8 books set in cemeteries

There’s something eerie yet somewhat peaceful about cemeteries, and the untold tales of those resting there for eternity. And if you’re a taphophile – someone who takes an interest in cemeteries, funerals, tombstones, or memory of past lives – you’ll agree with me. I’ve always enjoyed books set in cemeteries so I’ve compiled a list for like-minded readers.


8 Books Set in Cemeteries


  1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a fantasy novel for children about a young boy who escapes the night his family is murdered in their home. He wanders up the street and eventually into a graveyard. The ghosts in the graveyard discuss his predicament and agree to raise the young boy as their own. That’s how the life of Nobody Owens (Bod for short) begins. The Graveyard Book has won a tonne of awards, including the Newbery Medal and Carnegie Medal.
  2. Pet Sematary by Stephen King is a horror novel known to many readers. A horror story that only Stephen King could write, it’s about a young family and an ancient Indian burial ground. It’s also been made into a film. No more needs to be said.
  3. Pure by Andrew Miller is an historical fiction novel set amidst Les Innocents, the oldest cemetery in Paris. In 1875, the cemetery has been closed to burials for 5 years because it’s overflowing with 2 million corpses and emitting a foul stench.
    Jean-Baptiste Baratte is employed by the Minister to demolish the cemetery and relocate the human remains outside the city of Paris. We witness his struggle with the dark task of disturbing the final resting place of thousands of Parisian occupants. The descriptions of the cemetery and surrounds (including church, charnel houses and graveyards) were deeply evocative of this grisly yet soulful place.
  4. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier is an historical fiction novel set in Edwardian London between January 1901 to May 1910 with many of the scenes taking place in Highgate cemetery. Told from the perspective of different characters, the novel covers the journey of two girls from different families.
    The chapters are narrated in the first person by several of the main characters (including my favourite character, the gravedigger’s son). It includes themes of mourning, mourning etiquette, class and the suffragette movement.


    While I enjoyed reading the above, I have plenty more in this genre to look forward to, including:

  5. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, is set in and around Highgate Cemetery and is a novel / ghost story about twin sisters, love and identity, secrets and sisterhood.
  6. Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold has been on my TBR pile forever. It’s a non fiction look at London’s dead through the lens of archaeology, architecture and anecdotes. London is filled with the remains of previous eras – pagan, Roman, medieval and Victorian and I look forward to learning more as soon as I can get to it.
  7. The Restorer by Amanda Stevens is a paranormal novel about Amelia Gray – a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts – and is the first of six in the Graveyard Queen series.
  8. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is a new release historical fiction novel about Abraham Lincoln and his grief at the death of his son. It is said that Lincoln was so grief-stricken over the loss of his beloved son, he visited the family crypt several times to hold his body. Lincoln in the Bardo takes place in a single night.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of books set in cemeteries. What have you read or hope to read in the future?

Review: Outrun The Moon by Stacey Lee

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee is totally going onto my list of “most amazing YA historical fiction novels I’ve ever devoured at dawn”. It was just that good! It’s set in 1906 and centres around the San Fransisco earthquake tragedy. That’s a period of history I’d never really read about, so it was super informative as well as downright entertaining to read. Basically it cements Stacey Lee as a phe9780399175411monomal historical fiction writer and I would like to read all of her books forever, yes please and thank you.

The story is focused on Mercy Wong who is Chinese and an aspiring entrepreneur. She doesn’t want to spend her life doing laundry in China Town. She wants to run her own business, get rich, be respected, and do it all no matter what people say! Being Chinese and a woman in the 20th century, she faces a lot of setbacks. But her sheer determination was so admirable and winning! Plus when she blackmails her way into a highly prestigious school…I just knew I was going to love her.

I totally appreciated the setting. Historical Fiction is rarely my favourite, but this worked so well for me! The writing was lively and exciting and the period of history was intriguing and somewhat obscure compared to most HF settings.

I also was endlessly impressed with the lowkey romance. There was pretty much just one kiss, and yet the romance between Mercy and Tom was so powerful I couldn’t stop rooting for them! They are both pretty much in denial over their feelings and this is adorable. It also goes to show a powerful romance can be written in just a few pages! I also love how Mercy’s focus in life was becoming a successful business woman!

And because I’m addicted to lists, here is a brief list of things I loved about this book!

  • Mercy has an adorable 6 year old brother, Jack, who she loves and their relationship is so cute.
  • The secondary characters are actually complex and interesting. I particularly loved the Italian friend Mercy made at the school. (Plus Francesca was a huge lover of food and so am I so…we’re connected.)
  • Basically there is a lot of food appreciation in this book! From delicious Chinese dishes, to Italian, to American. I was so hungry reading this. SO HUNGRY.
  • Plus it heavily involves a chocolate shop. What is not to love about a book that includes a chocolate shop!?
  • There is plenty of quirky and witty dialogue that had me chuckling.
  • Mercy is Chinese, yes, but she’s been raised entirely American. So when she’s at school and pretending to be a Chinese heiress — she runs into a lot of problems. She ends up explaining away her lack of Chinese knowledge in the most ridiculous and hilarious ways!
  • There is a “mean girl” character, Elodie, but I loved her character development and backstory. Despite the potentially for Elodie to be an annoying cliche, she was great and I ended up quite liking her.
  • Oh and there is plenty of pain. Plenty. It’ll make you laugh one minute and clutch the pages and sob the next.

Basically Outrun The Moon is amazing and you should definitely try it. I highly recommend it. It’s fun and easy to devour in a couple of sittings, despite being 400-pages. Mercy is clever and humorous and also a complete dork at times, plus very bossy. She will get things done. I totally adored her! Also I loved how when everyone listed her bossiness as her “fault”, she refuted that and listed it as her strength. So true! The world needs people like Mercy to get things done, pull people together, and forge paths. I’m so glad this books sends such positive and empowering messages.

