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

The Turnkey, by Allison Rushby

There was a man standing in the alcove that led out onto the Golden Gallery’s walkway. His attention was fixed on the explosion, which meant he hadn’t seen her yet. At first she thought he was a fire watcher, stationed up the top of St Paul’s to protect it from burning. But, no, this man was a twilight visitor – a man of the dead, not the living – she could tell by his ashen hue. Everything was a muted shade in her world; it was how you could tell the living world from the the world of the dead.

It is 1940 and Flossie Birdwhistle is the turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery, charged with keeping the souls that rest there at peace. When London is subject to enemy bombardment every night, this is an even more difficult task than usual. During one raid, when Flossie sets out to fulfill the request of one of her charges, she sees something surprising: a German soldier, who, though as dead as she is, seems to have abilities and interests from the other side of the grave. It is up to Flossie, and her friends, the turnkeys of London’s other cemeteries, to figure what he is up to, and how to stop him.

The Turnkey is an intriguing novel set in the midst of the second world war, populated with ghostly characters, as well as a handful of those still living. the concept of the dead being looked after by one of their own, and of them still carng for the world beyond the grave is appealing, and history lovers will enjoy seeing World War Two London and Germany from a very different angle.

Great stuff.

The Turnkey, by Allison Rushby
Walker Books, 2017
ISBN 9781925126921

When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane

The sun had sneaked out from behind the clouds, and sparkles from the shoes bounded about the grass. Madeleine looked back up. the girl crossed her arms. ‘I was not enquiring after the shrubs, she said imperiously. ‘I want to know what you are doing in Bea’s dress slippers.’

Madeleine is not impressed at being sent to the country to stay with her eccentric grandmother for the holidays, while her big brother gets to stay with his best friend. Staying with Mum Crum means early mornings, yoga and hard work. But when she finds a pair of shoes hidden in the cupboard she is renovating, Madeleine is intrigued and wants to know more. Soon, she is finding out far more than she bargained for, when she finds herself transported back to 1900, to the home of the shoe’s owner.

Now Madeline is part of a family and time where women have no power or independence, as the Federation of Australia’s colonies nears. She witnesses the treatment of Aboriginals, staff and children, and is conflicted about both what she sees and how little she can do to change it. She also watches the family struggle through personal turmoil as she worries about how she will get back to her own time.

When the Lyrebird Calls is an absorbing time-slip novel for children and young adults, set in late colonial Australia, as well as in contemporary Victoria. While a number of issues are explored through the text, the action carries the story so that it does not become issue heavy. Young readers will enjoy being able to see aspects of colonial life through the yes of a contemporary narrator.

When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781741758528

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

Theophilus Grey and the Traitor's Mask, by Catherine Jinks

You don’t think it a rather provocative arrangement?’ the clergyman began, then broke off, frowning. He had been interrupted by a noise that made Philo’s hair stand on end.
It sounded like a wolf’s howl. Long and drawn-out, it echoed off the high brick walls that penned them in, finishing on a growling quaver.
It seemed to be coming from behind them.

Theophilus Grey is a linkboy – a boy who guides paying customers home, or across town, after dark falls on London streets. It’s the work he’s been doing for as long as he can remember, and along the way he has learnt the power of that memory. The things he sees, the conversations he hears and the people who have them, can prove to be useful, so he watches and listens, remembering everything he can.

When Philo is asked to work as a spy to gather intelligence against the Jacobites, who are plotting to overthrow King George, he has to draw on all his resources. Even then, he seems to be collecting enemies and drawing attention to himself far more than is comfortable. As the tensions mounts, Philo has to questions where his loyalties should really lie.

Theophilus Grey and the Traitor’s Mask is the second novel featuring Philo and his friends – fellow linkboys, hawkers, actors and more. Set in 1750s England, it is a satisfying blend of adventure and history, likely to appeal to upper primary readers.

Theophilus Grey and the Traitor’s Mask, by Catherine Jinks
Allen & Unwin, 2916
ISBN 9781760113612

The White Mouse: The Story of Nancy Wake, by Peter Gouldthorpe

‘Right there and then I made up my mind that if ever I got the chance, I would do everything in my power to hurt them, to damage the Nazis and everything they stood for.

After a difficult childhood in Australia, Nancy Wake manages to travel first to London and later to Paris, where she talks herself into a job as a foreign correspondent. She is happy in Paris, and meets and marries a man she loves, but as the Nazi Party’s influence grows, she worries about what will happen, and when war breaks out, her fears are realised. Soon, Nancy is part of the resitance movenent, working to undermine the Nazis and to help their victims.

The White Mouse tells the remarkable story of a remarkable Australian woman and her work during World War 2: driving ambulances, helping escaped prisoners, transporting radios and other banned items. As a story which most Australian children are unlikely to know, and one which shows a strong woman working hard to make a difference in a time of hardship, the book is a really important offering.

The illustrations – in pen and ink and using techniques such as newspaper headlines and maps in the backgrounds of some pages, and text boxes looking as if they are taken from aging notebooks – have the feel of the time period in which they are set, and are reminiscent of the war story comics and paperback novels which adult readers may remember.

A quality book about a fascinating Australian.

