Top Marks for Murder (A Murder Most Unladylike #8) by Robin Stevens

Top Marks for Murder.jpgTitle: Top Marks for Murder (A Murder Most Unladylike #8)

Author: Robin Stevens

Genre: Historical Fiction/Crime

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 6th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis:Daisy and Hazel are finally back at Deepdean, and the school is preparing for a most exciting event: the fiftieth Anniversary.

Plans for a weekend of celebrations are in full swing. But all is not well, for in the detectives’ long absence, Daisy has lost her crown to a fascinating, charismatic new girl – while Beanie is struggling with a terrible revelation.

As parents descend upon Deepdean for the Anniversary, decades-old grudges, rivalries and secrets begin to surface. Then the girls witness a shocking incident in the woods close by – and soon, a violent death occurs.

Can the girls solve the case – and save their home?

The brilliant new mystery from the bestselling, award-winning author of Murder Most Unladylike.

~*~

Top Marks for Murder was my first adventure with Daisy, Hazel and their Deepdean friends, and I really enjoyed it. Set in the 1930s, just a few years before the outbreak of World War Two. Nestled in a private school, Daisy and Hazel have returned to school for a two-month absence, just in time for the school’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations. They meet new girl, Amina El Maghrabi from Cairo, who has taken Daisy’s crown – a history that seeps through from previous books. As the girls prepare for the anniversary, animosity builds between some of the fourth formers. But the Friday of the weekend anniversary, Beanie sees what appears to be a murder – and from there, Daisy and Hazel find themselves looking into a possible murder, and looking at the parents as suspects as they uncover secrets from many years ago that could be bubbling to the surface as murder comes to Deepdean and threatens to close the school forever.

This is one series I would love to go back and read the rest of the series to get to know the characters more and see what other crimes Daisy and Hazel have investigated. Exploring the class system in England, coupled with characters like Hazel – the narrator of the series, and Amina – from Hong Kong and Egypt, countries with a colonial influence, the novels bring diversity into the books on many levels, and show a world beyond what previous series may have explored from other authors.  The schoolgirl rivalries are eventually set aside as the murder of a teacher rocks the school, and Daisy, Hazel and their friends recreate crime scenes and ask a London police officer to help them investigate. But who is the killer and how will they uncover the crime and save the school?

Even though this is a series, I feel one can pick it up at any point, and go back and forth as you find the books, but I am hoping to eventually read them in order and get a full understanding of the story and characters. It is funny, light but at the same time, has moments of darkness amidst an English boarding school setting that is familiar from many series from Enid Blyton books and Harry Potter but also has a few differences that make it a unique series for readers aged about ten and older to enjoy, and feel as though they are investigating the crime with Hazel and Daisy.

It is also a sort of school-girl homage to Sherlock and Watson, which I thoroughly enjoyed about it and thought it was an intriguing way to look at the world of consulting or amateur detectives in a very different setting and with a very different set of characters. Looking forward to reading more books in this series.

The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades

the burnt country.jpgTitle: The Burnt Country

Author: Joy Rhoades

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House/Bantam

Published: 6th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 375

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: The stunning new novel from the author of The Woolgrower’s Companion, whom the Australian Women’s Weekly described as ‘a wonderful new voice in literary rural fiction’.
A scandalous secret. A deadly fire. An agonizing choice.

Australia 1948. As a young woman running Amiens, a sizeable sheep station in New South Wales, Kate Dowd knows she’s expected to fail. And her grazier neighbour is doing his best to ensure she does, attacking her method of burning off to repel a bushfire.

But fire risk is just one of her problems. Kate cannot lose Amiens or give in to her estranged husband Jack’s demands to sell: the farm is her livelihood and the only protection she can offer her half-sister Pearl, as the Aborigines Welfare Board threatens to take her away.

Ostracised by the local community for even acknowledging Pearl, Kate cannot risk another scandal. Which means turning her back on her wartime lover, Luca Canali …

Then Jack drops a bombshell. He wants a divorce. He’ll protect what’s left of Kate’s reputation, and keep Luca out of it – but for an extortionate price.

Soon Kate is putting out fires on all fronts to save her farm, keep her family together and protect the man she loves. Then a catastrophic real fire threatens everything . . .

