Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Australia's Sweetheart.jpgTitle: Australia’s Sweetheart

Author: Michael Adams

Genre: Biography

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 29th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 404

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: This is the fascinating story of Mary Maguire, a 1930s Australian ingenue who sailed for Hollywood and a fabulous life, only to have her career cut short by scandal and tragedy. Packed with celebrity, history and gossip, AUSTRALIA’S SWEETHEART is perfect for readers of SHEILA and THE RIVIERA SET.

Mary Maguire was Australia’s first teenage movie star and she captivated Hollywood in the mid 1930s. Mary lived on three continents and was celebrated in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Los Angeles and London. Her life was lived in parallel with seminal incidents of the twentieth century: the Spanish Flu; the Great Depression; the Bodyline series; Australia’s early radio, talkies and aviation; Hollywood’s Golden Era; the British aristocracy’s embrace of European fascism; London’s Blitz; and post-war American culture and politics. Mary knew everyone, from Douglas Jardine, Don Bradman, Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan, to William Randolph Hearst, Maureen O’Sullivan and Judy Garland.

AUSTRALIA’S SWEETHEART in an irresistible never-before-told story that captures the glamour of Hollywood and the turbulent times of the twentieth century, with a young woman at its centre.

~*~

These days, it’s very hard to imagine Hollywood not being infiltrated by Australians. Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Heath Ledger, Margot Robbie and many more these days. But where did it all start? Who were the Australians who led the way, and paved the now well-trodden path that many Australian actors and actresses walk to Hollywood? The book I am about to review from Hachette is about Australia’s first teenage movie star – and her journey from small, local films in Australia, to captivating Hollywood in the 1930s, in a time of growing uncertainty in Europe. Throughout her life, Mary would live across three continents, and would be celebrated in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Los Angeles and London. She lived through events such as The Spanish Flu, The Great Depression and The Bodyline series. she saw the development of radio in Australia, talkies (films with sound) and aviation. She starred in films during Hollywood’s Golden Era and saw the British aristocracy – including her own husband – embrace European fascism and lived through London’s Blitz and post-war American culture and politics. She knew so many people that today, we know by name from film and history, but these times were also turbulent and uncertain for Mary, and Michael Adams carefully explores these in this biography.

When Mary Maguire’s stardom began, the world was falling at her feet, and her journey to America would be the beginning of many more Australians flocking to Hollywood to make their fortunes. Perhaps her influence also had an influence on the film industry at home, which over the past decades has produced memorable films such as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Moulin Rouge, The Dish and many more, and renowned directors such as Baz Luhrmann. These are stories we know about, and figures and movies that are always in our consciousness as Australians these days. But where did all this come from? From many places, but Mary Maguire was one of those people, and her story has been one that has been widely unknown until now.

This was a fascinating story to read, because it reveals an unknown story, of a woman who might be known to older generations, but has possibly been hidden from history, or simply ignored or forgotten until recently. A story that contributes in many ways to our entertainment history, but also a sense of what people went through during the 1930s and 1940s and the cut-throat world of Hollywood: how short careers could be, and the lengths people went to remain in films and maintain their career – keeping to a specific look and weight were important, and it seemed that whilst male actors maintained lengthy careers, female actors like Mary and Judy Garland might have had shorter ones – with factors like age, marriage and motherhood hinting at why they might not have the same success at thirty as they might at twenty. Nevertheless, it seems after suffering tuberculosis, her first husband being sent to jail, and losing her son, Mary attempted a comeback, but then decided to live a quieter life, though she still spent some time in the papers, with major events in her life being reported when they happened.

Mary Maguire’s life is fascinating and complex, from performing in her home town to starring in movies and being suspected of pro-fascist sentiments by MI5 during World War Two, and her struggles with illness and her marriage, to a second, more peaceful marriage in her later years. The whole time she was supported by her parents and sisters, who would eventually join her in London and America. It is a fascinatingly complex story, with too many layers to go into here. Each layer added something to who Mary would become, from a carefree young girl taking dance classes, to one with stars in her eyes and finally, to a woman who led a quiet, if troubled life until she died. She had suspicions follow her during the war years. In these days, she would be misquoted by the media – something not uncommon today either. She is an important figure because it shows how Australians were treated and seen in Hollywood, and perhaps the novelty that young Mary was at first. At the same time, the political dealings of her first husband darkened her later life, and knowing how she pulled through shows the strength of her character as a woman and an Australian.

