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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A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill (Rowland Sinclair #8)

Flat Cover_Gentill_ADL_2017Title: A Dangerous Language

Author: Sulari Gentill

Genre: Crime Fiction

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Set against the glamorous backdrop of the 1930s in Australia and overseas, A Dangerous Language is the latest in the much loved, award winning Rowland Sinclair Mysteries.

When Rowland Sinclair volunteers his services as a pilot to fly the renowned international peace advocate, Egon Kisch, between Fremantle and Melbourne, he is unaware of how hard Australia’s new Attorney-General will fight to keep the “raging reporter” off Australian soil. In this, it seems, the government is not alone, as clandestine right-wing militias reconstitute into deadly strike forces.

When a Communist agent is murdered on the steps of Parliament House, Rowland Sinclair finds himself drawn into a dangerous world of politics and assassination.

A disgraced minister, an unidentified corpse and an old flame all bring their own special bedlam. Once again Rowland Sinclair stands against the unthinkable, with an artist, a poet and a brazen sculptress by his side.

~*~

A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill marks book number thirty eight in my Australian Women Writer’s challenge for 2017, and as usual, has not failed to impress and of course, distress at times. Now in 1934, inching closer to the threat of war, Rowland is in Melbourne, purchasing a new car to replace his beloved Mercedes, that met with destruction in the almost fatal car race of the previous book, Give The Devil His Due. The trip back from Melbourne with Clyde Watson Jones and Milton Isaacs, an artist and poet whose political allegiances, especially on Milt’s account, have put Rowland in his brother’s firing line of anguish, should be uneventful. However, their sojourn through Canberra, where they are to meet Edna, Milt stumbles across the body of a Communist on the steps of Parliament House – an event that beings the tumultuous venture to get Egon Kisch into Australia, and speaking out against the Fascist tendencies that Rowland and his friends witnessed in Germany in Paving the New Road. When Rowland’s brother, Wilfred, comes onto the scene, Rowly must do whatever he can to keep his plans to help Egon away from his conservative brother – who nonetheless knows that the Fascists are dangerous. Even so, the big brother is also keen to pry his mostly apolitical brother away from the influence of those Rowland chooses to keep company with.

aww2017-badgeIn this eighth venture, politics begins to have a larger focus than in the previous seven novels, where it was present, but had less impact on the plot. In this novel, it seems nobody is safe from the clashes between each side – this is what makes the novel gripping, as it ensures that those who hurt Milt and Rowly (poor Rowland was in the wars a bit in this one again) are shrouded in mystery. As always, I enjoy the Rowland Sinclair novels, and this one was two years in the waiting, and rightly so in the end, because it captured the political turbulence and environment of the 1930s in a way that is accessible to those just discovering it, and highlighting some aspects and characters that are perhaps less well-known than others during this time.

Fiction often offers parallels to history or contemporary times, and it is not hard to see BW_Author_Photo_Gentill_2016how the dangerous language that Rowland and his friends opposed in 1934 from Fascists and the conservatives of the time is repeating itself today. The feelings of powerlessness that the ordinary people had against those in politics and with influence that can encourage this dangerous language Rowland dislikes are felt through Milt and Clyde throughout the novel, and in particular Clyde during a boat cruise from Fremantle to Melbourne, where they must ensure Egon gets to Melbourne safely, and in Traveller’s Class, Rowland is able to get Egon as far as possible on his trip. The social class contrast between Rowland and his friends appears even more so in this book, where class and politics have become crucial to the evolution of the plot and characters at the stage of the series. The history of this turbulent period is woven into the plot and is sometimes the motive behind the crime, such as in A Dangerous Language. I also enjoy the inclusion of historical figures and people throughout that had an impact on history – this gives the stories an authenticity to them that is both exciting and informative at the same time.

