It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This weekly meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

Once again not a very good reading week for me though I tried. My selection of what to read could be to blame for my lack of motivation as Letters from Skye and Scapegallows are not gripping reads. This is reflected in my Goodreads' 2015 Reading Challenge: I'm three books behind schedule.

What I Read Last Week

Letters from Sky by Jessica Brockmole

Separated by an ocean. Devastated by war. A letter isn't always just a letter. Words on the page can drench the soul. Elspeth Dunn, a published poet living on the Isle of Skye, answers her first fan letter from Davey Graham, an impetuous young man in Illinois. Without having to worry about appearances or expectations, Elspeth and Davey confess their hopes, dreams and fears, things they've never told another soul. Even without meeting, they know one another. But as World War I engulfs Europe and Davey volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait on Skye, anxious for his return; wondering if they'll ever get a chance to meet.

Letters from Skye was a different experience for me. I had never read a novel completely in letter form and while I'd enjoyed it, I felt the letter writing styles of all the characters were too similar.

What I'm Reading Today

Scapegallows by Carol Birch

This is the story of Margaret Catchpole, born into a smugglers' world in Suffolk in the late 1700s. As the valued servant of a wealthy family and a friend of criminals, Margaret leads a double life that inevitably brings about her downfall, and she is sentenced to hang not once, but twice. But she escapes the gallows and is transported with other convicts to Australia. A wonderful adventure story, Scapegallows takes inspiration from the life of the real Margaret Catchpole. A woman who lived by her wits, she was a slip-gibbet, a scapegallows.

Margaret Catchpole's story is interesting, but the pace is slow and lacks drama for a novel touted as "a wonderful adventure story". Perhaps that's yet to come, so I will keep reading!

A Catch of Consequence by Diana Norman

Makepeace Burke serves Patriots at her late father's tavern on the Boston waterfront in 1765 and hates the redcoats with a vengeance. But even she can't watch an angry mob drown an Englishman. She rescues him and nurses him back to health-and falls in love. In Patriot Boston, hers is an unforgivable sin-made worse by the fact that her Englishman turns out be the aristocratic Sir Philip Dapifer. Philip must smuggle Makepeace aboard a ship bound for London and save her life at the expense of the world she knows. Rich in period detail, bringing the years of colonial rebellion to vivid life, "A Catch of Consequence" is a stylish novel of Boston and England, and of a woman who defies convention in both worlds.

I've read the first chapter and looking forward to the rest of this novel once I finish Scapegallows.

What I Hope to Read Next


I'll be continuing with the Makepeace Headley trilogy.

Taking Liberties by Diana Norman

Makepeace Hedley is frantic when she learns that her young daughter, sailing home to England from the rebelling American colonies, has been taken prisoner by the British. With her usual determination, Makepeace sets out for Plymouth to rescue her child. And when Countess Diana Stacpoole is asked by an American friend to help his son, also a British prisoner, Diana responds quickly and leaves her genteel past behind. In the chaos of wartime Plymouth the two women face social outrage, public scandal, and even arrest. Amidst docks and prisons, government bureaucracy and brothels, they forge an unlikely and unshakable friendship. And in freeing others, they discover their own splendid liberty.

The Sparks Fly Upward by Diana Norman

Few of those Philippa loves in London return her affection. Not the love of her life, who has a new bride. Not even her widowed mother, Makepeace Burke. So Philippa decides on a marriage of convenience to a prudish, if kind, man. Across the Channel in France, the Reign of Terror is causing the beheading of thousands from the French nobility. Among those in danger is Philippa's friend, the Marquis de Condorcet. Not only has Philippa the means of rescuing him from the guillotine, she's got the courage. And as fate would have it, Philippa will find love where she least expects it-while staring death in the face.