 

[purchase here]

Review: Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman took me completely by surprise! I was a bit dubious going in because while it looks like a dark hearted pirate book, I’d been warned it was more of a historical romance. That’s true! While this is the infamous Blackbeard’s origin story, it’s about before he turned to the sea. And yet, despite the lack of pirate action, I was completely in love with the story. I adored it! It had complex and winning characters, excellent writing, a dash of sass, and the promise of pirates in the sequel. So really — I am hooked.9781481432696

The story basically follows two very different people: Anne and Teach. Anne is a maid and because she’s half black, half white, she’s ostracised by everyone around her and she doesn’t feel like she belongs. All she wants to do is take a ship over to the West Indies to find her deceased mother’s people. So she’s kind of stealing from the manor lord to do so. Um, very bad idea. And on the other hand, we have Teach, who dreams of the sea but his father has him set up to marry an insufferable duchess and stay safely behind closed doors all his life. To which Teach says: no. Anne and Teach’s lives get caught up wonderfully because they both want to defy society’s expectations and follow their true dreams.

Hopefully Teach’s true dream involves pirating in the future, because I have expectations.

I loved how complex and interesting both Anne and Teach were! Teach loves books and while he can be an insufferable jerk, he’s really sweet too. Anne is very epically strong and will boss you around and woe to anyone who tries to take advantage or swindle her. She will, literally, thwack them with a bucket. They were both pretty strong-willed characters and yet still complimented each other marvellously.

I was totally onboard with this romance. Okay, but Teach did annoyed me with his supremacy attitude. But I wasn’t a fan of how he wanted to “protect” Anne, which basically entailed controlling her. That was the thinking of the era. Basically “Oh I like this woman, I must make sure she never gets hurt ergo I must make sure she never does anything without my permission first so I can check it’s safe.”  HOW ABOUT NO. Sit down, Teach. But, he did get better as the story went on. And I did adore how they argued so much! It just made me like them so much together. They are pepper and fire.

Yes it’s also the “origin” story of Blackbeard. Which is awesome. I did wish Teach had indicated more piratey tendencies. He honestly was a bit too much of an upstanding citizen, so I do wonder how he’s going to end up joining the dark side. I will find out once the sequel is released!

The writing was very marvellous too. I have a wariness of historical fiction and its usual tendency to be hard to read with stilted language style. But this? It was great! There are plenty of lords and ladies primly shouting, “I SHALL NOT, GOOD SIR!” but otherwise, there was banter and it was easy to devour. I didn’t want to put it down! Plus several scenes had me laughing out loud.

Blackhearts is definitely a book not to be missed! Sure it had cliche moments and I felt any complications towards the characters’ goals always got resolved a bit too fast. But there is a massively exciting cliffhanger finale, and Teach and Anne are amazing and I’m completely hooked on the storyline. Bring on the pirates!

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

If you’re looking for a deadly brutal YA historical fiction retelling…And I Darken by Kiersten White is calling your name. Practically screaming it in a bloodthirsty way, let’s be honest. This book is incredible. It’s dark and accurately portrays how vicious the world was back in the 1400s. It’s also a9780552573740 gender-bent retelling of Vlad the Impaler! So instead of “Vlad” we have “Lada” (which is actually the feminine equivalent) who is terrifying and admirable. This book is totally the definition of EPIC.

The story follows the life of Lada. It starts off, literally, with her birth and then follows her briefly through childhood to the viciously terrifying teenager she becomes. She’s a wild girl who desperately wants the approval of her terrible father, Prince of Wallachia. Except her father ends up abandoning her to the Ottomans, as hostages basically, and she grows up estranged from her homeland and lost and alone. Except, of course, for her little brother: Radu. Radu is as thoughtful and kind and soft as Lada is tough and violent and raging. They clash like nothing else. Except they also care fiercely for each other. #siblings And they both perhaps fall in love with the young Sultan, Mehmed. Which is awkward considering Mehmed is Lada and Radu’s sworn enemy.

The story has a lot of political elements. It almost reminded me of Game of Thrones in that respect. Basically it is 90% about who is at war with who and who wants to stab and impale who (spoiler: EVERYONE WANTS TO STAB EVERYONE) and alliances and broken alliances and who gets the throne and etc. It was very interesting, although boarded on info-dumping several times. But it made me care about the characters at first, so the political and historical aspects (while a bit dry) didn’t get overly tedious.

It definitely features historical elements! Although, since it is historical fiction, some timelines have been moved and rearranged to create a faster-moving story. But I loved learning about the Ottoman culture and I didn’t know much about Vlad the Impaler before….and now I do! Huzzah!9780553522310

The characters were definitely the highlight. Often I read books where the book promises dark/vicious characters…but then all the character does is sneezes on a puppy and doesn’t apologise and it’s all very anti-climatic. Not so here! Lada is downright cruel. She stabs and bites and she’s feral and wild and basically amazing. Nothing gets her down. Although as the book goes on she does mature and develop as a character. Sometimes she even talks to people before immediately smacking them in the head. #progress Radu dual-narrates and he’s equally amazing to read about. Despite being labelled the “weak” one and constantly underestimated, he’s very clever and intelligent and collects information and uses it for blackmail. These two siblings were just so contrasted and intriguing that I couldn’t put the book down!

There is a love triangle, although it’s a muted one. Considering Radu refuses to admit his feelings for Mehmed and Lada would rather stab puppies than admit her feelings for Mehmed. The romance definitely features in the plot, but it doesn’t overwhelm things.

It is quite a long book, at 500-pages. I felt it could’ve been shorter and condensed some of the intense load of politics and focused more on the characters than the world. My favourite scenes were all the conversations between the trio: Lada, Radu, and Mehmed. They were all three so awesome and complex!

And though the book is quite dark, it’s not super graphic. So if you’re squeamish, you’ll be fine! (Mostly.) Of course there is impaling and stabbing and assassination attempts and Lada kindly (not) tortures the kids she grows up with all through her childhood…oh and there’s plenty of WAR and BATTLES.

ALL IN ALL: I have such fond feelings for this book! It was intense and exciting and intriguing. The writing was engaging, although a little dry at times, and the characters were winning despite being entirely horrible to each other. I am desperate for the next instillment!