As always, Rowland takes a few hits from people trying to cover up their crime, or another secret, and his brother Wilfred, battle-weary by now from saving the family name, is still faithful to Rowland, if a bit pompous at times. I do feel for Rowly when Wilfred loses his temper, as so often happens when Rowland stumbles into something he didn’t intend to. As polar opposites, Sulari has created exceptional characters in the Sinclair family, and their friends, including the heartbreak that Rowland’s own mother doesn’t recognise him, but sees him as his long-dead brother, Aubrey, an ongoing theme throughout the series that Rowland takes in his stride, and that Sulari has written exceptionally well. The Rowland Sinclair series is one that gets better with each subsequent mystery, and the uniquely Australian settings are in themselves a character – from Woodlands estate in Sydney, to the family property at Yass, and each place Rowland and his friends visit. They are often the unwilling detectives at first, dedicated to their art and friendship, but also dedicated to speaking out when and where they need to, to ensure that the dangerous language that Egon Kisch is trying to warn against does not infect the way of life that many in Australia enjoy. Once they are involved in the crime, it seems they cannot help themselves, and Rowland, as an honourable person, is always at hand to warn Colin Delaney of new information they stumble across.

An excellent addition to this series, and I look forward to the next one, which will hopefully be out soon!

Buy the new Rowland Sinclair and the rest of the books in the series here:

The Children of Willeseden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

willesden laneTitle: The Children of Willesden Lane

Author: Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A true story of courage and survival during World War II, and a celebration of the power of music to lift the human spirit.

Jewish musical prodigy Lisa Jura has a wonderful life in Vienna. But when the Nazis start closing in on the city, life changes irreversibly. Although he has three daughters, Lisa’s father is only able to secure one place on the Kindertransport. The family sends Lisa to London so that she may pursue her dreams of a career as a concert pianist. Separated from her beloved family, Lisa bravely endures the trip and a disastrous posting outside London before finding her way to the Willesden Lane Orphanage.

Here, her music inspires the other children, and they, in turn, cheer her on in her efforts to make good on her promise to her family to realise her musical potential. Through hard work and sheer pluck, Lisa wins a scholarship to study piano at the Royal Academy. As she supports herself and studies, she makes a new life for herself and dreams of reconnecting with the family she was forced to leave behind.

Based on the true story of her mother, Mona Golabek describes the inspirational story of fourteen-year-old Lisa Jura Golabek’s escape from Nazi-controlled Austria to England on the famed Kindertransport.

~*~

The human stories of World War Two, whether on the home front, or about those fleeing persecution, are the ones that always have the biggest impact on me when reading about them, because it can be easy to forget that wars were more than just the statistics of dead and injured, and easy to forget the human cost – not just in life and limb, but in loss of family, loss of country and loss of self. The stories about these people whether true, based on a true story or imagined and based on history, broaden the story told in history books and go beyond the statistics. The Children of Willesden Lane is one such story of the human face and the human cost of World War Two, and Nazi occupied Austria prior to the war.

In 1938, Germany enacts the Anschluss, annexing Austria, and placing it and its citizens under Nazi control. Just like the past five years in Germany, the Nazi Party begins to erode the rights of the Jewish citizens in Austria. In Vienna, Lisa Jura is forced to stop her piano lessons because she is Jewish – her teacher is heartbroken, but there is nothing else they can do, and so, Lisa’s mother teaches her until a spot opens up for Lisa on the Kindertransport to take her to London, away from the clutches of the Nazis, and where her family will make every attempt they can to join her as soon as possible. In London, Lisa finds her way to Willesden Lane, where she becomes part of a family of refugee children, and through her music, finds a way to get through the war, eventually gaining a spot in a music program, and a job playing piano at a hotel, which gets her through the dark days of the war.

Playing the piano at Willesden Lane gives Lisa and the other children, and those taking care of them, Mrs Cohen and Mrs Glazer a chance, even if just for an hour, to escape the war and the damage it is doing to London and Europe, and the hearts and souls of those directly impacted by the war and what has come out of the Nazi regime. It is a story of hope amidst tragedy and war, retold for children aged ten to fourteen, and anyone interested by Lisa’s daughter, Mona.

