Book Bingo Twenty-Four – A Prize Winner and BINGO – A book by an author with the same initials

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Hello, and welcome to my third last book bingo for the year with Amanda and Theresa. After this one, I have to check off a book over 500 pages, and a book by an author with the same initials – the latter of which I think I have chosen. This week, I am marking off the prize winner square with two books and getting a BINGO for Row Five Down. Specific details of the awards can be found in the reviews and in associated links in the reviews.

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Somewhere around the cornerMy first prize winner book won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Honour Book, and this is Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French. Set during 1932 and the Great Depression in Sydney, it centres around a young girl called Barbara, who slips around a corner from 1994 to 1932 – and finds herself in the middle of a demonstration during the 1930s. Taken back to Poverty Gully by Young Jim, Barbara finds out what being part of a family is like, and what it means to stick together through good and bad times, such as the Depression. It is based on people Jackie knows and stories she has heard

My second prize winner won a Notable Book award from the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail is another historical fiction story seen through the eyes of a child and based on true stories. Like Somewhere Around the Corner, Suzy’s novel explores a time of horror and darkness, and the unknown, though the eyes of a child, and the hope that that child has to survive and things to get better.

 

 

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Both of these books were inspired by real people, stories and events, and are deserving of their awards because they are told so simply, yet are so powerful, that the emotions in them will affect readers of all ages. A great two finds to tick off this category.

 

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

 

BINGO!

Row Five: 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

 

In this post, I am also including a Book with the same initials as my name. This one was tricky, but I settled on The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus. This fits, as their first names make up my initials, and this was one that I was able to twist to suit my needs, as it wasn’t easy to find a book that I hadn’t read before or could easily access to fit here. What I loved about this book was its celebration of books and bookstores, and the love of literature that so many people enjoy, but that is often shown as a nerdy exploit rather than something to be treasured.

Row Two: 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)

 

Rows Down:

 

Row One:  – 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

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The Mitford Scandal by Jessica Fellowes

Mitford Scandal.jpgTitle: The Mitford Scandal

Author: Jessica Fellowes

Genre: Historical Fiction/Crime

Publisher: Sphere/Hachette

Published: 24th September 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 380

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: The newly married and most beautiful of the Mitford sisters, Diana, hot-steps around Europe with her husband and fortune heir Bryan Guinness, accompanied by maid Louisa Cannon, as well as some of the most famous and glamorous luminaries of the era. But murder soon follows, and with it, a darkness grows in Diana’s heart . . .

This wonderful new book in the bestselling THE MITFORD MURDERS series sees the Mitford sisters at a time of scandalous affairs, political upheaval and murder.

The year is 1928, and fortune heir Bryan Guinness weds eighteen-year-old Diana, most beautiful of the six Mitford sisters. The newlyweds begin a whirlwind life zipping between London’s Mayfair, chic Paris and romantic Venice. Accompanying Diana is Louisa Cannon, as well as a coterie of friends, family and hangers-on, from Nancy Mitford to Evelyn Waugh.

But when one of their party is found dead in Paris in 1930, Louisa begins to think that they might have a murderer in their midst. As the hedonism of the age spirals out of control, shadows darken across Europe…and within the heart of Diana Mitford herself.

~*~

After three books, starting in the early to mid-1920s. we are now headed towards a series of events in world history that plunges Europe and the world into the Great Depression and World War Two. Against the backdrop of impending economic crisis in the years following the end of World War One, or what was known in the 1920s as The Great War, there are hints at unrest in Europe, especially Germany. This is filtered through the only Mitford brother, Tom, who appears every now and then, discussing the politics of the day and setting up what is to come, and what we know happened with the six Mitford sisters during the war for the books that are to come, presumably focusing on Unity, Jessica (Decca) and Deborah (Debo).

Louisa and Nancy are perhaps the key anchors throughout these books, as well as the rest of the Mitfords, occupying much of the action, especially Louisa, who is reunited with Guy, her policeman friend in this book when some maids at a Mitford party fall through a skylight, and die, and another vanishes, setting in motion a side mystery.  Yet the key mystery begins in Paris, and weaves in and out across the early 1930s as death touches the Mitford-Guinness party across the years in mystery deepens, and ebbs and flows as suspects are interviewed until the death of the prime suspect seems to bring a halt to the case – which ends up being much more complicated than anyone first thought.

