What Katie Read – The Double Edition! (by award-winning author Kate Forsyth)

One of Australia’s favourite novelists Kate Forsyth, author of Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl, continues her monthly blog with us, giving her verdict on the books she’s been reading.


Kate Forsyth: The last few months have been insanely busy for me, with all sorts of deadlines whizzing past my ears as a consequence of having four books with three different publishers coming out this year, as well as a hectic touring schedule. As a result, my usual rate of reading has been much slowed as I spent most evenings writing instead. Nonetheless, I managed quite a few books in February and March, including two absolutely brilliant books which made me lime-green with jealousy at the writers’ talent. YOU MUST READ THESE BOOKS!


9780006479888A Game of Thrones: A Song of Fire & Ice
by George R. R. Martin

I feel as if I must be the last person in the world to read A Game of Thrones. And I love fantasy fiction! I think I decided some years ago to wait till the whole series was out before I began to read it … but of course, it still isn’t finished.

So I decided I really should be more in step with my times and so I limbered up my arm muscles and picked up the first book in the series.

What did I think? I really enjoyed it. The world building is unusually deep and vivid, and the story is full of surprises. Although it’s a big book, with a lot of characters, I didn’t feel the pace dragged. I loved the dire-wolves and the child protagonists, and I loved the political intrigue. I’ll go on and read Book 2, and I may even watch the TV series …

Click here for more details about A Game of Thrones: A Song of Fire & Ice


A Dreadful Murder9781743317006
by Minette Walters

This book is published as a ‘Quick Read’, which describes it very well. The book is only 122 pages long and that’s with nice, big font size. It really is a novella, but it was perfect size to be read in a single setting which was something I wanted after plowing through A Game of Thrones night after night.
The book is based on the true story of the murder of Caroline Luard, which took place in Kent in August 1908. Her body was found dead in broad daylight in the grounds of the large country estate in which she lived with her husband. It does not take long for the village to begin accusing her husband of the murder and eventually he committed suicide, unable to live under the cloud of suspicion.
Minette Walters retells the story in simple and concise language, postulating another theory as to the identity of the murderer. Her conclusions feel right to me, and I can’t help feeling sorry for Mr Luard.

Click here for more details about A Dreadful Murder


9780425233085Revealed
by Kate Noble

I really enjoyed Let it Be Me, a fresh and sparkling Regency romance by Kate Noble, and so thought I’d try another by the same author. Revealed is not quite as wonderful as Let it Be Me, but it was amusing and charming and the romance was really quite sweet. I was not overly fond of the heroine when the book began because she was so perfect – beautiful, rich, with exquisite taste – blah, blah, blah. But she did grow new depths as the story continued and became much less of a spoiled princess. And I loved the spy sub-plot. I always think a romance is improved with a little murder, mayhem, or intrigue thrown into the mix.

Click here for more details about Revealed


Night9780141038995
by Elie Wiesel

This slender book is Elie Wiesel’s harrowing account of his teenage years, spent in Auschwitz. It is told very simply and bleakly, without much description or dialogue, as if spoken to someone quietly listening. This makes it feel very pure and real, though sometimes the effect is one of emotional numbness which is, in its way, even more heart-wrenching. Wiesel describes the taking away of his mother and little sister to the gas chambers, his struggle to survive and to look after his father, and his own loss of faith in God and humanity with the same clear and unfettered honesty. I ended the book with such a lump in my throat I could scarcely draw a breath. A profoundly moving book, and one that everyone should read. My edition came with Wiesel’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize:
“And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of universe.”

It made me want to speak out for all the injustices I see in the world and ashamed of myself for not doing so.

Click here for more details about Night


9781472200341The Ocean At the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman

I have never really got the Neil-Gaiman-as-literary-god thing. I’ve read quite a lot of his books and enjoyed them all, particularly Stardust. I really liked The Graveyard Book too, and thought it had some lovely writing in it. But he didn’t give me goosebumps. He didn’t make me prickle all over with awe and amazement. He didn’t bring that lump into my throat and that prickle of tears into my eyes, which is how I always know if a book is truly great.
Well, now he has. The Ocean At the End of the Lane is a truly great book. It’s full of Big Ideas, yet is still a compulsively readable story. In a way, it’s very hard to categorise. It’s neither a book for adults or for children, but a book that can be read by both. In fact, I can see it being one of those touchstone books, that a child reads and loves, and returns to again and again as an adult and finding ever new things in it. Yet it is such a slim book. Like the pond at the end of the lane, that is really an ocean that contains within it the whole universe, this book is brimming over mystery, magic, and wisdom. I am awed and amazed, and so, so jealous of Neil Gaiman’s talent. This is a book I wish I could write.

