To Love A Sunburnt Country by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #4)

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Title: To Love A Sunburnt Country (Matilda Saga #4)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 1st December 2014

Format: Paperback

Pages: 466

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In war-torn Malaya, Nancy dreams of Australia – and a young man called Michael.

The year is 1942 and the world is at war. Nancy Clancy left school at fourteen to spend a year droving, just like her grandfather Clancy of the Overflow. Now sixteen, Nancys family has sent her to Malaya to bring home her sister-in-law Moira and baby nephew Gavin. Yet despite the threat of Japanese invasion, Moira resists, wanting to stay near her husband Ben.

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But not even Nancy of the Overflow can stop the fall of Singapore and the capture of so many Australian troops. When their ship is bombed, Nancy, Moira and Gavin are reported missing.

Back home at Gibbers Creek, Michael refuses to believe the girl he loves has died. As Darwin, Broome and even Sydney are bombed, Australians must fight to save their country. But as Michael and the families of Gibbers Creek discover, there are many ways to love your country, and many ways to fight for it.

From one of Australias most-admired storytellers comes a gripping and unforgettable novel based on true events and little-known people.

This is a story about ultimate survival and the deepest kinds of love.

A book about a love of country that is heartwarming and heartbreaking, and hard to put down.

~*~

To Love A Sunburnt Country returns to the world of Matilda Thompson and Drinkwater, against the backdrop of World War Two and the impending Japanese threat as the Imperial Japanese Army takes over Thailand, Malaya and the impenetrable Singapore in their attempts to gain a foothold in the Asia Pacific region. Nancy Clancy, Jackie French’s imagined granddaughter of Clancy of the Overflow, is sent to Malaya to escort her sister-in-law, Moira, home before it is too late. Told through the voices of most of the women of Gibbers Creek – Nancy, Matilda, Flinty from The Girl from Snowy River, Blue and Mah from The Road to Gundagai, and a few men – Thomas and Michael Thompson, and Ben, Nancy’s brother, this is the first book in the saga that uses different perspectives for chapters, alongside the usual letters and excerpts from the Gibbers Creek Gazette that inform the history behind the fictional characters and location.

Again, Jackie French has employed strong female and male characters – the voices of war, and the home front. The soldiers, trapped by the enemy in savage prisoner of war camps, whose letters are interspersed and dangle a hook and bait of hope that they’ll all make it out alive, and the civilian prisoners of war in Papua, including Nancy, her sister-in-law Moira, and her nephew Gavin, trapped for years in a camp, starved, and suffering illnesses. It is a world that young Gavin grows up knowing – and a world that Nancy wishes she could have spared him from.

It is Nancy’s prisoner of war experience that is the focus – the silent struggles she goes through that only those around her can understand, and her ability to show some kind of respect to those who keep them prisoner, and earn privileges she uses to gather food, and start to plan an escape in the later years of war. The use of a voice of war, a female civilian prisoner of war, is what gives this novel its strength. Through history, we know much of the soldier prisoner of war experiences, and the experiences of soldiers, and of the home front, the Land Girls, but perhaps not always those left behind to wonder, to hope and to grieve. A silenced voice can be powerful in communicating a message. Jackie French has achieved this in a wonderful way throughout the Matilda Saga.

As a reader, I lived Nancy’s frustration at the stubbornness of Moira not wanting to leave Malaya until the last possible moment, her strength as she got them to the ship, and finally, her pain – physical, mental and emotional – that threatened to destroy her strength and the will to live. The camp Nancy endures is confronting yet I felt this was necessary to encapsulate just how many people were affected by Japanese invasions and not hearing about loved ones, the isolation and fear. It communicated a war story through an often-silenced voice, one not often written about – to give insight into how war can affect everyone.

I’ve said this before – Jackie French’s silenced characters give history depth and an understanding that may have previously been lost or ignored. It breaks down the barrier that what is recorded in the history books is not always the full story – and a little bit more digging can reveal untold stories and interesting facts we may not have known before.

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Born A Crime: Stories from A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

born a crime.jpgTitle: Born a Crime: Stories from A South African Childhood

Author: Trevor Noah

Genre: Memoir/Non-Fiction

Publisher: John Murray/Hachette

Published: 29th November 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $35.00

Synopsis: Growing up mixed race in South Africa, this is the fascinating and darkly funny memoir from Trevor Noah.

