Pippa’s Island: The Beach Shack Café by Belinda Murrell

Pippas island 1.jpgTitle: Pippa’s Island: The Beach Shack Café

Author: Belinda Murrell

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 3rd July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A gorgeous new series about friendships, family and seaside adventures, from our beloved bestselling author Belinda Murrell!

Pippa has just arrived at a new school, in a new town, and even living on a gorgeous island isn’t cheering her up. Her arrival causes ripples at Kira Island Primary School – but Pippa soon starts to make friends with eco-warrior Meg, boho-chick Charlie, and fashionista and cupcake baker Cici.

Pippa’s mum plans to buy a rustic old boatshed and start a bookshop cafe, and Pippa worries they’ll lose all their money in this madcap venture – until her new friends come to the rescue to help get the grand opening back on track.

Will Kira Island ever feel like home?

~*~

Starting a new school is always scary – but for Pippa Hamilton, she has had her entire life uprooted, moving from all she has known in England, to a small island in Australia called Kira Island. In between school, she is helping her mum get the beach café/bookstore ready while she lives in a caravan with her mum, brother Harry, and sister, Bella, behind their grandparents’ house. Yet it is school that poses the real challenge: though she meets four really cool girls who will become her best friends – CiCi, Charlie and Meg – Pippa still feels isolated by popular girl Olivia, who seems nice enough, yet when Pippa starts doing better than her, tensions arise.

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At the same time, Pippa is trying to deal with what has happened between her parents, keeping things close until she learns she can really trust her new friends. Pippa is relatable, and fun, and filled with such joy that she shines off the page and dances around. Her story is engaging for all ages over nine. What I loved about Pippa’s Island was the uniqueness each character brought to the series and the way it all unfolded – in a classy, fun and stimulating way that wasn’t too complicated or too simple, and perfect for reading anywhere – on the couch, in bed, at the beach.

There were times when I felt like I was on Kira Island, and living near a beach, it was easy to imagine that some of the things that happened could have happened at the local beach as well – a bookshop café would be awesome to have where I live! So, once I get the chance, I will be heading to my local bookstore to grab the next two or three in the series to follow  Pippa’s adventures on Kira, and these will make for great summer reading.

 

The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch by Tom Fletcher

christmasaurus winter witch.jpgTitle: The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch

Author: Tom Fletcher

Genre: Fantasy/Christmas

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 15th October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: The magical new story from bestselling author of The Christmasaurus and The Creakers, Tom Fletcher.

‘She is the best-kept Christmas secret of all,’ whispered Santa Claus. ‘Which is surprising, because Christmas itself would not exist without her. She is older than time itself, yet still as young as tomorrow. She is known only as the Winter Witch.’

One year has passed since William Trundle’s incredible adventure with the most extraordinary dinosaur: the Christmasaurus. Now, William is swept back to the magical North Pole, where he meets the mysterious, icy Winter Witch – whose power to control time allows Santa Claus to make the long journey all around the world every Christmas Eve. And when they learn that the fate of Christmas itself hangs in the balance, William and the Christmasaurus must work with the Winter Witch to protect it . . .

Full of magic and music, humour and heart, and a friendship like no other, The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch is the most enchanting Christmas read for the whole family.

~*~

Christmas stories are always fun, and I love discovering new ones, and reading them, as well as the classics like A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker during December if I can to get in the mood for Christmas as we decorate and bake for Christmas, and listen to the music and watch the movies and sometimes, the Christmas episodes of my favourite shows. I’ve not yet read the book that introduces the Christmasaurus, but I have added it to my list, as I feel it would be interesting and fun to read.

This is the second book, and starts when William, his father, Bob, stepmother, Pamela and stepsister, Brenda, are starting their Christmas break, and getting into the Christmas spirit completely – from what they wear, to what they bake and many traditions that Bob and William have enjoyed over the years. What is different this year, is that they are taken up to the North Pole to see Santa and the Christmasaurus.

