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“Chocolate Soldier. The Story of a Conchie” by Hazel Barker


Review by Abigail Cobley.

This book is a true testament to his courage and convictions and I highly recommend it!

Too little is known about conscientious objectors’ roles in the Second World War and Hazel Barker does a terrific job of bringing the story of Clarence Dover to our eyes. To stand in front of a judge at the tender age of 20 in the midst of war and tell him that you will not fight is such a courageous decision. Clarence did so, and by joining the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, he went on to risk his life stretcher-bearing in the London Blitz. After this, he travelled to India and China where he helped transport medical supplies.

This book is a true testament to his courage and convictions and I highly recommend it!

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Review of Heaven Tempers the Wind

Hazel Barker was a four-year-old living in Rangoon when the Japanese invaded in 1941. Until that time her father worked for the British establishment and the family was relatively well-to-do, but that all changed on Hazel’s birthday with the onset of bombing, causing the family to flee to Mandalay, then north again, until the invading Japanese army caught up with them. For the next four years the family’s fight for survival became ever-more desperate as the family savings dwindled to almost nothing and they were forced to live on the charity of relatives in the area of Mandalay.

The background of Hazel’s family is told incrementally; an Anglo-Indian mother, Burmese father, her two elder brothers, Rupert and Bertie, her elder sister, Jane, and the infants Rose and mentally-handicapped Herman. We are told of the tribulations suffered by her mother at the hands of her father who could be violent, and who, as the years progressed, became ever more isolated from his kin. This is doubly confronting when money is spent on liquor while the rest of the family are starving.

We learn of the bravery of Hazel’s brothers in the face of the enemy, of religious conflict between a Christian mother and her children pitted against a Muslim father and his relatives, of beriberi that afflicted all the children, of malaria that nearly claimed the life of her brother, Rupert, and of the death of her sister, Jane, following a vaccination given by the Japanese.

Adding to the story are insights gleaned from Hazel’s research into the war in Burma and from interviews with others who witnessed the invasion, or were involved in military action against the Japanese.

This is a compelling tale of courage, love and endurance, told largely from the perspective of a child. The book passes the critical test of compelling the reader to keep turning the page. After the Japanese were forced out of Burma Hazel’s father regains employment with the British and the family is required to return to Rangoon from the relative comfort of Mandalay. But at the close of the book the living conditions are desolate and only a sense of duty, or powerlessness, binds mother to father. What becomes of Hazel’s parents and siblings? How did she come to end up in Australia? This is all revealed in her next book, yet to be read by me. I look forward to it.

Review by Martin Line, retired academic and author of several publications in various disciplines.heaven tempers the wind cover

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Chocolate Soldier. The Story of a Conchie by Hazel Barker

chocolatesoldieresHazel’s debut novel Chocolate Soldier will be released by Rhiza Press in October, 2016. Book One of her memoirs Heaven Tempers the Wind was released by Armour Books this month. Both books are set during World War Two – the former in England and the Far East; the latter  in Burma.

Hazel Barker lives in Brisbane with her husband Colin. She taught in Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for over a quarter of a century and now devotes her time to reading, writing and bushwalking. From her early years in Burma, her passion for books drew her to authors like Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. Her love for historical novels sprang from Scott, and the love of literary novels, from Dickens. Many of her short stories and book reviews have been published in magazines and anthologies.

Adults, especially those interested in history of World War Two, those with a strong stance on involvement in war versus conscientious objections, would be inspired by this book. There is a faith/beliefs struggle which some may identify with or be inspired.

‘Historical facts taken from diaries of a real person going through the trauma of war make this compelling and very impactful. Interesting historical and cultural information about Britain in war as well as aspects of war from Egypt, India and China. Captures the internal battle of a conscientious objector in war: the prejudice he faced as well as the questioning of his beliefs.’ CALEB unpublished Fiction Manuscript Report 12/4/2012



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The Brave Men who recaptured Burma

Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child by Hazel Barker will appeal to both sexes. Lovers of war stories will be interested in learning of the American Volunteer Group, the Chindits and Merrill’s Mauraders. In the next few days I’ll be writing a few notes on these brave men who helped re-capture Burma from the Japanese in 1945.

The American Volunteer Group was officially employed by a private military contractor, the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company. Although called a volunteer group, they were the highest paid combat fliers, their monthly salary being no less than $600, while pilots in the American Armed services were receiving no more than $170 per month. Besides their monthly salary, pilots received $600 for every Japanese plane shot down. The 1st and 2nd squadrons were assigned to both ends of the Burma Road, and based at Kunming, in China. The 3rd squadron was based at Mingaladon airport, a few miles out of Rangoon. AVG fighter planes were painted with a large shark on the front. The pilots were the only Allied pilots trained in Japanese combat tactics. They fought against odds of more than five zeros to one P40. During the first two raids over Rangoon, on 23 and 25 December 1941, the AVG had only 14 planes at Mingaladon, but they shot down 36 Japanese planes with a loss of only two AVG fliers.

