BOOK REVIEW: Hitler’s Last Witness: The Memoirs of Hitler’s Bodyguard by Rochus Misch (Review by Kate Forsyth)

9781925106107Anyone who is fascinated and troubled by Adolf Hitler and his actions will find much to interest them in this memoir written by one of his bodyguards, Rochus Misch. The Führer’s bodyguards accompanied him everywhere, and so were witnesses to many secret meetings and communications. Those hoping for insights into the psychology of Hitler will be disappointed.Misch was chosen as his bodyguard because he knew how to keep his head down, and his ears and eyes shut. He repeats several times that he was chosen because he was someone ‘who would give no trouble.’

Misch is not a natural writer. His style is dry and clipped and to the point (at times I could almost hear his German accent!) Nonetheless, much of his narrative is riveting, particularly as the Germans begin to lose the war and the Führer and his inner circle take up residence in a concrete bunker deep beneath the city. Misch must accompany them, leaving his wife and baby daughter to the mercies of the attacking Russians. He witnesses Hitler’s marriage to his long-time mistress, Evan Braun, and then the murder of the six Goebbels children by their mother. At this action, his matter-of-tone manner breaks down and his real anguish breaks through. ‘The most dreadful thing I experienced in the bunker was not his death. The worst thing was the killing of these children’. Misch was in the bunker till the bitter end, witnessing Hitler and his bride’s suicide and the final admission of defeat by the Nazi generals. His reward for his loyalty was to end up in the Russian torture chambers.

One of the most interesting things about the book is Misch’s unswerving loyalty to Hitler, and the painting of one of the world’s most vicious mass murderers as a normal man and ‘a wonderful boss.’

Grab a copy of Rochus Misch’s Hitler’s Last Witness: The Memoirs of Hitler’s Bodyguard here


Kate FKate 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 at No 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

Exclusive video: Kate Forsyth chats to John Purcell about her new series The Impossible Quest

Kate Forsyth is one of Australia’s favourite authors and one of the most successful working today, thanks to a rather large royalty cheque from Russia. She chats with John Purcell about that cheque and book 1 of her new series for children The Impossible Quest: Escape from Wolfhaven Castle.

Grab a copy of Escape from Wolfhaven Castle here

escape-from-wolfhaven-castleEscape from Wolfhaven Castle

by Kate Fosyth

Tell your lord to beware, the wolves smell danger in the wind.

Wolfhaven Castle has been attacked, and only four escape capture … Tom, trained to scrub pots, not fight; Elanor, the Lords daughter; Sebastian, a knight in training and Quinn, the witchs apprentice.

Somehow, if they are to save their people, these unlikely heroes must find four magical beasts from legend. But first, they have to make it out of the castle alive…

Best-selling, award-winning storyteller, Kate Forsyth, weaves battles, beasts and bravery in this epic new five-book series.

Grab a copy of Escape from Wolfhaven Castle here

GUEST BLOG: What Katie Read – The July 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.


Night of a Thousand Stars

by Deanna Raybourn

This gorgeous romantic adventure begins when the heroine, Poppy Hammond, climbs out a window in her wedding gown, determined to escape her marriage to a stuck-up and sexually inept aristocrat. A handsome curate named Sebastian Cantrip helps her escape to her father’s quiet country village, pursued by her irate fiancé and family. Poppy doesn’t really know her father, but she can’t think where else to go. But then Sebastian disappears in mysterious circumstances and Poppy sets out to discover what has happened to him. The trail leads her to Damascus … and into danger, adventure and romance.

Like all of Deanna Raybourn’s books, Night of a Thousand Stars is utterly charming – I wish someone would make it into a movie!

Grab a copy of Night of a Thousand Stars here


Winter in Madrid

by C. J. Sansom

I’m a big fan of C. J. Sansom’s Tudor murder mysteries featuring the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, and so I eager to read his stand-alone novel Winter in Madrid, which is set in Spain during the 1930s and early 1940. The story is about a young man named Harry Brett, who is employed by the British embassy in Spain, primarily because of his connection with a former school friend, Sandy Forsyth, who is now a person-of-interest to the British Secret Service. Madrid lies in ruins after the Spanish Civil War.

