The Fire Star (A Maven and Reeve Mystery) by A.L. Tait

the fire starTitle: The Fire Star (A Maven and Reeve Mystery)

Author: A.L. Tait

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 1st September 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: ‘I was up past midnight finishing this book! The mystery kept me turning the pages, and I felt like I’d known Maven and Reeve forever.’ – Amie Kaufman, New York Times bestselling author of Ice Wolves

A maid with a plan. A squire with a secret. A missing jewel. A kingdom in turmoil.

Maven and Reeve have three days to solve the mystery of the Fire Star. If they don’t, they’ll lose everything.

This could be a complete disaster . . . or the beginning of a friendship.

Bestselling author A. L. Tait is back with the intriguing story of two unlikely allies and a mystery to solve that could change their lives.

~*~

A new series from the fabulous and energetic A.L. Tait! Enter a world of knights and ladies, maids and witches, where a magical jewel is handed down from youngest daughter to youngest daughter on the day of her wedding and goes with her to her new home. Lady Cassandra is set to marry Sir Garrick, and has arrived at the castle with her maid, Maven, when the precious stone goes missing. Maven is thrown together with squire, Reeve, to solve the mystery of the missing jewel before Lady Cassandra and Sir Garrick get married.

Taking place across three days, Maven and Reeve must find the Firestar in time, and meet up with witches, and find out who don’t want to see this happen or see the unlikely pair succeed. Who is behind the missing stone, and why did they steal it? Only Maven and Reeve can find out!

AWW2020Maven and Reeve tell the story in alternating chapters–Maven in first person, and Reeve in second person. This moves the novel along nicely, setting the pace and characters up for the rest of the series to come. The world is fantastical, with a sensory medieval feel to it, seen through the eyes of two children from vastly different positions in life and who have very different roles in their new home. A.L. Tait has woven a wonderful mystery around the magic and knights, lords and ladies, in this story, and encapsulated the essence of what a mystery has at its core: something missing, a villain and a whole lot of red herrings along the way as the two key detective characters–Maven and Reeve–investigate the theft, or crime at hand. This intriguing mystery draws the reader in and captures their imagination as they explore this wild new world that is both known from other fantasy books, yet a completely new world that works exquisitely well for this series.

What a bang to begin with. This introduction cements the ongoing characters, settings, and Maven and Reeve’s friendship and investigative skills powerfully and ensures that these themes and characteristics will be central to the rest of the series. Red herrings in this series are sure to be imaginative yet recognisable within the crime genre, and that work within the fantasy world. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am very eager for the next one in the series, which I am sure will deliver with just as much oomph and gusto. A spectacular read for all readers aged nine and older.

When the Ground is Hard by Malla Nunn

When the ground is hardTitle: When the Ground is Hard
Author: Malla Nunn
Genre: Crime/Mystery, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: June 2019
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: This CBCA short-listed book is a stunning and heartrending mystery set in a Swaziland boarding school about two girls of different castes who bond over a shared copy of Jane Eyre.
SHORTLISTED: CBCA 2020 Awards, Book of the Year, Older Readers

Adele loves being one of the popular girls at Keziah Christian Academy. She knows the upcoming semester at school will be great with her best friend Delia at her side. Then Delia dumps her for a new girl with more money, and Adele is forced to share a room with Lottie, the school pariah, who doesn’t pray and defies teachers’ orders.

As they share a copy of Jane Eyre, Lottie’s gruff exterior and honesty grow on Adele, and together they take on bullies and protect each other from the vindictive and prejudiced teachers. When a boy goes missing on campus, Adele and Lottie must work together to solve the mystery, in the process learning the true meaning of friendship.

A Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2020 Notable Book, Highly Commended in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, winner of the 2019 Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection, winner of the Children’s Book Committee’s 2020 Josette Frank Award and shortlisted for the 2020 LA Times Book Prize for Young Adults.

~*~

In apartheid-era Swaziland, Adele Joubert and Lottie Diamond attend Keziah Christian Academy – a boarding school for mixed race students. These are the students who are somewhere in the middle of the racial and social rankings based on the apartheid system but are still separated from white and black communities based on the laws of the time. Adele has been part of the popular crowd. That is, until her slot in the pretties is taken by a richer girl. Adele is relegated to sharing a room with the poor student, Lottie Diamond, and Dead Lorraine’s room.

At first, Adele and Lottie struggle to get along, but find connection in books, specifically Jane Eyre, and a time when you can be cast out and bullied for the slightest difference. As Lottie and Adele’s friendship with each other, and fellow student, Darnell, grows, the two girls face bullies and tragedy together. They fight for their place to belong, and stand up against vindictive and at times, racist teachers.