~*~

Set on a farm in country NSW, The Burnt Country is unique amongst rural fiction I have read. It’s 1948, and World War Two has been over for three years. Kate Dowd has been running the sheep station Amiens alone since her father died and her husband, Jack, left her. Left to support herself, her half-sister, Pearl, Pearl’s mother Daisy, and another relative, Harry, Kate is faced with decisions about selling and rumours floating around town about her family.

Yet it is a time of drought as well, and whilst the fires of what people want from her and expect from her start to flicker around her, a very real fire threatens her home and community, and leads to investigations and events that could change Kate, her community, family and Amiens forever.

Her wartime lover, Luca, and ex, Jack return at about the same time. Yet this storyline does not take over, rather, the romance bubbles beneath the main storyline of family and home, and what it takes to protect what you hold close. Throughout the novel, the dark spectre of Jack looms as he comes in and out of Kate’s life with threats, demands and conditions to go along with a divorce he demands. He knows Kate cannot pay the price he demands, and Kate and her friends use their knowledge and skills to uncover what Jack is after – so there is a bit of a mystery in this book to go along with bubbling romances – two, it turns out, and one of which I felt was a lot more prominent between another couple, and it was one I quite enjoyed,

2019 BadgeDetermined to help her family, and stand up for herself, Kate does what she can to get them through a bushfire that sweeps across the region. I was swept up in this book, because it allowed Kate to be a woman of her time, but at the same time, she stood up for what she believed in, and what was right. She did not let what many people saw as normal and right dictate what she should do, and she showed compassion and strength in the face of accusations that at one point, she feels she cannot defend herself against.

Kate faces blatant sexism and disrespect as she does things her way, from her burning off method, to hiding Daisy and Pearl from the Aborigines Welfare Board – determined that they won’t be separated and determined to make the necessary sacrifices to save her family and her farm. It is a story about a woman who finds herself in circumstances she never foresaw, much more than a romance. It is a very human story, with circumstances and a setting very real to many Australians, as the threat of drought and bushfire linger all the time in rural communities. This aspect was my favourite, because I believe it really allowed Kate to shine and grow as she stood up to those who doubted her who blamed her for things beyond her control and knowledge. It showed that those who are loyal to you in times of trouble are important and true family will always find a way to come back together.

Populated with a diverse group of characters from several backgrounds and attitudes, like many books, The Burnt Country is a snapshot of a community, illustrating a variety of views that we see as abominable today, yet would have been accepted in the post-war years.  Including these is undeniably uncomfortable, but at the same time, we shouldn’t shy away from a very real reality that many faced in the mid-twentieth century in those conditions. It is a great novel, because Kate does not allow what society expects dictate what she does, and she is a wonderful character, and her story is powerful. It is always good to see women in fiction front and centre beyond romance, perhaps with romance bubbling on the side or in the background. Seeing them in other positions and plots shows there are many more aspects to these characters than might be present in some places.

July Reading Round-Up

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Seven months into the year, and in total, I have read 118 books. Of those 118, 58 have been by Australian Women, and the remaining 60 by authors across the board – male, female and international. I am still trying to make progress on my Jane Austen challenge and have one square left to tick off for book bingo – a book over 500 pages. Many of my reads this year have fallen short of this, so I am still looking and hoping something in my own collection will come up.

#Dymocks52Challenge

Most of the books have been reviewed, with a few exceptions for books read for work or Squirrel Girl and Captain Marvel. Some reviewed books have not been released yet, so the links will be included in later wrap ups or maybe added to this one when they go live. I read 25 books in July, and have managed to stay on top of a lot of my reading as well.

Until next month, and more reviews and posts!

General

  1. The Silver Well by Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins
  2. Blood and Circuses by Kerry Greenwood (Phryne Fisher #6)
  3. The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay
  4. The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke
  5. Aladdin and the Arabian Nights
  6. Deltora Quest: The Maze of the Beast by Emily Rodda
  7. Deltora Quest: The Valley of the Lost by Emily Rodda
  8. Deltora Quest: Return to Del by Emily Rodda
  9. Deltora Quest #1 by Emily Rodda
  10. Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French
  11. Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail
  12. The Binder of Doom: Brute Cake by Troy Cummings
  13. Beatrix the Bold and the Curse of the Wobblers by Simon Mockler
  14. Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey
  15. Firewatcher #1: Brimstone by Kelly Gardiner
  16. Purrmaids #1: The Scaredy Cat by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
  17. The Dragon in the Library by Louie Stowell
  18. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Illustrated Edition by JK Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay
  19. The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades
  20. The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus
  21. Pages and Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James
  22. Top Marks for Murder by Robin Stevens (A Murder Most Unladylike #8)
  23. Bentley by Ellen Miles
  24. Fast Forward to the Future (Time Jumpers #3) by Wendy Mass
  25. Is it Night or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman

Pop Sugar Challenge

  1. A book becoming a movie in 2019:
  2. A book that makes you nostalgic: The Lost Magician by Piers Torday
  3. A book written by a musician (fiction or nonfiction): Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills
  4. A book you think should be turned into a movie: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte
  5. A book with at least one million ratings on Goodreads:Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling – 20th Anniversary House Editions
  6. A book with a plant in the title or on the cover: Bella Donna: Coven Road by Ruth Symes, Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley
  7. A reread of a favourite book: Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
  8. A book about a hobby: The Bad Mother’s Book Club by Keris Stanton
  9. A book you meant to read in 2018: Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley
  10. A book with POP, SUGAR, or CHALLENGE in the title: Poppy Field by Michael Morpurgo, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
  11. A book with an item of clothing or accessory on the cover: 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne, The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
  12. A book inspired by myth/legend/folklore:Mermaid Holidays: The Magic Pearl by Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas
  13. A book published posthumously: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  14. A book you see someone reading on TV or in a movie:
  15. A retelling of a classic: Enola Holmes: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) by Nancy Springer
  16. A book with a question in the title: Is It Night or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman
  17. A book set on college or university campus: Marvel Rising: Squirrel Girl and Ms Marvel by Devin Grayson, Ryan North and Willow Wilson
  18. A book about someone with a superpower: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume One: Squirrel Power by Ryan North
  19. A book told from multiple POVs: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte
  20. A book set in space: Captain Marvel: Higher, Faster, Further by Kelly Sue DeConnick
  21. A book by two female authors: The Silver Well by Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins
  22. A book with SALTY, SWEET, BITTER, or SPICY in the title: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams
  23. A book set in Scandinavia: The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag
  24. A book that takes place in a single day: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson
  25. A debut novel: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson
  26. A book that’s published in 2019: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni
  27. A book featuring an extinct or imaginary creature: Dragon Masters: Treasure of the Gold Dragon by Tracey West
  28. A book recommended by a celebrity you admire: Split edited by Lee Kofman – recommended by Myf Warhurst
  29. A book with LOVE in the title:
  30. A book featuring an amateur detective: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill
  31. A book about a family: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion
  32. A book by an author from Asia, Africa, or South America: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim
  33. A book with a zodiac sign or astrology term in title:The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames
  34. A book that includes a wedding: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, A Dream of Italy by Nicky Pellegrino
  35. A book by an author whose first and last names start with the same letter:Mermaid Holidays: The Talent Show by Delphine Davis and Adele K. Thomas, The True Story of Maddie Bright by Mary-Rose MacColl, Explorer’s Academy: Nebula Secret by Trudi Trueit
  36. A ghost story: The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay
  37. A book with a two-word title: Saving You by Charlotte Nash
  38. A novel based on a true story: The Familiars by Stacey Halls – The Pendle Witches
  39. A book revolving around a puzzle or game: Deltora Quest #1 by Emily Rodda
  40. Your favourite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading challenge:

2016 – A book based on a fairy tale: The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth – based on Chinese fairy tale, The Blue Rose

2017 – A steampunk book:

Advanced

  1. A “cli-fi” (climate fiction) book: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble, Daughter of Bad Times by Rohan Wilson
  2. A “choose-your-own-adventure” book: Choose Your Own Adventure #2: Journey Under the Sea by R.A. Montgomery
  3. An “own voices” book: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim
  4. Read a book during the season it is set in: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson (Easter Season),The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green (parts are set during Autumn)
  5. A LitRPG book:
  6. A book with no chapters / unusual chapter headings / unconventionally numbered chapters: Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey (Ciphers used to give the chapter headings)
  7. Two books that share the same title: Deltora Quest: The Forest of Silence by Emily Rodda
  8. Two books that share the same title: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda
  9. A book that has inspired a common phrase or idiom: Aladdin and the Arabian Nights – Open Sesame
  10. A book set in an abbey, cloister, monastery, vicarage, or convent: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

