As Happy as Here by Jane Godwin

as happy as here .jpgTitle: As Happy as Here

Author: Jane Godwin

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Lothian Children’s Books/Hachette

Published: 23rd July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 275

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A beautiful coming-of-age story about three teenage girls from very different backgrounds who find themselves sharing a hospital ward, for fans of Kate DiCamillo and Fiona Wood

Three teenage girls from very different backgrounds find themselves sharing a hospital ward. When they witness a crime in the park below their window, they bond over trying to solve the crime and each one undergoes a profound change.

A beautiful coming-of-age story about identity, expectation, class, justice, society, fairness, and, above all, kindness.

Evie would never have met Lucy and Jemma if the accident hadn’t happened. But here they are, sharing a hospital ward. When the three girls witness a crime in the park below their window, it sets off a chain of events that will change each of them forever, and force Evie to confront what it means to grow up, and how to live truly, with courage, as yourself.

~*~

2019 BadgeAfter Evie is injured on the way home from running training, she ends up in hospital with injuries to both legs that are going to take a long time to heal. She ends up sharing a ward with Lucy, recovering from pneumonia and Jemma, who has been rushed in to have her appendix taken out. Aged between twelve and fourteen, the three girls are recovering when they witness strange goings below their hospital window. At the same time, Lucy notices some of her things go missing, and Jemma, despite being on a strict post-surgery diet, is constantly heading down to the hospital kiosk to buy food and drink she isn’t allowed – but where is the money coming from?

As they watch the comings and goings of people burying and digging things up close to the hospital, they begin their own investigation. Lucy and Jemma each check out the buried items, while Evie watches in between school times and physio sessions, and overbearing parents who come across as more worried about her getting back to running as soon as possible than the implications of Evie pushing herself during recovery and physio. This is more of a side story, but still important because it helps Evie grow and work out what she wants, separate from what her parents want as she works on her physio sessions, and forms a friendship with Lucy that is the kind of friendship readers of all ages need to be able to experience. With Jemma, things were a bit more complicated – whilst Evie and Lucy tried to be her friend and understand her, she did make it hard for them – but that was what worked about this book. Each character was individual and unique, and relatable on many levels to all readers, for many different reasons.

The events lead to something that the three girls never thought would happen and that will change them forever – they each grow throughout the novel in many ways, especially Evie, who realises that she might only be running to please her parents, and not herself – a realisation she comes to as the mystery below the window and the mystery of Jemma that slowly comes out as Evie coaxes it out of her, despite Jemma’s lies that she uses to cause friction in the room when she wants attention. It is a touching story of friendship, and a mystery – a soft mystery that could have unforeseen consequences for all three girls.

I really enjoyed this story. It defines friendship as a crucial element of life, and the hospital setting was dealt with well – not over done, and nicely balanced with everything else that was happening in the story. It is uplifting in some ways, but it still represents the realism of life and the differences we all face and how they can define us, but also, how they sometimes don’t. In reflecting the various differences in life, it shows that it is sometimes these differences that can bring us together.

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.

The Bad Mother’s Book Club by Keris Stainton

the bad mothers book clubTitle: The Bad Mother’s Book Club

Author: Keris Stainton

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Trapeze/Hachette

Published: 23rd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 266

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: This book club only reads wine labels – the laugh-out-loud novel from ebook bestseller Keris Stainton

Since moving to the Liverpudlian seaside after her husband’s career change, Emma Chance’s life consists of the following: long walks on the beach (with the dog), early nights (with the kids) and Netflix (no chill).

Bored and lonely, when Emma is cordially invited to the exclusive cool school-mums’ book club, hosted by Head of PTA and footballer’s wife, Jools Jackson, she thinks her luck may finally be about to change. She soon realises she may have made a grave mistake when she realises it’s all about books, and less about wine and gossip – but it’s always better to stick things out, isn’t it?

Or not.

After a few months and a few awkward moments involving a red wine on white carpet accident and a swear-word incident involving Jools’s daughter, Emma is ungraciously kicked out of the book club. Exhausted and exiled, she decides it’s about time she fights back against the shame and humiliation. Enlisting the help of some similar-thinking mums, Emma sets up her own book club – no cleaners, polite conversation or reading required: this is the BAD MOTHER’S BOOK CLUB.

 

~*~

 

Living near Liverpool after moving for her husband’s new job as a football manager, Emma Chance finds herself in a new environment to navigate – school parking politics, the PTA and managing to be herself whilst at the same time, putting a good face forward for her husband as he works with the footballer husband of Jools Jackson, who invites Emma to her exclusive book club. However, this book club turns out to be more than what Emma bargained for, and an incident involving Jool’s daughter sees her kicked out. So with fellow mum’s – Beth and Hanan – they start their own book club – The Bad Mother’s Book Club as they all try to navigate school, being a mum and the delicate politics of the PTA and surviving Jools – that is, until something Jools has been trying to hide comes out and she finds that letting Emma in is only going to help her.

In a refreshing story about female friendship, this novel combines light-hearted elements and humour with the struggles that we don’t always want others to see, but that we can’t always hide and eventually, need to ask for help with. It is not depressing, though has a few moments of gravitas that hit home that anyone can be vulnerable and imperfect – but it shows that these moments are okay because whoever we are, we all have them.

It is a great read for anytime – for sitting at home, a holiday or just a touch of light reading – there are many layers in this book to be enjoyed and it is nice to see imperfect characters of all types who acknowledge their flaws and where characters are allowed to be themselves and have concerns, and talk them out without being dismissed. Between mystery appointments and school, the women of the book club, Emma Beth and Hanan must also manage to find a way to raise their children and ensure each child is not ignored. For Emma, this means doing whatever she can to help her son settle in at school, ad watching him struggle, whilst her daughter, Ruby, pushes herself with more work and stress than Emma first realises until each family joins together for a trip for a school project and barriers are broken down and they come together to help each other – another element of the book I enjoyed, showing that everyone is different and has a different path, but no matter what these differences in race, gender or sexuality, friendships can be formed through common bonds of parenthood and hobbies – in the case of this novel.

I enjoyed taking a break from my usual hefty reading in historical fiction, fantasy and literary fiction to explore this world, where friendship is the key to the story, and it is something that we need more of for all readers – whatever their age or gender, and wherever they are at their stage of life.

The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

9781760631871Title: The Honeyman and the Hunter

Author: Neil Grant

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Rudra is an Indian-Australian boy at a crossroads, poised to step into the world of adulthood and to discover his cultural heritage and how that might truly define him. A wonderful exploration of dual heritage, cultural identity, family and the power of storytelling.

The sea is inside his blood. Cursed, or blessed, on both sides.

When sixteen-year-old Rudra Solace dredges up a long-hidden secret in his father’s trawl net, his life in the sleepy fishing village of Patonga shifts dramatically. It is not long before Rudra is leaving Australia behind, bound for India on a journey of discovery and danger.

A wonderfully compelling tale of belonging and loss, of saltwater and mangroves, of migration and accepting change; a story of decisions that, once made, break through family histories like a cyclone swell.

~*~

Rudra Solace is sixteen, and about to start year eleven at school on the Central Coast of New South Wales when two things happen: his didima, his grandmother, arrives for a visit from India, and whilst on his father’s fishing boat, Rudra finds a tiger skull, and this sets forth a series of dreams and events that lead him and his mother on a journey back to India, and the village Nayna grew up in on a quest he never thought he would ever have to go on, let alone think about. What culminates is a family story crossing countries, cultures and continents, where the intersection is Rudra himself, and he is the anchor for all these stories.

I read a lot of Australian literature, and there is always something familiar about it, even if it is set in a place I have never been – perhaps this is because there are many versions of Australia we see in our media, and movies and television, so even if one has never been to a country town, if you’ve watched Blue Heelers orDoctor Doctor, you still understand the feel. Yet there is nothing like reading something set somewhere you have been or live and recognising the places and names. Not many books are set on the Central Coast of New South Wales, so when this one arrived and I saw that it was, I was very interested to see how the region would be used in the story.

Recognising the names and picturing the locations made the experience of reading the first half enjoyable and immersive, but the section set in India was just as immersive and felt just as real to me. It is a story driven by family and culture, by heritage and stories, where beliefs come into conflict with each other as Rudra works through what he knows, what he is taught and what those around him believe – and how to make sense of these things for himself in his own mind. Incorporating migration and how family histories affect us, The Honeyman and the Hunter does a good job of bringing all these themes together.

Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

best foot forward.jpgTitle: Best Foot Forward

Author: Adam Hills

Genre: Non-Fiction/Comedy

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 31st July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 355

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: One of Australia’s biggest comic personalities, much-loved host of Spicks and Specks and the hit UK TV show The Last Leg, Adam Hills’ charming and witty memoir is a lesson in following your heart, being positive and discovering that what makes you different also makes you unique.

Adam Hills was a quiet primary school kid with a prosthetic foot who did all his homework and only spoke when spoken to. His dad sparked in him a love of comedy, and together they’d spend hours watching and listening to the likes of Peter Sellers and Mel Brooks. So when it was Adam’s turn to speak, he made sure he was funny.

Once he hit high school, comedy was Adam’s obsession (along with a deep love for the South Sydney Rabbitohs). While his mates were listening to Iron Maiden and AC/DC, he was listening to Kenny Everett and Billy Connolly. And when a report card came home with a comment praising his sense of humour, he was far prouder of that than his grades (his mum not so much).

Adam’s shyness and his missing foot never held him back, though wearing thongs was tricky. While other teens snuck off to meet girls and drink cheap booze, Adam snuck off to see a young Jim Carrey perform. After that, a steady diet of Rodney Rude, Vince Sorrenti and Robin Williams led this sheltered, virginal university student from The Shire to his first stand-up open mic night on his 19th birthday.

In Best Foot Forward, Adam describes his early years on the Australian comedy scene sharing gigs with Steady Eddy and Jimeoin, how he coped the first time he died on stage, his early-morning apprenticeship in radio, touring the world’s comedy festivals, the magic of Spicks and Specks and his hosting gig for the 2008 Paralympics that led to his hit UK TV show The Last Leg. Kermit the Frog, Whoopi Goldberg, Barry Humphries, Billy Connolly – Adam’s learned from the best. In this charming and witty memoir Adam Hills shows how hard work, talent and being proudly different can see you find your feet.

~*~

Growing up in the Sutherland Shire, Adam Hills ‘ love of comedy was sparked by his dad – watching and listening to Mel Brooks, and Peter Sellers on family trips to the South Coast for holidays in the car, which led to him listening to Billy Connolly in place of the popular music his high school friends were listening to at the time. And having a prosthetic foot was normal for him – it just was, in the way that many disabled people who have grown up with their disability know it’s part of them and their identity – an everyday, normal part of life that they live with and adapt to.

Adam Hills is one of my favourite comedians in Australia – and I adored and still adore watching Spicks and Specks on TV. Best Foot Forward is Adam’s journey from growing up in the Sutherland Shire to entering the comedy scene in various clubs and festivals across Australia and Europe, to the making of Spicks and Specks. In it, Adam talks candidly about family life, his missing foot, and the people he meets and interacts with, all with the uniqueness that makes him wonderful to watch and listen to. From early morning radio to comedy tours, Adam is completely himself in this book, and he seamlessly integrates all his experiences with his sense of humour throughout the book.

What I liked about this book was Adam’s honesty and openness – it was like having an extended chat with a very good friend, and the kind of conversation that engages everyone wholly and takes you along for the ride, laughs and all. Much of the book is focussed on Adam’s journey to comedy, and through radio, though when he was asked to help co-host a show for the Paralympics in 2008, this was where Adam found a community of disabled people. People like him, his age, and younger, who had missing limbs, or no limbs. Adam had previously mentioned that he had never really thought of his prosthetic as a barrier because there were many things he could do that people who had what he saw as more restrictive disabilities couldn’t do – but the Paralympics changed his mind – and this is a very important part of the book. Many disabled people will and might be able to identify with the way Adam felt. The feeling that because you can do many things, you’re not as worse off as some, despite there being some limitations. Adam articulates this really well, and in a really relatable and understandable way for readers. Adam’s eloquence when discussing his disability and the way he dealt with it, the use of humour to cope, and as an ice breaker, and how the Paralympians made him feel was the most powerful aspect of the book for me. Adam is truly one of my favourite people in the entertainment industry.

Fans of Adam Hills will enjoy this candid and entertaining book, and yes, I had a go at his Substitute test in the chapter on Spicks and Specks. Throughout, I heard Adam’s voice clearly – which made it a genuine and exciting experience. I hope others who enjoy Adam’s comedy and Spicks and Specks will enjoy this as much as I did.

Best Foot Forward will be filling next week’s Book Bingo Square for Comedy – thank you Adam!

Booktopia

A Very Murderous Christmas by Cecily Gayford (editor), Various

murderous christmas.jpgTitle: A Very Murderous Christmas

Author: Cecily Gayford (editor), Various

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Profile Books/Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th November 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: We wish you a very murderous Christmas…

The Christmas season is one of comfort and joy, sparkling lights and steam rising from cups of mulled wine at frosty carol services. A season of goodwill to all men, as families and friends come together to forget their differences and celebrate the year together.

Unless, of course, you happen to be harbouring a grudge. Or hiding a guilty secret. Or you want something so much you just have to have it – whatever the cost. In A Very Murderous Christmas, ten of the best classic crime writers come together to unleash festive havoc, with murder, mayhem and twists aplenty.

Following Murder on Christmas Eve and Murder under the Christmas Tree, this is the perfect accompaniment to a mince pie. Just make sure you’re really, truly alone …

~*~

Christmas is usually a time for merriment and cheer, family and friends. The last thing one might associate with Christmas, and Christmas stories, is murder. Yet here we have ten short stories by some of Britain’s most well-known crime writers throughout the years. Instead of the ghosts visiting Scrooge, or magical stories about Santa Claus and his reindeer, here are ten stories about murder and crime that take place during the festive season, delving into the darker side of the holiday, whilst trying to keep it a little light, and with references to the well-known stories we read and watch every year.

From Margery Allingham, to Anthony Horowitz, and Arthur Conan Doyle, the stories utilise well-known characters in shorter stories than the novels the characters appear in, or as in the case of Sherlock, a snippet from one of the longer stories written in the nineteenth century. The stories traverse town, city and countryside, and various decades, but all have one thing in common: they all take place at Christmas, or near Christmas, and revolve around a murder – which doesn’t always have a link to Christmas, though some feel like they might, others are more based around the human fallacies and reasons that lead to murder — they are more about thy how, and who than the why in these stories – and they lead to all kinds of conclusions and methods of finding out whodunnit – one story even delivers the clues to the reader to work out who is guilty, and then provides the explanation at the end – handy if you didn’t realise this was the aim of the writer – A Problem in White by Nicholas Blake. This was a very clever way of telling the story, and I wish I had realised when I started the story – it would have been fun to solve the crime as I read.

Part of a series of Christmas mystery anthologies, A Very Murderous Christmas is an exciting and intriguing series of stories exploring a darker side of the festive season in cosy mysteries that also celebrate the festive season in a different way to we have come to expect from the many Christmas stories and movies that are available to us to read and watch during the festive season.

Booktopia

Hogwarts: A Movie Scrapbook

hogwarts movie scrapbook.jpgTitle: Hogwarts: A Movie Scrapbook

Author: Judy Revenson

Genre: Movie scrapbook, fantasy, popular culture

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Published: 1st December 2018

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 48

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:Every year, students clamber aboard the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9 3/4 and make their way back to Hogwarts for the start of another school year. In the atmospheric castle and its vast grounds, they learn how to brew potions and cast spells, how to tend magical creatures and defend themselves from dark magic.

This magical scrapbook takes young readers behind the scenes at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, covering everything from how students arrive at the school and are sorted into their houses to the many magical subjects they study while there. Detailed profiles of each class feature information about the professors, classrooms, and key lessons seen in the films and are heavily illustrated with dazzling concept art, behind-the-scenes photographs, and fascinating reflections from the actors and filmmakers, giving readers a spellbinding tour of Hogwarts life.

Destined to be a must-have collectible for fans of Harry Potter, Hogwarts: A Movie Scrapbook also comes packed with interactive inserts.

~*~

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter keeps growing, The current books exploring the wider world of Hogwarts, and how the movies brought the settings, characters, spells, the Dark Arts and everything else to life, going through prop hunting, and snippets of behind the scenes interviews with cast and crew. In the most recent scrapbook from Warner Brothers and Bloomsbury, the world of Hogwarts, and how it was brought together is explored, from classes to letters, to teachers, ghosts and getting to the school each year.

The details present in the books reflect the intricate efforts that the set designers took when collecting props and designing the sets for each classroom and aspect of Hogwarts across the films shows how much thought was put into recreating the world from page to screen, and each stage had to be just right, to create a feeling of magic and wonder, but also a sense of familiarity in the lives and look of the characters and their world.

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Included in the book are brief profiles on the key Hogwarts classes and professors, and information about houses, sorting and house points, contributing to what is already known from the books and films, and adding to the knowledge of those who may not know all of this, and be discovering new secrets as these books come out and as they explore the world that has existed for over twenty years for many fans over and over through the books and the movies. It is an intriguing book, that brings the world further to life for new and old fans, and gives deeper insight into exactly how the movies were created from the books, and the time and effort that went into them to make sure the books were translated seamlessly to film.