Facing the Flame by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #7)

Facing the Flame.jpgTitle: Facing the Flame (Matilda Saga #7)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 20th November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 292

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: There have been fires before, but not like this. Heartbreaking and powerful, FACING THE FLAME is a story of the triumph of courage and community, and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it.

‘The perfect read for anyone who loves immersing themselves in Australian fiction. Gripping, emotional and moving, Facing the Flame is a great book to curl up with on a warm spring night.’ – New Idea

There have been fires before, but not like this.

In 1978, as the hot wind howls and the grass dries, all who live at Gibber’s Creek know their land can burn. But when you love your land, you fight for it.

For Jed Kelly, an even more menacing danger looms: a man from her past determined to destroy her. Finding herself alone, trapped and desperate to save her unborn child, Jed’s only choice is to flee – into the flames.

Heartbreaking and powerful, Facing the Flame celebrates the triumph of courage and community, and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it.

~*~

Seven books in, and the Matilda Saga is getting better with each book. From the late nineteenth century to 1979. From the slums of Grinder’s Alley to Gibber’s Creek, Moura and Drinkwater, the journey of young Matilda O’Halloren to find her father after her mother’s death is what kicked off this series, and the ongoing relationships between the families of Drinkwater, Overflow and Rocky Valley, the Thompsons, the Clancys, the McAlpines and the Macks have all watched seasons come and go, watched generations grow up, and new life enter the world. Picking up two years after If Blood Should Stain the Wattle, Facing the Flame opens with a wedding, and an announcement that will change Jed’s life forever.  As her pregnancy progresses in its final days, Gibber’s Creek and the neighbouring areas become threatened by a devastating bushfire, and someone from Jed’s past determined to eke revenge and destroy her. With the life of her unborn baby at stake, and encouraging her sister Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara to head off into town to help those sheltering there after evacuation, Jed must flee into the flames, back towards her house as she tries to save two lives. As the fire eats away at the paddocks and earth, the community of Gibber’s Creek will not allow itself to be beaten. Regardless of age, gender and ability, these courageous women will fight to save their land.

aww2017-badgeFire and the land are as much characters as the humans, and in many chapters, we end with the perspective of the fire as it ravages the land. It effectively sets the scene and you can feel the threat of the flames as they progress to their final fate towards the end of the book, where there are a few secrets left unsolved, and where there is hope for the future of Jed and her family.

Moura, Drinkwater, Dribble, Rocky Valley and Overflow are the key homes that have helped to link the series together, and link the families of these places together. A few books ago, we were introduced to River View, a rehabilitation place for disabled and ill children whose parents needed help, or where children like Scarlett would live, receiving specific care for disabilities that impacted their lives, but that the children, and Scarlett in particular, did not use to define themselves. Scarlett has come a long way since we first encountered her in Ghost by the Billabong, becoming independent and able to care for herself and live in the city to attend university. Now, River View is home to a few kids seeking specific help. Lu Borgino is blind, and feels at a loss for what she has been told or made to feel her life will become. But with the help of the Gibber’s Creek clan, she realises she can still achieve her dreams. It is characters like these girls that the Matilda Saga has given a voice to – the forgotten, the ones left out of history books.

Throughout the seven books, Jackie French’s main characters have been primarily women, who in each of their respective time periods, have faced different challenges and obstacles because of gender, or race – Aboriginal – Nancy Thompson, Chinese – Mah McAlpine, or disabled – Scarlett, and Lu. Each woman has had to fight against prejudices of gender and race, and sometimes poverty, to have their voices heard. These interlocking and diverse families provide an insight into the history that we are not taught in school, the history of those that are not often heard from, but might be heard about more – a carefully hidden history that would make any historical account richer and more interesting than what might be on offer. Jackie French has uncovered some of Australia’s secrets through fiction, raw and bare, and created a strength of character and story that anyone can relate to, even if they explore stories that can hurt and harm, we need to remember them.

As an author with a disability herself – dyslexia – Jackie’s passion in these characters having their voices heard and the lengths she goes to for accuracy and research is admirable. These lengths make the story all the more engaging and full of life. Flinty and Lu, who acquired their disabilities, have fought through – Flinty recovering (The Girl from Snowy River), and Lu learning what she is capable of, and learning new ways of seeing, show the power of the human spirit, as have characters climbing out of poverty – Matilda, and escaping abusive homes – Blue, Mah and Jed, not letting racism define her – Clancy and Mah, and, the irrepressible Scarlett, who refuses to let her disability rule her life, and pushes on towards doing what she dreams of doing. Even though Old Matilda is gone, her spirit remains, and is there to give her family a good kick into gear when they need it from the beyond.

Each of the first six books were based on a poem written by some of Australia’s best-known poets:

A Waltz for Matilda – Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson

The Girl from Snowy River The Man from Snowy River by Banjo Paterson

The Road to Gundagai – by Banjo Paterson

To Love a Sunburnt Country – My Country by Dorothea MacKellar

The Ghost by the Billabong – Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson (links in with A Waltz for Matilda)

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle – Freedom on the Wallaby by Henry Lawson

The final book, Facing the Flame, includes a poem written by Jackie herself, titled A Land of Love and Flame, and can be found at the beginning of the book. In doing so, Jackie has tied each book to a tradition of Australian poetry, and taken the hidden stories of these poems and given them life. The latest book in the Matilda Saga ends on a note of mystery, that will hopefully be answered in the next one.

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Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn

into the worldTitle: Into the World

Author: Stephanie Parkyn

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st December 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Abandoned by her lover and fleeing the wrath of her family, Marie-Louise must make a desperate choice. Find a man or become one.

  1. In the midst of the French Revolution, unwed mother Marie-Louise Girardin takes one last look at her baby son before entrusting him to her friend, the revolutionary Olympe de Gouges. She must escape, and only the most daring plan will bring her both the anonymity she needs and the independence to return one day for her son.Marie-Louise disguises herself as a man and joins a voyage of exploration employed as a steward on the Recherche, one of two ships commissioned to journey to the Great Southern Ocean to find the missing explorer La Perouse.

    Protecting her identity throughout, Marie-Louise forms friendships among the eccentric naturalists. But tensions rise between the royalist officers and the revolutionaries, and Marie-Louise’s position becomes precarious when she discovers someone on board knows the secrets of her past. When the expedition docks in Java, chaos erupts as they learn of King Louis XVI’s execution and are imprisoned by the Dutch. Marie-Louise seems certain to be unmasked. Will she ever return to France and be reunited with her child?

    Inspired by a true story, Into the World is a compelling novel of the amazing life of Marie-Louise Girardin battling perilous seas, her own self-doubt, and finding unforeseen loves on a journey to reclaim her child.

~*~

Marie-Louse Giradin lives in a time of turmoil, where revolutionaries – the Jacobins – and royalists, the supporters of Louis XIV and his Austrian queen, Marie-Antoinette, are at loggerheads as the Jacobins petition for the removal of the King, and a new, more egalitarian government. In 1791, Marie-Louise finds herself alone, and a single mother, she fled during the early days of the revolution, and found herself aboard a ship, disguised as a young man named Louis. The Recherche and the rest of their fleet are charged with finding out what happened to explorer La Pérouse. As they follow his path in the Great Southern Ocean, exploring the Cape of Good Hope, various Pacific Islands, New Holland and Van Diemen’s land, Marie-Louise must find a way to hide her true identity. Only a few senior officers know, the captain, Kermadoc and a few others, and she is at the mercy of their protection during the perilous journey that has separated her from her son. Far from home, and unaware of the dangers of the revolution, Marie-Louise is fighting her own battle – abandoning her son, and where she fits in the world. As a man, she is still mocked in some ways, and finds herself caught between the royalists and the revolutionaries aboard the ship as they navigate the Southern Hemisphere and what was at the time, in the 1790s, the unknown and exotic. Told through Marie-Louise’s eyes in third person, the reader can experience her horror at the way islander tribes and Aboriginal people are treated, and the awe that she has when coming into contact with these people who appear to be wary, but at times happy and helpful – for a woman in the 1790s to have these experiences would have been extraordinary and her reactions reflect how she coped with the unknown, whilst reflecting the attitudes of the time, and coupling them with the horrified reactions and emotional outpour from Marie-Louise.

As they journey home after their experiences in Van Diemen’s Land and New Holland, unsuccessful at finding La Pérouse, they are taken hostage in the Dutch East Indies, where they hear what has happened back home during the revolution and the end to the monarchical system. But to Marie-Louise, the fear of being unmasked and unable to return home to her son looms overhead.

aww2017-badgeIt is always refreshing to read a novel where the central female character isn’t driven by romantic love, but rather, the love for son and country, and where she heads off into the unknown because of this love. It is as much about the journey and subsequent history as it is about Marie-Louise herself, and what she went through and endured to return to France in 1793-4. A quick Google search spat back some resources from various state libraries, the national library and the Australian Dictionary of Biography, in total, 245,000 results, with the most relevant appearing to be at the top. Stephanie Parkyn’s book takes a look at Marie’s journey and what she went through, in an eloquent and interesting way, perhaps hinting at romance between another crew member and Marie-Louise, but not explicitly stating it. In doing so, Parkyn has recreated a historical figure, who, had she submitted to society’s expectations as her father demanded, might never have set foot in Australia and we might never have known her story. Stephanie’s story has provided readers with a strong, determined character who flouts convention and manages on her own, a refreshing characteristic in historical fiction, and a trend I have been observing. Allowing the characters like Marie-Louise to be strong in many ways but at the same time of their time is a feat that when done well, results in an engaging and intriguing story that sparks interest in these characters beyond the pages of the book they appear in.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which has sparked an interest in the French Revolution and finding more about Marie-Louise Giradin and her fate at the end of the expedition. Each character is a real person, giving the story a colour that ensures the history as it is retold feels as real as it would when reading about it in a history book, with a little more colour to it that is engaging and enjoyable. I found this book hard to put down, and it is one that will show what women were capable of and achieved in a time when the people around them expected less of these women.

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The Children of Willeseden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

willesden laneTitle: The Children of Willesden Lane

Author: Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $16.99

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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Her by Garry Disher

Title: Her

her.jpg

Author: Garry Disher

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 8th August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 210

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Beautifully and powerfully written, this is a look at the darker side of Australia’s past – and particularly

the status of girls and women in our society – that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

Out in that country the sun smeared the sky and nothing ever altered, except that one day a scrap man came by . . .

HER name is scarcely known or remembered. All in all, she is worth less than the nine shillings and sixpence counted into her father’s hand.

She bides her time. She does her work.

Way back in the corner of her mind is a thought she is almost too frightened to shine a light on: one day she will run away.

A dark and unsettling tale from the turn of the twentieth century by a master of Australian literature.

~*~

A recurring theme across literature and various stories is the idea of names, and the power that they can have. In Rumplestiltskin, the Queen must guess Rumplestiltskin’s name to save her child, an act she achieves through deception and spying. By announcing his name, he loses, tears himself in half, and as the sanitised versions say, they all lived happily ever after. In Harry Potter, Voldemort’s name is one to be feared, and even years after his initial defeat, even those of Harry’s generation, including Hermione, a Muggle-born, are afraid of speaking it – a fear that Voldemort exploits in the final book to track down those who are trying to fight him. And in Her by Garry Disher, names are taken away as an act of power, a way to control women and girls, and a way to make them feel desolate and alone. The scrap man buys his women and girls, and denies them names and identities beyond Wife, Big Girl, You and Sister. Moving around, selling scrap and goods made from scrap, the scrap man is abusive towards his women, and spends all the money on pub visits throughout the course of the novel, blaming You, Wife and Big Girl.

Eventually, You is questioned by authorities about her name, and why she isn’t in school. She soon desires a name, and eventually, at the age of about six or seven, names herself Lily. From here on in, Lily forges her own identity, and plans to escape with Sister, who becomes known as Hazel. Set during the turbulent first twenty years of the twentieth century, the First World War and the Spanish Flu pandemic, the scrap man and his hastily thrown together family, whose main purpose is to help him deceive, and allow him to do what he wants to them, are unaware of the lingering effects of the war, knowing only that rabbit skins are in high demand for boots and hats for soldiers, and only seeing it as a way to make a living that he soon fritters away at the pub, and blames ‘his women’ for losing.

In a world so consumed by the war, the Kaiser and the trenches, the Australia, the country Victoria that Lily and Hazel know is ignorant of this war that has affected millions. They are sneered at for not knowing how the war has broken people, and broken families. It is, at its heart, a story about broken people, bought by a man who comes across as having no humanity, no feelings, and who uses and abuses people.

Lily’s time spent going around to places and gathering food and sometimes pilfering things leads to her growing sense of identity, something that was denied her for so long, and gives her the strength to keep planning her escape, and plans to take Hazel with her.

It is a novel where every word used pays off, and where the simplest of lines, such as Lily’s desire to hit the Kaiser, even though she doesn’t have an inkling of who it is or the significance of the war years to the country, illustrates how Lily responds to her world, and how an act of hitting a man unknown to her can give her a feeling of power.

I read it in two nights, and it is a well paced novel, that reveals a side to Australian history and humanity often ignored and unacknowledged, contrasting the wider horrors of war to the insular world of people who are out for themselves in more ways than one, and who are willing to manipulate and take advantage of people.

A historical fiction novel about World War One that uses it more as a pin point in time, and an event that simply gives the novel context, I felt this showed the grim reality of how women and girls could be treated – as property that in this story, didn’t even deserve names or identities, and the harsh reality of what it meant to be poor in those times. It highlights what having a name and identity means to us as humans. It is a novel that I might revisit one day, and is definitely one that stays with you for awhile.

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The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Sophie Green

fairvale

Title: The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

Author: Sophie Green

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 8th August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 427

Price: Paperback – $29.99, Ebook – $12.99, Audiobook – $44.99

Synopsis: In 1978 the Northern Territory has begun to self-govern. Cyclone Tracy is a recent memory and telephones not yet a fixture on the cattle stations dominating the rugged outback. Life is hard and people are isolated. But they find ways to connect. Sybil is the matriarch of Fairvale Station, run by her husband, Joe. Their eldest son, Lachlan, was Joe’s designated successor but he has left the Territory – for good. It is up to their second son, Ben, to take his brother’s place. But that doesn’t stop Sybil grieving the absence of her child. With her oldest friend, Rita, now living in Alice Springs and working for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and Ben’s English wife, Kate, finding it difficult to adjust to life at Fairvale, Sybil comes up with a way to give them all companionship and purpose: they all love to read, and she forms a book club. Mother-of-three Sallyanne is invited to join them. Sallyanne dreams of a life far removed from the dusty town of Katherine where she lives with her difficult husband, Mick. Completing the group is Della, who left Texas for Australia looking for adventure and work on the land.

If you loved THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, THE LITTLE COFFEE SHOP OF KABUL and THE THORN BIRDS you will devour this story of five different women united by one need: to overcome the vast distances of Australia’s Top End with friendship, tears, laughter, books and love.

~*~

aww2017-badgeThe Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Bookc Club begins in 1978 and ends in 1981, each year beginning with a list of significant national and international events in each year. The novel first introduces the reader to the five women that will make up the book club: Sybil Baxter, her good friend, Rita, daughter-in-law, Kate, Della, who works as a stock hand on a neighbouring property, Ghost River, and who has moved over from Texas for adventure, and mother of three, Sallyanne, looking for a way to connect with people and struggling with her husband at home. Sybil’s idea for the book club springs from a desire to talk and connect, and her desire to find Kate friends in this new and harsh environment the young English woman finds herself in. And so, the idea for the book club is formed, and she goes in search of other members besides her, Kate and Rita. A chance meeting at the local CWA meeting in Katherine with Sallyanne, mother of three, and looking for connections, brings the women together to form the book club, and with the addition of Della from Ghost River, they embark on a journey of friendship, forming relationships and connections that give them the strength to face the challenges that life and living in the Territory throw at them. From the death to love found, love lost and even just finding your own strength, this book is about the bonds of family and friendship, and how these can be tested, and how far someone will go before they find themselves having to make what feels like an impossible choice.

Each character’s sense of self and individuality sings through the pages, especially in the chapters told from their perspective. Sybil, the Fairvale matriarch, challenged by the farm and the son who ran away and wants nothing to do with his family, soldiers on through the wet and dry seasons, pushing onwards through tragedy and always at hand to listen to her friends and family, with a cup of tea and keen ear. Rita, her friend and nurse with the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service is unmarried, without children and dedicated to her career – aspects of her character that suit her, the time but also, are in stark contrast to the way the women in the book club have been brought up in their respective families – the expectation of marriage and family has not been something that Rita has aimed for. In this way, she contrasts with Sybil, who is married with grown children, but who is also a woman of the land, who can hold her own in many ways, but must learn how to run Fairvale following a tragedy.

The trio of younger women couldn’t be more different: Della from Texas, who dreams of adventure, and isn’t expecting an invitation to join a book club, nor does she expect to fall in love with Stan, who works on Fairvale. Kate, Ben’s wife from England, wasn’t prepared for the harsh life of the Northern Territory, but longs for a child, and company, and the book club brings her closer to a few of the women around whose friendship will never die. Finally, mother of three, Sallyanne, stuck in a world of children and a difficult husband, is welcomed into the book club. A romantic at heart, longing for the type of love that they read about, begins to come out of her shell and finds her own strength with the help of Rita and the others.

Each character faces a tragedy of sorts in the book that tests their strength and passion, and the crux of who they are. Whatever these tragedies are, the Fairvale women come out stronger and closer than they were before. Through reading the books, a variety of Australian classics and one or two from America and England, that were readily available at the time, and the discussion of these books is what eventually leads to the bonds the women form that can never be broken. The books Sophie Green’s characters read are:

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye

The Harp in the South by Ruth Parks

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Sophie Green’s novel gives these women a voice – each very different, but reading it, I could hear Della’s voice just as clearly as the Australian ones, and Sophie uses dialect and language that each character would use to ensure the strength of these characters. Within Fairvale, there are Aboriginal workers, and their struggles against racism and falling in love with a white girl are shown, and dealt with eloquently – highlighting that just because racial and gender equality laws were brought into being during these years and the years that preceded them and followed, issues of racism, for example, have not completely vanished from our world. Stan and Ruby, who work in the kitchen, are wonderful characters, whom I came to adore and wish I knew. Like the book club women, they had such big hearts that they opened up to Della and Kate, and the other women. I think this was all done well, and written to suit the attitudes of the time that still prevailed, and at times, even today, still do. But these weren’t the focus of the book, and at least gave some context to the setting and characters. It allowed the Territory to become a character through the wet and dry seasons, and the people who lived on the land and shared it, working together for their families. I think the ending was realistic – with each member finding their own path and new life, where some aspects were left open ended, so it was probably more of a hopeful ending than a happy one.

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It is a book I enjoyed reading, and one I would like to revisit. The power in this is the way gender and race expectations are turned on their head, and the few that act superior based on race or gender, or both, are called out, but the hurt is still there, the scars are still there. It gives, I think, a realistic approach to the relationships the characters are in, whether it is family, friends or love, and through reading the books, which is the focus and backbone of the novel, and therefore is something that I think many readers who enjoy this kind of book will be able to relate to.

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

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

Author: Kelly Brooke Nicholls

Genre: Fiction, Political Thriller

Publisher: The Author People

Published: 28th of June, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 232

Price: $26.99

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT KELLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Booktopia

Leaving Ocean Road by Esther Campion

leaving ocean roadTitle: Leaving Ocean Road

Author: Esther Campion

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 25th July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 356

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: From the coast of Australia to Santorini and Ireland, a slice of warm, character-driven fiction in the tradition of Maeve Binchy and Monica McInerney

God damn it, Gerry Clancy, couldn’t you have left well enough alone and stayed in Cork?

Twenty years ago, Ellen O’Shea left her beloved Ireland to make a new life in Australia. Now a popular local in a small coastal town, but struggling to cope with the death of her much-loved Greek husband, Nick, Ellen finds her world turned upside down when an unexpected visitor lands on her doorstep. The arrival of Gerry Clancy, her first love from Ireland, may just be the catalyst that pulls Ellen out of her pit of grief, but it will also trigger a whole new set of complications for her and those she holds dear.

Home is where the heart is – but where exactly is home? Can Ellen and Gerry’s rekindled romance withstand the passage of time, family, young adult children with their own lives, and the shock disclosure of a long-held secret that will put all their closest relationships at risk?

Set in Ireland, Greece and small-town coastal Australia, Leaving Ocean Road is a warm-hearted, poignant story about treasuring our memories while celebrating our new beginnings.

~*~

aww2017-badgeEllen O’Shea’s life has been turned upside down more than once. First, as a young woman in love, first in Ireland and then in Australia, and finding herself pregnant, and abandoned by everyone but the man who would come to be her husband, and other friends she made along the way, and her brother, and her daughter, Louise. Almost twenty years later, now living in Port Lincoln in South Australia, Ellen is cut off from the world following the death of her beloved Greek husband, Nick, and Louise’s departure to university in Adelaide. She feels lost, unable to carry on after losing Nick so suddenly and so awfully. The arrival of a wad of post brings a letter from former lover, Gerry Clancy, whose unannounced arrival on her doorstep throws Ellen into a state of confusion. Faced with a guest, she is pulled out of her funk and slowly begins to remerge into the world and her life. Yet when secrets of the past come out at a dinner party, Ellen’s relationships with Louise and Gerry are left in tatters for the evening, and her life almost turned upside down again, until she is able to work through it and venture to Greece and Ireland and make attempts to patch things up with her husband’s family, her family and Gerry.

Leaving Ocean Road is part romance, but also about family and friendships, and what these mean to us, and the ways these can be taken from us – willingly by one party, or unwillingly, where nobody expects it and the events the follow, that can culminate in tragedy, misunderstandings, and losing out on time spent with family. I found this aspect to be the most powerful in the story, with the romance plots for Ellen and Louise a nice side story for me, although still not my favourite aspect, showing that they could find happiness after the tragic events that had led them to where they were at the start of the novel. I think because the book has love of friends, of family, and romantic love, it can offer something for anyone who reads it, and would be a nice novel for fans of Maeve Binchy or Monica McInerny to read. I do enjoy some romantic subplots; sometimes the less subtle ones are a more powerful too. However, what Esther Campion has done is get a nice balance, where the characters aren’t just there to fall in love, but to discover themselves and reconnect with people they had left behind and thought they may never see again. The Irish setting in the second half of the book held the characters just as naturally as the Australian setting throughout the rest of the book. The characters felt at home in both. The trepidation they felt in Greece soon dissipated as they were welcomed into the family, despite past feelings and assumptions – in the end, the families coming together were what I felt mattered the most in this book.

Nothing was perfect, each character had flaws which is perhaps what made this work more for me than having them all perfect and everything working out perfectly instantly. They had struggles – some were resolved within a few chapters, some took a little longer. The varying impacts of this showed the human side of the characters, and what their various relationships meant to them, and how they went about navigating the murky waters of life.

In the end, though there were things I enjoyed about this book, it was one that I found myself in the middle of the road about – I didn’t hate it and want to put it aside immediately, but I didn’t love it, and will pass it onto someone who will. Like any book and author, Esther Campion will find an audience out there, and even though that doesn’t necessarily include me, I hope she does well in her career.

I would recommend this for fans of Maeve Binchy and Monica McInerny.