This series takes real life people, fictional people and uses the world and politics they existed within to create mysteries that are engaging and thrilling to read. The pacing of them fits the setting and ensures a desire to read on – especially when things seem to wrap up too neatly, that as a reader, I knew there was more to what had happened. Something had to give because it was all too easy.

Simmering beneath the mystery is the growing tensions of post-war Europe, and the clashing of political ideologies, such as communism, fascism, democracy and Nazism – with some characters expressing an interest in Nazis and indeed suggesting they would support them. This is chilling as we know what the Nazi regime eventually led to. Reading about these people, even in a fictional way, before they became embroiled in and deeply connected to the Nazi regime and ideology is chilling because instead of reading them just as Nazis, we get to see how they start to gravitate towards this ideology and the scandal that it eventually caused within society and their family. What it leads it is an ending where whilst the crime may be solved, the family and those around them – and the reader – will be plunged into a world where nothing is certain, and where Louisa may soon find she does not know who she can trust.

I have been following this series since it first started, and have been loving it, looking forward to seeing what happens next. As we descend into fractious politics that will divide family and a coming war, it is starting to sit comfortably alongside the Rowland Sinclair mysteries as a series that combines family, politics and murder and the world of the 1930s to create stories that are engaging and thrilling.

Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham

eleanor's secret.jpgTitle: Eleanor’s Secret

Author: Caroline Beecham

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 432

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An engrossing wartime mystery of past deceptions, family secrets and long-lasting love…

London, 1942
When art school graduate, Eleanor Roy, is recruited by the War Artists Advisory Committee, she comes one step closer to realising her dream of becoming one of the few female war artists. But breaking into the art establishment proves difficult until Eleanor meets painter, Jack Valante, only to be separated by his sudden posting overseas.

Melbourne 2010
Although reluctant to leave her family at home, Kathryn can’t refuse her grandmother Eleanor’s request to travel to London to help her return a precious painting to its artist. But when the search uncovers a long-held family secret, Kathryn has to make a choice to return home or risk her family’s future, as Eleanor shows her that safeguarding the future is sometimes worth more than protecting the past.

Kathryn’s journey takes her back to Eleanor’s life as a young woman as she uncovers Jack’s missing war diaries and uses new technology to try and solve the puzzle of the missing artist, confronted by Jack’s record of war compared to the depiction of terrors of the present day.

But when it becomes evident that Jack’s nephew is trying to stop her finding him, and her concern for Christopher’s care of Oliver deepens, she has to decide whether to return home or risk the dangers to carry on.

Eleanor’s Secret is at once a surprising mystery and compelling love story.

~*~

Having just graduated art school Eleanor Roy is recruited to the WAAC – the War Artists Advisory Committee – to do her part for the war effort during the 1940s. To her, this is a stepping stone to becoming a female war artist, in a time when women were often relegated to domestic jobs or working at home. For Eleanor though, breaking through tradition into a world her parents and family didn’t want her to go into, this is her chance.  Seconded to a series of administrative meetings for the council, Eleanor encounters Jack Valante, a war artist, and SOE officer, whose friendship encourages her to paint her war, and to try and submit them to the WAAC, and other exhibitions. But she is a woman, and Jack comes up with a plan to get her art shown, and a relationship forms – and then falls away as he is sent overseas to serve. Almost seventy years later in 2010, Eleanor’s granddaughter, Kathryn, has returned to England to help her grandmother uncover the secret of a painting and where Jack is. She takes it as a welcome break from the family problems that plague her back home with her husband, Chris, though being apart from son Oliver, is testing. But what Kathryn will discover is more than a missing painting – she will discover a secret that Eleanor has been holding onto for many years.

AWW-2018-badge-roseLately, I have been reading a lot of World War Two based historical fiction, covering the Holocaust, the ghettos and the home front in England. Each story is a mere drop in the ocean of the experiences of these six years, on all sides, and for all those affected. There are still many stories to discover and be told. One of my favourite themes has been the role of women in the war on the home front, and their stories. So, I was quite delighted to receive Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham, having previously read Maggie’s Kitchen two years ago. Like in Maggie’s Kitchen, the protagonist inEleanor’s Secret is also seeking to do something for the war effort and break out of the confines of what is expected of her gender. Instead, she strives to become an artist in her own right, and tries to gain the attention of a colleague, Aubrey, whom she hopes will help her exhibit her paintings. Through Eleanor, the home front of destroyed buildings in London and the East End is shown, though nobody wishes to accept them as hers, though she tries to make them see she is just as capable. Caroline Beecham’s characters – especially the female ones – find a way to step out of the norm whilst maintaining a facade in public that allows them to find a way to go against what is expected of them.

