Tag Archives: Jackie French

To the Moon and Back – Bryan Sullivan with Jackie French

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Harper Collins

May 2019

ISBN: 9781460757741

ISBN 10: 1460757742

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

RRP 16.99 AUD

In our library we marked the 50th anniversary of the moon landing before the holidays and I was quite taken aback to find that not only did we not have a copy of this 2005 winner of the Eve Pownall Award but that no one was even familiar with it. So I was doubly thrilled to have the opportunity to review this new revised edition which of course has been re-issued to time with the occasion.

For many Australians the movie The Dish is the extent of their acquaintance with the work of our intrepid pioneer boffins and the part they played in the Apollo 11 mission. However The Dish is fictional and Bryan’s recount of the work at Honeysuckle Creek is written from his own experience and that of his colleagues. Long before the technology tsunami swept the world up, a few dedicated geeks were paving the way for what would become the normality of today’s society.

Bryan affords us insight into his early interest in computer science from his first encounter with a computer in 1958 through the construction of the (then) advanced and ambitious station at Honeysuckle Creek and the ensuing work of all those involved.

Interspersed with Bryan’s narrative the reader will find many fascinating facts about space, the race to the moon, astronauts and of course the question that every kid asks any time this topic arises – how do you go to the toilet in space? *grin*

These were the largely unsung heroes of the Apollo mission/s and it was this that prompted Jackie and Bryan to produce the book originally. Thus it is timely at this point in time to inform another generation of readers that the space missions were not all about the USA and Russia: that a little but significant base in a dusty bush setting near Canberra played not only a valuable but an essential role in the first moon landing.

If your library is also lacking this marvellous book, you should rectify that immediately. With the impetus of the anniversary you will be sure to have many young readers who may also set their eyes, as well as their dreams, on the universe.

I’ve twice had the pleasure of visiting Jackie and Bryan at their beautiful property. Jackie’s graciousness is well known but rest assured that Bryan is equally gracious and very unassuming about the important role in history he played.

Highly recommended for readers from ten years upwards – grab your copy NOW!

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My Name is Not Peaseblossom – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

June 2019

ISBN: 9781460754788

ISBN 10: 1460754786

List Price: 16.99 AUD

 

 

So as I chuckled my way through this (and truthfully at times snort-laughed) I thought to myself ‘I reckon Shakespeare would entirely approve of this retell’. After all, he did write to entertain or move people but he also wrote to subtly convey his opinions about topics and issues relevant to his age. And in what some would dismiss a mere comedy he cleverly illustrated the excesses of power and the selfishness of individuals determined only to further their own desires and goals.

Peaseblossom, who would rather be known as Pete, is not one of the most significant characters in the original play but takes front and centre in this version. He does have a pretty responsible job in the Fairy Court being a Potions Fairy and the apprentice of Puck. He is destined to marry on Midsummer’s Eve and be promoted to first assistant in the potions game but he is far from satisfied with life in the fairy realm. His real passions are his love of great pizza and the beautiful Gaela, a smart selkie, posing as a pizza chef many years into the future.

Pete is pretty fed up with Oberon and Titania giving orders and creating chaos willy nilly amongst both fairies and humans, and is just as displeased when he finds a bunch of vampires behaving in pretty much the same way in Gaela’s life. Being rather savvy and far worldlier wise than some of his fairy comrades Pete has the right antidote to both these dilemmas.

This is an elegant and timely reminder to us all that, despite the somewhat parlous times in which we live, we all have the power of free will and can make choices that will be positive for ourselves, our race and our earth. The layers underlying the light heartedness will be a springboard to much rich discussion on ethics and self-determination.

Check out the teaching notes here.

Pirate Boy of Sydney Town – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

ISBN: 9781460754795

ISBN 10: 1460754794

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

May 2019

RRP: 16.99 AUD

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Just a few weeks ago I reviewed the third in Jackie’s Miss Lily series and now it’s another superb historical fiction, plus I have two others on my review shelf. I begin to wonder when the woman sleeps! Her prodigious output, the diversity of her works and the unsurpassed quality of her narratives are just truly awe-inspiring.

I know a modicum of Australian history but Jackie always provides so much deeper knowledge and indeed, revelations about our past which I for one have entirely missed.

In this case it is the piracy that was not uncommon in our waters during the 19th century.

Young Ebenezer (Ben) Huntsmore has had an idyllic life, growing up in his mother’s ancestral home, Badger’s Hill, and has loved his interaction with the farming tenants and the contented continuity of their community.  When his mostly absent and ne’er-do-well shipowner father loses everything in a gambling debt their life is turned upside down and Ben and his mother are forced to leave their much-loved home to journey to the far off new colony of Australia. Huntsmore Senior has a plan to restore the family fortune with his one remaining ship as a privateer, with the good grace and commission from the Prince of Wales. Who knew? Certainly not me!

The sea voyage is marred by the ill-treated human cargo of convicts – mere chattels to the owner – and the death of Ben’s mother from typhoid. Ben barely survives the deadly illness himself. The ensuing chapter of the narrative finds little improved for young Ben when the piracy begins in earnest with scant regard for human life or any kind of mercy. With poetic justice the first act of robbery on the high seas a success has a bad ending for Ben’s father and Ben himself is castaway but with his only two ‘friends’ – the Aboriginal sailor Guwara and the convict Higgins  – who form an alliance and commit to returning Ben to safety.

Complex and confronting at times but with redeeming hopefulness, courage, unexpected friendship and loyalty and the perfect illustration that ‘class’ does not maketh the individual, this is a wonderful study of human nature at its best as well as its worst. The references to Jackie’s previous books with the appearance of an adult Tom Appleby (Tom Appleby, Convict Boy) and the mention of Nanberry (Nanberry Black Brother White) are cleverly inserted. As always Jackie’s indefatigable research enables her to embed historical fact into her narrative seamlessly, allowing the reader to truly ‘live’ in the experience.

Readers who are keen on Australian history or those who are studying this period of history will find this intriguing and intense. Again, Jackie has given us an absolutely cracking read!

Highly recommended for mature readers from around mid-primary upwards.

The Lily in the Snow: Book #3 Miss Lily – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

March 2019

ISBN: 9781460753842

ISBN 10: 1460753844

RRP 29.99 AUD

We devotees of Miss Lily have been waiting fairly impatiently for her return and I was thrilled when my copy arrived and immediately started immersing myself once more into the world of Sophie, Nigel and Miss Lily. However packing and moving house followed up by three weeks of the dreaded lurgy meant I was only ¾ through – until last Saturday when I binge read the remaining chapters because I just couldn’t wait any longer to find out the conclusion.

The Jazz Age has begun and Sophie and Nigel generally manage to ignore it living peacefully at Shillings watching their delightful twins growing up. There are concerns such as Sophie’s belief of an impending financial crash and her need to ensure the safe continuation of her father’s corned beef empire.  But long held secrets and intrigues threaten their idyll and the most significant of these will change their lives forever.

Responding to a request from their old colleague the pair help to uncover the identity of a badly injured veteran of the Great War which brings Sophie once again into contact with the mysterious ‘John’ from her Australian home. Questions surround the paternity of the Shillngs twins and the encounter with ‘John’ must resolve these.

A mysterious and ferocious young girl, Violette, turns up at Shillings after considerable mis-adventure and is intent on killing her mother whom she believes is Miss Lily: a circumstance which throws all kinds complications into the household.

And Sophie’s old friend Hannelore instigates what is tantamount to blackmail to enlist Miss Lily’s support of the man for whom she has developed a blind and misguided fervour, a German called Herr Hitler.

The tension and mystery of the narrative are superlative and once again Jackie’s undisputed skill in weaving fact with fiction provides the reader with a plot that unfolds with high drama and exquisite anticipation. One cannot help but become completely invested with these characters that become all but real as the series continue.

As always one is living within the story and the involvement is powerful with the conclusion thrilling and filled with twists and turns as only Jackie can achieve.

I truly hope this is not the last we see of this engaging saga and now we must wait with patience to see the next instalment.

An amazing and triumphant return of the story highly recommended for senior readers and adults.

 

a PS – from my lovely cousin (sister from another mother) who is currently reading it……..

Jackie is a wonderful story teller, she makes you feel as if you really KNOW the character, or invokes emotions about how you feel about them.

This is Home: Essential Australian Poems for Children – Selected by Jackie French, Illustrated by Tania McCartney

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Publisher:   National Library of Australia

ISBN:   9780642279385
01 April 2019

RRP: $34.99

Why yes, some readers of this blog will already know that not only am I non-fiction nerd since childhood but also a poetry nerd. I openly admit this to the children at school who are sometimes a little (?!) resistant to poetry. Of course, I follow this up by totally blowing them away with the magic, humour and depth of poetry.

As it happens, this new anthology, selected by the amazing Jackie French (all hail!) and illustrated by the gorgeous and multi-skilled Tania McCartney will be EASY to sell to poetry-resistant kids. The contributors included roll out like a ‘Who’s Who’ of Australian children’s literature, both past and present.

From such historic luminaries as Norman Lindsay, Judith Wright and Dorothea MacKellar to contemporary stars such as Meredith Costain, Suzanne Gervay, Meg McKinlay, Andy Griffiths, Shaun Tan  – *gasp* and pause for breath, this is one of the most comprehensive and quality poetry collections I’ve ever encountered for children.

Page after glorious page of amazing verse accompanied by Tania’s iconic illustrations, it is pure joy to hold, read and savour. There have been many anthologies of Australian poetry published for children but I would have to think hard about one that presents both old and new offerings to children with such a contemporary and fresh format.  I know that poetry is, of course, still embedded in the curriculum but children so often seem to be disengaged with the way it is presented to them. I fully believe that this new collection will give children a point of connection and impart the joy of verse.

Sir Walter Scott said “Teach your children poetry; it opens the mind, lends grace to wisdom and makes the heroic virtues hereditary.”

We owe it to our children to not only show them the beauty of narrative literature but the amazing landscape of poetic creativity.

Highly recommended for children and adults from around eight years upwards. This one’s not going anywhere except my own shelves.

Thank you Jackie and Tania – love your work! x

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel (The Secret Histories #5) – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

Available: 21st January 2019
ISBN: 9781460754801

RRP: $14.99

 

If you have not yet set about acquiring Jackie’s enthralling Secret Histories series it is definitely time to catch up to it. As this school year peters out and we limp towards the finish line, some are already thinking about 2019 and our support of our classes.

For the past two years I have shared Birrung the Secret Friend with our Year 4 classes to build their field of knowledge before their First Contact HASS studies. In particular this first in the series addresses directly their inquiry into short- and long-term effects of European settlement on the local environment and Indigenous land and water management practices.  Not only were the students completely engaged with the narrative with much lively discussion, prediction and astonishment (“the piece of meat was HOW big?”) but were already well prepared for their unit of work and receptive to even more delving into history.

Joyfully many of them have continued on with the series and love to tell me which one they have just read and recount the highlights. They all certainly love following the continued story of Barney and Elsie.
Now the series has moved onto to the early 1800s and Sydney Town has developed into an actual town although with dubious quality and is not the only growing settlement. While Barney and Elsie have now built their farm and are happily thriving out at Parramatta things are far from stable in the colony. The recent influx of Irish rebels transported for their part (whether actual or assumed) in the Vinegar Hill uprising has added an extra layer of fomenting discontent in the new colony where poverty, cruelty and injustice abounds. One small orphan, just one of many, is caught up in this. Frog has never known a mother or father and is, instead, a pickpocket in the rather dubious care of a slatternly innkeeper. When young Frog encounters both Elsie Bean and one Phillip Cunningham, momentous events are set in place.

The Castle Hill uprising was an unsuccessful attempt to redress the balance of justice in the corrupt environment of the colony despotically ruled over by such (now) dimly viewed personalities as Governor King, Rev Marsden and the local rabble of soldiery. Betrayed by spies the convicts’ rebellion is not only thwarted but cruelly crushed with merciless reprisals.

