: 23rd February, 2015

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: Shooting stars, kisses, grenades and the lumbering tanks. And the shrieking skies and the shaking comrades: ‘Up and over, lads!’ And I know it is time again to go into madness.

It is 1915 and eighteen-year-old Maurice Roche is serving in the Great War. A century later, Maurice’s great-great nephew, eighteen-year-old Oliver, is fighting his own war – against himself.

When Oliver is given Maurice’s war diary, he has little interest in its contents – except for Maurice’s sketches throughout, which are intriguing to Oliver who is also a talented artist.

As he reads more of the diary though, Oliver discovers that, despite living in different times, there are other similarities between them: doubts, heartbreak, loyalty, and the courage to face the darkest of times.

From award-winning children’s and YA author Libby Hathorn comes a moving, timely and very personal book examining the nature of valour, the power of family and the endurance of love.

This is a story we should never forget.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseLike most young men in 1914, Maurice de la Roche signs up to go to a faraway war in Europe that has not yet touched the shores of Australia, but that will soon become part of the history and national identity of the recently Federated nation. As his family reluctantly watches him and his brothers leave, they face an uncertainty about their son’s futures. One hundred years later, Maurice’s great-great-nephew, the great-grandson of his much younger sister, Dorothy, is struggling with life, with family, friends, school and finding his way in the world, wishing to take art classes in school. At home, he is trying to help his younger sister Poppy speak again after a devastating illness following the departure of their father. But it is the story of Maurice that makes up the bulk of the story, and the diary entries that Oliver is reading brought to life in flashbacks to various points in the war: Gallipoli, Poziéres, and other battlefields throughout France, and Maurice’s knack for art, so similar to Oliver’s, that make up the bulk of the narrative, with significant events in Oliver’s life occurring at the beginning, middle and end of the novel.

Eventual Poppy Day respectfully and emotively evokes the battlefields and events of World War One, or The Great War, and The War to End All Wars would culminate in what would become known as Remembrance Day, where poppies are worn and placed in the Honour Rolls that commemorate every Australian military member who has died in service to their country. In a heartbreaking story that draws on family history, and one of the first major wars that would come to shape our national identity and the Anzac legend, Libby Hathorn has created a story that reminds us that we are all human, all fallible and not immune to history or the dangers of the world.

Marketed as a Young Adult novel, I feel that Eventual Poppy Day can be read by anyone, and I did enjoy that Oliver’s love for his family, for his sister Poppy, was the most important love for him on his journey. It is always refreshing to read a book, whatever the target audience, where love of family and friends is part of the story, rather than romantic love. To me, it feels like it strengthens the story, and enhances the characters and their motivations, and shows that there are more ways to love and care for someone beyond romance and are kinds of love I feel are being written about more and this is a good thing to show the spectrum of love across a variety of books and genres, especially when woven throughout the plot.

Another stand-out theme was the patriotic way the ANZACS embrace their mateship in the trenches of Gallipoli and across the Western Front. The way Libby has written about these experiences is so well written, it is as though you are there, experiencing it with the characters, with Maurice and those he served with. In the author’s note, Libby says that this book was inspired by her own relative, also named Maurice, and further research done with the Australian War Memorial and other resources about the ANZACS and World War One. I felt this theme running throughout evoked a sense of what it must have been like being so far from home and caught up in a war that wasn’t ours, but that threatened Britain, a nation that at the time, most Australians still felt strong ties to.

Through reading Maurice’s diary, Oliver’s personal growth shines through in his chapters, and it is a journey he has to take, to find out what he really wants and to help his little sister, Poppy. It is the kind of novel that many will hopefully enjoy reading and that honours the soldiers of World War One, as seen through the eyes of a teenager, trying to find his place in an ever-changing world. I have adored Libby Hathorn since reading Thunderwith in year six, and I am glad to have stumbled upon this novel.

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