Elizabeth’s Star – Rhonda Forrest

Synopsis

Book 1 – We’ll Meet Again Series

‘If you talk to the stars, I will talk back to you.’

In 1941, Queensland drover, Michael McTavish leaves behind his young daughter Gracie and joins the 2/22 AIF, his destination, Rabaul, New Guinea, a small town surrounded by impenetrable jungles and steep jagged mountains, its shores lined by tranquil bays and active volcanos.

Joanie has also arrived in New Guinea, with a chance to manage a trading store with her father, Reg, too exciting an opportunity to pass up.

As the tendrils of war creep closer to the islands north of Australia, some who call Rabaul home are given an opportunity to return to Australian shores. Others have no option but to stay. Will separation and distance affect the destiny of those who live in the path of the approaching enemy or will the power of love prevail?

Based on actual events, Elizabeth’s Star begins the story of Michael and Joanie, unfolding the lives of their families and friends while following the life of Gracie, a little girl left behind when her father went to war.

A moving tale of love, loss and separation.

An absorbing, sweeping saga that harks back to a period in Australia’s pre-World War II history that has been largely ignored. Compelling historical authenticity based on research and familial connections to this era. Maree Page-Gear

My review

Rhonda Forrest’s latest historical fiction novel ‘Elizabeth’s Star’ is nothing short of magnificent.

The story begins in Channel Country, Queensland, 1929. We first meet Michael McTavish and his family. I was drawn in right away, due to this loving family and how Michael and his brothers are are brought up with such love and care. I enjoyed reading about their lives and the work they do as drovers. The Australian landscape is depicted beautifully, in particular due to the characters’ appreciation of the land. Michael and his twin brother, Dan go to work away and their lives change forever. Their adventures lead them down different paths. Michael enlists in the war and must leave his daughter, Gracie behind in Australia.

One third of the way through the story we meet Joanie and her family in 1940, Woombye, Queensland. Joanie and her father, Reg decide to go to Rabaul, New Guinea on a father-daughter adventure/working trip. This is where the Michael and Joanie’s lives connect.

Rhonda is an author who can immerse a reader in a certain time and place in an instant. Each destination is a feast for the senses and an absolute delight. The ‘scent from the magnolia tree, laden with flowers, wafting in through the open window’ took me to Papua New Guinea with Joanie. Rhonda’s descriptions of the land and people are insightful, well researched, atmospheric and filled with cultural awareness.

Often when reading authors’ novels we learn about who they are or what they are passionate about through their writing. In Rhonda’s novels, I tend to learn something new about who she is as a person. Elizabeth’s Star, just as her other novels shows a compassionate writer who places strong value on family connection, in particular the significance of ‘Elizabeth’s Star’ in the night sky. In Elizabeth’s Star, we are told of some of Rhonda’s family history. I felt privileged to read her author’s note, learning about her beloved grandfather, James McGowen, who enlisted for service at Kelvin Grove, Brisbane and later became part of the Lark Force, ending up in Rabaul, New Britain. I was in tears reading this and felt for Rhonda and her entire family. Due to Rhonda’s personal insights, the historical events are well understood and explored in this historical fiction novel.

Another aspect that I loved about Elizabeth’s Star is the appreciation of indigenous cultures. Michael and his family appreciate the knowledge and true connection the Aboriginal people of Australia have with their land. They trust and respect them. Upon arrival to New Guinea, we see Reg and Joanie excited to learn about the Papuans who are at ‘one with their families, land and the waters’. I enjoyed reading about this vibrant culture and meeting the local people. I admire a culture where people are ‘happy and content with their homes and way of life.’

Rhonda’s characters always bring to light important issues. We see racial discrimination within the novel and how in time, multiculturalism is acknowledged. Joanie is a strong female character who speaks her mind. Upon arrival and noticing the divide between the Papuans and English speaking community, she states ‘there’s no way I’m going to treat anyone differently’ and proceeds to ensure everyone is welcome in their store.

The characters in the novel have a strong bond with one another, which is another reason why Rhonda’s novels are truly heartwarming. At a horrific time, pre World War II, we see such kindness and love between the main characters.

This is a story that had to be told! This is a time and event in war history that many have no knowledge of and yet through Elizabeth’s Star, here we are learning about it. I could feel the author’s personal connection with the historical events as I read the novel. Elizabeth’s Star is sincere and heartfelt. I can’t wait for Book 2!

Thank you Rhonda for sending me your beautiful novel.

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