A Letter from Italy by Pamela Hart

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Title: A Letter from Italy

Author: Pamela Hart

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 14th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 353

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Inspired by the life of the world’s first woman war correspondent, Australia’s Louise Mack, the most gorgeous love story yet by Pamela Hart.

1917, Italy. Australian journalist Rebecca Quinn is an unconventional woman. At the height of World War I, she has given up the safety of her Sydney home for the bloody battlefields of Europe, following her journalist husband to the frontline as a war correspondent in Italy.

Reporting the horrors of the Italian campaign, Rebecca finds herself thrown together with American-born Italian photographer Alessandro Panucci, and soon discovers another battleground every bit as dangerous and unpredictable: the human heart.

~*~

aww2017-badgeA Letter From Italy opens with Rebecca bidding a fond farewell to her husband Jack before he departs on a journalistic assignment, leaving her in Italy, where she must wait for him to return, whilst working on her journalistic career, and finding stories that will see her departure from the Women’s Pages of the newspaper she works for to the serious, hard hitting journalism that at the time, was seen as the domain of the male journalist, as was the role of war correspondent, reporting on all aspects of the war, whereas Rebecca was encouraged to report on what affected the home front and women, rather than the battles and bombings that destroyed lives. Using her knowledge of the area and a kind hearted American photographer with Italian heritage, Sandro to help her, Rebecca starts writing stories that matter, and sends them to the newspapers, whilst hoping her husband is still alive, and showing the male journalists that she can cope. Her feminist views come out when young Italian girls are surprised at how many rights she has as a woman, that she can vote – and that she doesn’t need to do what her husband says.

A revelation of just how supportive Jack has been of her career comes later in the novel – and pushes Rebecca to confront the editors and work on more articles to get herself – and Sandro, her photographer noticed, especially after a small village is bombed during the course of the war, and tragedy seeps into every corner.

During this time, one of the journalists Rebecca thought she could trust begins to act suspiciously, the results of which were surprising – and led to events that I could not have expected.

The budding romance between Rebecca and Sandro is slotted in nicely – I liked that it was hinted at here and there, through their thoughts, and that their ambitions in photography and journalism were given a lot more attention, creating well-rounded characters whose relationship was one of respect, and friendship, as well as love, in a time of war.

A Letter from Italy is a fascinating historical novel that explores gender expectations and assumptions, and how at first glance, not everyone is who they seem to be. It shows how tragedies like war can show people for who they really are.

It is a novel that incorporates history, and the tragedy of war, with expectations of gender and the traditions of one country that have been around for generations, and the contrast of these with a young country, women’s rights and the freedom Rebecca has. This contrast also illustrates that though Rebecca has the freedoms to vote and be a journalist, she is in some ways hampered by gender expectations and assumptions.

The first Pamela Hart novel I have read, and one of the better romance novels I have read where the characters are more than just the love story, and have goals of their own that they set out to achieve before a bittersweet happily ever after.

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When The Lyre Bird Calls by Kim Kane

Title: When The Lyrebird Callslyrebird

Author: Kim Kane

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26/10/16

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A time-slip novel in which Madeleine finds herself transported back to 1900 Australia, where she befriends a family of girls and is witness to a family secret and a family tragedy.

When Madeleine is shipped off to stay with her eccentric grandmother for the holidays, she expects the usual: politics, early-morning yoga, extreme health food, and lots of hard work. Instead, Madeleine tumbles back in time to 1900, where the wealthy Williamson family takes her into their home, Lyrebird Muse.

At a time when young girls have no power and no voice, set against a backdrop of the struggles for emancipation, federation and Aboriginal rights, Madeleine must find a way to fit in with the Williamson family’s four sisters – beautiful, cold Bea; clever, awkward Gert; adventurous, rebellious Charlie; and darling baby Imo – as she searches desperately for a way home.

Meanwhile, the Williamson girls’ enchanting German cousin, Elfriede, arrives on the scene on a heavenly wave of smoke and cinnamon, and threatens to shatter everything…

~*~

When Madeleine is sent to Mum Crum’s for the holidays, she is unaware of what she will discover whilst she is there. While cleaning out a wardrobe, she discovers a hundred year old pair of elegant ball shoes that transport her back in time, to 1900, just months before the Federation of the Australian colonies, and during a time of racism, suffragettes and a difference in attitudes not only towards women, but to children as well. Upon her arrival in 1900, Madeleine is taken in by the Williamson girls: Bea, Gert, Charlie and little Imo, and learn to ensure she follows Nanny’s rules. Along with Gert, whom she tells she is from the future, she concocts a story for Gert’s parents and Nanny, and Aunt Hen, to ensure that she isn’t found out. Madeleine’s time with the Williamson’s is punctuated by a sojourn with Gert and Aunt Hen into Melbourne, and her modern day reactions to issues that were still in their infancy, or attitudes that were widely accepted, even if only because society expected such thinking, or people weren’t sure about speaking out.

When The Lyrebird Calls tells the story of a young nation, trying to find its identity amidst conflicts of tradition and the modern world, and a young girl who is seeing the history first hand through twenty-first century eyes. In reading about these issues in this setting through modern eyes and the reactions of other characters and the way they act or rather, don’t act in the face of diversity, tells volumes about how society has changed and what was perhaps expected or even assumed or taken for granted pre-Federation compared to today.

I found this book eye opening and it will help give younger readers an understanding of the early formation of our nation, of the suffragette movement and changing and expected attitudes towards women, children Indigenous people and even class divisions. It has an easy flow, making it easy to read and get through. Learning about the above issues in fiction can make the non-fiction easier to understand once a reader has a general idea of what to look for in research. Kim Kane has researched effectively, and given an interesting perspective on a time when lives were different, and restricted by class, gender and race to some extents, and where a middle ground might not always be found.

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