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is such a heartwarming WWII story! My cold dead heart warmed like a whole 3 degrees and that is amazing. I loved the visual writing and the copious amounts of scones (!!!) and the adorable protagonist, Ada. British books are always delightfully pleasant. And I do see why this book has won the Newberry award! It’s so beautifully written (if very slowly paced) and definitely a classic to get middle-grade children into reading about the second World War.

9780803740815What’s It About?

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn t waste a minute she sneaks out to join him. So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother? This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity a classic in the making.

It’s an child evacuation story, featuring Ada and her little brother Jamie. They’ve been horribly abused by their mother because Ada is crippled. Her mother finds her repulsive and disgusting and is so cruel to her. Be prepared for some horrible scenes where the mother locks her in cupboards and cuffs her and denies her any happiness. I think the representation of PTSD was spot on. The repercussions of being unwanted your whole life? Ada was forever flinching away and kindness towards her was often met with meltdowns because she had been so unloved her whole life.

Ada also has a clubbed foot. I’ve never read that before! She spent the first 9 years of her life crawling in the dirt because her mother was so disgusted with her disabilitity. Ada’s bravery and strenght are totally to be admired. And it’s understandable that this drove her to a lot of bitterness and anger. This could’ve made her into an unlikeable character who is hard to read about…but it did not! I 100% loved and rooted for Ada.

Ada and Jamie are sent to live with Miss Smith in the English countryside. It reminded me a bit of Good Night Mister Tom and also The Chronicles of Narnia! I loved Miss Susan Smith. She was really snappy and kept claiming she was “not nice”…but the wonderful things she did for those children! It was so heartwarming. I love how she taught them manners and cleanliness and stood up for them when they got into trouble. And also fed them copiously. What a wonderful women. Her growing love for the children was just my favourite thing.

The children also have plenty of adventures in the countryside. There’s horse riding and spies to catch and school to attend. And lots of scones and tea, luv, because this is a British book.

All in all: it was a delightful WWII story with a totally winning protagonist. If you haven’t read much WWII stories, then this is a good one to start with! It’s definitely suitable for ages 9+ I’d imagine. There is parental abuse at the beginning, but it’s not graphic. There’s also death, but this is history. (Plus that is also not graphically described or anything.) Thanks for warming my old soul, little delightful book.

[purchase here]

Review: A Hero in France by Alan Furst

9781474602914No other writer of historical espionage fiction is as capable of capturing the sights sounds, and tensions of the time as Alan Furst. Not only does he saturate the reader in the fine details, but his characters always resonate – even when they are distinct archetypes – and his plots are always complex and rollicking.  A Hero in France – published as a Hero of France elsewhere – is no different. It’s not quite peerless Furst – veteran readers will likely point towards Midnight in Europe or Mission to Paris as their favourites (or maybe that’s just personal bias…) but it’s a fine example of what the author is capable of. And thankfully, if you enjoy this one, you’ve got thirteen other World War II Europe-based suspense novels to discover. Lucky, lucky you.

Mathieu is the leader of a French Resistance cell in Nazi-infested Paris. Mathieu is not his real name, but in this time of war, his true identity is irrelevant. Set in a key period during the war – when Britain had stepped up its bombing campaign, and just prior to Hitler invading the Soviet Union – the book’s plot follows several of Mathieu exploits. From concealing downed British pilots and smuggling them home, to the nitty-gritty of being a resistance leader and securing funds and garnering allies, Furst portrays the difficulties of Mathieu’s wartime mission with aplomb. He does this by highlighting the scarcity of items we take for granted, and letting his characters truly luxuriate with them when the opportunity arises. And it’s these moments that truly elevate A Hero in France. While other writers can match Furst in the suspense stakes, few are as capable of humanising their characters.

The novel possesses a sombre tone – appropriately so, too – but its characters never wallow. A Hero in France is a novel about heroes, and presents courageous men and women doing their utmost to protect and defend the principles they believe in. While its concluding pages are a tad trite – plot threads tie together a little too neatly, which momentarily suspends its authenticity – readers looking for a short, impactful burst of World War II escapades should look no further.

Buy the book here…

Review: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman definitely goes down as my favourite YA Western read of…EVER. Yes, just excuse me while I get a little overexcited. Ahem. I was worried, going into it, because I didn’t love the author’s previous dystopian series. But this?! This was wildly different and entirely spectacular. It also reminded me heavily of Blood Red Road (which I am a ginormous fan of) so that only added to the 9780544466388amazing reading experience!

WHAT’S THE STORY ABOUT? It features Kate, whose father is murdered by rogue gold-hungry cowboys, so she takes off after them for vengeance or bust. So much vengeance, peoples. On the way she collects two brothers, Jesse and Will, to join in the quest. Do they get along? NOPE. Do they make a fabulous team? YEP. There are tons of shoot-outs and wild horse chases and gold searching and plot twists that will possibly destroy you. It’s wonderful.

I’ve always been seriously obsessed with the Wild West. Why? Pfft, I don’t know. But some of my other favourite YA westerns are Under A Painted Sky and Walk On Earth a Stranger (I highly recommend both!) and Vengeance Road just tops them all. Westerns scream grittiness and dust and cowboy adventures and it’s so exciting.

The action is also intense! The book spares nothing! If it says “I’m gonna shoot the thing”…the thing will definitely be shot. There are morally grey characters and even Kate herself makes dubious decisions at times in her quest to avenge her father.

Let’s talk about Kate though, because WOW, she’s an amazing protagonist! She was basically gunpowder and cacti and I adored her. So much snark and bitter snapping. She’s not cuddly and she’s not a pushover. But at the same time, she does have a softer venerable side. I think the writer handled her characterisation so well. Plus Kate got things done. She never sat down in the dust and whinged. She was a woman of action.

Plus Kate’s fabulousness just made the romance even more enjoyable. Although the romance doesn’t actually take the spotlight in the story. It’s definitely a subplot. Which just made it all the more enjoyable to me. FIRSTLY: we get guns and gold. SECONDLY: we get Kate and Jesse’s snarky hate/love relationship. Jesse was a complex and interesting character, and quite the “nice guy” and I really wanted him and Kate to have a happily-ever-after.