The impacts of the war that Eleanor captured in the novel – destroyed homes, families with nothing, picking through the ruins for something to hold onto, to sell for food, and the orphans, with nobody but the people running the orphanage and Eleanor’s art lessons to lift their spirits – are not the images of war that the WAAC wanted. It was Eleanor’s determination to capture these scenes that I found the most powerful, because it was her world, the world she lived in and passed by every day, rather than the battle fields of Europe that felt so distant to many, and though those events still affected people back home, what those left behind experienced also needed to be captured in paints.

_J1_7213-Edit.jpgThe love story between Jack and Eleanor is woven in nicely, and I enjoyed that they each grew as characters and developed in their own way, with their own secrets that were woven throughout and took time to come out, ensuring that the mysteries of art and Jack, and Eleanor’s own secrets were not so easily revealed. Going back and forth between 1942 and 2010 was effective – it allowed for the mystery to develop, and for the reader to discover what was happening at the same time as Kathryn. Family and friends were also important in this novel, and the effects of what Jack and Eleanor did and had to do came through. Eleanor’s sister Cecily, a nurse, was an important character – acting as Eleanor’s confidant and secret keeper. This was an important relationship too as it showed that sibling and familial love during times of war was just as important, if not more so, to get people through hard times and challenges that came their way, that they needed help to face.

Overall, a good novel, with a fascinating historical backdrop. Prior to reading this novel, I did not know much about the WAAC or war artists, and I found it really interesting, and the way that reporting and creation of art was done back then, sometimes months after a battle, compared to today when images appear instantly, or within hours or days of something happening in current conflicts. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, reading it in about three sittings. The mystery of the paintings, the art and Eleanor’s determination to become more than an assistant were what caught my attention the most, and the love story with Jack was a nice bonus.

Booktopia

The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford

good doctor of warsaw.jpgTitle: The Good Doctor of Warsaw

Author: Elisabeth Gifford

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Corvus/Allen and Unwin

Published: 21st February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Set in the ghettos of wartime Warsaw, this is a sweeping, poignant and heartbreaking tale, based on the true story of one of World War II’s quiet heroes – Dr Janusz Korczak.

‘You do not leave a sick child alone to face the dark and you do not leave a child at a time like this.’

Deeply in love and about to marry, students Misha and Sophia flee a Warsaw under Nazi occupation for a chance at freedom. Forced to return to the Warsaw ghetto, they help Misha’s mentor, Dr Korczak, care for the two hundred children in his orphanage. As Korczak struggles to uphold the rights of even the smallest child in the face of unimaginable conditions, he becomes a beacon of hope for the thousands who live behind the walls.

As the noose tightens around the ghetto Misha and Sophia are torn from one another, forcing them to face their worst fears alone. They can only hope to find each other again one day…

Meanwhile, refusing to leave the children unprotected, Korczak must confront a terrible darkness.

Half a million people lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Less than one percent survived to tell their story. This novel is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, and on the life of one of Poland’s greatest men, Dr Janusz Korczak.

~*~

Based on a true story, and the recollections of Misha and Sophia, the protagonists and what they told their family, The Good Doctor of Warsaw retells the story of the Warsaw ghetto, and the orphanage run by Doctor Janusz Korczak. Told mostly from Misha and Sophia’s point of view as they navigate life within the ghetto with each other the orphans and Doctor Korczak, and each other, it is also the story of courage, and the lengths one man went to so he could protect the children of the ghetto in a time of turbulence in war-torn Europe, and a Warsaw that would soon become unrecognisable.  With the ghetto closed off due to claims of disease, starvation begins to set in as the Nazi’s tighten the noose on the ghetto and those within. With meagre supplies being smuggled in from outside the ghetto, Misha and Sophia find themselves separated as they watch everyone they love die, or get marched off to camps in the east, to Treblinka. This is where Doctor Korczak and the children would end up, and where, like many before them, they’d never come home from.

Doctor Korczak’s story is moving and chilling, and his decision to stay with the children, and refusal to abandon his post despite people begging him to save himself is admirable. In a time when he could have taken the easy way out and allowed his Polish and Aryan friends to protect him, he chose to starve and stay with the vulnerable Jewish orphans, and provide a home for them, and a safe place, where they could be loved and listened to.