Booktopia

All the Tears in China (Rowland Sinclair #9) by Sulari Gentill

3D-Cover_C-format_ATTIC.pngTitle: All the Tears in China

Author: Sulari Gentill

Genre: Historical Crime

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 21st January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 375

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Shanghai in 1935 is a twentieth-century Babylon, an expatriate playground where fortunes are made and lost, where East and West collide, and the stakes include life itself.

Into this, Rowland Sinclair arrives from Sydney to represent his brother at international wool negotiations. Rowland is under strict instructions to commit to nothing
 but a brutal murder makes that impossible.

As suspicion falls on him, Rowland enters a desperate bid to find answers in a city as glitzy as it is dangerous, where tai-pans and tycoons rule, and politics and vice are entwined with commerce.

Once again, the only people Rowland can truly trust are an artist, a poet and a free-spirited sculptress.

“A sparkling crime series
 Evelyn Waugh meets Agatha Christie
” – THE AGE

~*~

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In the ninth outing with Rowland Sinclair, and his three friends – Jew, Communist and poet – Elias Isaacs, known as Milton Isaacs, the sculptress, Edna Higgins and landscape artist – Clyde Watson-Jones – find themselves in China, on a wool trading expedition for Rowly’s older brother, Wilfred. Instead, Rowly is first attacked in light of the events of the previous book, where Rowly helped out Egon Kisch – twice – and then, meets a young woman who says her name is Alexandra Romanova – a taxi girl who is supposedly rumoured to be the lost princess Anastasia – in 1935, almost twenty years after the Russian Revolution, rumours still abound about one Romanov royal escaping the death squad, but there are also those who believe the truth – is found dead in Rowly’s suite. He is then suspected by the local inspector of murdering Alexandra, as does her brother, Sergei. It is the presence of this Russian family in Shanghai illustrates the rise of Communism and the dangers in Germany, and threats from Japan to China build the backbone to this story.

Inspector Randolph, and several others behind the scenes, are convinced, based on circumstances, that Rowly is guilty. With very little evidence, Rowly is sent to the Ward Road Gaol, where the treatment of prisoners is awful, and where he is mistreated, and where the warden is determined to make his time there terrible – and those who are involved in trying to destroy the Sinclair name, and the lengths they will go to.

Rowly and his friends find themselves in an ever-changing world of politics – fascists, Communists, Nazis, and the rise of Hitler, and the clashes of the New and Old Guard back home in Australia, and conservative brother, Wilfred, trying to pull Rowly to his side of politics and away from his friends, yet Rowly is still wary of becoming involved in either side of politics and the extremes of both sides that bubbled and brewed over decades and culminated in World War Two – events that seem to be mirrored in events today, with the rise of similar groups on either side, with some more prominent than others, and leaders with certain attitudes that Rowly would find absolutely abhorrent. The books are eerily starting to mirror what is happening today – or maybe today’s events are starting to mirror the times Rowly is living through. Or it could be a combination of both.

With each Rowland Sinclair mystery, we move closer to the darker days of the Third Reich, Kristallnacht, and World War Two, and everything that came with those years in Europe, and within the tumultuous 1930s and 1940s, and the inevitability of war, and the question of what Rowland will do – the choices he will eventually have to make.

I started reading the Rowland Sinclair series with book two, when the New South Wales Writer’s Centre sent me a copy to review. Since then, I have read and reviewed every book in the series. It is one pf my favourites – trouble seems to find Rowly all the time whether he goes looking for it or not. A reluctant player in political circles and at times, crime solving – though with the latter, his gentlemanly sense of justice and finding out the truth often wins out – Rowly certainly has managed over nine books to endear himself to readers and fans, has been injured many times across the series in his quest to uncover the truth and solve crimes that he more often than not stumbles into, such as finding a body in his suite, and has frequently frustrated his older brother, Wilfred. In this ninth outing, Wilfred is not physically present throughout much of the book, less so than in others, yet the sense that he is watching somehow is still felt. The Rowland Sinclair series is a charming, historical crime fiction series, peppered with historical figures in each book that are relevant to the plot and the political happenings at the time – events that have an uncertainty about them, and confirm Rowly’s suspicion of politics and his genuine desire to simply help people – though he draws the line at Nazis.

