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.

~*~

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.

Lintang and the Pirate Queen by Tamara Moss

Lintang 1Title: Lintang and the Pirate Queen

Author: Tamara Moss

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 31st July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99

Synopsis:Lintang dreams of having adventures on the high seas.

When a deadly mythie attacks the same day the infamous Captain Shafira visits her island, Lintang gets her chance, defending her village with a bravery that earns her a place on the pirate queen’s ship.

But they’ve barely left the island when Lintang discovers her best friend, Bayani, has stowed away. Telling Captain Shafira means betraying her friend, but keeping Bayani’s secret risks everything . . . including their lives.

~*~

Lintang of the Twin Islands is adventurous, a quality her teacher and parents are trying to keep her in line, so their worlds remain calm. Yet one day, Lintang’s island is visited by a mythie called malam rasha, or night terror. Lintang defeats the malam rasha against advice and is chosen by Captain Shafira to join her on a voyage. What that voyage is exactly, is revealed slowly, and this adds to the excitement whilst reading the book to find out where they are headed.

When Lintang discovers that her friend, Bayani has stowed away, she must keep him safe and not reveal his location to the captain. When he is discovered, Lintang finds herself relegated to a position where Bayani doesn’t share anything with her and has secrets with Shafira – secrets that will lead to the climax of the novel and unearth secrets about the mythies that nobody saw coming, nor does everyone seem to understand.

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Shafira, Bayani and Lintang are led on a dangerous journey to uncover various secrets that nobody ever knew existed, or were possible, to a land where the strict rules mean they cannot seek refuge, but must help uncover a deception that has leaked into the crew – and that will lead to events that almost have tragic consequences.

The first in a series I would like to continue, this is an exciting series with a female lead that all readers can engage with and follow her adventures. It combines diversity, with mythology, pirates, and draws on traditions and languages present in our world to create the world Lintang inhabits.

Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey

kensy and max 3.jpgTitle: Kensy and Max: Undercover

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Spies/Adventure

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 5th March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: How do you keep your head in the game when someone wants you gone? When those dearest to you are far away and the future is so uncertain . . .

Kensy and Max are back in London for no time at all before things begin to heat up – quite literally. As a result, Granny Cordelia ships them off to Australia on an undercover mission. The twins find themselves planted in a posh Sydney school where first appearances prove to be deceiving.

What seems like a straightforward assignment turns into something so much bigger. Kensy and Max must employ all their spy skills – the fate of their parents, and who they’ve been searching for, depends on it.

~*~



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When Kensy and Max’s London home is destroyed, their grandmother, and the head of spy agency, Pharos, sends them off to Sydney on an undercover mission. Here, they must befriend Ellery and Donovan Chalmers, and find out what their parents are up to and why. To do so, they will attend the same school, where they also become friends with wannabe spy, Curtis, who is their neighbour, join the choir, and Max becomes a cricket whiz. But in the midst of their success at school, they are worried about their parents, and where they are. The people their parents are looking for are somehow connected to what Kensy and Max are looking into, and it will be up to the intrepid twins and Curtis to find out.

 

Since the first time I picked up a Kensy and Max book, I have loved them. They are perfect for anyone to read, and it is the kind of series that I wish I had had as a kid, because Kensy and Max are not typical kids, and not typical of what we expect a boy and a girl to be – they are unique and filled with faults, and this is why they are great characters. Because they are allowed to be who they are and make mistakes. Also, being able to travel the world so much is pretty cool, and training to be a spy is a childhood dream of many kids that is captured by Curtis in this novel, and his determination to solve the mysterious goings on around him – and maybe he will be one of the best assets Kensy and Max have ever had.

As Kensy, Max, Fitz and Song investigate the Chalmers, hints are dropped about Annabel and Edward through, and Annabel’s parents – will Kensy and Max finally be reunited with their parents, and find out what really happened to Annabel’s parents? It is this mystery that has driven the first three books, and I did cheer at the end of this book, and look forward to the next book and where we go with Kensy and Max. It is a fantastic series and I really hope Curtis shows up again – he’s awesome and I loved his friendship with Kensy – he’d fit right in at Pharos, I think.

At first, the twins think their mission is simple: find out what Tinsley Chalmers is up to. Yet things get more complicated, and the chapters that feature characters other than Kensy and Max cleverly reveal secrets slowly and lead up to a conclusion that I never saw coming. We soon learn who the twins need to look at more closely, though. The mystery and all its elements are written so well and work together to create a mystery that even our adorable twins have no idea they’re going to uncover. But when they do, will it be one they wish they had, or one that is best kept secret?

