Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French (Miss Lily #1)

Miss Lily 1Title: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 27th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 524

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A tale of espionage, love and passionate heroism.

Inspired by true events, this is the story of how society’s ‘lovely ladies’ won a war.

Each year at secluded Shillings Hall, in the snow-crisped English countryside, the mysterious Miss Lily draws around her young women selected from Europe’s royal and most influential families. Her girls are taught how to captivate a man – and find a potential husband – at a dinner, in a salon, or at a grouse shoot, and in ways that would surprise outsiders. For in 1914, persuading and charming men is the only true power a woman has.

Sophie Higgs is the daughter of Australia’s king of corned beef and the only ‘colonial’ brought to Shillings Hall. Of all Miss Lily’s lovely ladies, however, she is also the only one who suspects Miss Lily’s true purpose.

As the chaos of war spreads, women across Europe shrug off etiquette. The lovely ladies and their less privileged sisters become the unacknowledged backbone of the war, creating hospitals, canteens and transport systems where bungling officials fail to cope. And when tens of thousands can die in a single day’s battle, Sophie must use the skills Miss Lily taught her to prevent war’s most devastating weapon yet.

But is Miss Lily heroine or traitor? And who, exactly, is she?

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseSophie Higgs lives in Australia at Thuringa, in 1913. Her father runs a corned beef empire, and Australian women have had the vote for eleven years, unlike the women in England, who are still fighting for suffrage. Sophie’s father sends her across the seas to Shillings, where, alongside women from the upper echelons of European society and royalty, Sophie will be taught by the mysterious Miss Lily about society, and how to behave at dinner, how to talk to men and captivate them, how to flatter them, and how to speak about topics that are said to be not right for a woman to know about. But Sophie is a bit of a challenge – the “colonial” who is outspoken and questions everything she is told. Miss Lily takes Sophie under her wing and sets about preparing her for a society life where she can fit in yet still be who she is. As 1914 inches towards war between Germany and England, Sophie must decide who she can trust. Emily, who has always been aloof and focussed? Or Hannelore, a German princess who is friendly but determined that Germany will win any war that breaks out on the continent. As war breaks out, and the Lovely Ladies head home or get married, Sophie is adrift, but determined to make a difference. With the Australians joining the call to duty and heading to Gallipoli, Sophie helps Alison turn her home into a hospital for injured soldiers. As soldiers die, and babies are born, Sophie is drawn further into the war, and across the seas to the battlefields of Ypres and Flanders, where she recounts her tale to a soldier out on the fields, before they head off the battlefields, where the war slowly wraps up, and Sophie finds herself looking to an uncertain future in the inter-war years.

In Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies, Jackie French does not shy away from the horrors of war or the expectations of pre-war Georgian society. The dangers are present, and spoken about, openly and in veiled terms. When Sophie speaks about the threat of war openly. it surprises many, but she finds some men who find relief in not having to curb their chit-chat too much. Like her other novels, Jackie French is telling the stories that have been silence, or relegated to the quieter corners of history, away from the victories of those on the battlefields. whose voices are always heard. The extensive research she has done to uncover these stories is exemplary, and shows just how deep Australian history is, and how much we often miss out on in history lessons.

Sophie’s story ends with a few threads dangling, as a good series does, leaving some mystery for the books to com. The power of friendship felt more important than the romance in this book, though both were present. The romance was woven throughout nicely, so it didn’t overpower what Sophie was trying to do in the war, or her relationship with Alison and the other Lovely Ladies. I had a delightful surprise to meet Midge MacPherson from A Rose for the Anzac Boys again, and I hope she’ll come back in the next book.

The friends that Sophie made throughout the war became important to her, unable to return home because of the threat of enemy attacks, she treasured those she became friends with. As it is a story about war, I felt the deaths and consequences were dealt with realistically and sympathetically, showing the changes in Sophie over the war that altered her perception of herself and the world. I thoroughly enjoyed Sophie’s journey and look forward to it continuing, as I did with Miss Matilda and the Matilda Saga.

An excellent addition to my Jackie French Library, and a great read for fans of the author and historical fiction.

This marks off another square in my book bingo, and will be included in my next post in two weeks time.