 

“People don’t gotta like the same stuff. If they did, life would be pretty boring.”

 

The story will also not hesitate to slightly ruin you. OH. I mean this in the best possible way, my friends. It just gets into your heart and gives you all the feels. The relationship between Jesse, looking after his brother Will, is adorable. And the witty, easy banter is divine. Not to mention that these characters go through a myriad of awful things and don’t come out unscathed. You will most likely be gripping the pages and howling. It’s great.

OH! But be prepared: the writing is done in slang. There’s still punctuation, but everyone talks sans grammar. I found the flow of the story was still fine and it only enhanced my enjoyment.

Vengeance Road is amazingly glorious and full of gunpowder. I’m endlessly pleased with how complex the characters were. They could’ve easily fallen into pancake-flat-tropes (especially considering the “don’t need no man” tough female heroine) but they didn’t. I loved everyone! The story was full of action and intense scenes and witty dialogue and I read the whole thing in one day.

“I don’t think I could finish something that think without dying of boredom.”
“Then you ain’t found the right book yet,” I says. “There’s something for everyone.”

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Marching Forward – Remembering Bravery Reviews

Remembering, honouring, commiserating, – learning. When recently reading ANZAC titles to my maturing primary schooler, she asked, ‘Are there still wars, going on?’ I had to reply that yes, sadly there were. However, by sharing the past and gradually exposing children to the realities of it, hopefully they become better equipped to care enough to avoid and prevent future conflicts. It’s a reality I’d like to hope for. These titles perpetuate that hope while escorting young readers through the historical past.

Forward MarchForward March by Christobel Mattingley Illustrated by David Kennett Picture Book

This is a curious ANZAC picture book, more of a compilation of ANZAC Day emotions, colours and locations commiserating the loss of our war veterans and the sacrifice they made. The opening page appears sombre and cold at first; pre-dawn on ANZAC Day morn. Look closely though and you’ll notice a pale yellow light entreating hope and promise. It represents one of the many war memorials across Australia where keen crowds gather to remember not only our great-grandads, dads, sons and grandsons, but also the grandmas, mothers, daughters and aunties, all those affected by battles they never ever wished for nor properly understood.

Mattingley’s sparse yet rousing statements honour all those who left their families and land to serve abroad whilst also acknowledging those who stayed behind and kept the country ticking over, ending with the rising of the dawn, the Last Post and a pledge to never forget.

What really captivates though are Kennett’s painted and drawn illustrations clustered in muted sepia-coloured vignettes that resemble the type of photo album your grandmother might have kept. Although an eyeful to take in all at once, these spreads tell of life on the battlefields in ways that leave words gasping. Several international conflicts are depicted including the Boer War, both Great Wars and the Vietnam War giving children wider scope and deeper meaning to exactly what we are remembering when standing at the cenotaph on ANZAC Day.

Ideal for prompting discussion of past world commemorative events amongst early primary schoolers presented with respect and restraint.

Omnibus Books March 2016

Socks Sandbags and LeechesSocks, Sandbags & Leeches Letters to my Anzac Dad by Pauline Deeves Illustrated Fiction

This hardcover illustrated tribute to those who served in the First World War is uniquely different to other children’s books drawing on this theme. Significantly, it is told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old child, Ivy whose father has left to fight overseas.

Deeves executes the same breezy epistolary style used in Midnight Burial to inform readers about life back in Australia whilst great chunks of her population were, in many ways, coerced to fight overseas. Through a series of letters written over a period of four years to her father who is first posted to Gallipoli and later France, Ivy describes how she and her mother had to move house, live with their Aunt Hilda and succumb to the restrictions of life during wartime.

Ivy’s voice is delightfully informal and intimate, eliciting strong young reader appeal and interest. She mentions various modernisations and several vagaries of life over 100 years ago that our tech –imbued children of today might well find absurd. I particularly appreciated Ivy’s illustrations included in her letters.

Socks Sandbags and Leeches illos spreadDeeves flourishes fact with fiction in a way that imparts a lot of new and interesting information. Although essentially a story about Socks, Sandbags & Leeches, readers can locate various topics about Conscription, the Retreat from Gallipoli and what school was like for example from the headings listed in the Contents. Scrapbook type pages crammed with authentic sketches, prints and excerpts of the time enhance the appearance of Ivy’s collection of letters and serve to reinforce the information she is relaying to her absent father.

A fascinating storytelling approach and account of the First World War for readers nine to fifteen.

National Library of Australia NLA February 2016

Dreaming the EnemyDreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen YA novel

I have to include this new novel by master story teller, David Metzenthen, tackling the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress associated with one of our more recent political conflicts. Immersing readers into hot sweating jungle warfare and solider psyche, makes for a challenging read, not for the faint hearted. There’s a possibility it will create lasting impressions but not because of any insensitive gratuitous horror (there isn’t any) rather because it’s narrated in a somewhat disconnected way, from deep inside the head of a returned Vet and his erstwhile Viet Cong nemesis.

If you think you have difficulties getting your head around this psychological battle, spare a thought for the main character, Johnny Shoebridge. His tale of post-Vietnam traumatic anxiety is as wrenching and spellbinding as it is complicated and beautiful. Johnny has left the battlefields but has brought home a dread of living and the ghost-fighter, Khan who relentlessly dogs him. He knows he will remain forever at war if he can’t find a way to lay this phantom to rest.

Metzenthen has woven an elegant web of infinite detail, spinning tragedy and despair with hope and healing, undoable finality with incomplete futures, expanding on the truism that a solider may leave the battlefield behind but that the battle may never truly leave him.

‘Death never ended for the living.’

Wit and plenty of ribald reality checks temper Metzenthen’s breathtaking use of language and meticulous description while characters so real you can literally hear and smell them give you a great sense of tangibility. By the end of it, we come to acknowledge the awful truth we’ve suspected all along just like Khan and Johnny, that war is never really about wanting to kill or having a choice about it. Dreaming the Enemy decries this ultimate tragedy with a force so powerful it leaves your heart heaving.