The White Mouse: The Story of Nancy Wake, by Peter Gouldthorpe
Omnibus Books, 2015
ISBN 9781742990910

Palace of Tears, by Julian Leatherdale

Palace of TearsAngie loved Mr Fox’s magnificent, absurd hotel. In fact, it was her one true great love. But…today Angie was so cross, so fed up with everybody and everything, she would probably cheer if a wave of fire swept over the cliff and engulfed the Palace and all its guests.

When Adam Fox throws a lavish party for his son, Robbie,at his grand hotel, the Palace, everyone is invited. Everyone except the girl next door, Angie, who has been Robbie’s childhood friend but who, it seems, is not deemed suitable for such an event. Her mother Freya is an artist and her father a groundsman at the hotel. This slight has sent Freya into a rage, and Angie is determined that somebody must pay, but nothing prepares her for what happens – when her game with Robbie ends in a terrible tragedy.

In 2013, as the Palace is restored to its former glory and her mother Monika gradually drifts away in the fog of Alzheimers, Adam Fox’s granddaughter Lisa decides it is time to uncover her family’s history. She wants to know why the hotel is known by locals as the ‘palace of tears’ and why her mother is so emotionally distant. As she digs into the past, though, she finds more mysteries.

Palace of Tears is an absorbing novel filled with stroies of love, betrayal and secrets. Though the Fox family is fictional, the hotel is inspired by the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains, and many real historical figures and events are used in the story, most notably the homefront events of the two world wars and the treatment of German-Australians during World War 1. The stories of Lisa, Monika and Angie are alternated throughout the book, meaning that the reader uncovers the truth along with Lisa as well as coming to understand the motivations and personalties of the characters.

This debut novel is a captivating mix of family saga, romance and historical fiction.

Palace of Tears, by Julian Leatherdale
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760111601

Available from good bookstores and online.

Meet Banjo Paterson, by Kristin Weidenbach & James Gulliver Hancock

Meet... Banjo Paterson (Meet...)As he sat in his dingy office, Banjo dreamed of the drovers bringing big mobs of cattle down from Queensland. He stared out the window and longed to swap places with those in the back of beyond.

Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson is one of Australia’s best known and loved poets. Poems such as ‘The Man From Snowy River’, ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’ have entertained Australians of all ages for more than a century. Meet… Banjo Paterson introduces young readers to the man behind the poems, and how he came to write them.

Told in simple language the text focusses on key events in Paterson’s life and how these translated to the page. Illustrations on every spread bring scenes to life but also depict the way his imagination worked and, in turn, ignited the imagination of readers.

Part of the Meet… series, which brings notable Australians to life in a form accessible to young readers. Suitable both for classroom use and for private reading.

Meet… Banjo Paterson, Kristin Weidenbach & James Gulliver Hancock
Random House Australia, 2016

My Name is Lizzie Flynn, by Claire Saxby & Lizzy Newcomb

All I own in this world is my name: Lizzie Flynn. 
It’s all I take with me as we are hustled aboard the Rajah, a cargo of convict women.

Convict Lizzie Flynn is leaving London, bound for Van Diemen’s Land. All she owns is her name. When the women on the boat are given sewing materials to make a quilt, she is reluctant. She doesn’t know how to sew. But Molly encourages and teaches her, and soon Lizzie a part of the sewing group. By the time the boat reaches Australia, the women of the Rajah, have completed a beautiful quilt and Lizzie has new skills and new friends, though sadly her friend Molly has not survived the journey.

My Name is Lizzie Flynn: A Story of the Rajah Quilt is a beautiful historical picture book, fictionalising the story of the Rajah Quilt, made by convict women in 1841 and now housed in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Saxby has a skill for creative nonfiction, and her text manages to convey both the emotions of Lizzie and her fellow travellers, and the essence of the era of convict transportation. The acrylic illustrations again capture the mood, with the drab colours onboard the ship in contrast with the e blues of the seas and sky beyond. In the scenes of land a clever contrast is created by portraying England in grey tones as the women leave it behind and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) with rolling green hills, and gently colourful houses suggesting a level of hope.

A beautiful book, suitable for school and home

My Name is Lizzie Flynn: A Story of the Rajah Quilt, by Claire Saxby & Lizzy Newcomb
Walker Books, 2015
ISBN

Available from good bookstores and online.

My Holocaust Story: Hanna, by Goldie Alexander

Hanna (My Holocaust Story)Only this afternoon Papa had warned us of the German threat to Poland. Now the Luftwaffe’s bombs had succeeded in convincing us that everything was about to change.

Hanna and her family have a happy life in Warsaw – until the Nazis invade, and the family must run and hide. Their crime? Being Jewish. Suddenly they have nothing, and every day becomes a fight for survival. First in hiding in the loft of a farmhouse, and later in the ghetto, Hanna must use all her skill to keep herself alive.

Hanna is a moving fictional account of one girl’s Holocaust story. Hanna is, at the start of the story, a fairly normal child: she has friends, is close to her family, and worries about things like missing out on gymnastics training. But as the Nazi occupation forces her family into a radically different life, she grows and discovers new talents and new strength.

Hanna shares a terrible chapter in history with a young audience who may not be familiar with it, in a form which makes it accessible and movingly real.

My Holocaust Story: Hanna, by Goldie Alexander
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 9781743629673

Available from good bookstores or online.