With twists, turns and secrets, this series is an excellent spy series – it’s spy kids, and I love it. I’m also enjoying learning about ciphers as I go, and ways spies communicate. It’s the kind of series kids and anyone rally, can read and enjoy thoroughly.

Clementine Rose and the Bake Off Dilemma (#14) by Jacqueline Harvey

clementine rose 14.jpgTitle: Clementine Rose and the Bake Off Dilemma (#14)

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 3rd December 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 145

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Clementine Rose is bursting with plans for the school holidays! But with the announcement that a new cooking show will be filmed in the village, everything changes. While Clementine is disappointed that her activities have been cancelled, she soon has an idea and takes to the kitchen in a baking frenzy. If only her mother wasn’t feeling so sick and could help out when things turn sticky.

Everyone wants to be a part of the show – especially Mrs Bottomley! – and it doesn’t take long before temperatures are running high. With the main event being held at Penberthy House, Clementine has the inside scoop and spies some surprising behaviour from the contestants. Will she uncover a secret? And will the show be a flop, or a scrumptious success?

~*~

Six-year-old Clementine Rose lives with her mother, step-father, step-bother, aunt and grandparents at Penberthy House. It’s school holidays, and Clementine has all kinds of plans to have lots of fun. But her family home, Penberthy Hall, has been chosen to host the Great Village Bake Off – and all Clementine’s activities are put off. That is, until she decides to participate in the bake-off. Disheartened to find out she is too young, Clementine convinces those in charge to run a mini junior bake-off as well, and she sets about finding the perfect cake. If only her mother wasn’t so sick. But then Clementine and her brother stumble across nefarious activities and goings on with at least one bake-off contestant after they notice all the other contestants’ bakes are always going wrong – but who – or what is behind it and why? It is up to Clementine and Will to find out – and to stop cheating in the junior bake-off as well!

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I came to Jacqueline Harvey earlier this year with Kensy and Max – and thoroughly enjoyed the first two in that series and am keen for the next ones when they come out – hopefully soon. But this was my first adventure with Clementine Rose, a series aimed at younger readers who are just starting to read alone, and gain confidence in their reading abilities. This is book fourteen in the series, and I found it utterly charming. Clementine is a delightful little girl, who partakes in activities such as baking and ballet, but shows a determination to do things on her own and with her brother, like investigating the strange goings on at the bake-off, and uncovering the secrets behind the catastrophes. What will they uncover, and how will people react?

I loved this book – it was charming, and a quick read for young children, or anyone who wants a quick and fun read at any time of the year. Clementine Rose is the kind of character that shows children of all ages and genders that they can do whatever they want if they put their mind to it – she doesn’t let anything stop her, but she still knows to ask for help when she needs it, but that’s what makes her great – she knows what she can do on her own and knows what her limits are and this shows kids that they can be just like her. I loved Clementine Rose, and I enjoy Jacqueline’s style of writing.

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The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson, based on the original tales by Beatrix Potter

christmas tale of peter rabbit.jpgTitle: The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit
Author: Emma Thompson, based on the original tales by Beatrix Potter.
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Publisher: Warne/Penguin Random House
Published: 19th November 2018
Format: Hardcover/Board book
Pages: 72
Price: $16.99
Synopsis:. A wonderful new board book edition of The Christmas Tale of
Rabbits are always very uppity during the Christmas season, and Peter Rabbit was no exception.’
Emma Thompson continues the adventures of Peter Rabbit in this board book edition of a super new Christmas tale. It is almost Christmas and Peter Rabbit cannot contain his excitement. After he upsets yet another bowl of mincemeat, Mrs Rabbit sends Peter on an errand. He bumps into his cousin, Benjamin Bunny, and a feathered friend who makes an alarming announcement which throws Benjamin and Peter together in a race against time and the scary McGregors.
And so, our Christmas Tale begins…
Will the friends’ rabbity ingenuity save their friend from an unsavoury end?
Brilliantly told by Emma Thompson and charmingly illustrated by Eleanor Taylor, Peter Rabbit is back with a hilarious cast of characters. This time our story is set in Beatrix Potter’s beloved Lake District.
Emma Thompson, Oscar-winning actress and screen writer is a long-time admirer of Beatrix Potter’s tales. She has a talent for creating engaging narratives with a dry humour similar to Potter’s own and is the perfect choice of author for this new Peter Rabbit tale.