Elisabeth Gifford’s careful research in Korczak’s life and ideologies on childhood, caring for children, and educating them comes through clearly in the novel, showing the power of love, and respect, where Korczak stood for all children being allowed the same rights and respect, regardless of race, religion, colour, nationality or any other reason someone might use to deny them the rights he believed they deserved. Drawing on Janusz’s journals, and his book, How to Love A Child, and the recollections of Misha and Sophia, Elisabeth Gifford has recreated the hope and horror of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the realisation by many that what was happening was not going to end soon, despite Janusz’s positivity and attempts to keep the children happy and fed, and safe. She has ensured that the gravitas of what happened in the ghetto and during the war is not forgotten, the dangers that Aryan-passing children from the ghetto faced as they found ways to smuggle food from one side to the other, and the hopeless sense of not know if, or when, you or those you cared about might be rounded up and sent off to the camps, a place where you were told you would work. But the fate that awaited them at Treblinka was unforeseen and tragic.

In reading books like this, it reveals the fragility of humanity, and shows what humans are capable of. Janusz sacrificed freedom and life for the children of the orphanage. Elisabeth Gifford has done a fine job recreating this world and story for readers – a story that needs to be told amidst every other fact and report we have from the Holocaust, because it is the human face to these tragedies that should never be forgotten. With novels inspired by true events, the reality of what happened can feel harsher, more eye opening perhaps, but the impact of any accounts and stories will always be significant and thought provoking. The bravery that Doctor Korczak presented, and his care and courage in caring for the children until the end should never be forgotten.

Rooted in one of the darkest moments of human history, it is fascinating, moving, and at times, hard to read and heartbreaking. However, it is also powerful, and a testament to what humans are capable of when they are filled with hatred, but also what they are capable of when they love and accept people as individuals.

Booktopia

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

war saved life.jpgTitle: The War that Saved My Life

Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s and YA

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 16th May 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: · Winner, Newbery Honor Book, United States, 2016 

  • Winner, Schneider Family Book Award, United States, 2016 
  • Shortlisted, West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award, 2017

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds, set during World War II.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room flat. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Miss Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take in the two children. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

~*~

For nine years, Ada has lived in a tiny, one room flat with her mother and younger brother, Jamie, in London. For years she has been confined in this dreary place because of a birth deformity – clubfoot. She receives little care and love from her mother, and all her affection comes from her younger brother, whom she has raised. When war is announced in 1939, all the children of London are evacuated to less populous areas to save them from being bombed by the Germans. For Ada, this is her chance to leave home for good, to escape the horrors of her young life and get out of the dim home she lives in. On her bad foot, she hobbles towards the school, receiving assistance from Stephen White, a neighbour also being evacuated. Unaware of what the outside world is like, both on the journey and arrival in Kent, where they are placed with Susan Smith, and their lives begin to change. Jamie gets to go to school, Ada learns to ride, and they learn what it is to be kept safe, though throughout, Ada feels that there will always be something that will take them away, that this cannot last. The war is present, though never at the forefront of the book, just a threat that lingers as Ada fights her own war against everything her mother has told her she is and breaking down her own barriers to let people in, to learn to read and to find her place in the world. But can Ada’s sanctuary last?

The War that Saved My Life is more than a story of survival in war, it is survival of who Ada is and who she can become, survival of spirit and the land. It is a unique experience of war told through the eyes of a disabled child, who has always been the carer, and never cared for, fearful of a mother who has never loved or wanted her and struggling with a disability that she has been told can never been helped. In this story, there is a harsh reality shown of disability and the way it is seen and treated – the unwillingness of Ada’s mother to help or care for her versus Susan’s desire to keep Ada safe, wanting to help her and wanting to care for her, and the repercussions of nine years of being treated poorly, of being abused, set against the backdrop of a war that killed millions and wounded many more.

Each character has layers that need to be peeled back slowly, and they are. Even though Ada’s PTSD isn’t explained explicitly, it is shown in a way that readers can understand, and that people can relate to, giving people a character that they can see themselves in and representation of what they might have gone through or be feeling. The War that Saved My Life is told in first person format, through Ada’s eyes. The reader can feel and experience what she goes through: feeling trapped, feeling unable to articulate what she is feeling or find the right words, and the way her mind gives her conflicting messages, that she feels she cannot unravel properly.

