Monday, September 4, 2017

The Traitor's Girl

When Annabel Logan receives a phone call from her grandmother, Caroline Banks, asking her to visit her urgently she decides to travel from Australia to England to visit the grandmother she has never met. However on arrival at Beechwood Hall Annabel discovers that her grandmother has disappeared.

Annabel meets Simon Culpepper, a journalist who is writing a story about Caroline Banks who worked for MI5 during the Second World War. Simon gives Annabel a series of tapes recording part of Carrie's story and also helps Annabel find out who has recently been threatening her grandmother. Annabel discovers a world of spying and intrigue in which her grandmother and great grandmother were involved. When she finally meets Carrie, Annabel also finds out the story of why Carrie did not keep contact with her family in Australia.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book by Christine Wells.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

This would be one one of the happiest books that I have read.

It is not often that everyone one on The Book Club on Channel 2 all enjoy the same book so I immediately reserved a copy from the library. Obviously the publicity from the program convinced many others that they should also read the book as there was quite a wait for my turn - but it was worth it.

Miss Pettigrew is a forty something governess who is sent for an interview to the wrong address by the employment agency. This error changed Miss Pettigrew's life. Not only did she meet actress and night club singer, Delysia LaFosse, but also many of her friends (and lovers). Miss Pettigrew found herself in an entirely new world and to her surprise she enjoyed it.

This was a book that I did not want to put down. The book only describes the events of one day but is full of joy and hope and discovery as Miss Pettigrew explores this new world and opportunities. I am so glad that I read this book and spent a day with Miss Pettigrew.

Winifred Watson wrote this book in 1938. Fortunately it was republished in 2000 by Persephone Books with the latest reprint in 2015. 

The Book Club (replay of review) 2 May 2017

The North Water

This has been described as a dark book and it is.

I only read this novel by Ian McGuire as I received notification that it was the book to be discussed in the Read with Raf book club on ABC Melbourne radio  for July. Out of interest I decided to borrow a copy from the library.

I almost gave up reading it on several occasions but did end up finishing the novel. The beginning, in particular, is heavy going as the main characters are introduced. I found it difficult to like any of them. However as the story unfolded I did become involved in the story about the the exploits of members of a whaling ship in the Arctic and their fight for survival when disaster strikes.I suspect that, in general, this may be a book that is enjoyed more by male readers.

Review in The Guardian 19 February 2016

Review in The New York Times 11 April 2016

Read with Raf review (audio file) July 2017

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Valentine

It has been a while since I last read an Australian teenage novel so I decided to read this first title in a proposed series of novels by Jodi McAlister.

When four teenagers are selected as the next leaders at their school, no-one envisages what is in store for them. Supernatural sightings such as the mysterious appearance of a black horse, black cats and black birds haunt the four teenagers who were all born on Valentine's Day.

Then Marie disappears causing fear among her peer group.

Pearl and Finn have known each other most of their lives, though they have not necessarily been the best of friends. However they realise that they need to join forces to attempt to discover why they are being targeted and who is trying to kill them. As the tension in the story increases, the reader is lead into the world of the Seelie s and Unseelies.

The story is told primarily through Pearl's viewpoint and much of the action is recounted via dialogue. It is interesting to read an Australian fantasy. However, with much of the story revolving around teenage angst, my interest waned through sections of the book.

There are also a number of unanswered questions concerning Pearl's parentage which I suspect will be addressed in later volumes.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Exit West

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid was recently reviewed on the Book Club and after watching this program I immediately reserved the book from the library.
In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her. For many days.
The opening sentences in the book set the scene for the beginning of the relationship between Nadia and Saeed who live in an unnamed city under the threat of civil war. The relationship between the two young people escalates as the dangers around them increase. Eventually they decide to escape from this land through a door which will take them to who knows where. This is the first of a number of escapes through the doors as the young couple look for a permanent home.