~*~

Rabbits love Christmas, so the stories go, and as has been witnessed by Beatrix Potter. Of course, the most well-known of rabbits is no exception, and he has revealed it to none other than Emma Thompson, Nanny McPhee and Professor Trelawney herself (amongst many spectacular roles in other films) – for a new generation – and let’s face it – anyone who grew up on the original tales as well. In this story, Peter and Benjamin cross paths – as they inevitably do in the other tales – gathering items for Christmas for their mothers. Together. they decide to have a bit of fun and follow William the Turkey into the Great Forbidden Place – Mr McGregor’s Garden! We all remember the line from the original, where Mrs Rabbit warns her delightfully good girls – Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail -and naughty little boy – Peter – not to enter Mr McGregor’s garden lest they meet the same fate as their father – being baked into a pie by Mrs McGregor.
And of course, this is where the fun and laughter start, as William tells Peter and Benjamin that Mrs McGregor has been feeding him quite well – as he is to attend Christmas dinner with the McGregors – just not in the way he thinks he will be. It is up to our brave little rabbits to break it to William that in fact, he is not to be a guest, but the main meal. And so, what follows is a series of attempts to hide William and save him from the slaughter. All their attempts are comical, seeing as they are very small rabbits, and William is a very big, fat turkey. It is their eventual success that brings joy to the animals, and they rush home for their rabbity Christmas.
Emma Thompson’s writing style matches Beatrix Potter’s so well, I cannot imagine who else would be the right person to take on the challenge of reinvigorating these beloved characters, and the illustrator, Eleanor Taylor, captures the magic of the original Beatrix Potter water colours too, with vibrant colours that evoke the old stories.
This charming tale, with the happy, and funny ending, ensures laughter and delight for the holidays, and a return to nature and the world of Peter Rabbit, the charming, yet naughty bundle of fur we all love.

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Total Quack Up by Sally Rippin, Deborah Abela, Jacqueline Harvey, Oliver Phommavanh, R.A. Spratt, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Adrian Beck, Tristan  Bancks and Matt Stanton

total quack up.jpgTitle: Total Quack Up

Author: Sally Rippin, Deborah Abela, Jacqueline Harvey, Oliver Phommavanh, R.A. Spratt, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Adrian Beck, Tristan  Bancks and Matt Stanton

Genre: Children’s fiction/humour

Publisher:  Penguin Random House/Puffin

Published: 15th October, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: 14.99

Synopsis: Authors Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck have gathered together an awesome line-up of writers and their funniest stories. Not only will the stories make you laugh out loud and feel good, royalties from sales of the book go to Dymocks Children’s Charities – so you can feel extra good!

Total Quack Up! features stories from Deborah Abela, Tristan Bancks, Adrian Beck, Jacqueline Harvey, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Oliver Phommavanh, Sally Rippin, R.A. Spratt and Matt Stanton, plus a prize-winning story from a child!

~*~

Total Quack Up is a new anthology of short stories aimed at children, and published by Puffin for the Dymocks Children’s Charities, with royalties going towards these charities to help children learn to read and engage with reading. In these stories, there are superheroes, animals and magic, as well as robots and siblings, and practical jokes – all the things that kids find enjoyable and funny, in stories that they will enjoy and engage with, at all levels.

Each story is a quick read, starting with How to Be A Superhero by Deborah Abela – and ending with a story from a schoolkid, Ella Wallace, who won a competition to be included in the anthology. Each story stars a child as the protagonist, navigating life at school, at sport, or as a superhero, and with family, friends and siblings. Written by some of Australia’s most popular male and female authors, this makes my count for the Australian Women Writers Challenge seventy – with another review to write for a quiz book, and many more reviews to come – I hope. This will be included in my next challenge catch up post.

AWW-2018-badge-roseWith a uniqueness to each story, every reader who picks up this book will find a story and character they will enjoy, love and laugh with. From Arabella von Champion, a superhero who sees herself as extraordinary and is quite daring, to the little brother at the end who blocks up the dunny with everything imaginable, and the soccer team with the pig as a mascot – all other animals are banned from the sports field, to everything in between from some of the best-loved Australian authors, and some new voices to discover between these red covers, all aimed at raising money to help with children’s charities in Australia.

The variety of stories shows just how diverse and eclectic Australian authors are, and how different stories and characters will appeal to different children, and what will hook them into reading. This book offers bite-sized pieces of Australian talent for new readers to discover, and for old readers of these authors who have enjoyed their previous works and books over the years, and for the adults who would have read some as children, now able to pass these authors down.

Another great book aimed at kids, and with stories to enjoy and laugh with, I hope all those who get to read this enjoy it.

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