Book Review: The Tea Chest by Josephine Moon

Kate Fullerton, talented tea designer and now co-owner of The Tea Chest, could never have imagined that she'd be flying from Brisbane to London, risking her young family's future, to save the business she loves from the woman who wants to shut it down. Meanwhile, Leila Morton has just lost her job; and if Elizabeth Clancy had known today was the day she would appear on the nightly news, she might at least have put on some clothes. Both need to start again. When the three women's paths unexpectedly cross, they throw themselves into realising Kate's magical vision for London's branch of The Tea Chest. But every time success is within their grasp, increasing tensions damage their trust in each other. With the very real possibility that The Tea Chest will fail, Kate, Leila and Elizabeth must decide what's important to each of them. Are they willing to walk away or can they learn to believe in themselves?

I nominated to read this book as part of my commitment to the Aussie Author Challenge 2015. It was my selection for the Contemporary Women's Fiction category.

Reading this novel took me out of my usual genre of historical fiction. I loved the whimsical nature of the cover and my impression that this would be a light and uncomplicated read was confirmed, despite the book blurb promising much more.

The idea behind the novel, a boutique tea business, was unusual, and I learned some great facts about tea and the art of tea blending. Descriptions of the London tea shop conjured up stunning images of a  place I would like to visit. However, the characters and their personal stories failed to engage me. I felt the characters lacked depth and could have been developed further to make them truly memorable. Kate, Leila and Elizabeth were too similar.

On a more positive note, the story generated enough interest for me to keep reading to the end and, in a warm, light hearted way, it did deliver the message that love and friendship do help us through difficult times. 


The Tea Chest, Josephine Moon’s debut novel, first hit the shelves in 2014, and her next, The Chocolate Promise (Australia/New Zealand) or The Chocolate Apothecary (U.K./Ireland), is out now.

Magical England! Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I'm not a reader of alternate histories, but I may be tempted one day. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke's debut novel, is set in a "magical England" during the Napoleonic Wars and focuses on the relationship between two magicians, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It was first published in 2004, and is gaining in popularity again as it is the subject of a BBC One series screening in the U.K. this month and in the U.S.A. in June. Not sure if it will come to Australian television, but one never knows.  

The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation's past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very opposite of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms the one between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.

Always interested in novels set in one of my favourite historical periods, the Napoleonic Wars, I'm curious how the historical and fantasy elements work together. This is not a novel for the faint-hearted. The copy I added to my reading pile weighs in at approximately 700 grams and is a lengthy 1,006 pages. This will definitely be a challenging read should I step out of my usual genre ....  or I could wait for the series release on DVD!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This weekly meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

What I Read Last Week

Unusual for me, no books were finished last week.

What I'm Reading Today

I'm half way through Scapegallows, but my curiousity got the better of me and I sampled a few pages of Letters from Skye: an unusual novel, made up of a series of letters and one I doubted would hold my interest. However, I was wrong and am happily following the characters through their letters.

Letters from Sky by Jessica Brockmole

Separated by an ocean. Devastated by war. A letter isn't always just a letter. Words on the page can drench the soul. Elspeth Dunn, a published poet living on the Isle of Skye, answers her first fan letter from Davey Graham, an impetuous young man in Illinois. Without having to worry about appearances or expectations, Elspeth and Davey confess their hopes, dreams and fears, things they've never told another soul. Even without meeting, they know one another. But as World War I engulfs Europe and Davey volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait on Skye, anxious for his return; wondering if they'll ever get a chance to meet.

Scapegallows by Carol Birch

This is the story of Margaret Catchpole, born into a smugglers' world in Suffolk in the late 1700s. As the valued servant of a wealthy family and a friend of criminals, Margaret leads a double life that inevitably brings about her downfall, and she is sentenced to hang not once, but twice. But she escapes the gallows and is transported with other convicts to Australia. A wonderful adventure story, Scapegallows takes inspiration from the life of the real Margaret Catchpole. A woman who lived by her wits, she was a slip-gibbet, a scapegallows.

What I Hope to Read Next

My love affair with Diana Norman's novels continues. Up next for reading is her Makepeace Hedley trilogy.