Here, William is given a special bean and a wish as gifts – and he decides to save them for something special, until he notices the bean has disappeared when they arrive home, after Brenda has to go to her father. What happens next threatens Christmas’ very existence – and it is up to William and Christmasaurus to find a way to save Christmas, with the help of the Winter Witch, and ensure everyone goes on believing.

There are many things I love about this book. First, CHRISTMAS! Christmas stories are delightful, cheery and make readers feel good and bring joy to the holiday and show that there is more to it than what we are led to believe. Each story has its own magic and mythology that imbibes Christmas with its very magic and joy that we should all be able to experience with those we love. Second, the main character is disabled! This may not seem important to some readers, but for wheelchair users or who use mobility devices or are limited in some way due to a disability, this is fantastic! William is able to do things in his wheelchair, his family and Christmasaurus adapt for him so he isn’t left out and most importantly, he’s just disabled. I haven’t read the first book, but I want to so I can see how Will does things in that book as a wheelchair user, and the other challenges he faces, which are not shied away from here, but also, I felt, not dealt with as impossible. Nothing big is made of it, he just is. He’s his own person, not an object of pity, or passively treated character as some disabled characters are. And he is allowed to be disabled. This is fabulous – it shows that disabled kids and adults can be and do things like everyone else. We just have to find a different way to do it.

Third – a new take on Christmas with Christmasaurus. Combining dinosaurs and Christmas is a wonderful idea, and very creative. I loved that William and his father were so welcoming to Brenda and her mother, and that they wanted Brenda to stay for their family Christmas. Mostly, I just like a good story and this one had so many elements that worked for me and was so funny that I just gobbled it up and loved the way it incorporated lines and references from songs sung or played around Christmastime. And the Winter Witch’s role in Christmas – that was a new, and unique take on it and seeing how it all worked was a lot of fun in the end, and I hope kids and other readers find this book entertaining and wonderful as well.

A good book to read in the lead up to Christmas or at Christmas, or even as a Christmas gift from Christmasaurus himself. I recommend this for all ages!

The Book of Dust Volume 2: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

book of dust 2.jpgTitle: The Book of Dust Volume 2: The Secret Commonwealth

Author: Philip Pullman

Genre: Fantasy/Mystery/Steampunk

Publisher: Penguin Random House/David Fickling Books

Published: 3rd October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages:784

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Master storyteller Philip Pullman continues the incredible journey of Lyra Silvertongue in the second volume of The Book of Dust.

It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is almost ten years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .
The second volume of Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed. Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right.

Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost – a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust.
The Secret Commonwealth is truly a book for our times; a powerful adventure and a thought-provoking look at what it is to understand yourself, to grow up and make sense of the world around you. This is storytelling at its very best from one of our greatest writers.

~*~

The long-awaited second volume of The Book of Dust picks up twenty years after La Belle Sauvage and ten years after the events of His Dark Materials, where we left Lyra and Will in their respective Oxfords, in the same botanic gardens as a way to connect. The Magisterium is still a threat in this book, in the shadow of Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel dying in His Dark Materials, and as readers might recall from The Amber Spyglass, Lyra and Pan discovered they could do something that no other person in their world could – which forms the part of the backbone to this book, and what drives the narrative along with the threat of the Magisterium, daemons and the mystery of Dust, that has been infused throughout each book in the sequence.

Old friends from La Belle Sauvage and His Dark Materials return – Alice, Malcom and Hannah are back, and helping a now adult Lyra as she navigates a world where she is no longer welcome at Jordan College, and where the factions once thought to be defeated rear their ugly heads in new and uneasy ways. As Lyra and Pan, as well as their friends work separately for the same goal, Ma Costa and Farder Coram return to help our Lyra, a heart-warming sequence because it feels as if Lyra has truly found a home as she travels across the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia, seeking a city of lost and haunted daemons. But it is the trials that Lyra and Pan face along the way, the people they meet and the judgement they receive that sharply mirrors our world.