Trevor Noah is the host of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, where he gleefully provides America with its nightly dose of serrated satire. He is a light-footed but cutting observer of the relentless absurdities of politics, nationalism and race — and in particular the craziness of his own young life, which he’s lived at the intersections of culture and history.

In his first book, Noah tells his coming of age story with his larger-than-life mother during the last gasps of apartheid-era South Africa and the turbulent years that followed. Noah was born illegal — the son of a white, Dutch father and a black Xhosa mother, who had to pretend to be his nanny or his father’s servant in the brief moments when the family came together. His brilliantly eccentric mother loomed over his life — a comically zealous Christian (they went to church six days a week and three times on Sunday), a savvy hustler who kept food on their table during rough times, and an aggressively involved, if often seriously misguided, parent who set Noah on his bumpy path to stardom.

The stories Noah tells are sometimes dark, occasionally bizarre, frequently tender, and always hilarious — whether he’s subsisting on caterpillars during months of extreme poverty or making comically pitiful attempts at teenage romance in a colour-obsessed world; whether he’s being thrown into jail as the hapless fall guy for a crime he didn’t commit or being thrown by his mother from a speeding car driven by murderous gangsters.

~*~

Trevor Noah’s biography, Born A Crime, finds a way to deal with apartheid South Africa and growing up during this time and the turbulent years that followed in a moving, humourous and effective way. Growing up in a world where your very existence is considered a crime because your mother, a Xhosa woman, had relations with a white Swiss man at the height of apartheid can shape you. Using his comedic skills, Noah manages to convey the hatred and segregation, and struggles of the era to an audience who may not be quite familiar with it. We know it happened, we know how bad it is – but how many of us who didn’t live there at the time or who haven’t spoken to people who lived through it know how truly bad it was? Noah’s ability to tell the story through the eyes of a child who did not quite understand at first how his existence was breaking the law, and the innocence of these days illustrated how some people may have tried to deal with it – protect your children, yet they will still become aware of the harsh realities surrounding their lives.

Noah discusses the flaws in apartheid, and how the logic of race classifications was actually illogical: The Chinese were classified as black, but the Japanese were classified as white: Noah’s suggestion is that as South Africa received imports from Japan, they were given the white classification to keep them happy. Yet at the same time, a black person could become classified as coloured, or an Indian person could become classified as white. A coloured person could become classified white and a white person could have their white status downgraded to coloured or black. Even a child born to two white parents, he says, could be classified as coloured and the family separated unless the parents chose to reclassify as coloured. Yet Noah was too white to be black and too black to be white – so where did he fit in?

Trevor Noah has told a side of apartheid that may not have been possible to tell in the early nineties, so soon after it ended. As he is mixed race, Trevor Noah was able to move between the groups at school: speaking various African tribal languages, English and some Afrikaans, his ability to be a chameleon in a world where colour was given a lot of attention was something he soon found he could use to his advantage. In writing this memoir, he has invited fans of his comedy and other readers into a world that had humour, love and some moments of pure terror and fear, and the confusion that some people had, not knowing how to deal with a boy who could speak at least seven languages and who wasn’t quite white, but wasn’t quite black. Like all of us, these experiences growing up in the final years of apartheid and in the years following, where people who were still products of apartheid weren’t always sure of what to do, have shaped Trevor. His words can affect everyone. Though he is a comedian, his words are strong, and could encourage unity and working together, showing the ineffectiveness of dividing people up based on race or skin colour. Further division came in the category of black based on whether you were Xhosa, Tswana, Zulu or a member of another tribe or cultural group, and this could determine how you acted within this group according to your gender. Apartheid not only set race against race, but sometimes set people who had been classed as one race against each other.

Reading this book was eye opening – I knew how bad it was from my parents, and that’s why they left, so I wouldn’t grow up exposed to any of the impacts of apartheid, because it could affect everyone adversely, as Noah pointed out. Though some groups gained more privileges than others, the fact that these could be taken away with what Noah describes as the slash of a pen and the whim of the person wielding it, likely instilled fear in many. Noah’s world as the child of a black woman and a white man, a mixed race child, in a world that didn’t accept him or always know what to do with him, is one that not many of us will really know, yet through his words, we can visit and find out what it was like – mainly for him, but also, the world seen through his eyes as to how anyone and everyone could be affected by apartheid is just as powerful. The limitations of what people could do for work were determined by race.

A great read for anyone who lived through apartheid, or who wishes to know more. Trevor Noah shows that people have the ability to become more than what society tells them they are, that yes you may struggle and fight, you may face adversity but in the end, you can get there.

Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock

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Title: Murder in Midwinter

Author: Fleur Hitchcock

Genre: Fiction/Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Nosy Crow

Published: 23rd November, 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 254

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: When Maya takes a photo from the top of a bus, she has no idea of the trouble it will bring. The bright shop window is gorgeous but the couple arguing in front of it look as though they want to kill each other. And when the flash goes off, they look as though they want to kill her too…

Then a body turns up. The police suggest Maya should go away for a while – somewhere remote, somewhere safe. Her aunt’s farm in the Welsh mountains is a perfect place to hide, and soon it’s snowing hard enough to cut them off completely. No one can get in and n one can get out. But does that mean there’s nothing to fear? 

~*~

A murder mystery for children ages nine and up, Murder in Midwinter introduces future fans of crime fiction and the possible future authors within this genre to a world of solving crimes. As it is aimed at children aged nine and older, there is no blood and gore, thus it fits into the cozy crime genre, like the works of Agatha Christie, Vaseem Khan, Alexander McCall-Smith and the recent Anthony Horowitz novel, Magpie Murders. Through Maya’s eyes, the reader experiences the crime, and the fear of having criminals after them, and not knowing what to do. Using their own initiative though, Maya and her cousin will find a way to get through the next few days and a way to help the police solve the crime.

Maya’ world is turned upside down when she sees the body pulled from the Thames and her sister doesn’t show up for a school concert. With the identifying streak of white in her black hair, Maya is going to be easy to find. She is sent away after her sister is found, but the fear is still there. Hours, and a long distance away from her family, Maya feels isolated in Wales, and having to deal with a cousin who hates her, and a sense of isolation from being trapped inside. When the huge snowstorms come and block people in the village and farm, and block anyone form using the roads, Maya feels a false sense of security, and hopes that this means that everything will be over soon and she can go back home.

A delightful and quick read, Maya’s adventure in crime solving for children is a great way to introduce eager readers to the genre. In the midst of a charming winter and Christmas setting, the reader and characters are thrown into a fast paced plot that takes exciting twists and turns to reach the resolution and revelations at the end of the novel. It is also a journey of finding new friends an family coming together. A story where Maya stands alone when she can abut receives help when she needs to – a wonderful heroine for young girls to identify with. Written from her point of view, it is much more accessible for the age group than other crime novels, depending on the individual reading level.

Music and Freedom by Zoe Morrison

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Title: Music and Freedom

Author: Zoe Morrison

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Vintage Australia/Random House Australia

Published: June 27, 2016

Format: paperback

Pages: 345

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: I have no use for forgiveness, not yet. But other ideas like that,
kindness, for example, I think that is fundamental. Resurrection;
I like that too. And love, of course, love, love, love.

Alice Murray learns to play the piano aged three on an orange orchard in rural Australia. Recognising her daughter’s gift, her mother sends Alice to boarding school in the bleak north of England, and there Alice stays for the rest of her childhood. Then she’s offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, and on a summer school in Oxford she meets Edward, an economics professor who sweeps her off her feet.

Alice soon finds that Edwards is damaged, and she’s trapped. She clings to her playing and to her dream of becoming a concert pianist, until disaster strikes. Increasingly isolated as the years unravel, eventually Alice can’t find it in herself to carry on. Then she hears the most beautiful music from the walls of her house …

This novel’s love story is that of a woman who must embrace life again if she is to survive. Inspiring and compelling, it explores the dark terrain of violence and the transformative powers of music and love.

~*~

Music and Freedom is Zoe Morrison’s first novel, and it is a thought-provoking and eloquently told story for a debut novel. Throughout Alice’s life, she has been educated in England, in boarding schools and music programs, where music has given her a sense of self and freedom, though she longs to return home and be free there with her family. Unable to return home, she weds an Oxford economics professor – a man who is troubled and with very traditional ideas of how a woman should act and how a husband should be allowed to treat his wife. As a result of his demands and the abuse she suffers at his hands, something she cannot speak of with the women’s circle she is part of for fear of being blamed for his temper by others, Alice internalises the abuse and her fears. She tries to escape through her music, but is forced to play elsewhere when Edward is home, and soon, even her music becomes a prison when Edward demands she attends a concert and perform a complicated Rachmaninoff piece she is not given ample time to prepare.

