Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction’ Category

The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky.

March 18, 2017 Comments off

blue catThe Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky. Pub. Allen&Unwin, 2017

This novel for Intermediate and junior secondary readers is set in Sydney after the fall of Singapore in 1942 to the Japanese when great grey warships sat in the harbour like a herd of tired elephants.

It is an absorbing and lyrically novel with a sense of dread about it and ends in a surrealistic way. It recreates Australian life before World War 2 that prompted the then Prime Minister of Australia to observe “Australia is a British land of one race and one tongue”

Columba and her best friend Hilda are about 11 years old and they live on the North Shore of Sydney. Their neighbours are two elderly sisters Miss Hazel and the harp playing Miss Marguerite who say things like “people are ignorant they don’t know any better”.

Daylight saving has been introduced and it is lights out after dark to stop the enemy seeing in the dark. Darwin is bombed in the middle of the story.

Ellery a young boy from You-rope comes to town with a watch on his wrist, a bearded father and without a word of English.

At the same time an archangel blue cat wonders into the lives of Columba and her neighbours. This cat sees all and is important in providing the serendipitous ending to this story.

Easy to read with primary sources of literature, advertisements and Government directives of WW2 Australia spread throughout the novel that will intrigue the reader and provide an insight into life at that time.

I have never read a children’s novel like this before.



The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

July 26, 2016 Comments off

dolssaThe Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry. Pub. HarperCollins, 2016.

Of all the eras of human habitation on this planet the one that I would least liked to have lived in is the medieval period when the power of the church was at it’s highest and most vicious.

In this novel for senior students and young adults Julie Berry has created that medieval world with all its poverty, cruelty and religious fervour. Once I had become fond of the characters who are largely female, young, clever and questioning I was scared witless of what fate may become them. You will too.

Dolssa is the key character who believes god speaks to her and through her and she refers to him as her beloved. This brings her into conflict with the Inquisitors who see heresy spreading and spoiling the vineyard of the lord. This role is played by Lucien de Saint-Honore who wishes to destroy anything that conflicts with the teachings of the church and believes that this will please the blessed Saviour.

After watching her mother burnt at the stake by Lucien, 13 year old Dolssa flees and is eventually rescued by teenager Botille an arranger of marriages and her sisters Plazensa who is a prostitute and Sazia who can read fortunes. The girls hide Dolssa from the Inquisitors and this brings drama and danger into their lives.

You will have to read the novel to find out more and believe me it is captivating reading.

Narrated by Dolssa, Botille and Lucien mainly but other characters do contribute. Chapters are short and the writing is lofty and crude at the same time in line with the characters of the Medieval period. A superb piece of writing.

Sympathy For the Devil. The Birth of the Rolling Stones and the Death of Brian Jones by Paul Trynka.

July 15, 2016 Comments off

brian jonesSympathy For the Devil. The Birth of the Rolling Stones and the Death of Brian Jones by Paul Trynka. Pub.Trans World Books, 2014.

It’s school holidays and I always give time to myself to read an adult book. This is it, and although you could say it is riddled with childish behaviour, it was the 1960,s and it deals with the birth of the Stones and the rise and fall of Brian Jones.

I have read all the books about the Rolling Stones because they introduced the world to the Blues music of the great American black Blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf Jimmy Reid etc etc etc. It was Brian Jones that was responsible for this and it was him that gave blues back to America. It was his passion, his vision  that formed the Rolling Stones in 1962 and gave Mick Jagger and Keith Richards the platform to strut their stuff on the stage but it was a gateway to his own destruction.To this day I still want Jones’ creation of Little Red Rooster played at my funeral.

Brian Jones put the devil into the Stones, he introduced Keith Richards to Open G tuning which gave the  Stones their distinctive sound and he taught Mick to make love to a woman. Brian Jones was the experienced one in the early days and sadly has been given no credit for it by his fellow band members. Mind you Bill Wyman fared no better but came through it all. Brian was sensitive, had poor parents and a weak body. His fate was inevitable on the evidence of this book.

Brian Jones was destroyed by the toxic culture of the Stones, nankering they called it, by his own appetite for drugs and by being hounded by the Establishment through obsessed and proven corrupt Scotland Yard police officer Norman Pilcher. To see and hear Scotland Yard police officers lying through their teeth was frightening to Brian Jones. He had no hope.

This is a great read for 60’s fans and Stones fans it is just regrettable that none of the Stones has come to the party. He is the elephant in the room for the Stones who have airbrushed him out of their history and the truth may never be told. The conspiracy theories about Brian’s death are handled but after reading the book you have to say they are a load of codswallop.


Enemy Camp by David Hill

March 1, 2016 Comments off

enemy campEnemy Camp by David Hill. Pub. Puffin, 2016.