AWW2019

2019 Badge

  1. The Silver Well by Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins – Reviewed
  2. Blood and Circuses by Kerry Greenwood (Phryne Fisher #6) – Reviewed
  3. Deltora Quest: The Maze of the Beast by Emily Rodda – Reviewed
  4. Deltora Quest: The Valley of the Lost by Emily Rodda – Reviewed
  5. Deltora Quest: Return to Del by Emily Rodda – Reviewed
  6. Deltora Quest #1 by Emily Rodda – Reviewed
  7. Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French – Reviewed
  8. Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail – Reviewed

55.Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey – Reviewed

  1. Firewatcher #1: Brimstone by Kelly Gardiner – Reviewed
  2. The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades – Reviewed
  3. The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus – Reviewed

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Book Bingo

Rows Across:

Row One:

A book with a red cover: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim – #AWW2019

Beloved Classic: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – AWW2018

A novel that has more than 500 pages:

A novella no more than 150 pages:Deltora Quest: The Forest of Silence by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019

Prize winning book: Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French – #AWW2019, Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail – #AWW2019

Row Two: BINGO

BINGO!

A book by an author with the same initials as you: The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus – #AWW2019*

Non-Fiction book about an event: The Suicide Bride by Tanya Bretherton – #AWW2019

Fictional biography about a woman from history: Fled by Meg Keneally – #AWW2019

Memoir about a non-famous person:Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Book written by an Australian woman more than 10 years ago: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019 (2001)

Row Three: BINGO

BINGO!

Themes of Science Fiction: Daughter of Bad Times by Rohan Wilson

Themes of Culture:The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

Themes of Justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Themes of Inequality: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – AWW2019

Themes of Fantasy: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni – AWW2019

 

Row Four: – BINGO

BINGO!

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Outback: The Last Dingo Summer by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #8) – #AWW2019

Book set on the Australian Coast:The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Mountains: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – AWW2019

Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

 

Row Five: BINGO

BINGO!

Written by an Australian Man: The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

Written by an Australian Woman:Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019

Written by an author over the age of 65: Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s Brilliant Career began by Libby Hathorn – #AWW2019

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

Row Six: BINGO

BINGO!

Literary: Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide – AWW2019

Crime: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – AWW2019

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Romance: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Comedy: Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

Rows Down:

Row One:  – BINGO

BINGO!

A book with a red cover: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim – #AWW2019

Book by an author with the same initials as you: The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus – #AWW2019*

Themes of science fiction: Daughter of Bad Times by Rohan Wilson

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Written by an Australian man: The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

Literary: Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide – AWW2019

Row Two: BINGO

BINGO!

Beloved Classic: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – AWW2018      

Non-Fiction book about an event: The Suicide Bride by Tanya Bretherton – #AWW2019

Themes of culture: The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

Book set in the Australian outback: The Last Dingo Summer by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #8) – #AWW2019

Written by an Australian woman: Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg – AWW2019

Crime: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – AWW2019

Row three:

Novel that has 500 pages or more:

Fictional biography about a woman from history: Fled by Meg Keneally – #AWW2019

Themes of justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Book set on the Australian coast:The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Row Four: – BINGO

BINGO!

Novella no more than 150 pages: Deltora Quest: The Forest of Silence by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019

Memoir about a non-famous person:Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Themes of inequality: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – AWW2019

Book set in the Australian mountains: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – AWW2019

Written by an author over the age of 65: Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s Brilliant Career began by Libby Hathorn – #AWW2019

Romance: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Row Five: BINGO

BINGO!