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Wrap up #4: Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017: Challenge Completed

Wrap up #4: Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017: Challenge Completed

 

 

aww2017-badge2017 was the first year I took part in the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and it was the sixth year it has been running. Keen to read more Australian Women Writers and raise the profile of our wonderfully talented female authors, I signed up in early January 2017, as a way to keep myself occupied whilst building my blog, and to read more local literature. To start, I initially made a list of books I wanted to read, including The Beast’s Garden (a re-read that I never got to), anything new from Lynette Noni and Sulari Gentill, a couple of books I had obtained over Christmas, and A Waltz for Matilda by Jackie French. This list was my base, and from there, within the first month, I had completed my goal with the entirety of The Matilda Saga by Jackie French, and several review books that weren’t quite my style, but that I passed on to those who did enjoy them. From there, many of the books I read were review books from publishers, all genres, growing my list substantially, so I had more than doubled my initial goal by April of the year – perhaps even tripled it by then. So I kept reading, devouring fantasy, historical fiction and crime as my favourite genres for the year.

Three of my favourite authors – Kate Forsyth, Lynette Noni and Sulari Gentill released new books this year, all read and reviewed. I was lucky enough to participate in a series of reviews to celebrate the 100th anniversary in 2018 of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and discovered a new favourite author, Jessica Townsend, author of Nevermoor. Book two will hopefully be out in 2018 and it is one I am eager to read when it does come out.

nevermoor

I pledged to read six and review at least four books – Miles level. However, as is evident by the list below, I far exceeded that, reading and reviewing fifty-five books in total. I have no plans to purposely surpass this next year, though if I do, it will be a lovely surprise and an accomplishment for me. I have linked each review in this post as well so clicking on a title will take you to that review.

Bring on 2018 and many more reads!AWW-2018-badge-rose

 

  1. A Waltz for Matilda (Matilda Saga #1) by Jackie French
  2. The Girl from Snowy River (Matilda Saga #3) by Jackie French
  3. The Road to Gundagai (Matilda Saga #3) by Jackie French
  4. To Love a Sunburnt Country (Matilda Saga #4) by Jackie French
  5. New York Nights by CJ Duggan
  6. Country Roads by Nicole Hurley-Moore
  7. The Ghost by The Billabong (Matilda Saga #5) by Jackie French
  8. If Blood Should Stain the Wattle (Matilda Saga #6) by Jackie French
  9. The Last McAdam by Holly Ford
  10. From the Wreck by Jane Rawson
  11. Draekora (Medoran Chronicles #3_ by Lynette Noni
  12. London Bound by CJ Duggan
  13. Looking for Rose Paterson: How Family Bush Life Nurtured Banjo the Poet
  14. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
  15. Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood
  16. The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky
  17. The Song of Us by JD Barrett
  18. Singing My Sister Down and other stories by Margo Lanagan
  19. Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman
  20. Murder on the Ballarat Train (Phryne Fisher #3) by Kerry Greenwood
  21. Girl In Between by Anna Daniels
  22. The Lost Pages by Marija Peričić
  23. Beauty in the Thorns by Kate Forsyth
  24. The Dream Walker by Victoria Carless
  25. My Lovely Frankie by Judith Clarke
  26. Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood (Phryne Fisher #4)
  27. Leaving Ocean Road by Esther Campion
  28. The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Sophie Green
  29. Siren by Rachel Matthews
  30. A Reluctant Warrior by Kelly Brooke Nicholls
  31. Ava’s Big Move by Mary van Reyk
  32. We That Are Left by Lisa Bigelow
  33. The Cursed First Term of Zelda Stitch by Nicki Greenberg
  34. The Book of Secrets: The Ateban Cipher (Book 1) by A.L. Tait
  35. Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman
  36. Secrets Between Friends by Fiona Palmer
  37. Soon by Lois Murphy
  38. A Dangerous Language (Rowland Sinclair #8) by Sulari Gentill
  39. She Be Damned by MJ Tjia
  40. Gum-nut Babies by May Gibbs
  41. Tales from the Gum-Tree by May Gibbs and Jane Massam
  42. The Green Mill Murders by Kerry Greenwood (Phryne Fisher #5)
  43. Tales from the Billabong by May Gibbs and Jane Massam
  44. Tales from the Bush by May Gibbs and Jane Massam
  45. Tales from the Campfire by May Gibbs and Jane Massam
  46. The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlpie by May Gibbs
  47. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
  48. Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Black Cats and Butlers by Janine Beacham
  49. Enid Blyton For Adults: Five Go Down Under – text by Sophie Hamley
  50. Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster
  51. Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Rubies and Runaways by Janine Beacham
  52. Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn
  53. Facing the Flame by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #7)
  54. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman
  55. Vasilisa the Wise by Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington

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Wrap Up #3: Favourite Reads of 2017

Wrap Up #3: Favourite Reads of 2017

 

In my third wrap up post for 2017, I am looking at my favourite reads of the year. Over the past twelve months of reading so many books, narrowing down my favourites has been quite hard. There are definitely a few that stick out, though. Deciding how many to include in my favourites for the year was a challenge as well. Three wasn’t enough, five barely covered them and ten seems like the next logical number. However, when it came to ranking the books I chose, I found that it was impossible to do so, because I loved them all equally and for different reasons, so to place one book ahead of another didn’t feel right. With a goal of at least ten favourite reads, more if I need them, I have compiled this list. I have listed them as I thought of them, and linked my review. My one stipulation was that the books on this list had to be published this year. I settled on … books in the end, as these were the ones that really stood out to me as exceptional for a variety of reasons.

