Milad – The Voyage to Ophir, by Nazam Anhar

‘A storm is coming,’ said the old navigator Hakim.
Milad stood beside him on the deck, feeling the rising wind blow against his face and tousle his hair. The twelve ships of the fleet were drawn out in a long line. Their sails lowered, they rowed slowly through the strait to avoid the treacherous coral reefs below the surface.

Milad has finally convinced his parents to allow him one voyage to sea as a sailor. After that he is to return home to the wheat farm his family run. So begins an adventure greater than anything he has imagined or dreamed about. Milad joins a great Phoenecian fleet about to embark on a great journey to seek treasures to bring to King Solomon. He makes friends with Hakim, an experienced and well-regarded navigator. It is from him that Milad learns many of the skills needed to be a good sailor. They travel towards Ophir in Africa. Renowned sailors though they are, there are others on the ocean. Long before they reach their destination they are attacked by Kallabos, a cunning and tenacious Greek pirate.

Milad: The Voyage to Ophir is set at the time of King Solomon’s reign. Nazam Anhar weaves history and adventure in this exciting novel about a boy’s first journey to sea. Milad, the bright but inexperienced sailor has much to contend with, from a captain who doubts he will ever be of any use, to a stowaway who trusts no one, to Hakim, almost the only one on board who treats him with any dignity. Hakim is teacher, mentor and friend. Battle scenes are detailed, while violence is moderated for the age of the target reader. Along the way, Milad and the reader learn about Phoenician sailors and ships, dangerous coral reefs in the Red Sea, volcanoes in Ethiopia, the power and splendour of the Nile from its dual origins to the wide delta, the building of pyramid, the structure and security of pyramids and much more. There is enough detail to satisfy the curious, enough adventure to excite the explorer and enough detailed skirmishes to satisfy the hungriest of readers. Recommended for mid- to upper primary readers and beyond.

Milad: The Voyage to Ophir, by Nazam Anhar
Scholastic 2008
ISBN: 9781741691153

Musk & Byrne, by Fiona Capp

Released from her trance, Jemma drops the charcoal and tosses her sketchbook aside. She hurries down the ridge and across the rocky ground towards the huddled family, only to find herself unwanted; an outsider at the closing of ranks. The reproach in their eyes says it all. She can see it is futile to protest. She has dared treat this freak event, this near-fatal caprice of nature, as a fit subject for art. How can she explain? Reluctantly, she returns to her satchel, packs her sketchbook away and melts back into the forest.

Following the death of her beloved father, Jemma Byrne moves to the goldfields town of Wombat Town, seeking to build a new life and develop her skills as a painter. But after she witnesses (and draws) a young girl’s brush with death, she gains a reputation as an uncaring, strange woman. She marries an Italian-Swiss dairy farm, but her reputation doesn’t improve much, especially when a wronged suitor from her past comes to town. When tragedy strikes, Jemma finds she must live life on the run, and her bad reputation grows. Soon, she is known as the female bushranger Musk who, with her accomplice Byrne, is blamed for a range of crimes throughout Victoria.

Musk and Byrne is a beautifully wrought tale of love, life and self-belief set in Victoria in 1868. Jemma Musk sees the world though the eyes of an artist, and as such often finds herself at odds with more practical people. Even her husband Gotardo, who is proud of her talent, struggles to understand her compulsion to paint even when there is other work to be done. The incident early in the novel where she sketches a girl being carried by the wind almost to her death, rather than put down her sketchpad and spring to the girl’s aid, is something she can’t explain, and which haunts her when she becomes the suspect in a later event.

As well as being a historical novel, this is also a tale of individuality and conformity, and of society’s tendency to judge individuals who don’t conform. It is also a story of love and of survival.

A wonderful read.

Musk & Byrne, by Fiona Capp
Allen & Unwin, 2008

This book is available from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Unborn Beauty, edited by Rochelle Manners

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when I received this book for review. I can now tell you, it is a delight. The poems and stories contained within are as varied as the contributors. The book includes well know poets like Fee Sievers, Andrew Lansdown and Jude Aquilina among others, as well as names not familiar to me. Among a predominance of women who are mothers and grandmothers sharing their experiences, it was good to see a few guys brave enough to submit poems, stories and illustrations as well.

Some of the stories and poems are humorous. Yoda, by Margaret Pearce was one that tickled my funny bone. Position Vacant, by Nicholas Clark was another. Others, like Before Anyone Knew You, by Eve Adams or The Conversation by Elizabeth Sproule will tug at your heart strings and bring tears to your eyes. Or they did mine, anyway.

Even though I’m not a knitter, as a Nanna myself to two special individuals, I appreciated the thoughts behind How Much Love? by Fiona Johnston. Rochelle is to be congratulated, as this book is beautifully presented with its cartoon style artwork on some pages and more detailed sketches and paintings on others that enhance the text. The book also includes a number of pages of useful resources like the contact details of pregnancy support and counselling centres and the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

It’s lovely to see a book, which positively re-enforces the joy of birth and parenthood. At $19.95 it would make an inexpensive, but I’m sure treasured, gift for any new Mum.

Unborn Beauty – Celebrating Pregnancy and Parenthood, edited by Rochelle Manners
Wombat Books