White Rose Rebel – Janet Paisley

For me, historical fiction reigns supreme. Like a true and loyal friend, I know I’m not going to be disappointed. And this book was no exception. Dedicated to my kindred spirit Jen Loker for recommending it and being just that type of friend. xo
White Rose Rebel is set in Scotland in the early 1700’s. Anne, the heroine of the novel is loosely based on a historical figure almost entirely lost to time. Scraps of her story that remain, paint the picture of a Scotswomen, who risked everything, including her marriage by defying her husband and going to war for her country’s freedom. Though the novel is fictitious, war was rife during this period and Scotland was on the verge of losing all. The last of their customs, freedoms and way of life were about to be lost to the English, much of which would not be regained for hundreds of years if ever.
Against that backdrop we meet the characters who paint the picture of Scottish society and its culture. Their way of life is beautifully portrayed – a people driven by their sense of community and deeply embedded beliefs of freedom, equality and justice. You can’t help but recognise and relate to what is good and true about their way of life.  Particularly enjoyable were the descriptions of the equality between men and women which were vital to their societies functionality.
Sex and passion are major themes through the novel, as is sexual freedom. One critic describing the book as ‘pacy, racy…a hot little kilt lifter’ which it certainly is. However, I’m a believer that there is a difference between realism,sensationalism and pornography. Many a romantic scene represents much more than a few hot pages. I wouldn’t go as far to say that every novel is pure in its intentions but I think that a characters development and motivations, sexual or otherwise make for a realistic portrayal of time and people in history.
There’s not much left wanting in this novel. I must admit though that I have a love/ hate relationship with the writing technique of ‘long build up/conflict’ for the majority of the novel and then ‘resolution’ for the last few pages, or last chapter if you are lucky. I’m completely drawn in by the emotions it causes ie. fending off the desire to skip 20 pages and find out what happens, being completely unable to eat or sleep until you finish the book etc, but honestly sometimes it’s just heart wrenching!
Paisely writes with great passion for her country. You feel her sense of lost for her countries history and with each page that history becomes introduced to you so poignantly.  She has such a deep, abiding sense of patriotism and a genuine love for her characters. It’s one of those stories you wish wouldn’t end.
Rating: 5 Stars

Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts {Reviewed bu Levi Catton}

In this novel the author has drawn extensively on his own actual experiences as a criminal in exile. After being divorced, Roberts’ life collapsed into drug abuse and he was convicted of a series of armed robberies. After being tortured in prison, he escaped over the wall and fled through New Zealand to India on a false passport. After spending eight years as a renegade in Western Asia and Europe, he was re-captured in Germany and eventually served out the remainder of his sentence in Australia. This novel is a semi-autobiographical account of time he spent in India.
 In writing about this book it is impossible to separate the story from the author. Although the story is evidently well-crafted, it’s impossible to guess how much is fact, how much embellished, and how much complete fiction; I constantly wondered about this. His language is conversational and natural, and carries the conviction of having lived the events: I found it required me to allow a generous dose of poetic license and go along with the story as it is told.
 I love stories and appreciated the well-woven and layered tale that emerges. The narrative is entertaining, surprising and gripping, and maintains a quick pace while developing lush textures. Alongside the narrative is the journaler’s moral observation and introspection. In this novel, Roberts has a strongly philosophical intent and sets forth his own and other’s motives and meanings for a range of challenging ideas and behaviors. At times the themes are heavy and difficult, but rewarding. Roberts looks for – and finds – humanity in the individual irrespective of who or what they may be. He reveals and considers the good and bad in people with depth, compassion and humour, and identifies great triumphs in both trivial and terrible choices. Roberts doesn’t try to justify his frequently nefarious and criminal activities, but presents an honest exposition of the effects of people’s choices in their own and other’s lives. In addressing the battle of morality with intelligence and practicality, this book is a daring victory.
Roberts’ greatest achievement is his power to draw the reader into the scene – and there are many rich scenes in this book. His declarations of love for Bombay are supported and made authentic by a compelling descriptive talent. The devotion he pays in portraying his city makes clear that Roberts really does love Bombay. With the non-judgmental eye of the lover, Roberts portrays the vibrancy, friendliness, corruption, honor, crime, racial tension, kindness, greed and poverty of Bombay with openness and affection. His descriptions of the people and their environment focus on the evocation of feelings, and just as the feeling of a place remains with the traveler long after they have returned home, these feelings of Bombay are what have stayed with me from this book.
 Among the very best Australian novels I have read; for the experience and education it is easily worth the shelf price.
Rating: 5 Stars

Can any mother help me? – Jenna Bailey

This is an absolute treasure. If by divine intervention, a collection of papers from a society of women known as the Cooperative Correspondence Club (CCC) were discovered by author Jenna Bailey while doing research at the University of Sussex. Spanning much of the 20th Century, these papers tell the story of women living all across the United Kingdom who wrote of their lives, beliefs, hopes and struggles in a magazine, compiled and circulated monthly amongst its members.
Membership was restricted to mothers only, despite motherhood not being the predominant subject matter of the magazine, and no new member was admitted who could not bring something ‘new’ to the content. The magazine was strictly confidential and members wrote under a pseudonym, so as to ensure privacy if a non-member was to ever get their hands on the magazine.
Initially as a response to the loneliness many women felt as wives and mothers living in isolated areas it eventually became a deep friendship network where they could express themselves and receive advice and support like nowhere else. They saw each other through the loss of children, divorce, the war, the depression and an array of other situations. The women were varied in social status, wealth, age and character which gave the women a taste of ‘how the other side lives’  and bought perspective and experience to many of their challenges. The magazine gave hope, comfort and stimulus to extremely smart and educated women who often struggled with their role in the home. They wrote about anything and everything. Some of my favourites include, the theory of how your enjoyment of sex while you are conceiving effects whether you have a boy or girl, the comments on current trends in raising children and the witty and hilarious account of a near murder by one of the members.
Jenna Bailey knew she struck gold when she found the papers of the CCC. Though many had been destroyed by time, the papers she did find formed the foundation of this book. From there she researched the members and their families who filled in the gaps. A few of the members of the CCC were still living and recounted their motivations for writing and what the magazine meant to them while their families spoke of this secret book their mothers treasured and their desire to sneak a peek. From Jenna’s research the history of the members were gathered and offers a great insight into the women.
Women and history is the perfect combination for me. I love reading anything that highlights the lives of women, particularly in times and places I haven’t lived. This book takes you right back in time. Through the often general and common musings of their lives, these women bring to us what it was to live in a time we will never know. However the most magical element for me was just how much we have in common. It seems that joy, heartache, struggle and love are universal concepts, it’s just the backdrop that changes. I feel that each of us could sweep across the generations and find ourselves quite at home discussing life with the CCC, corset and all.
Rating; 5 Stars