A Catch of Consequence

Makepeace Burke serves Patriots at her late father's tavern on the Boston waterfront in 1765 and hates the redcoats with a vengeance. But even she can't watch an angry mob drown an Englishman. She rescues him and nurses him back to health-and falls in love. In Patriot Boston, hers is an unforgivable sin-made worse by the fact that her Englishman turns out be the aristocratic Sir Philip Dapifer. Philip must smuggle Makepeace aboard a ship bound for London and save her life at the expense of the world she knows. Rich in period detail, bringing the years of colonial rebellion to vivid life, "A Catch of Consequence" is a stylish novel of Boston and England, and of a woman who defies convention in both worlds.

Taking Liberties

Makepeace Hedley is frantic when she learns that her young daughter, sailing home to England from the rebelling American colonies, has been taken prisoner by the British. With her usual determination, Makepeace sets out for Plymouth to rescue her child. And when Countess Diana Stacpoole is asked by an American friend to help his son, also a British prisoner, Diana responds quickly and leaves her genteel past behind. In the chaos of wartime Plymouth the two women face social outrage, public scandal, and even arrest. Amidst docks and prisons, government bureaucracy and brothels, they forge an unlikely and unshakable friendship. And in freeing others, they discover their own splendid liberty.

The Sparks Fly Upward

Few of those Philippa loves in London return her affection. Not the love of her life, who has a new bride. Not even her widowed mother, Makepeace Burke. So Philippa decides on a marriage of convenience to a prudish, if kind, man. Across the Channel in France, the Reign of Terror is causing the beheading of thousands from the French nobility. Among those in danger is Philippa's friend, the Marquis de Condorcet. Not only has Philippa the means of rescuing him from the guillotine, she's got the courage. And as fate would have it, Philippa will find love where she least expects it-while staring death in the face.

Book Review: Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite by Anthony Trollope

While having enjoyed several adaptations of Anthony Trollope’s novels on television, I have never actually read one. When I saw Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite on the library shelf I thought this short novel of approximately 250 pages would be the ideal introduction to this author’s work.

The death of his only son leaves Sir Harry Hotspur with a dilemma now that his daughter, Emily, has fallen in love with her cousin, the black sheep of the family and heir to the title, George Hotspur. While reconciled that the title must pass to George, Sir Harry is determined that his property will not.

Emily, as honourable and principled as her father, gives her word to George that she will marry him, but only with her father’s consent no matter how long it takes. George, however, is in desperate need of money to satisfy his creditors and avoid prison and is not prepared to wait.

With the help of his friends George tries to convince Sir Harry he is able to reform and thus be worthy of his daughter. And Sir Harry in turn tries to convince Emily that George is an unsavoury character and cannot be trusted with her happiness or her inheritance.

Despite more of George’s nefarious dealings coming to light, Emily remains steadfast in her belief that a “black sheep can be made white” and encourages her father to help George become a worthy future son in law. She raises some valid arguments as to why she should be able to marry George, among them why did her father invite him to Humblethwaite with this intention if he was an unsuitable candidate in the first place? A deed Sir Harry himself later comes to question and regret.

The novel's theme involves titles and inheritances, primarily what happens when an estate is not entailed and the only heir is a female. Most large titled estates were “entailed” and inherited by the male next in line. Entailing ensured that these estates were kept intact with the title, and was a method used to protect a family’s wealth, status and power.  If there were no male heirs, the property would pass to the female line and if the heiress married it would then be inherited by the husband’s male line. In these cases it was not unusual for a condition of inheritance to be that the husband adopt the wife’s surname.

Sir Harry’s property was not entailed and so we see Sir Harry’s dilemma: too old to father another son, he must either find a suitable husband for his daughter, one willing to adopt the name of Hotspur, or allow her to marry George. For an honourable man and one very proud of his lineage and good name, the latter was not an option Sir Harry was willing to consider.

Of all the characters, Emily was my least favourite.  I was surprised how quickly she fell in love with George. They met infrequently, yet she formed a deep attachment to him, dismissing his bad behaviour as normal for a man of his age, and believing her love would be able to change him.  Her inner dialogue often implied she was trying to convince herself that George could be reformed. Her vow to her father that if she couldn’t have George she would never marry could be construed as petulance, stubbornness or even blackmail and not the act of a dutiful and obedient daughter. I felt she did not consider her father’s feelings enough or share her father’s pride in their family name and lineage. However, to be fair to Emily she would have grown up expecting to be well provided for on her father’s death, but knowing that the title and bulk of the property would go to her brother. Suddenly finding herself the sole heir gave her power.

My favourite character was Sir Harry. I pictured him to be the perfect elderly gentleman and an indulgent father. I understood his problem, but like Emily, I did wonder whether Sir Harry had actually loved his son for himself and not because he was the heir to the great name of Hotspur. I admired his patience, too. Rather than alienate his daughter completely, he set about gathering evidence of George’s scandalous behaviour, presenting it time and time again, hoping that Emily would eventually see George’s true nature and give him up.

The story has a sad ending and Sir Harry’s final ordering of his will is poignant. It could be said that the only winner in this tragic tale was George Hotspur, who had his debts paid and carried on his life as before.

Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite was first published in 1871 in Macmillan’s Magazine. It received good reviews at the time: the Athenaeum described it as a “brilliant novelette”; the Spectator as “one of Mr. Trollope’s very best short tales”; and the Times as a book that “…. may do good to many of both sexes more advanced in life.”

This reader being “more advanced in life” certainly enjoyed her first Anthony Trollope novel and is looking forward to reading more. 

Quick and Easy Re-Read Book Review: The Dark Dream by Lilly Sommers

Who is Ella Seaton? Waking face-down in the mud by Seaton’s lagoon, her head throbbing from an ugly wound, a young woman struggles to come to terms with an unfamiliar world. Who is she? Why can’t she remember? Was she on her way to the goldfields at Bendigo? Or escaping from them? All she has are snatches of a dark dream, a dream which holds memories she is too terrified to face. Adam, a handsome young goldfields merchant, befriends her on the road, but Adam is a man with secrets of his own. As she travels from the danger and excitement of the goldfields to polite Sydney society, Ella begins to unravel the threads of her past to confront the startling truth. A truth that will change her life forever.

WHEN I FIRST READ IT

I’m not quite sure when I first read this novel. I know it was over fifteen years ago, so I’m guessing it would have been around the time it was first released, back in 1997.

WHAT I REMEMBERED

I remembered the cover image in brown and yellow and the setting: the Victorian goldfields of 1850s Australia, but my memory of the story itself was patchy.  I knew it involved the hero and heroine travelling together to the goldfields and I recalled a scene where a tent store had been set up at the bottom of a hill, opposite a sly grog shop, when they reached the Bendigo diggings.

WHY I WANTED TO RE-READ IT

A recent post by Sarah at Reading the Past mentioned Kaye Dobbie’s latest novel, Colours of Gold. This jogged my memory: I had read a few of Dobbie’s earlier novels written under the pseudonym of Lilly Sommers, but it was The Dark Dream that stood out from the rest.  Of all her books read to date, this remained my favourite. However, the main reason I wanted to re-read it was that I couldn’t remember the complete story, particularly the ending, and when I found a copy in the library I just couldn't resist adding it to my reading pile.

HOW I FELT AFTER READING IT

Very pleased I’d taken the time to borrow it from the library. It was as enjoyable as when I first read it. I'd forgotten how patient and caring the hero was and that warm satisfied feeling when the last page was read. And the reason I couldn’t remember the ending? I thought it was the ending to another author's book, one I had read a long time ago too!

WOULD I READ IT AGAIN

I would definitely read The Dark Dream again. I regret not purchasing a copy when it was first published as it is now out of print. Hopefully, it will be reprinted or offered as an ebook in the near future. However, if my search for a good second-hand copy fails, I can always head back to the library!


This is my first re-read for The Re-Read Challenge 2015.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This weekly meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

Another good reading week for me. I finished Gallipoli Street followed by Footsteps in an Empty Room. I must have been in a Lilly Sommers mood because I immediately picked up The Dark Dream. This is a re-read of my favourite of her novels.

