Where are Our Boys, by Martin Woods

Where are Our Boys? : How Newsmaps Won the Great War - Martin WoodsBy mid-October 1914, Pacific war maps were popular souvenirs, and a reminder of the main game. As the editorial referencing a new map issued by Melbourne bookseller George Robinson and Co. claimed, ‘one sees the extent of the penalty Germany has suffered in these seas by her wanton aggression, and the prizes that have fallen to the lot of Australia’.

When the Great War broke out in 1914, Australians grew increasingly interested in what was happening not just in England, to whom the country’s declared allegiance lay, but in places few had heard of and even fewer had visited. They relied on maps to see where these places were, their closeness to England and, importantly, Australia, and as the war rolled on, where battle lines lay and how they shifted.

Recent advances in printing technology meant the ability to produce maps in newspapers, and for distribution, was easier, so that the average Australian had access to maps and could track the war visually, and discuss the war in schools, homes, pubs and churches, growing an understanding of where Australians were fighting and how the war was playing out.

Where Are Our Boys provides detailed look at the role that maps and other visuals played in public understanding of the war. Filled with maps, news clippings and other visuals from the time, the book details the course of the war, and the information which was available ‘back home’ through these items.

Suitable for history buffs or anyone with an interest in the role of the media before electronic communication.

Where Are Our Boys, by Martin Woods
NLA Publishing, 2016
ISBN 9780642278715

The Safest Place in London, by Maggie Joel

There was something rather splendid about this woman who would not have looked out of place in the pages of a magazine, but whom fate had put here, in the the East End, in a tube station with a cigarette in her mouth and a small child. It set her apart from the wretched mother and her five starving children.

Diana Meadows is lost. She and her three year old daughter Abigail have come up to London on secret business, and somehow caught the wrong bus. Now she’s in the East End and the air raid sirens are blaring. Not far away Nancy Levin and her own daughter, Emily, are cooking chips for dinner when they, too, hear the siren. They know what to do, having done it many times before, and gather their belongings before heading off to the shelter.Both women’s husbands are off at the war – Diana’s Gerald is serving with a tank regiment in North Africa, while Nancy’s Joe has just left to return to the navy after surviving a torpedoing. The husbands believe their wives and daughters are safe. The two women spend the night camped beside each other in the cramped underground space. Though they don’t speak, each observes the other – and their lives become linked before the all clear sounds.

The Safest Place in London is a gripping, shocking tale of war time life and the lengths mothers will go to to protect their families. With the chance to observe the thoughts processes of both characters, and to see what happens beyond the terrible night in the shelter, readers will grow to know them, and perhaps to understand their actions.

Lots to think about both during and after reading.

The Safest Place in London, by Maggie Joel
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781743310601

The Fence, by Meredith Jaffe

‘Brandy and I have discussed this at length and to our minds there is only one viable solution.’
Gwen glances up at the house where Eric potters in the garage, oblivious to the unfolding crisis.
‘I mean, the trees will still have to go of course, given they are encroaching on our property there is no way around it. but trees or no trees, the only real solution is to put up a fence.’
Without thinking, Gwen Turns on her heel and races towards the garage, away from this vile woman and her extraordinary ideas.

Gwen and her husband Eric were the first people to live on Green Valley Avenue. They’ve raised their children here, and now their grandchildren love to visit.  Gwen doesn’t plan on ever leaving. But her neighbour and best friend Babs has died, and the house has been sold, and suddenly there’s a new family moving in, with a tribe of little kids and two uncontrolled dogs.

Francesca has brought her family to Green Valley Avenue in the hopes of a new start. Her marriage is in trouble, and starting anew in the suburbs seems the only solution. The only problem is her nosy new neighbour, Gwen, and the lack of a fence between their properties. It isn’t long before the two families are battling over the boundary, even while each woman’s life is facing terrible changes.

The Fence is a tale of fences, neighborhood disputes and much more. Gwen’s husband, Eric, is aging and behaving oddly. Frankie’s house-husband Brandon has been having an affair, and seems increasingly unable, or unwilling, to keep the house running. At times funny, at others moving and even sad, The Fence  is a wonderful debut novel.

The Fence, by Meredith Jaffe
Pan MacMillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743540152

 

 

 

The Museum of Modern Love, by Heather Rose

A hush descended on the atrium. It became evident that the young man was weeping. It wasn’t a dramatic gesture. Tears were running down his face while his glistening angel eyes continued to gaze at the woman. After some time, the woman began to weep in the same silent passive way. the weeping went on as if they could both see they must settle for losing something. Levin looked about and realised the atrium had quietly filled again and everyone was staring at the two people.