It is a story that I didn’t know much about, but that will stay with me. Like other stories of escape from the Nazis, or Anne Frank’s story, and novels such as The Book Thief, and the three novels by Jackie French about this period in history: Hitler’s Daughter, Pennies for Hitler and Goodbye, Mr Hitler, it serves as a reminder of what men like Hitler can do, and what the attitudes they spread and justify can do to ordinary people who have done nothing wrong, using it to back up their ideology and effectively, scare people into silence. Lisa’s journey was powerful and emotional, and it gives a human face to a war fought less than a century ago, showing the power of the human spirit to triumph over hatred and adversity.

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A Reluctant Warrior by Kelly Brooke Nicholls – Book Review and Launch Write Up

A-Reluctant-Warrior-Kelly-Brooke-Nicholls-1-265x400Title: A Reluctant Warrior

Author: Kelly Brooke Nicholls

Genre: Fiction, Political Thriller

Publisher: The Author People

Published: 28th of June, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 232

Price: $26.99

Synopsis:
When Luzma’s brother Jair unwittingly uncovers the plan by Colombia’s most notorious drug cartel to smuggle an unprecedented cocaine shipment into the US, it puts their family in grave danger.

Jair’s kidnapping by the cartel, forces Luzma to go face to face with vicious paramilitary leader, El Cubano, and General Ordonez, ruthless head of the military – men who will stop at nothing to protect their empires. But for Luzma, nothing is more important than saving her family – not even her own life.

While the story and characters in A Reluctant Warrior are fictitious, they are based on events Kelly Brooke Nicholls witnessed first-hand while living and working in Colombia. During this time, she interviewed thousands of victims of paramilitaries, guerrilla and drug cartels. She knows Buenaventura, where the novel is set, intimately, including the most notorious neighborhoods where foreigners rarely venture. She worked closely with the former Andean Director of the Drug Enforcement Administration to help her realistically map the events in this novel.

Now her gripping novel of one young woman’s terrifying encounter with Colombia’s most notorious drug cartel gives readers a rare glimpse into Colombia’s drug wars and their impact on ordinary citizens.

~*~

aww2017-badgeA Reluctant Warrior by Kelly Brooke Nicholls is, at its heart, a story about people, and a story worth telling. It is Luzma’s (Luz-Marina Cuesto) of standing up to the cartels, paramilitary and guerrillas in Colombia after her brother, Jair, is kidnapped after inadvertently getting caught up with them and seeing and hearing things he shouldn’t, and the entire plot covers about two weeks of searching for him, and trying to face up to the cartels that ravage the nation and city of Buenaventura. Luzma is yanked unwillingly into the war against drugs and the cartels after Jair disappears and her family is threatened. Working with an American, Rafa, and his contacts in the DEA to find Jair, and capture El Cubano, Luzma also hopes to prevent a shipment of drugs reaching the United States, and will put her life and humanity on the line to do so.

Luzma’s story is a powerful one, and one that needs to be told, because we do not hear enough about what goes in in Colombia, and the drug trade, and related human rights abuses, where people like El Cubano think, feel and say that they can do what they want, when they want, how they want and to whoever they want – because who is going to stop them? This attitude strikes right to the heart of the novel and reveals what ordinary people have to deal with, or turn a blind eye to the goings on if they want to stay alive. It was Luzma’s stubborn drive that kept her going, something that at times, could be frustrating, yet at the same time, showed her determination and strength, and her ability to fight back and fight for what mattered: her family.

Stories like this need to be told – even in a fictional format, because doing so reveals a world that many probably don’t realise exists, or maybe they do and they feel powerless. Luzma’s story gives the people in the situation she finds herself in a voice, and Kelly constructed this voice through interviews with Afro-Colombians like Luzma caught up in the conflict, caught up in trafficking and human rights abuses, and through these very real people, both in Colombia and the DEA, has written an authentic story that is both moving and terrifying in equal parts. It is a story that highlights the inequalities in the world, and the inequalities and abuses throughout history that have brought the characters to where they are in the story, and why they are the way they are. Why some fight, and some turn a blind eye. Why some feel they can take what they want without consequences, and why some are caught in between, scared of the cartels, and wanting to keep their heads down, but at the same time, when push comes to shove, showing their loyalty and willingness to put themselves in dangerous positions.