What I Read Last Week

Gallipoli Street by Mary Anne O'Connor

An Anzac tale of three families whose destinies are entwined by war, tragedy and passion.
At 17, Veronica O’Shay is happier running wild on the family farm than behaving in the ladylike manner her mother requires, and she despairs both of her secret passion for her brother’s friend Jack Murphy and what promises to be a future of restraint and compliance. 
But this is 1913 and the genteel tranquillity of rural Beecroft is about to change forever as the O’Shay and Murphy families, along with their friends the Dwyers, are caught up in the theatre of war and their fates become intertwined.
From the horrors of Gallipoli to the bloody battles of the Somme, through love lost and found, the Great Depression and the desperate jungle war along the Kokoda Track, this sprawling family drama brings to life a time long past… a time of desperate love born in desperate times and acts of friendship against impossible odds.
A love letter to Australian landscape and character, Gallipoli Street celebrates both mateship and the enduring quality of real love. But more than that, this book shows us where we have come from as a nation, by revealing the adversity and passions that forged us.
A stunning novel that brings to life the love and courage that formed our Anzac tradition.

Footsteps in an Empty Room by Lilly Sommers

At the turn of the last century, Alice is a 12-year-old servant girl at Colonsay, the big house on the Victorian coast belonging to wily political strategist Cosmo Cunningham and his beautiful young wife Ambrosine.
In the present day, Rosamund becomes the reluctant inheritor of Colonsay, her childhood home. But as the extensive renovation work begins, odd things start happening: a thumping in the empty attic that dislodges plaster from the ceiling of the room below. A lingering scent of honeysuckle. Then the building crew suffer not one but two nasty accidents. And suddenly there is talk of prayers and clairvoyants and messages from the dead… What terrible secret lies within Colonsay? Can Rosamund make peace with the past and free her own future?

The Dark Dream by Lilly Sommers

Who is Ella Seaton?
Waking face-down in the mud by Seaton’s lagoon, her head throbbing from an ugly wound, a young woman struggles to come to terms with an unfamiliar world. Who is she? Why can’t she remember? Was she on her way to the goldfields at Bendigo? Or escaping from them? All she has are snatches of a dark dream, a dream which holds memories she is too terrified to face. Adam, a handsome young goldfields merchant, befriends her on the road, but Adam is a man with secrets of his own. As she travels from the danger and excitement of the goldfields to polite Sydney society, Ella begins to unravel the threads of her past to confront the startling truth. A truth that will change her life forever.


What I'm Reading Today

I'm into the first few chapters of the following books, but the one that's taken over my reading time is Scapegallows.

The House of War and Witness by Mike, Linda and Louise Carey

In the year 1740, with the whole of Europe balanced on the brink of war, a company of Austrian soldiers is sent to the village of Narutsin to defend the border with Prussia. But what should be a routine posting is quickly revealed to be anything but. The previous garrison is gone, the great house of Pokoj, where they're to be billeted, a dilapidated ruin, and the people of Narutsin sullen and belligerent. Convinced the villagers are keeping secrets - and possibly consorting with the enemy - the commanding officer orders his junior lieutenant, Klaes, to investigate. While Klaes sifts through the villagers' truths, half-truths and lies, Drozde, the quartermaster's woman, is making uncomfortable discoveries of her own - about herself, her man, and the house where they've all been thrown together. Because far from being the empty shell it appears to be, Pokoj is actually teeming with people. It's just that they're all dead. And the dead know things - about Drozde, about the history of Pokoj, and about the terrible event that is rushing towards them all, seemingly unstoppable. The ghosts of Pokoj, the soldiers of the empress and the villagers of Narutsin are about to find themselves actors in a story that has been unfolding for centuries. It will end in blood - that much is written - but how much blood will depend on Klaes' honour, Drozde's skill and courage, and the keeping of an impossible promise ...

Scapegallows by Carol Birch

This is the story of Margaret Catchpole, born into a smugglers' world in Suffolk in the late 1700s. As the valued servant of a wealthy family and a friend of criminals, Margaret leads a double life that inevitably brings about her downfall, and she is sentenced to hang not once, but twice. But she escapes the gallows and is transported with other convicts to Australia. A wonderful adventure story, Scapegallows takes inspiration from the life of the real Margaret Catchpole. A woman who lived by her wits, she was a slip-gibbet, a scapegallows.

