Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Title: Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms

Author: Anita Heiss

Genre: Historical

Opens: Hiroshi is wide awake and waiting as the bugle sounds across the camp at 2 am.

Blurb: On the 5 AUGUST, 1944 over 1000 Japanese soldiers broke out of the No.12 Prisoner of War compound on the fringes of Cowra and escaped into the surrounding countryside. In the carnage, hundreds are killed, many are recaptured, and some take their own lives rather than suffer the humiliation of ongoing defeat. But one soldier, Hiroshi, a gentle university student serving his country, manages to escape.

At nearby Erambie Station, an Aboriginal mission, Banjo Williams, father of five and proud Elder of his community, discovers Hiroshi, distraught and on the run. Unlike most of the townsfolk who dislike and distrust the Japanese, the people of Erambie choose compassion and offer Hiroshi refuge. For the community, life at Erambie is one of restriction and exclusion – living under Acts of Protection and Assimilation, and always under the ruthless eye of the mission Manager. On top of wartime hardships, families live without basic rights.

My Thoughts: The period that BARBED WIRE AND CHERRY BLOSSOMS covers is the year between the Cowra breakout in 1944 and the end of WWII in 1945. I am surprised how few Australians have even heard of the breakout, our family visited the Japanese Gardens on the site a few years ago and it is so peaceful and beautiful that it is hard to imagine the events in this book taking place. But they did. During the story author Anita Heiss highlights the attitude of the Australian Government and, sadly, many Australian citizens, towards the Aboriginal people; along with the conditions they lived under. When Banjo finds the escaped Japanese prisoner, Hiroshi, cowering on the mission he argues with the other Elders that the community should hide the man as they have something in common; Aboriginals are fighting the Australian Government and so are the Japanese. So that makes them allies rather than enemies. I loved this reasoning and can really understand where Banjo is coming from. Aware that not all of the community would agree, the Elders decide that only a few will be in on the secret and they will hide him in the Mission air raid shelter as it never gets used. Banjo’s oldest daughter Mary is chosen to take food to Hiroshi each day as she is well loved and no one would suspect her of harbouring an escapee. The unfolding story is riveting.

Banjo’s family and fellow community members do not live a life of freedom – they are bound by law to live on the Mission. The Mission Manager, called King Billy by the community Elders, is a white man assigned by the Government, to dole out food and water rations, and give permission for travel and for marriages. It is just dreadful that this happened –the Aboriginals lived under the ever present fear that rations and permissions could be severely curtailed as punishment or to ensure good behaviour. Permission was needed to travel outside the mission to access work, shops, medical facilities and even the local cinema – with many places having separate sections for the Aboriginals so they didn’t mix with other Australians. In fact at one stage it the Mission community realise that the POWs at the local Cowra POW camp had better conditions than the mission. Horrible! Yet for all of that, the people of Erambie Station are resilient, upbeat and protective of their own. And young Mary is very protected by her family; except when she goes into the shelter to take what little food they can spare to Hiroshi. Here she is away from watchful eyes and is free to talk to him and they share with each other all manner of things from their separate cultures – and a love of literature and poetry. Gradually this talk develops into friendship and then into a love that must be kept as hidden as the main in the shelter.

BARBED WIRE AND CHERRY BLOSSOMS looks at the appalling lack human rights and also explores two different cultures and how the government policies of the time affected them both in different ways – the story also demonstrates how a community of people showed more compassion than their own government showed to them.

For more about the author – Click Here

A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.


This review has also been posted at Book Charmers


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Title: Palace of Tears

Author: Julian Leatherdale

Genre: Historical/Contemporary/Family Saga

Opens: The promise of fire was in the air that morning …

Blurb: A sweltering summer’s day, January 1914: the charismatic and ruthless Adam Fox throws a lavish birthday party for his son and heir at his elegant clifftop hotel in the Blue Mountains. Everyone is invited except Angie, the girl from the cottage next door. The day will end in tragedy, a punishment for a family’s secrets and lies. Almost 100 years later in 2013, Fox’s granddaughter Lisa, seeks the truth about the past. Who is this Angie her mother speaks of: ‘the girl who broke all our hearts‘? Why do locals call Fox’s hotel the ‘Palace of Tears’? Behind the grandeur and glamour of its famous guests and glittering parties, Lisa discovers a hidden history of passion and revenge, loyalty and love. A grand piano burns in the night, a séance promises death or forgiveness, a fire rages in a snowstorm, a painter’s final masterpiece inspires betrayal, and a child is given away. With twist upon twist, this lush, strange mystery withholds its shocking truth to the very end.

