Firewatcher Chronicles #1: Brimstone by Kelly Gardiner

Fire watcher BrimstoneTitle: Firewatcher Chronicles #1: Brimstone

Author: Kelly Gardiner

Genre: Historical Fiction/Time slip

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: December 1940, London: Christopher Larkham finds an ancient Roman ring inscribed with a phoenix on the banks of the Thames. As he takes shelter from the firestorm of the Blitz, the ring glows, and pushing open a door, he finds himself in 1666 and facing the Great Fire of London. Fire-and-brimstone preacher, Brother Blowbladder, and his men of the Righteous Temple have prayed for the ancient gods of fire to bring flames down upon London, a city of sin. Could Christopher be their messenger? Or was it the strange girl on the quay who drew him back in time? Why do the Righteous men wear the same phoenix symbol as the engraving on Christopher’s ring?

The Firewatchertrilogy blends time-travel, history, mystery and action into adventure as Christopher and his new friends race to untangle the truth of the phoenix ring, and face the greatest fires in the city’s history.

~*~

In 1940, Britain is in the grip of World War Two, and the Blitz has started to hound London day and night. Everyone has gas marks, is always ready to rush into the bomb shelters, and those serving on the home front spend their nights as fire watchers, watching the night skies for German bombers coming to destroy the city of London. One afternoon, Christopher discovers an old Roman ring whilst exploring the docks with his friend, Ginger.

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One night. whilst hiding out in the neighbourhood bomb shelter, Christopher opens a door into a world engulfed by fire. Watching London burning, Christopher thinks that at first, Hitler has won, and London is finished – yet a few differences to the skyline, and his meeting with Molly at the quay, make him realise he has fallen almost three hundred years into the past, into the year of the Great Fire of London – 1666. As he finds himself going back and forth 1940 and 1666, Christopher finds himself facing the threat of two evil leaders: Hitler in 1940, and Brother Halleluiah Blowbladder and his cult-like followers in 1666, who believe that fire is the only way to purge the city of sin. But why has Christopher been brought back? Well, like me, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

I love a good historical fiction and time travel story, especially one that is the start of a very engrossing trilogy from a renowned Australian publisher and a fabulous author I have recently discovered, and now want to read more by Kelly Gardiner, as well as find out what happens to Christopher in the next two books. The fire burns through each page, crackling and smoking as you read, and feel the fear and uncertainty of both events, even though today, in 2019, we know the outcomes of each event.

For Christopher, living through the Blitz and witnessing the Great Fire of London, the two events could start to bleed together, as he travels back and forth, and has to check where he is each time. Christopher is a great character – he’s smart, and not wholly perfect – which is what makes it all work so well, as does seeing two of the most terrifying events in London’s history through the eyes of children and the realities that they had to face. In an exciting new trilogy, history and time travel collide with mystery as Christopher is pulled into a mystery involving Brother Blowbladder.

Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French

Somewhere around the corner.jpgTitle: Somewhere Around the Corner

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction/Timeslip

Publisher: Harper Collins

Published: 2nd March 1994

Format: Paperback

Pages: $16.99

Price: 288

Synopsis:Just shut your eyes and picture yourself walking around the corner. that’s what my friend told me. Somewhere around the corner and you’ll be safe. the demonstration was wild, out of control. Barbara was scared. She saw the policeman running towards her. She needed to escape. She closed her eyes and did precisely that: she walked somewhere around the corner – to another demonstration – to another time. Barbara was lucky she met young Jim who took her out of this strange, frightening city to his home. It was 1932, when Australia was in the grip of the depression, and Jim lived in a shantytown. But Barbara found a true friend and a true home – somewhere safe around the corner.

Notes from Jackie French: Some notes on the book

Awards: 1995 CBC Honor Book for Younger Readers; shortlisted 1995 WA Children’s Book of the Year; shortlisted 1995 ACT COOL Award; shortlisted 1995 NSW Family Therapist’s Award