Frog, hero worshipping Cunningham, casts the die and joins the rebels, as a small but determined supporter and is injured in the skirmish. Rescued by Barney Bean, Frog’s future unravels into something not to be dreamed of – with the littlest rebel’s deepest secret revealed.

The twist in the tale is brilliant and little Frog, unloved and unwanted, finds a family worth having and along with them moves forward to building the colony into a bigger and better place for all-comers.

This is a story long untold and Jackie French, with her passion for Australian history, has revealed it to readers through her intensive research into eyewitness accounts as well as her imagination.  I for one, cannot wait to introduce this to my students as their next foray into the troubled history of our country. Their fierce sense of justice will be inflamed by the story and they will love to hear the next episode of Barney and Elsie and their growing family.

As if you can’t tell, I cannot recommend this highly enough. Aside from its readability it is easily one of the most valuable adjuncts to teaching primary children real history.

Recommended for readers from around eight years upwards.

Just a Girl – Jackie French

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Harper Collins Australia

        ISBN: 9781460753095

  ISBN 10: 1460753097

 

August 2018

RRP: $16.99

Hail Mary,
Full of Grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.

I’m not a Catholic – and though I was raised an Anglican I am not particularly religious in the Christian sense. However, since losing a child I do feel an affinity with Mary, who was a real person who lost her son in a terrible way.  Moreover I am fascinated by ancient history and in particular the ‘story behind the stories of the Bible’.

I am repeatedly awe-struck at Jackie French’s unparalleled ability to breathe life into history and this new narrative is no exception. I spent a few hours of my weekend on a sojourn in Roman-occupied Judea, circa 71 AD, and my senses were fully transported by Jackie’s marvelous writing: the warmth of the Middle Eastern sun, the chill of the winter rain, the surrounding smells of grass and goat and the hazy wood smoke, the taste of dried figs and sweetened wine and the dreadful clashing of swords and screams of victims.

Judith is fourteen years old, one of four daughters – two older and one younger – living with her mother and great-grandmother in a small rural village. With all their men and older boys away as part of the rebellion against Rome, the village women have had to adapt to different ways and in particular, Judith now relishes her role in minding the sheep and expertly using her slingshot to hunt meat for her family.

When her great-grandmother Rabba wakes her one night and demands to be taken down to the wadi and then sends Judith back for her little sister, the two girls have no idea that Rabba’s foreboding of disaster is about to eventuate.

The entire village razed by a ruthless Roman legion, the three survivors remain concealed safely in a cave, long ago prepared by Rabba and before long are joined by a young Roman slave as well as their rather reluctant goat.

The icy winter that follows with its many trials and struggles to overcome is often relieved by Rabba’s story-telling and feasts around the fire. In particular Caius, a ‘secret’ Christian all his life, longs to hear more of Rabba’s childhood friend Maryiam of Nazareth but Rabba is always reticent about the woman. When Rabba finally tells her story it becomes clear that the simple village girl who became the mother of Jesus was gentle, loving and courageous, and a faithful friend. Rabba herself is scornful of the ‘messiah myth’, her only interest being that of the woman who was her childhood friend and a good person.

People tend to forget that many bible characters were real historical people given the mystique with which many of them are imbued. For me it is the fascination of piecing together shards of information to build a picture of the actual circumstances (hence quite an addiction to documentaries on the history channel!).

Jackie has taken what little actual detail about the person is available about Maryiam/Mary,  and woven it with general factual information of the times to create a thoroughly plausible account of one family’s survival against the might of the Roman Empire.

This book will hold a valuable place on any library shelf or indeed, home bookshelf. I will be particularly promoting it to our Study of Religion and History teachers as part of my ‘read around your topic’ encouragement.

I highly recommend it to you for readers from around Year 5 upwards.