It is more than a story about World War Two, it a story about the war that Ada fights within herself every day, trying to trust someone who cares for her after all she has been through. It is touching and shows the reality of Ada’s life with her mother. It shows the strength of love between siblings and the love that another can have for someone they aren’t related to.

In a story where the protagonist feels at war with herself and those around her constantly, she copes in the only way she knows how – detaching from a situation and letting herself go into her own world. She learns that there are many ways to love and care for people, and that sometimes, a lie to protect someone is okay, but lying to hurt and humiliate is not. With Susan, Ada learns that there are no absolutes in life, and that she can be helped, that her club foot can be fixed so she can at walk. Ada’s constant disbelief is coloured by the way Mam treated her for so long. It is a war that Ada is determined to win.

A touching story that can be read by all ages, The War that Saved My Life is deserving of the awards it has won and been nominated for. It is a book that shows a different side to the war, and will hopefully become a much-loved classic in years to come.

Booktopia

2017 Pultizer Prize Winner: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

undergroud railroad.jpg

Title: The Underground Railroad

Author: Colson Whitehead

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April, 2017 (latest edition), Trade paperback 9th August 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 306

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER and a NEW YORK TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER FOR FICTION 2016

2017 Pultizer Prize Winner

‘Whitehead is on a roll: the reviews have been sublime’ Guardian
‘Luminous, furious, wildly inventive’ Observer
‘Hands down one of the best, if not the best, book I’ve read this year’ Stylist
‘Dazzling’ New York Review of Books

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.

~*~

In the antebellum South, Cora hasn’t seen much beyond the cotton plantation she is enslaved at in Georgia. An outcast as a slave and amongst slaves, Cora’s impending womanhood heralds an uncertain and painful future – one that she longs to escape but doesn’t know how. Until Caesar tells her about the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses set up during the nineteenth century to help slaves escape to free states. Assisted by abolitionists along the way to navigate the route and keep hidden from the slave catcher, Ridgeway. Running for her life and freedom after killing a white boy who tried to stop her, Cora must take on new identities and try to blend – working with a system that at each point, brings disadvantage and bondage of different kinds, and faced with the ignorance that breeds racism in the antebellum South.

Separated at one stage from Caesar, Cora must continue alone, and rely on fellow escaped slaves, freemen and abolitionists, all working to abolish slavery in America, in the decades leading up to the Civil War of 1861-1865. In a penultimate confrontation at a community of former slaves and abolitionists, tragedy strikes and Cora must use all the strength she has left to cross over into the free states, and begin to venture into a life she has control over, but that is still scarred by the shackles and chains of slavery.

Before reading this book, I knew a little bit about the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad, and slavery from a university history course on the American Civil War. It did not go into too much depth from memory, so Colson Whitehead’s novel helped to bring these stories to life more for me. As I read Cora’s story, I found it engaging, and at the same time horrifying: it was a story that gripped me on a human level, horrified at the way Cora had been treated, and as soon as she had some hope, it was ripped away too quickly. As the key character, all events and characters are seen through her eyes, and her judgement, but as she travels the Underground Railroad and encounters a variety of people in all walks of life, it felt that Colson Whitehead was showing the breadth and depth of how different people reacted to slavery, and how they felt about it. This made Cora’s story more powerful as she worked out who she could put her trust in and when, and in her dealings with Ridgeway when he caught up with her.

Using this historical backdrop, Whitehead has created a world of authenticity with a darkness to it that can’t be escaped or denied when discussing slavery and the antebellum South in the nineteenth century. Whitehead’s story mingles literary fiction and historical fiction, with a nice balance of character and plot throughout, interspersing Cora’s story with perspectives of her mother, Caesar and an abolitionist’s wife who nursed her back to health when she got sick. Cora travels through states that are determined to drive out the black population entirely, and states who seem to deal with black people but still treat them like second class citizens, or worse. The dehumanising language of slurs and “it” to refer to runaway slaves are shocking – but necessary. They set the tone for the characters and the setting of the novel as well.

Colson Whitehead has sewn the threads of this novel together eloquently, and by evoking a sense of place for each stop along the Underground Railroad, a sense of self in Cora and utilising speech patterns that fit the characters and places, has created a novel that must be read to understand the other side of the story to slavery and the Underground Railroad: the hopelessness felt by slaves, and the way they were mercilessly pursued and viewed as property in many places.

