War Child, by Annette Janic with Catherine McCullagh

‘What would you do if you found yourself caught up in another war?’ I asked my mother, Leni, when I was about 12 years old. ‘Commit suicide’ she replied, without batting an eyelid.
Her response was so immediate that I can still remember how much it shocked me. She did not hesitate, even for a second.

Magadelana (Leni) is born in pre-war Germany, an illegitimate child, spurned by her extended family and by the whole village in which she lives. Only her mother loves her, but their fight for survival is fraught with difficulties, with tough economic times made increasingly dire when war is declared. A young Leni has to leave school and help support her mother and younger brothers, but her employer is a sadistic rapist. The terrible misfortune that seems to plague her life continues long after the war ends, but in 1950 Leni, her Yugoslav husband and their young son arrive in Australia hoping for a better life.

War Child is the true story of a childhood which seems to awful to be true, and of the search by Leni’s daughter to uncover her mother’s story and the secrets she kept. Spanning over 100 years, and three continents, the story is gripping, uncomfortable and often sad, but it makes for compelling reading.

War Child, by Annette Janic with Catherine McCullagh
Big Sky Publishing, 2016
ISBN 9781925275599

The Beekeeper's Secret, by Josephine Moon

Maria knew about guilt. It was a stubborn, pervasive and toxic emotion, and incredibly difficult to shake. Especially if really, deep down, you didn’t think you deserved to let it go.

Maria Lindsay lives a quiet, but productive life, and that is how she likes it. She lives simply, managing a retreat and raising funds for an orphanage, largely through the products she makes from honey and beeswax, gifts from the bees she tends. But when she receives two letters, her peaceful, orderly existence is threatened. One letter is from a niece she has never met, who wants to reestablish connection between Maria and the family she left behind many years ago. The other is from an investigator, looking into events which Maria has tried to put behind her.

Tansy Butterfield is Maria’s niece. She has long known about her aunt, but has only just tracked her down, and is delighted that she lives so close. But as Tansy’s fledgling relationship with her aunt grows, the rest of her life seems ind anger of falling apart. Her mother has arrived on her doorstep, having ‘a break’ from her previously rock-solid marriage, her husband has been asked to relocate to Canada for work, and Tansy’s agreement not to have children is weighing heavily on her.

The Beekeeper’s Secret explores the complexities of extended families, and the relationships which can span generations. Tansy and Maria form a strong bond, in spite of Maria’s long estrangement from Tansy’s mother, and Maria passes her learning on to Tansy and her stepson, Leo. Their family includes Tansy’s devout Catholic parents, her sister Rose who has four children, her hippy Aunt and Uncle, and her cousin and his wife, as well as Tansy’s husband Dougal and his adult son Leo. Each family member is navigating change as well as looking back at promises and mistakes of the past.

From the author of the much loved The Tea Chest and The Chocolate Promise, The Beekeeper’s Secret continues the strong, warm tradition, although also dealing with some uncomfortable (yet important) topics including the effects of child abuse.

The Beekeeper’s Secret, by Josephine Moon
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781925266139

Hush, Little Bird, by Nicole Trope

Hush, Little BirdShe’s coming today. She’s coming here. Right here to where I am.
I thought I would have to wait two years to see her. Two whole, long years. I haven’t seen her for a lot longer than that. I haven’t seen her since I was eight years old and now I am thirty-three years old. That’s twenty-five years.

When she was a child, Birdy was hurt by people she should have been able to trust. Now she’s a mother herself, but she’s away from her daughter, and the rest of her family. While she’s inside, she’s had time to think about those who hurt her – and she will make them pay. So, when Rose is transfered to the same facility, Birdy is excited at the opportuntiy to exact revenge.

Rose has been convicted of a terrible crime – the manslaughter of her husband, a former television icon who had a secret, shocking life that Rose and their children had no idea about. But Rose should have seen, should have sensed that something was wrong. Shouldn’t she?

Hush, Little Bird is a shocking, intriguing tale which deals compassionately and honestly with the difficult subject of paedophila and abuse. Told through the alternating voices of Rose and Birdy, the novel gradually reveals what has come before. For Birdy, this is the tale of her abuse as a child, the intervening years and how she came to be now in prison, plotting revenge on those responsible. For Rose, this is the story of her seemingly perfect marriage to a man she now comes to realise she didn’t know well at all, and the events that led to her being accused of killing him. It is also the story of how their lives overlap and what happens when they cross paths again.

While dealing with a hard subject, the story is not only palatable but also compelling, with the reader able to connect with the characters and get to know them intimately. Hush, Little Bird is well wrought, important and a great read.

Hush, Little Bird, by Nicole Trope
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760113728

Available from good bookstores and online.