What I Hope to Read Next

I added these to my reading pile, so my next read may be one of them.

Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen

In Verona, a city ravaged by plague and political rivalries, a mother mourning the death of her day-old infant enters the household of the powerful Cappelletti family to become the wet-nurse to their newborn baby. As she serves her beloved Juliet over the next fourteen years, the nurse learns the Cappelletti's darkest secrets. Those secrets-and the nurse's own deepest personal grief-erupt across five momentous days of love and loss that destroy a daughter, and a family. By turns comic, sensual, and tragic, Juliet's Nurse gives voice to one of literature's most memorable and distinctive characters, a woman who was both insider and outsider among Verona's wealthy ruling class. Exploring the romance and intrigue of interwoven loyalties, rivalries, jealousies, and losses only hinted at in Shakespeare's play, Juliet's Nurse offers an original perspective and a never-before-heard tale of the deepest love in Verona-the love between a grieving woman and her precious milk-daughter.

The Dressmaker of Dachau by Mary Chamberlain

Spanning the intense years of war, The Dressmaker of Dachau is a dramatic tale of love, conflict, betrayal and survival. It is the compelling story of one young woman's resolve to endure and of the choices she must make at every turn - choices which will contain truths she must confront. London, spring 1939. Eighteen-year-old Ada Vaughan, a beautiful and ambitious seamstress, has just started work for a modiste in Dover Street. A career in couture is hers for the taking - she has the skill and the drive - if only she can break free from the dreariness of family life in Lambeth. A chance meeting with the enigmatic Stanislaus von Lieben catapults Ada into a world of glamour and romance. When he suggests a trip to Paris, Ada is blind to all the warnings of war on the continent: this is her chance for a new start. Anticipation turns to despair when war is declared and the two are trapped in France. After the Nazis invade, Stanislaus abandons her. Ada is taken prisoner and forced to survive the only way she knows how: by being a dressmaker. It is a decision which will haunt her during the war and its devastating aftermath.

Ruth's Journey by Donald McCaig

Set against the backdrop of the American South from the 1820s until the dawn of the Civil War, this is a remarkable story of fortitude, heartbrea, and indomitable will - and a tale that will forever illuminate the reading of Margaret Mitchell's unforgettable classic, Gone with the Wind. On the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue, an island consumed by the flames of revolution, a senseless attack leaves only one survivor: an infant girl. She falls into the hands of two French emigres, Henri and Solange Fournier, who take the beautiful child they call Ruth to the bustling American city of Savannah. What follows is the sweeping tale of Ruth's life as shaped by her strong-willed mistress and other larger-than-life personalities she encounters in the South: Jehu Glen, a free black man with whom Ruth falls madly in love; the shabbily genteel family that first hires Ruth as Mammy; Solange's daughter Ellen and the rough Irishman, Gerald O'Hara, whom Ellen chooses to marry; the Butler family of Charleston and their shocking connection to Mammy Ruth; and finally Scarlett O'Hara-the irrepressible Southern belle Mammy raises from birth.

Kate Grenville's The Secret River: Mini Series Coming to Australian Television

Friday night saw the return of an old favourite to our television screens. A new season of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries aired on ABC TV, but it was what followed the rolling of the credits that had me excited: the trailer of a two part mini-series based on Kate Grenville’s novel, The Secret River. No definite date has been announced for its screening, but you can see a preview here.

The lead roles of William and Sal Thornhill are played by British actor, Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Australian actress, Sarah Snook. Filming took place around the Lake Tyers area in East Gippsland, Victoria, and Sydney, New South Wales.


In 1806 William Thornhill, an illiterate English bargeman and a man of quick temper but deep compassion, steals a load of wood and, as a part of his lenient sentence, is deported, along with his beloved wife, Sal, to the New South Wales colony in what would become Australia. "The Secret River" is the tale of William and Sal's deep love for their small, exotic corner of the new world, and William's gradual realization that if he wants to make a home for his family, he must forcibly take the land from the people who came before him.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This weekly meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

Another good reading week for me. I completed Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite, followed by When Shadows Fall which was a quick read. I'm nearing the end of Gallipoli Street having devoted most of my reading time to it last week, only starting Footsteps in an Empty Room because I'd left Gallipoli Street downstairs and was too lazy to go and get it.