Arky Levin’s life is unraveling. His wife has made him keep a devstating promise which means he may never see her again. A film score composer and musician, he finds himself unable to create music. he has cut himself off from his friends and even his daughter. when he wanders into MoMA, he finds himself watching an installation performance. Artist Marina Abramovic is sitting, for seventy five days, staring into the eyes of strangers. Arky finds himself drawn back to the gallery time and again and, gradually, he starts to piece ogether his life away from the gallery.

The Museum of Modern Love is an absorbing, moving story of art, life and love. Multiple perspectives explore Arky’s viewpoint, as well as the stories of other observers and of the artist herself. Readers are invited to consider the significance of art and its connection to life itself.

Inspired by the life and art of Marina Abramovic,the story is an interpretation both of the artist and of the impact of her work.

Stunning.

The Museum of Modern Love, by Heather Rose
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760291860

The Love of a Bad Man, by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

I’ve always had small hands. The rest of me isn’t very big, either, but my hands are almost as small as a kid’s, with spindly white fingers and nails like broken seashells. David likes this about me. That there’s something about me that hasn’t changed for all these years.

Ever since Cathy and David met as troubled teens, they’ve belonged together, even though Cathy has married another man and had a bunch of kids. When David comes back into her life, she abandons her family,and spends her days trying to make David happy. David loves her, but he also has fantasies about other women, and Cathy finds herself helping him to kidnap and murder them.

Based on the life of Catherine Birney. ‘Cathy’ is one of twelve short stories which make up The Love of a Bad Man. Each story imagines the life and motivations of the women who have loved famous ‘bad men’, from Serial killer David Birney, to Hitler, to Jim Jones of Jonestown infamy. The voices are brutally honest, sometimes bewildered, occasionally naive but always compelling, as readers are offered insight into the lives and motivations of the women who supported, enabled and endured the men in different measure.

Not hopeful reading, but satisfyingly compelling.

The Love of a Bad Man, by Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Scribe, 2016
ISBN 9781925321555

Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh

Sight

A lizard keeps following me around the house.

I tell the Tattoo Man about it when we’re sitting on his verandah one afternoon. The Tattoo Man has puffy eyelids and a black beard that he strokes when in deep thought. He’s in his rocking chair with a stray orange cat sitting at his feet, swishing its tail.

Sight

A lizard keeps following me around the house.

I tell the Tattoo Man about it when we’re sitting on his verandah one afternoon. The Tattoo Man has puffy eyelids and a black beard that he strokes when in deep thought. He’s in his rocking chair with a stray orange cat sitting at his feet, swishing its tail.

‘Portable Curiosities’ is a collection of twelve surreal and satiric short stories. In ‘Cream Reaper’, the story reflected in the cover art, the search for the ultimate ice cream flavour becomes deadly serious. ‘Sight’ offers the opportunity to see what others miss. Stories are told in first, second and third person, and explore myriad ‘landscapes’.  ‘The Fat Girl in History’ is story within story, twisting and turning, keeping its truths shifting.

‘Portable Curiosities’ is funny, sad, disturbing, pointed, merciless and merciful. Each story in this collection engages the reader then makes them squirm. A wonderfully black-humoured, multi-flavoured assortment which uses fiction to illuminate truths about the world we live in and how we live in it. Much to think about, great fun.

Portable Curiosities, Julie Koh
University of Queensland Press 2016 ISBN: 9780702254048

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Blame, by Nicole Trope

She really would like to know if there is any point in her continuing to exist, continuing to feed and dress herself, or even get out of bed in the mornings. She doesn’t think she has ever looked this thin and this old. At a certain point, she seems to have crossed a boundary between waif-like and haggard. ‘So what,’ she thinks, staring at the reflection of her collarbones in the police station mirror. ‘So what.’

Anna and Caro have been best friends since they met a child health clinic when their daughters were babies. Now, though, something terrible has happened. Anne’s daughter is dead, as the result of a terrible accident. And Caro was driving the car that claimed her life.Both women – and their families – are devastated, but now each must make sense of her own version of events.

Blame is a gripping tale of two women and their unraveling of the events which lead to a terrible tragedy. Set over the two days that each is interviewed by police investigating the accident, as well as through each woman’s memories of their friendship and of the complicated, challenging events they have helped each other through over the past ten years.