Prize winning book: Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French – #AWW2019, Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail – #AWW2019

Book written by an Australian woman more than ten years ago: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019 (2001)

Themes of fantasy: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni – AWW2019

Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

Comedy: Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

July Round Up – 25

 

Book Title Challenge
The Silver Well Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019, Popsugar
Blood and Circuses (Phryne Fisher #6)  Kerry Greenwood General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019
The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay General, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar
The Secret Dragon Ed Clarke General, #Dymocks52Challenge – released 6th August.
Aladdin and the Arabian Nights Anonymous General, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar
Deltora Quest: The Maze of the Beast Emily Rodda General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019
Deltora Quest: The Valley of the Lost Emily Rodda General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019
Deltora Quest: Return to Del Emily Rodda General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019
Deltora Quest #1 Omnibus Emily Rodda General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019, PopSugar
Somewhere Around the Corner Jackie French General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019, Book bingo
Alexander Altmann A10567 Suzy Zail General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019, Book bingo
The Binder of Doom: Brute Cake Troy Cummings General, #Dymocks52Challenge
Beatrix the Bold and the Curse of the Wobblers Simon Mockler General, #Dymocks52Challenge
Where the Dead Go Sarah Bailey General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019
Firewatcher #1: Brimstone Kelly Gardiner General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019
Purrmaids #1: The Scaredy Cat Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen General, #Dymocks52Challenge
The Dragon in the Library Louie Stowell General, #Dymocks52Challenge
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Illustrated Edition JK Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay General, #Dymocks52Challenge
The Burnt Country Joy Rhoades General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019
The Book Ninja Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019
Pages and Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers  Anna James General, #Dymocks52Challenge
Top Marks for Murder (A Murder Most Unladylike #8) Robin Stevens General, #Dymocks52Challenge
Bentley Ellen Miles General, #Dymocks52Challenge
Fast Forward to the Future (Time Jumpers #3) Wendy Mass General, #Dymocks52Challenge
Is it Night or Day? Fern Schumer Chapman General, #Dymocks52Challenge

Firewatcher Chronicles #1: Brimstone by Kelly Gardiner

Fire watcher BrimstoneTitle: Firewatcher Chronicles #1: Brimstone

Author: Kelly Gardiner

Genre: Historical Fiction/Time slip

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: December 1940, London: Christopher Larkham finds an ancient Roman ring inscribed with a phoenix on the banks of the Thames. As he takes shelter from the firestorm of the Blitz, the ring glows, and pushing open a door, he finds himself in 1666 and facing the Great Fire of London. Fire-and-brimstone preacher, Brother Blowbladder, and his men of the Righteous Temple have prayed for the ancient gods of fire to bring flames down upon London, a city of sin. Could Christopher be their messenger? Or was it the strange girl on the quay who drew him back in time? Why do the Righteous men wear the same phoenix symbol as the engraving on Christopher’s ring?

The Firewatchertrilogy blends time-travel, history, mystery and action into adventure as Christopher and his new friends race to untangle the truth of the phoenix ring, and face the greatest fires in the city’s history.

~*~

In 1940, Britain is in the grip of World War Two, and the Blitz has started to hound London day and night. Everyone has gas marks, is always ready to rush into the bomb shelters, and those serving on the home front spend their nights as fire watchers, watching the night skies for German bombers coming to destroy the city of London. One afternoon, Christopher discovers an old Roman ring whilst exploring the docks with his friend, Ginger.

2019 Badge

One night. whilst hiding out in the neighbourhood bomb shelter, Christopher opens a door into a world engulfed by fire. Watching London burning, Christopher thinks that at first, Hitler has won, and London is finished – yet a few differences to the skyline, and his meeting with Molly at the quay, make him realise he has fallen almost three hundred years into the past, into the year of the Great Fire of London – 1666. As he finds himself going back and forth 1940 and 1666, Christopher finds himself facing the threat of two evil leaders: Hitler in 1940, and Brother Halleluiah Blowbladder and his cult-like followers in 1666, who believe that fire is the only way to purge the city of sin. But why has Christopher been brought back? Well, like me, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

I love a good historical fiction and time travel story, especially one that is the start of a very engrossing trilogy from a renowned Australian publisher and a fabulous author I have recently discovered, and now want to read more by Kelly Gardiner, as well as find out what happens to Christopher in the next two books. The fire burns through each page, crackling and smoking as you read, and feel the fear and uncertainty of both events, even though today, in 2019, we know the outcomes of each event.

For Christopher, living through the Blitz and witnessing the Great Fire of London, the two events could start to bleed together, as he travels back and forth, and has to check where he is each time. Christopher is a great character – he’s smart, and not wholly perfect – which is what makes it all work so well, as does seeing two of the most terrifying events in London’s history through the eyes of children and the realities that they had to face. In an exciting new trilogy, history and time travel collide with mystery as Christopher is pulled into a mystery involving Brother Blowbladder.

The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

the blue rose.jpgTitle: The Blue Rose

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Vintage/Penguin Random House

Published: 16th July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Moving between Imperial China and France during the ‘Terror’ of the French Revolution and inspired by the true story of the quest for a blood-red rose.

Viviane de Faitaud has grown up alone at the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, for her father, the Marquis de Ravoisier, lives at the court of Louis XVI in Versailles. After a hailstorm destroys the chateau’s orchards, gardens and fields an ambitious young Welshman, David Stronach, accepts the commission to plan the chateau’s new gardens in the hope of making his name as a landscape designer.
David and Viviane fall in love, but it is an impossible romance. Her father has betrothed her to a rich duke who she is forced to marry, and David is hunted from the property. Viviane goes to court and becomes a maid-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette and a member of the extended royal family. Angry and embittered, David sails away from England with Lord Macartney, the British ambassador, who hopes to open up trade with Imperial China.

In Canton, the British embassy at last receives news from home, including their first 2019 Badgereports of the French Revolution. David hears the story of ‘The Blue Rose’, a Chinese fable of impossible love, and discovers the blood-red rose growing in the wintry garden. He realises that he is still in love with Viviane and must find her.

~*~

Every two years, I eagerly await the new Kate Forsyth book for adults. Usually, this is a fairy tale infused historical fiction, and usually takes inspiration of fairy tales from the European canon, by authors and collector’s such as The Brothers Grimm or lesser known French authors, such as Charlotte Rose de la Force. The Blue Rose, Kate’s 2019 release, is based on a Chinese folk tale of the same name, based around the idea of making the unattainable a possibility. Using this folk tale as her basis, Kate sets her story during the French Revolution, and the discovery of a blood-red rose, discovered in China in 1792 and taken back to Europe.

Starting in 1788, not long before the beginning of the French Revolution, Kate’s story begins with Viviane, daughter of a marquis, meeting a gardener, David Stronach, one of the many historical personages who appear in the novel – whilst Viviane and her family are amongst the only fictional characters who appear. David is tasked with designing a garden for Viviane’s father, and the two form a friendship that blooms into love as the world around them starts to rumble towards a revolution that will change France forever.

When Viviane’s father discovers David and his daughter wish to marry, he drives David away, tells Viviane he is dead and marries her off to a Duke and sends her off to Versailles with her new step-mother to be a maid-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette. Slowly, the rebellions begin to whittle away at the aristocrats, or aristos as they are referred to, and Viviane’s husband is killed. As the revolution moves forward, and Louis, Marie-Antoinette and their children are moved away from Versailles, the upper class are arrested, put on trial and guillotined, David travels to China in search of the blood-red rose.

While Viviane lives in constant threat of being arrested, and guillotined as many people are day after day, she takes refuge as a scullery-maid. David travels to China, where he learns about their culture, and legends of roses and love. Both thinks the other is dead as news trickles slowly back to David about the revolution through his travels. Viviane listens to the daily guillotining of many people, just waiting for her time, and hoping Pierrick, the son of a staff member from her childhood home will find her.

As the book moves between revolutionary France and David’s travels to and around China, the plot is richly gown and told through the characters and history of both countries – Revolutionary France and Imperial China, where traditional practices such as foot binding shock David and the crew, as they have never seen or heard of it before. Kate deftly reflects the reality of shock on David’s part, but uses the Chinese characters such as Father Li that he interacts with to explain what it means culturally. She manages to communicate cultural communication in an exceptional way, and in a way that the reader can understand, but that also reflects not only the different cultures, but the times in which the people lived, whilst still showing each character as an individual in their own right.

Kate is, to me, a genius when it comes to historical fiction, because she gets the balance just right. The characters are flawed and well-rounded, they are individuals who suit their setting and plot, and she infuses her historical setting with fairy or folk tales exceptionally well. When she describes the smells, sights and sounds of revolution and the guillotine, it feels like, as the reader, I was in France at the time. Kate makes it all feel so real, that you can feel the fear, wonder and everything in between as it unfolds on the page. And in China, it was the same, and the feelings of uncertainty filtered throughout both too: what was going to happen, what was it going to be like? This, as well as Kate’s ability to end a chapter or section with a mystery to come, are the things that have me coming back to her books each time one comes out. She pulls together history and mystery in a magical way, where, whilst a love story, is rich with how the historical setting affects the characters, and what they have to go through to survive, to live. The romance is the reward, but the journey is the richness of the story that makes it the romance so satisfying.

