Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

mr dickens.jpgTitle: Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Author: Samantha Silva

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Faber Factory Plus/Allison and Busby/Allen and Unwin

Published: 22nd November 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 320

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: ‘A charming, comic, and ultimately poignant Christmas tale about the creation of the most famous Christmas tale ever written. It’s as foggy and haunted and redemptive as the original; it’s all heart, and I read it in a couple of ebullient, Christmassy gulps.’ Anthony Doerr, bestselling author of All The Light We Cannot See

For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. His novels are literary blockbusters, avid fans litter the streets and he and his wife have five happy children and a sixth on the way. But when Dickens’ latest book, Martin Chuzzlewit, is a flop, the glorious life threatens to collapse around him.
His publishers offer an ultimatum: either he writes a Christmas book in a month, or they will call in his debts, and he could lose everything. Grudgingly, and increasingly plagued by self-doubt, Dickens meets the muse he needs in Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son, Timothy. With time running out, Dickens is propelled on a Scrooge-like journey through Christmases past and present.
Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a charming, comic, and ultimately poignant Christmas tale about the creation of the most famous Christmas tale ever written. It’s as foggy and haunted and redemptive as the original; it’s all heart, and I read it in a couple of ebullient, Christmassy gulps.’ Anthony Doerr, bestselling author of All The Light We Cannot See

~*~

Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva focuses on what drove Dickens to write his most famous story, A Christmas Carol in 1843. In this novel, Dickens has been approached by his publishers, whose grave news of the failure of Martin Chuzzlewit over in America starts to eat away at him, and his usually charitable donations he gives out. For economic reasons, they encourage Dickens to write a Christmas story. In Silva’s version, these events happen not long before Christmas, with the book published days before Christmas. Silva has Dickens go through a similar transformation to Scrooge, though his reasons for wanting to cut back are presented as economic struggles rather than a selfish desire for money. On his journey, Dickens encounters the homeless and impoverished children of London, and a young woman named Eleanor Lovejoy, and her son, Timothy – who inspire the version we know and love today.

This fictional retelling of how Dickens came to write one of the best loved Christmas stories in the world draws from threads of information and biography that the author collected, and showed that someone many people depended on, a man whose heart was big, could be crippled by the very thing his books made social commentary about: poverty, or near poverty. Dickens was plagued by debts at the time, but the demands on his aid and from family didn’t stop – nor did they take him seriously in the novel when he said he couldn’t help. For Dickens, a chance meeting with the Lovejoys gives him the inspiration he needs to write the book that people all around the world know and love today: A Christmas Carol.

The London that Dickens inhabits leaps from the page, fog and all, just as it is in his books. His time alone with the Lovejoys is akin to the journey of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, where Dickens finds his way back to family and Christmas, and the magic in his heart that makes him the kind and generous man everyone knows he is. It is a heart-warming story, and portrays Dickens as merely human, a man who just likes to write and wants the best for his family, but also feels pressure from outside forces to do everything and please everyone. As an aspiring author, one line stuck with me, where Dickens is talking to his publishers and they are telling him what audiences want. His response about writers having to be told what to write by an audience even then shows the pressure authors are under to please an audience of readers. Despite this attitude, Dickens ended up writing a wonderful story that illustrates what Christmas is about, and the meaning of family and humanity, reflecting the attitudes of what it meant to be rich and poor in Victorian London.

I enjoyed this, even though it was a fictional reimaging of the journey Dickens took to write A Christmas Carol because it allowed an insight into what kind of journeys a writer goes on, and how they come to write certain books. The fog, and the cobblestones were as real as the figures that populated Dickens world and the young pauper boys who followed him around, wanting to put on a play of his work, and wanting to be immortalised as characters on the page. Silva has used research and her imagination in a wonderful union to recreate this time in Dickens’ life, and I will be aiming to read it again this coming December, alongside my other Christmas books.

I read this after Christmas as it arrived in early January from Allen and Unwin, but it is one that will make a great Christmas read, and enjoyable to read beside A Christmas Carol. I loved this book and I think fans of Dickens, lovers of Christmas and literature will enjoy this delightful book.