 

nevermoorNevermoor by Jessica Townsend – a debut Children’s and YA novel about a cursed chid,Morrigan Crow, who is whisked off to the Wundrous land of Nevermoor to compete for a chance at a place at the academy there, and to escape the death that all children born on Eventide must face at the age of eleven. It has been compared to Harry Potter, and it has that some wonder and magic of the Harry Potter series. With book two out later in 2018, I am anxious to find out what will happen to Mog, Jupiter North and Fen the cat, who became my favourite character rather quickly. I devoured it in two days, and look forward to reading it again.

 

 

Facing the FlameFacing the Flame by Jackie French – the seventh book in the Matilda Saga takes place a few years after the solemn end of If Blood Should Stain the Wattle. Jed Kelly is getting married, and is going to have a baby. In the final days of her pregnancy, Jed must run from the fire and an old adversary to save her life, and her baby. As the fire closes in on Gibber’s Creek, lives will be lost and found, and Jed’s world changes forever. The Matilda Saga is one of my favourite series, and with a new book out each year, I look forward to reuniting with the families of Gibbers Creek each December.

 

 

stars across the oceanStars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman – The story of foundling baby, Agnes Resolute, determined to find her birth mother, whom she thinks is Genevieve Breckby. A journey from the foundling home to London and across the world will lead her to her real mother. It is a story about a strong young woman, determined not to let anything stop her, but a woman of her time as well, finding ways to fit in whilst taking her fate into her own hands. It also tells the dual storyline of a young woman in the 21st century, caring for her mother, and following the journey of Agnes that her mother has been researching. It has a touch of romance that happens as a result

of events in the story, rather than driving the plot. It was a good read, and definitely one of my favourites.

 

Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth – a favourite

BeautyinThorns_Cover

reads list of mine would not be complete without Kate Forsyth’s latest fairy tale infused historical fiction novel.  Beauty in Thorns is about the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite art society, primarily the women w

ho inspired the words and paintings of their husbands and lovers and fathers, and what they contributed. In a world where women were expected to raise children and run a household, the Pre-Raphaelite women did this and inspired the men in their lives, and some even contributed their own artistic talents to exhibitions. Exquisitely told, with the flaws as well as the strengths present, Kate Forsyth is a master at telling the little-known stories of women in history, and bringing historical characters such as Lizzie Siddal to life with her words.

 

Flat Cover_Gentill_ADL_2017A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill another author whose books I eagerly await each year is Sulari Gentill, primarily her Rowland Sinclair series. Eight books in, and poor Rowly keeps finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting embroiled in murder and mayhem, and involved in the left side of the political spectrum, far from what his brother, Wilfred, wishes he would do. Several months after the total destruction of his Mercedes in a race that almost claimed his life, Rowland is car shopping in Melbourne with Milt, the Jewish Communist poet, and Clyde, a working-class painter, for a new car. On the drive back from Melbourne, they stop in Canberra, where a Communist is murdered, and soon, both Rowly and Milt find their lives in jeopardy. Set in the 1930s as worldwide political tensions lead to the rise of Hitler and the lead up to the devastation of the Second World War, each book gets more political, and Sulari manages this with great skill, ensuring an engaging series that I feel gets better with each book.

 

into the worldInto the World by Stephanie Parkyn – Another historical fiction novel by a debut Australian female author, and another book I read as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, as all the books so far have been. Set during the French Revolution of the 1790s, Marie-Louise Giradin leaves her son with a trusted friend, and, disguised as a man, travels on a journey to find La Perouse, lost at sea in the Southern Oceans around the newly colonised Australia. Her journey takes her to Tasmania, where the stories she has heard are far from the truth of what she sees here and on stops along the way, where she tries to speak out, horrified when she sees the slave trade in full swing. It is a journey that is full of surprises – where Marie Louise and the crew find that they may never reach the shores of their beloved France again after Louis XIV is beheaded. It was delightful to read a novel where the woman’s primary role was one of strength and courage, and where women were shown to do things beyond what society expected them to do. A great story, and an enjoyable one.