AWW2020The disappearance of a fellow student brings them closer together, and they learn more about themselves, each other and their heritage than they ever knew, and Adele finds that she can be herself with Lottie. She doesn’t have to pretend like she had to with her former friends. Lottie is a true friend, and she guides Adele through a tricky few weeks as the two girls form a bond that ensures they will always have each other when they face the cruelties of their school, society and the Bosman family.

Set in the 1960s, this book is threaded with the undercurrents and impacts of
racism, oppression and apartheid in a world that isn’t accepting of difference, illustrated through the treatment of students based on wealth, how the Bosman family treats Keziah students through racism, and the power he thinks he should have over them. It is also shown through the teachers – the assumption that the American missionary teachers are better than those they work with, and how Adele is also treated differently to Lottie at times, based on wealth and preconceived ideas.

This book speaks to the heart and difficulties of South Africa and Swaziland under the rule of apartheid. The rules and laws are threaded throughout as Adele tells her story of the first few weeks of the new school year, and her experiences. Some are universal, and some are unique to her and her society. This is what makes the book powerful. The thrum of an African heart beats throughout this novel, and evokes a sense of time, place and character. The land is a strong aspect a strong character. It is perhaps stronger than the Christian religion Adele tries to uphold. It is Lottie who unlocks this power within Adele, the shared Swazi and Zulu identity, and shows her that she can accept all parts of her identity.

I can see why this book has received so many awards, commendations and nominations. It is diverse yet seen through eyes that not many of us have. It is an experience that some readers won’t know much about, but there are universal themes of friendship, class, race, and gender that everyone will find something they can relate to. Adele and Lottie were powerful, diverse and complicated characters, who helped each other grow throughout the novel and found something that connected them more than anything that had ever connected Adele to the popular girls.

As I read this book, I could smell and hear Africa, I could feel Africa. The animals, the grass, the voices and the music. It is woven delicately and subliminally through the narrative, and presents a backdrop that gives When the Ground is Hard a true sense of place and transports the reader to a time and place when things were grim, but where the power of friendship could bring light to people’s lives.

Max Booth, Future Sleuth: Chip Blip by Cameron Macintosh and Dave Atze

Max Booth Chip Blip coverTitle: Max Booth, Future Sleuth: Chip Blip
Author: Cameron Macintosh and Dave Atze
Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery, Adventure
Publisher: Big Sky Publishing
Published: 13th July 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 130
Price: $12.99
Synopsis: It’s 2424. Super Sleuth Max Booth is uncovering the secrets of mysterious 20th Century gadgets. His faithful, but slightly neurotic robodog Oscar is also on the case! In book 5 Chip Blip the duo are baffled by the discovery of a tiny device. Using their future-sleuthy skills, they discover what it is, and unleash the truth of a long-lost treasure. But there are sinister characters and challenges along the way. Join the adventure in this fabulous series full of mystery, surprises and suspense.

What use is a chip that you can’t eat? Max is about to find out!

Max and his robo-dog, Oscar, are baffled by the discovery of a tiny device that looks like a grain of rice. They soon figure out what it is – an ID chip that should have been implanted into a very special dog – 400 years ago! The chip leads Max and Oscar to another long-lost treasure … but they aren’t the only folks in the hunt for it. If Max and Oscar aren’t careful, they could be hounded off the treasure trail for good!

~*~

Romi from Books on Tour asked me to participate in a blog tour for the recent Max Booth, Future Sleuth book, published by Big Sky Publishing. When I first met Max in this book, he appeared with a bang and full of fun, introducing us instantly to Max, his robo-dog, Oscar, and Jessie, who works at the museum and gives them shelter, hiding them from a nemesis who wishes to return them somewhere they’d rather not go. Fans of the series will know where this place is, but if this is your first outing with Max, I think it needs to be a surprise – that makes it much more fun! Not having read the previous books, I wanted to read on to find out if we’d be told at some stage – so keep reading if this is your first Max Booth book – it will all come together!

When Max, Jessie and Oscar find a microchip one day, they’re stumped as to what it is – even the Splinternet can’t find information on it, and the old technology (old for Max – for us, it is current!) can’t help them either. So they set out from the Skyburbs to see what they can find out about the chip and what it contains. When they uncover another treasure, soon, nefarious people are after them, and Max and Oscar must use all their skills to get away.

This delightful and fast-paced book combines history (in Max’s world), science fiction and a fun and thoughtful mystery to create an intriguing and exciting story that will appeal to junior readers venturing out to their next level of independent reading, allowing them to imagine, learn and build on their vocabulary. I loved entering Max’s world – it is unique and possible – limited at this stage only by imagination. It allows children and any readers to imagine a world that has immense possibilities, based in what we know, and what is coming, and the developments happening in today’s world.

This is a series with so much potential to inform and entertain. It combines science fiction, mystery and adventure in one place, in a world where Max is the hero, and he outwits those who wish to track him down and steal the ancient treasures for their own nefarious means.