~*~

Barbara is alone at a demonstration in Sydney, in 1994. She bumps into an old man, who tells her about a girl who once told him to just walk around the corner to find safety. When she dopes, she feels herself being pulled and called into another world – another time. When she opens her eyes, she’s in another demonstration, this time in Sydney during 1932 and the Great Depression. She’s rescued by Young Jim, who takes her back to his home in a shanty town called Poverty Gully, where she meets Ma, Dad, Thellie, Elaine, Joey and Harry, as well as Gully Jack, the Hendersons, Dulcie at the dairy farm and the local police officer, Sergeant Ryan. Here, though times are hard, Barbara finds a family, and a safe place and friends. She’s welcomed into the O’Reilly family wholly and adored by all, and cared for carefully by everyone in the O’Reilly circle as she finds a way to adapt to this strange new life in a valley filled with hope, love and family during a time in history when many were unemployed and homeless, and trying to make do with what they had, and get whatever work they could get – struggles that lasted until the outbreak of war, when those who could entered the army, others entered industries that helped the war effort and economies across the world were rebuilt slowly.

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This was the first Jackie French book I read – back in year seven English, with Mrs Cohen. I have read Jackie French and historical fiction since then, sometimes on and off depending on what I could find, and what was available in the library, as well as all my other reading, and I still have all my Jackie French novels – including my copy of this one from year seven. It was also one of my earliest introductions to events like the Depression, and it made the events of 1932 accessible to a younger audience in a truthful and reflective way, without shying away from the truth, but at the same time, without being too overwhelming – a lot of her books do this and they are filled with such great emotion and spirit, I am currently trying to read or re-read all the ones by Jackie that I have.

Her books are often inspired by real people she knew or knows, coupled with the untold stories in history, the voices ignored such as the poor, women, disabled, and many other groups often left out of the discourses. This is why they are so powerful, and why Somewhere Around the Corner which has been out for twenty-five years this year, based on the publication information I found, and in my yes, has not only stood the test of time, but reflects society then and what many experienced, and what some people face today – job and housing insecurity. It holds up because these experiences, and the experiences of Barbara and the O’Reillys, are and can be universal.

Living in 1932 with the knowledge of what is to come, the O’Reilly’s see the things Barbara tells them as wild stories, and fantasies at times, though Young Jim and Thellie believe her. What I loved about this story, and all of Jackie’s stories, is the equal prominence she gives to plot, history and characters, neatly bringing them all together to create eloquent and insightful stories, often set during times of hardship or times of social change and upheaval, and seen through the eyes of those often not heard in the history books – making these stories powerful for all to read and learn from.

I am glad I finally read this again after finding my copy – as my first introduction to Jackie French, and time slip, young adult and historical fiction novels, it is very special to me, and I hope it will be read and enjoyed by others as well.

The Time Travel Diaries #1 by Caroline Lawrence

Time Travel Diaries 1.jpgTitle: The Time Travel Diaries #1

Author: Caroline Lawrence

Genre: Fiction, Adventure, History

Publisher: Piccadilly/Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:From the million-copy-selling author of The Roman Mysteries comes a nail-biting time-travel adventure in Roman London – where past meets present.

From the million-copy-selling author of The Roman Mysteries comes a nail-biting time-travel adventure in Roman London – where past meets present.

Billionaire Solomon Daisy is obsessed with the skeleton of a blue-eyed girl from Roman London. He has managed to invent a Time Machine so that he can go and find her, but it’s estimated that for each hour spent in the past, the time traveller’s life will be shortened so Solomon recruits a potential child time traveller: Alex Papas, a twelve-year-old boy who knows a smattering of Greek and Latin.

Alex’s mission is to go back to Londinium through a portal in London’s Mithraeum and find out all he can about the blue-eyed girl.

There are just three rules:

1. Naked you go and naked you must return.
2. Drink, don’t eat.
3. As little interaction as possible.

But Time Travel is no picnic – and Roman London is far more dangerous than anyone could have known.

~*~

Alex Papas lives with his grandmother and goes to school every day. He loves history, Latin and Greek. He’s going about his life at school when a teacher calls him in to see her, and soon he is recruited by billionaire Solomon Daisy to travel back to Roman London – Londinium in 260 AD. However, when he goes back, Alex is followed by Dinu, the new boy at school and a bully. Arriving in Londinium, they must find a way to blend in and follow the rules set forth by Solomon relating to time travel. On a quest to find the blue-eyed girl with the ivory knife, Alex and Dinu mustn’t communicate with people – yet other forces have other ideas. One small change in the past is said to change the future – and nothing can come back with them.

So as Alex and Dinu seek the blue-eyed girl, Londinium of 260 AD is revealed, and Alex gets to use his Latin – and readers get to learn a little too, and realises that everything he has been told or seen. And, he has to try to stay alive so he can get back.

