Welcome to the latest round up of historical fiction. Apologies for this coming to you a bit off schedule. In the six weeks since our last round up, there has been 47 reviews returned on 31 books written by 30 authors. It’s been an exciting six weeks for historical fiction in terms of new releases and the reviews have been steadily flowing in. As always, thank you for your ongoing support of the challenge.
So, what has everyone been reading? To read the reviews, just click on each reviewer’s name.
There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett is the big favourite, touching reader’s hearts and being hailed as their book of the year. There were five reviews for this title.
The Book Muse admired this about it:
…The familial love throughout this novel is what makes it more powerful and also what drives it forward. It is realistic – not everyone meets and nor are they always reunited – but they all love each other and are all linked together as a family.
Further glowing reviews were provided from:
…This is Ms Parett’s third novel, and I loved it. This is a novel to read slowly, to consider and to revisit. She has dedicated it to her grandparents: while it is fictional, it is loosely based on both her family and actual events.
…What an utterly divine, beautifully written novel There Was Still Love is by Aussie author Favel Parrett. Moving, profound, I’m blown away by this book. I loved the author’s previous novels, and this one is exceptional.
…Oh my, how do you begin to explain how a book can touch you so deeply. What a beautiful, beautiful novel from one of my most favourite and respected writers. I sat in the sun and cried when I finished, from the sheer joy of what transpired from the pages, the words and the heartfelt emotion of being truly loved and cared for by your grandparents and the love you give in return.
Brona’s Books was more left wanting than wowed, yet still conveys high praise:
…I may be in the minority here, when I say that I was underwhelmed by There Was Still Love. Yes, the prose was beautifully rendered, yes it was moving (but not profoundly so). Yes, I also believe that Parrett is a literary talent, but I wanted more.
Paris Savages by Katherine Johnson is a stand-out release for me over at Theresa Smith Writes:
…This novel has rather devastated me in the way that only brilliant fiction can. There is a beautiful spirituality present throughout the entire novel that is in sharp contrast to the distressing history that it conveys. It is an exceptional novel that is so well informed, intelligently articulated, and portrayed with truth and empathy.
Denise Newton Writes found it equally so:
…This is a powerful and beautiful book. The language is lyrical while it also conveys unpleasant truths. There is a lengthy author’s note in which she outlines her considerable research and historical sources. The re-telling of this period of disgraceful behaviour by some Europeans can only evoke a strong emotional response and, I hope, a vow to do better into the future.
Likewise with Jennifer Cameron-Smith:
…There were times when I had to put this novel down. While we can only imagine how Bonny, Jurano and Donordera felt, and the stories they would each tell, there is enough fact behind the fiction to make me feel very uncomfortable. Despite this discomfort (and perhaps because of it), I recommend this novel to all Australians seeking to know more of (at times uncomfortable) colonial history.
Meet Me At Lennon’s by Melanie Myers is another new addition that I really enjoyed (Theresa Smith Writes):
…Looking through an altered lens of wartime Brisbane, it stripped away the romanticism that often typifies war fiction. Brisbane as a military town was quite an interesting place. The US soldiers were for the most part idle, flushed with cash and contraband (stockings, cigarettes, chocolate); while the Australian soldiers were battle weary and resentful, watching from the sidelines as their US counterparts dazzled the local girls and ‘sullied’ them in the process. This is not a story though about one set of soldiers being better behaved or more respectful than the other. Rather, it is a story about the women of Brisbane and how their safety was compromised from being surrounded by so many men; how their morality was questioned; how they were often subjected to harassment and assault, and then expected to shoulder the blame for their own mistreatment.
Kali Napier also enjoyed this one:
…Piecing together anecdotes, letters, articles, and official records, she learns of the often violent conflict between the thousands of Yanks stationed in Brisbane and their Aussie counterparts, as well as the racism that pitted both Aussie soldiers and African American soldiers against white Americans. In parallel to this contemporary story are the lives and voices of several women who were affected positively and not-so-positively by the GIs’ presence. Though it is not made explicit, Myers draws enough connections to indicate who the River Girl’s murderer might have been. And she is finally given a name. Which is vitally important, because women were treated as objects, transacted for a pair of nylons or box of chocolates, to be owned. And the contemporary storyline shows that this still holds true today.
Likewise, with Cass Moriarty:
…This is a book founded on extensive historical research of a particular time and place, and the emotions that flourished due to the circumstances. It is also a story about family, and friendship, and ancestry and our search for belonging. And of course it is a compelling mystery about one unsolved murder of one nameless girl, an act that has been lost to the archives of time and largely forgotten. But as the narrative progresses, and the disparate threads begin to knit together into some form of cohesive shape, we begin to see the pattern emerge, and pieces of the story that may have seemed unrelated begin to coalesce into a surprising – but somehow inevitable – conclusion, with a timely comment on the role and rights of women, then and now – both the hard-won achievements, and the aspects that seem little changed.