My Thoughts: I have just read my 2015 book of the year; a book that kept me enthralled; a book that I actually deliberately read slowly because I didn’t want it to end; a book that moved me to my very core.

Set in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney in Australia PALACE OF TEARS covers a hundred years, 2 world wars and a family that is stuffed full of secrets and haunted by a tragedy. Told from the point of view of mostly female characters, the story is gradually revealed. The story is not linear, it goes back and forth between the different time periods and narrators, but the story doesn’t once miss a beat.

The main narrators are six of women that are connected to Adam Fox – Angie and her mother Freya; both of Adam’s wives, Adelina and Laura; Laura’s daughter, Monika who is suffering from early stages Alzheimer’s; and finally in the present day, Lisa, who is Monika’s daughter. Adam Fox does relate the odd part – to fill in the bits the women aren’t privy to.

Lisa, the granddaughter of Adam, starts an investigation into her family history when her mother mentions a girl named Angie in a lucid moment. Lisa decides to find out who Angie is, why she broke everyone’s heart, and what became of her. In the process the reader gets to learn lots about Australia’s social history – and at times feel a sense of shame at the actions of civilized people. As I was reading I made the following note:

I have just read a very distressing scene where narrow minded Australians raise their arms against fellow Australians. During WWI innocent Australians born in Australia but descended from Germans, along with German born Australians, were treated with utmost contempt by the ‘holier than thou’ non-German born/descended Australians. I wept at the scene – and then thought – nothing changes. Just swap the word German for Middle Eastern!"

People of German origin were considered to be the enemy, even if their sons were fighting in the Australian Army. They were bashed, their houses stoned and set fire too, their belongings desecrated, and then, the men at least, were shut up in concentration camps, sorry internment camps, treated as possible German spies. Even in the camps they were kept them in appalling conditions while the rest of Australia jumped up and down at the treatment of Australian prisoners of war, not caring we were doing the same. OK we didn’t kill our internee’s – but we are not on the moral high ground here. Then some 20 odd years later we did the same again – only Japanese people and Italians were thrown into the mix as well. The whole story thread was handled very well all out in the open – a warts and all look at the historical events. The treatment of foreign nationals was unfair, it was unjust, it was created out of ignorance and it was an unsubstantiated fear and author Julian Leatherdale used it in his story brilliantly.

This debut novel of Julian’s melds history and fiction together seamlessly and I was absolutely hooked from the very first page, and devastated when it came to end – no matter how good the ending was. The story is well paced, easy to follow despite the twists and turns and different time periods. Julian Leatherdale has gone onto that small list of mine where I write the names of authors who I would read their shopping list if they published it.

Do yourself a favour and read it.

For more about the author – Click Here

A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.

With thanks to Allen & Unwin and the author for this copy to read and review. Allen & Unwin recommended retail price is $29.99

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Title: The Secret Chord

Author: Geraldine Brooks

Genre: Historical

Opens: A man alone in the room…

Blurb: a unique and vivid novel that retells the story of King David’s extraordinary rise to power and fall from grace. Set 1000 BC in the second Iron Age. Anointed as the chosen one when just a young shepherd boy, David will rise to be king, grasping the throne and establishing his empire. But his journey is a tumultuous one and the consequences of his choices will resound for generations. In a life that arcs from obscurity to fame, he is by turns hero and traitor, glamorous young tyrant and beloved king, murderous despot and remorseful, diminished patriarch. His wives love and fear him, his sons will betray him. It falls to Natan, the courtier and prophet who both counsels and castigates David, to tell the truth about the path he must take