The Rowland Sinclair mysteries are a wonderfully unique and Australian series that incorporates diversity throughout in the characters that Rowland and his friends encounter, and that infuses Australian and world history into a story where a crime takes place, and that makes it accessible and understandable to readers who may not have encountered some of these events in history – and delves into them in a way that is interesting and informative. Most people will be familiar with the 1930s events in Europe and Australia but might not be familiar with China of the 1930s – this novel will introduce them to it.

The compelling and colourful narrative that Sulari creates in All the Tears in China and indeed across the whole series is engaging and delightful. It’s a series that I never tire of reading and talking about, and that is also exciting and engaging. Nine books in, and we are only just in 1935 – but we are inching closer to the events that lead to World War Two, and the eventual war that will divide the world and lead to millions of deaths in concentration camps and on the battlefield. Another great book in a spectacular series that has a very wide fanbase who eagerly await the new book each year.

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Amazing Australian Women: Twelve Women Who Shaped History by Pamela Freeman and Sophie Beer

amazing australian womenTitle: Amazing Australian Women: Twelve Women Who Shaped History

Author: Pamela Freeman and Sophie Beer

Genre: Children’s Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hachette/Lothian

Published: 28th August 2018

Format: Hardback

Pages: 32

Price: $26.99

Synopsis: A bright and colourful look at twelve incredible Australian women who helped shape our country, from politics and the arts to Indigenous culture, science and more.

Meet twelve amazing Australian women who have changed the world, in small ways and large.

Some of them are world famous, like Annette Kellerman and Nellie Melba.

Some of them are famous in Australia, like Mary Reibey and Edith Cowan.

All of them deserve to be famous and admired.

These women are the warriors who paved the way for the artists, business owners, scientists, singers, politicians, actors, sports champions, adventurers, activists and innovators of Australia today.

The featured women are:
Mary Reibey, convict and businesswoman
Tarenore, Indigenous resistance fighter
Mary Lee, suffragist
Nellie Melba, opera singer
Edith Cowan, politician
Tilly Aston, teacher, writer and disability activist
Rose Quong, actress, lecturer and writer
Elizabeth Kenny, nurse and medical innovator
Annette Kellerman, swimmer and movie star
Lores Bonney, aviation pioneer
Emily Kame Kngwarreye, artist
Ruby Payne-Scott, scientist

~*~

History is filled with amazing people and stories that for some reason, we’ve never heard of, never read, and never seen. Whatever the reason, many of these previously unknown or hidden stories and figures are being revealed now, and it is making the study of history that much more interesting – though I have always loved it, knowing some of the stories coming out now would definitely have made things more interesting to dig into and discover. As part of this movement, especially in promoting the histories of women in all walks of life, Hachette have released this picture book today by Pamela Freeman and Sophie Beer, Amazing Australian Women: Twelve Women Who Shaped History.

 

The women included in this new book cover each state and territory in Australia and come from various backgrounds, and occupations, covering recorded Australian history from 1788 onwards. Mary Reiby, a convict and businesswoman opens the book, and from their it moves onto Indigenous women like Tarenore, an Indigenous resistance fighter – a story I would like to know more about and that should be taught in history because it is a part of our history as well as the usual facts and events we learn about. There suffragists such as Mary Lee – not as well-known as other suffragettes such as Edith Cowan or Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, but no less important, and many other lesser known women whose stories might not have been shared before. In fact, of the twelve in the book, the only two I had learnt about through my own reading and studies were opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, and Sister Elizabeth Kenny -nurse and medical innovator. So, finding out a little bit about these other women was refreshing, and any of these women – had I known a bit more about them – would have made for excellent research projects in history courses and classes where topics and questions for essays were not pre-determined.

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This book runs the spectrum of scientists, artists, political activists and businesswomen who all had a role to play in shaping our country into what it is today. It is these stories that need to be told in history class alongside what we are already taught about the ANZACs, the world wars, Federation and other aspects of Australia’s history from 1788 onwards. It tells unknown and known stories, sparking an early interest in history, but also, acting as a starting point for research so anyone wishing to read more has a starting point for names and dates to track down more on people they might not have heard about otherwise.