Though the DEA and other federal agencies become involved. Luzma, and the man who starts helping her at the start, Rafael, are the driving force behind the fight. Luzma is strong, stubborn and determined, but when it comes to her brother, Jair, shows a vulnerability that she winds up using to her benefit to find Jair and towards the end of the novel. Throughout the novel, the human cost of this hidden, not often spoken about war is shown in a myriad of ways.

I can see why this took Kelly almost a decade to write. The amount of research, through interviews and reading, and travel that she did would have taken a considerable amount of time, and constructing the story into what it became certainly would have taken a decent amount of time to achieve the emotional impact that it has on the reader.

A fantastically written novel about issues not often spoken about, but that need to be. I now know a lot more about Colombia and the cartels than I did, and the story is enhanced by Kelly’s own experiences in Colombia that were the impetus and trigger for this story.

ABOUT KELLY

Kelly Brooke Nicholls’ fascination with other cultures was instilled in her early years growing up on a boat in the south pacific islands. She’s been passionate about human rights from an early age and following a stint as a journalist at Australian Associated Press she moved to Latin America when she was 23. From there she was compelled to make a difference and help people affected by conflict, abuse and extreme poverty. She has over 15 years’ senior leadership experience working for NGOs ranging from Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders to a small indigenous-led organisation in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Her extensive time living and working in Colombia has left an indelible mark. She has travelled extensively to places few foreigners have been, researching and documenting the impact of the ongoing war on ordinary citizens and the horrendous human rights abuses inflicted on them.

Kelly wrote her novel A Reluctant Warrior to help shine a light on the way ordinary Colombian citizens have suffered and continue to suffer, despite the advancement in the Peace Agreement. But more than that, she wrote this book to celebrate, support and amplify the message of the brave people who risk their lives to protect and make a difference to others.

Kelly strongly believes that everyone has the ability to make a difference in the world and bring about positive change, and has spent her life helping people achieve that.

Kelly lives on the Northern Beaches of Sydney with her Colombian husband and two sons.

A Reluctant Warrior Book Launch: Gleebooks, 30th June, 2017

 

Just over a month ago, I attended the book launch of A Reluctant Warrior by special invitation of Kelly herself, and was able to arrive earlier to chat with her publisher, Lou Johnson from The Author People. At the beginning of the year, I responded to a job advertisement from Kelly, seeking a Publishing Intern who could work from home to research various places to feature reviews of the book, interviews with Kelly and general websites of interest in relation to Colombia and Latin America for potential readers. It was because of this work that I received the invitation, and so, headed down to Gleebooks at the end of June to attend the launch.

At the launch, Kelly and Lou sat up the front of the function area and chatted about the book, and the inspiration behind the book – in their words, a unique read, and one that Kelly was inspired, and compelled to write after her work in Colombia. She was overwhelmed by the violence she saw – and found herself asking: how do people get to that level of violence? In contrast, she saw those who stood up to the violence – human rights defenders, ordinary people, risking their lives – it was these people that inspired the character of Luzma, and that helped to make the story as accurate and authentic as possible.

For Kelly, the story came before the compulsion to tell it, and in doing so, she feels she has given a voice to the voiceless and the human rights defenders and victims of the fifty-two year conflict that we hear so little about in Australia. At the launch, Kelly said writing this story was about getting people to care, and she wrote it so that anyone could pick it up and read it, leaving it open at the end to ask questions about what might happen next.

Kelly’s discussion about what Colombia, and the port city where the story is set is like cemented the image in the story – from the ramshackle houses that were slapped together, to the constant disappearances and recruitment of young children, to the inability of people to escape, all came together in A Reluctant Warrior and provided a background to the story, and allowed for immersion – all depicted in the novel as it was when Kelly was in Colombia.

This talk at the launch gave greater insight into the book, and as I was reading it over the past few days, doing so after attending the launch made making the connections with Kelly’s personal story and the fictional story more powerful, and allowed me to appreciate it more, even though Kelly and I had previously met and discussed the book and her experiences, hearing more about them gave more strength to the story I have just read.

Following Kelly’s talk with Lou about the book, I was able to chat with Lou about writing and publishing, and it was a fairly busy even – about fifty people were in attendance for the talk and to get their books signed. It was the first book launch I have ever really attended and was a little nervous about meeting Lou, who is such a lovely and generous person who has been helping me to make contacts in the industry I want to work in. People came and went after Kelly and Lou had had their chat, so I didn’t stay for the entire launch as Dad and I had to get back to the Central Coast, but it was a lovely evening and Gleebooks has a fantastic space for a book launches and author events upstairs, with a divine selection of books to choose from.

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Under The Same Sky by Mogjan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight

under the same sky.jpg

 

 

Title: Under the Same Sky
Author: Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight
Genre: Non-fiction, biography
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 26th April 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 331
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: The powerful and incredibly moving story of Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari – two young Iranian asylum seekers who are showing that the power of love can conquer all obstacles.
After fleeing their homeland, Australian refugee policies threaten to tear this young couple apart. An unforgettable story of love, hope and a quest for freedom.
At seventeen, all Mojgan Shamsalipoor wanted was to be safe from physical and sexual abuse, go to school, and to eventually marry for love. In Iran, she was denied all of this.
Milad Jafari was a shy teenage boy who found his voice as a musician. But the rap music he loved was illegal in his country. All Milad’s father, a key maker, builder and shopkeeper, wanted was for his family to live free from the fear of arrest, imprisonment or execution. To do that they all had to flee Iran.
Mojgan and Milad met in Australia. But in the months between their separate sea voyages, the Australian government changed the way asylum seekers were treated. Though Milad is recognised as a refugee and will soon become a proud Australian citizen, Mojgan has been told she cannot stay here even though the threat of imprisonment and further abuse, or worse, means she can’t return to Iran.
UNDER THE SAME SKY, is a powerful insight into the human face of asylum seekers and the way history has shaped the lives of these two young people. It also shows the compassion alive in our suburbs. For Mojgan and Milad, their love keeps their hopes alive.

~*~

Under the Same Sky is the story of Mojgan and Milad’s lives in Iran, and their escape as asylum seekers to Australia. In Iran, both led very different lives under a regime that restricted what women could do, and promoted one religion over all others, persecuting anyone who didn’t fall into line with what the government dictated to them. Eventually, both their families saw the need to flee: Milad’s together, and Mojgan with one of her older brothers, Hossein. With the government as it was, each had to pretend they were only headed to Indonesia for holidays, and that they would return to Iran. Doing it this way, they were able to leave, yet still had to find a way to Australia, where they hoped to find safety. In each chapter, Mojgan and Milad tell their story as their journeys progress, and in some ways, they had similar journeys, but in other ways, their experiences as asylum seekers and refugees differed.

After traumatic events that led to Mojgan and Hossein fleeing Iran for Australia – with the uncertainty of their fate and the fate of the family members they had had to leave behind, and months spent in detention, the two met at a Baha’i camp, and became good friends, and eventually, started dating. However, the government had decided on Mojgan and Hossein’s fate – they had not been granted visas and after months of living in community detention, and a relationship, and marriage between Mojgan and Milad, the brother and sister were sent back to detention, where they were again in limbo, awaiting decisions.

Throughout these turbulent times, Milad, his family and the friends and teachers Mojgan had met at Yeronga at school began fighting for her to be freed, and returned to a safe home with people who cared about her. This fight is included in the story, in some of the chapters told by James Knight, who gives a lot of background to the instability of Iran and the changing attitudes towards asylum seekers and refugees and their treatment. Mojgan’s experiences in detention affected her deeply –even though she wasn’t always harshly treated, the instances she was, and the guards who were rough with her stood out in her mind. Even the guards who tried to help her , who were nice, couldn’t fully erase these experiences.

At the time of the publication of the book and the writing of this review, a final decision is yet to be made and Mojgan and Hossein, though now living with Milad and his family, are still in limbo.

Mojgan and Milad’s story sheds light on an issue that is fraught with complexities and often simplified in the media – which does not always allow for in depth discussion. Mogjan, Milad and James all acknowledge throughout the complexities, especially in the constantly changing attitudes at the political level and in public opinion about refugees, illustrated by interviews with teachers who knew Mogjan and Milad, and quotes from papers about refugees and asylum seekers and references to speeches by the former Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison. What these do is to establish the political backdrop of Australia, and in a way, contrast it against what Milad and Mojgan ran from – the stark contrast of a dictatorship like Iran, whose government demanded to know the whereabouts of Mogjan long after she left, and the freedom of Australia that they sought but that they were unsure they would ever gain. James Knight’s statements are supportive of those who helped Mogjan and Milad, and less supportive of the government of the time. Some come across as political because issues of asylum seekers and refugees can never be divorced from politics, but I feel like he fell short of outright condemnation and name-calling.

It was an interesting book to read, because it presented a side to the issue not often seen, and one that maybe, should be given more attention. Cases such as Mogjan and Milad’s, where they’ve fled danger and persecution, and simply want a safer life, are the ones we should be hearing about as well as any negative stories that come out. Reading it, I felt moved and shocked by what Mogjan had gone through in Iran and detention. It is only their experiences of fleeing and people smugglers, and becoming asylum seekers. It touches on the issue of how difficult it can be to leave a place like Iran for good. I recommend it for anyone interested in human rights and those wanting to know about the experience from the perspective of someone who has been there.

Stasi Wolf by David Young

Stasi wOLF.jpg

Title: Stasi Wolf (Karin Müller #2)

Author: David Young

Genre: Historical/Crime and Mystery

Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre/Allen and Unwin

Published: 22nd February 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 416

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: How do you solve a murder when you can’t ask any questions?

East Germany, 1975. Karin Müller, sidelined from the murder squad in Berlin, jumps at the chance to be sent south to Halle-Neustadt, where a pair of infant twins have gone missing.

But Müller soon finds her problems have followed her. Halle-Neustadt is a new town – the pride of the communist state – and she and her team are forbidden by the Stasi from publicising the disappearances, lest they tarnish the town’s flawless image.

Meanwhile, in the eerily nameless streets and tower blocks, a child snatcher lurks, and the clock is ticking to rescue the twins alive…

~*~

Set during the height of the Cold War and East Germany, under the control of the Stasi and communist influence, Stasi Wolf is the second in the Karin Müller series. Oberleutnant Müller, a member of the People’s Police, is sent to Halle-Neustadt to investigate the disappearance of infant twins. Forbidden by the Stasi to publicise the disappearance so the flawless image of Halle-Neustadt remains intact, Karin and her team run into a series of problems and roadblocks that prevent them from completing the job in a timely manner. As the months pass, the child snatcher hides in plain sight amongst the nameless streets, and a much larger mystery is lurking in the shadows of the missing twins.

The world of Stasi Wolf shows East Germany thirty years after the end of World War Two, under Soviet and Communist control. It is a world that Karin Müller has grown up in, and as a member of the People’s Police, struggles against doing what is right for the nation, what the Stasi demand, and working to resolve cases of missing children, at times having to use subversive methods to get by the watchful eye of the Stasi, especially Malkus, the Stasi officer in charge of Halle-Neustadt, vetting every move Karin and her team make in the search for the missing babies. It is a story full of twists and turns, that shows hints of the past at times, and these hints are slipped in effectively and in a way that keeps the reader guessing.

The development of Karin’s character is excellent too – from the hints at what happen to her during her training, to her family dynamic and the scenes that give the reader a glimpse into her past, and what made her the person she is in the novel, and the way she uses these past experiences to subvert the orders she is given. Her ability to find a way to bypass the orders shows that she is creative and innovative – as much as she can be in a Communist run state.

I thought that the suspense and pace of this book were well written. The scenes that flicked back and forth in first person held much mystery, and added to the thickening plot and case that Karin was investigating. Another nice surprise was the side story of Karin’s relationship with the doctor, Emil. It didn’t take over the rest of the story, and was effective, and tied in nicely with the eventual conclusion of the story. It is a gripping story that ensnared me and captured my attention, wanting to know what happened next, and what kind of person would kidnap twins, and why.