As the novel progresses we become aware of the predicament and challenges faced by refugees. Some people welcome the new comers while others see them as a threat. On arrival at a new destination they must find a new place to live as well as work out how to survive in a new environment. New dangers are often encountered. Food, accommodation and the necessities for living must be sourced.

This novel provides the reader with an insight into what motivates refugees to leave their home. The doors provide the opportunity for escape, but some are safer than others, and they serve as a metaphor for journeys undertaken by refugees throughout the world.

This is a beautifully written, thought provoking, book.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Swing Time

Swing Time as the title of this book by Zodie Smith, suggests is full of allusions to music. The opening chapters tell the story of two schoolgirls living in a poorer part of London who both attend the same dancing class. They both want to be dancers but the narrator has to come to terms with the fact that her friend Tracey is the better dancer. The girls frequently watch videos of old musicals and practise the dance moves that they admire. This allusion to music occurs in many sections of the book as the story unfolds. Eventually the friendship between the girls fades as they choose different career paths. From time to time, however, events from the past emerge and affect the life of the narrator who never forgets her early relationship with Tracey.

Most of the book deals with the life of the narrator as she works as an assistant to Aimee, a popular singer. Aimee also decides to sponsor a school in Africa and part of the book is set in this location. The many themes canvassed in the book include friendship, class, relationships, race relations and lifestyle. Intertwined are the constant references to music.

As the story progresses the plot can be difficult to follow with the regular flashbacks to events that occurred at different times. On one hand this method of story telling gradually reveals the main threads of the story but it can also be seen as providing a disjointed account of events. Although I started to lose interest in the story after a while I can see this book being popular with book clubs as the issues presented in this book would provide many opportunities for discussion.

Some reviews of Swing Time
The Guardian 13 November 2016
Sydney Morning Herald 17 December 2016
Good Reads - variety of reviews by readers

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The First Fleet

In this sequel to Botany Bay: the real story, Alan Frost continues the story by examining the establishment of the First Fleet to Australia in 1788. Frost argues that many writers of Australian history have neglected to study the original records recording the developments prior to the initial convict settlement at Sydney Cove. The author therefore spent many years in England going through eighteenth century archives before writing these two books.

Part of the conclusion p 214:
The First Fleet was a very expensive venture. ... the Pitt administration spend largely to make the New South Wales colony succees.
It did so because it saw that a colony in the southwest Pacific Ocean would be clearly in the nation's interest, not only because it would provide a solution to a troubling penal problem, but also because it would acieve other objects - most immediately a base and a source of naval materails, and more generally as a point of interchange for an intended vast marketing network.
The five sections of the book cover Planning a Convict Colony, Assembling the Fleet, Preparing to Sail, The Voyage and The Cost. This book is definitely worth reading by anyone interested in Australian history, but especially if you have convict ancestors.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Nursing in World War I

While writing an assignment on a World War I nurse I borrowed a number of books from the public library relating to this topic.

More than bombs and bandages: Australian Army Nurses in World War I by Kirsty Harris (published in 2011) provides a detailed and readable study of this topic. The book looks at the roles of nurses in the AANS particularly as to how the work in a military environment different from the work in a civilian hospital. The detailed appendices provide additional information.

Guns and brooches: Australian Army Nursing Nursing from the Boer War to the Gulf War by Jan Bassett (published 1992) provides a great introduction to the history of Australian military nursing. Three of the chapters over the challengers faced by World War I nurses and often contain quotations taken from interviews or written papers. A good starting point.

 Australian heroines of World War One: Gallipoli, Lemos and the Western Front by Susanna De Vries (published 2013) provides a history of the First World War through the diaries and writings of a selection of nurses who served overseas.

The other Anzacs: Nurses at war, 1914-1918 by Peter Rees (published 2008) tells the stories of a group of nurses who served overseas during World War I. This book was later the basis of the television mini-series The Anzac Girls (2014).