Finding the girl proves to be easier than Alex thought – but trying to get home is harder, especially when Dinu goes missing and Alex must find him and get them both home safely. But can he succeed, and what awaits them in the future?

This book combined fantasy, history and Latin – in a fun, and easily accessible way for all readers. Knowing some basic Latin, I was able to understand some of the Latin. Having the English translation is good, as it is included seamlessly and allows readers to go on without going to a translator.

As the first in a series, I am looking forward to seeing how this progresses and where else Alex gets to go, especially after the ending of this one. I never saw it coming and it is an amazing away to end the first novel, and has me excited to see where it takes us.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

psychology of time travel.jpgTitle: The Psychology of Time Travel

Author: Kate Mascarenhas

Genre: Science Fiction/Crime

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia/Head of Zeus

Published: 1st August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A time travel murder mystery, set in a female-centric alternate world.

A time travel murder mystery from a brilliantly original new voice. Perfect for readers of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven . 1967 : Four female scientists invent a time travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril… 2017 : Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future – a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady… 2018 : When Odette discovered the body she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, that strong reek of sulpher. But when the inquest fails to find any answers, she is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder? What readers are saying: ‘A complex murder mystery thriller that offers something new and exciting … I was gripped!’ ‘Fantastic! The plot was hugely thought-provoking and the characters engaging’ ‘A fascinating, thought-provoking thriller about time travel, murder and a conspiracy that threatens to explode through time’

 

 

~*~

 

In 1967, four female scientists – Barbara, Grace, Lucille and Margaret – invent a time machine. The initial tests send them minutes, or hours into the future, before they start travelling years, and decades into the future, meeting their future selves and future families, and form an organisation called the Conclave, where they work within their own laws, uninhibited by the courts of England. As the novel goes back and forth between 2017, 2018 and various years of significance for the four scientists and the rest of the time travellers they work with, there is a death in a museum, a woman is found shot to death, but with no discernible evidence pointing towards a suspect or weapon. In 2017 and 2018, Barbara’s granddaughter, Ruby, crosses paths with a time traveller to be, Odette, and the intersection of their lives starts to reveal more secrets about the Conclave and those involved and those to come.

 

In this diverse, and female driven novel, various identities are explored, and the idea of time travel, and being able to interact with ones future and past selves, see their deaths but go back to one’s own time and see them again, and the implications of actions taken during time travel that can influence ones future are all explored in Kate Mascarenhas’ first novel, The Psychology of Time Travel.  Her characters are typically English, yet interspersed with the diversity of race and sexuality, giving the novel an atmosphere that is delightful to read and engaging, because the diversity is broad, and incorporates age, and personality as well, ensuring there is something to like for all readers.

 

Equally delightful was the entirely female main cast – showing the power of femininity, representing women as they are, with flaws, with varying characteristics, of different races, sexualities and also disability and mental illness. The story does not shy away from the rather harsh side effects of time travel on some of the characters, nor does it shy away from the devious nature of others, and the mistrust that time travel can bring for some people, the conflict of needing to know, but not wanting to know, of wanting to tell people what is to come, but at the same time, wanting to protect them from this knowledge, creating emotional journeys for all the characters amidst their penchant for science and time travel.

 

The raw humanity and the feminism that drives this female centric novel, where women are who they are, where they have family and relationship conflicts like anyone but where they accept each other without judgement for the most part, is a wonderful example of the power of female driven stories, where women can see themselves represented in a variety of ways and not just in the archetype of maiden, mother or crone, or as romantic desires – which there is nothing wrong with these topes, it is always nice to see women taking centre stage in narratives and points in history where their stories might have been overpowered by others.

 

It is important to see the kinds of representation in other fiction that is present here: female, bisexuality, lesbians, mental health, and different races, all on the spectrum of these aspects of identity that make up who we are as humans. It is a refreshing book to read with these aspects of the characters so raw and front and centre, with a realism about them that doesn’t shy away from the realities of the lives of these women as they travel through time and space. It is an intriguing book with a very curious premise, a time travelling murder mystery, where all the pieces of the puzzle do not fit as neatly together as one would think, yet this is exactly what makes it work so well, and gives it the story its unique characteristics.

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Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters

evie's ghost.jpg

Title: Evie’s Ghost

Author: Helen Peters

Genre: Children’s Historical Fiction

Publisher: Nosy Crow/Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th June 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Classic children’s fiction from the author of The Secret Hen House Theatre.

Evie couldn’t be angrier with her mother. She’s only gone and got married again and has flown off on honeymoon, sending Evie to stay with a godmother she’s never even met in an old, creaky house in the middle of nowhere. It is all monumentally unfair. But on the first night in her godmother’s spare room, Evie notices a strange message scratched into the windowpane, and everything she thought she knew gets turned upside down. After a ghastly night’s sleep Evie wakes up in 1814, dressed as a housemaid, and certain she’s gone back in time for a reason. A terrible injustice needs to be fixed. But there’s a housekeeper barking orders, a bad-tempered master to avoid, and the chamber pots won’t empty themselves. It’s going to take all Evie’s cunning to fix things in the past so that nothing will break apart in the future…

~*~

Evie’s Ghost is the kind of novel that whilst for kids, is perfect for anyone who enjoys a mystery or historical fiction, and is a delightful time slip novel set in the early nineteenth century. Thirteen year old Evie has been sent to the country to stay with her godmother, Anna, whilst her mother and her stepfather go on a holiday without her. Annoyed at her mother, and with a dislike of her new stepfather, Evie reluctantly arrives at the house, and is devastated to learn of a lack of technology – and feels cut off from her friends and the world until an encounter with a ghost at her window draws her two hundred years into the past, to a grand house – where she must serve as a house maid to the Fanes who had once owned the property her godmother and others now live in, divided into apartments, and the interior grandeur lost. Waking up in 1814, Evie soon discovers a mystery to untangle, and someone to help – the daughter of the owner, Sophia Fane, in love with a gardener but who is being forced to wed someone double her age. With only a few days to work things out, Evie must find a way to help Sophia and get back to her time before she is missed.

Evie’s Ghost manages to tell an intriguing story, and uses the right amount of suspense and mystery, revealing things as they need to be revealed throughout the story, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the characters and time period. The initial shock of being yanked from the twenty-first century into the nineteenth century and Evie’s response to the food and clothes, and the people, as well as their reaction to her, and the way she speaks, laughing off her suggestion of cleaning machines as dreams that will never eventuate all work together to bring the modern and old worlds together, and for Evie to adapt, though she sometimes slips up with modern dialogue, it works for her character, illustrating the stark differences between her time and theirs.

Telling it in first person gave the story a great impact – seeing both worlds through Evie’s eyes ensured that the strength of the contrasting worlds and attitudes towards class and gender, and Evie’s shock at how people treated each other – gave the story more power, I think, and allows the reader to feel as though they are experiencing these attitudes with Evie. Showing this contrast through her eyes ensures that the varying aspects of the time periods are experienced by her and therefore, by the reader through a personal account. I felt immersed in the world in this way, but have also read third person novels where it has been done exceptionally well, and I think that comes down to the writer as well as the point of view character, and Helen Peters has done a really food job with Evie and her story here, culminating in a conclusion that had hints dropped here and there but that I still questioned at times, making sure I had all the clues right before my aha moment.

This novel worked because of these contrasts, and because of the compelling story that allows the reader to immerse themselves in the world of 1814 and Evie’s desire to help Sophia and get back to her time. The publisher’s website says it is aimed at readers aged between nine and twelve, and it is a good book for this age group, but I enjoyed it, as I enjoy time slip novels, historical fiction and mysteries, and Evie’s Ghost managed to combine all three to create a story that I read rather quickly, eager to see how it was resolved. I would recommend it to any reader who enjoys history, mysteries, and female heroines who resolve things for themselves.

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Draekora by Lynette Noni

draekora

Title: Draekora (Medoran Chronicles #3)

Author: Lynette Noni

Genre: Fantasy/YA

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: “I swear by the stars that you and the others slain tonight will be the first of many. Of that you have my word.”

With Aven Dalmarta now hiding in the shadows of Meya, Alex is desperate to save Jordan and keep the Rebel Prince from taking more lives.

Training day and night to master the enhanced immortal blood in her veins, Alex undertakes a dangerous Meyarin warrior trial that separates her from those she loves and leaves her stranded in a place where nothing is as it should be.

As friends become enemies and enemies become friends, Alex must decide who to trust as powerful new allies—and adversaries—push her towards a future of either light… or darkness.

One way or another, the world will change…

~*~

The third book in the Medoran Chronciles series picks up soon after the devastating events of Raelia, where Bear, D.C. and Alex find themselves spending their Kaldoras holidays without their friend, Jordan, who has been Claimed by Aven. Transported to Meya during this trip, Alex is sent on a varranguard test to see how she deals with the Meyarin abilities she acquired in battle with Aven. Soon, Alex encounters Xiraxus, a draekon trapped in her time, and is ripped two thousand years into the past, where she must wait for Xiraxus to be strong enough to transport her back to her own time, whilst using the time she has to learn about Meya and how Aven of the past becomes the Aven of the future, her future. Carefully trying to keep her secret of mortality from Aven, and the other Meya, Alex goes by Aeylia, and begins her education and interaction with tose she knows in the future, but not in the past. It is up to Alex to survive this time in the past, whilst her friends in the future are stuck in time. She must make hard decision that will see tragedy come down upon those she cares about, Meya and human. In the third book, Alex is tested in ways that she could never have imagined since stepping through the doors to Medora and Akarnae in book one, and where she must find a way to get back to her world to prevent the Aven of the future from destroying the world and everyone she cares about.

aww2017-badgeIn this third instalment, I didn’t know what to expect. Alex and her friends, D.C. and Bear, are still trying to find a way to free Jordan from the clutches of Aven and keep Medora and Akarnae safe from his destruction. It kept up a good pace, like the first two, where Alex, though out of her depth at first, finds a way to settle into her new surroundings whilst staying true to her character and adapting what she knows and can do to ensure she is not discovered, though it may only be a matter of time before her secret is revealed, and Aven wreaks havoc on his family and Meya.

I enjoyed the draekons in this book. Xiraxus was adorable and a great asset to the story. Being away from Akarnae was refreshing, as readers get to experience Meya, and Draekora, two other regions of Medora, and begin to put the pieces of Aven’s rebellion and other hints dropped in the first two novels together. I enjoyed reading this one, and it kept me awake late a couple of nights hoping to get to the end, but at the same time, wanting to savour it and enjoy it – whilst anticipating the lengthy wait for book four, hopefully next year. Another great instalment from Lynette Noni, and a tick in my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and in another reading challenge for the fantasy category.

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The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth

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Title: The Puzzle Ring

Author: Kate Forsyth

Publisher: Scholastic/Pan Macmillan

Category: Historical Fiction/Children’s Fiction

Published: 1st June 2009

Pages: 409

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: An ancient curse. A ruined castle. A journey back in time.

Hannah Rose was not quite 13 years old when she discovered her family was cursed. . . .

The arrival of a mysterious letter changes Hannah’s life forever. One day she is an ordinary teenage girl. The next day she discovers she is heir to a castle in the Scottish highlands—a castle that was cursed more than four hundred and forty years ago.

The curse has haunted her family for generations, culminating in the disappearance of Hannah’s father the day after she was born. A prophecy tells of a Red Rose who will save a Black Rose, solve the puzzle ring, and break the curse. Red-haired Hannah is determined to be the one.

Yet, to break the curse, she must go back in time to the last tumultuous days of Mary, Queen of Scots . . . a time when witches were burnt and queens were betrayed and the dark forces of wild magic still stalked the land. . . .

 

~*~

If you’re looking for something new to read, then go no further than Kate Forsyth’s 2009 novel, The Puzzle Ring. Set in Scotland, the novel begins in modern times, with the main character, Hannah Rose Brown, discovering the truth about her heritage.

From the opening words about not quite thirteen-year-old Hannah Rose Brown, I was hooked.  The opening line swept me into the action and I soon found myself preoccupied by the book, dreaming about it, eager to get back to it when I was away from it.

The Puzzle Ring has become on of the books I own that I want to revisit and practically re –read as soon as I have finished it for the first time. I felt at home in Scotland, drawn to the ancestral home of my own family. Kate Forsyth created a world that I could feel myself living in. I smelt the snow, heard the sounds of Wintersloe and smelt the sixteenth century smells, found myself playing for Mary, Queen of Scots and helping Hannah in her quest.

This book reaches a wonderful conclusion that I never saw coming and it fitted the story perfectly. I cannot wait to revisit this book.