Riot: A 1960’s Love Story by Charles S. Isaacs

Published: 8th September 2015 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Harpers Ferry Press
Pages: 458
Format: ebook
Genre: Historical fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

It’s September 1967. As the Vietnam War and a militant Antiwar Movement hurtle toward explosive confrontation, Steve Harris – white, idealistic, and naïve — begins his freshman year. During that year, he will fight to end the war, fall in love, confront painful truths about his family, and be jailed and beaten by police. Through this crucible, he emerges with a transformed consciousness, of the world and of himself.

The change begins with a rousing antiwar speech delivered by Emma Gold, a Depression-era radical. When Emma introduces him to young Cat Crawford — inter-racial, brilliant and exotically beautiful – his bewitching is complete. The two students’ instant friendship blossoms before long into a passionate love affair. Their bond is tested, though, by the mounting demands of the Antiwar and Black Power Movements, and by their own deep-seated psychological issues.

1968 is marked by campus unrest, urban rebellion, assassinations, and political violence that leads the two into clashes with the Chicago Police and the National Guard. The story builds to a heartrending climax during the street battles surrounding the Democratic National Convention.

This is a complex, fast-paced journey on an emotional roller coaster, punctuated by flashes of self-discovery, and bursting with political and sexual passions. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review.

I have mixed feelings about this story. The content was interesting; I learnt a few things and felt I was reading through history, but at the same time I didn’t really connect with the characters or their story. I am fully prepared to accept it may have been me so don’t let that deter you, there is no denying the effort and creativity Isaacs has gone to to bring this story to life and pack it with so much history.

Described as a 1960s love story there is a blossoming love but romance isn’t the sole focus of the novel. Steve is a college student who finds love and friendship during a critical time in late 1960s America; the Vietnam War has begun and the civil rights movement is underway. These important moments of history get embroiled with his life and Isaacs tells a story about the life of students and regular Americans who are trying to stop a war no one wanted and survive the tensions between black and white America.

After being fairly oblivious and uninterested in politics and racial conflicts, Steve has his eyes opened when he befriends bookshop owner Emma and fellow student Cat and soon he discovers the world of anti-war protests, boycotts, and the civil rights movement. In doing so you see Steve find his feet and a sense of purpose, he jumps at the chance to become involved.

Steve, Emma, and Cat are the three central characters, detailed and complicated enough which makes them well rounded. Steve is naive but willing to learn, and his eagerness to contribute is admirable. When he meets Emma and Cat you begin to see him grow and become more aware, which in turn affects other aspects of his life and the decisions he makes. Emma is a fiery, strong willed woman who is passionate and willing to fight for what she believes in, she goes out of her way to help people and her generosity and good nature compliments her fierceness really well. Cat is similar in her own way, though her past holds her back and she wavers between fighting for what’s right and holding back. Throughout the story you see the stress of fighting a war affect everyone, especially Steve and Cat, and the strain adds drama to their relationship.

Isaacs mentions at the end that only a very small part of the book is fiction, many names, events, books, and songs mentioned are real and historically accurate, something which helps to bring the late 1960s to life. As you read you recognise key moments in history like protest marches, Martin Luther King Jr’s speech, flowers in rifles, and the fight for civil rights. If you love history then this would probably be a fascinating account of American history to dive into. At almost 500 pages there is a lot of detail and Isaacs paces it accordingly. Things follow at a realistic pace, day by day almost rather than large jumps and in doing so it shows how much actually happened in such a short period of time and the ongoing effort people did behind the scenes before grand demonstrations. This does make it a slow read when nothing seems to happen for a long time, but this  is where the romance and personal relationship elements balance with historical events.

There are a lot of positives about this book, the research is incredible, the detailed exploration of key historical moments, and the subject is interesting, but despite that I found that I couldn’t get into the story. It wasn’t the length, being an ebook I didn’t actually notice it until much later, I just found I wasn’t connecting with the characters or their lives and the writing style was hard to get into. I say this of course contrasted with the fact that it was interesting to read about all the protests and the effort students and people went to show their disapproval of the war, and the campaigns they ran to boycott products. I did enjoy reading about the civil rights, the reactions to King’s speech and the fight for equality. But aside from recognising these moments and learning the details I still couldn’t connect.

There are surprises and a few unexpected moments that add emotion and drama as Isaacs links history with the romance and the fiction, and seeing the everyday person react and interact with history offers great insight away from it being simply a past event. I’m disappointed I didn’t love this book more, but there is no denying that it was an interesting read.

You can purchase Riot via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

David Dyer Talk: The Midnight Watch

David-Dyer.jpgA little over a week ago I went to a talk in North Sydney to hear David Dyer talk about his new book, The Midnight Watch. The story is of the Californian, the ship who saw the Titanic sink and did nothing to help. The story itself is incredible, I am working on a review for that at the moment, but I journeyed the many hours and had an adventurous train trip to hear David speak because I was in love with this book before I even read it.

It was a quaint little cafe and wine and canapés were offered which was very swish. There was a small but enthusiastic crowd; the 30 chairs provided being mostly filled. I discovered during the talk many people had no read the book yet which was interesting, but many did purchase it on their way in or out so I guess David’s talk was successful.

David only spoke for 30 minutes which I was very surprised about. The event had been listed as 6-7pm, and it wasn’t until about 6:15 I realised the first half hour was for the food to go around. Not to be ungrateful because David did a wonderful job, but I’m slightly indignant that it only went for 30 minutes. The argument can be made that the $35 I paid was for the food/wine/venue, but if you chose not to eat or drink, you really are paying a lot (and personally coming from a fair distance) for 30 minutes. To his credit, David fit a lot into those 30 minutes.

He told us that he’d always been passionate about the Titanic, having seen A Night to Remember when he was around four years old. Reading this book I was amazed to learn there had even been another ship in the area, I always hear about Carpathian and Titanic, never a third. The way David tells the story is beautiful and filled with history that comes straight from the records.

Click to find out more.Helen Baxter from Blues Point Bookshop introduced him and asked whether there was anything more to write about the Titanic, was it not overdone? But she complimented David for not only taking on the task but for doing it astonishingly well. David himself was surprised by the interest, the story is of course well known by the 1997 film, which catapulted the story like no film ever has. Because of this everyone knows the story of Titanic, but what surprised David was that not many people know that everyone on board could see another ship. The entire story would have been different, the Titanic may not have even been remembered, if the Californian had gone to her rescue and saved the 1500 who were lost.

David spoke about how his obsession grew over the years until he finally wrote a book about it. Even though the book is fiction it sets out to tell the truest story. As well as the Titanic/Californian story, an additional backdrop of the novel, and history really, is the suffragette movement; something David said was at its peak just before the disaster and which was set back years as a result.

Before becoming a writer David told us about training to become a doctor (but he faints at the sight of blood) before deciding to go to sea and work on merchant ships and tankers. He learnt a lot about himself at sea and this experience feeds into the novel. He was also a lawyer working in Australia and in London. In an incredible coincidence he was a litigation lawyer in the firm that represented White Star Line, the company that owned the Titanic.

When he decided to write the novel he began researching, and somehow ended up back in Sydney as a teacher. He took time off in 2009 to do hard research into the Californian and why it didn’t go to help. This took him all over the world, London, New York, Boston, and the Liverpool Maritime Museum, where all of Captain Lord’s papers are held.

Lord left all of his things to a friend who kept them all his life, and when he passed he donated them to the museum. David thought he would find an answer in these documents but only found commendations and a lot of people praising Lord, saying he was very brave. One of the greatest finds was two original letters that had been given to Lord by the two men who’d watched the distress rockets being launched and seen the Titanic in the distance.

These letters were written within a day of the sinking and listening to David read out his photocopies was incredible. These were the actual words of those who’d seen Titanic and are amazing contemporaneous evidence. As David read the words of the two men it’s no wonder Lord had the letters kept secret for 50 years because they clearly show him at fault.

David said that even more important than documents was actually visiting places and locations where events happened – New York, Venezuela, London, Liverpool etc. David called it narrative telepathy; he needed to go to the places the people went, needed to get under their skin. He went to the captain’s address and the second mate’s address to get a sense of how terrible they’d feel and what it was like for them to live among the community where so many were lost. David sensed Lord’s shame and anger, but not from malice. It was a small mistake that had consequences of 1500 lives.

In order to achieve the most narrative telepathy David was in the middle of the north Atlantic 100 years to the second over the sink site on 14 April 2012. He spent hours there looking over the water. The weather was the same, dead calm, no wind and a black night. He couldn’t imagine being in the water. Apparently one of the worst sounds heard by the 700 who escaped in lifeboats was people crying out in pain as they entered the water. The worst sound came ten minutes later when there was no sound at all because that was how long they had. This, David said, is what’s at stake in the novel – the captain should have come to help.

The audience were quite good considering most hadn’t read the novel yet. They asked why lord had kept the letters if they incriminated him. David admitted he didn’t know but thought perhaps Lord couldn’t bring himself to destroy them. There were bits of evidence to support it wasn’t the Titanic, but he may have known in his heart that it was.

David answered a question about the transcripts of the American and UK trials that took place, telling us they are available online for public viewing. The American trial was four days after the disaster and useful for being so immediate, while the UK one was more measured and thorough a few months later. Captain Lord and the two officers gave evidence and much of the dialogue in the book is verbatim from these transcripts.

Ending on a light hearted note David answered a comment about Clive Palmer stating that he would never have gotten his second Titanic to work because not only would he need to adhere to safety measures that did not exist 100 years ago, but no one would agree to share one bath between 600 people in third class as they had to do on the original.

As I said, despite only speaking for 30 minutes David managed to speak about a lot, including time for questions. There was a lot he couldn’t elaborate on which was a shame because it was clear he loved the topic and could have spoken for longer but what he did mention was fascinating. At the end I was able to get my book signed and I was even brave enough for a question (at the signing table mind you, not during the talk) so I was pretty pleased.

David is appearing at the Sydney Writers’ Festival to talk more about his novel and the suffragette movement if you’re interested. Full details are on his website and the SWF website.

A Plum Job by Cenarth Fox

Published: 4th August 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Fox Plays
Pages: 249
Format: ebook
Genre: Historical Thriller
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It’s 1940. Germany’s military might is smashing through the Low Countries and the British, Belgian and French forces are trapped at Dunkirk. The Nazis will soon be in Gay Paree. 

Louise Wellesley is a gorgeous and aristocratic young Englishwoman desperate to become an actress. But her upbringing demands that young women of her class go to finishing school, the Buckingham Palace debutante ball and then remain at home until the right chap comes along. Such young ladies most definitely do not cavort semi-naked upon the wicked stage. 

But war brings change. People tell lies. Rules are broken. So when you’re in a foreign country and living by your wits while facing arrest, torture and death from the French police, Resistance, Gestapo and a double-agent, you bloody well better remember your lines, act out of your skin and never ever bump into the furniture. 

Oh and it helps if your new best friend is Edith Piaf. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

This is a great story that has been slotted into the folds of history. From innocent beginnings into the throws of World War Two Fox tells a captivating story about young Louise Wellesley.

The narrative perspectives of Louise plus cousins Max and Kurt Hartmann provide different sides of the events and opens up new perspectives. Fox connects the trio’s stories creatively and with style, and brings their humble origins into the dangers of a world war. Louise is not innocent nor is she entirely naive. She is determined and brave, and is quick thinking. Kurt and Max also have their own agenda’s and ambitions, their differences coming to light on the page and through their actions.

Louise is a character to admire even before her assistance to the war. She is fiercely loyal and a wonderful friend, she adores her family and wants to do right by them. But she is also ambitious, something she’s not supposed to be, but with her determination she gets what she wants and becomes who she wants to be. There is still a hint of that young inexperienced girl inside her, but that doesn’t stop her from doing what needs to be done.