I found Max’s world fun and enjoyable, and hope readers new and old will enjoy this new adventure.

A Clue for Clara by Lian Tanner

a clue for claraTitle: A Clue for Clara
Author: Lian Tanner
Genre: Mystery, Humour, Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 4th August 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: Can a scruffy chicken crack a crime? Perhaps, if she’s a genius like Clara. An egg-cellent novel about a small chook and a big crime by the highly acclaimed author of Ella and the Ocean
‘GREETINGS. AM LOOKING FOR A MAJOR CRIME TO SOLVE. PLEASE INFORM ME OF ANY RECENT MURDERS, KIDNAPPINGS OR JEWEL HEISTS IN THIS AREA.’

Clara wants to be a famous detective with her own TV show. She can read claw marks, find missing feathers and knows Morse code and semaphore.

There’s just one problem. She’s a small scruffy chook, and no one takes her seriously.

But when she teams up with Olive, the daughter of the local policeman, they might just be able to solve the crimes that have been troubling the town of Little Dismal.

A puzzling and hilarious mystery from bestselling author, Lian Tanner.

~*~

Scruffy-looking chook Clara loves solving mysteries and watching detectives on television. The rest of the chooks at the farm she lives on with the Boss aren’t very impressed with Clara or her eggs, so when the local police constable and his daughter stop by to talk about a rash of stock thefts, Clara hops into their car, and heads home with them, where she begins to investigate with Olive’s help, to save their town, Little Dismal. But as Clara and Olive investigate, they will discover that there is more to the case than everyone can see.

Told in alternating perspectives through diary entries by Clara – a day-by-day run down using certain times of the day, and letters from Olive to her mother, the novel is fun and engaging, and gives as much joy and story as a traditional narrative – and for these characters, it works very well to get across who they are, and how they operate in the world, with each other and with everyone around them.

Clara’s diary entries are entertaining – the human world seen through the eyes of a chicken, who needs to find a way to get the humans to believe her. But how can Clara communicate with Olive and Digby, and get them to believe her?

As the story reveals clues and ideas, Clara has her mind set on one suspect – Jubilee Crystal Simpson – and using a phone to communicate with Olive, is determined to solve the case for Olive and her father, and prove her theory correct, whilst Olive finds a way to deal with her mother’s death, and the way she is now treated around town and at school.

 

AWW2020

A Clue for Clara explores crime in an entertaining and light-hearted way for younger readers whilst still managing to communicate how serious the stock thefts are in a small country town. It is a fun read that explores friendship, death, acceptance and secrets in an accessible way through the eyes of a most unlikely hero and her human sidekick. Animals as main characters in books for younger readers is something, I have been noticing a lot of, especially in Australian middle grade and junior fiction – llamas, chickens, pigeons and many more, and others to come. I don’t know what they will be, but the opportunities are endless, and I look forward to seeing what comes up next. Animals make for fun characters, and Clara is no exception.

We mostly heard from Clara, but through her observations that take place hour to hour, and Olive’s letters, we learn about the town, and the people who live there, and what they do to get by. It is a funny, and charming book that is filled with great lines such as ‘You are not a duck,’ (read the book to understand this), and Clara’s love of Inspector Garcia and Amelia X, and many other things that make this a lot of fun, and a joy to read for all ages and readers.

 

Lapse by Sarah Thornton

LapseTitle: Lapse

Author: Sarah Thornton

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 6th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: All it took was a lapse…a momentary lapse…to bring Clementine Jones’ world crashing down. Now she’s living like a hermit in small-town Katinga, coaching the local footy club. She’s supposed to be lying low, but here she is, with her team on the cusp of their first premiership in fifty years—and the whole bloody town counting on her, cheering her on.

So why the hell would her star player quit on the eve of the finals?

It’s a question she wishes she’d left alone. Others are starting to ask questions too—questions about her. Clem’s not the only one with a secret, and as tension builds, the dark violence just below the town’s surface threatens to erupt. Pretty soon there’ll be nowhere left for Clem to hide.

~*~

Clementine Jones watched her world crash down months ago, and is now hiding in Katinga, coaching their football team while she grapples with her past, the secrets and the events that led her to this place. As she prepares the team for their biggest win in fifty years, and the finals, her star player quits – and this begins a mystery to find out why, and what the town is hiding. At the same time, Clem must do her best to keep her secrets, and convince people she wants to help. As doubt grows in all minds about everyone in the town, Clementine will soon uncover something that could endanger too many people and feed into a desire to cover something up and let an innocent party take the blame.