Adding lesser known stories to history – especially when it comes to groups often ignored by the official records or at least, marginalised by them – allows history to become richer, and more complex and much more interesting, diverse and more of a shared history, because it allows us to explore a world beyond what we have been taught. Pamela Freeman writes historical fiction for adults as Pamela Hart, with strong female characters who do not let the confines of what is expected of them define who they are, and they forge their own paths through their lives – yet still have to work within some of the confines imposed upon them, they manage to break out of some. Exposing children early – whatever their gender – to these sorts of stories about people who weren’t what society expected of them not only shows that the stereotypes are not real, but that history is actually diverse and interesting.

A great picture book and introduction to significant women who contributed to Australian history and society.

Six Tudor Queens #3: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

haunted queen.jpgTitle: Six Tudor Queens #3: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen

Author: Alison Weir

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Headline Review

Published: 8th May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 532

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The third stunning novel in the Six Tudor Queens series by foremost and beloved historian Alison Weir

JANE SEYMOUR: THE HAUNTED QUEEN by historian Alison Weir, author of the Sunday Times bestsellers KATHERINE OF ARAGON: THE TRUE QUEEN and ANNE BOLEYN: A KING’S OBSESSION, is the third enthralling novel in the SIX TUDOR QUEENS series. A fascinating look at Henry VIII’s third wife. Essential reading for fans of Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick.

‘Weir is excellent on the little details that bring a world to life’ Guardian

THE WOMAN HAUNTED BY THE FACE OF HER PREDECESSOR.

Eleven days after the death of Anne Boleyn, Jane is dressing for her wedding to the King.

She has witnessed at first-hand how courtly play can quickly turn to danger and knows she must bear a son . . . or face ruin.

This new queen must therefore step out from the shadows cast by Katherine and Anne – in doing so, can she expose a gentler side to the brutal King?

JANE SEYMOUR
THE THIRD OF HENRY’S QUEENS

HER STORY

Acclaimed, bestselling historian Alison Weir draws on new research for her captivating novel, which paints a compelling portrait of Jane and casts fresh light on both traditional and modern perceptions of her. Jane was driven by the strength of her faith and a belief that she might do some good in a wicked world.

History tells us how she died.
This spellbinding novel explores the life she lived.

~*~

Jane Seymour was third wife of King Henry VIII during Tudor times in the 1500s, and she married him eleven days after Anne Boleyn was beheaded. But Jane’s story of her time at court began in 1529, when at the age of twenty, she was sent to be a lady in waiting to Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, for whom she came to respect deeply and was very loyal to her. Things changed over the next six years as Henry divorced Katherine to marry Anne Boleyn – and Jane was witness to this and the harsh treatment Henry doled out to Katherine and daughter, Mary, to declare the marriage wrong and his daughter illegitimate. Jane’s loyalty to Katherine was soon pushed aside – to keep the peace – when Henry married Anne 1533 – a three-year marriage during which Anne gave birth to a daughter – Elizabeth – and miscarried two children and gave birth to a still born son. Jane became queen in the years after – until her death twelve days after the birth of her son Edward in 1537, which is where the novel ends.

Alison Weir’s third book in this series focuses on Jane’s rise to a position she never dreamed or thought she would obtain. It covers her entire life at court, and her family’s pushing to get her to allow the King’s attentions, and their eventual joy at her marriage and pregnancies, the last of which results in the heir that Henry so desperately wants. As it is a historical novel, it is known that Jane dies – yet not what her life at court was like.

We see her serve two queens in this novel – two very different queens, and this tests her loyalties to the true queen, and again to Anne, during difficult times in her marriage, and when Henry starts to take notice of Jane – she does her best to encourage his loyalty to Anne, whilst following the demands and expectation of her family to allow Henry’s attentions, but also, to keep a safe distance. So for most of the book, Jane grapples with her hatred for what Anne did to Katherine, whilst trying to reconcile what she is doing. It is an intriguing novel, and as Alison Weir notes at the end, one she speculated on a bit, based on research and lack of facts, and varying interpretations – such as the ones about Jane’s character that show her as compliant, virtuous and an instrument of an ambitious family – Jane’s marriage to Henry ensured powerful positions for her brothers, or as one who took part in Anne’s downfall, and as ambitious as her family members – something, Weir notes, that has no middle ground and that Weir has found historians must choose a side – in this novel, I felt she chose the former, showing Jane’s ambition but also her loyalty, and how she felt when things were hidden from her, such as what really happened to Anne.