The more you read of Louise’s time in Paris it’s hard to imagine her as the simple actress from England, but Louise has not forgotten her acting roots, nor those who guided her, and as she finds herself in times of trouble she reflects on what she’s been taught, faking confidence, suave, and bravery she keeps herself alive and out of danger for the most part.

Knowing a little but not a lot about the early days in Paris, I enjoyed the references to historical events and figures. The reactions and responses by those close to Hitler and those who suffered because of distant orders was interesting and it told of the gradual yet seemingly well organised invasion by Hitler’s forces.

A Plum Job is about passion and perseverance, about missed opportunities and great losses. Against the backdrop of a fresh world war and suspicion on both sides it is more than just a tale of a wannabe actress. The fictional tale Fox has woven through historical events is captivating and filled with drama and excitement, it’s even a little bit heartbreaking to be honest.

It’s not 100% historically accurate but it is hard to put down all the same with a story that’s filled with drama, excitement, and suspense. There are numerous surprises and unexpected things that keep you interested and engaged and it’s a compelling story, you’re never quite sure where it is heading but you don’t mind the journey getting there.

You can purchase A Plum Job via the following

Amazon

Amazon Au

Amazon UK

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

Published: 3rd August 2015
Goodreads badgePublisher: Random House Australia
Pages: 512
Format: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fairytale retelling
★   ★   ★  ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany. 

The Beast’s Garden is the kind of story that appears to be a simple fairy tale retelling, a classic tale woven through history; but in actual fact it is a powerful and important story, filled with bold thoughts and acts of defiance, bringing history to life under the guise of a mere fairy tale. It is brutal and honest, yet told so wonderfully that amongst the horror of war and the raw subject, you are captivated and amazed at what happens, real or otherwise.

From the first pages Forsyth holds nothing back, showing off the beauty and danger early on, something that remains until the very last page. The combination and close proximity beauty and danger has in this novel is wonderful, the way Forsyth shows how both existed side by side for so long also adds a lot of meaning. The fact day to day life coexisted with such horror, especially in the early years, is incredible to discover, even more so in novel form.

As you read you are immersed in a fascinating yet brutal part of history and the past comes to life revealing Forsyth’s immaculate research skills. According to Forsyth the only created characters are Ava, Leo, Jutta and their families, everyone else is taken from history. The Beast’s Garden includes important and historic figures such as the Goebbels, Mildred Harnack, members of the Abwehr, as well as numerous others on both sides. Through Forsyth’s flawless and bold narrative their stories and movements during Hitler’s reign are brought to life again in a spectacular tale about war, love, strength, and music.

Though a few characters are created, they fit perfectly into the history. Forsyth blends the actions of the real with the desires of the fictional and manages to excel and telling both stories. Real events are woven meticulously and elegantly with the lives of her characters creating a personal and unique perspective on some of the people and key moments during World War Two.

Aside from the historical elements, the detail and style of the narrative is wonderful to read. Nothing is included that isn’t of some importance and everything has meaning in some form or another. Ava is strong and resilient and watching her grow over the course of the story is incredible, truly an example of not knowing what you’re capable of until you have no other choice. Each created character brings something to the story, whether it is the perspective of the Jewish, the resistance, or those caught in between,

Ava’s story is not the sole one being told with many other figures having their stories explored as well, including members of the resistance, Libertas and Harro Schulze-Boysen. Forsyth has woven Ava into history marvellously and with the perspective of others included it brings a lot more intensity to the story than if the events and historic figures were merely background noise to Ava’s own life. Forsyth treats each of her characters with respect, and those taken from history have become as true and honest as they are able with actions, opinions, and fates reflecting what happened.

Forsyth combines the fairy tale and the real together stylishly and with skill. There are quotes from The Singing, Springing Lark opening each section and Ava reads and draws strength from the story of the lark herself, through all its torments and triumphs, each action reflected in her own story.

