The Burial, by Courtney Collins

If the dirt could speak, whose story would it tell? Would it favour the ones who have knelt upon it, whose fingers have split turning it over with their hands? Those who, in the evening, would collapse weeping and bleeding into it as if the dirt was their mother? Or would it favour those who seek to be far, far from it, like birds screeching tearless through the sky?

In 1921 a woman runs from a cruel life but, in order to do so so, goes to measures almost unspeakable. Barely clinging to life, she flees towards the mountains she is sure will shelter her. She is just 26 year old but has already had a life time of experiences – as a circus performer, horse thief, convict and battered wife. Soon there will be a bounty on her head that will see her hunted by every man in the valley. Two of those men, though, know her well – one is her former lover, the other a policeman who has crossed paths with her almost a lifetime ago.

The Burial is a moving, often disturbing tale, inspired by the life of Australia’s last bushranger, Jessie Hickman, though not claiming to be a true story. The narrator is, surprisingly, a child who dies in the opening scenes of the story, which allows an omniscience as well as an unconventional perspective. The story itself is at times dark but at others optimistic, allowing the reader to journey along with the main character, Jessie.

Just as the main character journeys through much of the book, The Burial is a wild, but ultimately satisfying, ride for the reader.

The Burial

The Burial, by Courtney Collins
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781743311875

Available from good bookstores or online.

Hatched, by Asphyxia

Hatched is the first title in a new Gothic series for younger readers. Told in diary format from the perspective of Martha, and illustrated with photographs and collages, the story will appeal to a range of reader

Shall I tell you my best secret? One day I’m going to be Lady Martha the Magnificent. I don’t know what my special talent is, but I’m going to find it. And when I do, ordinary people will fall over themselves to read my diary and learn all about my childhood.

Martha Grimstone is trying to find her place in the world. She lives with her grandfather, an apothecary, her aunt, who runs the family home, and her mother, a seamstress, who endlessly mourns the death of Martha’s father. Most of the time it seems to Martha that none of the adults notices her, or really appreciates her talents, and Martha spends her days trying to please. She practices her deportment as she collects the eggs for Aunt Gertrude, she takes meals to her mama, and she collects herbs for Grandpa Grimstone’s concoctions. If only she could make everyone happy!

Hatched is the first title in a new Gothic series for younger readers. Told in diary format from the perspective of Martha, and illustrated with photographs and collages, the story will appeal to a range of readers – from reluctant readers who will benefit from the visual elements, to more advanced readers who will enjoy the Gothic feel. The Grimstones are drawn from puppet characters used by the author in puppet shows and now translated into the written word.

This is a quirky offering which is bound to be a success with middle primary aged readers.

Hatched (Grimstones)

Hatched (Grimstones), by Asphyxia
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742376882

This title is available in bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton

It started with a letter. A letter that had been lost a long time, waiting out half a century in a forgotten postal bag in the dim attic of a nondescript house in Bermondsey.

When a long lost letter is delivered to her mother, Meredith, one Sunday afternoon, Edie Burchill knows there is a mystery behind it – but it is some time before she realises just how deep the mystery is. The letter, lost for fifty years, is from Juniper Blythe, who had billeted Meredith during the war. The delay in its delivery is the result of a misplaced sack of mail, but those lost years have had ramifications for Meredith, her daughter Edie, and for its sender, Juniper.

Edie sets out to unravel the events of fifty years ago, visiting Mildehurst Castle, the home of the now elderly Juniper and her older sisters, who have lived together all their lives, and who shelter much history. It was also the home of their father, Raymond Blythe, author of a classic children’s book The True History of the Mud Man , the very book which has inspired Edie’s love of literature. On her visits to the castle, and back in London, Edie slowly peels back the layers of the various mysteries surrounding the Blythe sisters and her own mother.

Part gothic tale, part mystery, this beautiful woven tale meanders through the lives of the various women, with the reader guessing – often incorrectly – at the answers to the mysteries and the secrets which will be revealed. Moving between 1992 and 1941, the narrative draws the reader into both sets of events, keeping the pages turning and the mind guessing right to the conclusion. Not a feel-good book, but a finely rendered one.

The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton
Allen & Unwin, 2010

ISBN 9781742371832

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid children, by Jen Storer

‘Students!’ exclaimed Matron Pluckrose, shaking her head and searching the pockets of her jacket. ‘There have been no st-ew-dents here since the war.’
She fumbled with her cigarette pack. Tensy felt her face flush and her tummy tumble. She stopped laughing.
‘But excuse me, Madam Matron,’ she persisted. ‘Only, how can you have a boarding school without any students?’
Matron blew a cloud of smoke into the little girl’s face.
‘Child,’ she said, and her face was stony, ‘this is no school.’

Tensy Farlow is in danger. Abandoned as a baby on the front steps of a hospital, then almost drowned in the River Charon before being rescued by the kindly Albie Gribble, Tensy has now been dumped in the Home for Mislaid Children by her adopted parents. There the wicked Matron Plucknose seems to have it in for her. But Matron Plucknose is not the worst of her problems. Rather, it is the fact that she was born without a Guardian Angel which places her in mortal danger.

In the Home for Mislaid Children, Tensy does manage to make some friends – but she also has a growing number of enemies. And in a cave in the cliffs below the home lurks an evil being who wants Tensy’s life force. But perhaps, just perhaps, Tensy is the only one who can make a difference to this dark, dark world.

Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children is a wonderful gothic novel for children, with a blend of humour, action and warmth amidst the darkness of a home where children are neglected and enslaved, and dark forces dwell. Red headed Tensy is innocent but feisty, and has a special quality which attracts the good hearted, whilst repelling the bad. Otehr characters are also appealing, including the various angels who pepper the book, and even the baddies are endearing for their humorous portrayal.

With hardcover format, vine leaf embellishments on every page, and a gorgeous story, this is a book to treasure.

Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children

Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children, by Jen Storer
Penguin, 2009

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.