The Featherston Incident has become known as a shameful event in New Zealand history but after reading David Hill’s junior story of this event I would say it was inevitable and understandable.

Whether he intended this is another matter.

Featherston was home for up to 600 Japanese prisoners from 1943 to the end of the war. The prisoners were a mixture of civilians and soldiers and sailors captured by the Allies.

This story is narrated in diary form by Ewen a standard 5 boy whose father works in Featherstone camp and had been a soldier in Greece who lost part of his arm in war against the Germans. His humanitarian stance throughout the story is a highlight and an example to all.

Ewen has friends Clarry and Barry Morris with Clarry suffering from polio. His story is also an example to all of us. The boys attend school at a time when you had ink monitors who filled the inkwells from a large bottle and teachers who would rap you across the knuckles for holding your pencil wrong.

The boys are given Japanese lessons from an English speaking Japanese officer called Ito. From him they learn that for the Japanese in the camp “for us to be prisoner is to be dead person”.

Throw in the Americans seeking information from the Japanese, Japanese pride and loyalty and hostile reactions from those who have fought the Japanese and been tortured and you have a mixture primed for conflict.

Superbly written in short diary entries that primary and intermediate students can easily read, coupled with David Hill’s easy style and you have great historical fiction. The account of the event itself with the boys looking on is sensitively done. A very readable novel.

Leaving for the Front: A Boy’s Story by Michelle O’Connell

December 17, 2015 Comments off

leaving for frontLeaving for the Front: A Boy’s Story by Michelle O’Connell. Pub.   2015

In Masterton in 2014 One hundred secondary school boys dressed in military uniforms of the First World War, renacted the men of the town going to war in 1914.

The parade was watched by townsfolk dressed in the attire of the day and among the spectators was the author of this picture book and her son. The author noted how her son was moved by the event and this picture book captures that feeling.

The written text is short and concise “We are going to dress up for a parade today” The young boy tells the story. We have a photo showing the original parade, the War Poster with Wairarapa Needs You, ANZAC biscuits, the old villa and car from 1914, the train journey, the crosses on the hillside and the farewell.

The illustrations are in sepia tones and pencil drawings and capture the old world well.

Ideal for study of World War One and it’s historical times, It is very moving too.

From The Cutting Room of Barney Kettle by Kate De Goldi

October 29, 2015 Comments off

barney kettleFrom The Cutting Room of Barney Kettle by Kate De Goldi. Pub Penguin Random House, 2015.

I always vowed that I would never write a bad review about any novel and I hope people do not conclude that this is a bad review. But in all honesty this is not my kind of novel. I love De Goldi’s Clubs and Honoria Lee was diffident on The 10PM Question but this novel was too busy for me. I found the plot was cluttered with trivia that prevented me getting at the story.

It took me five weeks to read the novel and one week of thinking what and if I was going to review it.

The story is a good idea. Barney is an aspiring film maker who has a filmic view of the world. He is looking back at the world of central High Street Christchurch before a 32 second shake killed it for everyone. Its the way he goes about telling it that gets me. I wish his more level headed sister Ren had been the narrator I probably would have liked the novel better.

Nonetheless people will love this book and Kate De Goldi is too dominant a literary figure to be ignored or dismissed just as this novel is.

Not my cup of tea but few who know me will not be surprised by this.

I think this is an adult book but senior students, young adults and readers with that theatric flair will like this novel.

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne.

October 7, 2015 Comments off

boy top mountainThe Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne. Imprint Random House, 2015.

A novel with the same power as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Just as the son of the Kommandant of the Death camp was lured innocently to the gas chamber with his Jewish friend, so 7 year old Pierrot is seduced into the Nazi world of secrecy, suspicion and brutality.

Pierrot’s journey is an astonishing transformation from sensitive son of a German soldier and French mother to a child monster with the same qualities of any Nazi. John Boyne documents  Pierrot’s life from 7 years old in Paris in 1936 to the end of the War in 1945 at Berchtesgaden and shows how easy it is for the innocent to be corrupted.

The story and transformation of French boy Pierrot with a Jewish boy as his best friend to the loathsome Pieter whom he becomes, is simply told in three parts and is very understandable for students of senior primary and intermediate age but is clearly for high school students.

It is riveting and John Boyne builds the tension throughout but the deeper stuff like the reasons for the Jewish persecutions will need to be explained. Heavens it needs to be.

The character and decline and fall of Hitler is neatly depicted from the time he tells Pierrot “work will set us free” to the crazed lunatic who bundles into a car on his way to the final days in the bunker. A description of Hitler eating “like a rat chewing his way along a cob of corn” is priceless.

The ending is deserving  but you will have to read the novel to find out what happens.

Don’t miss this novel it is superb.