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The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman

light between oceans.jpgTitle: The Light Between Oceans

Author: M.L. Steadman

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publisher: Vintage

Published: 3rd December 2012

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: This mesmerizing Australian novel has been a bestselling book around the world, and Hollywood movie rights were recently snapped up by DreamWorks, with David Heyman (Harry Potter) set to produce. It is the winner of three prestigious ABIA awards, including their ‘Book of the Year’, and also won the Indie Awards’ ‘Book of the Year’. They break the rules and follow their hearts. What happens next will break yours.1926. Tom Sherbourne is a young lighthouse keeper on a remote island off Western Australia. The only inhabitants of Janus Rock, he and his wife Isabel live a quiet life, cocooned from the rest of the world. Then one April morning a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant – and the path of the couple’s lives hits an unthinkable crossroads. Only years later do they discover the devastating consequences of the decision they made that day – as the baby’s real story unfolds …

Winner of three ABIA awards for Best Newcomer, Best Literary Novel and Book of the Year – 2013 ABIA Book of the Year, 2013 ABIA Literary Fiction of the Year
Winner of two Indie Awards for Best Debut and Book of the Year – 2013 Book of the Year

Winner of the Nielsen BookData Booksellers Choice Award for 2013
Recently voted Historical Novel of 2012 by GoodReads
reading community

~*~

aww2017-badgeThe Light Between Oceans opens in 1926, when Isabel and Tom Sherbourne discover a boat washed up on the shore of their home, Janus, with a dead body and a baby inside. Torn between doing the right thing according to the laws of Australia, Western Australia and the code of being a lighthouse keeper he is bound by, and what feels like the right thing as humans, yet under the law is wrong, Tom and his wife Isabel make the decision to keep the baby and raise her as their own, and not notify anyone of her presence. Lucy grows up in this isolated place, studying the land and the stars, and the sea, learning the boundaries of this place, and slowly becoming a little person with curiosity, but also immense trust in the two people she thinks of as her parents. A chance trip to the mainland for her baptism will set in motion a series of events that lead to the discovery of what really happened to the man in the boat, and the fracturing of a life that seemed so perfect – and what happens when the truth comes out, and for both sides, right and wrong look like the same thing – the best place for a little girl who had been washed ashore in a strange place, and whose family had thought her gone.

When Tom and Isabel are faced with having to give Lucy back to her real mother, everyone is affected by the lies and deception, and the fallout that leads to tragedy and separation. Their lives have been impacted by several miscarriages, the arrival of the boat, and Tom’s service in World War One – the scars of the war are ever present throughout the book, and threads of the story hint at these deep physical and emotional scars that have impacted a generation sent away to a war to end all wars. This backdrop gives insight into how the characters make decisions and why, and who they end up becoming. Tom and Isabel are good people, who thought they were doing the right thing, in a place where communication with other people might not happen for months at a time. When they are caught up in the legalities and returning Lucy to her mother in Partageuse, their lives take an unexpected turn, and the happy ending for Lucy that they’d all hoped for looks like it might not come. The life that Isabel had imagined for Lucy is lost as the truth comes out, and the little girl is returned to the family who thought her lost forever.

I’ve described this as literary fiction mixed with historical fiction – set in a time and place between a war, and the Great Depression, The Light Between Oceans uses history as its backdrop but is heavily driven by the characters of Tom, Isabel, Lucy, and the character of the lighthouse, and Janus. Slowly, the mainland characters come in but they’re more peripheral in Tom and Isabel’s journey. The conflict of morals and the right thing to do – as a human and legally – drive the conflict of the plot and the characters. As a reader, I was always thinking about why a character did what they did, or reacted the way they did – and M.L. Steadman has created flawed, imperfect characters who are at war within themselves and whose react to what is happening in a very human way. It is a story of human hope, trust and emotions, and what we can be driven to do when caught in a tricky situation where no answer feels like the right one.

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The Pacific Room by Michael Fitzgerald

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Title: The Pacific Room

Author: Michael Fitzgerald

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: ‘A wonderfully stylistic novel, dreamlike and mesmeric. It moves with ekphrastic cadences, from painting to writing and back again, between the present and the past, both muted and full of nuance, like a watercolour of archived time. Fitzgerald skilfully employs a controlled language of concealment and careful observation through which character is translated. All the while, there are subliminal disturbances below, indicating fatal and fateful meetings between culture and history.’

