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: What Katie Read – The 2015 Round Up (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 November and December.

NOVEMBER

I spent quite a lot of time on planes this month, which meant I had plenty of time for reading (the best thing about spending so much time in airports and hotels!) I read eight books in total, with my usual mix of fiction and non-fiction (not counting research tomes!) – Kate Forsyth

The Light Between Us

by Laura Lynne Jackson

the-light-between-usA fascinating memoir from a young American woman who first began to realise she had psychic talents when she was a child. Her story chronicles her struggle to understand her gift, her search to learn to use it wisely, and some anecdotes of the many people who she has helped along the way.

Simply and beautifully told, Laura Lynne Jackson has tried hard to find a new vocabulary for her strange and uncanny experiences (though the book is, of course, laden with phrases such as ‘the Other Side’ and ‘spirits crossing’, which may set off sceptics’ alarm bells).

Some of the most fascinating chapters are on the scientific tests she has submitted to in order to better understand and validate her gifts … and the book is filled with a quiet wisdom that will resonate even with those who do not believe in an afterlife.

Grab your copy of The Light Between Us here!


The Goddess and the Thief

by Essie Fox

the-goddess-and-the-thiefAlice was born and raised in India during the time of the British Raj, and so when she is sent to live with an aunt in England, she is uprooted from all she knows and loves. Her aunt is cold and unkind – much like the weather – and scratches out a living by holding séances.

When Queen Victoria’s beloved prince-consort dies, she consults with Alice’s aunt in a desperate bid to connect with her dead husband. Alice finds herself drawn into a conspiracy to steal the priceless – and cursed – Koh-i-Noor diamond. As the coils of obsession, desire, and murder tighten inexorably around her, Alice finds it impossible to know who to trust, or even what is real.

Dark, suspenseful, and lushly written, The Goddess and the Thief is an utterly compelling and uncanny Victorian mystery.

Grab your copy of The Goddess and the Thief here!


Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger

by Fiona Wright

small-acts-of-disappearanceSmall Acts of Disappearance is a series of interlinked essays inspired by the author’s struggle with an eating disorder.

Fiona Wright is an award-winning poet currently undertaking a doctorate in writing at University of Western Sydney. Each essay on its own is superbly crafted and exquisitely written. Some are deeply personal and gut-wrenchingly emotional, while others take her obsession with not eating as a springboard to explore other territories, such as issues of anorexia in Australian literature. Together they create an utterly extraordinary collection – intelligent, fierce and deeply informative.

Grab your copy of Small Acts of Disappearance here!


The Lake House

by Kate Morton

Lake HouseA new Kate Morton is always cause for celebration! The Lake House is once again set in Cornwall, and moves between the mysterious disappearance of a child in 1933, and a policewoman’s struggle to overcome her guilt at being unable to solve the mystery of a missing woman in modern times.

Mysteries and secrets have always been at the heart of Kate Morton’s books, but with this one she takes a step closer to the crime genre. The result is as beguiling and suspenseful as always – the book is a massive 591 pages long but I whizzed through, the pages seemingly turning themselves. Now I can only wait in breathless anticipation for the next one!

Grab your copy of The Lake House here!


A Profound Secret

by Josceline Dimbleby

a profound secretJosceline Dimbleby has been one of Britain’s favourite food writers for a long time. A Profound Secret is a departure for her – it is the story of how an old portrait inspired her to dig deeper into her family’s past and its many secrets and mysteries. The portrait was of her great-aunt Amy Gaskell, and it was painted by the Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones. As a girl, Josceline was told her great-aunt had died young of a broken heart.

Deciding to find out more, Josceline uncovered a box of secret love letters between the famous artist and Amy’s mother, May. Both were married to others. Josceline also discovered the tragic truth of Amy’s early demise.

The book is as much about Josceline’s search as it is about what she discovered, and so it is as much a detective story as it is a story of a secret love affair.

Grab your copy of A Profound Secret here!


Ophelia’s Muse

by Rita Cameron

ophelia-s-museThe tragic love affair of the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his muse and model Lizzie Siddal has been surprisingly under-utilised in fiction. Most people know the basic storyline, however, thanks to numerous films and TV series such as ‘Desperate Romantics’. Lizzie was discovered in a milliner’s shop and became the ‘face’ of early Pre-Raphaelite art, modelling for quite a few of the brotherhood and becoming famous as Ophelia in John Everett Millais’s painting of the same name. She and Rossetti had a tumultuous affair and eventually married, only for Lizzie to die of a laudanum overdose.

Rita Cameron has taken this basic storyline, and built it into a satisfying novel of art, desire and tragedy. The mid-Victorian setting is vividly created, and the inner world of Lizzie Siddal brought touchingly to life. For anyone interested in the story of Lizzie Siddal, this is a good place to start (I should probably say that I’m currently writing a novel about the Pre-Raphaelites too – but that mine will be very different!)

Grab your copy of Ophelia’s Curse here!


The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

by Robert Macfarlane

the-old-waysThe British travel writer Robert Macfarlane has been a new and wondrous discovery for me. He brings an incisive mind, a poet’s feel for language, and a deep knowledge of place and time to his writing. The Old Ways is about journeys he has taken – usually but not always on foot – through landscapes as diverse as Essex, Spain, Palestine and Tibet. Most of his walks are through British landscapes, though, and are rich in folklore, history and fascinating characters. It’s the kind of book where you want to keep underlining passages for their sheer and precise beauty – here’s just on example:

The whole foot is a document of motion, inscribed by repeated action. Babies—from those first foetal footfalls, the kneading of the sole against womb-wall, turning themselves like astronauts in black space—have already creased their soles by the time they emerge into the world.

Grab your copy of The Old Ways here!


Where Angels Fear To Tread

by E. M. Forster

where-angels-fear-to-treadEvery month I try to re-read an old beloved book that I haven’t read in years. Where Angels Fear To Tread was my choice this month. It was E. M. Forster’s first novel, and is so small it is nearly a novella. It’s a quite exquisite work, however, laying bare the snobbery and insularity of the British middle classes before the First World War. It tells the story of how a dashing young widow named Lilia falls in love with a much younger Italian man and marries him, much to the horror of her former husband’s family, who think she has brought scandal and dishonour upon them. When a child is born and Lilia dies, her brother-in-law Philip and former companion Caroline Abbott set out to Italy to try and save the little boy …. only to set tragedy and heartbreak in motion. It is such a sad story, and so surprising too – a perfect little gem of a novel.

Grab your copy of Where Angels Fear To Tread here!


DECEMBER

A lot of my reading time in the past month has been taken up with research for the new novel I am working on, but I always make time for reading for pleasure as well. This month my reading list includes some fascinating non-fiction, some tattered old favourites, and a few new books hot off the presses. Oh, and some poetry! I hope you find something here to inspire and entertain you.
– Kate Forsyth

Girl In Hyacinth Blue

by Susan Vreeland

girl in hbOne of my all-time favourite books by one of my all-time favourite authors, Girl In Hyacinth Blue tells the story of a painting in a series of interlinked vignettes moving backwards in time. The first is set in contemporary times, telling the story of a middle-aged man who has in his possession an extraordinary painting of a young girl which he believes is a lost Vermeer. He cannot prove it, however, for the painting has no provenance. And he cannot show it to any specialists, because the painting was, he believes, stolen by his father from a Jewish family in the Second World War.

The next vignette is told from the point of view of a young Jewish girl in Amsterdam, bewildered as her world is destroyed around her by the invasion of the Nazis.

Backwards in time each story goes, connected only by the silent presence of the painting, until we reach the 17th century and the story of the girl who sat as the model for the painting. Each story is told with a marvellous economy of style, giving us just enough to understand what has happened before the scene shifts to the next point of view, yet the overall effect is almost unbearably moving. A wonderful book.

Grab your copy of Girl In Hyacinth Blue here!


Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa

by Joan Jacobs Brumberg

fasting girlsMany people think of anorexia nervosa as a modern-day problem, but as Dr Brumberg shows in this biography of the disease, young women have been starving themselves to death from at least the 13th century onwards. The reasons that drive such an obsession change from century to century, but the tragic results are the same. Fasting Girls looks at cases from medieval martyrs to contemporary celebrities, always searching to illuminate the complex reasons that led to such self-destructive behaviour. Although Dr Brumberg is a historian, she draws upon medical and psychiatric studies of the times in her research, to create a truly illuminating look at the emotional disorder that has destroyed so many lives.

Grab your copy of Fasting Girls here!


Career of Evil

by Robert Galbraith

careerThe third in the series of detective novels written by J.K. Rowling under the pen-name Robert Galbraith, Career of Evil is a gripping and atmospheric page-turner.

It begins with the delivery of a severed leg to the office of private detective Cormoran Strike, addressed to his pretty and about-to-be-married sidekick Robin. What follows is a desperate race against time to find the murderer before he kills again … with Robin as his next target.

I’ve just been loving this series, which has the perfect mix of mystery, suspense, and character development.

 

 

Grab your copy of Career of Evil here!


Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia & Bulimia

by Marya Hornbacher

wastedFirst published in 1998, Wasted has recently been reissued with a new Afterword by the author Marya Hornbacher. Her eating disorder began at the age of eight and dominated her life from that point onwards, leading her to ever more destructive behaviours until it almost claimed her life. She was hospitalised and institutionalised, got better and relapsed, fought new battles, and relapsed again, and slowly and painfully inched her way back to health.

This is not an easy read – it is raw, brutal, honest, and frightening – but also brilliant, poetic, illuminating and very brave.

 

Grab your copy of Wasted here!


Charity Girl and Sylvester

by Georgette Heyer

charity girlMy copies of Georgette Heyer’s novels are so tattered that they are in danger of falling apart, for they are the books I turn to whenever I am feeling particularly tired or unwell. They never fail to delight me, no matter how often I read them. Her touch is so light, her characters so deftly drawn, her situations so absurd and yet somehow so poignant too. I first read them as a teenager at my grandmother’s house, and must have read many of them twenty times or more.

Sylvester is one of my personal favourites – perhaps because the heroine Phoebe has written a book, which pitches her into all sorts of Scrapes and Scandals … and Charity Girl is almost as good, with its array of laugh-out-loud minor characters. If you love light-hearted Regency romances, then you’ll already be a Georgette Heyer fan … but if you’ve never read one of her books, please do so, now! You will not regret it.

Grab your copy of Charity Girl here! / Grab your copy of Sylvester here!


Mademoiselle Chanel

by C.W. Gortner

mademoiselle-chanelLike many people, I have long been fascinated by the life of Coco Chanel, the famous French designer, and have read a number of biographies about her life. Christopher Gortner is one of my favourite contemporary historical novelists and – with his background in the fashion world – is ideally suited to bringing this enigmatic woman to life.

The first person voice rings startlingly true, revealing her steely determination to escape her childhood of poverty and abandonment, her passionate and impetuous nature, her loneliness and longing. Gortner does not shy away from the more troubling aspects of her life, such as her involvement with the Nazis in German-occupied France, and her hard-heartedness towards many around her. This clear-sightedness makes the book feel much more true than some of the biographies I have read – this is a must-read for anyone who has ever longed to know the story behind the creation of the iconic Chanel No 5. Perfume and the famous little black dress.

Grab your copy of Mademoiselle Chanel here!


Why Kings Confess

by C.S Harris

xwhy-kings-confess.jpg.pagespeed.ic.6FipmUa9RVWhy Kings Confess is the latest in a series of historical murder mysteries set in Regency England, featuring as its amateur detectives a lynx-eyed viscount with a troubled past and a strong-willed bluestocking noblewoman, the daughter of the viscount’s greatest enemy. The plots are always devious and surprising, the setting is suitably dark and foggy, and the interplay between the characters is fascinating.