I won this book in a Facebook giveaway, in a book lover’s event group I’m part of. It was started by L.J.M Owen, an author I follow, and read, at the start of the pandemic when the literary community realised they’d have to cancel many, many, author events. Australia’s literary community has, since March, found ways to move events online – blog tours, interviews, online launches, and many more, with a few socially distant author appearances in bookstores during the past few weeks in some places as restrictions eased. Yet with some restrictions being tightened, we’re still doing these things online. Not only does it allow those who read and write books to connect, it makes these events accessible to those who might not be able to get to a physical event. It is a trend that I hope continues.

AWW2020In this story, we have a mystery with a difference. The investigator isn’t a cop, but a shamed lawyer, running from her past, and hoping to find solace and safety in this new place. Every detailed is revealed when necessary, and some are cleverly held back to set up for a series – yet as readers we are given enough to get to know the characters and why Clementine is in Katinga and where she has been.

Each character and suspect is cleverly set up too. It got to the point where the only characters I found could trust were Clementine, Rowan, Clancy and Melissa (in terms of named characters who were involved in the major plot). Everyone else had elements of suspicion that follow them around, giving the novel its suspenseful, thriller aspect that drives it along at a good pace, with peaks and troughs. It is slow where it needs to be, fast where it needs to be and a medium pace where it needs to be to create the tension and intrigue that drive the novel.

Overall, it was an intriguing and well-written novel, with many elements of justice and truth, that slowly come out across the story. You must work for these aspects, but you know from the outset where you are, who is who, and what you will need to know to proceed. And the world, the town has been strongly created – the author has given us what we need to make sure we can use what is slowly revealed to fill in the gaps and uncover secrets. This is done in a strong and elegant way. It makes sense, and fits with the genre. It’s not overdone either, nor does it expect too much of the reader. At the same time, the reader is not spoon-fed – the balance in this book between asking the reader to solve the mystery and giving them what they need to know is presented eloquently and accessibly.

This is the first in a series, so I am sure that there are things that will be answered throughout the series as we uncover more about Clementine and what we already know.

 

The Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

monstrous devicesTitle: The Monstrous Devices
Author: Damien Love
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure
Publisher: Bloomsbury/Rock the Boat
Published: 19th May 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: A cinematic and original page-turner for fans of Indiana Jones and Alex Rider

On a winter’s day, twelve-year old Alex receives a package in the mail: an old tin robot from his grandfather. ‘This one is special,’ says the enclosed note, and when strange events start occurring around him, Alex suspects this small toy is more than special; it might be deadly.

Things get out of hand, Alex’s grandfather arrives, saving him from an attack – and his otherwise humdrum world of friends, bullies, and homework – and plunging him into the macabre magic of an ancient family feud. Together, the duo flees across snowy Europe, unravelling the riddle of the little robot while trying to outwit relentless assassins of the human and mechanical kind.

With an ever-present admiration for the hidden mysteries of our world, Monstrous Devices plunges readers into a gripping adventure that’s sure to surprise.

~*~
When the robot Alexander receives a mysterious robot from his grandfather, he has no idea what is in store for him. Soon, it seems as if the robot has come to life. Soon, Alexander and his grandfather are racing through Paris and Prague as they try to solve the mystery of the robot that comes to life and does things that Alexander never thought possible, and invites danger into their lives that is at times scary, and that Alexander and his grandfather need to get out of so they can resume their daily lives.

This intriguing novel combines adventure and quest stories, with living toys, ancient myths and stories from the past about the golem, and robots in a unique way. It merges magic and reality seamlessly, and incorporates themes of science fiction and stories of how the living robot came to be, and is at times, scary or worrying, but action packed from beginning to end as they try to bring an end to an ancient family feud fuelled by macabre magic, and people who aren’t quite who they say they are.

At times, it feels apocalyptic – as though the robot and those who want it and want to control it are going to win. It feels as though it is a whole story, that the ending wraps things up nicely. Yet at the same time, there could be a sequel. The Tall Man who appears has a connection to one of the characters that is hinted at but perhaps not wholly resolved – and as the mystery of the robot unfolds, we are told along the way about Alexander’s absent father, whose non-presence in the novel shapes the characters and forms an interesting plot line that works well not being resolved – we don’t always find out everything – yet also works to hint at a sequel – either way, this plot line is woven throughout as Alexander ponders who his father is and what is going on with the robot and his grandfather.

This is a book filled with mystery and danger at every turn, as it draws on the golem legend from Jewish culture, and a Rabbi Loewy who is linked to the robot and the store it was taken from in Prague – this theft opens up the novel – where we first meet the tall man and the young girl who accompanies him. They are a constant presence in the novel – whether on the page or off the page, and their role gives the novel the scary undertones – what do these two people want, and who are they are two questions constantly at play throughout the novel.