Within the realms of this novel, Alison plays with the idea that the hurried marriage after Anne’s death was due to Jane being pregnant – as Weir states, Jane Seymour’s life and biography is not always complete, so there are times she has imagined what had to happen using the cues in her research and gaps in history – much the same as she did with Jane’s death – she took her research to a medical professional, to posit a possible diagnosis – the results of which make reading the author’s note interesting as well.

This was a novel that was rich with character and history, showing that this period of history is more complex than is usually told in other books and media. Jane’s story ties in with the first two books in the series – Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen and Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession. It would be interesting to read those to see how Jane fares and plots that link up in each one, and the characters who are woven into each one, and who I can only wonder if they’ll appear in the next three in the series. Jane’s story is quite interesting – I did some research after reading and found that Henry only married again three years after her death – which left me wondering, as did the way he is seen in this novel – if Jane was someone he truly loved – her sudden death would have pained him, as Alison Weir shows.

I thought Alison did an excellent job of showing as many sides to all the characters as possible, making them interesting and evocative as they moved through a court that faced conflict, plague and issues of religion, and family loyalty and pressure. As Jane goes through her brief reign as queen, she is haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn – and throughout these sleepless nights, we come to learn her fears and nightmares – which make the novel all the more intriguing and well worth the read if you are interested in this area of history.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

the war I finally won.jpgTitle: The War I Finally Won

Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Genre: Children’s/YA, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 2nd October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Like the classic heroines of literature, Ada wins our hearts as she continues her World War II adventures after the Newbery Honor–winning The War that Saved My Life.

When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—crippled in her mind as well as in her body. But who is she, she wonders?

Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their guardian, Susan, in a cottage in the English countryside, on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton and her daughter, Maggie, Ada’s dearest friend. Life in the crowded cottage is tense. Then Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? Everyone is horrified. Ada must decide—where do her loyalties lie?

The War I Finally Won is the marvellous conclusion to Ada’s powerful, uplifting story.

~*~

Ada’s life has changed since she ran away from home, where her mother kept her locked up and punished her for being born with a club-foot. Living as an evacuee with her brother, Jamie, and their guardian, Susan, Ada’s journey is not yet complete. Though she has had her foot fixed, and she now knows she is not what her mother said she was, she must find a way to discover who she is. As the war comes closer to British shores, Ada and Jamie’s lives alter significantly, and many changes uproot their lives. When Lady Thorton moves in with them because her home is commandeered for the war effort, Ada feels the safety and comfort she has begun to get used to feel threatened. Only Maggie’s presence and Susan’s understanding seems to calm her through times of turmoil and worrying about Jamie and feeling like she still has to take care of everyone. Soon, Ada becomes accustomed to having Maggie’s mother around, because it means Maggie gets to visit for school holidays. But when Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany arrives, Ada is caught between loyalty to those she loves and fiercely protects and welcoming another young girl who has been forced out of her home and away from all she loves. Soon, Ada discovers a way to be who she is and help Ruth adjust. It is a war she must fight within herself, whilst another war rages on outside – discovering who she is and overcoming the horrors of her past to find peace.

In the wonderful and touching conclusion to Ada’s story, The War I Finally Won, has Ada still struggling with her mother’s words, but finding ways to cope with her anxiety around events she is unfamiliar with. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has taken a devastating war and used it as the backdrop to personal wars – Ada, Mrs Thorton and Susan – and tenderly dealt with disability, both physical and mental, wars, death, love and loss, all through the eyes of an orphaned child during World War Two, and her brother, who can see and accept love for what it is – though Ada’s struggle to love easily is part of the story, and her vulnerability and confusion are ever-present.