Stories of devotion: stories of Australia's wartime nurses by Robyn Siers (2013) is based on an exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It is therefore a pictorial account of the history of Australian military nursing that provides a brief overview of the topic. 

Veiled warriors: Allied nurses of the First World War by Christine Hallett (published 2014) examines the contribution of allied nurses to the war effort in World War I.The author writes about the work of the nurses close to the major battlefields providing the history of the war with the emphasis on nursing.

Another book often referred to is Scarlet Poppies: the army experiences of Australian nurses during World War One by Ruth Rae (available in the State Library of Victoria).This book includes a chapter on 'Transport Nursing'.

In November 2012 the Victorian Historical Journal (volume 83 no. 2) published an article by Kirsty Harris entitled 'Two heads are better than one' Melbourne as the hub of Australian Army Administration in World War I. The article discussed the role of the Australian Army Nursing Service largely based in Melbourne and the two women responsible for the operation of this organisation during the war.

There is also lots of useful material online.

Official history of the Australian Army Medical Services, 1914-1918 was written by A G Butler and is available online on the Australian War Memorial website. This work was published in three volumes. Volume 3 was published in 1943 and chapter 11 is on the Australian Army Nursing Service. Chapter XIII is the The Australian Invalid in England while chapter XIV is Sea Transport of Australian Soldiers. This title is also available in the State Library of Victoria collection.

The research that I am currently doing is about the experiences of a nurse who served in the Sea Transport Service. The Australian National Maritime Museum provides the book, Sea Transport of the AIF by Greville Tregarthen online which has useful information.

The Looking for Evidence website includes a section on the Sea Transport Service listing the Australian women who served.

This website also has a section on AANS uniforms.

The Australian War Memorial website includes an information sheet on researching Australian First World War troop ships.

Desert Column website includes a section with information and images of Australian First World War troop ships.

There are also booklets online about the various hospitals where the nurse worked.

Three copies of No 5 AGH magazine (published 1918) are available on the National Library of Australia website. The first issue produced by staff and patients includes a history of the hospital.

No 2 Australian Auxiliary Hospital Southall Middlesex is a booklet available on the National Library website. This hospital specialised in treating amputees.

No 2 Australian Auxiliary Hospital Southall war diaries from August 1917 to April 1919 are available one on the Australian War Memorial website.

No 3 Australian War Memorial Hospital Dartford war diaries are also available online on the Australian War Memorial website. The diaries cover the period June 1917 to September 1919.
A description of the hospital at Dartford was provided in the war diary for February 1918.

Other websites relating to Dartford include:
Dartford Hospital Histories

Dartford Hospital - Kent history

The diary of Mary Ann Pocock who was matron at Dartford during 1917 is also available online on the National Library website.

There were also hospitals or convalescent homes specifically for Australian nurses.
One of these was Southwell Gardens

There is also material online specifically about Australian Nurses in World War Iincluding:
Great War Nurses - Australian War Memorial website
Researching Australian Military Nurses - Australian War Memorial information sheet 
Australian Nurses in World War I - website
Researching Australian Nurses - State Library of Victoria - guide

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Restorer

Michael Sala has written a novel about a dysfunctional family who move to Newcastle to restore not only a house but also a broken relationship. Maryanne  had left her husband, Roy, and taken the children to live with her mother in Sydney. However when twelve months later Roy arrived to ask Maryanne to join him in Newcastle Maryanne tentatively agreed. Teenage daughter, Freyer, and eight year old Daniel were not happy about this relocation but Maryanne thought that she needed to try and restore her relationship with Roy and bring the family back together.

The story is primarily told through the eyes of Maryanne and Freyer with Roy ever present in the background. Newcastle also plays a major factor in the novel as the author provides descriptions of the streets, beaches, cliffs and general landscape in which the characters go about their lives in this city. The novel is set in the year 1989 and the author uses world and local events of the time such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tianamen Square Massacre and the murder of a fourteen year old girl in Newcastle as discussion points within the novel. This was also the year of the Newcastle earthquake with the destruction of parts of the city providing an analogy with the deterioration and destruction of a relationship.