I look forward to every Kate Forsyth release, and try to get them all. A new Kate Forsyth book is always a highlight for me and will hopefully be re-reading many of her books very soon.

Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail

Alexabder altmann A10567Title: Alexander Altmann A10567

Author: Suzy Zail

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Black Dog Books

Published: 1st May 2014

Format: Paperback

Pages: 290

Price: $18.99

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Silver Well by Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins

the silver well.jpegTitle: The Silver Well

Author: Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins

Genre: Historical Fiction/Short Stories/Fantasy

Publisher: Ticonderoga Press

Published: 22nd November 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 263

Price: $30.00

Synopsis: The Silver Well marks a milestone achievement for two best-selling legends of Australian fantasy, having both published their first novels in 1997. Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins have teamed up in this collection of 7 incredible stories, all original and never-before published.

One English village. Two thousand years of stories.
People have always come to make wishes at the Silver Well: in Pagan times and Christian, during revolution and war. When Rosie arrives in the tiny village of Cerne Abbas with a broken heart, she becomes connected across the centuries with others who have yearned for something. Seven stories, set in seven time periods, reveal the deepest longings of the human heart.

  • Prologue – The Wishing Tree
  • The Blessing
  • My Sister’s Ghost
  • The True Confession of Obedience-to-God Ashe
  • The Cunning Woman’s Daughter
  • The End of Everything
  • The Giant
  • Epilogue – The Past is Not Dead

“One tale at a time, Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins immerse us in the fabled waters of Cerne Abbas, plunging us deeper and deeper into the lore of this village, further and further into its past. Here we meet a cast of characters whose lives span two millennia–charming artists and shopkeepers, forsaken lovers, cunning-women, severe Puritans, proud warriors, shell-shocked soldiers, bereft parents, fierce and fragile children, and many generations of Brightwells. Across the ages we hear their carefully hidden thoughts. Their worries and fears. Their hopes and losses.” — From the introduction by Lisa L. Hannett

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2019 Badge

In 2017, Rosie Brightwell arrives in Cerne Abbas following being left at the altar. Here, she meets Isobel at the markets, and a young man, who begins to tell her a series of stories going back through the years and centuries, back two thousand years, going backwards in time from the Second World War to 44 AD, all centred around the same village and well.

Each story is linked by the village, the well, and the women of the Brightwell family. From artists, to warriors, shopkeepers, and lovers. To a Puritanical story where the family is hauled into the world of the witch trials. Throughout the stories, the village grows, but as they cleverly move backwards throughout time, it feels like as a reader, you are an archaeologist, peeling back the layers of time, century by century, and across one thousand years. It is as though with each layer of the archaeological site, such as at Knossos or Troy, new secrets are revealed and linked to what is already known, until the origins look as though they might be discovered, and they are each told in first person as the ancestors and layers are uncovered and revealed, and Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins have brilliantly crafted this selection of short stories, invoking history, magic and fantasy, linked together by one family, and it is Rosie’s opening and concluding stories that connect the centuries and years together, solving a mystery she never thought she had as she talks with the mysterious young man who tells her about the Brightwell family.

The one story not told from a female perspective, but still linking the village of Cerne Abbas with the other stories is My Sister’s Ghost, narrated by Joseph. This one is a little less clear on the Brightwell connection, but it is still there, in the background as Rosie digs and finds out about the village. My Sister’s Ghost has a larger paranormal element than the other stories and revolves around a family tragedy that eventually connects to the Brightwells, but in a less obvious way than the other stories. Nonetheless, they are all connected by people and place, and this is what makes them work together as each historical layer is revealed, as though through a time machine or archaeological dig.

This is Kate Forsyth’s fortieth book, and the thirtieth book for Kim Wilkins. I’m more familiar with Kate’s work, but the seamlessness of the stories shows that Kate and Kim work well together and have carefully crafted each story so they not only flow into and towards each other but are also their own worlds and stories within a larger one. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and the magic within the stories. It is a wonderful addition to my Kate Forsyth collection, and one that I definitely hope to revisit sometime.