Between 23 December 1941 and the beginning of March 1942, they flew the oldest model P40, the Tomahawk, shooting down well over a hundred Japanese planes.IMG_1699

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Writing Memoirs

Writing Memoirs by Kathy Stewart

Author’s Blurb Learn how to find your ancestor, build a family tree, do a family search and leave a legacy of your life for your descendants via a well-written and interesting life story. Learn the craft of writing plus useful tips on how to writ a family history that is both compelling and entertaining from editor, Kathy Stewart, who has worked on memoirs and autobiographies since 2004.

Review by Hazel Barker

Writing Memoirs illustrates the researching process, and points out the pitfalls to avoid. The author shows how to begin writing, explains the pros and cons of each point of view, and guides the reader through the writing process until they finish with a polished memoir.

Each chapter ends with writing exercises to prepare one before commencing to write. The book is thoroughly researched, and covers every aspect of the subject.

Had I read Writing Memoirs before embarking on my memoir, Heaven Tempers the Wind, it would have saved me endless time and worry. I recommend this treasure-trove by Kathy Stewart to all would-be memoir writers.


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Mark of the Leopard by Kathy Stewart, Authors’ Ally, 2015

Mark of the Leopard by Kathy Stewart, Authors’ Ally, 2015

Author’s Blurb

From the author of Chameleon comes this historical fiction novel, Mark of the Leopard, the second in the African history series, a story of romance, mystery, danger and betrayal set against a backdrop of wild lands and raging seas.

In 1703 Sabrina Barrington and her children are shipwrecked and presumed drowned off the Cape of Good Hope, the site of the present-day city of Cape Town. Fourteen years later, an investigator tells Sabrina’s brother, Lucien Castle, that one of his sister’s children has been seen on the island of Madagascar, off Africa’s east coast. It is imperative to return the youngster to England before his twenty-fifth birthday, otherwise his grandfather, the corrupt and detested Robert Barrington, will usurp his rightful inheritance. Castle is the only one who can confirm the young man is not an impostor. In order to do this he must leave the comfort of Amsterdam in Holland and embark on a journey into the unknown.

Will Castle be able to overcome his demons and find his nephew in time? Or will he succumb to the perils that beset his epic expedition every step of the way?

In a voyage that takes them from the untamed island of Madagascar to the storm-tossed Dutch outpost at the Cape of Good Hope, Castle and his companion must face innumerable dangers and battle not only rival investigators but also each other.

Review by Hazel Barker

Mark of the Leopard by Kathy Stewart is a fast-moving story that is difficult to put down. It is a novel rich in history and laden with suspense. The author has clearly done extensive research and woven it seamlessly into the novel. She uses her skills as an historian to write a gripping yarn.

The characters, and in particular, Lucien Castle, who goes in search of his nephew, Tom Barrington, spring from the page. A sense of guilt regarding his wife and children, stirs Lucien to help his sister’s son. He fears the sea and faces his fear time and time again, in order to save the boy.

Kathy Stewart is a versatile writer and is the author of children’s books as well as several books of non-fiction.

Mark of the Leopard is her second novel. Her debut novel, Chameleon was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award in 2010.



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Live Peace by Margaret Reeson


Live Peace: Joy Balazo and Young Ambassadors for Peace by Margaret Reeson

(Acorn Press, 2015)

Author’s Blurb

As an experienced worker for human rights in the Asia-Pacific region, Joy Balazo was troubled by the many examples of conflict she was observing. In 2001, she devised a practical model of workshops and networks to sow ‘seeds of peace’ among young people living on opposite sides of conflict. This was named Young Ambassadors for Peace. Joy has used this model in many context As an experienced worker for human rights in the Asia-Pacific region, Joy Balazo was troubled by the many examples of conflict she was observing. In 2001, she devised a practical model of workshops and networks to sow ‘seeds of peace’ among young people living on opposite sides of conflict. This was named Young Ambassadors for Peace. Joy has used this model in many contexts, including Asian cities and Pacific islands, to help hundreds of people work for peace in their own broken communities.

Review by Hazel Barker

Live Peace by Margaret Reeson, is an excellent account of Joy Balazo and her attempts to foster peace by establishing the Young Ambassadors for Peace Programme. Her work in Papua New Guinea is the start of her journey to improve co-operation between churches and to bring about reconciliation between the opposing factions within the country. (Page 72)

The simple tactics used in the workshops surprised me, and the success, unexpected. It was backed, however, by those behind the scenes, and above all, by the grace of God. (Page 106)

The lessons learned by the work are to be commended, but the protagonist’s actions, although praise-worthy, were repetitive and not conducive to enticing the reader to read on. I think this is mostly because the writing style is not consistent. Had the story remained in the Active Voice, like that on pages 74, 77, 90 and 91, the book would have more appeal to a wider audience.

Despite this, I recommend Live Peace for its valuable content, and for introducing readers to the extraordinary life of a brave soul.


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Review of Surfacing, 2015

SurfacingAuthor’s Blurb

Isobel’s life has changed. All but destroyed one sunshiny day; just like that, when she wasn’t looking. She needs to wake up and realise that unless she starts swimming, the waters might close completely over her head.

Review by Hazel Barker

Surfacing is the third and last of the Distance series, and is by far, the best of the three books, where the protagonist, Isobel, grows from a weak, whinging woman to a strong leading character.

The author makes good use of metaphors and similes, making the book a pleasure to read. She also draws the reader deep into Isobel’s mind, and deeply entwines characters and setting. The story opens with a hook, but slows down in the next few chapters. The pace quickens about half-way, until reaching a satisfactory climax.

I recommend Surfacing even if you haven’t read the two prequels, although you will enjoy the contents much more if you start with the previous two books in the Distance series.


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Review of Old Sins Cast Long Shadows


Old Sins Cast Long Shadows by Frances Bodley, 2015.

Author’s Blurb

To take another’s life is a heinous crime. When it happens in a small village and destroys its tranquil lifestyle the inhabitants rightly feel deep anger. A young woman’s body is found in Smugglers Wood. The annual country festival is about to begin and the Writers’ Competition judge is a senior police officer and successful crime writer from London. He arrives in the seemingly peaceful village but behind closed doors are the smugglers and drug dealers….

Review by Hazel Barker

Old Sins Cast Long Shadows is a cleverly crafted crime fiction novel with a compelling opening which draws the reader in. The author does a solid job with setting, pacing and plotting. Family secrets hover like shadows of the story. The sense of menace runs through the chapters and keeps the tension humming through the writing. Filled with mystery and intrigue, the reader is driven to turn page after page until the end.

The book has a lively cast of characters, each possessing its own voice and characteristics.

The lack of thorough editing, however, distracts from the reading. The editing has let the author down, but the story is good. I would not fail to recommend Old Sins Cast Long Shadows to all those who love a good mystery, if this is remedied.

I would like to thank the author for sending me an advanced copy, and look forward to the publication of its sequel.



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Review of After Darkness by Christine Piper

After Darkness by Christine Piper
Author’s Blurb
It is early 1942 and Australia is in the midst of war.
While working at a Japanese hospital in the pearling port of Broome, Dr Ibaraki is arrested as an enemy alien and sent to Loveday internment camp in a remote corner of South Australia. There, he learns to live among a group of men divided by culture and allegiance.

As tensions at the isolated camp escalate, the doctor’s long-held beliefs are thrown into question and he is forced to confront his dark past: the promise he made in Japan and its devastating consequences.
Review by Hazel Barker
After Darkness by Christine Piper is a story of conflicting loyalties and an emotion-packed novel of grief and guilt, where secrets hover like shadows over the book.
The protagonist’s actions display his inner sensibilities. This was first brought to my attention on page 45 when Dr Ibaraki hears of Japan’s bombing of Broome, while in an internment camp. He worries over his Australian friends back there. Surely they would have evacuated. The uncertainty made me feel sick, he thinks, glad for the pocket of darkness that hid his tears.
When Ibaraki worked in a laboratory in Japan, he was haunted by images of blistered skin and a child’s black fingers – the results of Japanese experiments on the Manchurians.
The author’s terse prose is honest and compelling. Chevalier describes the methods used by the Japanese in their tests on humans, and specimens are brought the Japan in jars. The description of the severed head of a human experimented upon is particularly gruesome but it depicts the evil of biological warfare.
The protagonist says, ‘I felt stained by my association with the laboratory.’ He longs to explain his actions and reveal his work to his wife but refuses to break his pledge of secrecy and continues his loyalty to his Emperor, with dire consequences.
Poignant scenes are scattered throughout the book. The theme of empathy for human sufferings and the desire to help those in need is prevalent in the book, which has been thoroughly researched.
I particularly enjoyed After Darkness because as a young child during the Japanese occupation of Burma I also suffered from their experiments on the population. I recommend this book as an eye-opener on the horrors of war – especially germ warfare.

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