Older teen readers will gain immeasurably from this stirring read as will the rest of us. Stunning and faultless.

Allen & Unwin 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

Best Historical Fiction YA Books

I grew up reading historical fiction so I have an insurmountable love for it. It always brings back memories, you know?! Glorious memories of a childhood spent between book pages…and in tears because, let’s face it: WWII books are ALWAYS devastating. Actually history in general can be altogether nasty. But it makes such good stories.

And today’s list is about my top YA historical fiction picks. They’ll probably all make you cry. I’m not even sorry for recommending them.

 

H I S T O R I C A L   F I C T I O N

 

9781405258210 9781405265119 9780152051600

  • CODE NAME VERITY: This book had me absolutely sobbing. It is such a powerful story of two girls blazing paths of feministic glory in WWII. One is a pilot. The other is a spy. It will probably break your heart. (Just warning you.) But must be, without a doubt, one of the best books I’ve ever read.
  • ROSE UNDER FIRE: This is a companion novel to the above, but can be read alone! It’s a little quicker in pacing and focuses on Rose, a WWII pilot, who gets caught by the Germans and put in a concentration camp. Again: tears. It’s so beautifully and emotionally written.
  • I AM DAVID: This is a bit of an old book, but still a story that absolutely sticks to my soul. David was born in a concentration camp, so when he escapes he has basically ZERO social skills or understanding of the world. It is so sad/sweet to see him struggling to fit into society and also find a home. BREAK MY HEART WHY DON’T YOU, WWII STORIES.

 

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  • PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG: Another WWII story, but this one is by the point of view of a German girl who knows Hitler. It’s extremely interesting to read the story from this angle and see how a teenage girl reacts. Plus it shows a more human side to Hitler which is chilling.
  • UNDER A PAINTED SKY: Now let’s zoom backwards to the Gold Rush era! This book just wins for diversity because it features a Chinese protagonist (who’s also a violinist) who is on the run to the gold fields with an escaped slave. Another female friendship that is totally awesome!
  • WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER: Another goldrush book! But this one has a hint of magical fantasy in it too, since Lee can magically “detect gold”. Talk about handy right? Until it gets your family killed. Ahem. This is more about the journey towards California, but the writing is just ridiculously beautiful.

 

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  • A MAD AND WICKED FOLLY: Time for Women’s Rights! HUZZAH! This is about the suffragette movement…and Victoria’s quest to be a painter and artist and not just get shuffled off to be married to some guy.
  • LIES WE TELL OURSELVES: This is set in 1959, where a group of black students are attending an all-white highschool. It talks honestly and brutally about the racism of that time…and oh gosh, people’s actions just made me so sick. It’s definitely a very important story to be told.
  • THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH: This is a slightly paranormal twist on the early 1900s, where Love and Death are personified people and have this “game” where they see if two unlikely people will get together. (Death trying to break them up; Love getting them together.) It’s a romance between an African-American musician and a white orphan boy…and in that era the odds are pretty much not in their favour. And oh is this book incredible!

 

 

Review: Walk On Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

9780062242914I was so freakishly excited for Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson for several reasons, like a) Rae Carson is a suffocatingly good writer, b) I absolutely adore Westerns, c) that cover is too divine for words, and d) this book is mixing magic and historical fiction and THAT IS GLORIOUS.

And the book didn’t let me down at all. It was beyond perfect! The writing is gorgeous and visual and eloquent and drew me right in.

It basically is the story of Lee who has the magical ability to sense gold (handy, if one live sin the gold rush era)…but after her uncle murders (!!) her parents (!!!) she’s forced to run away to the goldfields ALONE. Well. With her half-Native-American-best-friend, Jefferson. It’s all guns and wagons and pioneers and the hunger for gold.

It did use the ancient trope of a girl disguising as a boy, which I honestly struggle to accept. I mean, I know it’s historical and women have done it forever. But women have different features??? And generally aren’t as big? And the shape is different? AHEM. But whatever.

But let’s talk about the incredible characters! I absolutely couldn’t get enough of their sheer awesome! It’s narrated in 1st person by Leah Westfall. I loved how capable and independent and smart Lee was. She could handle herself and she wanted to be in charge of her own life. But at the same time, she wasn’t running around punching people. She was just quietly and firmly resilient. I adore her basically.

The book, though, is more about the JOURNEY to the Gold Fields and California, than actually digging for gold. But it is a trilogy! (Which I’m a million percent thankful for because the ending was begging for more!) So hopefully we’ll get more goldy stuff soon. But Walk On Earth A Stranger is about the hard, perilous journey. All that stuff those people had to go through?! I’m amazed.

All the secondary characters are all really interesting too! There are a lot of them though, and at times I was blinking stupidly trying to remember the difference between Jefferson, Japser, and Joyner. (HELP ME.) So for a speed reader like me, that was a problem. But moving forward! The character development was amazingWell. If you were a character lucky enough TO LIVE. The death toll is high, folks. Crossing America is not kind on humans.

I absolutely adored the epic beauty that is this book! I would’ve preferred it to have more gold-digging (Lee has this awesome power but isn’t using it?!?) so I’m hanging out for the sequel. I loved the friendship between Jefferson and Lee and totally am rooting for them to get together. Ahem. I also have always had a huge infatuation with the Oregon Trail, so this just fuelled my nerdy heart. I am definitely rooting for Lee and I can’t wait to read more from Rae Carson!

THIS BOOK IS GOLDEN. (Did you see what I did there?)

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Australian YA: Sue Lawson and Freedom Ride

Meet Sue Lawson, author of Freedom RideSue Lawson

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Sue.

It’s a pleasure, Joy, thanks so much for asking me.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the world of children’s and YA lit?

We moved to Geelong two years ago from a smaller regional town. Though we loved our life in that time, it was time to move, and it’s been a great move on so many levels. I’m loving the access to so many beautiful beaches, an incredibly sourced and staffed library, and, well, all Geelong has to offer. The proximity to Melbourne is another huge bonus, which not only makes catching up with friends easier, but makes attending many more literary events and festivals of all descriptions. And our friends from our old home are nearby.