The issues explored – of loss, betrayal, drink-driving and the complexities of parenthood – are emotionally challenging, but the story is compelling, with the immediacy of the two-day time frame keeping pages turning.

Unforgettable.

Blame, by Nicole Trope
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760293154

Young Digger, by Anthony Hill

‘How does a German boy like you speak the King’s English so well?’
The child’s manner changed. Outraged, he drew himself to his full height, though he didn’t reach much above Tovell’s wasit, As the band wheezed to a halt, men nearest the door heard the boy exclaim, full of scorn:
‘I am not a German!…I am a Frenchman, monsieur. One of the glorious Allies. I’m one of you!’

As Australian airmen enjoy a sumptuous Christmas lunch in post war Germany in 1918, they are interrupted by the arrival of a small boy. Presuming he is one of the local children, they attempt to shoo him away, but are amazed to realise he is not German, but French. Henri, or ‘Young Digger’ as he comes to be called, has been living on his own or with various British squadrons since he was orphaned in France in 1915 and has somehow made his way to Germany. He is attracted to the Australian airmen by the smell of their food, and soon decides he will be happiest with them.

Whilst his story is sketchy, even his real name unclear, Young Digger is soon a much loved member of the Number 4 Squadron and, when they return to Australia he is determiend to go with them. The story of how he came to be adopted by air mechanic Tom Tovell and smuggled out of Germany, France and England before being welcomed into Australia is extraordinary.

Soldier Boy is a fictionalised account of Digger’s life and extraordinary journey. Previously published as a novel for children, this updated version is aimed at an adult audience. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in ar history, but also to those who like a heartwarming tale of love.

Soldier Boy, by Anthony Hill
Penguin Books, 2016
ISBN 9780670079292

The Toy Maker, by Liam Pieper

‘Let me tell you a story about my grandfather…My grandfather came to this country with nothing, but now, because of his hard work and sacrifice, I have everything. Grandpa was proud of his work, of every little toy that he made. That’s why he was so successful. There’s nothing more important than hard work and sacrifice…’

Adam Kulakov loves his life. He has plenty of money, thanks to inheriting his grandfather’s toy company, a beautiful wife and a son he adores. He has no shortage of mistresses, either. No matter that some of his ideas don’t turn out so well, or that he has trouble finding good staff who will stick around. His grandfather, Arkady, is also happy. After escaping Auschwitz at the end of World War Two, he was able to build a new, successful life for himself in Australia. Now he is retired, but Adam’s wife, Tess, on whom more and more responsibility for running the company falls, includes him in decision making. They have a close relationship.

But when Adam makes one mistake too many, the future of the toy company and of his marriage becomes increasingly rocky. And for Arkady, the horrors of the past are coming back to haunt him, too.

The Toymaker combines twin narratives of 1944 Poland and contemporary Australia so that the reader not only sees Arkady’s story unfold alongside the modern narrative, but also becomes aware of the contracts and similarities between the experiences and personalities of grandfather and grandson. It is a story of privilege, corruption and survival which is both absorbing and uncomfortable.

Compelling reading.

The Toymaker, by Liam Pieper
Penguin Books, 2016
ISBN 9780670079384

The Woman Next Door, by Liz Byrski


She attempts to get a grip on her voice. ‘It just seems such a big change, such a big thing to do.’
‘It is a big thing to do, but it isn’t something that’s undoable,’ he says. ‘A year, remember, that’s what we said. See how it goes for a year. It was your idea. You said it was what you wanted.’
‘But you…you do want it too…don’t you?’
‘I do – I wouldn’t have agreed otherwise.’

For years he women of Emerald Street have lived alongside each other. Much more than simply neighbours, they have seen children grow, careers flourish and relationships change. Now, though, things are changing. Helen and her husband Dennis have moved to a modern apartment near the river, seeking something. Polly has met a man who lives overseas, and is starting a long-distance relationship. Joyce and her husband Mac, still in love, want different things – in different places. And Stella, always flamnoyant, is becoming increasingly erratic in her behaviour.

The Woman Next Door is women’s fiction at its finest. The four friends each face a variety of challenges and changes, and their friendships, too, are at times challenged. Readers journey with each woman, with shifts in perspective allowing an intimate view of the highs and lows of a year which is filled with so many life changing moments.

Byrski has a knack for creating rich female characters and for making readers not only care about them but also feel that these are very real women.

The Woman Next Door, by Liz Byrski
Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743534939