Blog Archives

#historyread, the Read Watch Play theme for September 2016


Fish washing indoors. Reykjavík.

Fish washing indoors. Reykjavík.

September is the month of #historyread, where there’s hundreds of potential themes to be discussed; from fact and fiction books, representations of history in film and a variety of history plays. This month’s theme also ties in with History Week (5th – 13thSeptember), when the History Council of New South Wales member organisations collaborate to showcase the history of the state.

Every country and community has moments of its history which have been represented in some artistic form. Will you be exploring historical crime fiction with CJ Sansom’s Dominion series or perhaps reading into China Mieville’s science fiction worlds? Or do you prefer your historical fiction with a touch of romance, a 19th century steampunk twist, or an alternate history in a world that took a slightly different path? Though it isn’t an alternate history we can see from Tony Horwitz’ Confederates in the Attic that the American Civil War still has a legacy many people may be unaware of.

There’s also local history to explore; this will be different for everyone, so what’s local for you? Perhaps you’ve experience in genealogy and have an interest in family history, all of which can be done using books tracing your family history. Through the development of photographic techniques in the 19th century and later, moving pictures, we can see what life was like in the past, as well as reading about it.

We’ve got the history of everything from food, art and photography to sport and changes in the weather, through which we can all see a wide range of books and documentaries on these topics. We can go down an even narrower subject route with micro histories such as Simon Garfield’s Mauve.

Language has also changed over time, with new words always being introduced into the English Language including Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English. Languages have travelled across continents over the centuries, sometimes as a result of colonialism, but what was the impact on the Indigenous languages of those continents, and what is the resulting legacy for those languages?

What about the studies of archaeology, anthropology and geology, which all give us further insights into the history of the world and how earth was formed.

A Little History of the World or Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everythingshould get you started in everything you need to know about the world, or there’s plenty of other ways to explore the history of science and developments in technology and industry.

For online and digitised resources take a look at the National Library of Australia’s Trove site or Europeana.

Who provides us with a history of events though? We need to be mindful of apologist histories defending controversial activities.

Going back even further in time is the study of palaeontology- what child doesn’t love a book on dinosaurs!? Jurassic Park fits into this, and whilst not a true story (!), it brings to life this magnificent creature of history. Kids also love learning through the Horrible Histories book, which can also now be seen represented on our TV screens. Historical fiction is represented in children’s fiction including Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series.

Who can forget books on time travel such as H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, books by Connie Willis, and everyone’s favourite time traveller, Doctor Who. Biographies and memoirs explore the history of individual famous figures, some of which have been brought to life through film such as Nelson Mandela’s The Long Walk to Freedom.

How many books can you name with the word ‘history’ in the title? The Secret History by Donna Tartt is a clear frontrunner, but there must be many more to be discussed.

And who doesn’t love to play at historical re-enactment? Dressing up in costume and recreating famous battles is a long forgotten pastime of many.

While you are reading, playing or watching your #historyread this month, you might like to tweet about it using hashtags #historyread #rwpchat so that other people can have a conversation with you about it. You can add to the discussion on Pinterest too. You might like to post your photographs to Instagram or Flickr and use #historyread #rwpchat so others can share in your reading, watching and playing.

Twitter logo for RWPchat postsA date for your diary : The Twitter discussion takes place on 27 September, starting at 8.00pm Australian Eastern Standard Time. 9.00pm New Zealand Time, 6.00pm Singapore Standard Time, 12.00 noon Central European Summer Time, 8am – 10.30am, 2pm – 4pm GMT. Note this is a staggered discussion.


The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Tea planters wifeThe Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

U.K. : Viking, 2015.  421 pages.

Found on the Adult Fiction shelves at JEFFERIES

Plot Summary : Two newlyweds: practically strangers, deeply in love, and each hiding a secret from the other . . .

Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper steps off a steamship in Ceylon eager to begin her new life as a married woman. But the husband who greets her is distant, secretive and brooding. Laurence is forever away working, leaving his young English bride to explore the vast tea plantation alone. Wandering into forbidden places, Gwen finds locked doors, trunks filled with dusty dresses, a tiny overgrown grave – clues to a hidden, unspeakable past.

Gwen soon falls pregnant and her husband is overjoyed, but in the delivery room she is faced with a terrible choice – one she must hide from Laurence at all costs. When the time comes to reveal the truth, how will he ever forgive what she has done? (Source: Publisher’s summary on Library Catalogue)

Review : A lovely historical novel set in colonial Ceylon, easy to read and poignantly written.

