A few streets away, a car putting down the twisted hill. It halted outside a block of mulberry-brick flats. A small boy emerged from the back seat, out onto the pavement. He was carrying a suitcase. He stood there, looking upwards. His skin gleamed like snow.
in the middle of the road a sleek cat lay stretched out, absorbing the sunshine.
It is 1942, and Columba (who was named after a nun) is growing up in war time Sydney. A new boy – a refugee from ‘You-rope’ – appears in the neighborhood, at about the same time as a strange blue cat. Columba is intrigued by the new boy, Ellery, though he doesn’t speak English and Columba struggles to understand where he has come from and why he is here. This isn’t the only thing she struggles to understand. Why are the cloaks being put forward for an hour? Why do the adults talk about ‘taking people’s minds off things? And, with Singapore falling, and regular air raid practices, will they be safe here in Sydney?
The Blue Cat is an enchanting piece of writing. Historical fiction with just a tiny twist of magical realism, it is a gentle story of the confusion of a child faced with frightening, not-quite-understood events. With an insight into how the childhood experiences of Australians during the war years, and to harbourside Sydney life, this is an entrancing read.
The Blue Cat, by Ursula Dubosarsky
Allen & Unwin, 2017
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.
The Turnkey, by Allison Rushby
Walker Books, 2017
But I did, I did! There was no way I was letting go of it. It was my scrapbook, my scrapbook about the little princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose – the one I’d been named after. I’d been keeping it for years, cutting out and sticking in pictures of the little princesses and all their doings from magazines and newspapers. It was very special to me, that scrapbook, and I wasn’t letting go of it for anything.
It was the reason I was still alive.
It is 1940, and Margaret Rose lives in London, far away from her cousin Lizzie in Australia. But when Margaret Rose’s family home is destroyed in an air raid she finds herself bound for Australia on a ship. Lizzie’s family are happy to take Margaret Rose in, but Lizzie isn’t so sure. Her cousin is getting all the attention, and Lizzie’s life is changed by sharing her bedroom and her classmates.
The war takes a little longer to reach Townsville, in Australia’s far north,and Mrgaret Rose is safer there. But as the war rolls on, it also draws closer to Australia, and both girls share the realities of war time life.
Lizzie and Margaret Rose is a story of war, of family and friendship set both in London and in Townsville, as well as on the ship travelling between the two countries. Told in the alternating first person voices of the ten and eleven year old cousins, it provides an inside look at the effects of war, and particularly World War 2, on children and on day to day life.
While thoroughly researched and complemented with back of book notes, the story is front and center rather than being used to string together lots of facts,, making it really satisfying.
Lizzie and Margaret Rose, by Pamla Rushby
Omnibus Books, 2016
From the appointment of the Controller, Colonel Sybil Irving, on 29 September 1941, until the cessation of hostilities in August 1945, over 24,000 girls and women enlisted as volunteers in the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS).
From different places, from different backgrounds, by varied routes, they were now together, the members of the Australian Women’s Army service. As the first raw recruits were marshaled onto a bus for Killara, talking non-stop about what lay ahead, they heard cries of ‘You’ll be sorry!’ but they never were.
In Word War 2, as men serviced in Europe and Asia, the homefront faced struggles, too, not the least of which was the shortage of staff. Australian women, who wanted to contribute, campaigned hard to be allowed to enlist and, finally in September 1941 the Women’s Army Service was formed. Between then and the end of the war, thousands of women volunteered and served in a wide variety of roles including driving, logistics, administration, communications and more. Giving their all for the service and ‘doing their bit’, these women later found themselves at a loss when the war ended and the expectation was that they would return to home life as quickly as possible.
You’ll be Sorry: How World War II Changed Women’s Lives traces the stories of these women through the war years and after, using testimony and recount from the women who served and from family members. Easy to read, the book provides an in depth insight into the types of women who served, their roles and lives within the service, and the challenges of life afterwards.
A vivid, intriguing account.
You’ll be Sorry: How World War II Changed Women’s Lives, by Ann Howard
Big Sky Publishing, 2016
‘Robert. His name was Captain Robert Shine.’
She handed me the photograph. I noticed the sharpenss of the soldier’s dark eyes, the strong jawline and the firm tilt of his head, and most of all the startling intimacy between subject and photographer.
‘Oh, Nan…he;s a handsome guy. Who took the photo?’I saw a wary reaction flare in Nan’s watery eyes.
‘A girl I once knew. She liked to take photos.’ Nan closed her lips firmly.
When Stella returns home to spend Christmas with her parents and her much loved grandmother, she senses that the tension between her mother, Linda and her grandmother, Rose, hasn’t lessened since last time she was here. She has never understood how her Nan, so loving to her, is so harsh towards her own daughter. When she accidentally finds an old photograph in her Nan’s bedroom, she starts to investigate.
Over sixty years earlier, Rose and her sister Vivienne share an idyllic childhood living in a Spanish-style castle in northern Queensland. Nothing, it seems, can come between them. But when Rose leaves home and meets a handsome American soldier, this relationship will test the bond between sisters.
Castle of Dreams is an engaging story of three generations, and the secrets that can shape family relationships long after they are kept. As Stella unravels her Nan’s past, she also learns more about her mother and a mysterious aunt she never knew she had.
Set in World War 2 and in contemporary times, this is an absorbing story of love and betrayal.
Castle of Dreams, by Elise McCune
Allen & Unwin, 2016