 

draekoraDraekora by Lynette Noni – Returning to Akarnae and its world each year is a pleasure Set just after the events of Raelia, Alex, Bear and D.C. must find a way to save Jordan, who has been Claimed by Aven, the Meyarin Prince who seeks to reclaim their world at any cost. Sent to Meya, and thousands of years into the past, Alex must find a way to get back, and complete her testing and training before she can face Aven. In this fantasy series, each book has been engaging and enthralling, with a strong focus on friendship as the primary relationships in the novel. With Graevale out in a matter of months, this is definitely making my list of favourite books I have read this year, and I am looking forward to Graevale.

 

baby ganesh 3The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan Up until now, each book has been by an Australian female author, and mostly fantasy or historical fiction. The Baby Ganesh series is set in Mumbai, and revolves around a private detective, Chopra, investigating crimes with his trusty elephant, Ganesha, who loves Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate. The pair often insert themselves into investigations, much to the dismay of Chopra’s formidable wife, Poppy, and end up getting into scrapes that young Ganesha manages to get them out of. In the third book, a famous Bollywood star has gone missing, and Chopra and Ganesha are on the trail. A few rough turns take them to unexpected places, and with an ending that was surprising this series has a character to it that few I have read do.

 

bedlam stacksThe Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley – In what I feel can only be described as historical fiction infused with magical realism, this was one of the most interesting books I read this year. As smuggler Merrick Tremayne is at home, he is summoned to go on an expedition to South America to find quinine to help with malaria outbreaks in East India. What Tremayne and his companions find has them questioning what they know, and how to deal with the world as they have understood and known it. What was clever about this book was that it felt like a historical fiction until nearer the end, when the subtle hints towards the magical realism in the book started to come together. Cleverly done so the reader gets a surprise, I hope that Natasha Pulley writes some more books like this.

 

rotherweirdRotherweird by Andrew Caldecott – This one, set in a town that lives in the current times but whose lives mimic those of Shakespearean times, made the list for its inventiveness, and clever execution, much like Bedlam Stacks. It is part historical fiction, part fantasy, with each section opening and closing with a snippet of the history of the town that history teacher, Jonah Oblong has come to teach in. Cast away from Elizabethan England, Rotherweird seems to have moved on in years but is stuck in a time when a Virgin Queen sat on the throne and a playwright who charmed audiences in the Globe Theatre. It is a place full of anachronisms, cleverly used, and where local history and pre-1800 history is not taught. I look forward to the next book, and what it brings to the mystery and intrigue of this anachronistic little town.

 

Of course, there are many more that I loved, but these are amongst my favourites and the ones that made me think and that offered something a little bit different to some other books out there. Bring on 2018!

 

Happy Reading!

 

The Book Muse, Ashleigh

 

 

 

Facing the Flame by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #7)

Facing the Flame.jpgTitle: Facing the Flame (Matilda Saga #7)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 20th November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 292

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: There have been fires before, but not like this. Heartbreaking and powerful, FACING THE FLAME is a story of the triumph of courage and community, and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it.

‘The perfect read for anyone who loves immersing themselves in Australian fiction. Gripping, emotional and moving, Facing the Flame is a great book to curl up with on a warm spring night.’ – New Idea

There have been fires before, but not like this.

In 1978, as the hot wind howls and the grass dries, all who live at Gibber’s Creek know their land can burn. But when you love your land, you fight for it.

For Jed Kelly, an even more menacing danger looms: a man from her past determined to destroy her. Finding herself alone, trapped and desperate to save her unborn child, Jed’s only choice is to flee – into the flames.

Heartbreaking and powerful, Facing the Flame celebrates the triumph of courage and community, and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it.

~*~

Seven books in, and the Matilda Saga is getting better with each book. From the late nineteenth century to 1979. From the slums of Grinder’s Alley to Gibber’s Creek, Moura and Drinkwater, the journey of young Matilda O’Halloren to find her father after her mother’s death is what kicked off this series, and the ongoing relationships between the families of Drinkwater, Overflow and Rocky Valley, the Thompsons, the Clancys, the McAlpines and the Macks have all watched seasons come and go, watched generations grow up, and new life enter the world. Picking up two years after If Blood Should Stain the Wattle, Facing the Flame opens with a wedding, and an announcement that will change Jed’s life forever.  As her pregnancy progresses in its final days, Gibber’s Creek and the neighbouring areas become threatened by a devastating bushfire, and someone from Jed’s past determined to eke revenge and destroy her. With the life of her unborn baby at stake, and encouraging her sister Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara to head off into town to help those sheltering there after evacuation, Jed must flee into the flames, back towards her house as she tries to save two lives. As the fire eats away at the paddocks and earth, the community of Gibber’s Creek will not allow itself to be beaten. Regardless of age, gender and ability, these courageous women will fight to save their land.

aww2017-badgeFire and the land are as much characters as the humans, and in many chapters, we end with the perspective of the fire as it ravages the land. It effectively sets the scene and you can feel the threat of the flames as they progress to their final fate towards the end of the book, where there are a few secrets left unsolved, and where there is hope for the future of Jed and her family.