—Brian Castro, Winner of  the Patrick White Award for Literature

This remarkable debut novel tells of the last days of Tusitala, ‘the teller of tales’, as Robert Louis Stevenson became known in Samoa where he chose to die. In 1892 Girolamo Nerli travels from Sydney by steamer to Apia, with the intention of capturing something of Jekyll and Hyde in his portrait of the famous author. Nerli’s presence sets in train a disturbing sequence of events. More than a century later, art historian Lewis Wakefield comes to Samoa to research the painting of Tusitala’s portrait by the long-forgotten Italian artist. On hiatus from his bipolar medication, Lewis is freed to confront the powerful reality of all the desires and demons that R. L. Stevenson couldn’t control. Lewis’s personal journey is shadowed by the story of the lovable Teuila, a so-called fa‘afafine (‘in the manner of a woman’), and the spirit of Stevenson’s servant boy, Sosimo. Set in an evocative tropical landscape haunted by the lives and spirits which drift across it, The Pacific Room is both a love letter to Samoa and a lush and tender exploration of artistic creation, of secret passions and merging dualities.

‘Absolutely fascinating. The Pacific Room stays true to the Treasure Island life of Robert Louis Stevenson, yet frames it within a meta-narrative that moves seamlessly between contemporary Australia and nineteenth-century Samoa – with hauntingly curious twists in the tale.’

—Peter Hill, award-winning author of Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper

~*~

The Pacific Room cleverly weaves past and present together in a dual yet seamless story that tells the story of Robert Louis Stevenson, and his time in Samoa, where he was known as Tusitala, the teller of tales, in the place where he chose to live out his final days. Crossing between Stevenson and the people who make up his life, and the modern day art historian, Lewis Wakefield, and a woman, Teuila, as well as the sprit of Stevenson’s servant boy, Sosimo, the story slowly unfolds as the characters and their stories begin quite separately but eventually start to weave together, and form a story that has an interesting premise written in an intriguing style.

Throughout, Stevenson is referred to as “the Scottish writer” in prose, and when he is spoken to or about in his times, as Tusitala, and this suits the mysterious mood of the novel, and thought it took some getting used to, as well as double checking the back a few times, it is an effective way of giving the well-known author a new identity – a descriptive one, and one that I had not known about until this book, and possibly one that not many people may know about. The Pacific Room deals with the fall out of Lewis’s bi-polar and the aftermath of an episode, and how he dealt with losing his entire family in one go, and how that has affected the rest of his life. However, I did not feel that this defined Lewis wholly – it is a part of who he is, and the flashbacks that slowly emerged throughout the novel, and finally answered the questions that had been lingering since page one. Though i found not all my questions where answered – if Lewis and his brother were twins, I wondered why they’d both not stayed for their final exams, or why only one had gone on holiday with their parents?

I would classify this as a literary novel, more about character than plot, and Samoa was a character in itself, ensuring that the nation had a voice as much as the other characters did, and as a character, Samoa shines through the past and present, and acts as a soothing antidote to the stresses that Lewis and Stevenson go through in their respective lives and times, and it became clear to me why they chose Samoa as their respective resting places and convalescence places. It is a relaxed place, where life isn’t rushed – unlike the opening scene in The Mitchell Library of the University of Sydney, where I could feel the pressure and anxiety Lewis felt as things didn’t go the way he wanted them to.

Overall, it is a book that has an interesting premise, told in a way that I had not quite expected when I received it. It was a book I was not sure what to think or write about at first, and may not have been something I would have picked myself in a bookstore. It shows a new side to Robert Louis Stevenson and what people see in the world, and what they come to expect from people when they have prior knowledge of what they have been through. It is a story about growth and change for Lewis, and how a new place can help heal or find your way back to yourself.

I would recommend this book for fans of literary fiction and storylines that have a few secrets that will be held back, even at the ending. An insightful read into an aspect of the human condition and psyche, and the way we choose our identity amongst some people, but also who we choose to share things with.