As always, if this series is new to you, start with the first, called What Angels Fear.

 

 

 

 

Grab your copy of Why Kings Confess here!


A Year With Rilke:
Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated & edited by Joanna Macy & Anita Barrows

xa-year-with-rilke.jpg.pagespeed.ic.cChCZHF9rNI first encountered Rainer Maria Rilke when a friend gave me a copy of Letters to a Young Poet when I was in my early twenties. It spoke to me very powerfully, and I went on to read many of Rilke’s poems and letters.

I re-discovered Rilke again when I was writing my latest novel The Beast’s Garden, which is a retelling of Beauty & the Beast set in Nazi Germany. I was drawn to read his work again because I remembered that Rilke was obsessed with roses, (a potent motif in the fairy tale) and wrote many poems about them.

As part of my journey of rediscovery, I bought A Year With Rilke. It brings together a collection of his writings – excerpts from poetry (both published and unpublished), letters, and diaries – each chosen to match a certain day of the year. The idea is to read one page a day, every day, for the full year. I have kept the book next to my bed to read, and did so most evenings. Occasionally I had to read two or three – or even ten – pages to catch up. It didn’t matter. The excerpts are each so small and so easily read, and sometimes I would read the same poem over and over again, trying to let it soak into my soul. Occasionally the reading for the day was so uncannily prescient, so necessary to what I needed to read just then, it seemed fore-ordained.

It’s a beautiful way to read his work – and a perfect way to be introduced to him.

The only complaint I have to make is that it is designed for an audience in the northern hemisphere and so some of the seasonal pieces (like the poem for March 21, which was ‘Spring!’) are out-of-whack for an Australian reader. But it’s a minor complaint – and I simply went back and read them again at the tight time.

Grab your copy of A Year With Rilke 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: What Katie Read – The October 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 October.

My son – like so many others his age – sat his HSC last month, and so I spent lots of time waiting for him outside exam halls and libraries. This meant lots of lovely reading for me! – Kate Forsyth

Newt’s Emerald

Garth Nix

newt-s-emeraldGarth Nix is one of my favourite Young Adult fantasy writers, and Regency romances are one of my favourite genres to read – put the two together and you get the wonderful, light-hearted, and utterly magical Newt’s Emerald.

Set in a world very much like Georgette Heyer’s Regency (a place that is in itself a fantasy), the book mixes together a stolen emerald with secret powers, a young lady who disguises herself as a man, a young nobleman who is really a spy, an evil enchantress, and a host of comic minor characters, plus an ill-fated ball in Brighton.

I raced through it with great eagerness, and am now hoping that Garth plans to write many, many more. An utter delight!

Grab your copy of Newt’s Emerald here


India Black

Carol K. Carr

india-blackIndia Black is the name of the central character in this rather charming Victorian murder mystery. She is a madam, in the sense that she runs a brothel, and she is only reluctantly drawn into the investigation of the murder of Sir Archibald Latham, an important official in the War Office, because he dies in the bed of one of her tarts.

The foggy underworld of Victorian London is vividly if a little wildly drawn, and the pace rarely falters.

The chief enjoyment of the book is the acerbic and witty voice of India herself – whip-smart, amoral, and always ready to see the humour in a situation.

Grab your copy of India Black here


Picnic in Provence

Elizabeth Bard

picnic-in-provencePicnic In Provence is a memoir of a Jewish American princess who marries a Frenchman, and moves to Provence to make honey & thyme ice-cream, among other wonderful dishes.

Charming , romantic and poignant, this book is full of delicious-sounding recipes and lots of wry observations on the cultural differences between the two countries (fast food, wearing sweatpants in public, and the like).

It made me want to move to Provence and cook stuffed zucchini flowers and fig tarts drizzled with lavender honey, always the sign of a good food memoir.

I’ve since cooked quite a few of the recipes – délicieux!

