Elephant Me by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

elephant meTitle: Elephant Me
Author: Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Hachette/Orchard Books
Published: 26th May 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: $24.99
Price: 32
Synopsis: The empowering story of little elephant Num-Num, who discovers the importance of simply being YOU! From the creators of international bestseller and much-loved classic Giraffes Can’t Dance.

It’s time for the Elephant Games! One by one, the young elephants compete to impress King Elephant Mighty and earn their Elephant Name.
Nina is the strongest, so she becomes Elephant Strong.
Norcus is the loudest, so he becomes Elephant Noisy.
Little Elephant Num-Num thinks he will never discover his own special talent – until he learns that the very best thing you can be is YOU!

~*~

Elephant Num-Num has to show King Elephant Mighty a special talent to get his Elephant Name during the Elephant Games – every other elephant can, but Num-Num finds he doesn’t have a special talent – he’s just him. Driven away from the Elephants, Num-Num befriends the other animals, who see him for who he is and encourage him to be him – the best thing he can be! Discover how Num-Num encourages the other elephants to discover the best them and be who they are, not who they are expected to be.

Through a rhyming story that ebbs and flows, Giles Andreae tells the story of a young elephant searching for who he is, and in turn, teaches the other elephants to be who they are. Accompanied by delightfully fun and colourful illustrations of the elephants and the other animals by Guy Parker-Rees, the story really pops and comes to life beautifully. He brings the African bush to life, in a fun and accessible way, using colour and bright shades. The animals all being friends by the waterhole is a lovely image, and one of my favourites of the entire book. I loved that each elephant had its own personality through the words and images, and both of these elements worked together to show the beauty and individuality that we should all celebrate within ourselves.

The words and images capture what it is like to be you and not fall into line with what others expect, and what it means to face up to those who have tried to make you believe you shouldn’t fall into line. The bright images are fun, and engaging, and the rhyming, lyrical feel of the words is great for readers at all stages, whether learning to read, being read to or just looking for a fun read that teaches kids that being who they are is sometimes more important than following trends and trying to fit in for the sake of fitting in.

This would be great to be shared between parents and kids, in classes across the board, or just for people to read for themselves. It’s a fun little story with an important message, and best of all, it uses elephants to tell the story – and really, where can you go wrong with elephants in a story like this? It is truly a beautiful book and one with a lovely message that will always be treasured.

Books and Bites Bingo Progress Report One – First Bingo

I should be doing this for each bingo line I hit – with the regular book bingo, it is being included in the relevant post. For this one with Monique, I am trying to update as I complete a line.

books and bites game card

 

My first BINGO of the sheet is the top lime – which I actually completed last month but have only just managed to find time to write this brief post. This was possibly the easiest line – some squares I am still finding books, or waiting for a release, or am, not sure what I will use. Luckily, these are fairly broad categories and I can go with anything for many of them, so when I find something that fits, that is what I will use. This is my overall challenge strategy and I am finding it less stressful as it allows me to read what I have and if it fits, that’s a good thing.

This was a challenge I signed up for later than the others, but am having fun with it nonetheless. Of the books I used in this challenge, I loved them all and there were so many others that could have worked here. I admit to stretching the travel memoir category – using a fictional book with travel that felt like it could be a travel memoir – I expand on this more in the post, however.

I look forward to filling the rest of the squares and reporting on them in the coming months.

Books and Bites Bingo
Set in Europe:Josephine’s Garden by Stephanie Parkyn

Debut Novel: The Soldier’s Curse by Meg and Tom Keneally (Monsarrat Series Book One)

Travel Memoir: The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski

Published More than 100 Years Ago: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Written in the First Person: Pippa’s Island: Puppy Pandemonium by Belinda Murrell

Willow Moss and the Lost Day (Starfell #1) by Dominique Valente

Starfell 1Title: Willow Moss and the Lost Day (Starfell #1)

Author: Dominique Valente

Genre: Fantasu

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 2nd May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The first book in the most spellbinding children’s fantasy series of the year, now in paperback, with beautiful black-and-white inside illustrations by Sarah Warburton. Perfect for fans of Cressida Cowell and Nevermoor.

Willow Moss, the youngest and least powerful sister in a family of witches, has a magical ability for finding lost things – like keys, or socks, or spectacles. Useful, but not exactly exciting…

Then the most powerful witch in the world of Starfell turns up at Willow’s door and asks for her help. A whole day – last Tuesday to be precise – has gone missing. Completely. And without it the whole universe could unravel.

Now Willow holds the fate of Starfell in her rather unremarkable hands… Can she save the day – by finding the lost one?

Step into Starfell, a world crackling with warmth, wit and magic, perfect for readers aged 8–12. Book 2 coming in April 2020!

~*~

Willow Moss is supposed to have magic like her sisters, but she’s not as powerful as the rest of her family. However, she does have a magical talent that is probably more precious than any other gift. She can find things.

One day Moreg Vaine, Starfell’s most powerful witch asks for Willow’s help to find Tuesday – an entire day from the preceding week has disappeared and without it, Starfell could meet a very dark fate that nobody wants to experience.

Willow’s journey takes her across the land of Starfell, accompanied by a rather irate kobold named Oswin, who berates her and offers advice throughout the novel. Willow’s journey is not easy though, and she must face many dangers, including the Brothers of Wol who do not like witches or anything that goes against what they believe in – reminiscent of the witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is this conflict that drives the novel, and Willow is a character who will grow and learn across the series. At the same time, she will prove that she can do the things that everyone says she can’t do or shouldn’t do. Yet only Willow can find the missing Tuesday and set the world right and ensure that she still has a family and place to live at the end of her journey.

Girls being front and centre in books is taking off, and these days, they are occupying a myriad of role and personalities to appeal to all readers – they’re not just stereotypes or strong female characters who occupy a specific time and place in their story. Here, we have characters like Willow who are reluctant and unsure of what to do, they’ve been told things that are not true and are forced to confront these memories  and through doing this, they grow and learn that they are more than what everyone has been telling them they are.

Middle grade is an age group that is gaining a lot of traction, and this book is aimed at readers aged eight and older – and I think will appeal to readers of all genders. It is a wonderful book, and a really good start to a series that I am very keen to follow as each book is released. This is one of those books I picked up on a whim, because the story looked interesting, and I think it is one that many will enjoy regardless of age, and one that will be fun to read out loud as well.

2020 ABIAs

Every year, the Australian Book Industry Awards are presented to various books published the year before. In the past week, the long list has gone up, and I have taken the following list from the Readings blog. Some of these I have read, and some I am hoping to read. I will not be able to get to them all, but it is nice to see a bit more diversity in titles this year, allowing more books to get some well-deserved attention on this list.

Of the books on this list, some I reviewed – and most I enjoyed, and some didn’t catch my interest, or I ran out of time last year to get to them. A panel of judges has decided on this longlist, and will from here, decide on a shortlist, which will be released on the 9th of April, with the winners in each category announced on the 29th of April. A couple of books are nominated in more than one category, which often happens, yet being able to see that there’s much more diversity in the titles chosen gives a better view of Australian literature, rather than what is just the “it” book of the year. This isn’t always a bad thing, but often there are other books in the category that are just as deserving and when they have more of a chance to win, that makes it more exciting.

The titles in each category are…
General fiction book of the year

 

Wide-General-Fiction-Book-of-the-Year
• Bruny by Heather Rose
• Call Me Evie by J.P. Pomare
• Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris
• Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham
• Peace by Garry Disher
• Silver by Chris Hammer
• The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan
• The Wife and the Widow by Christian White
Literary fiction book of the year

Wide-Literary-Fiction
• Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas
• Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany
• Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng
• The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell
• The Weekend by Charlotte Wood
• The Yield by Tara June Winch
There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett
• Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar
General nonfiction book of the year

