Troubadour, by Isolde Martyn

God ha’ mercy! Shoulder throbbing with pain, Adela stumbled to her feet. Already she could hear the shouting in the upper bailey. She took a pace forward and braced herself to be set upon; the workmen stood inert. There was a gap in this uneven horseshoe of witnesses. She recognised one of them.
‘Are ‘e daft?’ he growled. ‘Run!’

When Adela, hairbraider to the queen, finds herself the unwilling subject of King John’s attention, she flees the English court and, after stowing away on a ship, finds herself in France. Eventually she is employed as a laundry maid in the entourage of Lady Alys, an English woman on her way to marry the Lord of Mircason to forge an alliance with King John. Adela is startled to see that she and Alys have very similar appearances. When the entourage is ambushed, it is this resemblance which sees Adela, the sole survivor of the ambush, mistaken for Lady ALys, and delivered to Richart, the Lord of Mircason. Adlea knows she will not be able to maintain the deception for ever, but events seem to be overtaking her, with teh wedding looming, and her attraction for Richart growing. In the meantime, Richart’s fiefdom, and those around him, are being targeted by a crusade, coming to topple any people who harbour or befriend heretics.

Troubadour is a romantic saga set in medieval France and England, against a background of real events. Martyn brings to life the political machinations and court life of the times with colour and detail, and the action moves at a satisfying pace.

With an intriguing cast of characters, and a satisfying romantic plot, Troubadour is highly recommended.

Troubadour , by Isolde Martyn
Harlequin, 2017
ISBN 9781489220370

The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning

It was an odd engagement present. Heirloom or not, such gifts were not usually covered in grime and dust. Pip sneezed as she started unpacking four boxes of antique French pots: copper boilers, streaked and mottled with watermarks, so when the soft morning light reflected off the pots and hit the white walls of the tiny worker’s cottage, they rippled with rainbows. Some of the pots were so large Pip had to brace herself to lift them out of the boxes. When she pulled off the lids, their blackened insides were etched and lined with age.

When she moves in to a tiny workers cottage with her fiance, Jack, Pip really doesn’t have room for the set of large copper pots her parents send as an engagement gift, but she is determined to have them on display. They bear memories of her childhood and a deeper connection Pip doesn’t completely understand. but the warmth of the copper pots might not be enough to keep Pip’s plans on track. She wants to get her PhD project finished before she and Jack get married and travel, but Jack is impatient, and wants everything to happen now.

In 1427, Artemisia, the cook at the Chateau de Boschaud also has copper pots. she is busy preparing the dishes, the settings, even the special bathing waters for the Lord and his bride. It is tough work, but it is made easier by Artemisia’s secret. this will be her last day at the chateau: soon she will be free and ready to build a new life.

The stories of Pip and Artemisia are separate, yet there are connections across the many centuries between their lives, and Artemisia’s vast knowledge of herbs cooking are not only reflected in Pip’s interests, but are even shared through treasured finds. Readers will want to trace the adventures of each, o find out whether happiness is possible for either, or for both.

The Midsummer Garden is a satisfying blend of contemporary and historical fiction, with each story compelling and well wrought, and the links between the two intriguing. Themes of happiness, of family lore, relationships and self fulfillment are explored and food lovers will enjoy the culinary detail.

The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760294748

Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France, retold by Adele Geras, illustrated by Fiona McDonald

Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from FranceA long time ago, in a faraway land, lived a widowed merchant with three daughters. The youngest was so lovely that everyone who saw her wondered at her beauty. Her name was Belle and she was as good and kind as she was beautiful.

Continuing their series of retold fairy tales from around the world, Christmas Press has combined the talents of author Adele Garas and illustrator Fiona McDonald Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France. While the two tales – ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Bluebeard’ may be familiar to many readers, these are not saccharine versions but more traditional tellings of the tales. The illustrations, too, have a traditional feel to them, with a blend of full colour pates, ornate borders, smaller coloured illustrations and some grey scale.

This hard cover offering will appeal to fairy tale lovers and older readers.

Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France, retold by Adele Geras, illustrated by Fiona McDonald

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Chocolate Promise, by Josephine Moon

An easy smile broke through his dark beard, which was largely unkempt and messy but just within the bounds of still being rustic and attractive. But it was the way his smile reached all the way to his staggeringly blue eyes that hit Christmas hard. the air around her suddenly drained away and she was speechless for a couple of moments, unable to take her eyes off his.

Christmas had her heart broken once, and it’s not going to happen again. She has formulated ten rules for happiness, and the most important one is number ten – No romantic relationships. But when she meets Lincoln her resolve is sorely tested. Not only is he ruggedly handsome, but he’s intelligent and funny and one of his interests is cocoa. Coincidentally, Christmas is a chocolatier, and is passionate about all things chocolate, especially the medicinal and healing qualities it possesses.

Lincoln, meanwhile, isn’t sure he needs a relationship, either. He tends to live is life on the road, though his gran wishes he would settle down, closer to home, marry and produce some grandchildren. He’s in town to help his gran and sort out his recalcitrant father. But he can’t seem to get Christmas out of his mind.