Each character in the story is fighting a war. They are all involved and connected to World War Two – as evacuees, as hosts, as a mother and wife to a husband and son who are fighting in the war, a war of loss and of love, and identity wars, to find who they are in a new and frightening world. When the safety Ada is getting used to is threatened, she feels the war anew, and it is Lady Thorton who steps in to help her through it. Ada finds that in this new place in Kent, she has people who care about her: the Thortons, Maggie, Ruth, and Susan – she has always had Jamie, who does what he can to help his big sister throughout both books.

Like the first book, this one dealt with what are difficult themes in an eloquent and thoughtful way, approaching it so that readers of all ages can understand what is going on at their level and through their experiences. Through these characters, the personal and physical war is experienced in different ways, and learning to love and understand others is a key theme in the book.

With a satisfying yet realistic ending, The War I Finally Won is a great way to end Ada’s battle.

Booktopia

Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn

into the worldTitle: Into the World

Author: Stephanie Parkyn

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st December 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Abandoned by her lover and fleeing the wrath of her family, Marie-Louise must make a desperate choice. Find a man or become one.

  1. In the midst of the French Revolution, unwed mother Marie-Louise Girardin takes one last look at her baby son before entrusting him to her friend, the revolutionary Olympe de Gouges. She must escape, and only the most daring plan will bring her both the anonymity she needs and the independence to return one day for her son.Marie-Louise disguises herself as a man and joins a voyage of exploration employed as a steward on the Recherche, one of two ships commissioned to journey to the Great Southern Ocean to find the missing explorer La Perouse.

    Protecting her identity throughout, Marie-Louise forms friendships among the eccentric naturalists. But tensions rise between the royalist officers and the revolutionaries, and Marie-Louise’s position becomes precarious when she discovers someone on board knows the secrets of her past. When the expedition docks in Java, chaos erupts as they learn of King Louis XVI’s execution and are imprisoned by the Dutch. Marie-Louise seems certain to be unmasked. Will she ever return to France and be reunited with her child?

    Inspired by a true story, Into the World is a compelling novel of the amazing life of Marie-Louise Girardin battling perilous seas, her own self-doubt, and finding unforeseen loves on a journey to reclaim her child.

~*~

Marie-Louse Giradin lives in a time of turmoil, where revolutionaries – the Jacobins – and royalists, the supporters of Louis XIV and his Austrian queen, Marie-Antoinette, are at loggerheads as the Jacobins petition for the removal of the King, and a new, more egalitarian government. In 1791, Marie-Louise finds herself alone, and a single mother, she fled during the early days of the revolution, and found herself aboard a ship, disguised as a young man named Louis. The Recherche and the rest of their fleet are charged with finding out what happened to explorer La PĂ©rouse. As they follow his path in the Great Southern Ocean, exploring the Cape of Good Hope, various Pacific Islands, New Holland and Van Diemen’s land, Marie-Louise must find a way to hide her true identity. Only a few senior officers know, the captain, Kermadoc and a few others, and she is at the mercy of their protection during the perilous journey that has separated her from her son. Far from home, and unaware of the dangers of the revolution, Marie-Louise is fighting her own battle – abandoning her son, and where she fits in the world. As a man, she is still mocked in some ways, and finds herself caught between the royalists and the revolutionaries aboard the ship as they navigate the Southern Hemisphere and what was at the time, in the 1790s, the unknown and exotic. Told through Marie-Louise’s eyes in third person, the reader can experience her horror at the way islander tribes and Aboriginal people are treated, and the awe that she has when coming into contact with these people who appear to be wary, but at times happy and helpful – for a woman in the 1790s to have these experiences would have been extraordinary and her reactions reflect how she coped with the unknown, whilst reflecting the attitudes of the time, and coupling them with the horrified reactions and emotional outpour from Marie-Louise.