What I Read Last Week

Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite by Anthony Trollope

Since its first appearance in 1870, "Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite" has been regarded as one of Trollope's finest short novels. Trollope wrote the book with what he considered to be more 'romance proper' than his other works; his object here was to tell a single 'pathetic incident' rather than to portray 'a number of living human beings.' This is a tale of a conscientious father vacillating between a desire to marry his daughter to a cousin destined to inherit the family title, and his fear that the cousin, reportedly a scheming wastrel, in unworthy of her. "Sir Harry Hotspur" has been called Trollope's saddest story, and at the same time the superlative exception to the rule that Trollope's long, comfortable books are his best.

This was indeed a sad story, but an enjoyable one. I'm looking forward to reading more of Anthony Trollope's novels.

When Shadows Fall by Lilly Sommers

Kate O’Hara rents an old stone cottage on the banks of a Tasmanian river to try to get some peace after the death of her husband, and to plan her future.
But there are mysterious footsteps in the night.
The soft plash of oars on the river.
An old picture of a boatman hanging on the cottage wall.
And a rent in the fabric of time itself …




This was a quick read. A simple and entertaining time slip novel from one of my favourite authors. It switches back and forth from the present day to Tasmania in the late 1820s.

What I'm Reading Today

Gallipoli Street by Mary Anne O'Connor

An Anzac tale of three families whose destinies are entwined by war, tragedy and passion.
At 17, Veronica O’Shay is happier running wild on the family farm than behaving in the ladylike manner her mother requires, and she despairs both of her secret passion for her brother’s friend Jack Murphy and what promises to be a future of restraint and compliance.
But this is 1913 and the genteel tranquillity of rural Beecroft is about to change forever as the O’Shay and Murphy families, along with their friends the Dwyers, are caught up in the theatre of war and their fates become intertwined.
From the horrors of Gallipoli to the bloody battles of the Somme, through love lost and found, the Great Depression and the desperate jungle war along the Kokoda Track, this sprawling family drama brings to life a time long past… a time of desperate love born in desperate times and acts of friendship against impossible odds.
A love letter to Australian landscape and character, Gallipoli Street celebrates both mateship and the enduring quality of real love. But more than that, this book shows us where we have come from as a nation, by revealing the adversity and passions that forged us.
A stunning novel that brings to life the love and courage that formed our Anzac tradition.

Footsteps in an Empty Room by Lilly Sommers

At the turn of the last century, Alice is a 12-year-old servant girl at Colonsay, the big house on the Victorian coast belonging to wily political strategist Cosmo Cunningham and his beautiful young wife Ambrosine.
In the present day, Rosamund becomes the reluctant inheritor of Colonsay, her childhood home. But as the extensive renovation work begins, odd things start happening: a thumping in the empty attic that dislodges plaster from the ceiling of the room below. A lingering scent of honeysuckle. Then the building crew suffer not one but two nasty accidents. And suddenly there is talk of prayers and clairvoyants and messages from the dead…
What terrible secret lies within Colonsay? Can Rosamund make peace with the past and free her own future?

What I Hope to Read Next

From the batch of library books I brought home last week, this one is still on the top of the pile.

The House of War and Witness by Mike, Linda and Louise Carey

In the year 1740, with the whole of Europe balanced on the brink of war, a company of Austrian soldiers is sent to the village of Narutsin to defend the border with Prussia. But what should be a routine posting is quickly revealed to be anything but. The previous garrison is gone, the great house of Pokoj, where they're to be billeted, a dilapidated ruin, and the people of Narutsin sullen and belligerent. Convinced the villagers are keeping secrets - and possibly consorting with the enemy - the commanding officer orders his junior lieutenant, Klaes, to investigate. While Klaes sifts through the villagers' truths, half-truths and lies, Drozde, the quartermaster's woman, is making uncomfortable discoveries of her own - about herself, her man, and the house where they've all been thrown together. Because far from being the empty shell it appears to be, Pokoj is actually teeming with people. It's just that they're all dead. And the dead know things - about Drozde, about the history of Pokoj, and about the terrible event that is rushing towards them all, seemingly unstoppable. The ghosts of Pokoj, the soldiers of the empress and the villagers of Narutsin are about to find themselves actors in a story that has been unfolding for centuries. It will end in blood - that much is written - but how much blood will depend on Klaes' honour, Drozde's skill and courage, and the keeping of an impossible promise ...

Book Review: Bill the Bastard: The Story of Australia's Greatest War Horse by Roland Perry

A documentary entitled Australia’s Great War Horse aired on ABC TV recently. It told the story of 130,000 horses that went to the Great War and never returned to Australia.  The documentary contained actual footage and also reconstructions of the trek through the desert and the famous charge by the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, in Palestine. However, it was the mention of one particular horse that prompted me to write this review of a book I had read last year, Bill the Bastard: The Story of Australia’s Greatest War Horse.

I loved the movie War Horse, based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel, but when I came across Roland Perry’s book about a real Australian horse that went to war and became a legend, I knew it was one I had to read.

Bill was a Waler, a mixed breed of horse developed from those brought to Australia in the 19th century. Bred for the harsh conditions of Australia, these horses became popular as cavalry mounts. Their stamina was such that they were able to go without food and water for great lengths of time, making them ideal for desert warfare.

Bill the Bastard, so nick-named because of his cantankerous nature, couldn’t be ridden, bucking off anyone who tried, especially if they tried to make him gallop. Not fully broken in he was deemed unsuitable as a trooper’s mount and so began his military service as a pack horse at Gallipoli. Bill was shot twice while trying to get the mail through along a seven mile stretch of beach at Anzac Cove.

It was that famous ride, witnessed by Major Michael Shannahan, that propelled Bill into history. Shannahan saw something special in Bill and believed he would make an exceptional cavalry mount. With patience, affection, respect, and rewards of sweets, Shannahan gained Bill’s trust and became the only man Bill would allow on his back.

When the Light Horse were posted to Egypt, the Major rode Bill into action at Romani. Here Bill added to his legendary status by carrying five men to safety, his rider and four other troopers, on his back and clinging to his stirrups.

As expected a number of historical figures are mentioned in the book, but the one that caught my attention was ‘Banjo’ Paterson, the famous Australian poet and journalist. It came as a surprise that he had served during World War I and not as a war correspondent. Due to his expert knowledge of horses, Paterson was made the commanding officer of the remount unit in Cairo, Egypt, a very important role, and by the time of his discharge from the army in 1919 he had attained the rank of Major.

When hostilities ceased and the troops were ordered home, the horses were to be left behind. Some were sold to the British Army as remounts, but according to the book, many were killed en masse. Some troopers believed their mounts deserved better treatment and preferred to shoot their own horses as a final act of respect. This would have been heartbreaking and horrendous.  Fortunately, Bill was so revered he was returned to Gallipoli where he was used to collect artefacts of the campaign and eventually a home was found for him with a Turkish family.

Bill the Bastard doesn’t delve too heavily into the politics of the day, though it is informative and highlights certain aspects of the war and unpopular decisions made at the time. There is even a romance to soften the harshness of the war time setting and the book mentions a little known fact that there were women attached to the army working as veterinarians.

I enjoyed this book as not only is it the story of a great horse, it is also the story of the Australian Light Horse at Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine which, as mentioned before, included that famous charge at Beersheeba – touted as the last great cavalry charge in history. Added to my reading enjoyment was the distinctly Australian wit and humour, which never fails to raise a smile. However, the main reason I recommend this book is that it focuses on a different kind of hero and the unusual bond with the man who tamed him, though I’m sure “tamed” is not the correct word to use.

I found this poem, Bill the Bastard by Maureen Clifford  on the War Veterans International Poetry Archive, which sums up Bill’s exploits and is another fitting tribute to this remarkable horse.