I’m passionate about children’s and YA lit, the readers and connecting readers with books. I’m a member of wonderful organisations like SCWBI and CBCA Victoria, but my ability to support and be involved with them has been curtailed for health and family reasons of late. I’m hoping there will be a time when I can devote more energy to the CBCA, particularly. I’m fortunate to be asked to visit schools, present at festivals and other events, which gives me the chance to work with and listen to young people, and to spread the love about reading and writing. For me, it’s all about creating readers.

Freedom RideWhere and when is your most recent YA novel, Freedom Ride, (Black Dog Books, Walker Books) set and what is its major concern?

Freedom Ride is set in fictional Walgaree, a small town in country NSW, at the end of 1964 and start of 1965. It culminates with the Freedom Ride, led by Charles Perkins, arriving in Walgaree. The Freedom Ride was organised to highlight and protest the treatment and the living conditions of Aboriginal people.

It is an era I knew very little about, I’m ashamed to say. My research broke my heart, and angered me on so many levels, especially as I had no idea how bad it had been, and continues to be. I wanted to explore how a teenage boy, who knew so much of what was going on around him was wrong, yet didn’t have the power change anything, might behave.

How do you think Australian attitudes have changed since this time?

How long to do you have?

I think, hope, we are moving forward, but we have such a long, long way to go. Until Australia as a nation acknowledges the treatment, the abuse and wrongs Aboriginal people have endured, as painful as it is, true healing can’t occur. I am absolutely no expert, I just come from the belief it is the right thing to do.

How did you create your major protagonist, Robbie?

I knew I wanted Robbie to find the courage to stand up to not only his father and grandmother, but to his friends and the Walgaree community. I love that quote attributed to Edmund Burke, that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Though Robbie’s stand is tiny in the scheme of things, if each of us stood up, then it’s a start.

To create Robbie, I started with beliefs and attitudes, and how his conflicted with his father and grandmothers’ opinions. I wanted him to feel alienated at home, so that when he encountered the accepting and generous Barry, he was open to the contrast.

As always, I create character profiles and collages for my major characters. Doing this helps me get beneath my characters’ skin and know them as well as they know themselves.

What values or qualities are important to your characters?

That varies, depending on the character and the story. For Robbie, his sense of right and wrong was important, as was his honesty and courage. Hope was vital too.

Actually all my characters have buckets of courage and hope – they need it survive the turmoil I make them face!

It’s also important to for me to understand their motivations – from Robbie to his friends, to his grandmother – I need to know why they behave as they do. That helps me be more compassionate, especially when the overwhelming urge to slap them (Nan!!) is hard to control…and I am the least violent person!

Your writing is clear and engaging. Do you work to achieve this clarity or is it your natural style?

Oh, gosh, thank you.

My husband’s grandmother had an expression I love – talks as her guts guide her.

Well, I think that’s me. I write as my gut, or heart, guides me. I get it down then edit, edit, edit, and pare back as much as I can. I’m so lucky to have worked with and continue to work with incredibly supportive editors and publishers – Karen Tayleur, Maryann Ballantyne, Andrew Kelly and Helen Chamberlin especially – who trawl through the quagmire and find the essence of what I am trying to say. Sometimes they get it way before I do!

You’ve written many books. Could you tell us about some, including After, which is one of my favourites?After

Thank you! I love Callum and After. He is possibly one of my favourite characters…but then Pan is so damaged, and what about Dare You‘s Khaden?

All my books explore how young people cope in horrid situations, usually every day, situations. I love exploring that time when we discover who we truly are, and find the courage to be true to that. Pretty sure I’m still working on it.

After deals with a boy who had it all – popular, legend status at a big, city school etc, etc, but one incident changes his life forever. After was sparked by a 100 word newspaper report about a horrific incident, which I can’t detail without giving away the book. It started me thinking about how a young person ever came to terms with what had happened.

Pan's whisperPan’s Whisper was sparked when I started wondering why two people can live the same experience but remember it so differently. And what role does age play in the recall?

You Don’t Even Know is about judgements and stereotypes, fitting in, grief and courage. That Alex!

Yes, I do become very attached to my characters!

All of my books start with a question, or series of questions and develop from there.

Apart from writing, how else do you spend your time?

I work part-time for Bay FM, the Geelong commercial station. I was a radio announcer in a past life, as well as a teacher! The radio job is so much fun, and I get to do a book review and interview my talented friends!

I love to hang out with my husband and daughter and friends, read (surprise!) and watch movies. I have a serious stationery addiction, (the gorgeous staff in our Kiki K know me by name…I know!! It’s tragic!) and being at the beach.

Which books would you like for Christmas?

Right, strap yourself in!

The Strays – Emily Britto…I know, I haven’t read it yet!!!

The Eye of the Sheep – Sofie Laguna – I read it a while ago and LOVED it. That Ned! He is unforgettable. I need to read it again…slowly and savour each bit.

All the Light We Can Not See – Anthony Doerr – a friend recommended it!

Zeroes – because Margo Lanagan is one of the authors. Her writing is incredible!Zeroes

Big Blue Sky – Peter Garrett – I am a Midnight Oil tragic.

The next Game of Thrones…for the love of God, George Martin…hurry up!!!!

Like one of those demtel ads, there is more, but that will do. Notice there aren’t many YA novels on the list? I buy them straight away. Just finished Vikki Wakefield‘s new one. Man, she is one hell of a writer!

(See my review of  Vikki Wakefield’s In-between Days)

All the best with Freedom Ride, and thanks very much, Sue.

Thanks, Joy!

Chatting with Toni Jordan

toni-portraitAs much-loved Australian novelist Toni Jordan sees it, some writers have ideas banked up like circling planes waiting for their turn to land, but her creative mind is more like a desert, occasionally crossed by tumbleweed.

Well, that’s some impressive tumbleweed that’s rolling along on the breeze!

AdditionIn her debut novel, Addition, Toni Jordan introduces us to Grace, a woman who counts everything to hold her world together. Jordan provides a fresh take on the romantic comedy and a unique perspective on living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in a novel that is charming and enlightening.