Khaki Town is the latest release by long-time favourite Judy Nunn, and in just days since its release, it has already attracted three reviews.
The Burgeoning Bookshelf found this to be an affecting read:
…Khaki Town, set in wartime Townsville, is a character driven story centred on the rumoured uprising of African American soldiers during their time in Australia helping to build airfields. Nunn has written a fictional account of the time but the main points ring true to documents that have been uncovered. This is a story that has been covered up by both the Australian and American governments far too long.
Likewise, this was a five star read for Brenda:
…Khaki Town by Aussie author Judy Nunn is another brilliant historical novel which in this case is based on factual events. The author mentions Khaki Town is about racism and she purposely hasn’t softened the talk. The language is true to the times which is needed for authenticity. All characters are fictional, except for the four American historical figures; some of the events mentioned did happen. I was totally engrossed in this novel, both fascinated and repelled at what was happening. The kindness, caring, love and beautiful music was one side of the coin, while the bullying, the brutality, the cruel taunting – the other. Khaki Town is extremely well-written by an author who has obviously done her research.
Mrs B’s Book Reviews was also impressed with this read:
…In many of her novels, Nunn is able to take a political, social or historical issue of contention, and bring it to our collective consciousness, in the form of an accessible narrative. Khaki Town is her latest triumph and it is a book that successfully opens up the channels of conversation around a hidden chapter of Australian wartime history. This slice of unknown history strikes at the very heart of the Australian public, our government and the armed forces. Once you are aware of what happened in Townsville you will be shocked, dismayed and saddened. This is a regrettable chapter in our past, that works to reveal the true extent of racism and discontent prevalent in 1940s Australia.
To an author who doesn’t pop up all that often here in the historical fiction corner of AWW, Tara Moss has a new release, Dead Man Switch, and it has attracted two reviews.
Marianne rated it five stars and had this to say:
…Dead Man Switch is the first book in the Billie Walker Mystery series by award-winning Australian/Canadian author, Tara Moss. It’s 1946 in Sydney, and the climate favours returned servicemen in jobs while the women who filled those roles during the war are relegated to domestic duties. Moss gives the reader a fast-paced plot filled with intrigue, some nasty villains and a heart-thumping climax. With mentions of fashion, petrol rationing, disfigured veterans, social attitudes and the scarcity of certain commodities, Moss easily evokes the era and ambience of immediate post-war Sydney.
Carolyn was also a fan:
…In Billie Walker, Tara Moss has created a terrific feisty, cool-headed, sexy lady PI who I trust we’ll see a lot more of in the future. With a few nods to the Golden age of detective fiction, this is more than a cosy crime with some very serious crimes and criminals involved. The author’s meticulous research into how people behaved and places looked and felt during the 1940s gives them the ring of authenticity, with the action occurring at several sites in Sydney and the Blue Mountains with detailed descriptions of landmarks and buildings that those familiar with Sydney will recognise.
And last, but certainly not least, The Unforgiving City by Maggie Joel has two reviews.
The Book Muse was impressed with the history covered in this one:
…An historical fiction novel that is uniquely Australian, The Unforgiving City tells the story of the struggle to unite Australia as one country, and touching on more of the story than people might know – the struggles and opposition, and how the suffragist movement was anti-Federation – unless women got the vote – which might explain or help explain how women (white women) got the vote so soon after Federation. There’s not a lot of romance in this book, which allows the story to have a different slant and focus that make it more powerful for me, because it is about survival in a city where what are now areas for the rich, were once the slums and dominion of the poor and those who have, according to the colonial society, fallen from grace.
Kali Napier also appreciated Maggie Joel’s latest offering:
…Maggie Joel is one of my favourite historical fiction writers, and this time she has set her story in Australia, at the time of the Federation referendum vote. But this is not a story about big events, but the small details of life. So much dispossession underpins the colonisation of this land and creation of the nation. The Unforgiving City is an apt title. Vignettes of Sydney town frequently preface chapters, ensuring its place as a character of its own. It endures, while the powerless and their hopes and livelihoods are swallowed up by those who draw their power from the city.
Well now, I really do know how to waffle on. Thanks for bearing with me, but the combination of so many great releases matched with insightful reviews was hard to resist. Until next time, happy armchair travelling back through time and please do keep sharing your reviews. Your contributions to our challenge are valued and we love reading them!
About Theresa: Writer, avid reader, keen reviewer, book collector, drinker of all tea blends originating from Earl Grey, and modern history enthusiast. I enjoy reading many genres but have a particular interest in historical fiction. You can find me and all of my book related news and reviews at Theresa Smith Writes, Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @TessSmithWrites.