Moura, Drinkwater, Dribble, Rocky Valley and Overflow are the key homes that have helped to link the series together, and link the families of these places together. A few books ago, we were introduced to River View, a rehabilitation place for disabled and ill children whose parents needed help, or where children like Scarlett would live, receiving specific care for disabilities that impacted their lives, but that the children, and Scarlett in particular, did not use to define themselves. Scarlett has come a long way since we first encountered her in Ghost by the Billabong, becoming independent and able to care for herself and live in the city to attend university. Now, River View is home to a few kids seeking specific help. Lu Borgino is blind, and feels at a loss for what she has been told or made to feel her life will become. But with the help of the Gibber’s Creek clan, she realises she can still achieve her dreams. It is characters like these girls that the Matilda Saga has given a voice to – the forgotten, the ones left out of history books.

Throughout the seven books, Jackie French’s main characters have been primarily women, who in each of their respective time periods, have faced different challenges and obstacles because of gender, or race – Aboriginal – Nancy Thompson, Chinese – Mah McAlpine, or disabled – Scarlett, and Lu. Each woman has had to fight against prejudices of gender and race, and sometimes poverty, to have their voices heard. These interlocking and diverse families provide an insight into the history that we are not taught in school, the history of those that are not often heard from, but might be heard about more – a carefully hidden history that would make any historical account richer and more interesting than what might be on offer. Jackie French has uncovered some of Australia’s secrets through fiction, raw and bare, and created a strength of character and story that anyone can relate to, even if they explore stories that can hurt and harm, we need to remember them.

As an author with a disability herself – dyslexia – Jackie’s passion in these characters having their voices heard and the lengths she goes to for accuracy and research is admirable. These lengths make the story all the more engaging and full of life. Flinty and Lu, who acquired their disabilities, have fought through – Flinty recovering (The Girl from Snowy River), and Lu learning what she is capable of, and learning new ways of seeing, show the power of the human spirit, as have characters climbing out of poverty – Matilda, and escaping abusive homes – Blue, Mah and Jed, not letting racism define her – Clancy and Mah, and, the irrepressible Scarlett, who refuses to let her disability rule her life, and pushes on towards doing what she dreams of doing. Even though Old Matilda is gone, her spirit remains, and is there to give her family a good kick into gear when they need it from the beyond.

Each of the first six books were based on a poem written by some of Australia’s best-known poets:

A Waltz for Matilda – Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson

The Girl from Snowy River The Man from Snowy River by Banjo Paterson

The Road to Gundagai – by Banjo Paterson

To Love a Sunburnt Country – My Country by Dorothea MacKellar

The Ghost by the Billabong – Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson (links in with A Waltz for Matilda)

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle – Freedom on the Wallaby by Henry Lawson

The final book, Facing the Flame, includes a poem written by Jackie herself, titled A Land of Love and Flame, and can be found at the beginning of the book. In doing so, Jackie has tied each book to a tradition of Australian poetry, and taken the hidden stories of these poems and given them life. The latest book in the Matilda Saga ends on a note of mystery, that will hopefully be answered in the next one.

Booktopia

Wrap up post: The Matilda Saga by Jackie French

a-waltz-for-matildaSince 2010, the world of Matilda O’Halloran, spanning six books, and almost eighty years of characters, conflicts and politics, has charmed many readers, and will hopefully continue to do so.

Beginning in 1894 in the dark alleys of the city, and Grinder’s Alley, the main character of The Matilda Saga and A Waltz for Matilda, twelve-year-old Matilda O’Halloran leaves following the death of her mother, and her friend, Tommy’s tragic accident, to find her father in country New South Wales – a place called Gibber’s Creek, and a farm known as Drinkwater. When she arrives there, her father has moved onto his own farm, Moura, and is striking and bringing the shearer’s union movement together to negotiate fair wages and reasonable hours for the workers. The first book spans the end of the nineteenth century, and into Federation in 1901, women’s suffrage in 1902, the Boer War in South Africa 1899-1902, and World War One, Matilda’s life goes from poor urchin to owning the largest farm in the district. Matilda’s work sows the seeds that begin to give a voice to the silenced.

the-girl-from-snowy-riverMoving into 1919 – The Girl from Snowy River – and the post-war years after World War One – at this stage still referred to as The Great War, we meet Flinty McAlpine, orphaned, and taking care of her younger brother and sister, whilst one brother is off with the cattle far away, and the other older brother killed in the war. Flinty meets a ghost from the future – Nicholas, and later, an accident confines her to a wheelchair and bed. Her encounters with Nicholas give hints to her future, and what she will eventually do to save the valley. Her chance ride gives her confidence, and the seeds planted by Matilda in A Waltz for Matilda begin to grow.

The Road to Gundagai brings Gibber’s Creek into 1932, and The Great Depression, at a time when Matilda is still working towards equality for all, and sustainable and fair working rights for those who work. She is also providing jobs and living quarters for the unemployed across the many properties that make up Drinkwater land, sold because the road-to-gundagaiowners were desperate. The book’s central character, Blue, has escaped her aunts, where she lies injured and ill most days from a fire, convinced they’re trying to kill her. She runs away to a circus, where she hides for a year or two before they arrive in Gibber’s Creek, and are given permission to set up in the paddocks of Drinkwater, now run by Matilda and her husband Tommy, ever since Matilda inherited it from her great-grandfather. Here, in the region, Blue finally finds a home, and the truth will come out – about her past, and the past of those of the Magnifico Family Circus.

to-love-a-sunburnt-countryComing into To Love A Sunburnt Country, Matilda’s family has grown – her sons and an extended family – the Clancys, whose daughter, Nancy, is sixteen in 1941 and has been sent to Malaya (known as Malaysia these days) to escort her sister-in-law and nephew to safety in Australia. Moira’s reluctance to leave what she knows, and take her son Gavin so far from his father, when the impenetrability of Singapore is at the back of her mind, leads to a delayed evacuation, days of travel and a final destination that is nowhere near what they expected. Trapped for the remainder of the war in a prisoner of war camp on an island off Malaya, the tragedy and horror of war affects the women and those waiting for them at home in ways they could never have imagined. This is the first book in the series that has several point of view characters, and it is effective, and works because a letter and a name at the beginning of the chapter indicate each change. It is war, so not everyone returns, and those that do, do not return whole in many ways. It has a bittersweet ending, as many of the books have had up until this point, but the concluding events of Nancy’s story are perhaps the most powerful and moving. Like the other books, the characters often ignored, or left out of history – the ones whose stories may not have been told by official records, or had an impact like others – but are still important stories and lessons about the horror of war.

The Ghost by the Billabong introduces the reader to Jed Kelly and the hippie movement, the the-ghost-by-the-billabongVietnam War and the accompanying protests, and the tragic results of conscription, Jed arrives, escaping from abuse and abandonment, hiding her own secrets, not knowing who to trust with them. She sees ghosts of the past and the future, and arrives at Drinkwater, claiming to be Tommy’s great-granddaughter – and while her claims are investigated by Matilda, now an aged woman, but still an intimidating dragon, who cares deeply about those close to her and the land – becomes close to the only family she knows, and slowly, learns to trust those around her with her darkest secrets – secrets that she feels nobody can understand. Moira returns in this book – twenty-three years after leaving Nancy for England, she is back, and helping at River View, the respite home for those with disabilities, where they can receive treatment. The children and patients here – including Nicholas, who we first met in The Girl from Snowy River – help Jed to heal and trust. This comes from young Scarlett, confined to a wheelchair, reliant on everyone to do things for her but determined to lift her spoon herself, and Nancy, who has her own horrors that still plague her. By this time, most of the people that Matilda has been fighting to help have their rights – however, there are still inequalities: children like Jed can be attacked, and be blamed for ruining adult lives and shipped off somewhere they shouldn’t be, where they are hurt more, racism is still around, and the disabled at River View are there because people don’t want to deal with them. This all will come into play in the next book as well.

if-blood-should-stain-the-wattleIf Blood Should Stain the Wattle begins in 1972, three years after Jed has found her place, and just as Gough Whitlam is set to enter government and revolutionise education affordability, healthcare and radical moves to introduce anti-discrimination legislation amongst many other things that would bring Matilda’s father’s dream full circle as much as possible, where people don’t starve to try and keep a roof over their heads and where families can get the healthcare they need, when they need it. An Australia where it will be illegal to deny someone a job based on race, gender or disability – and only employ people based on whether or not they can do the job. It is this Australia that Jed, Matilda and the families of Rock Farm, Moura, Overflow, Dribble (Jed and Scarlett’s home), and Drinkwater have spent decades working for – ever since 1894, and all the way until November 1975. It is a time for change, of change, when everyone, it is argued, should no longer be denied access to education, to health care, to a fair go. The hippie commune sits somewhere in between – wanting to be self-sufficient but also arguing for equality. It is a story that tries to unite the silenced and ignored voices of the past, the ghosts that fought and the ideals that will live on in those who remain.

The Matilda Saga is a series that utilises the voices of those who at one point in history, whether through legislation or the attitudes of those around them, and sometimes a aww2017-badgecombination of both, to give colour and depth to the history of Australia. This is what makes it so powerful – using the voices that might not always be recorded in the history books, but whose authenticity and clarity is as moving and as important as the official records and facts. Dates never change but the varied accounts, though fictional, of historical events, ensure that in this series, nobody is ignored. Nobody is silenced. Everyone has a cause and though someone may be questioned about their attitudes, they are given a chance to learn, to explain and share. I hope there will be at least one more book in this series to wrap up what happens to Nancy, and Jed and Scarlett.

I found it hard to decide on a favourite character – but I think my top three are Matilda, Flinty and Nancy. These three women unite everyone in a way that ensures family is not just blood. It is whoever you choose to include in your life and share it with.

Booktopia

The Ghost by the Billabong by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #5)

Title: The Ghost by the Billabong

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Children’s Literature/Young Adultthe ghost by the billabong.png

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 1st December 2015

Format: Paperback

Pages: 544

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Hippies wear beads, demonstrators march against the Vietnam War, and the world waits to see the first human steps on the moon’s surface.

But at Gibbers Creek, Jed Kelly sees ghosts, from the past and future, at the Drinkwater billabong where long ago the swaggie leaped to his defiant death.

But is seventeen-year-old Jed a con artist or a survivor? When she turns up at Drinkwater Station claiming to be the great-granddaughter of Matilda Thompson’s dying husband, Jed clearly has secrets. As does a veteran called Nicholas, who was badly wounded in the Vietnam War and now must try to create a life he truly wants to live, despite the ghosts that haunt him too.

Set during the turbulence of the late 1960s, this was a time when brilliant and little-known endeavours saw Australia play a vital role in Neil Armstrong’s ‘one giant leap for mankind’ on that first unforgettable moon walk.

The fifth title in the highly acclaimed Matilda Saga, The Ghost by the Billabong is a story of deep conflicts and enduring passions – for other people, for the land, and for the future of humanity.

~*~

aww2017-badgeIn 1968, Jed Kelly arrives at Gibber’s Creek and Drinkwater, after running away from a family and a reform home where she was mistreated, and in search of her great-grandfather, Thomas “Tommy” Thompson, husband of Matilda Thompson, the owner of the Drinkwater property. Her presence is met with suspicion from Matilda, curiosity from Tommy, who has not seen or heard from his granddaughter, Rose, whom Jed claims is her mother, in many years, and acceptance from Nancy, Matron Moira Clancy and Nancy’s husband, Michael Thompson at Overflow and the kids and other occupants at River View, there for help with treatment therapies for a variety of disabilities. Here, Jed finds people she can talk to, though at first she is horrified when she is told about River View, her mind burdened and injured by the ghosts of her past from the reform home and the secrets she is hiding, and blaming herself for. In one inhabitant, Nicholas, she finds a shared love of books, science fiction, and with Tommy, she shares the delight he has in the Apollo missions to the moon. Escaping soon after Christmas 1968, and the ongoing investigation into who she is, Jed heads to Queanbeyean, where she witnesses the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon, before returning to Drinkwater and Overflow to face her ghosts and the secrets she has been running from.

Jackie French has set this fifth novel during the turbulent late sixties: hippies, the Vietnam War, the Apollo program, and a time when young girls like Jed felt lost and alone, when women’s rights and the argument that what happens behind closed doors should stay there is challenged – Matilda plays a prominent part in this novel, as do Nancy and Tommy as they help Jed in their own ways to find her place and family.

Jed is another voice that has been silenced – not only by expectations of society that are slowly at this time being challenged, but by her own family, the woman who was meant to protect her, and the authorities who took her step-mother’s word over Jed’s. Only in Gibber’s Creek does Jed find her voice at last, with the help of Nancy, and Matilda, eventually, who has not let her own voice be silenced since 1894 – for over seventy years. The series is heading into a modern world where most people can have their voices heard, yet there will always be those who will in some way, be silenced and seen as outsiders. In using these silenced people, or the outsiders, or even those less likely to be taken seriously, The Matilda Saga has given so many characters who would not normally be able to speak, sometimes even through fiction, a voice: women, orphans, the poor, Indigenous and the abused, the disabled and the lost – they all find a home with Matilda Thompson at Gibber’s Creek.

Moving into the latter half of the twentieth century, book six, If Blood Should Stain the Wattle picks up about three years after the end of The Ghost by the Billabong, and Nicholas’s departure to the mountains where his meetings with Flinty in book two, when he appears as a ghost from the future to her in 1919. Astute readers may connect this, or even those who have read the books in order.

Another great Australian story by one of the great Australian women writers of our time.

Some of my Favourite Australian Authors

to-love-a-sunburnt-country

Today is Australia Day, and I usually spend it quietly with books, often by an Australian author such as Kate Forsyth, Sulari Gentill, Anita Heiss,  or Jackie French. Many of the Australian authors I enjoy are women authors, and their books genre blend and tell the stories of characters who may be forgotten or silenced, a-waltz-for-matildathe invisible stories that history may have forgotten, such as Jackie French’s Matilda Saga, which begins in 1894 in book one, and by book seven, is in the 1970s. It deals with the silenced voices I mentioned before – the women and children left out of the record, or simply associated with a husband’s name, or the fictional daughter of the swaggie of Waltzing Matilda, whose imagined existence and therefore imagined erasure from the song by Banjo Paterson brings Matilda O’Halloran of the Matilda Saga to life.

the-girl-from-snowy-riverOver the course of seventy years, the Matilda Saga tells the story of women’s rights, of wars – The Boer War, World War One, World War Two and Vietnam by book five The Ghost by the Billabong, which I am currently reading, those left behind on the home front, and the road-to-gundagaiinnocents whose lives are turned upside down. It tells of the inter-war period between World War One and The Great Depression, and how orphaned teenagers like Flinty McAlpine raised families, after injuring her back, and how Blue escaped a prison-like home to find her family, and how Nancy went to Malaya to get her sister-in-law home, and found herself trapped in a prisoner of war camp by the Japanese on a small island off Malaya. The most recent books focus on Jed Kelly, and as I’ve just started book five, I’m still getting to know her and her story, but she comes to Drinkwater – Matilda’s property – and the characters that link all the books together – to find out who her great-grandfather is. Jackie French weaves history and imagination together to create this world and those who worked behind the scenes and brings the forgotten stories to light – the women, the orphans, the Indigenous Australians whose voices are clear in these books. Each book can be read alone, however, reading them in order has helped me see all the connections and links.rowly-7

the beasts gardenAnother Australian author I enjoy is Kate Forsyth. Her historical fiction stories also place the female character in the centre. My favourite is The Beast’s Garden, set in World War Two Germany, where Ava works to subvert Nazi power, whilst married to a Nazi, one whom she loves but at the same time fears, unsure of what he will do should he find out about her Jewish friends and their resistance, or her work against the Nazis. The power of a subversive voice not often heard in literature is what gave The Beast’s Garden it’s heart and power: we saw the impact of the Nazi regime through Ava’s eyes. What it did to her family, her friends, and what having a Spanish mother did to her, how it affected her as she lived with typically Aryan sisters. Even though this doesn’t tell the story of an Australian character, it is definitely one of my favourites.

I have only read one Anita Heiss book so far, and that was Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms, set in World War Two and told by an Indigenous narrator, Mary, who comes to care for the Japanese Prisoner of War hebarbed-wire-and-cherry-blossoms-9781925184846_lg.jpgr family is hiding. The book delves introwly-1o various prejudices in the community at the time of war, and how they felt towards each other. As I read this, I had the question in the back of my mind: Did societal expectations drive the behaviour of some? The book dealt with the history nicely, and again, used voices not often heard in the history books to tell those experiences – perhaps something the history books need more of to have a rounded understanding of the war as a whole, even on the home front. Using silenced voices like Heiss, Forsyth and French have done makes the story more powerful, gives it more impact.
For a final Australian author I enjoy, I turn to Sulari Gentill, author of the Rowland Sinclair series. Rowland isn’t a silenced voice, but his adventures in crime solving, and his journeys to England, Nazi Germany , and his time between Sydney and Yass, artist Rowland Sinclair and his friends, fellow painter, Clyde, the sculptress, Edna, and Milt, the communist, Jewish poet, whose lines are all plagiarised from the well known poets, comprise a crime solving team that come to assist the police rowly-4throughout the series. Poor Rowly has been shot, stabbed, beaten, and in a car accident, and has come through it all. He is an Australian gentleman. It is another fabulous series by a great Australian author.