David Young has captured the characters well, and the hints he leaves about some of the characters creating a well-thought out sense of mystery, and his backdrop of the Stasi controlled East Germany ensured a story that had many twists and turns, and complex and flawed characters, in a world where knowing who to trust was hard. It was a great novel, and I hope the series will continue.

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If Blood Should Stain the Wattle by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #6)

If Blood should Stain the Wattle.pngTitle: If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 1st December 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 544

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: It’s 1972 in Gibber’s Creek, and across the nation, the catchcry is, ‘It’s time’.

In 1972, and the catchcry is ‘It’s time’.

As political ideals drift from disaster to the dismissal, it’s also time for Jed Kelly to choose between past love, Nicholas, the local Labor member, and Sam from the Halfway to Eternity commune. It’s time too for Matilda Thompson to face her ghosts and the life that took a young girl from the slums of Grinder’s Alley to being the formidable matriarch of Gibber’s Creek.

During this period of extraordinary social change and idealism, modern Australia would be born. And although the nation would dream of a better world, it would continue to struggle with opposing ideas of exactly what that better world might be.

Jackie French, author of the bestselling To Love a Sunburnt Country, has woven her own experience of that time into an unforgettable story of a small rural community and a nation swept into the social and political tumult of the early 1970s. A time that would bear witness to some of the most controversial events in Australian history; and for Matilda, a time that would see her vision made real, without blood spilled upon the wattle.

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aww2017-badgeBook six in The Matilda Saga picks up three years after the end of The Ghost by the Billabong. Jed Kelly has been accepted into the Thompson and McAlpine families, has been at university, and is living in Dribble at Gibber’s Creek with Scarlett, the young girl who chose Jed as her sister when they met. Matilda is still going – at age ninety-three, she is still as formidable as in the previous books, still caring, and still determined to see her father’s dream of fair work, fair wages and the dream of equality for all, regardless of skin colour, gender and ability become a reality under a Whitlam government, promising fair work hours, and an act that ends discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or ability – it is a dream that began in 1894 in a Grinder’s Alley jam factory, a dream that took a young girl from the slums of the city to owning one of the largest farms in the Gibber’s Creek district. By this time, Matilda’s voice – and the voices of her family – are heard loud and clear. This time, it is Scarlett who is finding her independence, and the mute girl, Leafsong, from the hippie commune Halfway to Eternity, who is invisible to begin with, but through Scarlett’s friendship, is shown how to become part of society – noticed, but accepted by those who matter the most – her friends and Jed, and Matilda.

Politics has always played a role in the Matilda saga – union rights, suffragettes, war, Depression, Indigenous rights, and many more. Where each previous book has dealt with a separate issue affecting society at the time, and the voices at the time, this one ties them all together and unites almost a century of working towards equal rights.

Jackie French’s story has incorporated many silenced voices throughout the six books, all of whom have proven to be interesting and strong characters in their own right. She has told the history of a young nation from 1894 to 1975, incorporating the history of the unions, suffrage, Federation, racism, Depression and issues of class, gender, disability and race – and constantly questions the status quo through her characters and why things were the way they were, why a character link Old Mr Drinkwater in A Waltz for Matilda was the way he was with Matilda and her father, or what it mean to have Indigenous heritage, what it meant for may during times of war, during the Great Depression.

Most of the history is easily read about in history books – what Jackie French does is give the women of Gibber’s Creek a voice – sometimes arguing with the male characters, sometimes standing with them united in a common cause – but ultimately, it is characters like Matilda, Flinty, Blue, Nancy and Jed who drive the story lines and the outcomes, at least for their families.

Like the rest of this series, If Blood Should Stain the Wattle tugs at the heartstrings. It has a bittersweet ending that many of Jackie’s books have, and whilst it is aimed at teenagers, adults can read it too. I would recommend reading the first five books first, as by the time I came to this book, the characters were formed and all their relationships made sense. A wonderful book to read, it wraps up most of what has happened in the previous books nicely.

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