This was a different novel for me – most of the things I read don’t have robots. It was interesting, and perhaps gives a brief look at what things could be like if robots did take over or at least, what could happen if they could read our thoughts and act of their own volition. In this way, it was a touch scary at times, yet also engrossing – to find out if Alexander and his grandfather succeed, you have to read on. It captures the imagination and once in Prague, takes the reader somewhere new and historic. It evokes a sense of history and mystery, and magic in a place that has a long and complex history within Europe in many ways – perhaps too many to list here.

This is an interesting and mysterious read for confident readers aged nine and older, and will take you on a journey you’d never expect.

Her Perilous Mansion by Sean Williams

her perilous mansionTitle: Her Perilous Mansion

Author: Sean Williams

Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Perfectly pitched standalone middle grade fantasy – exciting, intriguing and thoroughly satisfying.

In a strange mansion miles from anywhere, an orphan named Almanac and a twelfth daughter named Etta find themselves working – and bickering – side by side in the largely deserted rooms. But soon they realise that the house and its inhabitants are not quite what they seem, and there’s more at stake than just their jobs. Can they solve the puzzle of Her Perilous Mansion before it’s too late?

Almanac is an orphaned boy who can’t forget; Etta is the youngest of twelve unwanted daughters. Invited to work at a mysterious mansion mile from anywhere, they discover the inhabitants are a little…odd. Lady Simone never gets out of bed. Lord Nigel is always locked in his office, and Olive lives in a hidden boiler room and communicates only by code. Etta and Almanac soon realise that the mansion and its residents have secrets they are reluctant to give up, and there’s more at stake than just their jobs. In a world where the line between magic and the written word is often dangerous, can they solve the puzzle of Her Perilous Mansion before its too late?

~*~

Imagine being drawn and mysteriously invited to a mansion in the middle of nowhere. This is the fate that awaits Etta and Almanac. Etta is the youngest of twelve unwanted daughters, and Almanac is an orphan. When they arrive, each sees a different name on the plaque out the front – and here is where their bickering begins. Yet once in, they both receive mysterious messages from those they are meant to serve – yet nobody is around. Etta and Almanac stumble across a mysterious spell linked to the house and those who dwell in the house.

When they realise where they are and those they connect with are not quite what they seem, Etta and Almanac are thrust on a journey to solve a puzzle, and free those who seem to be trapped there.

Wow. This is a fantastic read. It is filled with mystery, magic, fantasy, ghosts, all in what feels like a very Victorian England setting – filled with playful characters, a fairy tale-esque feel of an orphan needing to break a spell. One might say Almanac is the diamond in the rough much like Aladdin was. Chosen, so to speak, or at least destined, to uncover the puzzle of the mansion.

Hints at this puzzle are dropped on every page cleverly, like a cipher, almost. What is it about this house that has everyone trapped in specific places, why do Almanac and Etta never see anyone else, and who is behind these mysterious notes that tell them what they should be doing? Yet there are things that those Etta and Almanac know are there cannot say, cannot warn them about. The spell needs to be broken; they need to find the sorcerer who cast it. And this forms part of the puzzle and mystery. This puzzle is imbued and present on every page, filling the story with just the right amount of intrigue. Sean Williams knows when to deliver information and when to hold back, leaving gaps for the reader to try and solve the puzzle, or look at how it might work.

Each page is thrilling, and filled to the brim with worry, friendship and a desire to solve an ongoing mystery that nobody before them has managed to. It is a delightfully exciting adventure, filled with mystery and magic that weaves in and out of every sentence, and pulls the reader into its wide web of power. Truly one of the most intriguing aspects of the mansion is just who the owner is and who the her is –  it is a fantastic middle grade book that combines fantasy and magical realism to create a world that is equally mysterious and fantastical, far enough away for it to be within a fairy tale world, but at the same time, feels as though it could really exist in a Victorian England setting.

Middle grade readers who enjoy fantasy will love this book, and  be swept up by its magic and fun as they go on a perilous adventure to u cover secrets that have been buried for decades.

Isolation Publicity with Sonya Bates

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

My next interview is with Sonya Bates, author of The Inheritance of Secrets, one of the shortlisted authors of the inaugural Banjo Prize with HarperCollins Australia – in 2018. I reviewed it here on the 20th of April, it’s review date. Sonya, like many authors who have appeared, has had events, launches and appearances cancelled due to COVID-19. She agreed to participate in my Isolation Publicity series – there are more to come, and I am waiting for some answers to pop back, so be on the lookout over the next few weeks.

Inheritance of Secrets

Hi Sonya, and welcome to The Book Muse,

  1. Where did the idea for your novel, Inheritance of Secrets, come from?

The idea for Inheritance of Secrets came from a character – the character of Karl from the historical thread of the novel. Karl is a fictional character who was inspired by my dad, who grew up in Germany in the same era, when Hitler was in power. Like Karl, he was drafted at the age of eighteen and sent to war. My dad was such a quiet, peace-loving person and I couldn’t imagine him being involved in such a terrible part of history. It made me want to write something that involved an ordinary person caught up in terrible times.

