Book Bingo one 2020 – A Prize Winning Book

Book Bingo 2020 clean

Welcome to another year of book bingo with my co-hosts, Amanda Barrett and Theresa Smith. This year, we have cut down the number of squares from thirty to twelve, so one square a month to post about, though nothing is stopping us from filling out the card within a few months and scheduling every post. Which perhaps, might be a good way to think about it – filling it out as soon as possible and getting it all scheduled to focus on everything else and running the challenge and our posts for the Australian Women Writers challenge.

Book bingo 2020

With many options to yet come through, and some decisions to still be made, I decided to start with the prize winner category. There were many books I could have chosen for this, in many genres and categories, but settled on Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales, which looks at how an ordinary day can turn into one of blindsides, tragedy and things that we don’t expect to happen when we roll out of bed in the morning. I go into much more detail in my review, and this book ticked off at least one category in each of my reading challenges, so I am off to a good start there!

Any Ordinary Day

Any Ordinary Day had nuances in it that gave insight into what goes on behind the scenes of journalism at times and how the ongoing, twenty-four seven news cycle changed the way news was delivered and the trickle of details that come out over time, rather than a report with all the facts at once, which I found interesting in light of current responses to media. Understanding that journalists perhaps can have pressures of networks or publications pushing them to get a certain angle or get everything in by a certain time – shows how only seeing the end result, the story presented or printed – can affect how people react. Either they want to know more, or they get frustrated with so little coming through when they think it should, yet at the same time, people get frustrated when they’re not informed – so in writing this book, Leigh examined the balance of this and ethics and how she struggles  to maintain this balance so she can do her job effectively, whilst still maintaining her humanity. A very well-thought out book in my view.

Blog Tour Part One – Review: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester

the french photographerTitle: The French Photographer – Blog Tour

Author: Natasha Lester

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th March, 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 440

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Inspired by the incredible true story of Lee Miller, Vogue model turned one of the first female war photojournalists, the new novel by the bestselling author of The Paris Seamstress

Manhattan, Paris, 1942: When Jessica May’s successful modelling career is abruptly cut short, she is assigned to the war in Europe as a photojournalist for Vogue. But when she arrives the army men make her life as difficult as possible. Three friendships change that: journalist Martha Gellhorn encourages Jess to bend the rules, paratrooper Dan Hallworth takes her to places to shoot pictures and write stories that matter, and a little girl, Victorine, who has grown up in a field hospital, shows her love. But success comes at a price.

France, 2005: Australian curator D’Arcy Hallworth arrives at a beautiful chateau to manage a famous collection of photographs. What begins as just another job becomes far more disquieting as D’Arcy uncovers the true identity of the mysterious photographer – and realises that she is connected to D’Arcy’s own mother, Victorine.

Crossing a war-torn Europe from Italy to France, The French Photographer is a story of courage, family and forgiveness, by the bestselling author of The Paris Seamstress and A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald.

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I was approached by Hachette to take part in a blog tour for this book and accompanying this review there will be an interview with the author. Both are appearing on the blog today, the tenth of April, in separate posts.

The French Photographer is an exquisitely written book, and though it is only April, has been one of the best books I have read so far this year. Inspired by the true story of Lee Miller, Natasha Lester has created a story that spans the decades between World War Two and 2004, exploring the lives of Victorine, Dan, D’Arcy, and Jess May – her main character – at various stages of their lives and the war.

2019 BadgeJess May starts out as a model for Vogue in New York, when her career takes a tumble, and she finds herself looking for a way to fix her modelling career. World War Two is ramping up around the world, and magazines like Vogue need photo journalists and war correspondents – to report on the war back home, and to raise morale and support for the troops. After much persuasion and fighting, she is attached to a battalion led by Dan Hallworth, who becomes a good friend and confidant, backing her up when Warren Stone and her ex, Emile, try to make trouble for her. Here, we see how one man can ruin a woman’s reputation and career out of jealousy, and how another will do whatever he can to make life incredibly hard for her, whilst a third will back her all the way, and stand up for her whenever he can. Jess rises above it all, and forges her own path, and is a character who shows that she will let nothing, not even prejudice, stop her from achieving her goals.

Amidst the field hospital and camp where Dan and Jess meet, a young girl named Victorine appears, and works her way into Jess’ heart. As the story goes on, Jess and Dan’s relationship evolves, and they become important to Victorine – they become her family. This is a story that explores love, family and friendship in equal measure across the European theatre of war in Italy and France, and how it affected those who lived through it.

I first came to Natasha Lester’s books with The Paris Seamstress, published in 2018, and was hooked. When I read this one, I was pleased to see a little link back to The Paris Seamstress, bringing a smile to my face as I read. Jess May is a character who is brave and bold. She is modern and enthusiastic, and doesn’t allow anything to stop her, but at the same time, acknowledges the challenges she must face in achieving her goal. While men like Emile and Warren Stone make it difficult for her, people like Dan Hallworth, Martha Gellhorn, and Victorine encourage her in different ways, and support her. They show her a family and love in a world of violence and tragedy. Victorine and Jess, and Dan quickly became my favourite characters, especially Victorine. She is adorable, and seemingly innocent but what she has seen shapes her and her world. At the same time, she is still a child and has a sense of innocence about her that is endearing and also, heartbreaking.

Through Victorine, we see war through the eyes of a child, and through Jess, we see how war affects women in various ways – from camps, to war correspondents and everything in between. And finally, through Dan, war through the eyes of a soldier. Combined, these make for a story that is equally as powerful as Dan and Jess’s relationship.

What I liked about Jess and Dan, is that their relationship starts out with respect and friendship – it doesn’t force their love. I liked how they let that evolve naturally, because it felt very realistic and seeing a friendship between a man and a woman in fiction was beautiful to read. Of course, there are meddling characters like Amelia, and seedy characters like Warren Stone who I hated, but they were so well written as well – and this made them excellent characters.

There were many scenes that sucked the breath from my lungs, but I think the liberation of an unnamed camp that held Jews, women and political prisoners, and how this affected Dan, Jess and those with them, is one of the most powerful, alongside their capture of Hitler’s Berlin residence. It gives the story gravitas, and a distinct darker side that shows just how awful the war was and how far reaching its affects were physically and emotionally.

The complexity and diversity of characters ensured this wasn’t a simple story – there were layers upon layers that had to be peeled back and revealed slowly to discover the secrets and lead us to what eventually happened with Dan and Jess. The ending was bittersweet, yet realistic, and I feel fitted in well with the rest of the story.

Filled with moments of joy, heartache, and horror, The French Photographer has much more to offer than just a love story, and to me, that is the best part: the complex characters, how they deal with war and life, and everything in between. This gives the story its true power and is definitely one I want to revisit.

Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard

Skin-in-the-Game_cover-for-publicity-600x913.jpgTitle: Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories

Author: Sonya Voumard

Genre: Non-fiction/Essays

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $27.99

Synopsis: Stella Prize long-listed author Sonya Voumard’s Skin in the Game is original, incisive and hugely entertaining.  The daughter of a European refugee mother and a journalist father, Voumard recounts with aplomb her passionate but questioning relationship with journalism and the nature of the interview. There’s a disastrous 1980 university encounter with Helen Garner which forms the seed for her fascination with the dynamics of the interview and culminates in her connecting again with Garner more than three decades later to work out what went so wrong. There are the insights of a career played out against the changing nature of journalism including the author’s time as a Canberra correspondent. And there are revealing and tender portraits of Kings Cross, of growing up in suburban Melbourne, her father’s love of journalism, and a family journey to the Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre where her mother’s Australian life began.

Throughout it all Voumard is a sharpshooter, never afraid to hold a mirror up to her own life and practices as a journalist, to dig deep into the ethics of journalism and the use of power, and to sensitively explore the intertwined nature of life and work and personal relationships. The writing is at turns sharp, funny, direct, strong and affectionate.

‘I’ve immense admiration for how Sonya Voumard so deftly wields a writer’s scalpel, both on her subjects and herself. Together, these dispatches provide a fascinating insider’s account of Australian journalism and a forensic look into the myriad pitfalls involved in telling people’s stories.’ Benjamin Law, author of The Family Law and Gaysia

Stella Longlisted in 2017 for The Media and the Massacre: Port Arthur 1996-2016 (2016).

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AWW-2018-badge-roseIn a series of essays, Sonya Voumard explores the dynamics of journalism in the eighties and nineties, and interview techniques that work, and ones that don’t, the challenges of keeping records and subjects denying what has been said, even if it has been recorded, and the role journalism played in politics and the way it has changed since her days in the press gallery. In the midst of this, are family stories of running from war and oppression, as refugees and what it was like being the children of a refugee mother, and the interactions they had in their social circles – some with similarities, some completely individual, and the quest for family identity and sense of self. Within these essays, Voumard has made cautious and intriguing links to each story, so that they can be read in order or dipped in and out of.

Starting with her experiences as a child, Voumard tells of her family history – her journalist father, an Australian, and refugee mother from Estonia, who fled war-torn Europe with her mother and step-father in the years after the war – a story that is explored in depth in one of the final essays, on a pilgrimage to Estonia, where hints of Russian occupation still stand, in a country that has only been independent for two decades, and where attitudes seen as immoral or abhorrent, or maybe just ignorant in Australia, are acceptable there. Voumard’s journey to becoming a journalist began young, and she recounts her early days at university, studying journalism and having to write a political biography. Aiming high, she conducts her first interview with Helen Garner – a disastrous encounter that will take two decades to repair and be given a chance to write another profile.

As a journalist, she has travelled throughout Australia, part of the political gallery, and taking part in cadetships where the boy’s club was present around her, with an amusing anecdote about her standing up to them, leaving them in shock at what she said. She does not shy away from the challenges of journalism. In many places, she discusses the challenges of the interview – that even when something has been recorded and agreed to be recorded during an interview, and an ethics code followed, stories can still be pulled. She speaks of the frustration this can bring and the need to respect a subject’s wishes as well.

The experiences and challenges she speaks of in the journalistic world show the behind the scenes challenges that journalists faced and still face, as the world of journalism changed, and the pace quickened, and morphed into a 24/7 news cycle that never stops – and how it became a struggle to keep up, to keep editors happy, the public informed and maintain a sense of ethics and truth within the stories she wrote and reported on – the pleasure was in seeking and gaining these stories, the pain in how to deliver them truthfully and morally, but within tightening deadlines that might not always have allowed for checking and re-checking. She speaks of the politicians she encountered, and the ones she admired, and didn’t admire or like – she’s not shy about naming them, or being critical, but still fair, especially when it came to Julia Gillard and her challenges.

Reading about the challenges of journalism from the inside, and the ups and downs of telling stories for people or helping them tell their story gives an understanding of what is expected in the media, and that the demands put onto journalists doesn’t always come through when the public face is presented, or the story is published. Having studied communications and writing, the interview stories were amusing and interesting to me.

An intriguing read about the ethics and inner workings of journalism, and the challenges these present, coupled with family stories that all link together to tell Sonya’s story.

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