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The Dream Walker by Victoria Carless

the dream walker.jpg

Title: The Dream Walker

Author: Victoria Carless

Genre: YA Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette/Lothian

Published: 27th June 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 265

Price: $19.99Synopsis: The weight of a secret can drag you under . . .

A tender coming-of-age young-adult novel for fans of Gary Crew, Vikki Wakefield and Craig Silvey.

Sixteen-year-old Lucy Hart has been counting the days till she can get the hell out of Digger’s Landing – a small Queensland fishing hamlet home to fifteen families, a posse of mongrel dogs, and Parkers Corner Store (no apostrophe and nowhere near a corner).

But just like the tides Lucy’s luck is on the turn, and as graduation nears her escape plans begin to falter; her best friend, Polly, is dropping out of school to help pay the bills, and Tom has been shipped off to boarding school, away from the flotsam of this place. And then there’s Lucy’s nightlife, which is filled with dreams that just don’t seem to belong to her at all . . .

When the fish stop biting, like they did when her mum was still around, Lucy realises she isn’t the only one with a secret.

~*~

aww2017-badgeVictoria Carless’s debut novel out this June, The Dream Walker, is Lucy Hart’s story in the year following her mother’s death, beginning with a fishing trip that results in a lack of fish, and ongoing accusations hurled at Lucy and her father, usually by the bully of Digger’s Landing, Gavin Lawler, whose bullying extends beyond the school bus, to his youngest sister and anyone else he perceives as weak. Lucy’s coping with the loss of her mother, driven to her death by a myriad of things, secrets that Lucy has been trying to uncover, the departure of her good friend Tom to boarding school in the city, and the ongoing bullying the Lawlers, led by Gavin, haul at her any time they can. She is counting the days until she can leave, and find her own place, away from the whispering and the stares, away from the accusations that her and her father are taking more than their share of fish during a time the fish aren’t biting and the fishing economy of Digger’s Landing is flopping around like a fish out of water, gasping for breath. In all of this, Lucy’s only friend is her dog, Glen, who knows her secrets, and who never leaves her side. At school, at least at the start of the year, she has her best friend Polly, the first friend she made when she moved with her parents to Digger’s Landing, who shares her Islander heritage (it is not specified which nation) and food with Lucy, until her father sends her off to work, forcing her to drop out of school to help the family make ends meet. After this, Lucy’s world begins to unravel. She is targeted and bullied by Gavin, and is dealing with her own grief, and her father’s, following her mother’s death. Her only distraction, helping alcoholic Syd Lawler, Gavin’s father, learn to read is short lived, and she is plagued by dreams that aren’t hers – dreams that belong to the people of Digger’s Landing. At first, Lucy is surprised that her dreaming has led her to dream about Mrs Parker, and the bus driver, Mr Sheriff, and a drowning boy, who keeps appearing. Is it Tom, her friend who has run away to the city, harbouring his own secrets about where he wants to go, and who he really is? His secrets that he has to hide from his parents, from everyone at Digger’s Landing, because they might not accept him for who he is are ones he’s too scared to share with Lucy, the one person who would have accepted him for who he is. Or is it someone else who is lost, with the water so far over their head, they can’t cope. Or is it more literal, and a dark omen of events that are yet to happen? Lucy is determined to find out, but with everyone keeping secrets, including her, will it be too late to do anything? Or will her own secret be revealed, and used against her?

At the beginning of the novel, all the Lawler siblings are shown as bullies, who think they own Digger’s Landing and who think they can always get their way, and not get caught out. It soon transpires that little Sadie is mistreated and bullied, and she runs away, to the safety of Glen and Lucy, and when Gavin and older sister Talia are bullying Lucy, she stands by her side, refusing to leave and go home where she is no doubt bullied further. Sadie ends up helping Lucy towards the end, and I like to think that little Sadie got a happy ending of sorts, away from a mother and siblings who didn’t notice when she ran away or wore the same clothes for a week.

The Dream Walker is heart breaking but at the same time, hopeful, yet realistic. Whilst the instances of bullying are not graphic, they are enough to grab your attention and they are well written, and hopefully, it will start a conversation about the themes explored in this literary fiction for young adults aged fourteen and older about alcohol, suicide, bullying and grief to help them deal with bullying or grief throughout their lives.