The Chocolate Promise is a warm, funny, moving story about love, families, ageing – and chocolate. From the author of the much loved The Tea Chest, this new offering is set in rural Tasmania, with part of the action taking place in France.

A feast for food lovers and lovers of a good read.

The Chocolate Promise, by Josephine Moon
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781743318003

Available from good bookstores and online.

1914 by Sophie Masson

‘Come on,’ urged Hansel. ‘We haven’t got all night!’

‘Oh, yes we do,’ I teased, looking at my cards. I had a lousy hand, but I wasn’t going to let Hansel beat me.

‘Hurry up!’ he yelled at me, good naturedly, flinging a pillow in my direction, scattering my cards on the floor.

I ducked, recovered the pillow and launched it back at him.

‘Oh, what’s the use?’ he grinned, catching the pillow and settling it behind him. ‘I was going to beat you anyway.’

‘Never. But if you want to think so then …’

I was staying the night at Hansel’s house. His father, the Baron von Leitner, had retired hours ago, and we were making our last night together in Vienna last as long as we could.

‘Come on,’ urged Hansel. ‘We haven’t got all night!’

‘Oh, yes we do,’ I teased, looking at my cards. I had a lousy hand, but I wasn’t going to let Hansel beat me.

‘Hurry up!’ he yelled at me, good naturedly, flinging a pillow in my direction, scattering my cards on the floor.

I ducked, recovered the pillow and launched it back at him.

‘Oh, what’s the use?’ he grinned, catching the pillow and settling it behind him. ‘I was going to beat you anyway.’

‘Never. But if you want to think so then …’

I was staying the night at Hansel’s house. His father, the Baron von Leitner, had retired hours ago, and we were making our last night together in Vienna last as long as we could.

Louis and his brother Thomas are French/Australian and their father works for the French Embassy in Europe. They have friends from all over Europe. The family are on holiday near Sarajevo when the Archduke is assassinated and before long, WWI is declared. This means that Louis and some of his friends will now be on different sides of this conflict. As the war begins and then continues through 1914, Louis and friends all make decisions about how to contribute. Louis is too young, and not fit to be a soldier, but he finds his own way to be involved. His decisions do not always keep him out of danger, and his family do not escape unscathed, but Louis stays true to himself and to his friends. ‘1914’ includes newspaper articles, photos, letters and other text types.

1914 is the first of what will be five independent novels about WWI. Each will have their own story and be written by a different author. Each will concentrate on a particular year of the war. Louis’s story includes a non-soldier perspective of the war and helps to introduce readers to one of the less well-known ways (actually more than one) that people were involved. Many readers may know how WWI began, but Masson takes them on  location in Eastern Europe and allows them to feel the shockwaves that roll in so many directions. 1914 offers many opportunities for classroom discussion, including friendship, politics, loyalty and security.

Recommended for secondary readers.

 

1914 (Australia's Great War)

1914 , Sophie Masson Scholastic Press 2014 ISBN: 9781743622476

www.clairesaxby.com

The Poppy by Andrew Plant

Across northern France,

poppies bloom in the fields

where once, many years ago …

millions of men fought and died.

NOTE: THIS BOOK HAS A RELEASE DATE OF 1 MARCH 2014

Across northern France,

poppies bloom in the fields

where once, many years ago …

millions of men fought and died.

In northern France, poppies bloom where once was war. Petals take to the air and track the story of war in northern France, travelling from today back through time to focus on a particular battle. Villers-Bretonneux, a small village, was the site of a pivotal battle between German forces and Australian soldiers. Many, many died, but the battle was successful in halting the progression of the Germans. Many of the dead are still unidentified, but none are forgotten. Memorials to named and unnamed soldiers remind just how hard-fought and hard-won was the freedom now enjoyed. In the years following WWI, Victorian children helped to raise money to rebuild the Villers-Bretonneux school. This link, forged in war, is reinforced by Australian animal carvings in the school hall, and promises to not forget. Illustrations show both the darkness and the light, with dark cover and images set in black pages. The painterly images sit like photos on the page, connecting the past with the present. A poppy petal floats through each opening. A final page provides more information about the battle and its aftermath.

For many years, most Australians had some direct link to WWI in Europe, whether it was a parent, a relative, a neighbour. But as time passes, these links become more distant and there is a risk that the connection with and relevance of that time fades. 2014 marks the centenary of the beginning of WWI. For Australia, WWI was the first opportunity to demonstrate internationally their new nationhood. Thousands of Australians died in many different theatres of war. The Villers-Bretonneux was one of these, and for many years, many of the fallen were unidentified, if not forgotten. The Villers-Bretonneux village and school continue to honour the Australians who died there, just as the poppies symbolise their spilt blood. Plant brings this historical non-fiction story to a new generation of young readers, allowing the war to sit just off-page, but not diminishing or underplaying any of the importance of the battle. He shows new readers how the past influences the present and can inform the future. In multicultural Australia, this story will be unfamiliar to some, but ‘The Poppy’ will help to remedy this. Recommended for early and middle primary readers.

 

The Poppy

The Poppy, Andrew Plant Ford Street Publishing, 2014 ISBN: hb 9781925000313, pb 9781925000320

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com