Refugees – ripped from their homes as trade in a special rose threatens their livelihoods are turned away, forced onto boats, and where some people look away, whilst Lyra and others try to help. It mirrors our world in that we have refugees fleeing war, climate crises, and many other things seeking safety in countries that so far, are untouched. The reactions are the same – those who wish to ignore the crises are heard more than those who wish to help. Yet those affected by these issues and other issues related to Dust and daemons that make people turn away in fear are the ones who are the voices heard in this book. There is dissent against the Masters of Jordan when Lyra is thrown out. People are trying to use their power and influence to achieve their means and ends, and we see that the things that occupied Lyra’s mind as a child have changed. Yet Dust still occupies her thoughts, and as the book moves on, nothing will ever be the same.

In true Philip Pullman style, we do not get everything answered. People are not reunited quickly, or perhaps at all,  and as everyone works towards the same goal and location, the end hints at how the third book might open and what we might expect – and I do hope that my feelings about who might meet up at the start of the third book are right, because it is a reunion I had been hoping for since the beginning of this book. Throughout the book, we are reunited with Lyra, Pan and other familiar characters, but perhaps not in the way we might expect.

Throughout the book, revelations that cleverly link back to His Dark Materials and La Belle Sauvage emerge, so I would advise reading these first, starting with His Dark Materials: Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass and then La Belle Sauvage before delving into this volume. Even though chronologically, His Dark Materials takes place between La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth, the delight is in reading those three first, before the Book of Dust, and making the connections. However, having read them, it might be an interesting experiment to read La Belle Sauvage, followed by the three His Dark Materials books and finishing with (for now) The Secret Commonwealth.

 

I am eagerly looking forward to seeing how this all concludes and where Lyra goes next – and how it changes her just as her experiences in this book and His Dark Materials changed her. An excellent addition to this series and a must read for the fans.

August Round Up 2019

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I managed to read sixteen books in August, and the break down is below for each challenge and collectively in lists and tables. Several were read for review purposes, some for quiz writing purposes and others for my own reading. Some reviews are only going live in September, but others are up and ready to be read.

#Dymocks52Challenge

To date, I have read 135 books, and am up to 66 for my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and to date, have only one book bingo square to fill, with each post except the final one written and scheduled. I haven’t really added to my Popsugar Challenge this month but am still aiming to finish it by the end of the year.

I did add to my Jane Austen reading challenge with a Pride and Prejudice retelling by Fiona Palmer – I still have to add more reads to this challenge. As I am on top of all my review books at the moment, I might have time to read more for this challenge, even if I do not review each book, I read for it. I also took part in a blog tour with Corella Press – a cover reveal and an interview with illustrator, Kathleen Jennings. August also meant Love Your Bookshop Day, and my post about it is here.

In other book news, my new bookcase arrived, and my books are now sorted out nicely, and easy to find. Heading into September, I am busy with quiz writing and editing work, so it’s a good thing I have so many reviews already scheduled so I don’t have to worry about writing them.

Until next month!

Books 119-135

  1. The Battle for Perodia (The Last Firehawk #6) by Katrina Chapman
  2. Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda
  3. A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison
  4. The Puppy Who Couldn’t Sleep by Holly Webb
  5. Mermaid Holidays #3: The Bake Off by Delphine Davis
  6. Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls by Ann M Martin
  7. The Truth About Stacey by Ann M Martin
  8. Mary Anne Saves the Day by Ann M Martin
  9. While You Were Reading by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus
  10. The Unforgiving City by Maggie Joel
  11. Matters of the Heart by Fiona Palmer
  12. Harry Potter: Spells and Charms: A Movie Scrapbook by Judy Revenson
  13. Mary Poppins She Wrote: The extraordinary life of Australian writer P.L. Travers by Valerie Wilson
  14. Kensy and Max: Out of Sight by Jacqueline Harvey
  15. The Loneliest Kitten by Holly Webb
  16. The Land of Long-Lost Friends by Alexander McCall-Smith
  17. The Lily and the Rose by Jackie French

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Australian Women Writers Challenge

  1. Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda – Reviewed
  2. Mermaid Holidays #3: The Bake Off by Delphine Davis – Reviewed
  3. While You Were Reading by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus – Reviewed
  4. The Unforgiving City by Maggie Joel – Reviewed
  5. Matters of the Heart by Fiona Palmer – Reviewed
  6. Mary Poppins She Wrote: The extraordinary life of Australian writer P.L. Travers by Valerie Wilson
  7. Kensy and Max: Out of Sight by Jacqueline Harvey – Reviewed
  8. The Lily and the Rose by Jackie French – Reviewed

Book Bingo

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Rows Across:

Row One:

A book with a red cover: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim – #AWW2019

Beloved Classic: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – AWW2018

A novel that has more than 500 pages:

A novella no more than 150 pages:Deltora Quest: The Forest of Silence by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019

Prize winning book: Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French – #AWW2019, Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail – #AWW2019

Row Two: BINGO

A book by an author with the same initials as you: The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus – #AWW2019

Non-Fiction book about an event: The Suicide Bride by Tanya Bretherton – #AWW2019

Fictional biography about a woman from history: Fled by Meg Keneally – #AWW2019

Memoir about a non-famous person: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Book written by an Australian woman more than 10 years ago: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019 (2001)

Row Three: BINGO

Themes of Science Fiction: Daughter of Bad Times by Rohan Wilson

Themes of Culture:The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

Themes of Justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Themes of Inequality: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – AWW2019

Themes of Fantasy: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni – AWW2019 

Row Four: – BINGO

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Outback: The Last Dingo Summer by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #8) – #AWW2019

Book set on the Australian Coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Mountains: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – AWW2019

Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

Row Five: BINGO

Written by an Australian Man: The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

Written by an Australian Woman:Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019

Written by an author over the age of 65: Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s Brilliant Career began by Libby Hathorn – #AWW2019

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

Row Six: BINGO

Literary: Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide – AWW2019

Crime: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – AWW2019

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Romance: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Comedy: Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

Rows Down:

Row One:  – BINGO

A book with a red cover: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim – #AWW2019

Book by an author with the same initials as you: The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus – #AWW2019*

Themes of science fiction: Daughter of Bad Times by Rohan Wilson

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Written by an Australian man: The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

Literary: Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide – AWW2019

Row Two: BINGO

Beloved Classic: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – AWW2018      

Non-Fiction book about an event: The Suicide Bride by Tanya Bretherton – #AWW2019

Themes of culture: The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

Book set in the Australian outback: The Last Dingo Summer by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #8) – #AWW2019

Written by an Australian woman: Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg – AWW2019

Crime: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – AWW2019

Row three:

Novel that has 500 pages or more:

Fictional biography about a woman from history: Fled by Meg Keneally – #AWW2019

Themes of justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Book set on the Australian coast:The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Row Four: – BINGO

Novella no more than 150 pages: Deltora Quest: The Forest of Silence by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019

Memoir about a non-famous person:Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Themes of inequality: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – AWW2019

Book set in the Australian mountains:The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – AWW2019

Written by an author over the age of 65: Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s Brilliant Career began by Libby Hathorn – #AWW2019

Romance: Northanger Abbey by Jane AustenRow Five: BINGO

Prize winning book: Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French – #AWW2019, Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail – #AWW2019

Book written by an Australian woman more than ten years ago: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019 (2001)

Themes of fantasy: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni – AWW2019

Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

Comedy: Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

Jane Austen Reading Challenge 2019

Jane Austen Reading Challenge

Pride and Prejudice

Sense and Sensibility

Northanger Abbey

Mansfield Park

Emma

Persuasion

Matters of the Heart by Fiona Palmer – Pride and Prejudice retelling

 August Round Up – 16

 

Title Author Challenge
The Battle for Perodia Katrina Charman General, #Dymocks52Challenge
Rowan of Rin Emily Rodda General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019
A Pinch of Magic Michelle Harrison General, #Dymocks52Challenge
The Puppy Who Couldn’t Sleep Holly Webb General, #Dymocks52Challenge
Mermaid Holidays #3: The Bake Off Delphine Davis General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #aWW2019 -September release
Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls Ann M Martin General, #Dymocks52Challenge
The Truth About Stacey Ann M Martin General, #Dymocks52Challenge
Mary Anne Saves the Day Ann M Martin General, #Dymocks52Challenge
While You Were Reading Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019, Popsugar
The Unforgiving City Maggie Joel General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019, Popsugar
Matters of the Heart Fiona Palmer General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019, Jane Austen Challenge
Harry Potter: Spells and Charms: A Movie Scrapbook Judy Revenson General, #Dymocks52Challenge
Mary Poppins She Wrote: The extraordinary life of Australian writer P.L. Travers