By shocking readers with the raw brutality of this period in time, Colson Whitehead’s novel will hopefully open up a dialogue and allow these issues to be explored further.

Sydney Writer’s Festival Appearances and links:

Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad (Conversation)

Saturday 27th May 8.30-9.30PM

https://www.swf.org.au/festivals/festival-2017/colson-whitehead-the-underground-railroad/

Pulitzer Prize Winners Colson Whitehead and Hisham Matar

https://www.swf.org.au/stories/pulitzer-prize-winners-colson-whitehead-and-hisham-matar/

Booktopia

Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman

stars across the ocean

Title: Stars Across the Ocean

Author: Kimberley Freeman

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 450

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The powerful new novel from Kimberley Freeman.

A rich and satisfying story of two women with indomitable spirits and the high costs they have to pay for being strong-minded, from the author of the bestselling LIGHTHOUSE BAY and EMBER ISLAND.

1874: Only days before she is to leave the foundling home where she grew up, Agnes Resolute discovers that, as a baby, she had been abandoned with a small token of her mother: a unicorn button.

Agnes always believed her mother had been too poor to keep her, but after working as a laundress in the home she recognises the button as belonging to Genevieve Breckby, the beautiful and headstrong daughter of a local noble family. Agnes had seen Genevieve once, in the local village, and had never forgotten her.

Despite having no money, Agnes will risk everything in a quest that will take her from the bleak moors of northern England to the harsh streets of London, then on to Paris and Ceylon. As Agnes follows her mother’s trail, she makes choices that could cost her dearly. Finally, in Australia, she tracks Genevieve down. But is Genevieve capable of being the mother Agnes hopes she will be?

~*~

aww2017-badgeStars Across the Ocean opens in the present, in first person. Victoria, or Tori as she prefers, has travelled from Australia to England to assist her ailing mother, who following an accident at work, is recovering in a rehabilitation centre. Tori is sent by her mother to her office to recover some work she has, and in the process, Tori finds a letter from about 1855: To My Child, Whom I Could Not Keep. And so begins Tori’s adventure into the past, via this letter, which abruptly ends and transitions from the first person perspective of Tori in the present and the letter, to 1874, third person, and Agnes.

Agnes Resolute is a foundling child of Perdita Hall in Hatby, Yorkshire. She has lived there for nineteen years, since her abandonment as a baby, with only a unicorn button the only clue to her past. Putting together her memories of a young woman named Genevieve from Breckby Hall, and a connection to the button, Agnes sets off on a journey to London, where she becomes the companion to Marianna Breckby, Genevieve’s sister and someone whom Agnes hopes, can help her find Genevieve.

Her time in London is cut short as she travels to Paris, where Genevieve’s son, Marianna’s nephew, Julius, finds her and listens to her story, and decides to help her find out about her family, telling her a few secrets of his own that make her question their relationship and what they might mean to each other. From Paris, Agnes travels alone to Ceylon to find Genevieve, and instead, finds a former lover, whose stories about Genevieve lead Agnes to Melbourne, Australia and the theatres. It is here that Agnes hopes to find Genevieve and have her questions answered,

Throughout the novel, it flicks back to the present as Tori struggles to put the letter together, with several sections missing, and whilst she is trying to solve the mystery of the letter, she is also struggling with her own demons back home in Australia, the lack of contact with her husband, and her ailing mother, who seems to need constant care.

It is a story about a young woman finding her place in the world, and reuniting with a mother who wanted her despite her family, and finding an unexpected love in the process. The romance was done exceptionally well, because the characters were given a chance to be their own people first and foremost; Agnes was allowed to be her own woman for a time, and find answers to questions she had had for years. It was a small part of the novel, but at the same time, a nice addition to a story that became about knowing who you are and not accepting what other people expected of you. There are two endings to this – the ending to Agnes’ story and the ending to Tori’s story. One was satisfying in many ways, and the other was a little abrupt, though realistic in relation to the plot. However, this second ending still left me wanting to know more, and wanting to know what else Tori and her mother would find out.

A delightful historical fiction story set in Victorian London, with a heroine who in some ways, fits into the gender expectations of the time but is still her own person and refuses to be tied down – the kind of character who can spread her wings when she wants to, and come home when she needs to. It is a lovely tale, and I hope to read it again soon.

A great read for lovers of historical fiction, and anyone who has read and enjoyed authors such as Kate Forsyth.

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