The novel is told in short chapters that mirror a diary, and go back and forth between a young, vibrant Alice in the 1940s and 1950s to a disoriented, confused old woman, trying to claw towards a freedom that she has been denied for so long – whether physically by her husband, or emotionally by the thoughts of doubt that imprison her.

This structure shows how Alice became the way she is at the opening of the novel, and slowly, she finds a way to be free with the help of her neighbour in Oxford, Emily, and her son, Richard.

Zoe Morrison deals with the issue of domestic abuse and the silence it can cause, even when attempts are being made to combat it. Alice’s fight for freedom is life long, and only when she is an elderly woman, can she finally find the freedom she desires, and find a way back to music, and a way into a new form of freedom: writing.

An eye-opening and emotional story, it is told with care and sensitivity for Alice, and has incorporated necessary research. This is just one story, one experience in a time when there were different expectations for men and women in some areas, and a time when the lines between what people expected men and women to do began to blur. The setting of Oxford illustrates this in the traditions that Edward holds so dear, and in the desires that Alice has throughout the novel about her music and freedom.

The Safest Place in London by Maggie Joel

I received a copy from the publisher for review

 

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Title: The Safest Place in London

Author: Maggie Joel

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Published: 24th August 2016/September 2016 release

Format: Paperback, also available in eBook

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Two frightened children, two very different mothers, and one night of terrifying Blitz bombing during World War Two. And when the bombs stop falling, which families’ lives will be changed forever?

On a frozen January evening in 1944, Nancy Levin, and her three-year-old daughter, Emily, flee their impoverished East London home as an air raid siren sounds. Not far away, 39- year-old Diana Meadows and her own child, three-year-old Abigail, are lost in the black-out as the air raid begins. Finding their way in the jostling crowd to the mouth of the shelter they hurry to the safety of the underground tube station. Mrs Meadows, who has so far sat out the war in the safety of London’s outer suburbs, is terrified – as much by the prospect of sheltering in an East End tube station as of experiencing a bombing raid first hand.

Far away Diana’s husband, Gerald Meadows finds himself in a tank regiment in North Africa while Nancy’s husband, Joe Levin has narrowly survived a torpedo in the Atlantic and is about to re-join his ship. Both men have their own wars to fight but take comfort in the knowledge that their wives and children, at least, remain safe.

But in wartime, ordinary people can find themselves taking extreme action – risking everything to secure their own and their family’s survival, even at the expense of others.

~*~

The Safest Place in London is beautifully written, evocative and yet another wonderful look at the home front of World War Two, and what ordinary people did just to survive. Part one of the book is title “Underground”, and explores the night two mothers and their children from vastly separate parts of London, seek refuge in an air raid shelter in the East End. As the night wears on, the chapters flick seamlessly back and forth between each mother and how they are experiencing the night. For Nancy, this has happened before and has been a part of her life for much of her daughter’s life. For Diana, lost with her child and away from the safety of Buckinghamshire, this is the first time they have been in this situation. As the night unfolds, each woman flashes back to the days, weeks and months that have led them to this situation, and they reflect on what they have had to do to ensure the survival of their respective children whilst their husbands are away fighting the war. As the night wears on, fear grows and unexpected guests appear, resulting in an unforeseen disaster the changes the course of the novel.

In the second part, titled “Overground”, the journeys of the Levin and Meadows husbands – Joe and Gerald – are related, and take the reader up to the tragic ending to part one, and the ensuing consequences of the choices made by one mother in light of what had happened that night in London.

Maggie Joel’s novel shows that sometimes home is not the safe haven it usually is in times of war, and that the home front of a nation at war can sometimes be just as dangerous, deadly and fraught with trouble as the battlefields in far off countries that have been pulled into the ravages of war. The title made me both hopeful and wary – it made me hope for the safety of the innocent people hiding from the bombs, but filled me with trepidation and the possibility that something awful could happen at any moment. A remarkable novel that deals with the human condition in time of war, it allows the reader to experience this and had me reading late into the night to find out the motivations of each character, and if this would ever come out.

The Safest Place in London evokes a wide range of emotions, showing the flaws of the characters and what they feel they must do to survive the war. Exploring this side of the home front, where the bulk of the novel takes place on one night, Maggie Joel’s novel shows the reality of war from both sides – the home front and the battlefields, soldiers and mothers and children caught up in an air raid. It is a novel that evokes a wide range of emotions for the flawed characters who must make decisions to help their families and make a decision in the heat of the moment – a moment that can allow someone to act in a way they may never have acted before this night that was supposed to take place in the safest place in London.