Not only does the relationship between Maryanne and Roy deteriorate but the impact of this relationship causes Freyer to experiment with outside, and often dangerous, influences to try to achieve independence from her the family.

As the story unfolds we discover why Maryanne initially left Roy and watch as aspects of Roy's character are revealed. This is a well written novel that kept me wanting to keep reading to discover more about the characters and the inevitable outcome. I suspect that it will become a very popular book with book clubs.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Soldier's Curse

A series of crime novels set in 1820s New South Wales has been written by Meg Kenealy with her father, Tom Kenealy. The first book in the Monsarrat Series is The Soldier's Curse, published in 2016.

Set in the convict settlement at Port Macquarie the novel provides detailed description of life in a convict settlement including the demarcation between convicts, former convicts and the free (usually soldiers).This convict settlement is for those who have been convicted twice for offences. Hugh Monsarrat has been assigned as a clerk in the office of the Commandant of the settlement while he awaits his ticket of leave and transcribes the many documents relating to the management of the settlement. Working at Government House he befriends the house keeper, Mrs Mulrooney, as well a a young soldier who regularly visits the house.

The plot centres around the gradual decline in health and eventual death of the Commandant's wife, Honora. When the housekeeper is accused of murdering her mistress Monsarrat is left with the task of exposing the killer.

At times I suspected that the authors were not sure whether they were writing primarily about life in the convict system or writing a crime novel as the plot is intertwined with detailed descriptions of convict life. Being the first book in a series it also contains copious back stories providing information about the main characters which slow down the unravelling of the story. Hopefully other titles in the series will concentrate a little more on the plot if they are meant to be crime novels.

The book does provide an interesting fictional account of convict life in New South Wales. The second book in the series, The Unmourned, published earlier this year is set in the Parramatta Female Factory. Hopefully the storyline will move a little faster than in The Soldier's Curse. It will be interesting to watch the development of this series.

Review in The Australian 27 February 2016

Saturday, March 18, 2017

True Girt: the unauthorised history of Australia - volume 2

The sequel to Girt: the unauthorised history of Australia by David Hunt has arrived providing readers with another chance to explore the alternative history of our country. This time topics examined include the European settlement of Tasmania, New South Wales after Macquarie (briefly), European settlement of Victoria, gold, bushrangers, explorers and the treatment of Aborigines.

David Hunt continues his irreverent investigation of events in Australian history with copious footnotes often referring to possibly parallel recent events. Like the first volume the book provides a usually humorous interpretation of history though some of the incidents described, particularly the treatment of indigenous Australians, may make the reader feel uncomfortable. However other sections make entertaining reading and may encourage readers to explore Australian history more thoroughly.

The Australian reviewed this book in November.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Botany Bay: the real story

In 2011 Alan Frost published his book, Botany Bay: the real story, based on a thirty-five year study of original documents relating to the establishment of a colony in New South Wales. In his research he discovered records that had not been explored thoroughly by other historians and consequently some of his findings differ from previous research.

The first two chapters are about crime and punishment in eighteenth century England. Dealing with convict problems via the use of hulks and enlistment 1776-1783 is followed by chapters on proposals to reintroduce transportation to a number of countries in various parts of the world. One chapter looks at the possibility of forthcoming war while another chapter examines investment and return resulting from having an overseas convict colony. In the final chapters Alan Frost examines the arguments made leading to the final decision of Botany Bay as the site for a convict colony including:

Botany Bay had been recommended by James Cook and Joseph Banks and Pitt respected their judgement.
This was not a hasty decision as it had taken seven years to develop between 1779 and 1786.
Sending the First Fleet was an expensive way of relocating convicts but it became more cost efficient by the time of the Third Fleet.
The new colony would be suitable for providing supplies for the navy, especially timber and flax from Norfolk Island.
There was a need to establish a colony in the region before the French did.