Another quirky young woman takes centre stage in Fall Girl, about a professional con artist who falls for her mark. The novel is woven with humour and intrigue, making it a lively and compelling story.

Jordan departs from the chick-lit genre in her most recent novel, Nine Days, delivering touching snapshots of Australian family life. It begins in a working- class suburb of Melbourne on the eve of World War 2 and bounces between decades, telling the story of the Westaway family. Each chapter is dedicated to a crucial day in the life of a different member of the family. Jordan manages to give each character a fresh and authentic voice that makes this story a beautiful and memorable read.

So, what’s next? Toni Jordan visits Boomerang Books to tell all.

JF: Welcome, Toni Jordan! You’ve written best-selling romantic comedies – Addition and Fall Girl and a touching historical family drama in Nine Days. What can we expect from your next novel?

TJ: I’ve been trying for about two years to write something a bit more serious, along the ‘touching’ vein. But it’s not happening (or at least, not very well). So it’s another romantic comedy—a kind of sexy romp/satire thingee. I’m amusing myself, at any rate.

JF: You’ve likened your creative brain to a desert, occasionally crossed by tumbleweed. Can you expand on this and explain a little more about the inspiration for your work.

TJ: Yes, this is exactly right! I had these grand ideas for my next novel but on the page it was this lumpen, doughy thing. I’d decided to abandon it and then, while I was on holidays over Christmas, I re-read Anna Karenina. The beginning is amazing: Stiva wakes up on the sofa in his study and wonders why he’s sleeping there instead of in his wife’s bed. Then he remembers that yesterday, she found out he was having an affair with their children’s governess. Awesome. So an idea sprang into my head about this complicated group of couples, all falling in and out of love with each other over the course of a weekend, beginning at the same point.

Nine Days began with the photo on the jacket, of a woman reaching up to kiss a departing soldier through the window of a train. I never thought I’d be one of those people who could write from a photo, and it took a long time but eventually it all came.

Nine DaysJF: I was intrigued by the structure of Nine Days. It is written in first person from the point of view of nine different characters. How did this test you as a writer?

TJ: I was really worried if I could pull this off. The worst thing would be to stuff this up, I think, and have them all sounding the same. The nine of them were very clear in my own head—I knew each of them very well—so I set myself a kind of challenge. My aim was that, if a reader looked at any three sentences that were together in a chapter, they should be able to tell which character it was. I’m still really happy about the way it turned out.

JF: Nine Days jumps back and forth between the decades. Did you write the chapters in the same order that they are presented in the book?

TJ: This is funny—I also teaching creative writing and over the years, a number of students have asked my advice about writing non-chronological narratives. I always told them the same thing: that they should write the story chronologically, then move things around to sit in the order they wanted.

When it came to doing it myself, however, do you think that this is how I did it? No, I didn’t. I found it much easier to conceptualise how the reader would unravel each clue if I wrote it in the order it appears in the book. My advice to all those students was rubbish.

JF: Nine Days was inspired by a photograph of an unnamed young soldier heading off to war on a train, his sweetheart reaching up to kiss him farewell. Has anyone come forward to claim they know the couple?

TJ: We’ve had a few ‘maybe’ people. The most likely is that the photo is actually an aunt seeing off her nephew. But the romantic in me doesn’t want to think about that.

Fall GirlJF: You spoke at the inaugural Historical Novel Society Australasia conference. What advice would you give to aspiring historical novelists?

TJ: I honestly think that research is not as important as emerging novelists think it is. What matters in historical fiction are the same things that matter in any other kind of fiction: a wonderful story about interesting people, well told.

JF: Can you name a few of your favourite historical novels?

TJ: Of course I’m Mantel mad. I also loved Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, Possession by AS Byatt, Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey and anything by Sarah Waters. One of my former students, Ilka Tampke, has just published her debut novel, Skin. It’s historical fantasy set in iron-age Britain and it’s just wonderful.

JF: Thank you Toni Jordan and good luck with your next story. I can’t wait to read it!

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

 

 

 

 

 

What Were Girls Like?

I am JulietThree recent YA historical fiction novels by Australian women (all published by HarperCollins/ABC Books) inhabit times when girls had to bend to the influence of men and were comparatively powerless.

The Raven’s Wing is Frances Watts’s first novel for teens. It is set in Ancient Rome where fifteen year-old Claudia is strategically offered in marriage several times. Making an alliance which can best help her family is paramount. Primarily a romance, the book addresses Claudia’s growing awareness of human rights (here through the fate of slaves) which interferes with her sense of duty and makes her a much more interesting character than the docile cipher she is expected to be.

I am Juliet by Australian Children’s Laureate, Jackie French, is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. French’s Juliet is a fleshed-out focal character. Superficially she shares some of Claudia’s privileged lifestyle features: attended by maids who wash and dress her and apply her makeup; elaborate meals; and protection behind high walls. Medicinal and other herbs and plants are a feature of their times; and Juliet and Claudia both face imminent arranged marriage, but are aware of a dark man in shadows. Their stories, also, contain a story within a story.

Jackie French has reinterpreted Shakespeare previously – in her excellent Macbeth and Son which grapples with the nature of truth. She has also addressed the role of women in history, perhaps most notably in A Rose for the ANZAC Boys

Ratcatcher's Daughter Issy, the thirteen-year-old protagonist of Pamela Rushby’s The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, doesn’t share Claudia and Juliet’s privileged backgrounds. Set in a well-drawn Brisbane of 1900, Issy’s father is a ratcatcher during the bubonic plague. Issy is offered a scholarship to become a teacher but her family refuse it due to lack of money. The issue of the poor’s inability to take up opportunities that the rich assume is reiterated throughout the novel.

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter and I am Juliet include background notes about the historical period and other points of interest.

 These three books unite in their exploration of girls who are prepared to defy tradition to control their own lives, where possible, in spite of general lack of female empowerment. I hope that this really was possible and is not just a revisionist interpretation.