Teaching notes also available Just a Girl TNs FINAL

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies – Jackie French

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Harper Collins Australia

ISBN: 9781460751305

ISBN 10: 1460751302

On Sale: 22/01/2018

List Price: 14.99 AUD

Another gripping episode in the story of Barney and Elsie, providing readers with more insight into the early days of the European colony in Sydney and NSW and I’m so excited that next term I’m using Birrung the Secret Friend with my Year 4s in preparation for their ‘First Contact’ unit. My experience from last year informs me that the children love this as a read-aloud and are intrigued and stirred to discussion and debate on its themes.  I love knowing that those who are ‘ hooked’ will continue to read in the series and now that there are four will be able to satisfy their curiosity on a number of points.

This narrative takes up Barney’s story now that he is grown and becoming a successful farmer and still in love with Elsie. But who is Elsie really? How is it that this girl neither a convict nor daughter of a soldier came to be in the colony?

When Elsie becomes ill with a fever, her delirium reveals her native tongue of French and speculation becomes even more urgent as a war half a world away rages between the British and Napoleon’s France.  The true reason for Elsie not speaking all the previous years since Barney found her starving and cold is out in the open. Will it make any difference to Barney? More urgently will it put Elsie in danger with the authorities?

Once again Jackie French has uncovered history long ignored or forgotten including that of the first female botanist to sail around the world and achieve great things.

As usual the research is impeccable and the writing accessible even for children as young as 7 or 8.  Barney’s story has become special for many readers and I dare to hope this is not the last of history’s secrets Jackie will share with us.

Highly recommended for readers from around Year 3 upwards.

Binge Reading Jackie French

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The upside of injuring both your legs badly at the same time is that you have a very legitimate excuse to stay in bed reading a lot. And fortunately my lovely friends at Harper Collins must have had some kind of premonition because the day before my accident I had received a plethora amazing books to review including the three here. Fortunately (with hindsight) I had not yet read Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies which meant I had the double delight of reading both the first and second in the series back to back (over the course of two days). The latest in the Matilda series Facing the Flame was consumed in one evening.  Aside from anything else I think the rate at which I devoured these speaks volumes for the sheer pleasure of them.

Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies

ISBN: 9781460753583

ISBN 10: 1460753585

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

 27/03/2017

RRP $29.99 AUD

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A tale of espionage, love and passionate heroism.

Inspired by true events, this is the story of how society’s ‘lovely ladies’ won a war.

Young Sophie Higgs has grown up a privileged girl being the only child of the wealthiest man in NSW, Jeremiah Higgs the king of canned corned beef. But in the rigid society of Sydney, as in England, ‘trade’ is scorned and so despite her wealth, intelligence and beauty it would seem Sophie will always be second-class by the established standards. Until that is, in order to deflect Sophie from an unsuitable love affair, she is sent to England to the home of her father’s old army friend Earl of Shillings to be coached by his cousin Miss Lily and eventually be presented at court.

In England Sophie’s world is wonderfully and gloriously opened wide as she becomes the prized ‘pupil’ of the enigmatic Miss Lily and makes new friends, is sought after by new lovers and particularly held in esteem for her wit, courage and compassion. But the glittering world of the debutante is quickly extinguished by the outbreak of war and it is here that Sophie demonstrates her real abilities and character.

As with all of Jackie’s historical novels a completely captivating and richly detailed narrative is interwoven with actual historical fact to create a mesmerising offering.  I was hooked from the very first page and would have been extremely sorry to reach the end except for the fact that I had the next volume with which to continue. How fortunate are we to have such an exceptional writer to claim as our own? The breadth of her talents seems endless.

Highly recommended for readers of around mid-teens upwards. Find teaching notes here.

The Lily and the Rose

ISBN: 9781460753590

ISBN 10: 1460753593

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

19/03/2018

RRP 29.99 AUD

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The Great War is over but that doesn’t necessarily equate to peace. Sophie Higgs is soon to come to this realisation as she re-establishes her life in Australia, taking over her late father’s business empire as an independent confident young woman. Alongside her, the circle of women who have become her ongoing support network in a society that is no longer defined by the old norms.

It is not only politics and world affairs that are clouded for Sophie. She is still torn between her love for Nigel, Earl of Shillings, the strange attraction of Dolphie the German aristocrat and in a new twist a stranger, John, who is trying to expiate his own war by carving crosses into rocks until he feels at peace.

A call for help from her old friend Hannelore sees Sophie becoming even more daring as she goes to wartorn Germany on a rescue mission from which she returns even more confused in her emotions.

Those thoughts remain until a crisis with Nigel’s health sees her racing to England via the unheard of method of flying with female pilots around the world to reach her beloved and at last the two are married with their whole future ahead of them. Or is it?

Jackie has left this tapestry with some small waving threads that will have every reader hanging out for the next instalment.  Again a superlative storyteller takes us on a magical, romantic and adventurous journey and my recommendations remain glowing for the mid-teens upwards.

 

 

Facing the Flame – #7 The Matilda Saga

ISBN: 9781460753200

ISBN 10: 1460753208

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

20/11/2017

$29.99 AUD

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I didn’t need to re-read the last in the series to be utterly enthralled by this latest right from the get-go. In fact, this was a complete binge, read in one night because it was just too good and too gripping to put down.

Jed Kelly is the happiest she has ever been. She’s married to Sam, and pregnant with their first child. Her hearth and home are a haven. Young Scarlett is doing well at uni and carving out a newly independent life.

Then cracks start to appear. The dry weather is worsening with many old-timers predicting the worst of fires ever. The man she fears most re-appears in Jed’s life, intent with malice and revenge. A young girl blinded in an accident is creating issues at the River View facility. But Gibbers Creek is one tough and tight community where there is immense support for each and every one of their whole.

When the tiny spark finally escalates into the worst imaginable fire, the community is galvanised into action and though Jed passes through a frightening and dangerous episode and one could say her baby almost has a baptism of fire, the loyalty, intuition and the indomitable spirit of old Matilda resonates through the township and surrounds.

This is a cracking story filled with rich characters both old and new and imbued with all that we hold dear about Australian love of country and mateship.

Highly recommended for readers of around 14 upwards.  If you don’t have the complete series yet, this is one worth investing in for your collection particularly for Middle/Upper school and wide reading of Australian spirit/identity.

 

Third Witch – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

      ISBN: 9780732298531

      ISBN 10: 0732298539

      Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

19/06/2017

     RRP 16.99 AUD

Macbeth has been my favourite Shakespearean play ever since studying it at school and being taken to a very atmospheric production for an excursion. Of course I knew that Shakespeare had totally fibbed about the whole thing but then he wasn’t a chronicler of history, he was a showman and storyteller. Like Jackie French I too got to play the Third Witch as a 15 year old schoolgirl but not in the actual play but a school production of Happy as Larry, which was loosely based on the original.  I don’t remember much about it except we were a screaming success (of course!) except it was directed by the divine Mr Herlinger, my English and Ancient History teacher on whom I had a huge crush. But I digress…

Annie Grasseyes’ rise from lowly village girl to friend and confidante of Lady Macbeth forms the basis of this novel. Her involvement with her mistress’ plotting and planning starts out almost innocently but as time goes by Annie is drawn deeper and deeper into a vortex of evil deeds.

With her indisputable skill Jackie weaves the story with threads from Shakespeare’s own memorable phrases and a close knowledge of everyday life in medieval England, combining these with a story of a young girl mesmerised by luxury and power.

The themes of loyalty, love, betrayal, superstition, and power reflect the original but strips it down to what it truly was – an account of greed and treachery.

At times Annie almost becomes unlikeable as she constantly (and naively) supports the wickedness of her Lady, but her uncompromising loyalty is admirable and it extends to her family, resulting in her being torn between these.

This is a beautiful rendering of the original play and will bring the beauty of Shakespeare’s language to a new audience as well as entrancing them with the simplicity with which a person can find they are embroiled in the very worst of circumstances.

Highly recommended for those readers who relish historical fiction whether they be WS lovers or not.  Suitable for ten years upwards.