 

Valerie Wilson General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019
Kensy and Max: Out of Sight

 

Jacqueline Harvey General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019
The Loneliest Kitten Holly Webb General, #Dymocks52Challenge
The Land of Long Lost Friends

 

Alexander McCall-Smith General, #Dymocks52Challenge
The Lily and the Rose Jackie French General, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019 – reviewed in September.

The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke

the secret dragon.jpgTitle: The Secret Dragon

Author: Ed Clarke

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 6th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: ‘So if you’re not an animal that’s alive today, and you’re not an animal that’s extinct either, what on earth are you?’

Mari Jones is desperate to be a real scientist, even though she’s only eleven. So when she discovers a tiny dragon while fossil hunting on the beach, she’s sure she can find a good scientific explanation – as long as she can keep it hidden enough to study it.

Unfortunately for Mari, this is one secret that doesn’t want to be kept. And as she starts to form a deeper bond with the mischievous dragon, she might have to admit that, when it comes to friendship, science might not have all the answers.

~*~

Since her father died when she was five, Mari has kept mostly to herself, in a world of fossils and dead things, rather than the world of living animals and the farm she lives on with her mother, Rhian. Mari longs to become a scientist, like her father, and leave the farm life behind. While looking for fossils one day, as she dreams of becoming like Mary Anning, she discovers a baby dragon. After meeting the new boy at school, Dylan, she agrees to let him help her study the dragon and keep it a secret.

Bu the little dragon has other ideas, constantly trying to escape to get back to the beach where Mari found it, not caring who sees it or finds out about it. Mari is determined to keep things strictly scientific, yet as she gets to know the dragon and Dylan she discovers that sometimes, friendship is more important than science, and friendship can’t be measured by science either.

The first in a new series set in Wales, The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke brings together the real world and fantasy, in a small Welsh town where dragons exist. It explores themes of friendship through Dylan and Mari, and families as the two kids fight to save Gweeb, the dragon and keep her safe from those who want to harm her, like Ffion and Dr Griff. At its heart is the mystery of Mari’s father as well, and her desire to find something – fossils, science, naming the dragon species and sharing an interest with Dylan. Though at first, they come at it from separate perspectives, they begin to build a friendship that is charming and delightful.

Reading the first book in a new series is interesting, and delightful, because you get to meet the characters as they are, and watch them grow through the book and series, heading off on their adventures with Gweeb. I loved this story, set in the wilds of Wales with a dragon, and new discoveries that start out as science, but become much more.

I also loved it because it’s about friends, with a female lead who wants to follow her passions and makes friends along the way. This is important to show because it shows all kids that their abilities and passions are important, whoever they are, and that they can be friends with whomever they want to be friends with. Also, the presence of dragons makes everything fun and chaotic, a chaos which is balanced nicely with the rest of the novel and the calmer moments, exploring the strained relationship between Mari and her mother at the start of the book.

I am looking forward to seeing where Ed takes Mari, Gweeb and Dylan in the rest of the series.

The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

the blue rose.jpgTitle: The Blue Rose

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Vintage/Penguin Random House

Published: 16th July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Moving between Imperial China and France during the ‘Terror’ of the French Revolution and inspired by the true story of the quest for a blood-red rose.

Viviane de Faitaud has grown up alone at the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, for her father, the Marquis de Ravoisier, lives at the court of Louis XVI in Versailles. After a hailstorm destroys the chateau’s orchards, gardens and fields an ambitious young Welshman, David Stronach, accepts the commission to plan the chateau’s new gardens in the hope of making his name as a landscape designer.
David and Viviane fall in love, but it is an impossible romance. Her father has betrothed her to a rich duke who she is forced to marry, and David is hunted from the property. Viviane goes to court and becomes a maid-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette and a member of the extended royal family. Angry and embittered, David sails away from England with Lord Macartney, the British ambassador, who hopes to open up trade with Imperial China.