My Thoughts: My expectations were very high, maybe too high, because in all honesty I was a bit disappointed. THE SECRET CHORD was certainly richly detailed and beautifully written, descriptive without being wordy. However, overall it just didn’t enthral me – I didn’t LOVE it. At times the story was slow moving, certainly in the beginning, and the chronological order chopped and changed as Natan related the story and for some reason decided to do this when he pleased rather than starting at the beginning and going to the end. In the end I was at times left feeling very confused. I understand that the point was to get different perceptions of David at various times of his life – but surely they could have been put in chronological order? Add to this the fact that sometimes the beautifully detailed descriptions were just too graphic, I am referring to the savagery of the battle and rape scenes here, along with some pretty horrific actions. I understand that there were part of life then – but even though I know from the Biblical David that bad things happen – and that Geraldine Brooks was fleshing out the bare bones given in the bible – I was not comfortable with it.

David’s story from the Bible is very familiar to me and he wrote some of my most favourite psalms. The David in THE SECRET CHORD was not so familiar to me. I know Brooks wanted to portray the historical rather than the Biblical David – but my heart wanted the man who humbled himself and repented – not the cruel and unfeeling man who I found on the pages of this book. The other problem I had was the use of the Hebrew versions of the names of the characters, so at once I was struggling to connect the book to the Biblical stories and characters I knew and loved. I confess I wrote a little note and kept it beside me so I could remind myself that Shaul was Saul, Slomo was Solomon, Batsheva was Bathsheba, Avshalom was Absalom and Jonathon became Yonatan. Even the narrator is Natan the prophet rather than the Nathan I am familier with. I am sure Brooks did this for authenticity – but it didn’t work well for me. And don’t get me started on all the tribes – I couldn’t even keep track of them all in the Bible!!! And yes I know the whole point is that David united them so they needed to be in the story – but boy oh boy!

In the end I stuck with the story and came to know a little better the David in the book – he was a complex character who did unspeakably horrible things but also did some wonderful things. A man who could kill without a second thought to get his own way, and then write the most beautiful poetry.

For more about the author – Click Here

Average – it was OK, but for one reason or another I found it a bit of struggle to stay focused and finish.

With thanks to Hachette Australia and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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Title: The Tea Planter’s Wife

Author: Dinah Jefferies

Genre: Historical

Opens: Ceylon, 1913 – The woman held a slim white envelope to her lips…

Blurb: Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous. And there are clues to the past – a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds – that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can’t stay buried forever

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story and its beautiful exotic setting. I also loved having a little of the basic background behind how the tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils developed and later (after the book has finished) escalated into the civil war that lasted for many years. THE TEA PLANTER’S WIFE is set between the two world wars and is told from the point of view of Gwen – the tea planter’s young wife. When she arrives she is in her late teens and so in love with her husband, an older widower. However the wonderful person she married back in England is less attentive in Ceylon, almost a different person. With him gone all day Gwen has to work out the intricate social system between the white owners, the local Sinhalese and the Tamil workers. Social divisions, different customs, inexplicable expected acceptable behaviour that Gwen can’t understand means she keeps getting into trouble when she crosses them. Everyone thinks they know better than Gwen – but she reacts to what her heart is telling her – not what people tell her, determined to do what is right rather than what is expected. Then she falls pregnant and everything changes and Gwen has to fight to keep her sanity and keep her marriage together.

THE TEA PLANTER’S WIFE is a gripping story as it covers the topics of deceit, family secrets, violence to workers, grief and racism. The anguish that Gwen goes through tugs at the heartstrings but in the end it gives her the strength to do what has to be done. I did guess the family secret earlier on in the story but still enjoyed how the author worked her way to the big reveal. The different characters are well drawn and come alive on the pages – Savi a coloured artist; Gwen’s sister-in-law Verity; the other woman Christina, and the mysterious first wife Caroline who is dead but influences the story. These characters all interact to produce a story that has smouldering tension and a fast moving plot. I was sucked into the exotic world and not let go until the last page. I highly recommend this book. She has written a book previously called THE SEPARATION set in Malaysia in the 1950s which I will certainly be looking up.