Corruption and cruelty are rife, and Harry – who is still suffering from the aftermath of injuries he sustained at Dunkirk – is lonely and uncomfortable with his new role as secret agent. His path crosses with a young Spanish woman named Sofia, and Harry finds himself falling in love. Meanwhile, Harry needs to try and work his way into Sandy’s confidences … only to find himself caught up in intrigues beyond his understanding. Partly an old-fashioned spy thriller and partly a tragic love story, Winter in Madrid illuminates the Spanish Civil War in all its complexity and brings the place and the time to vibrant life.

Grab a copy of Winter in Madrid here


Hitler’s Valkyrie: The Uncensored Biography of Unity Mitford

by David R. L. Litchfield

I should have been warned by the words ‘uncensored’ – this rehash of the life of the least lovable Mitford sister was the worst kind of trash-mash possible. For those of you who do not know about Unity Mitford, she was one of six famous aristocratic sisters who enlivened life in Britain between the wars, but – for at least two of them – fell a cropper once World War II started. Unity Valkyrie Mitford was the fourth of the seven Mitford children (there was one boy, who died tragically at the end of the war); the sisters are popularly known as Nancy the Novelist, Pamela the Poultry Freak; Diana the Fascist; Unity the Hitler Freak; Jessica the Red; and Deborah the Duchess.

They are entirely fascinating, but this biography adds nothing but smut and slime to the tragic story of a young woman who fell in love with Hitler and shot herself as a result. There are much better places to learn her story.

 Grab a copy of Hitler’s Valkyrie: The Uncensored Biography of Unity Mitford here


Hitler’s English Girlfriend: The Story of Unity Mitford

by David Rehak

This biography of Unity Mitford – while rather lightweight and under-referenced – is a much better introduction to the sad but fascinating life of the fourth of the famous sisters. She was a rebel and a misfit as a child, never quite as clever as Nancy, or as beautiful as Diana, or as amusing as Jessica. She grew obsessed with Hitler while still a teenager, and convinced her parents to send her to a finishing school in Munich where she spent her days sitting in the Führer’s favourite restaurant, hoping for a glimpse of the man she idolised. One day he beckoned her over, and she wrote rapturous letters to her father and sisters about the experience. He was most interested to know that her full name was Unity Valkyrie Mitford and that she had been conceived in a town named Swastika (it seems too eerie to be true, doesn’t it?).

For the next few years, Unity was part of Hitler’s inner circle. She wrote awful, spine-chilling anti-Semitic rants to newspapers to prove herself to him, and denounced friends who spoke against him. It seems she hoped he’d marry her. When Great Britain declared war on Germany following Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Unity shot herself in the head. She was only twenty-five. Although she survived, her life was ruined and she died of complications from the gunshot wound nine years later.

Grab a copy of Hitler’s English Girlfriend: The Story of Unity Mitford here


The Crystal Heart

by Sophie Masson

I’m really enjoying this new series of YA fairy-tale-retellings-romances from Sophie Masson. The Crystal Heart draws its inspiration very loosely from ‘Rapunzel’, one of my own personal favourite wonder tales – yet the novel is much more interested in what happens once the girl escapes the tower. Izolda is rescued by a young army conscript called Kasper, who ends up a prisoner as a result. He must suffer his own ordeal before he can travel to the dark underground kingdom of Izolda’s father and try to win back her love.

These stories are fast-paced, suspenseful and surprising … and deserve as much attention as the many celebrated fairy tale retellings coming out of the USA at the moment.

Grab a copy of The Crystal Heart here


The Eagle Has Landed

by Jack Higgins

I’ve had this old, battered paperback on my bookshelf for years, first reading it as a teenager. Feeling in need of a good thriller, I dug it out and re-read it. He really is one of the masters of the genre. The pages just whizzed past, yet every character sprung to life on the page and the story itself is utterly compelling. A squad of crack German paratroopers sent on a desperate mission to kidnap Winston Churchill. A middle-aged but still attractive widow living in the quiet village with her dog who is really a German spy. A charming IRA assassin who falls for a pretty village girl, and finds himself torn between ideology and love.

The writer himself, stumbling upon the story one day quite by chance, and doggedly pursuing it across continents. I’ve read a few wartime thrillers lately, but this was by far the best. It just goes to show its harder than it looks.

Grab a copy of The Eagle Has Landed here


 The Husband’s Secret

by Liane Moriarty

The Husband’s Secret has had an incredible success in both the US and UK, despite being set in contemporary Australia – something which those in the know say is almost impossible to do. It’s the story of the entwining lives of several women – all mothers and all dealing with the impact of a revealed secret upon their lives. It’s an incredibly real, savvy, funny and heart-breaking book. The characters all feel as if they could just walk off the page, sit next to you, and have a chat. The story itself is incredibly gripping and suspenseful … and yet the story is set in a normal Sydney suburb, with normal Australian men and women.

It’s also a real emotional rollercoaster – one moment you’re laughing out loud, and the next you’re reaching for a tissue. Utterly brilliant!

Grab a copy of The Husband’s Secret here


The Man in the Brown Suit

by Agatha Christie

Every now and again I like to snuggle down with an old favourite, even though I know the ending…I’m a real Agatha Christie fan, and this is my favourite of her books. It is as much an adventure story as it is a murder mystery, and the indomitable heroine Anne is one of Christie’s most charming creations. She is an impoverished orphan who one day witnesses a man stepping backwards on to the tube rails. A doctor steps forward and examines the body, but something about his actions bothers Anne. She begins to investigate … and finds herself setting out for Africa on a dangerous quest that may very well cost her her life…

Blurb: A young woman investigates an accidental death at a London tube station, and finds herself of a ship bound for South Africa…Pretty, young Anne came to London looking for adventure. In fact, adventure comes looking for her — and finds her immediately at Hyde Park Corner tube station.

Anne is present on the platform when a thin man, reeking of mothballs, loses his more…

Grab a copy of The Man in the Brown Suit here


 Evergreen Falls

by Kimberley Freeman

I love Kimberley Freeman’s books. They are absolutely compulsively readable. The pages just race past as I read as fast as is humanely possible – I’m always desperate to find out what happens. I always love a novel that interweaves a contemporary narrative with a historical one, but often you find one narrative thread is much more interesting than the other (with me, I usually love the story set in the past the best). This isn’t true of Kimberley, though. Her contemporary story is as always as interesting and compelling as the other. I love her mix of romance and mystery and family drama, and can only wish that she could write just a little faster! I always get that little prickle of tears at the end of one of her books that show I’ve been really moved.

This one is set in the Blue Mountains, a place I know well. The setting of a glamorous hotel in the 1920s – and the same hotel, now decayed and half in ruins – is incredibly atmospheric and reminded me of an Agatha Christie book. In short: I loved it! A must read for anyone who loves a big, fat, heart-warming read.

Grab a copy of Evergreen Falls here


Kate FKate 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 at No 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

What Katie Read – The June 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 came home from the ANZ Festival of Literature & the Arts in London with a whole bag of books and am slowly reading my way through them. Quite a few of them are by Australian writers who were speakers at the festival – it seems ironic that I had to travel 17,000 kilometres to discover books I could have bought at my local bookstore!

Here’s what I’ve read this month:


Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy

by Karen Foxlee

I really loved Karen’s mysterious and beautiful novel The Midnight Dress, and once I heard Karen speak about her new book Ophelia & the Marvellous Boy I knew at once that it sounded like my kind of book. I bought the gorgeous hard-back in London, and am glad that I did as the production is just exquisite.

The story revolves around eleven-year-old Ophelia who is smart and scientifically minded. She and her sister and father have moved to a city where it never stops snowing, as her father – who is an expert on swords – has taken up a position in a huge, dark, gothic museum filled with secrets and strange things. Ophelia sets out to explore, and finds a locked room hidden away in the depths of the museum. She puts her eyes to the keyhole … and sees a boy’s blue eyes looking out at her. He tells her that he has been a prisoner for three-hundred-and-three-years by an evil Snow Queen and her clock is ticking down towards the end of the world. Only he can stop her … but first he must escape.

A gorgeously written and delicate fairy tale, Ophelia & the Marvellous Boy reminded me of some of my favourite children’s writers such as Cassandra Golds and Laura Amy Schlitz, who are themselves inspired by Nicholas Stuart Grey and George Macdonald.

Grab a copy of Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy here


Dotter of Her Father’s Eye

by Mary Talbot & Bryan Talbot

Another book I bought in London was what I can best describe as a graphic memoir/biography. Told in comic book form, the story compares the life stories of Lucia Joyce, the daughter of the famous writer James Joyce, and that of the book’s author Mary Talbot, daughter of the foremost Joycean scholar, James S. Atherton.

Both narratives begin with the girls’ childhood and show their struggles to grow up in the shadows of difficult and demanding fathers. Lucia wants to dance, but is confined by the petty societal rules of her time. She ends up confined in a madhouse.  Mary rebels against her father, and forges a life for herself. The book shows how she fell in love with a young artist and married him – he is, of course, Bryan Talbot, the illustrator whose incredible artwork adorns every page.The book is acutely intelligent but highly readable, illuminating both the heartbreakingly sad story of Lucia James and the work of two exceptional contemporary artists. Not surpisingly, Dotter of My Father’s  Eyes won the 2012 Costa biography award.

Grab a copy of Dotter of Her Father’s Eye here


The Spare Room

by Helen Garner

I heard Helen speak in London and thought she was warm and funny and beautifully articulate, so I was very pleased to have her sign my copy of her first novel in sixteen years, The Spare Room. Published in 2008, the novel won a swathe of awards including the Barbara Jefferis Award. It reads more like a memoir, being told from the first person point of view of a writer named Helen living in Melbourne and being inspired by events that actually happened in Helen Garner’s life. However, no doubt many of the people and incidents have been changed during the writing process.

The story is driven by the narrator Helen’s fear and distress, after a dear friend who is dying of cancer comes to stay with her for three weeks while undertaking some kind of quack treatment. The writing is crisp and strong and poised, and the characters spring to life on the page with only a few deft strokes. I loved it.

 Grab a copy of The Spare Room here


Goddess 

by Kelly Gardiner

I’m been a big admirer of Kelly Gardiner’s gorgeous historical novels for young adults, Act of Faith and The Sultan’s Eyes, both of which are set in the mid-17th century, one of my favourite historical periods for fiction. Goddess is Kelly’s first novel for adults, based on the fascinating true life story of Julie d’Aubigny, a woman out of step with her own time (The court of the Sun King, Louise XIV, in Paris during the 1680s).

Raised like a boy by her swordsman father, Julie likes to dress like a man and will fight a duel with anyone who crosses her. One night she fights three duels back-to-back, winning them all. She elopes with a young nun and is sentenced to be burned at the stake, but escapes and becomes a famous opera star. The story of her adventures seems too incredible to possibly be true. The book is told in Julie’s voice – witty, intelligent and wry – and the whole is pulled off with wit and flair.

Grab a copy of Goddess here


A Stranger Came Ashore

by Mollie Hunter

Mollie Hunter is a wonderful Scottish writer for children who is not nearly as well-known as she deserves to be. I have many of her books – some collected when I was a child and some (including a signed first edition) collected as an adult. I first read A Stranger Came Ashore when I was about eleven, after borrowing it from my school library. I’ve been looking for it ever since, but could not remember its name. Then, a month or so ago, I read a brief review of it on an English book blog and at once remembered how much I had loved it, and orderd a copy straightaway.

It’s a Selkie tale, set in the Highlands of Scotland sometime in the 19th century. The novel begins with a storm, and a shipwreck, and a handsome, young stranger washed ashore. As his sister begins to fall in love with the stranger, forgetting her childhood sweetheart, 12-year old Robbie Henderson finds himself becoming more and more suspicious. He remembers an old tale his grandfather used to tell him about seals that turn into humans, but cannot believe it could be true. Soon he is caught up in a dark and suspenseful adventure as he tries to save his sister. A Stranger Came Ashore was rightly acclaimed when it was published in 1975, winning many awards including the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award.

Grab a copy of A Stranger Came Ashore here


The Colour Purplethe-color-purple

by Alice Walker

I saw Alice Walker speak at the Sydney Writers Festival in May, and bought The Color Purple which I had read and adored about thirty years ago (it was first published in 1982 – impossible to believe it’s been so long!) I read it all in one gulp and loved it just as much as I did when I was a teenager. I loved the movie too. This book will always be on my list of all-time favourite books.

Blurb:

Set in the deep American south between the wars, this is the classic tale of Celie, a young poor black girl. Raped repeatedly by her father, she loses two children and then is married off to a man who treats her no better than a slave. She is separated from her sister Nettie and dreams of becoming like the glamorous Shug Avery, a singer and rebellious black woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the support of women that enables her to leave the past behind and begin a new life.

Grab a Copy of The Colour Purple here


 Burial Rites

by Hannah Kent

I finally had a chance to read this brilliant historical novel by debut author Hannah Kent. Burial Rites been a critical and a commercial success, and deservedly so. The writing is so precise and vivid, and the story so compelling. I found myself stopping to read certain sentences again, just for the pleasure of the words: ‘it is as though the winter has set up home in my marrow.’ Burial Rites is set in Iceland in 1830, the last year in the life of a woman condemned to be executed for murder. The use of real historical documents as epigraphs at the beginning of each section adds to the sense of truth and awfulness. A clever and truly beautiful book.

Grab a copy of Burial Rites here


Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler

by Wendy Lower

Sifting through a second-hand bookshop in London, an English editor stumbled upon this self-published memoir of a young Jewish woman in Vienna and – enchanted by her romantic love story and vivid writing style – republished the book.

In 1938 Trudi Kanter was a milliner for the best-dressed women in Vienna. She was beautiful and chic and sophisticated, travelling to Paris to see the latest fashions and selling her hats to some of the most wealthy and aristocratic ladies of Europe. She was madly in love with a charming and wealthy businesseman, and had a loving and close-knit family. Then the Nazis marched into Austria, and everything Trudi knew was in ruins. She and her new husband had to try and find some way to escape and make a new life for themselves … and Trudi would need all her wits and panache just to survive.

Grab a copy of Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler here


Kate FKate 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 at No 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

What Katie Read – The May 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.

May is festival time in Sydney, and so I spent a lot of time talking about, and listening to other writers talk about, books and writing. It was wonderful to see the festival precinct at the wharves so alive and buzzing with book-lovers, and I bought a great pile of books that I shall be slowly working my way though in the upcoming weeks.

A lot of my reading time is still being taken up by research, but I managed to read a few other lovely books as well.

Here’s what I’ve read this month:


The Sequin Star

by Belinda Murrell

Many of you may know that Belinda Murrell is my elder sister, and so I have to admit to a strong partiality to any book I read of hers. The Sequin Star is the latest in her very popular timeslip series for teenage girls.

The action follows a modern-day Australian girl named Claire who finds herself thrown back in time to a Great Depression-era circus in 1932. She is rescued by a warm-hearted girl named Rosina who is riding on the back of an elephant. Claire has no way of getting back to her own time, and so begins to work in the circus. As well as Rosina and her pet monkey, Claire makes friends with two boys from very different backgrounds. Jem’s family is dirt-poor and living in a shanty town, while Kit has a chauffeur and lives in a mansion. Kit comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina ride her beautiful dancing horses, not realising he is putting himself in danger. When Kit is kidnaped, Claire and her friends have to try and work out the mystery in order to save him.

The Sequin Star is exactly the sort of book I would have loved to have read in my early teens (in fact, any time!), and is gives a really vivid look at life in Sydney in the early 1930s. Loved it!

Grab a copy of The Sequin Star here


Gift from the Sea

by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

After reading and enjoying Melanie Benjamin’s wonderful novel about the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh in The Aviator’s Wife, I was inspired to go back and read Gift from the Sea, the most famous of Lindbergh’s numerous books. It’s a small, delicate and wise book, full of meditations on the life of women. I first read it when I was sixteen, and am now thinking I shall pass it on to my daughter at the same age.

Grab a copy of Gift from the Sea here


The Unlikely Spy

by Daniel Silva

I love a good spy thriller, particularly when its set during World War II, and Daniel Silva did not disappoint. The unlikely spy of the title is an amiable history professor and he is on the track of a ruthless Nazi spy working undercover in Great Britain in the lead-up to D-Day. This is more a novel of psychological suspense than an action-packed page-turner, but I enjoyed seeing the action from all sides, and found the historical details fascinating.

 Grab a copy of The Unlikely Spy here


Ingo 

by Helen Dunmore

I’ve been meaning to read this book for so long, but only picked it up this month because I was doing a talk on retellings of mermaid tales, and thought I should catch up on recent additions to the genre. I am so glad I did – I loved this book! It’s a very simple story – after a girl’s father disappears and is believed drowned, she finds her brother beginning to be drawn irresistibly to the sea as well. In time, the girl (whose name is Sapphire) learns of the mysterious realm of Ingo, the world of the mermaids that lies in the depths of the ocean. Its enchanting siren song is dangerous, however, and Sapphire will find it hard to escape its spell.

What lifts this novel out of the ordinary, however, is the beauty of the writing. Helen Dunmore is a poet as well as an Orange Prize-winning novelist for adults. Her writing is both lyrical and deft, and I’m looking forward to the rest in the series.

Grab a copy of Ingo here


The Winter Bride

by Anne Gracie

Anne Gracie is my favourite living romance novelist; she never disappoints. The Winter Bride is the second in a Regency-times series featuring four plucky young women trying to make their own way in the world, and finding all sorts of trouble along the path towards true love. Read The Autumn Bride first, but have this one close to hand as once you’ve read one, you’ll want more. I’m just hanging out for the next in the series now.

Grab a copy of The Winter Bride here


The Chalet School in Exile

by Elinor Brent-Dyer

Elinor Brent-Dyer was an extraordinarily prolific author who wrote more than 100 books in total, many of them in the famous Chalet School series about a 1930s girls’ school set in the Austrian Tyrol. I’ve been collecting them for years and had been searching for this one in particular – the rare The Chalet School in Exile, set during the Nazis’ Anschluss of Austria. The girls of the school fall foul of the Gestapo after trying to save an old Jewish man from being beaten to death, and have to escape Austria on foot through the Alps.

It’s an extraordinarily vivid snapshot of a time and a place, and one of the few children’s books of the era to deal directly with the terror of the Nazis. I read it when I was about 10, and it made a deep impression on me at the time. An original first edition hardback with the original dust-jacket showing a SS officer confronting the girls is worth over $1,000 (though this is cheap compared to the almost $4,000 you need to fork out for a first edition copy of the first book in the series, The School at the Chalet). I however bought my copy from Girls Gone By publishers which re-issue the rarer editions at a much more affordable price (and feature the famous dustjacket as well).

Meanwhile, I’ve continued with my own research into the Nazi era. I’ve read another half-a-dozen non-fiction books on the subject. Here are three of the best I’ve read this month:


 

Between Dignity & Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany

by Marion A Kaplan

This powerful and heart-rending book draws on many different memoirs, diaries, letters and post-war interviews to give us an extraordinary insight into what it was like to be a Jew in Germany during the Nazi years. It shows how the many small humiliations and unkindnesses of the early years gradually began to drag the Jewish community inexorably towards the horror of the Holocaust, and gives a sense of how that horror continues to shadow those that survived.

Grab a copy of Between Dignity & Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany here


Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields

by Wendy Lower

This book was so chilling that I could only read it in parts. It tells the stories of the active role played by Nazi women in the Third Reich: nurses and secretaries and wives, as much as the already well-known horrors of the female camp guards. Some of the events seem impossible to believe, except that they have been documented in the Nuremberg court of law.

Grab a copy of Hitler’s Furies here


Hitler’s Spy Chief: the Wilhelm Canaris Mystery

by Richard Bassett

Wilhelm Canaris was the enigmatic head of the Abwehr, the German secret service. He was executed for treason in a Bavarian concentration camp only days before the Allies’ reached the camp and liberated it. He had been involved in the failed assassination of Hitler immortalised in the movie Valkyrie, but many researchers believe that he had been working to undermine the Third Reich from before the beginning of the war.  This detailed and in-depth examination of his life and work is not for the casual reader (it assumes a wide knowledge of the Nazi era and the Valkyrie plot), but it is utterly fascinating and convincingly argues that Canaris had been feeding secrets to the British for many years and was in fact protected to some extent by them.

Grab a copy of Hitler’s Spy Chief here


Kate FKate 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 at No 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

What Katie Read – The April 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.

One of the fascinating things about keeping a record of what I’ve been reading is seeing the patterns which emerge. This month nearly every single novel I read had a historical setting, and half of them were murder mysteries.

I’ve always loved a good murder mystery, particularly if it is set in the past. I do not, however, usually read three of them back to back!

Here’s what I’ve read this month:


The Scorpio Races

by Maggie Stiefvater

I really enjoyed this book by Maggie Stiefvater, which re-imagines the Scottish fairy tale of the kelpie, or water-horse, into what feels like a fairly contemporary setting  (it actually felt like the 1950s but the time of the setting is left intentionally vague). The result is a beautiful, dark, poignant book of danger, magic and love that feels very true. I have previously read Maggie Stiefvater’s book Shiver  and really enjoyed that too, so I’m now hunting down a few of her other books. This is a wonderful read for anyone who loved Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts (The Brides of Rollrock Island).

Grab a copy of The Scorpio Races here


Astor Place Vintage

by Stephanie Lehmann

This is a really charming, funny book that moves deftly from modern-day New York to the same city streets in 1907.

Amanda loves old things – especially shoes and clothes – which she hunts down for herself and for her vintage clothes store, Astor Place Vintage. One day she discovers a diary from 1907, sewn into an ancient fur muff. Reading the diary, she finds herself drawn into the life of Olive Westcott, a young lady who lived in New York City one hundred years ago.

Both narrative threads are really interesting and engaging, and the lives of the two women touch in interesting and unexpected ways. Both are young woman trying to forge their own way, and both have various romantic intrigues that add an extra sparkle to the novel.

Grab a copy of Astor Place Vintage here


Death Comes as Epiphany

by Sharan Newman

I’ve always had a soft spot for a medieval murder mystery, thanks no doubt to all the Cadfael books I read as a teenager. Sharan Newman is a new author for me (always a risk), but I enjoyed this very much and am planning to get the next in the series.

The story revolves around Catherine LeVendeur, a headstrong and clever young woman who has been sent to the Convent of the Paraclete, famous for its abbess, the fabled Heloise. When a manuscript created by the convent disappears, Heloise asks Catherien for help in searching it out. For Heloise is afraid that the manuscript will be used to harm her one-time lover, Peter Abelard.

The story rolls along swiftly, with lots of interesting historical details, and a really lovely understated romance. Sharan Newman is a medieval scholar, but her knowledge of the period is never allowed to slow down the plot.

 Grab a copy of Death Comes as Epiphany here


Death on Blackheath 

by Anne Perry

I always enjoy the work of Anne Perry, who writes atmospheric and psychologically acute murder mysteries set in Victorian Britain. This is No 29 in her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series – an impressive number! I’ve not read them all, but one day I will sit down and read them all, back to back, in order, because the growth and change in her major characters is so much an important part of the overarching series narrative.

This one involves a missing housemaid, the corpses of horribly mutilated women appearing on the heath, and espionage. A brilliant historical murder mystery (but if you haven’t read any other of these, start with Book 1, The Cater Street Hangman.

Grab a copy of Death on Blackheath here


Elegy for Eddie

by Jacqueline Winspear

Elegy for Eddie is the latest in Jacqueline Winspear’s elegant series of murder mysteries set in 1930s Britain. The books are serious and rather dark in tone, and a great deal of time is spent on the ruminations of the central character, Maisie Dobbs, a lower-class girl who has dragged herself up through the efforts of her own intelligence.

At times I wish Jacqueline Winspear would give us more romance, more action, more humour, more sparkle! However, the books are very readable, nonetheless, and the London setting is most atmospheric.

Grab a copy of Elegy for Eddie here


the aviators wifeThe Aviator’s Wife

by Melanie Benjamin

The Lindberghs were incredibly famous in their day, both for their feats of flying, and for the kidnap and murder of their first child. This beautifully written novel re-imagines the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh from the time of her first encounter with the handsome but controlling aviator Charles Lindbergh to his death. It deals with his infatuation with the Nazis, the terrible months following their boy’s kidnap, and the writing of Anne’s own book, Gift from the Sea, which I remember reading as a teenager. The Aviator’s Wife is a really moving and powerful novel about one woman’s extraordinary life – I strongly recommend it.

Meanwhile, much of my reading time continues to be taken up with research on Hitler and Nazi Germany, for the new novel I hope to start writing soon. In fear of boring you, I won’t list every book I’ve read … only the best and most interesting.

Grab a copy of The Aviator’s Wife here


In the Garden of the Beastsin-the-garden-of-beasts

by Erick Larson

This is an utterly brilliant and beautifully written account of the life of the American Ambassador and his family in Germany in 1933. William E. Dodd was a mild-mannered history professor, with two Bright Young Things as children. On his appointment and subsequent arrival in Berlin, the Dodd family was at first entranced by the new Germany – everything was so clean, so pretty, so efficient, so well-ordered – and Adolf Hitler and his followers were so full of energy and conviction. Gradually, though, their view of Germany darkened.

Dodd became convinced that Hitler planned war, but nobody listened to him. In fact, they thought he was a fool. One of the really illuminating things about this book is the way it shows the slow, gradual, and ultimately horrifying realisation of the depths of Hitler’s depravity. Most people in the world really had no way of knowing what was going on … until it was too late.

Grab a copy of In the Garden of the Beasts here


I, Pierre Seal: Deported Homosexual

by Pierre Seal

I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs from people who lived through the Second World War, but this is one of the most gut-wrenching I’ve encountered. Pierre was a normal teenage boy just discovering his own sexuality when the Germans invaded his homeland of Alsace-Lorraine. He and other young homosexuals were rounded up, tortured, raped, and sent to a concentration camp.

The account of the murder of Pierre’s young lover is just horrifying, and the psychological damage it caused Pierre for the rest of his life moved me to tears. The atrocities committed against homosexuals in Hitler’s Third Reich are not widely known, though there has been a movement in recent years to give voice to those that were deported and killed. A chilling read.


 

Kate FKate 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 at No 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

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

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