Click here for more details about The Ocean At the End of the Lane


A Wrinkle in Timeprod978031236754
by Madeleine L’ Engle

Reading Nail Gaiman’s utterly brilliant novel The Ocean At the End of the Lane reminded me of a book I had loved as a teenager but had not read again in years - A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Éngle. So I dug out my tattered old paperback (this is why I never get rid of books – so I can put my hand on a book whenever I want it) and read it again for the first time in many years. First published in 1962, A Wrinkle in Time is older than I am but it has survived the years remarkably well. It too is a novel full of Big Ideas expressed through a very readable story, with a beguiling mixture of humour and horror, philosophy and fantasy. It is a very different book from Neil Gaiman’s but both have a trio of three women who seem very ordinary on the outside but are indeed both mysterious and powerful. I’m really glad I read it again and I have gone and put both books on my teenage son’s bedside table.

Click here for more details about A Wrinkle in Time


9781742612454The Caller
by Juliet Marillier

This is the third and last book in Juliet Marillier’s gorgeous YA fantasy Shadowfell trilogy. I have really enjoyed these books, which are, as always with Juliet’s books, filled with wit, warmth and wisdom. You must read them in order – Shadowfell, Raven Flight, then The Caller – as the books tell the story of the continuing adventures of Neryn and her journey to understand and control her magical talents as a Caller. Set in a land very much like ancient Scotland, with all manner of extraordinary faery creatures, the Shadowfell books weave together history, fantasy, folklore and ancient wisdoms to create a beautiful and powerful story. These books are a perfect read for a dreamy, romantic teenage girl – I love them now but oh! How I would have loved them when I was fifteen.

Click here for more details about The Caller


Dance on the Volcano: A Teenage Girl in Nazi Germany 9781609101145
by Renata Zerner

Children of Terror
by Inge Auerbacher & Bozenna Urbanowicz Gilbride

As part of my research for a novel I am writing that is set in Nazi Germany, I am reading a great many memoirs of people who lived during those terrible times. Although neither of these memoirs has the poetic intensity of Elie Wiesel’s heart-wrenching Night, they are nonetheless poignant and distressing, particularly Children of Terror which is written by two concentration camp survivors. It seems impossible that such things can have happened. Yet they did. It’s so important that we read these stories and make sure that such atrocities can never happen again.

Click here for more details about Dance on the Volcano: A Teenage Girl in Nazi Germany


9781477817445True to the Highlander
by Barbara Longley

After reading a few emotionally harrowing books, I felt in desperate need of some light romance. True to the Highlander was perfect. Utterly predictable, but done with flair and humour, and I always love a medieval Scottish Highlands setting.

Click here for more details about True to the Highlander


The Paris Affair 9780758283931
by Teresa Grant

Teresa Grant has written a series of historical mystery novels set during and just after the Napoleonic Wars. Her French heroine Suzanne is married to an English attaché and spy, and together they negotiate their way through murder, intrigue and passion. The stories are always a little slow, but the historical detail is spot-on and the interaction between the characters and their slowly unfolding relationships makes up for it.

Click here for more details about The Paris Affair


the-fault-in-our-stars-film-tie-in-edition-The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

I have had this book on my shelf for over a year now and have been avoiding reading it because I knew it was going to be a harrowing read. And it is! However, it is also utterly brilliant. It deserves every bit of praise it has garnered. I urge you all: READ IT! Another book which I am insanely jealous about and wish that I could have written.

Click here for more details about The Fault in Our Stars


Cart & Cwidder
by Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite writers from my childhood and Cart & Cwidder is one of my favourite of her books, and so it was the one I chose to re-read for DWJ-month in the blogosphere – a global celebration of her books and writing. This is the story of a family of musical travellers in a world divided between North and South, and has DWJ’s trademark mix of the ordinary and the magical. A truly delightful children’s fantasy.

 

 


Kate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than twenty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both children and adults. She was recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite Novelists, coming in atKate FNo 16. She has been called one of ‘the finest writers of this generation”, and “quite possibly … one of the best story tellers of our modern age.’

Click here to see Kate’s author page

REVIEW: Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 by Max Hastings (Review by Justin Cahill)

28 June 2014 marks the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife, Sophie, at Sarejevo. The conflict it spawned destroyed four empires, brought two of my great-grandfathers to the trenches strung out along the Western front and one of my great-granduncles to Gallipoli.

A library of books already exists documenting every facet of the conflict. The coming anniversary has inspired many more. Can there be anything left to say? Max Hastings shows us there is still much to learn about the outbreak of World War I; that “war to end war.”

Hastings offers three important lessons. The first is on causation. For far too long, the standard accounts of the War’s origins have been dominated by the assumption that Europe’s great powers blundered into conflict. Hastings shows that each made a series of calculated decisions that they knew would lead to war. Nor did they underestimate its extent.

The second is on sources. Most accounts of the War are dominated by the views of monarchs, presidents, prime ministers, generals and diplomats. The voices of ordinary people are rarely heard. Hastings redresses this imbalance, including an impressive range of quotes for their letters and journals in his account.

Sir Max Hastings

Max Hastings

Hasting’s third lesson is about guilt. He makes it abundantly clear that Germany and Austria-Hungry were to blame for the escalation of international tensions after the Archduke was killed and the eventual outbreak of hostilities. And therein lies Hasting’s unspoken fourth lesson.

After the War, Germany was forced to accept guilt for the losses its aggression caused the Allies. It agreed to pay them reparations of US$63 billion (about US$768 billion in 2010, the year the last instalment was paid).

Germany was promptly torn apart by civil war. By the 1920s its economy was crippled by hyperinflation; the Depression wiped out what remained. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs, savings and homes. Who could lead Germany out of the darkness? Cue the rise of Adolf Hitler, already undergoing his metamorphosis from Viennese derelict to genocidal psychopath.

The rest is not quite history. We still live with the War’s ultimate results; all arguably caused by two gunshots one sunny day in Sarajevo. Hasting’s book is a timely reminder the past is never that far away. And it always has something more to tell.

Grab a copy of Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 here


Justin Cahill is an historian and solicitor, his university thesis being on the negotiations between the British and Chinese governments over the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

His current projects include completing the first history of European settlement in Australia and New Zealand told from the perspective of ordinary people.

He is a regular contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Heckler’ column.

Who wrote The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August?

It’s the question on everyone’s lips. Who wrote The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August? Already being spoken about as one of the books of the year, with Booktopia’s John Purcell calling it ‘fascinating’ and ‘a real page turner’, the greatest question is who could have written it?

On the book itself Claire North is described as “an acclaimed author who has previously published several novels”. Our investigations, listening in to the literary grapevine, indicate it is a UK writer, likely a woman, and one who would usually write a completely different genre to the sci-fi tinged The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

UK newspaper The Independent recently did some sleuthing and was informed that Ms North’s identity will be revealed in two weeks, with an announcement on 22 April. Fingers crossed it happens!

Grab a copy of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August here

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

by Claire North

The extraordinary journey of one unforgettable character – a story of friendship and betrayal, loyalty and redemption, love and loneliness and the inevitable march of time

Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

Every time Harry dies, he is reborn in exactly the same time and place, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, and nothing ever changes. He only knows that there are others like him, living with, but apart, from the rest of us.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. ‘I nearly missed you, Doctor August,’ she says. ‘I need to send a message. It has come down from child to adult, child to adult, passed back through generations from a thousand years forward in time. The message is that the world is ending, and we cannot prevent it. So now it’s up to you.’

This is the story of what Harry August does next – and what he did before – and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

About the Author

Claire North is a pseudonym for an acclaimed British author who has previously published several novels. This book is completely different from any of them.

Grab a copy of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August here

 

REVIEW: A Million Ways to Die in the West by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy and Ted (Review by Elizabeth Earl)

To start with, this was not what I expected. The name Seth MacFarlane brings to mind surreal, boundary-breaking, explicit, black humour. It’s the stuff you know you really shouldn’t laugh at, but you can’t help when you do.

I was expecting something really funny, and extremely inappropriate. Instead, I got a comic love story set in the wild west, kinda Cohen brothersesque. And… I liked it.

The story centres on Albert Stark, a cowardly and decidedly unhappy sheep farmer who has just been dumped by his girlfriend, and Anna, a beautiful, smart and self-assured woman – with a merciless gunslinger for a husband. Anna befriends Albert after a moment of uncharacteristic heroism where he rescues her from a bar brawl, and in a desperate attempt to win back the love of his life, Albert challenges his ex-girlfriend’s new beau to a duel- one that he can’t possibly win, without Anna’s help.

This is a story about a man who was born in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Everything in the west disagrees with him, and his general ineptitude and distaste for the brutality of the west makes him all the more endearing. The characters are well-rounded and likeable- in particular Anna, who is just the right mix of sweetness and fortitude.

A word of warning though, do not go into this book expecting Family Guy in the wild west, which would be great, Seth- if you’ve got time, but this is its own kind of great. A Million Ways to Die in the West is very funny, with the patented black, deadpan humour and cynicism MacFarlane is known for, but there’s more here than comedy for comedy’s sake. Get in before the film comes out, you won’t be disappointed.

Review by Elizabeth Earl

Grab a copy of Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West here

REVIEW: Half Bad by Sally Green (review by Sarah McDuling)

half-badEvery so often you hear about a book that’s being touted as a “global sensation”. Usually in such cases the film rights have been bought, the author is being labelled “the next J.K Rowling” and the general consensus seems to be OMG this is it! The New Craze! The Next Big Thing! And so on, and so forth. We’ve heard it all before, right?

And yet it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I hear it, whenever a book like this comes along I get caught up in the hype. My expectations soar to dizzying heights. I find myself thinking, “This book is going to change my life! It will blow my mind and rock my world. It will save the rainforests and end world poverty! God bless this miraculous book!”

Of course, I’m nearly always disappointed.

It’s not the book’s fault. It’s just that sometimes hype can be dangerous. Too much hype can kill a good book, purely because it can’t possibly measure up to the high expectations of the reader. However, Half Bad by Sally Green might just be the exception to this rule

(NB: Half Bad by Sally Green is probably not going save any rainforests or end world poverty.  I mean it might. But probably not. I just want to be upfront about that, before we go any further.)

Sally Green, author of the upcoming Half Life trilogy, really doesn’t have all that much in common with J. K. Rowling. Well … except that they are both British. And female. Also, both are blonde and have children. Does this qualify Sally Green as the next J.K Rowling?  I’m not sure about that. What I am sure of are the following facts:

1). Sally Green is a first time author.Sally Green

2). Her Half Life trilogy has been sold into 42 countries.

3) There was a massive bidding war between major studios in order to secure the film rights.

4) All of this happened before the first book in the trilogy had even been published.

Now that’s a lot of hype to live up to.

In terms of what the book is about, I’m almost reluctant to say. Any kind of synopsis I give is probably going to make it sound like a Harry Potter rip-off. The truth is, comparisons to Harry Potter are unavoidable here. Both books are about teenaged boys with magical powers –  boys who must navigate their way through an intricate world of witches/wizards, burdened by tragic pasts and unwanted notoriety.

Still, despite these superficial similarities, Half Bad is actually a very fresh and imaginative take on a well known theme. At no point does it come off feeling clichéd or unoriginal which (let’s be honest) is an impressive feat for a Young Adult novel about witches. This is not new territory, after all. And yet, somehow Sally Green has managed to put a whole new spin on a familiar tune. Whereas Harry Potter is very much a fanstasy, Half Bad is more of a gritty, comptemporary coming-of-age story … that just happens to include witches. More importantly, it’s an enthralling page turner starring a complex and compelling protagonist. All up, a riveting first act in what promises to be an impressive show.

So. Will Half Bad live up to the hype and become the next big publishing phenomenon? I certainly hope so, but I can’t say for sure. These things can be hard to predict.  All I can say is that I completely understand why people are so excited about this new trilogy. Even handicapped by my ridiculously high expectations, Half Bad did not disappoint.

This is a series I’ll be very glad to see capture the hearts and minds of a new generation of teens.

Spoiler Alert: Despite what you may have heard, Half Bad  does not contain a map to the lost city of Atlantis or the secret to eternal youth. It is, however, a very good book that you will  have difficulty putting down.

__________________

Sarah McDuling is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog and Editor of the Booktopia Young Adult Buzz.  Her hobbies include (but are not limited to) sword-fighting, ghost hunting and lion taming. She is also an enthusiaster fibber. You can read her other posts here or follow her on Tumblr at Young Adult @ Booktopia

Grab a copy of Half Bad here

half-badIn modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both.

Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.

REVIEW: Terms and Conditions by Robert Glancy (review by John Purcell)

Terms and Conditions was a publisher proof copy in a pile of publisher proof copies beside my bed.

I had been told that everyone at Bloomsbury Australia loved the book – which is only right since they were taking the trouble to publish it. They think it could be one of those surprise hits. They are going to back it with marketing. My first thought on hearing this pitch is, try Googling the title.

But I like the mob at Bloomsbury and take it home. I put it with the others.

I try not to think of this ever growing pile of proof copies as a burden. I try to think of it as a lucky dip.

I imagine myself a child again plunging my hand into a tub filled with wrapped presents. I’m hoping for a water pistol, but instead find a pair of socks. Good socks, school socks, a pair that would do the job well and would last, but socks all the same. I try again. I want a packet of throw downs, I get a compass. I know I shouldn’t grumble, the prizes I have won have their uses, they are practical and necessary. Good solid dependable things.

By the time I pulled out Terms and Conditions I was expecting a pair of Y-Fronts.

In the first chapter of Terms and Conditions the narrator, Frank, wakes in hospital, there has been an accident. He has amnesia. (God it is difficult to refrain from following this statement up with – he doesn’t remember a thing.) Thus we meet the two most important people in Frank’s life at the same time he does. His wife, Alice (Alice is my wife – allegedly) and his brother, Oscar. Frank works for Oscar at Shaw&Sons the law firm their grandfather founded. Note: In one of the finest ever uses of a footnote in the history of literature Frank reveals his true opinion of his brother. It made me snort.

Author Robert Glancy sets up his dark comedy over the next few chapters as Frank, a stranger to himself, tries to come to terms with the conditions of his life. It is easier than he thinks. He writes contracts for Oscar. He is married to Alice. He is very dull. But then his memory starts to return and this is where the novel takes off.

But is Terms and Conditions a very useful pair of Y-Fronts or is it something more exciting?

Comic timing rests upon structure. And this novel has been cleverly thought out. On every page there are enjoyable jabs aimed at the inanities of modern life. But it is the arrangement and delivery of the details of Frank’s life which increase the comic possibilities. Thankfully Glancy never overburdens his story with his direction. His characterisation saves him. Although the depiction of Frank’s wife Alice and her descent into corporate culture is so close to the truth I fear that those with no experience of corporate life may think the depiction fantastical.

Glancy delivers on the promise of the first half of the book, keeping a firm grip on his narrative right to the final lines. But is this the work of a talented artist or a competent craftsman? I think the answer lies in the relationship between Frank and his other brother, Malcolm, who has rejected a partnership in the family law firm and now lives a carefree life traveling the world. Malcolm emails Frank throughout the novel offering Frank (and us) an alternative perspective on life.

Terms and Conditions is a very funny book. At once a cautionary tale, a love story, a comedy of manners and a self-help book like no other. You will want to read it a second time. The fact that it is so funny doesn’t mean that it is lightweight. There is great meaning here, too. I put my hand into that lucky dip, my bedside pile of proofs, and was rewarded not with a pair of Y-Fronts but with a slingshot, the weapon of choice for those wanting to bring down something big.

Grab a copy of Terms & Conditions here

Terms & Conditions

by Robert Glancy

Frank has been in a car accident*. The doctor tells him he lost his spleen, but Frank believes he has lost more. He is missing memories – of those around him, of the history they share and of how he came to be in the crash. All he remembers is that he is a lawyer who specialises in small print**.

In the wake of the accident Frank begins to piece together his former life – and his former self. But the picture that emerges, of his marriage, his family and the career he has devoted years to, is not necessarily a pretty one. Could it be that the terms and conditions by which Frank has been living are not entirely in his favour***?

In the process of unravelling the knots into which his life has been tied, he learns that the devil really does live in the detail and that it’s never too late to rewrite your own destiny.

*apparently quite a serious one

**words that no one ever reads

*** and perhaps never have been

About the Author

Robert Glancy was born in Zambia and raised in Malawi. At fourteen he moved from Africa to Edinburgh then went on to study history at Cambridge. He currently lives in New Zealand with his wife and children.

Grab a copy of Terms & Conditions here

Congrats to our Facebook Winners: Blake Curran, Helen R. Smith, Lynelle Urquhart.

Email us at promos@booktopia.com.au to get your free copies sent out to you!

Best of Booktopia TV: Keneally, Tsiolkas and Nunn in conversation with John Purcell

Tom Keneally – Shame and the Captives

shame-and-the-captivesJohn Purcell’s Review

One of the drawbacks of living in a society obsessed with the new is that we fail to recognise the simple fact that many things get better with time. There is just no story in ‘Author Gains Wisdom by Living a Long Interesting Life: Talking, Travelling, Reading and Writing’.

But there should be. Someone gaining wisdom should be news. It so seldom happens.

Tom Keneally should be news. His last two books are a direct challenge to the more newsworthy overnight success authors. Both are the result of fifty years of writing both fiction and non-fiction. And it shows. Both Daughters of Mars and his latest novel Shame and the Captives give younger writers a lesson in writing.

More details…

Judy Nunn – Elianne

In the tough world of Queensland sugar mills, it’s not only cane that is crushed … elianne

In 1881 ‘Big Jim’ Durham, an English soldier of fortune and profiteer, ruthlessly creates for Elianne Desmarais, his young French wife, the finest of the great sugar mills of the Southern Queensland cane fields, and names it in her honour.

The massive estate becomes a self-sufficient fortress, a cane-consuming monster and home to hundreds of workers, but ‘Elianne’ and its masters, the Durham Family, have dark and distant secrets; secrets that surface in the wildest and most inflammatory of times, the 1960s.

More details…

Christos Tsiolkas – Barracuda

John Purcell’s Reviewbarracuda

This is a difficult book to write about. It has a personality rather than a plot. It is built upon emotion rather than reason. It is all shouts and whispers and nothing in between.

As a boy Danny Kelly wants only one thing – to be the greatest swimmer of all time. And his dream isn’t farfetched. His coach believes he can do it. His mother is behind him, waking early and driving him to the pool. And his peers think he can do it, though they resent him for his talent.

More details…

REVIEW: The Raider by Monica McCarty (Review by Hayley Shephard)

the-raiderLooking for an historical book to read, where the actions and emotions of the characters involved are realistic? Where passion is always high, and the atmosphere is so sensual it’s bordering on primal? Then look no further than The Highland Guard series by Monica McCarty, and more recently her new novel, The Raider.

Think of The Highland Guard, after which this gripping series is named, as the ancient equivalent of the FBI or the ASIS. Each member must fight for Scotland’s freedom during the War of Independence.

Robert Boyd, whose warrior name is Raider (you can guess why), helps us to remember that warriors can still be vulnerable to their surroundings and make mistakes. So many authors of historical romance forget this and write about figures of the past that barely seem real – go figure!  Monica McCarty’s warriors, however, are human and thus susceptible to love in whatever form that may come in. And falling in love, as Raider learns, means making sacrifices and accepting that some things cannot be changed, otherwise you risk losing the one you love.

Raider comes to realise this after he takes an English woman hostage. Though he might be the strongest man in Scotland, he is just a man when 821in the presence of this woman, aptly named Rosalin. Rosalin, the sister of a powerful Englishman and seemingly his enemy, forces him to see and acknowledge things that he doesn’t want to- both inside and out.

Rosalin thankfully is not a damsel in distress; she pushes and pushes, never giving up.  Unfortunately, most authors give their characters a happy ending after only the slightest of hiccups; they make their “heroines” do anything and everything for the man they love.

More importantly, the constant upheavals in this story are not softened by unrealistic moments of passion. Some historical romances depict moments of “passion” as a turning point in the story, where the characters come to an understanding and realise everything will be alright. In this story sex is depicted as a way for the two main characters to show their love and frustration at the situation they have been dealt with. Not only that, but it helps them to forget for a while and imagine a happier world.

So as I said before, if you want a more realistic read then pick up The Raider or any other book in the series. The tension can be unbearable, but in the end well satisfying.


Grab a copy of The Raider here

Caroline Baum Reviews… When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan

Click for more details...Caroline Baum: I’m going to say what everyone else is going to say: When Mr Dog Bites does for Tourette’s what Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time did for Asperger’s.

Dylan Mint (great name) is a wonderfully realised creation, a boy with a wonderfully fruity turn of phrase and a great attitude.

Of course he gets the wrong end of the stick about a lot of adult things, and these misunderstandings provide playful, funny, bittersweet plot twists and turns but it’s his pre-teen personality with its hormonally surges and involuntary outbursts of obscenities that makes this such an entertaining read.

Publisher’s Blurb: Dylan Mint has Tourette’s. His life is a constant battle to keep the bad stuff in – the swearing, the tics, the howling dog that seems to escape whenever he gets stressed… But a routine visit to the hospital changes everything. Overhearing a hushed conversation between the doctor and his mother, Dylan discovers that he’s going to die next March.

So he decides to grant himself three parting wishes, or ‘Cool Things To Do Before I Cack It’. Number one on the list is to have ‘real’ intercourse with his stunning and aloof classmate Michelle Malloy. Secondly, Dylan pledges to ‘fight heaven and earth, tooth and nail, dungeons and dragons’ so that his best friend Amir can find a new ‘best bud’. And finally he has to get his dad back from the war so that mum can stop crying so much.

It’s not a long list, but it’s ambitious, and he doesn’t have much time. But as Dylan sets out to make his wishes come true, he discovers that nothing – and no-one – is quite as he had previously supposed.

Grab a copy of When Mr Dog Bites here

About the Author

Brian Conaghan is the author of the acclaimed The Boy Who Made It Rain (Sparkling Books, 2011). He is a forty-year-old Scot, living and working as a teacher in Dublin, and has an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. When Mr Dog Bites is his second book.

When Mr Dog Bites comes in this cool YA edition as well…

Book comes in this cool YA edition as well

What Katie Read – The December Round Up (by award-winning author Kate Forsyth)

One of Australia’s favourite novelists Kate Forsyth, author of Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl, continues her monthly blog with us, giving her verdict on the books she’s been reading.

I discovered some wonderful new writers this month, which always makes me happy. I also managed to read five books by Australian women writers, as part of the AWW 2013 Challenge (bringing me to a total of 30 for the year.)

Many of the books I read sent me straight to the bookstore to find other books by these authors, always a good sign. Twelve books read in December brings me to a grand total of 130 books, well over my target for the year.

I hope you have all had a happy reading year too!


a-tryst-with-troubleA Tryst with Trouble

by Alyssa Everett

Lady Barbara Jeffords is certain her little sister didn’t murder the footman, no matter how it looks … and no matter what the Marquess of Beningbrough might say …

This is a really fresh, funny and delightful Regency romance. I really loved it. Of course, I always do think a little murder and mayhem improves a book! The balance of humour, romance and suspense is really well done and I’ve gone in search of more books by Alyssa Everett – hoping they are just as good!

Grab a copy of A Tryst with Trouble here


the-midnight-dress

The Midnight Dress

by Karen Foxlee

The Midnight Dress is a beautiful, haunting, tragic tale of love and loss and yearning. Told in a series of stories within stories, it circles around the mysterious disappearance of a girl one night in a far north Queensland town. The setting is superbly created, the characters are vivid and achingly alive, and the writing is exquisite. I particularly loved the character of the old seamstress Edie who, by teaching the young, sullen heroine  Rose to sew and telling her stories of her own past, teaches Rose how to live. A standout read of the year for me.

Grab a copy of The Midnight Dress here


9781921901584Half Moon Bay

by Helene Young

I enjoyed this contemporary romance suspense novel set in the north coast of New South Wales. The heroine Ellie is a photo-journalist still struggling with grief over the death of her sister Nina in Afghanistan two years earlier, while the hero is an undercover government agent and ex-military officer who feels responsible for Nina’s death. They are on opposite sides of a small town’s struggle with corruption and drugs, yet neither can deny that sparks fly whenever they meet.

Grab a copy of Half Moon Bay here


crowCrow Country

by Kate Constable

I am in such admiration of Kate Constable’s bravery and delicacy in writing this beautiful book, which draws upon Aboriginal mythology and Australian history to deal with themes of injustice, racism, truthfulness and atonement. Crow Country is a simple book, simply told, but that is part of its great strength. It tells the story of Sadie, an unhappy teenager who moves to the country with her flighty but loving mother.

One day she stumbles across an Aboriginal sacred site, and a crow speaks to her – she is needed to right a wrong that occurred many years earlier. So Sadie slips back in time, into the body of one of her ancestors, and sees what happens. With the help of a local Aboriginal boy, she sets out to try to fix things.

A quote from the book: “The Dreaming is always; forever… it’s always happening, and us mob, we’re part of it, all the time, everywhere, and every-when too.”

I loved it.

Grab a copy of Crow Country here


sisterSister

by Rosamund Lupton

Oh my gaudy heavens! What a brilliant book. Utterly compulsive, suspenseful, clever, surprising. I think it may be one of the best murder mysteries I have read this year. Perhaps even ever.

Told from the first person point of view of Beatrice, and addressed to her murdered sister Tess, the story packs a really powerful emotional punch (perhaps because I am so close to my sister Belinda and so could so well imagine the anguish Beatrice was feeling). Although the book follows Beatrice’s dogged investigation into her sister’s death and ultimate confrontation with the killer, it is so much more than that – it’s an exploration of the bonds of love and duty between sisters, a meditation on the harrowing experience of grief, and a clever literary game.

Ten seconds after I read this book I bought her next book and I cannot wait to read it. ‘Sister’ was that good!

Grab a copy of Sister here


under the wideUnder the Wide Starry Sky

by Nancy Horan

As soon as I heard about this book, I grabbed hold of it and read it. There were two reasons for this. One: I really enjoyed Nancy Horan’s earlier book ‘Loving Frank’, about the passionate love affair between Mamah Borthwick Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright. Two: the novel tells the story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wild, strong-willed American wife, Fanny.

I have had a soft spot for Robert Louis Stevenson since I was given his poetry to read as a little girl. In particular, his poem ‘The Land of Counterpane’ (about being a sick boy made to stay in bed) resonated with me strongly as I was a sick girl who spent far too much time in hospital. Consequently, I have read nearly every book he has ever written, including obscure ones like ‘Catriona’, plus have read many biographies of his life and collections of his letters. I was always intrigued by his relationship with his wife, and was eager indeed to read Nancy Horan’s imaginative recreation of their turbulent romance. I was not disappointed.

This is a brilliant book, that brings the lives and times of RLS and his circle vividly to life. Read it!

Grab a copy of Under the Wide Starry Sky here


the-bone-gardenThe Bone Garden

by Tess Gerritsen

This was my first book I’ve read by Tess Gerritsen, and I really enjoyed it. She is best known for her Rizzoli & Isles series of contemporary forensic thrillers, known for their anatomical precision and grisly detail, and so this book – which moves between the present and the past – is a departure for her.

It was the historical aspect of the novel which first attracted me but I’m willing to try her other, more contemporary novels now (I just hope they are not TOO grisly).

Grab a copy of The Bone Garden here


Who Am I? : The Diary of Mary Talence

by Anita Heiss

‘Who Am I?’ is part of the My Story series’ published by Scholastic Australia. Set in Sydney, 1937, this is the fictional diary of a young Aboriginal girl who was stolen from her parents under the White Australia government policy. Mary grows up in the Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home and is given the diary by the matron when she is ten years old.

In its pages, she describes the daily events of her life, as well as her fears and anxieties and confusions. She soon has to leave the home, as she is adopted by a white family who live in St Ives, on the North Shore in Sydney. Here she faces racism in perhaps its most poisonous form – the daily stares, sniggers, casual insults, and calm assurance that White People Are Best.

This part of the book hit home really hard for me – I grew up on the border of St Ives and many of the settings are my childhood stamping ground. I too would certainly have stared at an Aboriginal child in my school playground – I did not see anyone of Aboriginal blood until I was in my late teens and it certainly was not on the North Shore. I can only hope I would have been kinder than the fictional children in this book.

I found ‘Who Am I: The Diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937’ a really heart-breaking and eye-opening novel which moved me to tears. A really important book for all school children, whether they live on the North Shore or not.

For more books by Anita Heiss click here


a-gentleman-of-fortuneA Gentleman of Fortune

by Anna Dean

This is the second in a charming series of Regency-era murder mysteries featuring the sharp-witted lady-detective Miss Dido Kent, who cannot help being curious about the odd circumstances surrounding the death of a rich neighbour, Mrs Lansdale. The author Anna Dean must have read the works of Jane Austen many times – she captures her turn of phrase and ironic eye for detail perfectly, and the voice never flags for an instant.

The mystery is brilliantly well-done too – every clue is there, and yet I still didn’t guess the murderer …

Grab a copy of Gentleman of Fortune, or, The Suspicions of Miss Dido Kent here


Wonderstruck

by Brian Selznick

A perfect title for a book that is, indeed, struck with wonder. I absolutely loved Brian Selznick’s earlier book, ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’, which was turned into a gorgeous movie called Hugo by Martin Scorcese.

Like that book, ‘Wonderstruck’ is told partly in extraordinarily beautiful and detailed pencil drawings and partly in text. It tells the stories of Ben, who has lost his mother, and Rose, who stares longingly at pictures of a silent screen movie star. The first narrative is told in words, the second in pictures.

Slowly the two tales intersect in surprising ways, becoming a heart-touching story about love, art, and joyousness. Although this would be a wonderful book for a child who loves both stories and art, this is really a book for everyone who still has room in their lives for a little wonder.

Grab a copy of Wonderstruck here


wild-lavenderWild Lavender

by Belinda Alexandra

An epic historical saga that follows the life of Simone Fleurier from her days as a poor girl on a lavender farm in Provence to the heights of fame as a singer on the Parisian stage and then through to her involvement with the French Resistance during the dark horror of Nazi Occupation.

I enjoyed every moment of this rags-to-riches-to-rags story – the characters and the historical period were all so real and I really enjoyed every aspect of it.

Grab a copy of Wild Lavender here


The Crimson Ribbon

by Katherine Clements

I was utterly enthralled from the very first line of this novel: ‘Sometimes death comes like an arrow, sudden and swift, an unforseen shot from an unheeded bow.’

The Crimson Ribbon is set in England in 1646, in the midst of the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell leads the army of the people against a tyrannical king, witches are hunted down, the skies are full of evil portents. A young woman named Ruth Flowers is on the run, trying to find a safe place for herself. She is helped by an enigmatic young soldier named Joseph, but – bruised by the encounter – takes refuge in the house of an extraordinary young woman named Elizabeth Poole.

Her beauty and kindness ensnare Ruth, and she uses an old charm to tie herself to her new mistress. But Elizabeth is as troubled as she is charismatic, and – as the King of England finds himself imprisoned and on trial for his life – Ruth finds herself drawn into danger, intrigue, witchcraft, and treason.

I found myself utterly unable to put this book down, constantly surprised, and constantly rewarded. This is an astonishingly assured debut title from Katherine Clements, and I’m really hoping she has more stories like this one up her sleeve!


Kate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than twenty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both children and adults. In 2013 she was voted one of Australia’s Favourite 25 Novelists, coming in at No 22, just after Peter Carey. She has been called one of ‘the finest writers of this generation”, and “quite possibly … one of the best story tellers of our modern age.’

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