Wide-General-Non-fiction-Book-of-the-Year• Accidental Feminists by Jane Caro
• Against All Odds by Craig Challen & Richard Harris with Ellis Henican
• Banking Bad by Adele Ferguson
• Fake by Stephanie Wood
Kitty Flanagan’s 488 Rules for Life by Kitty Flanagan
• See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill
• The Yellow Notebook by Helen Garner
• Troll Hunting by Ginger Gorman
Biography book of the year

BiographyBookWide
• Australia Day by Stan Grant
• Jack Charles: Born-again Blakfella by Jack Charles
• Gulpilil by Derek Rielly
• Penny Wong: Passion and Principle by Margaret Simons
• Tell Me Why by Archie Roach
• The Prettiest Horse In The Glue Factory by Corey White
• When All is Said & Done by Neale Daniher with Warwick Green
• Your Own Kind of Girl by Clare Bowditch

Book of the year for older children (ages 13+)

Wide-Book-of-the-Year-for-Older-Children-(ages-13+)
• Detention by Tristan Bancks
• How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox
• It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood
• Kindred edited by Michael Earp
• The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim
• This Is How We Change the Ending by Vikki Wakefield
• Welcome to Country: Youth Edition by Marcia Langton
• Welcome To Your Period by Yumi Stynes & Dr Melissa Kang
Book of the year for younger children (ages 7-13)

Wide-Book-of-the-Year-for-Younger-Children-(ages-7-12)
• Explore Your World: Weird, Wild, Amazing! by Tim Flannery
• Funny Bones edited by Kate Temple, Jol Temple & Oliver Phommavanh
• How to Make a Movie in 12 Days by Fiona Hardy
• Real Pigeons Nest Hard by Andrew McDonald & Ben Wood
• The 117-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton
• The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly Animals Sami Bayly
• Under the Stars by Lisa Harvey-Smith & Mel Matthews
• Young Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Children’s picture book of the year (ages 0-6)

Wide-Children_s-Picture-Book-of-the-Year-(ages-0-6)
• All of the Factors of Why I Love Tractors by Davina Bell & Jenny Løvlie
• Bluey: The Beach
• Kindness Makes Us Strong by Sophie Beer
• Lottie and Walter by Anna Walker
• Mr Chicken All Over Australia by Leigh Hobbs
• The Painted Ponies by Alison Lester
• The Tiny Star by Mem Fox & Freya Blackwood
• Tilly by Jane Godwin & Anna Walker
• Wilam by Andrew Kelly, Aunty Joy Murphy & Lisa Kennedy
Illustrated book of the year

wide-Illustrated-Book-of-the-Year
• Australia Modern: Architecture, Landscape & Design 1925–1975 by Hannah Lewi & Philip Goad
• Ben Quilty by Ben Quilty
• Finding the Heart of the Nation by Thomas Mayor
• Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia: Second Edition Bill Arthur by Frances Morphy (eds.)
• Olive Cotton by Helen Ennis
• Step into Paradise by Jenny Kee & Linda Jackson
• The Lost Boys: The untold stories of the under-age soldiers who fought in the First World War by Paul Byrnes
• The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland
• Three Birds Renovations by Erin Cayless, Bonnie Hindmarsh & Lana Taylor
International book of the year

Wide-International-Book-International-Book-of-the-Year
• Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
• Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
• Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
• Lanny by Max Porter
• The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
• The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
• Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
• Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Small publishers’ adult book of the year

wide-Small-Publishers’-Adult-Book-of-the-Year_01
• Cosmic Chronicles by Fred Watson
• Feeding the Birds at Your Table: A guide for Australia by Darryl Jones
• Invented Lives by Andrea Goldsmith
• Kindred by Kirli Saunders
• Paris Savages by Katherine Johnson
• Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta
• Split by Lee Kofman
• The White Girl by Tony Birch
Small publishers’ children’s book of the year

wide-Small-Publishers_-Children_s-Book-of-the-Year
• Baby Business by Jasmine Seymour
• Cooee Mittigar by Jasmine Seymour & Leanne Mulgo Watson
• Little Bird’s Day by Sally Morgan & Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr
• Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders & Carol Rossetti
• Lunch at 10 Pomegranate Street by Felicita Sala
• Sick Bay by Nova Weetman
• Summer Time by Hilary Bell & Antonia Pesenti
• You Can Change the World: The Kids’ Guide to a Better Planet by Lucy Bell
The Matt Richell award for new writer of the year

Wide-The-Matt-Richell-Award-for-New-Writer-of-the-Year
• Being Black ‘n Chicken, and Chips by Matt Okine
• Call Me Evie by J.P. Pomare
• It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood
• Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta
• The Prettiest Horse In The Glue Factory by Corey White
• The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland
• Troll Hunting by Ginger Gorman
• Your Own Kind of Girl by Clare Bowditch

Good luck to all the nominees – looks like an interesting list this year!

Podcasts about Kids Books

 

As I have been listening to lots of podcasts lately – all of them Australian-based – many of them have been about books. Whilst most have been geared at adult reading, there are a few that are about kids’ books. I have already spoken about Middle Grade Mavens, and in this post I want to highlight two more podcasts hosted by Australian authors of children’s, middle grade and young adult novels.

kid lit club

The first is the Kid Lit Club, hosted by Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck, which has a backlog of episodes up to October 2019, and also appeared as a television show on one of the Channel Nine channels, and in my google searching, I found that it can also be viewed on YouTube. I’ve listened to the audio and am part of the Facebook group – The Kid Lit Club, where articles and news are also shared, and hopefully there will be news about new episodes of the podcast if there are to be any. The associated Facebook group is for those in the industry, and a place where contacts can be made and reviews, and other news can be shared, and it is a great place to check out whilst listening to all my podcasts.

 

one more page

The second kid’s podcast I’ve been binge listening to is One More Page with Kate Simpson, Liz Leddon and Nat Amoore, where I have discovered some new books to check out. They interview authors, invite kids on the show, and talk about books linked to a theme each fortnight, and all the links to their social media and the various podcast apps can be found on their website, One More Page. Like the other podcasts, this is filled with recommendations for all age groups, and is fun for anyone interested in kids’ books and literature to listen to.

They explore book awards, trends in children’s books and the latest in what should be read. I love listening to them as I write or work and it really does make the time go by but are the perfect length to get through several in a day, and to play in the background as well. As I work in the children’s book industry – these podcasts complement my work and I feel keep me informed about what is out there. I thoroughly enjoy these podcasts and encourage you to listen to them if you enjoy podcasts about books. I am a bit biased towards Australian ones but I find that they are my favourites and much more engaging for me.

With that, I am off to listen to some more podcasts!

Bookish Podcasts

In the last year, I’ve discovered podcasts, and the ones I mainly listen to revolve around books, history and popular culture. Because podcasts are generally short – usually no longer than an hour for the ones I listen to, I find them great to pop on whilst working or writing and just listen to them in the background and absorb the information in them. Podcasts cover just about every topic you could ever imagine, but in this post I am focusing on the bookish ones I listen to most days and weeks.

The Book Show

the book show

The Book Show is an ABC RN podcast, of a radio show hosted by Claire Nichols. The show airs live on Monday at ten in the morning, and repeated at nine p.m. on Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons at two p.m.  Claire interviews authors from Australia and around the world and conducts in-depth conversations with them about the book and how they wrote it, what influenced them and lets the interview flow, so there are some very interesting discussions with authors I know and many I do not know. I listen via podcast on the ABC listen app, and the website if you’d like to access the show through there.

The Bookshelf

the bookshelf

Another ABC RN Show, hosted by Cassie McCullagh and Kate Evans, where they review the latest fiction books from Australia and around the world. Sister programme to The Book Show, Cassie and Kate sometimes feature snippets of The Book Show on their show, and at times, interview authors, and record from writer’s festivals from around Australia and in other places at times. It airs Fridays at eleven in the morning, and is repeated on Monday at eleven at night, and Sunday afternoons at three. As with the Book Show, I listen via the ABC listen app as a podcast. The website also has it if you prefer to access the show here.