For more about the author – Click Here

B – Great – I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

With thanks to Penguin and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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Title: The Ladies of Missalonghi

Author: Colleen McCullough

Genre: Historical

Opens: ‘Can you tell me, Octavia, why our luck never seems to change for the better?’…

Blurb: Sometimes fairy tales can come true-even for plain, shy spinsters like Missy Wright. Neither as pretty as cousin Alicia nor as domineering as mother Drusilla, she seems doomed to a quiet life of near poverty at Missalonghi, her family’s pitifully small homestead in Australia’s Blue Mountains. But it’s a brand new century – the twentieth – a time for new thoughts and bold new actions. And Missy Wright is about to set every self-righteous tongue in the town of Byron wagging. Because she has just set her sights on a mysterious, mistrusted and unsuspecting stranger … who just might be Prince-Charming in disguise.

My Thoughts: Set in The Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, Australia, in the time just before the outbreak of the Great War, the story revolves around a small town community, Missalonghi, made up almost entirely of various branches of the same family line – the Hurlingfords. Missy Wright’s mother, Drusilla, has been shunned by her family since she married for love, not money. Now widowed, she lives an impoverished life with her sister and daughter Missy. Plain, thin and doomed to wear brown, it seems Missy’s life is set to follow that of her mother and aunt. Their lifestyle is pretty typical of the day as it was quite common for widows, sisters and unmarried daughters to live together – especially later after the Great War when there was such a shortage of men. There are a few other poor single Hurlingford ladies and they all have to count their pennies while the men in the family, all wealthy and powerful, totally dominate all businesses and control the finances – never seeming to spare money for their poorer relatives.

When Missy’s rich cousin announces she is to marry a much younger but well-heeled man, Missy fears that a home and family of her own has passed her by. Then she meets a stranger named John in her uncle’s shop – a man who has bought up a whole heap of land from under the noses of the controlling Hurlingford men and has them all very worried. Egged on by the new librarian Una (who gives the whole plot of the book away before she lends it out) Missy sees a chance to turn her life around. It does involve being a bit deceitful but it is not in malice. But a girl has to take a chance. Just who John Smith is, and what he is up to, along with Missy trying to get him as a husband makes the basis of this lovely little story.

THE LADIES OF MISSALONGHI is a small book but the fact that it is packed full of scandal, friendship, gentle romance, laughter and good old-fashioned satisfying revenge makes it an easy and entertaining read.

For more about the author – Click Here

B – Great – I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

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Paint by Jennifer Dance

Title: Paint

Author: Jennifer Dance

Genre: Children’s Historical

Opens: The mustangs were barely visible as they loped across the rolling plains, their multi-coloured spots and smudges melding with the earth and rocks, their streaming manes and tails masquerading as tall grasses blowing in the constant prairie breeze…

Blurb: The life story of a painted mustang set against the backdrop of America’s Great Plains in the late 1800s. A Lakota boy finds an orphaned mustang foal and brings her back to his family’s camp, naming her Paint for her black-and-white markings. Boy and horse soon become inseparable. Together they learn to hunt buffalo, their fear of the massive beasts tempered by a growing trust in each other. When the U.S. Cavalry attacks the camp, the pair is forced onto separate paths. Paint’s fate becomes entwined with that of settlers, who bring irreversible change to the grassland, setting the stage for environmental disaster. Bought and sold several times, Paint finally finds a home with English pioneers on the Canadian Prairie. With a great dust storm looming on the horizon, man and horse will need to work together if they hope to survive.

My Thoughts: The target age group for PAINT is 9-12; but I really enjoyed the story, and I certainly think that teens and adults will get a lot from this book. Set in the late 1800s in North America, it follows a little horse through a series of owners. Paint was rescued by a Lakota boy, Noisy Horse, after her injured mother is attacked by wolves. She is a smart little filly and learns very quickly what her role is going to be as she lives with the Lakota people learning to hunt buffalo; and also learning how to be a boss mare. Life seems good, but history has a habit of disturbing life, and the white man moved in without care or regard of the different tribal lands and traditions of their new land, which resulted in the Indigenous people being moved out – often forcibly with guns pointed at them. Paint is separated from Noisy Horse when the soldiers move in to take the Lakota people to a government run reservation. From here she runs through a series of owners and horse sellers, both good and bad, until she ends up with a pioneer family on the Canadian Prairie. Paint’s ultimate fate was a bit ambiguous as it wasn’t very clear to me what happened to her after the big climax – my guesses could go either way – but would have liked closure to that thread.