This book is useful for the information it provides on the background for the implementation of transportation to New South Wales.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The art of time travel: historians and their craft

In this work Tom Griffiths studies the work of fourteen historians who present different perspectives of Australian history. Beginning with the work of Eleanor Dark in her book, The timeless land, he moves on to the work of Keith Hancock, John Mulvaney, Geoffrey Blainey, Judith Wright, Greg Dening, Henry Reynolds, Eric Rolls, Stephen Murray-Smith, Donna Merwick, Graeme Davison, Inga Clendinnen, Grace Karskens and Mike Smith. As seen by this list 'historian' in this book is not just interpreted as an historian working in a university but can also be someone portraying history through literature or art.

The chapters are not necessarily confined to the person listed in the chapter title. The chapter, History and fiction: Inga Clendinnen, for example, includes several pages of discussion on the work of Kate Grenville, especially her books, The secret river and The making of the secret river. Tom Griffiths provides an interesting study of how writers have interpreted the past in Australia's story.

Writing family history

A number of books have been published about writing family history, a topic becoming increasingly popular with older Australians. Two titles I have recently looked at include Writing family history made very easy: a beginner's guide by Noeline Kyle and Writing your family history: a guide for family historians by Gill Blanchard.

Chapters in Noeline Kyle's book include Becoming a writer, Research and writing go together, Who are you writing for? Asking questions and finding ideas, Characters, Nostalgia, Historical context is what? as well as chapters on publishing your work. This Australian book provides useful clues to writing and publishing your family story. The section on publishing concentrates on producing a print publication which is probably not surprising as the text was completed in 2006. It is still, however a useful guide with ideas to consider when writing a family history.

British author, Gill Blanchard, published her book in December 2014. Chapters include Who, what, where, when, why and how, What kind of ancestral story, When to stop researching, Developing writing skills, Make it interesting - 'bringing the past to life', The nitty-gritty - from editing, proofreading and acknowledgements to copyright and Publishing. Useful tips and exercises are included in each chapter making this a practical step-by-step guide which is easy to follow. The section on publishing includes publishing online as well as publishing in book form. 

Both of these authors have published family histories as well as other material on writing family history. A Google search provides additional information about the authors and their publications.
I also found this link to lecture notes by Noeline Kyle on the topic.

Minding her own business

In 2015 Catherine Bishop's book, Minding her own business: Colonial businesswomen in Sydney, was published. In this work the author attempts to dismiss the theory that women were only background figures in Colonial Sydney with activities confined to minding the home and family. In fact, she has discovered that women ran many of the businesses in the colony, although this has become lost in history.

Women in business in Colonial Australia should not be a surprise. By just looking through lists of colonial publican licensees it is apparent that many publicans were female. Catherine Bishop looks at many businesses in early Sydney which were run and usually owned by women. Sometimes they worked in partnership with their husbands but often the businesses were run by females, sometimes for several generations. Creating fashionable clothes for the ladies of the colony was one industry where women excelled. However women also ran schools for girls, some ran boarding houses while some worked in retail and the food industry. Women were also entertainers and writers.

Sometimes women were forced to work to support their family when their husband died or if his business failed. It was not unusual for women to run their own business independent of their husband's business interests. However there are also cases of women taking over the family business after the death of their husband. The new colony had provided the opportunity for economic independence for a number of women.

Over time, however, the achievements of these women have been forgotten. Catherine Bishop 's study attempts to rectify this situation.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Vikings: raids.culture.legacy

For several years now SBS has been screening the television series, Vikings. Before screening the second part of series 4, SBS ran a series of documentaries about the lives of the Vikings demonstating the general interest in this topic. Marjolein Stern and Roderick Dale published the book, The Viking Experience, in 2014 (Carlton Books). In 2016 the book was republished by Hardie Grant Books as an SBS book.