  1. What was it like growing up being aware of what your father went through?

It wasn’t something I thought about a lot. It’s not something he talked about. He was just my dad. But every once in a while, something would trigger thoughts about it. Like around Remembrance Day when the teacher would ask if anyone’s father or grandfather had fought in either of the World Wars. I never said anything, because he’d fought on the side of the enemy (we were living in Canada).  I needn’t have been embarrassed about that. He was an ordinary man fighting for his country like so many thousands of men on both sides of the conflict were doing.

  1. Do you think novels like yours with basis on real events and experiences, and presented in a fictional way, can help people understand the grey areas of history and people?

That’s an interesting question. I know, from a reader’s perspective, I love historical fiction because it makes history personal. It puts the reader in a character’s head as they deal with the issues of the time, and gives history a sense of reality. It humanises it. It may also give readers a glimpse of the times of their ancestors, and allow them to connect with their own history. How factual it is depends on the author’s research and their understanding of the time, so in that sense it is, as is all history, one person’s perspective on the time period. But it can put a new slant on history, allow the reader to look at it from a new perspective and consider it in a different way. Novelists have been doing that for quite some time – think Jane Eyre, The Color Purple or The Book Thief. The stories of individual people behind the big events of history. And it’s becoming more prevalent in recent times, especially the telling of stories from the female perspective, which has traditionally been largely ignored in history. Hannah Kent’s novels are a great example, as is Molly Murn’s Heart of the Grass Tree. Inheritance of Secrets isn’t purely a historical novel, and the historical thread is deliberately linked to the contemporary story and designed to provide clues to the mystery. But early readers have said how interesting they’ve found it, and I love that they’ve connected with it.

  1. Roughly how long did it take you to write this novel?

From the first spark of an idea to publication? Probably ten years! But I wasn’t working on it all that time. The idea mulled around in my head for years before I started working on it. I was writing children’s fiction at the time as well as working in Speech Pathology. I dabbled around doing a bit of research and writing a couple of scenes. Ideas were building in my head, but I couldn’t seem to get them down. Finally I concluded that if I really wanted to tackle this, then I needed some dedicated time to write it. I took some time off and did just that. It took me about ten months to write the first draft. Then another couple of years editing before I thought it was close to ready for submission. I signed the contract with HarperCollins late in 2018.

  1. What sort of research beyond your father’s experiences did you undertake whilst working on Inheritance of Secrets?

 

Most of the research was done either online or in libraries and museums. I did talk to my dad some on the phone and when I visited him in Canada, but it wasn’t something he ever wanted to talk about, and so I didn’t pry about his own experiences. He shared a portion of his private memoirs with me while I was researching, and we spoke more in general terms, about the character Karl and what he might or might not have experienced. I relied more on reading memoirs and personal accounts, letters and diaries I found at the State Library or online. As well as scholarly texts on the time periods and the war years both in Germany and Australia. In 2018 I went to Germany and visited many of the museums dealing with the time before, during and after WWII, and also went to Halle (Saale) where Karl and Grete grew up, to walk the streets they would have walked and see the river park where they said their good-byes.

  1. What inspired you to enter the Banjo prize, and do you think it’s a good step for first time authors to take?

The Banjo Prize came at the perfect time for me. I’d done a number of edits on the manuscript, had feedback from beta readers, and felt I was almost ready to send it out to look for a publisher. I’d actually sent it off to a couple of agents, and while they weren’t prepared to offer me representation, they gave me detailed feedback that was immensely helpful. It was about that time that HarperCollins announced the launch of the Banjo Prize. I still wasn’t sure that the manuscript was ready, but basically thought, ‘You’ve gotta be in it to win it.’ So I did one last edit and sent it off with fingers crossed.

I think competitions like the Banjo Prize are a brilliant way for first time authors to get noticed. You can guarantee your manuscript will be read within a timely period for one, and if it does catch the attention of the publishers, even if you don’t win, being shortlisted for a competition looks great on your resume. And you never know, shortlisted manuscripts may be picked up, like mine was.

  1. After your manuscript was acquired, what did you have to do to get your work ready for publication?

The editing process can be a daunting one, especially the structural edit, but I knew that it would be the final step to making the book the best that it could be. For me, it involved fleshing out some of the characters, delving more into their relationships and expanding on the historical thread so that the character of Grete was more real to the reader. I think, coming from writing children’s fiction, my writing is quite spare. I’ve learned to say as much as I need to in as few words as possible, which is something I appreciate as a reader as well. I don’t like things spelled out too clearly. But going this step further with Inheritance of Secrets has made the book so much better. The editors at HarperCollins were brilliant. They didn’t tell me what to do, just pointed things out, asked questions and made suggestions, and then let me consider what was the best thing to do for the book. I think the changes will help the reader to form a stronger connection with the characters.

  1. A debut novel is an exciting event – what events did you have planned for the launch of your novel prior to the current crisis?

The release of Inheritance of Secrets was still a couple of months away when COVID-19 reared its ugly head and things started shutting down. So while my publicist had all sorts of events in mind, not many had been booked. The official book launch at Dymocks Adelaide was cancelled, as well as a collaborative author event that some writer friends and I had booked at a local library. I was able to get around to meet booksellers in Adelaide and Brisbane in January, which was really nice. Everyone was very welcoming and enthusiastic about the book.

  1. When did you decide you wanted to write books and explore stories?

I’ve always liked to write. I wrote stories as a child, although I never showed them to anyone. And after university, I wrote stories to use in therapy when I was working in Speech Pathology. It was when my girls were small and I was taking time off from work that I started to consider writing with the intent of being published. I saw an ad in the newspaper for a correspondence course in writing for children. I needed something for myself, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was great fun, and rekindled my desire to write more. Soon after, I had my first chapter book accepted for publication, so that was very encouraging and the start of an ongoing pursuit of writing and being published.

  1. What was the book that made you fall in love with reading? Any particular reason that book stands out for you?

I don’t remember one particular book. I’ve loved reading since I was a kid. The whole family loved to read. Some favourites were Anne of Green Gables and the Little House on the Prairie series, so even then I loved historical fiction.

  1. War seems to be a common theme in lots of historical fiction at the moment – what is it about war that you think lends itself so well to telling a multitude of stories for a modern audience?

Another great question! I think times of extreme circumstances bring out the best and the worst in people, and can be a catalyst for strong human emotion. And war is definitely one of those extreme situations – especially a world war. People were fighting to survive, and when your family and your life is at stake, you may do things you wouldn’t do under ordinary circumstances. Both good and bad. It’s not something many of us growing up in the modern western world have experienced. Historical novels about war and desperate times put the reader into the head of the character and allow them to experience second-hand what they hope they never will see in real life. War stories may also give readers a different perspective on a period of history. They can put a face to the ‘enemy’, and provide a glimpse of them as a person, possibly provide some insight into their mind and motivation. Every story needs conflict and an antagonist, but no antagonist is completely evil, and revealing those layers of humanity is what makes a story compelling.

  1. What are you currently reading, and do you have a favourite author?

I’m currently reading The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams and also Silver by Chris Hammer. I don’t often read two at once, but it demonstrates my love for the two genres of historical fiction and crime. I also read contemporary fiction and recently finished Saving Missy by Beth Morrey. I have many favourite authors. Hannah Kent and Jane Harper are probably the two that come to mind as stand-outs.

  1. You’ve previously written for children – what have you written, and which one do you think you enjoyed writing the most?

I’ve written ten books for children and young adults, chapter books and high-interest low-reading-level books for reluctant readers. Most of them have been published by Orca Book Publishers in Canada. To be honest, the children’s novel I enjoyed writing most hasn’t yet found a publisher. It’s a science fiction adventure for middle-grade readers and was just so much fun to write – creating a whole new world and writing from an entirely different perspective. And great fun consulting with my brother on the technical aspects of it too.

  1. Has your career as a speech pathologist helped you understand story and language differently in any way?

I’ve worked in speech pathology for most of my life, so it’s hard to say how it’s influenced my understanding of story and language. Certainly my study of linguistics and speech pathology gave me a good grasp of grammar and the nuances of dialect and colloquial speech. And an understanding of basic story structure. But that’s something that all writers develop at one point or another. I think what working in this field has given me is an appreciation of the difficulties some people have with language and reading and the need to make story accessible to everyone, whether it’s through hi/lo books, audiobooks, graphic novels or even music.

  1. What do you think you’ll be working on for future stories, and will these be for adults or children?

I’m currently working on another adult crime novel. As with Inheritance of Secrets, it explores family dynamics, relationships and trust issues. That seems to be a recurrent theme in a lot of my writing, both for children and adults. Beyond that, I don’t have anything planned. I’ll work with the ideas that present themselves, whether for children or adults.

Anything that you think I have missed?

No, this has been very comprehensive and given me some interesting food for thought.

Thank you Sonya, and best of luck with your novel.  Thank you!

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery by Renée Treml

sherlock bonesTitle: Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery

Author: Renée Treml

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A hilariously funny, action-packed mystery, starring the intrepid Sherlock Bones.

‘Hi there, I’m Sherlock Bones.
Who is Sherlock Bones, you ask? Well, I don’t like to brag, but my trusty side-kick Watts says I’m the greatest detective in our whole museum.
Don’t you, Watts?
Watts…?’