Coupled with the story of The Singing, Springing Lark and the facts and truths of World War Two, Forsyth’s incredible creativity and ability to mix together what is real and what is not is to be admired. The story spans seven years, from 1938 to 1945, and through Ava’s story you see the world change around her and see it change herself. Through her story and others an understanding is gained about the effect Hitler had on not just the outside world but Berlin and the German people too.

This is a story that is riddled with real faces and real events, connected and combined with characters that are filled with bravery, bold opinions, and incredible strengths. It is a novel told against the backdrop not only of history but of a fairytale, and one that demonstrates the power Germany had shown the world, but it also shows the power hidden within Germany itself. A spectacular story.

You can purchase The Beast’s Garden via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Booktopia | Dymocks

Bookworld | QBD

Molly Lee by Andrew Joyce

Published: 29th March 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Self Published
Pages: 317
Format: ebook
Genre: Historical fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It’s 1861 and the Civil War has just started. Molly is an eighteen-year-old girl living on her family’s farm in Virginia when two deserters from the Southern Cause enter her life. One of them—a twenty-four-year-old Huck Finn—ends up saving her virtue, if not her life.

Molly is so enamored with Huck, she wants to run away with him. But Huck has other plans and is gone the next morning before she awakens. Thus starts a sequence of events that leads Molly into adventure after adventure; most of them not so nice.

We follow the travails of Molly Lee, starting when she is eighteen and ending when she is fifty-six. Even then Life has one more surprise in store for her.

Molly Lee is the sequel to the best-selling novel REDEMPTION: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. It is the story of a woman who knows what she wants and starts out to get it. Molly is about to set off on the quest of a lifetime . . . of two lifetimes.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

Initially I found it hard to believe and get into, especially since it practically opens with Molly abandoning her family and running after Huck. But as the novel progressed and you see Molly change and grow, you take the story for what it is, instead of trying to mould it to your expectations.

The narration mimics the voice of the south which brings Molly’s background to light, and you see her voice gradually refine itself as she travels more and is exposed to new things, her experiences shaping who she becomes. Being set in the 19th century there are a few phrases and events that help place the novel, with only a few modern phrases standing out. Overall Joyce has done a solid job in capturing the historical feeling while still remaining focused on Molly.

I liked the era it was set in, it was at times very convenient for Molly, but it felt real and it worked. The focus is very much on Molly and her life, but around her there is a brief exploration of the changes America was undergoing at the time, making it feel more historical. Knowing nothing much about the life of settlers in early America it was interesting to see the development of towns and the culture of not just the settlers, but the Native Americans as well.

The story flows easily, once Molly leaves her home she gets caught up in one thing or another which moves the story on. In the beginning it seems like she moves from one drama to the next, but these calm down and the story settles into a stronger narrative. While the continual problems and drama remain, it no longer reads as problematic with better narration to support it. Each new incident is spaced much better time wise for the most part, and they are varied enough from one another and realistic for the environment and era which makes it alright.

With the amount of things that happen to Molly it is interesting to see her reaction. She takes things in her stride most of the time, things fall in her lap and while bad things happen she picks herself up fairly quickly and trudges on. For someone her age and inexperience she accepts changes reasonably well, and she soon learns to listen and make things turn to her advantage.

She is a bright enough girl, she reads like a naïve and love struck child at first with a few smarts but not many, but she seems to know what she is doing, even if her strengths and weaknesses aren’t spelled out for the reader. To understand a lot of who Molly is Joyce makes us read between the lines, her determination and decision to make herself a new woman is what drives her and she makes her life her own.

Joyce paces the narrative well, capturing three decades with the right speed, jumping when necessary and skipping the right amount of time, making it work with the story with style. Having this long time span also allows a great comparison between the Molly who starts and the one who finishes the story. Seeing her life and the person she has become is great, and it is good to see there are still traces of the teenager all those years later.

This is a sequel but it is of little consequence. The story reads well on its own, and the ending can be read as a prelude into a third, but also as a nice ending with possibilities open to readers. Joyce brings the female voice to life and makes Molly’s evolution from a teen to a middle aged woman gracefully and with surprising insight.

You can purchase Molly Lee via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

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