Tag Archives: Victorian England

People of Abandoned Character – Clare Whitfield

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Harper Collins Australia

December 2020

  • ISBN: 9781838932749
  • ISBN 10: 1838932747
  • Imprint: Head of Zeus – GB
  • List Price: 32.99 AUD

Imagine the man you married was a murderer, in fact, one of the most infamous murderers in history. Susannah Chapman fears she is married to the monster who came to be known as Jack the Ripper.

Step into Victorian London where the wealthy and outwardly respectable live cheek-by-jowl with the dregs of society, each with their own sordid secrets: drugs, alcohol, violence, homosexuality, sexual perversions and cruelty. Sometimes the most dangerous are those who appear to be the most refined.

Born illegitimate to a mother not long out of childhood herself, Susannah becomes an orphan at five years old when her mother is brutally killed by one of her customers. Raised by grandparents the girl has always been a little different. Her kindly grandfather appreciates her more unusual nature but her strict grandmother despairs of her and is continually frustrated in her attempts to subdue what she sees as a wayward child. When her grandfather dies, Susannah assumes the role of carer for her ailing grandmother and dreams of a time when she will be free to make her own way in the world. Eventually that time arrives as Susannah nears thirty and she takes up training as a nurse at the London Hospital. Finally she feels she has achieved some independence and self-worth and with her closest friend, Aisling, makes a pretty fair nurse at a time when that profession is just beginning the transformation into the one we know today. When Aisling is killed by a violent drunk Susannah is devastated and begins to doubt her direction in life. But then she catches the eye of handsome young surgeon, Thomas Lancaster.

After a whirlwind romance, the pair are married but within weeks of their passionate honeymoon, cracks begin to appear feeding Susannah’s doubts about her own worth. Thomas is cruel and violent, capricious and erratic and as the weeks turn into months, his behaviour becomes more and more unpredictable. The newspapers are filled with lurid reports of the shocking murders of Whitechapel prostitutes and Susannah’s preoccupation with the details of these bring her to a strong suspicion that her husband could well be the violent perpetrator being sought by the police.

As the narrative proceeds the reader turns to first one and then another character, each of them with dark secrets, with growing unease while poor Susannah becomes more and more isolated and frightened for her own safety. Clare Whitfield has created in this, her debut novel, a marvellously wrought historical novel which swiftly becomes not just a murder mystery but a thriller with plot twists that are both unexpected and astonishing. It’s a page-turner of extraordinary depths – dare I say – a ripping yarn though not for the faint-hearted. There is liberal strong language and graphic bloody violence but a great read with a denouement that will make you gasp.

I would highly recommend it for anyone who loves a terrific suspenseful novel.

The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle – Pamela Rushby

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Walker Books Australia

July 2020

Illustrated by Nelle May Pierce

ISBN: 9781760651930
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

When I mentioned that I was reading this Pamela Rushby commented that she had written the sort of book she would have liked to read when she was eleven. She’s also written the sort of book that I would have liked to read when I was eleven! I’ve mentioned here before my somewhat non-fiction nerdiness as a child and reading about ancient civilisations, particularly Egypt, was one of my ongoing passions – so much so that I kept my (much older) brother’s ancient history textbooks when he finished school (and still have a couple of them) and often requested such titles from my mother who loved to buy me books.

This delicious story is really historical fiction doubled as it is set in Victorian times when the fascination with Egyptology was at it’s zenith. Young orphan Hattie/Hatshepsut Lambton has led a lonely life in the care of an always absent guardian uncle and when he is regrettably eaten by a crocodile she is sent to her great-uncle and great-aunt, relatives she’s never known before, who live in a very peculiar and ramshackle old castle. Hattie finds herself within a loving family circle at last with some quirky strangeness which young readers will find absolutely entrancing.

Of course there would be no adventure without some dark deeds and the Ravens, brother and sister, who are assistants to her great-aunt (who specialises in mummy unwrappings for fashionable society parties) are clearly up to no good.

Hattie is intrigued by her relatives’ passion for and knowledge of the ancient Egyptians but finds herself increasingly distressed by the whole concept of destroying the mummies. When the Egyptian authorities ban the export of ancient artefacts Hattie thinks perhaps the whole mummy unwrapping might come to a natural end but the Ravens are determined to keep Great-Aunt Iphigenia undertaking her career, as it serves their nefarious financial ends well.

An expedition to Egypt itself in search of mummies to smuggle is a revelation to Hattie and she encounters many new experiences and unexpected friends and allies.

Pamela Rushby has created a wonderful adventure weaving many fascinating facts about both these historical periods with characters both intriguing and likable as well as those repellent and villainous. The touch of fantasy throughout is a bonus which will appeal to all young readers who will long to meet the mysterious Sekhmet and her lively kittens (resident housekeepers at Crumblin Castle) for themselves and they will enthusiastically embrace Hattie’s determination to protect her new-found family.

This is an absolutely super story which blends fantasy and fact beautifully. The publishers recommend it for 8 years upwards. I am going to keep it in my secondary library where I know I will have many Year 7 and 8 readers who will love it. It will certainly feature in my next book promotions to these students as well as my book club kiddos.

Highly recommended for avid readers from around middle primary upwards.

Classroom activities available here