You might not be able to hear Watts, because she’s technically a stuffed parrot, but I always know what she’s thinking.

And right now she’s thinking: Can we solve the mystery of the missing Blue Diamond and save the Museum of Natural History, before it’s too late?

~*~

Sherlock Bones is a skeleton – a frogmouth skeleton on exhibition in the natural museum in Sydney, and he has a trusty sidekick – Watts. But Watts is a stuffed parrot, and the people who work at the museum are unaware that Sherlock Bones moves around. When the Blue Diamond goes missing, Sherlock Bones investigates – along with Watts and their new friend, Grace – a raccoon who has stowed away and found herself in the museum, helping look for the diamond. Will Sherlock Bones and his companions find the diamond, and is the thief closer than they thought?

Told in a graphic novel style, the clues are dropped cleverly throughout as we follow the trail to find out what has happened to the diamond. It is a light-hearted mystery for kids aged six to nine, and books like these can grow their confidence in reading before they move onto short chapter books and novels for middle grade readers. Renée wrote and illustrated this book – and it is exquisitely and perfectly done. As readers, even though the illustrations are in black and white, they are still filled with fun and help to tell the story along with the words.

AWW2020

As someone who hasn’t read many graphic novels before, it was an adjustment, but it didn’t take long, even though I had to check some panels a few times to make sure I knew what I had read or seen was right. At times, I flicked back a few pages as I wondered if I had missed something – if I had, it only took me a few minutes to get back into the groove. The story was really well told and plotted, and I thoroughly enjoyed this new experience. It might take some adjustment to a new format but I think a book like this is a really good place to start, as whilst the story is simple, it still has the same complexities we might expect from a novel, these just come in a visual format.

It was also a great take on the traditional Sherlock Holmes narrative, and a good way to get kids into a new genre, style and way of reading.

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery is also on the shortlist for the Readings Children’s Book Prize for this year. Judging for this prize ends on the 30th of April.

 

Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates (Inaugural Banjo Prize Shortlisted author)

Inheritance of SecretsTitle: Inheritance of Secrets

Author: Sonya Bates

Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary Mystery

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 20th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 420

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: No matter how far you run, the past will always find you…

Juliet’s elderly grandparents are killed in their Adelaide home. Who would commit such a heinous crime – and why? The only clue is her grandfather Karl’s missing signet ring.

When Juliet’s estranged sister, Lily, returns in fear for her life, Juliet suspects something far more sinister than a simple break in gone wrong. Before Juliet can get anymore answers, Lily vanishes once more.

Juliet only knew Karl Weiss as a loving grandfather, a German soldier who emigrated to Australia to build a new life. What was he hiding that could have led to his murder?  While attempting to find out. Juliet uncovers some disturbing secrets from WWII that will put both her and her sister’s lives in danger…

Gripping. Tense. Mysterious. Inheritance of Secrets links the crimes of the present to the secrets of the past and asks how far would you go to keep a promise?

~*~

Moving between the present, and a postwar period of transition, Inheritance of Secrets opens like many crime novels – with the crime, or the aftermath of the crime and the beginning of the investigation. Juliet arrives to identify the bodies of her grandparents, Karl and Grete at the morgue. From here, the detectives tell her what has happened, and Juliet begins to wonder what could have happened.

AWW2020As she investigates, her relationships fracture or come together – she finds herself drifting away from her partner, Jason, and closer to her childhood friend, Ellis, and her sister Lily as she uncovers secrets that Lily has kept from her for years. Yet it there is more to the case than previously thought – and Juliet and Lily soon find themselves pursued by Nazi Hunters, determined to find something they claim Karl stole more at the end of the war. But what is it, and what secrets are hidden within?

As the novel weaves back and forth between Karl’s post-war journey to Australia, and contemporary times, where Lily and Juliet are on the run from those who are demanding something from their grandfather, the mystery of what Karl was hiding all these years and the secrets he carried over from Germany. These elements make up the story, filled with intrigue, and questions about how well you know someone, morals, ethics and how far you’ll go to protect secrets even if they could hurt someone or make you see someone you love in a different light. And once you’ve discovered something about that person you could never have imagined – how far will you go – how far will Juliet go – to make sure that secret stays hidden?

This novel is about the grey areas of morals and ethics – where the choices one makes might not be what we want or might be forced on us. Or might be something that needs to be done yet is morally and ethically wrong. It shows the contrast between what we know of history and what may have been hidden, or the secrets that individuals kept even from family – to protect them. This novel combined historical fiction, mystery and thriller in a new way, and showed a different side to the story of World War Two, and the post war period than we are used to seeing – filled with moral ambiguity that left me wondering whether the right thing had been done – and whether the threat was truly gone as well.