Reviewed by: Carolyn

Blood and Gore

I’ve been reading William Napier, first his two books Clash of Empires: the Great Siege about the Siege of Malta and Clash of Empires: the Red Sea, on the Battle of Lepanto, which arguably changed the course of European history  –

Nicholas Ingoldsby and his manservant Hodge, English soldiers who had fought alongside the Hospitaller Knights of St. John at the victory in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, are now, in 1571, slaves at the oars of a corsair galley on which they have spent the past two years…

I found there is a third Nicholas Ingoldsby adventure published in 2014 – The Last Crusaders: Ivan the Terrible – can’t wait!

My appetite whetted, I am now half way through his Attila the Hun trilogy, which also includes, just as a side plot: The Fall of the Roman Empire.

And a note on the author – educated at Cheltenham College (expelled), Leicester University (dropped out), Oxford Polytechnic and Birkbeck College, London, where he completed a PhD on W.B.Yeats, now that’s my kind of author.

Good historical authors can read hundreds of reference books just as background, but it should only show like an iceberg – 7/8 below the water line. Napier’s deep backgrounding is prodigious and one of the extra thrills of reading him: too good to read only once.

Score : Gripping historical reads = 5/5

But be warned – Blood and Gore quotient = 6/5

Reviewed by: John


The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

index (1)The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

Sydney : Hachette Australia, 2015. 386 pages

Found on the Adult Fiction shelves at BROOKS

Thank goodness Geraldine has redeemed herself after Caleb’s Crossing (in my opinion anyway).

A fictionalised account of the historical figure of King David of Israel it would be hard to make the story boring. Violence, incest, betrayal, lust, adultery, the voice of god: what doesn’t this story have?

Told from the perspective of the prophet Nathan who asks the King’s permission to write an account of his life this book had me hooked.

In true Brooks fashion much of the story is told by the women closest to David, offering an alternative perspective on a story usually dominated by men.

Named after a lyric from Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah, Brooks – like Cohen’s song – captures a man who is both incredibly flawed, making horrible decisions with dreadful consequences, and yet tender, earnest and loved.

Skip over the gore and enjoy the writing and narrative.

Score: 4/5

Reviewed by: Katherine

The Dressmaker of Dachau by Mary Chamberlain

The Dressmaker of Dachau by Mary Chamberlain

London : The Borough Press, 2015.  329 pages

Found on the Adult Fiction shelves at CHAMBERLAIN

Plot summary  : The Dressmaker of Dachau by Mary Chamberlain is an intensely engaging historical novel written against a real historical background of the outbreak of war in Europe. Sweeping and poignant, this is a tale of one woman’s resilience despite tragedy. Beginning in Theed Street of London, Ada’s woeful journey begins on a promising note when she began to work as a seamstress and ‘modiste’ at Dover Street. But her life took a dramatic turn when she met Stanislaus von Lieben.

Full of life and hope for the future, the two love birds embarked on a journey that took them to Paris as the drumbeats of war grew louder. First at Gare due Nord, the two later moved to Boulevard Barbès. With the Nazis swiftly rummaging across countries and the two literally trapped in a foreign country. They escaped to Mons and then Namur in Belgium where Ada was left in the lurch when Stanislaus abandoned her. After shewas captured, Ada was taken to Dachau and ended up there as the Dressmaker of Dachau.

The Dressmaker of Dachau is a bittersweet novel with characters so life-like and their predicament totally unsettling. Reading about the desperation of Ada, one can only imagine how life is like during World War II. Author Mary Chamberlain painted a harsh yet realistic picture of the war years, and also about the holocaust. If you love a good historical novel with World War II as its background, you can bet this is one of the best. (Source :
Amazon books)

Review : A well written, gripping story full of intrigue and a passion for survival. Ada Vaughan’s character is the part you remember later for her passion, resolve, wrong choices and flaws.

An interesting insight into another side of the war and its consequences.

Reviewed by : Carolyn


The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

Sydney, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin, 2014. 287 pages.

Found on the Adult Fiction shelves at MAGEE

Plot Summary : Desperate to escape the Eastern front, Peter Faber, an ordinary German soldier, marries Katharina Spinell, a woman he has never met; it is a marriage of convenience that promises ‘honeymoon’ leave for him and a pension for her should he die on the front. With ten days’ leave secured, Peter visits his new wife in Berlin; both are surprised by the attraction that develops between them.

When Peter returns to the horror of the front, it is only the dream of Katharina that sustains him as he approaches Stalingrad. Back in Berlin, Katharina, goaded on by her desperate and delusional parents, ruthlessly works her way into the Nazi party hierarchy, wedding herself, her young husband and their unborn child to the regime. But when the tide of war turns and Berlin falls, Peter and Katharina, ordinary people stained with their small share of an extraordinary guilt, find their simple dream of family increasingly hard to hold on to… (Source : Fantastic Fiction)

Review : This is Audrey Magee’s first book and I  highly recommend this book to anyone interested in this historical period combined with an unusual  love story.

Reviewed by : Carolyn

%d bloggers like this: