The Lily and The Rose – Flower Power!

The Lily and The Rose

by Jackie French

I love it when an author surprised you, and this week I was surprised by Jackie French’s book The Lily and The Rose. I love Jackie’s picture and tween books, and have reviewed a few of them. But her Young Adult series, Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies, really captured my heart and imagination.

In The Lily and The Rose,the second book in the series,  Sophie Higgs is an Australian heiress who has been through a war and found independence by running hospitals on the front line. When women are asked to return to their former role in society after the war Sophie feels there should be more to her life than the assigned the role of wife and mother. The book essentially tells of her journey to do just that. The book starts in England, but before she leaves Europe for her beloved Australia she needs to deal with her three suitors and her help a friend in need. Once home, she carves a new life for herself, but is forced back to Europe to finally face her true love.

On the surface this book may seem just another historical romance, but it is so much more than that as Sophie struggles to be independent, but also find the true meaning of love. In addition, this book looks at the developing role of women after the war as men try to wrest back their control of society. It also discusses the developing role of Australia in Europe as the traditional colonial nations try to reestablish their hold on the world. And it does this to the backdrop of the lull between the first and second world wars.

Sophie is a likeable character. We forgive her her entitled attitude to life because she is so big of heart and wants to do her best by others. Also, of she were not a wealthy heiress, she would not have been privy to all the political action of 1920’s London and Sydney, and the book would have been so much less without this historic background.

Although this book can be read by younger readers, Sophie is in her early twenties and I suspect much of the content will be of more interest to Young Adult readers of 18 plus. This story is well written and difficult to leave once you start. It can be read stand alone as I did, but it may have you wanting to go back and read the prequel Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies. I know I will be.

 

 

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Koala Bare – Another Jackie French Winner

Koala Bare by Jackie French and Matt Shanks

Ever seen a koala just wake up? Far from the cute and cuddly bear we imagine koalas are quite grumpy, and Jackie French’s koala in Koala Bare is true to form. And please do not call him a BEAR.

From the beautiful, tactile cover to the last page this book shows why Jackie French is such a successful writer of children’s book. Koala is very grumpy. He is not a BEAR, and he is out to show you why he is not like all those other silly bears. In fact he wants to prove that he is just himself.

The story is told in rhyme, which is great for parents reading to children. Matt’s Shanks illustrations manage to be both soft, as befitting a book about bears and koalas, but at the same time reflect koala’s anger. In fact looking through the illustrations in this book is one of the true treasures of reading it. However what I liked most was the message in the book. Children listening may not get it, but I loved that the koala did not want to be categorised, he just wanted to be himself. In this day and age where advertising is turning our young ones into kiddie clones I love that this book is saying it is all right to be you and be different.

I road tested the book on twin two year olds and a newly minted school starter. They all listened to the end, but it was the five year old who was most taken with the book. He loved the koala and how grumpy he was and how he just wanted to be left alone in his tree. He then went back and looked through all of the pictures, picking out scenes from stories and pointing out all the damage koala was doing. In the end though he enjoyed the story and the pictures, he just loved touching the koala on the cover.

All in all a great picture book for all younger children, but really appreciated by those just heading out into the world themselves and this mum.

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Fever Crumb and Third Witch – Go Girls!

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeves and Third Witch by Jackie French

It’s an all girl cast this weekend in two books that twist our realities into new stories for us to get lost in.

Fever Crumb

After the downsizing that followed the Sixty Minute War, and before the award winning Mortal Engines series, comes Fever Crumb. Fever is an orphan living in post apocalyptic London. Fever lives with the engineers in a giant metal head, and along with the rest of London she waits for the war that will come with the huge armoured fortress that is moving across the wastelands.

In this Mortal Engines Prequel Philip Reeves has created an unrecognisable London that is strangely familiar. The M25 is now the Moatway defence that circles the city, Battersea has become B@tersea, and someone that has annoyed you is a blogger. Fever is an interesting heroine. She has been brought up with engineers and takes a very rational view of life. Fever is also very smart and at the centre of the changes occurring in London. AS the city prepares for war we learn not only about the world of Mortal Engines but also about Fever Crumb’s own unusual past. Although not the easiest book to read, it does not always flow well, it is hard to put down. The plot line is intriguing, the changes in the world since the war are fascinating and the characters are really engaging. And the good news is that there are two more books in the prequel series and then there is the Mortal Engines Series to read (and a movie coming out in December 2018).

Third Witch

This is Jackie French’s third book reinventing Shakespeare’s classics, and in this book she takes a fresh look the Scottish play – Macbeth – through the eyes of Lady Macbeth’s servant – Annie Grasseyes,

Annie is not a witch, but when she is asked by her lady to to find a potion to stiffen Macbeth’s sinews Annie works with others to ‘charm’ Macbeth. Annie gets carried away, and the consequences that fateful day on the moor change her life forever. We all know the story of Macbeth and how that ends, but this book is really about Annie herself. Although she is caught up in the events of Shakespeare’s play this is really her story about her own love and loyalties and how she grows as a person.

I am not normally a fan of modernised Shakespeare, I really love the original plays and I do not understand why you would want to mess with something that has worked well for centuries. But as this is not strictly modernised version but rather setting a person in amongst those event I thought I would give it a go, and I am pleased I did. Jackie French is a great story teller, and the story of Annie’s role in the events leading to Macbeth’s rise and fall is one that many girls will love to read. The only thing I disliked in the book was that the original characters from Macbeth speak in Shakespearean English. This is passed off in the story as the way nobles speak, but I found it jarring and it took me out of the fantasy world of the story. For me it was a minor failing, and I could not wait to get to the end and see whether Annie would choose Murdoch, Thane of Greymouth, or Rab the Blacksmith as her happy ever after. I know who I was barracking for, but you will have to read it to see if your favourite won her heart.

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The Secret of the Black Bushranger by Jackie French

The Secret of the Black Bushranger

By Jackie French

I  have always loved history. I love knowing how we got to be where we are now, and what happened to get us there. And it is obvious that I love reading. So I am sure it comes as no surprise to you I love historic fiction, and so I was excited by the opportunity to review Jackie French’s new book in her Secret Histories series.

One of the areas of history I have always been fascinated by is colonial Australian and New Zealand history, and how the differences are reflected in our culture today, and the Secret of the Black Bushranger really took me to a favourite place.

Barney Bean is an orphan in the new colony of Sydney. He has been taken in by real historic figures Rev Johnson and Mrs Johnson and while living with them and building a new life for himself he meets another historic figure, John Black, who claims to be an ex-slave.

In this book Jackie French has managed to weave a fictional tale of a boy growing to manhood in Sydney’s first days that is interspersed with historic fact and historical characters. His interaction with convicts and authority, and the strange relationship he develops with the notorious negro who became the colony’s first bush ranger make for an interesting story. Through this relationship Barney develops his own sense of right and wrong, and the reader also questions with him the parallels between slavery and early treatment of convicts.

As an adult I wanted a bit more depth to the book, but then I realised that I had gotten so engrossed in the book that I had forgotten the audience. This book actually tells a fast paced story that gives young readers a good feeling for life in early Sydney, the hardships endured and even some of the historic transformations. It is a great way for children who love reading to learn history. And hats off to Jackie – she also drew me in and nearly made me forget I was reviewing a book for tweens.

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Wombat Goes to School by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

Wombat Goes to School by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

Last week we had some reviews for holiday reads. This week from the number of people filling their stationary lists at the local shops I believe we are now focused on getting ready for the return to school. In Australia the beginning of a new school year also heralds the start of school life for many children, and I can only hope that their first day of school is as much fun as Wombats.

In Wombat Goes to School in her search for food Wombat finds herself at the local school. As well as searching and finding food,  Wombat makes a friend and sees what the children do with their day at school. When the school day ends Wombat is so tired she does what wombats are best at doing and goes home to sleep.

As with all the Wombat books Jackie French creates a unique view of everyday life that will make you and your children smile. Bruce Whatley’s illustrations are not only beautiful but they are integral to the telling of the story. This Wombat book is a keeper. I wish I had found it before my son’s first day of school as it would definitely have given him a different view when making this big change.

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Grandma Wombat – A Diary with a Difference

 

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Grandma Wombat

by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

One of my greatest disappointments with books was that I discovered Diary of a Wombat after my son had grown out of picture books. It did not stop me from borrowing the book from the library and reading it to him, but it did stop me from buying a copy. So you can imagine my joy when I was given the opportunity to review the new wombat book by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. I also took the opportunity to carry out my first reading as a bedtime story as I used to with the Diary of a Wombat.

Grandma Wombat is a hit! We laughed so much when we were reading it we almost lost track of the story line. The story line is simple. Grandma Wombat also has a diary. She also likes to eat, sleep, scratch and search for food. Grandma does not like roos but she does like to babysit for her grandson. Like all grandmothers she likes to teach her grandson how to do things, and her grandson is the best, most well-behaved grandson. But you should see what baby wombat gets up to when grandma thinks he is sleeping!

This book has all the great elements of Diary of a Wombat. Beautiful illustrations that are actually used to tell the story, repetition of words to engage younger readers and a story line that will split your sides. Much as I love the other wombat books this one is now my firm favourite because having watched my son with his two grandmothers I find this funny on so many different levels. Although this would make a great gift for the children in your lives you should also give it a thought for grandmothers this Mother’s Day, I think they will enjoy it just as much!

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