Book Review The Cowra Breakout

The Cowra Breakout by Mat McLachlan

Summary

The riveting story of the missing piece of Australia’s World War II history, told by bestselling historian Mat McLachlan (Walking with the AnzacsGallipoli: The Battlefield Guide).

During World War II, in the town of Cowra in central New South Wales, Japanese prisoners of war were held in a POW camp. By August 1944, over a thousand were interned and on the icy night of August 5th they staged one of the largest prison breakouts in history, launching the only land battle of World War II to be fought on Australian soil. Five Australian soldiers and more than 230 Japanese POWs would die during what became known as The Cowra Breakout.

This compelling and fascinating book, written by one of Australia’s leading battlefield historians, vividly traces the full story of the Breakout. It is a tale of proud warriors and misfit Australian soldiers. Of negligence and complacency, and of authorities too slow to recognise danger before it occurred – and too quick to cover it up when it was too late. But mostly it is a story about raw human emotions, and the extremes that people will go to when they feel all hope is lost.

Comments

This book was enjoyed by our readers, with many adding that they were surprised by how much they did enjoy this book.

We found the book to be extremely well researched by the author. With this very factual research the author has then developed a highly detailed and very readable novel about an interesting episode in Australian war history.

The writer was able to take us to this period in time by well researched real personal accounts starting with Japanese Zero fighter pilot Tatsumi Hanada, Australia’s first prisoner of war, shot down over Melville Island following the first Japanese attack on Darwin.

We found it to be a most enjoyable read about the homeland history of Australian soldiers in WW2.

The book also prompted a reflective discussion about how the Japanese prisoners of war were treated by the Australian captors as opposed to how Australian and allied forces along with civilian expats who were captured were treated by the Japanese forces. The Japanese culturally having a completely different attitude to what it meant to be a POW. It was an interesting fact in the book that many Japanese prisoners used false names to conceal from their families in Japan that they were POW’s. Their complete personal shame at being a prisoner, they would rather die in a mass escape than return home after the war to be known as a POW. The Australians treating them well as prisoners only seemed to make them resent their situation more.

This story also gives real recognition to the Australian soldiers who died during this escape and a detailed account of what these soldiers faced on that night in 1944, the night of the breakout.

The cover up following from the Australian authorities, just like the cover up of the bombing of Darwin, evokes hurt and resentment to this day from Australian soldiers and citizens.

As a group we all confessed that we had very little knowledge at all about the Cowra breakout although most of us had heard of the breakout. This bought about a discussion of many other historically important and impressive episodes in Australia’s war history that are not taught in school history as far as we know.

The cover up following from the Australian authorities, just like the cover up of the bombing of Darwin, evokes hurt and resentment to this day from Australian citizens.

A lengthy discussion also followed about Australians’ personal attitudes toward the Japanese after the war. How attitudes have changed over time. Our own grandparents and parents, who lived through this period, had such a different attitude to the Japanese compared to our own generation and that of the current younger generations.

This was a read that we are happy to recommend.

Read by MJ Readers

Book Club Book Reviews June 2023

The Liars by Petronella McGovern

Summary

A wife burning with resentment. A husband hiding the past. Their teenage daughter crusading for the truth. Who can we trust?

The close-knit community of Kinton Bay is shocked when fifteen-year-old Siena Britton makes a grisly discovery near a cave in the national park. Siena believes it’s a skull from the town’s violent colonial past and posts a video which hits the news headlines.

But her parents, Meri and Rollo, think the skull is related to their teenage parties in the Killing Cave back in the 1990s. And a school mate who went missing then.

None of them foresees the dangers that the discovery will create for their family. The dangers of past deceits, silences and lies that have never been resolved.

Comments

Set in a small country town on the coast of New South Wales after Covid 19, this is a story which revolves around the cases of three missing people from the 1990s.

When a skull is discovered, lives and lies begin to unravel; and events spiral out of control, especially in the Britton family around whom the story is focussed. This small community has been keeping secrets for many years and some in the community are haunted by their memories.

Only a few of our group read the whole story, having found the beginning very uninspiring. It was easy to read but ‘ordinary’ and ‘underwhelming’ was the group verdict; we felt that it would be better suited as a young adult read.

4/10 Read by Dundas Readers


Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Summary

Welcome to Bascom, North Carolina, where it seems that everyone has a story to tell about the Waverley women. The house that’s been in the family for generations, the walled garden that mysteriously blooms year round, the rumours of dangerous loves and tragic passions.

Every Waverley woman is somehow touched by magic. Claire has always clung to the Waverleys’ roots,  tending the enchanted soil in the family garden from which she makes her sought-after delicacies – famed and feared for their curious effects. She has everything she thinks she needs – until one day she waked to find a stranger has moved in next door and a vine of ivy has crept into her garden…

Claire’s carefully tended life is about to run gloriously out of control.

Comments

Our group quite enjoyed this easy to read, fanciful story of a family of women with ‘magical’ gifts and an enchanted, backyard apple tree. It did remind us of a Hallmark movie and could imagine it also as a miniseries, even perhaps more suited to the young adult genre. There were some aspects of realism and conflict. We enjoyed the references to the language of flowers, the positivity of the environment as a healer and the hope and support that the women provided each other. The character of Evanelle was our favourite. She was eccentric, loving, somewhat ageless but a wise elder. The ending was predictable but satisfying.

Read by MJ Readers

Must Read Popular Fiction Titles

Are you looking for the perfect book to curl up with as the weather gets cooler?

If you answered yes, then City of Parramatta Libraries has just what you need! Multiple copies of popular new in demand titles, including tiles coming soon! Choose from thrillers, the latest in Australian fiction, feel-good romance, fantasy and much much more!

Place a Hold or pick up a copy today!

Happy Reading!

Book Review The Thursday Murder Club

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Summary

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

Comments

We all enjoyed this highly implausible but engaging romp set in a retirement village in England. We felt that it was a fresh, authentic take on a murder mystery story where elderly characters were created with respect and dignity. There was a sense of community and commonality despite each main character coming from disparate backgrounds, each bringing a skill and perspective that allowed them to work cooperatively together. At the heart of the story is Elizabeth, a former spy, who manages the group’s investigation while Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim ably support her. Each character is interesting and sympathetically portrayed with a plot that keeps you guessing. We look forward to reading more books in this series.

Read by MJ Readers

Book Review Lessons In Chemistry

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Summary

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing.

But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute take a very unscientific view of equality. Forced to resign, she reluctantly signs on as the host of a cooking show, Supper at Six. But her revolutionary approach to cooking, fuelled by scientific and rational commentary, grabs the attention of a nation.

Soon, a legion of overlooked housewives find themselves daring to change the status quo. One molecule at a time.

Comments

Lessons in Chemistry is the story of Elizabeth Zott, a chemist in the 1960s, trapped by her gender in a male dominated industry. She unwittingly finds herself the star of a TV cookery show.

Our book club thoroughly enjoyed this book. Some felt it was like a modern fairy tale but found it fresh with many interwoven layers. The themes of education, discrimination, relationships, love, loss, motherhood, science and protection are some of the complexities in Elizabeth’s life but it is a hopeful story.

Every character has a voice, even the dog, adding humour and a depth of understanding of human nature and how people cope with what they have been dealt with in life. A satisfying, absorbing read that we are happy to recommend.

Read by MJ Readers