The contents covered in the book include the origins of the Scandinavian nation, exploration, raiding and trading, settlement abroad, everyday life, the end of the Viking age and the Viking legacy. Both the authors have specialised in the history of the Viking age while Roderick Dale is also an anthropologist. The many illustrations in this book, together with the text, provide the reader with an understanding of how the peoples, now referred to as the Vikings,  really lived.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Wandering Whitehorse Road

In this book Marc Fiddian describes Whitehorse Road from the commencement of the road in Camberwell to its terminus in Healesville. In reality the road is only known as Whitehorse Road when it progresses through the suburbs that now form the City of Whitehorse. For much the time the road is called Maroondah Highway.

Throughout the book the author provides snippets of information about the history of the area through which he road winds.

Evergreen Falls

The story of Evergreen Falls is set in two time periods - 1926 and 2014. The prologue describes a tragedy that occurred during the winter at Evergreen Falls, a hotel in the Blue Mountains. We are then introduced to a waitress working in a cafe in the same area eighty-eight years later. The hotel is undergoing renovations and when Lauren gains access to the old building she discovers a collection of letters and papers that start her journey investigating life in the hotel in the 1920s.

Lauren's investigations are encouraged by Tomas who works on the  renovation project. Who wrote the letters and what was really happening at Evergreen Falls? The flashbacks introduce the reader to events leading up to the tragedy described in the prologue. We also meet many of the staff working at the hotel as well as a number of the guests. In between we learn of Lauren's progress in identifying the people mentioned in the letters.

This is a story of the burden and freedom of love. Class is ever present in the 1926 section of the book, so are people allowed to form serious relationships outside their class? To what extent should family expectations affect the choice of a marriage partner. The demands of family is also a theme ever present in the 2014 section of the book for, as her investigations progress, Lauren also discovers family secrets about her own family which had been hidden from her.

Relationships are the key to this historical romance by Kimberley Freeman as she describes how one location changed the lives of several characters living in different time zones. I would have liked to have more in the book about Lauren and her discoveries but all in all I enjoyed reading this book.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Five go parenting, Five on Brexit Island, Five go gluten free

In time for Christmas a series of Enid Blyton Books for Grown-ups was released. Based on the well known Famous Five series by Enid Blyton, this collection of books has been written by Bruno Vincent in the style of the original books. However the books in this series use twenty-first century themes and events for adults.

There are five titles in the series:
Five go parenting
Five go gluten free
Five go on a strategy away day
Five give up the booze
Five on Brexit Island

In Five on Brexit Island Anne, Dick, George and Julian with Timmy decide to camp at Kirrin Island to escape the fuss caused by the Brexit referendum. Not surprisingly George and Julian have opposing views on whether Britain should remain in the European Union.  When the referendum result is known George, who owns Kirrin Island, decides to declare the island independent from the mainland.

As the title suggests, gluten free eating is the topic of Five go gluten free when the group, led by Anne, go on a restrictive diet. Who is going to give in first and will their friendship survive?

Five go parenting was the first title that I read in the series. This is an account of how the group survives when suddenly presented with a young child to look after. There are some mildly amusing incidents in this book.

As parodies of the original books, these titles don't take long to read and have a few amusing, but not necessarily laugh out loud, moments.

Illustrations from the original books, with text from the new version, are scattered throughout the pages. The illustrations, however, are not in context with the story being told. I found this annoying in the first title that I read and ignored the illustrations in the other two volumes.

The covers are illustrated by Ruth Palmer in the style of Eileen Soper who illustrated the original books.

All in all a good idea that doesn't quite work.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Bertie Project

Irene has returned home and so the Bertie Project can continue. Seven year old Bertie, however, enjoyed his months of freedom with just his father and his grandmother looking after him. Irene therefore discovers that she has lost some of her control. Stuart has also discovered the joys of not being totally under the control of his wife. But will the changes in Scotland Street last?
The story of Bertie and his family, intermingled with stories of other characters associated with Scotland Street, continue to provide entertaining reading. This is the eleventh title in the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith.