GUEST BLOG: What Katie Read – The January Roundup (by award-winning author Kate Forsyth)

One of Australia’s favourite novelists Kate Forsyth, author of The Impossible Quest, Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl and now The Beast’s Garden, continues her monthly blog with us, giving her verdict on the books she read in January.

Summer holidays! For me, a time to relax and read for pleasure. I took a stack of books away with me to the beach shack and read my way through them in complete and utter happiness – Kate Forsyth

The Observations

by Jane Harris

The ObservationsThe Observations is such a delightful read! It tells the story of a girl named Bessy who takes a job as a maid-of-all-work in a gloomy country house in Scotland in the mid 1860s. Bessy has a past she would rather forget, and so is grateful for the refuge her mistress Arabella offers her. However, she soon comes to realise that not is all as it seems in the house, and that an earlier maid has died in rather mysterious circumstances. With naïve optimism, Bessie sets out to find out what happened, and finds herself getting rather more than she bargained for.

The true pleasure of the book is Bessy’s voice – gutsy, wry, and vulnerable – and the clever way Jane Harris weaves her narrative threads together.

Learn more about The Observations here!

Wild Wood

by Posie Graeme-Evans

xwild-woodWild Wood is a dual timeline narrative that moves between the Scottish Borderlands in the 14th century and an unhappy young woman in the 1980s who finds herself compelled to draw the same Scottish castle over and over again. I love stories with parallel timelines, particularly with a good dash of romance, history and magic added in. And I also love books set in Scotland, so all the ingredients were in place for a really wonderful read.

I must admit I loved the scenes set in the past more – the story of the mute fairy wife, the battle-hardened warrior and the medieval castle were all so intriguing. The contemporary scenes did not work quite so well for me, perhaps because the 1980s is not a decade that really inspires me. However, the story of Jesse and her eerie connection with the past eventually drew me in, and the story really began to gallop along.

Learn more about Wild Wood here!

Writers’ Block

by Judith Flanders

xwriters-block.Judith Flanders is best known as the author of brilliantly researched historical non-fiction about the Victorian era. I have quite a few of her books, and return to them again and again for my own research.

Writers’ Block could not be more different. It’s a darkly funny contemporary murder mystery set in a London publishing house. It made me laugh out loud once or twice, and I roared through it in a single sitting.

Learn more about Writers’ Block here!

The Sunne In Splendour

by Sharon Penman

the-sunne-in-splendourThis book has been on my shelf for a very long time, but its sheer heft and weight meant I kept postponing picking it up. Its 880 pages long! However, so many people kept naming it as one of the best historical novels ever written, so eventually I took the plunge. I’m very glad I did. It’s quite brilliant.

Sharon Penman effortlessly weaves together an epic story of love, war, and revenge, bringing to life the enigmatic king, Richard III. Most people know Richard III from the Shakespeare play, and from the murder of the Princes in the Tower.

Sharon Penman believes him unjustly maligned and she does a very convincing job of making her readers think so too. Well worth the wrist strain!

Learn more about The Sunne In Splendour here!

The Lure of the Moonflower

by Lauren Willig

the-lure-of-the-moonflowerThe last in the utterly delightful series that began with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

These books are a really clever mix of chick lit & Regency romance-spy-adventure. They are clever, funny, romantic and full of suspense, packing an awful lot of frivolous fun into their pages. I’m very sad to see the series end.

Learn about The Lure of the Moonflower here!

Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France

Retold by Adele Geras and illustrated by Fiona McDonald

two-fearsome-fairy-tales-from-franceChristmas Press has been quietly producing a range of exquisite fairy tale retellings with gorgeous illustrations for the last couple of years. This beautiful edition has the Jerusalem-born author Adele Geras retelling Beauty & the Beast and Bluebeard with illustrations by Fiona McDonald (who also illustrated my own contribution to the series Two Selkie Tales from Scotland).

The stories are simply and elegantly retold, and are carefully pitched to appeal to a younger reading age – no need to fear for a sensitive child’s sensibilities here! So far the series has included tales retold by Sophie Masson, Ursula Dubosarky, and me, with one coming soon from Duncan Ball. Other titles are in the pipeline. Together they will build to a library of some of the world’s most beloved fairy tales, with stories from Russia, Japan, Ancient Greece, Rome, and Ireland, as well as Scotland and France. A perfect gift for any fairy-tale-loving child!

Learn more about Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France here!

Midnight is a Place

by Joan Aiken

xmidnight-is-a-placeJoan Aiken is one of my all-time favourite children’s writers. Her books were out-of-print for a while and I haunted second-hand bookshops in the hopes of building up my collection. My copy of this wonderful book was bought from the Glebe Library years ago, and still has its yellow cardboard filing card in an envelope glued inside the front cover. Happily, her books have all recently been re-issued with fabulous new covers and so are easy to get hold of now.

It’s difficult to exactly categorise Joan Aiken’s work. It’s historical fiction, with a Dickensian feel thanks to its brilliantly drawn characters (both comic and villainous), unusual names, and dark atmospheric settings. Her stories are fabulously inventive, and often have surprising elements in them (like pink whales). Some of the books have an alternative historical setting, with Good King James III on the throne of England, and the wicked Hanoverians trying to blow up Parliament House.

Midnight is a Place is the most realist of her novels, and quite possibly her darkest. It tells the story of a lonely boy named Lucas, who lives at Midnight Court, next to a smoggy industrial town called Blastburn. His guardian is a foul-tempered, brandy-drinking eccentric who won the great house in a card-game many years before. One day the orphaned daughter of the previous owner comes to live at Midnight Court. Soon Lucas and Anna-Marie are left destitute, and must fend for themselves in the tough streets of Blackburn.

There is one particular scene set in the carpet-making factory that I shall never forget – as a child, it burnt itself deep into my imagination. It is also striking for its refusal to restore the children’s lost wealth – instead they find happiness by making their own way in the world. Joan Aiken is one of the great children’s writers, and deserves to be much more widely celebrated.

Learn more about Midnight is a Place here!

Kate Forsyth

Forsyth, KateKate 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. 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.’

Kate’s books have been published in 14 countries around the world, including the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Japan, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Poland and Slovenia.

Visit Kate Forsyth’s Booktopia author page

The Beast’s Garden

by Kate Forsyth

Forsyth, Kate - The Beast's GardenA retelling of Beauty and The Beast set in Nazi Germany.

The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called The Singing, Springing Lark in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom.

In The Singing, Springing Lark, the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from … Read more

Grab your copy of The Beast’s Garden here

GUEST BLOG: Bestselling author Fiona Palmer on what she’s been reading

fiona palmerBestselling Australian Rural author, Fiona Palmer, chats about what she read in January.

In January, I took my kids to the coastal town of Bremer Bay, south west of WA, where we crammed in 4×4 driving, snorkelling, sand surfing, boogie boarding and fishing. So the books I read during this month were chosen with an intentional theme – each book was set in WA and cantered around “fly in fly out”.

First up was Georgina Penney’s Fly In Fly Out. Jo Blaine works overseas on an oil rig in the Atlantic Ocean and finds a man in her house when she arrives home. Of course she knows this guy, Stephen Hardy and ends up letting him house-sit and look after her cranky cat while she’s away. Things get heated between them but Jo is keeping a dark secret from their past, which is linked to Stephen’s farm in Margaret River. It’s a great read and I powered through it.

Next was Loretta Hill’s book The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots. What a hoot this was! Loretta writes it like it is, you can tell she’s lived the FIFO life and has the swearing men down pat. Some may find that hard to read but for me it just made it all the more real, not a sugar-coated version. It follows Lena Todd, a city girl who is sent to the outback to join a construction team and prove herself in a male-dominated world. I love reading these kind of stories. Plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and great likeable characters.

Loretta’s next book The Girl in the Hard Hat is the follow-on book and continues with the same gang. This time Gavin is the lucky guy who gets the girl. Wendy goes to the Pilbara to search for her father, who left her at birth, and takes on a job as Safety Manager at the iron ore wharf. Nobody likes the safety person and she soon gets the nickname ‘The Sergeant’. Again Loretta delivers in another funny read with plenty of heart.

All books have a romantic thread and happy ending, just how I like my reads. I highly recommend all three. It’s great to get an insight into the FIFO lifestyle and working in the Pilbara. The descriptions of the landscapes were fabulous.

The Saddler Boys

by Fiona Palmer The Saddler Boys

School teacher Natalie has always been a city girl. She has a handsome boyfriend and a family who give her only the best. But she craves her own space, and her own classroom, before settling down into the life she is expected to lead.

When Nat takes up a posting at a tiny school in remote Western Australia, it proves quite the culture shock, but she is soon welcomed by the inquisitive locals, particularly young student Billy and his intriguing single father, Drew.

As Nat’s school comes under threat of closure, and Billy’s estranged mother turns up out of the blue, Nat finds herself fighting for the township and battling with her heart. Torn between her society … Read more

Grab your copy of The Saddler Boys here!

Read an extract of The Saddler Boys

BOOK REVIEW: Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift (Review by John Purcell)

mothering-sundayReview by John Purcell

Delicious. That’s what this book is. Delicious.

From the first line, this evocative novel dazzled me with the beauty of the phrasing, the technical proficiency of the delivery and success of the descriptions – we are made to feel heat of the sun, the breeze against our skin, the cool marble underfoot, the afterglow of illicit sex…

Mothering Sunday reveals Booker Prize Winner, Graham Swift to be a master at the peak of his powers. Imagine an artist, a Matisse or a Picasso, deftly sketching a scene or a portrait: a line drawing, effortless for the artist to produce, just something to capture a moment, to capture a mood. It looks like magic to us, and yet to them, a commonplace – the result of genius and long experience.

So I imagine Graham Swift talking to his editor about Mothering Sunday – the editor grasping the manuscript like it was gold – and Swift saying, Oh, you like that do you? I have lots of those laying about.

Of course, no great piece of writing is effortless. Writers, even the best of them, must stretch and strain themselves to be this good. But it feels effortless. It unfurls effortlessly. He seduces us effortlessly.

We need to celebrate books like this. We need to encourage writers like Swift to write more. Great writers get better with age. Our obsession with the new can obscure this simple fact.

Mothering Sunday is erotic, moving, honest, beautiful and beguiling. And it also has the power to surprise. And for a rather short book it explores regions longer books would have difficulty covering.

A hymn to youth, a meditation on ageing, Mothering Sunday is also a study on the value of experience – highly recommended.

Grab your copy of Mothering Sunday here!

Mothering Sunday

by Graham Swiftmothering-sunday

It is March 30th 1924.

It is Mothering Sunday.

How will Jane Fairchild, orphan and housemaid, occupy her time when she has no mother to visit? How, shaped by the events of this never to be forgotten day, will her future unfold?

Beginning with an intimate assignation and opening to embrace decades, Mothering Sunday has at its heart both the story of a life and the life that stories can magically contain. Constantly surprising, joyously sensual and deeply moving, it is Graham Swift at his thrilling best.

Grab your copy of Mothering Sunday here!


BOOK REVIEW: The Big Rewind by Libby Cudmore (Review by Sarah McDuling)

the big rewindReview by Sarah McDuling

I really loved this book! It’s always so great to come across something different and The Big Rewind is like a breath of fresh air!

Described as Raymond Chandler meets Nick Hornby, The Big Rewind plays out like a noir detective story set in hipster Brooklyn. With wry humor and consistently clever plotting, we join Jett Bennett, aspiring music journalist, as she hunts down the person responsible for killing her neighbour. Her main clue? A mix tape posted to the murder victim.

Full of quirky characters, a generous dollop of nostalgia, a dash of romance and a lot of hilariously-cutting commentary on hipster culture – The Big Rewind is pure pleasure to read.

Don’t be fooled by the fun cover art or the short length (under 300 pages). It may look like a light-hearted romp (and it really is a lot of fun), but it’s also a very smart and deftly written murder mystery. And while it may be a quick read, it’s a very satisfying one!

Grab your copy of The Big Rewind here!

The Big Rewind

by Libby Cudmore

the big rewindRaymond Chandler meets Nick Hornby in this clever noir romp through hipster Brooklyn as a mysterious mix tape puts a young amateur sleuth on the hunt for a killer – and for the truths hidden within her own heart.

To listen to someone else’s mix tapes is a huge breach of trust. But KitKat was dead…and curiosity got the better of me.

When a mix tape destined for her friend KitKat accidentally arrives in Jett Bennett’s mailbox, she doesn’t think twice about it – even in the age of iTunes and Spotify, the hipster residents of the Barter Street district of Brooklyn are in a constant competition to see who can be the most retro … Read More

Grab your copy of The Big Rewind here!

BOOK REVIEW: My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier (Review by Sarah McDuling)


Review by Sarah McDuling

Oh boy. This book scared me silly, in the best possible way. A tightly written psychological thriller, My Sister Rosa combines compelling characterisation with an expertly paced plot and an atmosphere fraught with tension. The result is a chilling page-turner that will leave your emotions tied up in knots.

Che’s 10-year-old sister Rosa isn’t like other little girls. She doesn’t understand concepts like right and wrong, or good and bad. She is very intelligent, frighteningly manipulative and wholly lacking in empathy. She’s a psychopath.

Che’s parents are blind to Rosa’s real nature and don’t believe him when he tries to make them see the truth. And so it’s left up to Che to be his sister’s keeper. He watches over Rosa, monitoring her actions, trying his best to control her behaviour and teach her how to act normal and fit in.

But Rosa doesn’t like being controlled and when the family relocates to New York, suddenly Che realises he might not be able to prevent Rosa from hurting someone …

Grab your SIGNED copy of My Sister Rosa here!

My Sister Rosa

by Justine Larbalestier

MySisterRosa_RCcvr.inddWhat if the most terrifying person you’d ever met was your ten-year old sister? A spine-chilling psychological thriller from one of Australia’s finest YA authors.

‘I promise,’ said Rosa. ‘I won’t kill and I won’t make anyone else kill.’

I can’t see the loophole. Since the guinea pig there’s been nothing. Months now without Rosa killing as much as a mosquito. As far as I know.

Che Taylor has four items on his list: 1. He wants to spar, not just train in the boxing gym. 2. He wants a girlfriend. 3. He wants to go home. 4. He wants to keep Rosa under control … Read More


Grab your SIGNED copy of My Sister Rosa here!


BOOK REVIEW: Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali (Review by Emily Meredith)

maxReview by Emily Meredith

Max is a fascinating fictionalisation of a very real piece of World War II history.

The title character is the first child born in the Lebensborn program, a terrifying Nazi eugenics initiative to create perfect Aryan children. We are first introduced to Max before he is born, and he is already determined to be a perfect Nazi, with plans to be born on Hitler’s birthday.

Although it was a little strange to have the story narrated by a newborn, the content was so interesting that I didn’t really notice the oddity while I was immersed in the story. We follow Max from his birth until the end of the war, when he is almost seven.

Provocative and confronting, Max raised a plethora of important questions about human morality. It also highlighted the evils done to German women and children, as well as the Jewish and Polish populations, during WWII.

Grab your copy of Max here!


by Sarah Cohen-Scali

maxWhen you first meet Max it’s 1936, in Bavaria, and he’s still a baby inside his blonde, blue-eyed mother. Utterly indoctrinated in the Nazi ideology, Max will address you and tell you his story until 1945—his destiny as an exceptional being, the prototype of the ‘Lebensborn’ (Fountains of Life) program, designed to produce perfect specimens of the Aryan race to regenerate the Reich. But when Max meets Lukas, a young Polish boy who resembles him but who rebels against the Nazi system, cracks starts to appear in Max’s convictions…

Max is compulsive reading. Against all your instincts to despise what Max tells you, about his childish cruelty, his attempts to eliminate any aspect of weakness … Read More

Grab your copy of Max here!

BOOK REVIEW: Yellow by Megan Jacobson (Review by Sarah McDuling)

yellowReview by Sarah McDuling

Yellow is brilliant. Really. It’s one of those books that as soon as you finish it you want to read it all over again because it’s just that good.

Set in the late ’90s, in the time of Spice Girls and Friends, Yellow is the story of a girl called Kirra who lives in a small coastal town. Her charming yet useless father has left to shack up with another woman. Her mother is drowning her sorrows in a bottle. Neither of Kirra’s parents have any idea that she is being bullied at school and to make matters worse (not to mention pretty weird) Kirra has starting having conversations with a boy who has been dead for twenty years …

Despite the nostalgic ’90s setting and the ghostly flashbacks to the ’70s, Yellow is essentially a timeless story. It’s a story very much grounded in reality, touching on issues like alcoholism, depression and bullying, and yet it’s also a story with a supernatural subplot about a dead boy haunting a telephone booth. But more than anything else, Yellow is a story about growing up, figuring out who you are and who you want to be.

Part ghost story, part murder mystery, and part coming of age, Yellow is a stunning debut from an amazing new talent. After devouring this book in a single sitting, you can bet I will be eagerly waiting to see what Megan Jacobson does next.

Grab your copy of Yellow here!


by Megan Jacobson

yellowIf fourteen-year-old Kirra is having a mid-life crisis now then it doesn’t bode well for her life expectancy. Her so-called friends bully her, whatever semblance of a mother she had has been drowned at the bottom of a gin bottle ever since her dad left them for another woman, and now a teenage ghost is speaking to her through a broken phone booth.

Kirra and the ghost make a pact. She’ll prove who murdered him almost twenty years ago if he makes her popular, gets her parents back together, and he promises not to haunt her. Things aren’t so simple, however, and Kirra realises that people can be haunted in more ways than one.

Grab your copy of Yellow here!



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