Good Reading Magazine Podcast

good-reading-podcast 

In this podcast, various Good Reading employees interview Australian authors (so far) about their books, writing and what inspires them. Their very first interview was with Sulari Gentill, and many of my favourite authors have been interviewed. This is one I am still listening to the backlog of as I write this post in fact, and it can be accessed via a podcast app, such as the Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud or via the Good Reading Website. Like with many of the interviews, some episodes are more interesting than others, but it is nice to listen to all of them, as sometimes there are gems in there and lots of random trivia to store away.

 

Words and Nerds

words and nerds

I came to this one quite late – after it had been going for about two years, and spent a lot of time binge listening to it and now have one or two to catch up on, as with many of my podcasts, so I use my days where I don’t go anywhere to listen to as many episodes as I can. In this one, Dani Vee interviews authors from Australia, and sometimes overseas, who write for a myriad of age groups and in all genres, which makes it very interesting and she has interviewed some of my favourite authors and I think those are my favourite episodes. Some she has even had on more than once! Dani’s podcast can be accessed via the linked website, or via a podcast app such as Apple Podcasts.

Middle Grade Mavens

middle grade mavens

Middle grade books are a genre I enjoy reading, reviewing and close to the genre I work in as an educational quiz writer. I am yet to start listening to it, but their website says they interview key stakeholders in the industry, and it can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify Podcasts or Google Podcasts, or on the website. I look forward to hearing from Julie Anne Grusso and Pamela Ueckerman in the coming weeks as I get into listening to this podcast.

These are the five main bookish podcasts I listen to, and all are suitable for what they do. I’m looking forward to exploring Middle Grade Mavens, and hope you find something you like in these recommendations.

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Pop Sugar Challenge Wrap Up 2019

In 2019 I also participated in the Pop Sugar Challenge. I missed out on completing this by one, mainly because time just ran out and I never got to it. Below is my list of categories that I completed. I am thinking of trying a different one this year, as I feel the categories are getting too specific and I may struggle to find books to fit some of them, if not many, and whilst it is meant to help expand my reading, I’d be too worried about finding something to enjoy the process. So all of these have been read, and many reviewed in 2019.

Pop Sugar Challenge

  1. A book becoming a movie in 2019: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  2. A book that makes you nostalgic: The Lost Magician by Piers Torday
  3. A book written by a musician (fiction or nonfiction): Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills
  4. A book you think should be turned into a movie: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte
  5. A book with at least one million ratings on Goodreads: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling – 20th Anniversary House Editions
  6. A book with a plant in the title or on the cover: Bella Donna: Coven Road by Ruth Symes, Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley
  7. A reread of a favourite book: Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
  8. A book about a hobby: The Bad Mother’s Book Club by Keris Stanton
  9. A book you meant to read in 2018: Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley
  10. A book with POP, SUGAR, or CHALLENGE in the title: Poppy Field by Michael Morpurgo, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
  11. A book with an item of clothing or accessory on the cover: 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne, The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
  12. A book inspired by myth/legend/folklore: Mermaid Holidays: The Magic Pearl by Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas
  13. A book published posthumously: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  14. A book you see someone reading on TV or in a movie: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  15. A retelling of a classic: Enola Holmes: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) by Nancy Springer
  16. A book with a question in the title: Is It Night or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman
  17. A book set on college or university campus: Marvel Rising: Squirrel Girl and Ms Marvel by Devin Grayson, Ryan North and Willow Wilson
  18. A book about someone with a superpower: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume One: Squirrel Power by Ryan North
  19. A book told from multiple POVs: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte
  20. A book set in space: Captain Marvel: Higher, Faster, Further by Kelly Sue DeConnick
  21. A book by two female authors: The Silver Well by Kate Forsyth and Kim Wilkins, While You Were Reading by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus
  22. A book with SALTY, SWEET, BITTER, or SPICY in the title: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams
  23. A book set in Scandinavia: The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag
  24. A book that takes place in a single day: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson
  25. A debut novel: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson
  26. A book that’s published in 2019: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni
  27. A book featuring an extinct or imaginary creature: Dragon Masters: Treasure of the Gold Dragon by Tracey West
  28. A book recommended by a celebrity you admire: Split edited by Lee Kofman – recommended by Myf Warhurst
  29. A book with LOVE in the title: With Love from Miss Lily by Jackie French (short story)
  30. A book featuring an amateur detective: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill
  31. A book about a family: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion
  32. A book by an author from Asia, Africa, or South America: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim
  33. A book with a zodiac sign or astrology term in title: The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames
  34. A book that includes a wedding: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, A Dream of Italy by Nicky Pellegrino
  35. A book by an author whose first and last names start with the same letter: Mermaid Holidays: The Talent Show by Delphine Davis and Adele K. Thomas, The True Story of Maddie Bright by Mary-Rose MacColl, Explorer’s Academy: Nebula Secret by Trudi Trueit
  36. A ghost story: The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay
  37. A book with a two-word title: Saving You by Charlotte Nash
  38. A novel based on a true story: The Familiars by Stacey Halls – The Pendle Witches
  39. A book revolving around a puzzle or game: Deltora Quest #1 by Emily Rodda
  40. Your favourite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading challenge:

2016 – A book based on a fairy tale: The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth – based on Chinese fairy tale, The Blue Rose

2017 – A steampunk book: The Book of Dust Volume 2: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Prompt:

Advanced

  1. A “cli-fi” (climate fiction) book: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble, Daughter of Bad Times by Rohan Wilson
  2. A “choose-your-own-adventure” book: Choose Your Own Adventure #2: Journey Under the Sea by R.A. Montgomery
  3. An “own voices” book: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim
  4. Read a book during the season it is set in: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson (Easter Season), The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green (parts are set during Autumn), While You Were Reading by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus (Winter), The Unforgiving City by Maggie Joel (Winter)
  5. A LitRPG book:
  6. A book with no chapters / unusual chapter headings / unconventionally numbered chapters: Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey (Ciphers used to give the chapter headings)
  7. Two books that share the same title: Deltora Quest: The Forest of Silence by Emily Rodda
  8. Two books that share the same title: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda
  9. A book that has inspired a common phrase or idiom: Aladdin and the Arabian Nights – Open Sesame
  10. A book set in an abbey, cloister, monastery, vicarage, or convent: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

The Case of the Wandering Scholar (Laetitia Rodd #2) by Kate Saunders

wandering scholar.jpgTitle: The Case of the Wandering Scholar

Author: Kate Saunders

Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia

Published: 1st October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: It is 1851 and Mrs Rodd has received an unusual commission: wealthy businessman Jacob Welland is dying of consumption and implores our redoubtable detective to find his beloved brother, whom he has not seen for fifteen years.

Joshua Welland was an Oxford scholar; brilliant, eccentric and desperately poor. Nobody can say exactly when he disappeared from his college, but he had taken to wandering the countryside and one day simply failed to return. Since then, there have been several sightings of his lonely, ragged figure. Ten years ago a friend spotted him in a gypsy camp, where it was rumoured he was learning great secrets that would one day astound the world.

Mrs Rodd uses her search as an opportunity to reconnect with a couple from her past, but then a violent murder is committed and Scotland Yard are called to investigate. Mrs Rodd’s old friend Inspector Blackbeard doesn’t want to hear any nonsense about gypsies or secrets. Mrs Rodd, however, is convinced that something very sinister is lurking in this peaceful landscape.

~*~

Following a current trend in crime fiction, where the setting shifts to the nineteenth century, or a situation where the investigator or investigators don’t have access to the technology our favourite crime fighters in many television shows like Criminal Minds and NCIS have. And this is where the Laetitia Rodd series is interesting. Set in the 1850s, Mrs Rodd is a private investigator – with a friend in the police force – Mr Blackbeard – who seems torn between wonder at what she can achieve, and between maintaining the societal norms and gender norms of the day.

In her second outing, Mrs Rodd is called upon to help find a missing scholar, Joshua Welland, who has been spotted after ten years, hiding in a gypsy camp. During her search, Mrs Rodd reconnects with a couple from her past – Arthur and Rachel Somers until an horrific death tears the couple apart – and Mrs Rodd’s mystery deepens.

Because this is set in 1851, it takes much longer to uncover evidence, to gather information and determine who the right killer is. Without the convenience of instant contact, phones, and tracking systems, Mrs Rodd and her friends must rely on slower communication, and other ways of gathering information to uncover the truth behind Welland’s disappearance, and the murders.

In a way, this is quite delightful, as it allows the characters to develop along with the crime, and the secrets are easier in a way to keep and hide, and this makes the outcome satisfying. All investigators work hard for their cases and have their challenges. Private investigators face the challenge of not having access to resources that the police do, so they have to get creative.

Mrs Rodd is a very creative and clever private detective, using the skills and tools she has at hand as a woman in the 1850s to solve not only the murder case, but find out about Joshua Welland – his secrets and where he has been. Much like the first book, which came out three years ago, I very much enjoyed this one. She sits comfortably amongst all the other private detectives – Rowland Sinclair, Phryne Fisher, Sherlock Holmes and many others – to breathe new life into the crime genre and give it a new set of characters and a new way of looking at private investigators. Some are reluctant, some are keen, and some grow into it. This was a delightful addition to the series, and I hope there are many more to come.

The Orange Grove by Kate Murdoch

the orange groveTitle: The Orange Grove

Author: Kate Murdoch

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Regal House Publishing

Published: 11th October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 250

Price: $22.90

Synopsis: Blois, 1705. The château of Duc Hugo d’Amboise simmers with rivalry and intrigue. Henriette d’Augustin, one of five mistresses of the duc, lives at the château with her daughter. When the duc’s wife, Duchesse Charlotte, maliciously undermines a new mistress, Letitia, Henriette is forced to choose between position and morality. She fights to maintain her status whilst targeted by the duchesse who will do anything to harm her enemies. The arrival of charismatic tarot reader, Romain de Villiers, further escalates tensions as rivals in love and domestic politics strive for supremacy.

In a society where status is a matter of life and death, Henriette must stay true to herself, her daughter, and her heart, all the while hiding a painful secret of her own.

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Set almost nine decades before the French Revolution and the beheading of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, The Orange Grove explores the intricacies and relationships of powerplay at a court like Versailles in 1705, as a duc takes on yet another mistress, as well as his wife, Charlotte. Charlotte, his wife, and his mistresses are aware of each other, and how they can fall in and out of favour with the duc.

When a young mistress falls pregnant, Charlotte, the duc’s wife and the one who is supposed to be producing him legitimate male heirs (but has thus far failed to do so and has her own secrets bubbling along throughout the novel that are cleverly revealed slowly), she asks another mistress, Henriette, to choose her loyalties – Charlotte, or the mistresses?

Soon, Romain de Villiers, a tarot reader arrives, and more tensions and political intrigue enter as he finds himself drawn to Charlotte, and the implications that this, and the whispers of witchcraft bring to the palace and its domestic politics as people try to keep secrets and favour.

Cleverly built around early eighteenth century gender politics, domestic politics and fears of the unknown and keeping up appearances, The Orange Grove looks at life and death, and the importance of status, and how even the slightest indiscretion can flip the narrative for anyone, and alter their lives in ways that they never thought possible, whilst coming to conclusions that were not quite expected.

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Most historical fiction novels focus on a big event, through the eyes of specific characters, yet this one focuses on a very tight, and deeply complicated chateau in France during the years of the ruling aristocracy, and the privileges they enjoyed and could exercise over whomever they wished, tossing people away and punishing them in ways that these days seem a bit extreme, yet made sense in the context and understandings of the world these people inhabited. These characters are all flawed – none are wholly good nor are they wholly evil. They are ruled by human emotions of love, desperation and self-preservation, which makes this a very interesting novel as we get to see how people respond to certain conditions and the lengths they will go to so they can save themselves – sometimes with disastrous consequences.

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

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

Author: Philip Pullman

Genre: Fantasy/Mystery/Steampunk

Publisher: Penguin Random House/David Fickling Books

Published: 3rd October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages:784

Price: $32.99

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

 

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