Paints isn’t the only point of view given – some of the other character’s give their points of view of the events and at the end Noisy Horse returns to his homeland with his granddaughter and tries to explain to her what happened and why remembering the events is important even though she didn’t experience them. He does this so that the people’s traditions can live on in memory if not practice, and maybe understand how their current lifestyle came about. Younger readers may struggle a bit with the last chapter, as it often comes across as a little bit of a sermon on the loss of rights, but is true and needs to be told.

Author, Jennifer Dance, is a very gifted story teller and her written descriptions of the land, the harshness of the pioneer life, and how in their ignorance the early pioneers destroyed the balance of nature resulting in huge natural disasters are so good that the events just come alive on the pages. People and animals die in the story – that is a harsh fact of life – and add long droughts, and endless blizzards and you get an inkling of what the pioneers went through to stay and survive.

It is so easy to tell that Jennifer did whole lot of meticulous research into the story. The world changing events that happened both to nature and the indigenous peoples in the lifetime of one horse makes the mind boggle.

At the very end of the story is an appendix with a historical timeline, glossary and more detail about some of the events mentioned during the story.

Last year I read Jennifer’s debut novel Red Wolf and it was one of my top 10 reads for 2014. PAINT doesn’t quite grab me the same way – but I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical novels, or are trying to explain that period of time to younger readers.

For more about the author – Click Here

C – Above average – was very readable and I really liked it but was easily able to put it down and walk away for a while.

With thanks to Dundurn Publishing Group and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review

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Title: Waistcoats & Weaponry

Author: Gail Carriger

Genre: YA Historical Mystery

Opens: “Funambulist,” said Sophronia Temminnick, quite suddenly

Waistcoats & Weaponry is the 3rd book in the ‘Finishing School’ series. Mind you Miss Geraldine’s Finishing School is not like any finishing school you would have heard of, for a start it is not located in a solid brick building; instead it is contained in a huge airship that floats around Dartmoor for the most part. It also takes on very proper young ladies from the higher echelons of society and turns them into spies and assassins. If this was not unconventional in itself the teachers include a vampire and a werewolf. The young ladies, our heroine Sophronia in particular, don’t lead a normal school life – oh they still learn the art of flirtation and how to dance, but the fans they flutter can be steel-bladed and learning to waltz on thin planks high up in the air can be quite hair-raising.

…."That’s it?" Sidheag was disappointed in Sophronia’s desultory description of the pilot’s bubble.

"When did you get interested in technology?" replied Sophronia.

"It’s not that; I was hoping that after we left, you would fall to your doom. Something exciting for once."

"Thank you kindly, Lady Kingair. The fact that I was initially dropped overboard by a vampire wasn’t exciting enough for you?"

"Not with you, Sophronia, it wasn’t."

"I spoil you, that’s the problem."….

Sophronia shares a room with the ultra-ladylike Dimity and their closest friend in the next room is Sidheag aka Lady Kingair. Sidheag comes from a Scottish Castle that is owned by a werewolf pack and the story follows a disaster that has occurred back at the castle. Dimity and Sophronia decide to travel with Sidheag back to Scotland to protect her reputation, Sidheag, wanting to be with her pack at this time, was planning to runaway and travel alone otherwise. So they steal a small airship, stowaway on a train and stumble across a plot that is being concocted by the despicable Picklemen and the vampires. Sophronia’s two admirers both come along as well, Soap – one of the School’s coal stokers and the young gentleman Lord Felix Mersey. This allows for plenty of tension to be added to the already action packed adventure. The girls have to work out who is friend and who is foe to prevent world domination by quite the wrong people.

I love this series, Gail Carriger is an imaginative and entertaining writer who is able to make the unlikely mechanical gadgets and gizmos seem normal. There is friendship, danger, a light touch of romance, laughter and adventure and I can’t wait to join Sophronia in her next adventure in ‘Manners and Mutiny’ due out later in 2015

For more about the author – Click Here

B – Great – I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

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