A surreal story set in a real world, a town failing to make ends meet, where everyone is fighting for survival against each other, and a town where anyone who is different in any way is a target for harassment and bullying. Within this novel, Victoria Carless eloquently deals with themes of bullying and harassment, suicide, grief and alcoholism, showing how being bullied can impact you, and how isolation because you’re different and feel you might not be accepted can lead to tragedies or near tragedies, and the fracturing of families within a town, allowing readers to engage with these themes through the characters and learn about them and how they can impact and change lives. It is a story that has moments of hope and moments of darkness. It has small triumphs but not so small failures, and it has a realistic ending – where not everything works out in a happily ever after, but resolves what needs to be resolved, and allows the reader to imagine the rest for themselves.

#LoveOzYa #AWW2017

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Beyond the Wild River by Sarah Maine

beyond the wild river.jpg

Title: Beyond the Wild River

Author: Sarah Maine

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26/4/17

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A spellbinding and beautiful novel from a major new voice in fiction, perfect for fans of Kate Morton, Santa Montefiore and Rachel Hore.

From the author of THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES, comes an atmospheric and stunningly evocative historical novel. Perfect for fans of Eowyn Ivey’s TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD, Stef Penney’s UNDER A POLE STAR, and Sarah Perry’s THE ESSEX SERPENT.

‘Maine skilfully balances a Daphne du Maurier atmosphere with a mystery… compelling’ Kirkus Reviews Scotland, 1893. Nineteen-year-old Evelyn Ballantyre, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, has rarely strayed from her family’s estate in the Scottish Borders. She was once close to her philanthropist father, but his silence over what really happened on the day a poacher was shot on estate land has come between them.

An invitation to accompany her father to Canada is a chance for Evelyn to escape her limited existence. But once there, on the wild and turbulent Nipigon river, she is shocked to discover that their guide is James Douglas, Ballantyre’s former stable hand, and once her friend. He disappeared the night of the murder, charged with the shooting.

Evelyn never believed that James was guilty – and her father’s role in the killing has always been mysterious. What does he have to hide? In the wild landscape of a new world, far from the constraints of polite society, the secrets and lies surrounding that night are finally stripped away, with dramatic consequences.

~*~

Evelyn Ballantyre has rarely left her family estate in the Scottish Borders, but a mystery from five years ago has put a strain on their relationship. In 1888 , there was a murder on the estate, and Evelyn knows the wrong man was accused, and so does her father, but he refuses to reveal the truth. They encounter the wrongly accused young man, James, on their trek in Canada as they travel across the country, taking in the wilderness and encountering the Native Americans living there at the time, faced with emerging memories of the murder, and the cover up that has led them to where they are. Through these scenes, a mystery emerges, and Evelyn is determined to prove to her father that James isn’t the killer and force him to tell the truth and reveal what he knows.

The wilderness of nineteenth century Canada is as much a character in the novel as the Ballantyres, James and their travelling companions. Evelyn and those she is travelling with are as intrigued by the mystery of the murder back in Scotland, yet they seem more fascinated by the Canadian wilderness, and the unknown culture they are faced with – though attitudes of the time and the approach they took in showing their fascination affect the actions and words of the characters. Yet Sarah Maine has managed to show these attitudes sensitively and with care, illustrating the different attitudes, but not resorting to using derogatory terms of the time, but still maintaining the fascination of the Other and the unknown prevalent at a time when contact between cultures wasn’t as instantaneous as it is today.

The character and setting of the Canadian adds another layer: it is the mystery of a new land, a physical place, contrasted against the mystery of the murder – leading to Evelyn wondering if the murderer is actually with them, given that James didn’t do it. In making the setting a character, Sarah Maine has used it to show the flaws in the other characters, as well as showing this through their interactions with each other, eventually bringing the truth out into the open.

I enjoyed the pacing – it was slow at times, but only when it needed to be, and wasn’t too quick. It fitted the genre and plot nicely, and ensured a delightful read with an unexpected ending that I wasn’t sure would happen, but was a pleasant surprise when it happened.

An enjoyable novel for fans of literary fiction, historical fiction, mystery and Kate Morton.

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