It is interesting that this crop of YA historical novels has appeared now. Are these authors finding a story-niche or reflecting current concern? Although surely girls today, particularly in a country such as Australia, are more fortunate in their freedom and choice. The Raven's Wing

 

Review – Sydney Harbour Bridge

The construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (or Lang’s Coathanger) in the late 1920s/early 1930s was not only a feat in engineering but an economic miracle, as Australia was in the grips of the Great Depression and New South Wales was firmly in the grip of governmental mismanagement. Headed by controversial premier Jack Lang, costs for the bridge spiraled out of control during a time when money was scarce and jobs were for begging.

Despite the exciting and heartening site of the bridge under construction, hundreds of families were tossed from their homes and rehoused in tented communities with little recompense, in order to make way for this monstrous harbour-straddling creation. Sixteen people died during the bridge’s construction, and workers had no safety equipment to protect themselves let alone appropriate clothing. Even the donkeymen who dangled from cables and risked their lives daily were relying on their own physical strength – and little more.

This remarkable account of the construction of the world’s widest single span arch was one of the most enriching historical experiences I’ve enjoyed in years. Told through the eyes of two tweens – Billy, son of a donkeyman living in The Rocks, right beneath the Bridge, and Alice, daughter of an engineer living in the ritzier northern suburbs – this book took me sailing back to 1930s Sydney – to a time of massive highs and lows for the local people, as they battled abject poverty, a fragile economy, and the thrilling, soaring creation of one of the world’s finest bridges – right over their impoverished heads.

Farrer has left no stone unturned in Sydney Harbour Bridge. Packed with statistics and facts about the construction process that are quite mind-boggling, especially for the time, Farrer has also managed to emotively describe the minute detail of daily life during the Great Depression, from the way hair is curled to way a parent reprimands a child – and the deft with which she combines fact with emotional tenderness is quite extraordinary.

Very quickly you are drawn into Billy’s difficult life – and very quickly you learn that, compared to other children like Billy’s friend Bluey, who was evicted and now lives a less than happy life in the tented commune at Happy Valley – things aren’t so bad. Sure, his mum needs to get creative with the meals and glue the shoes back together, but at least Billy’s dad has a job, even if it means dangling from a cable in the sky. There are a lot worse off.

It’s intriguing to witness this time in Australian history through the eyes of two children living very different socio-economic lives. Alice’s life is far better off, living in a fine house with a father earning a solid wage, yet she is as impassioned as the next child to help out and ‘do her bit’ for those in need, albeit through tennis tournaments and unwanted clothing drives. Hearing these two children opine on the politics of the time and what is ‘right and wrong’ as the bridge construction process unfolds, is also fascinating and enlightening. I particularly love it when Billy and Alice meet up at the end of the story – and hint at the possibility of greater equality amongst all Australians.

But the most remarkable thing was how Farrer managed to turn something potentially quite dull (steel stats and cranes) into a story of emotional beauty, drama and hope. This is a intensely researched and beautifully written book, with heartwarming and well-rounded characters. Farrer uses clear and very real voices for her children, complete with delicious and timely slang.

She isn’t afraid to tell it like it is – opening wide the horror of life at that time – yet also openly celebrating the thrill experienced by the people of Australia at this stunning engineering feat. A moment in time, beautifully-captured and revealed for all to enjoy. I’m loving learning the intimate details of our country’s extraordinary history through such superbly researched books, and yes, this book is planted firmly in historical fact – but it’s also, quite simply, great storytelling.

Sydney Harbour Bridge is published by Scholastic.

 

Robin Hood and His Merry Band of Contemporaries (Eleanor of Aquitane)

 I had the surprising pleasure of watching the new Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett at the movies yesterday. Surprising because I didn’t expect much of it. Pleasing because I found it to be intricately crafted, the chemistry between Robin and Lady (Maid) Marion to be entirely believable, and the movie showcased a new and fascinating approach of the man before he wore the hood and became one of the most famous outlaws of all time. If I’m to be perfectly honest, it was a little Hollywood and the movie could have actually been MORE epic than it was – it seemed as if it had been overedited slightly. But in my view that’s a small price to pay for an enjoyable movie trip, and Cate Blanchett as Lady Marion was majestically good as always.

Coming away from the rolling credits however, what struck me most about the legend of Robin Hood was how little I had known of it. Big fan of men in tights and such, but I didn’t know, for example, that ol’ Robin was considered a staunch supporter of 12th century king Richard the Lionhearted. I didn’t know (stemming from this) that the legend of Robin Hood lived in the time of Eleanor of Aquitane. Yeah, THE Eleanor of Aquitane. Oh, wait, you want to know more about her? Well, she was…awesome. And important to history because…um.
You got me readers, I don’t know a thing about her. Oh, I can spin a yarn from here to tomorrow that’s more or less true about Elizabeth I, or count the wives of Henry VIII on my fingers in under 9 seconds (that’s right, I timed it). I even profess to know more than your average Jane about the beloved Plantagenets.

But about the woman who was considered the most beautiful woman of her time (oh, weren’t they all), who defied convention and exercised influence over her sons as heirs to the throne, was super wealthy, survived the marriage of two kings and outlived all but two of her TEN children? Regrettably, not much. Until, that is, Alison Weir, teacher of this area of history, rides in on her trusty white horse to take me far away from the land of ignorance!

I graduated to the class of Alison Weir after I had polished off Philippa Gregory’s “historical” works (so they were mostly fictionalised a great deal, who cares? Still rollicking good reads). Alison Weir writes BIOGRAPHIES about British Royalty, my snobby historian friends said. Not mere fiction.

Yawn. Sounded boring to me. Luckily, the lives of these royals are as good as fiction anyway! I’m flicking through my recent purchase, Alison Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitane, and I’m learning things already. Turns out Eleanor’s first marriage to King Louis VII of France was annulled by consanguinity within the fourth degree (don’t feel shame in looking up that word – I had to)!

I’ll report back once I’ve finished, if any of you out there have some interesting books on Eleanor they’d like to recommend me, I’m all ears (we’re on a first-name basis now, Eleanor and I).

I’m about to be educated – is it wrong that I get so excited about these history lessons?