As they journey home after their experiences in Van Diemen’s Land and New Holland, unsuccessful at finding La PĂ©rouse, they are taken hostage in the Dutch East Indies, where they hear what has happened back home during the revolution and the end to the monarchical system. But to Marie-Louise, the fear of being unmasked and unable to return home to her son looms overhead.

aww2017-badgeIt is always refreshing to read a novel where the central female character isn’t driven by romantic love, but rather, the love for son and country, and where she heads off into the unknown because of this love. It is as much about the journey and subsequent history as it is about Marie-Louise herself, and what she went through and endured to return to France in 1793-4. A quick Google search spat back some resources from various state libraries, the national library and the Australian Dictionary of Biography, in total, 245,000 results, with the most relevant appearing to be at the top. Stephanie Parkyn’s book takes a look at Marie’s journey and what she went through, in an eloquent and interesting way, perhaps hinting at romance between another crew member and Marie-Louise, but not explicitly stating it. In doing so, Parkyn has recreated a historical figure, who, had she submitted to society’s expectations as her father demanded, might never have set foot in Australia and we might never have known her story. Stephanie’s story has provided readers with a strong, determined character who flouts convention and manages on her own, a refreshing characteristic in historical fiction, and a trend I have been observing. Allowing the characters like Marie-Louise to be strong in many ways but at the same time of their time is a feat that when done well, results in an engaging and intriguing story that sparks interest in these characters beyond the pages of the book they appear in.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which has sparked an interest in the French Revolution and finding more about Marie-Louise Giradin and her fate at the end of the expedition. Each character is a real person, giving the story a colour that ensures the history as it is retold feels as real as it would when reading about it in a history book, with a little more colour to it that is engaging and enjoyable. I found this book hard to put down, and it is one that will show what women were capable of and achieved in a time when the people around them expected less of these women.

Booktopia

Wolf Children by Paul Dowsell

wolf childrenTitle: Wolf Children

Author: Paul Dowsell

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: survival in the cellar of an abandoned hospital, Otto and his ragtag gang of kids have banded together in the desperate, bombed-out city.
The war may be over, but danger lurks in the shadows of the wreckage as Otto and his friends find themselves caught between invading armies, ruthless rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who stalks them …

A climactic story of truth, friendship and survival against the odds, Wolf Children will thrill readers of Michael Morpurgo and John Boyne.

~*~

 

Wolf Children begins as World War Two has ended, and Germany has fallen into the clutches of Russian occupation as the rest of the world wages the final few months of war in the Pacific. With Hitler gone, and the Nazi regime obliterated, those who remain in crumbling Berlin must endure the Russian control over their city until an agreement can be made about where the East and West will be divided. Their world has been turned upside down, and Otto, Helene, Erich and Klaus have turned their backs on Nazi ideology, perhaps never quite bought into it in the first place, and have accepted the fate of the regime and seek only to survive the invading armies, rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who has taken an interest in Otto’s younger brother, Ulrich, who has never quite let go of the Hitler Youth.

 

In a world not always seen in World War Two historical fiction, the impact of the end of the war on German citizens who did not support the regime they lived under, but were kept silent out of fear is not always explored. Here, it is shown through the eyes of six children who appear to have nobody left but each other, and in a world of uncertainty and lack of shelter, food and money, they must learn to barter with what they can, and eat when food comes their way. In a world of uncertainty, these children can only rely on each other, and with their lives at stake, will they survive the next few months of post-war Germany?

 

The harrowing stories set during, and after World War Two, from any perspective, are deeply unsettling and raw, and at times, uncomfortable, with characters like Ulrich who cling to the vestiges of a failed regime – where their attitudes are not shied away from, but at the same time, condemned by the characters around them. These stories, whether historical fiction, or biographical, or non-fiction, are not meant to make us comfortable. They are meant to remind us of what dangerous language and divisive ideas and talk can lead to. I have read many books that are set in the turbulent inter-war, war and post war years this year, and none of them have shied away from the discomforts of the historical setting or the ideas and language that floated around then, yet at the same time, have presented them in an accessible way for the audience – in this case, children and young adults. It is a book that is humbling and can serve to remind adults too about what happened and that it must not happen again. The devastation of Germany shows the scars of war – in the buildings, in the crumbling walls and bricks, and in the rubble that surrounds the bartering markets. It shows in the half starved people, and in the children who forage for food and who fear anyone they don’t know.

 

Wolf Children is a story that will stay with me, and one that should be read to gain a broader perspective of these post-war years. In uncertain times, this book shows what people will do when they are desperate, and what it will take for them to turn their backs on what they thought they knew, and help those who are truly the only ones there for them. A brave story, that shows the flaws of humanity in dark and dangerous times for all, with a touch of hope ebbing through the novel.

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