In Canton, the British embassy at last receives news from home, including their first 2019 Badgereports of the French Revolution. David hears the story of ‘The Blue Rose’, a Chinese fable of impossible love, and discovers the blood-red rose growing in the wintry garden. He realises that he is still in love with Viviane and must find her.

~*~

Every two years, I eagerly await the new Kate Forsyth book for adults. Usually, this is a fairy tale infused historical fiction, and usually takes inspiration of fairy tales from the European canon, by authors and collector’s such as The Brothers Grimm or lesser known French authors, such as Charlotte Rose de la Force. The Blue Rose, Kate’s 2019 release, is based on a Chinese folk tale of the same name, based around the idea of making the unattainable a possibility. Using this folk tale as her basis, Kate sets her story during the French Revolution, and the discovery of a blood-red rose, discovered in China in 1792 and taken back to Europe.

Starting in 1788, not long before the beginning of the French Revolution, Kate’s story begins with Viviane, daughter of a marquis, meeting a gardener, David Stronach, one of the many historical personages who appear in the novel – whilst Viviane and her family are amongst the only fictional characters who appear. David is tasked with designing a garden for Viviane’s father, and the two form a friendship that blooms into love as the world around them starts to rumble towards a revolution that will change France forever.

When Viviane’s father discovers David and his daughter wish to marry, he drives David away, tells Viviane he is dead and marries her off to a Duke and sends her off to Versailles with her new step-mother to be a maid-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette. Slowly, the rebellions begin to whittle away at the aristocrats, or aristos as they are referred to, and Viviane’s husband is killed. As the revolution moves forward, and Louis, Marie-Antoinette and their children are moved away from Versailles, the upper class are arrested, put on trial and guillotined, David travels to China in search of the blood-red rose.

While Viviane lives in constant threat of being arrested, and guillotined as many people are day after day, she takes refuge as a scullery-maid. David travels to China, where he learns about their culture, and legends of roses and love. Both thinks the other is dead as news trickles slowly back to David about the revolution through his travels. Viviane listens to the daily guillotining of many people, just waiting for her time, and hoping Pierrick, the son of a staff member from her childhood home will find her.

As the book moves between revolutionary France and David’s travels to and around China, the plot is richly gown and told through the characters and history of both countries – Revolutionary France and Imperial China, where traditional practices such as foot binding shock David and the crew, as they have never seen or heard of it before. Kate deftly reflects the reality of shock on David’s part, but uses the Chinese characters such as Father Li that he interacts with to explain what it means culturally. She manages to communicate cultural communication in an exceptional way, and in a way that the reader can understand, but that also reflects not only the different cultures, but the times in which the people lived, whilst still showing each character as an individual in their own right.

Kate is, to me, a genius when it comes to historical fiction, because she gets the balance just right. The characters are flawed and well-rounded, they are individuals who suit their setting and plot, and she infuses her historical setting with fairy or folk tales exceptionally well. When she describes the smells, sights and sounds of revolution and the guillotine, it feels like, as the reader, I was in France at the time. Kate makes it all feel so real, that you can feel the fear, wonder and everything in between as it unfolds on the page. And in China, it was the same, and the feelings of uncertainty filtered throughout both too: what was going to happen, what was it going to be like? This, as well as Kate’s ability to end a chapter or section with a mystery to come, are the things that have me coming back to her books each time one comes out. She pulls together history and mystery in a magical way, where, whilst a love story, is rich with how the historical setting affects the characters, and what they have to go through to survive, to live. The romance is the reward, but the journey is the richness of the story that makes it the romance so satisfying.

I look forward to every Kate Forsyth release, and try to get them all. A new Kate Forsyth book is always a highlight for me and will hopefully be re-reading many of her books very soon.

Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Women Doctors of the Great War by Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

women to the frontTitle: Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Women Doctors of the Great War

Author: Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

Genre: History, Non-Fiction

Publisher: Ebury Press/Penguin Random House

Published: 2nd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $34.99

Synopsis:At the outbreak of World War I, 129 women were registered as medical practitioners in Australia, and many of them were eager to contribute their skills and expertise to the war effort. For the military establishment, however, the notion of women doctors serving on the battlefield was unthinkable. Undaunted, at least twenty-four Australian women doctors ignored official military policy and headed to the frontlines.
This book explores the stories of the Australian women who served as surgeons, pathologists, anaesthetists and medical officers between 1914 and 1919. Despite saving hundreds of lives, their experiences are almost totally absent from official military records, both in Australia and Great Britain, and many of their achievements have remained invisible for over a century. Until now.
Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee have compiled a fascinating and meticulously researched account of the Great War, seen through the eyes of these women and their essential work. From the Eastern to the Western Fronts, to Malta, and to London, we bear witness to the terrible conditions, the horrific injuries, the constant danger, and above all, the skill and courage displayed by this group of remarkable Australians. Women to the Front is a war story unlike any other.

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I spent many years in high school and university studying history – modern and ancient, and across Australia, Europe and the Middle East, Rome and Greece when it came to Ancient History – at least when it came to courses. Beyond that, I have tried to read diversely, to fill in the gaps of a predominantly male driven historical record where women and other groups were not always present, or at least, not acknowledged. The one course I studied that was perhaps the most diverse – yet still concise due to the twelve week semester – was women’s history, where each lesson covered a different aspect and practice across the world, and where our further reading, text books and assignments gave a broader view of practices such as foot binding, sati, or widow burning, and many others that informed and built on my knowledge.

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Yet when it came to Australian history, I heard about the suffragettes but I learnt about them in depth in Society and Culture, and learned much more about World War One and Two in history – from the Australian, British and German perspectives across years ten, eleven and twelve. I learned about the causes, the battles, and the key figures. I learned that women were part of the war effort on the home front and as nurses – but not much else.

So when I came across Women to the Front, I was overjoyed because here was the book that would have made some of what I studied more interesting. Here, I discovered one hundred and twenty-nine women doctors went to the various theatres of war as surgeons and anaesthetists, pathologists and medical officers – not just nurses. These one hundred and twenty-nine women did not let the patriarchal system wear them down or chase them from the medical profession – they pushed forward, became doctors in the decades leading up to the war and volunteered to go.

At first, of course, they were often denied. They were called ‘lady doctors’, the assumption being they couldn’t handle the battlefield reality the men heading over would face. Of course, these 129 women went on to prove the society wrong. These women were serving their country and doing their jo, a job they loved doing and that at the time, was probably not as common as it is today, due to societal expectations from parents, and all those around them, often based on class. Books like this – fiction and non-fiction, driven by women and what they can do, not just romance, are amongst my favourite because they fly in the face of what is expected or assumed women will do and like. Allowing girls and women to read and access stories like this is important because it allows them to see what they can do and be beyond what popular culture often shows.

Their stories are collected here in five parts, each divided into a year of the war, and from there, into chapters that are then divided by theatre and location for each woman or several women who worked together. From Gallipoli to Ypres and Passchendaele, the battlefields of France and Belgium, and the many men they helped and treated after battles, this book tells the stories that I wish we had learned about in history, or at least been given a side box on in text books to investigate on our own for assignments – which I tried to do for one on war memorials in Sydney – but found that for the one I wanted to do, I could not access enough information to write a decent report.

These days, we are getting more diverse historical accounts, and whilst many of these women were white and had British heritage, it is still important to read and know these stories – it shows that the war was experienced by more than just men at the front or doctors. So these stories about women doctors from Ruth Lee and Heather Sheard are an important addition to the historical record, and could be used as a text book, or even placed on a reading list for a history course that touches on or focuses on World War One.

At the end of the book, there is a biography of each woman. Some are shorter than others, so much like anyone in history, sometimes more is known about one than another, yet each has their own unique story. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I’m continuously seeking the untold histories that were either ignored or erased by those who wrote the history books.