Grab your copy of Picnic in Provence here


What We See When We Read

Peter Mendelsund

what-we-see-when-we-readA strange, fascinating and totally original book about the relationship between the words on the page and the images seen in the mind’s eye, this is a book to be thought about and re-read again and again.

Peter Mendelsund is the associate art director of Alfred A. Knopf, and spends his days designing book covers and illustrations. Many of the pages in this book have few or no words on them. Instead, they are full of images – photographs, drawings, pop graphics, and scribbles. In a way, it reminded me of the astonishingly beautiful books created by Brian Selznick, in which his intricate black-and-white drawings replace sentences and scenes. Except that What We See When We Read is not creating a narrative – it is instead a meditation on the relationship between the writer’s and the reader’s imagination, partly informed by scientific investigation, but mostly by a certain type of literary criticism.

The book is marred by its literary pretentiousness – lots of references to Tolstoy, Flaubert, Melville, Nabokov, and other dead white males, for example. Virginia Woolf was one of the few female authors to get a mention, and Barthes was quoted quite a few times (something that always sets my alarm bells ringing). However, if you can forgive him for thinking the only writers worth examining are white, male, middle-class and no longer breathing, then the book offers a lot to think about – and some of the passages have their own exquisite and mysterious beauty.

Grab your copy of What We See When We Read here


The Marriage of Opposites

Alice Hoffman

the-marriage-of-oppositesI have loved Alice Hoffman’s writing for a long time, from well before Nicole Kidman starred in the movie of Practical Magic. She has a wonderful way of twisting together the ordinary and the extraordinary, finding magic in the everyday. Many of her earlier books were contemporary magic realism, about lightning struck boys and girls descended from witches, but in recent years she has turned her hand to writing historical fiction, which delights me.

The Marriage of Opposites tells the story of a young Jewish woman growing up on the Caribbean island of St Thomas in the early 1800s. Rachel is married to a widower with three children when she is little more than a girl herself. When her husband dies, she is left as an impoverished young widow with six children. Her dead husband’s nephew arrives from France to take charge of the business … and so begins a passionate love affair that will scandalize the island and, in time, produce the artistic genius that was Camille Pissarro, one of the founders of Impressionism.

Beautiful, romantic, haunting, and alive with sensuality, I cannot recommend The Marriage Of Opposites highly enough. Read it!

Grab your copy of The Marriage of Opposites here


The Folk Keeper

Franny Billingsley

the-folk-keeper

Whenever anyone recommends a book to me that I haven’t read, I write it in the back of my diary and then I hunt the book down. The Folk Keeper was recommended to me by an artist friend, who shares my fascination with selkies and other magical creatures of the sea.

The Folk Keeper is one of those small, perfect books that seem so simple and yet are so hard to create. The first line reads: ‘It is a day of yellow fog, and the Folk are hungry.’ It tells the story of a boy who works as a Folk Keeper in an orphanage, keeping the magical Folk appeased so they will not do harm to the human world. One day a Great Lady arrives, and so the boy’s life is changed forever. He discovers many secrets about himself and his past, uncovers a long-hidden murder and faces death himself, and – in the end – falls in love.

Franny Billingsley won the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Fiction with this beautiful children’s fantasy and it is easy to see why. An utterly unforgettable read.

Grab your copy of The Folk Keeper here


Rebecca

Daphne du Maurier

rebeccaSome time ago, I decided that I wanted to re-read all my favourite books again. I love to re-read; it’s an acute pleasure quite different to that of reading a book for the first time. So each month I choose an old book off my bookshelves. This time it was Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, a book I remember devouring in my late teens but have not read again since.

It was even better than I remembered.

Utterly compulsive, the book moves with all the swiftness and inexorability of a Greek tragedy. It begins with the young and nameless narrator (so clever, to never tell the reader her name!) who falls in love and marries with a much older and more sophisticated man, and moves with him to Manderlay, his grand house in Cornwall. Max de Winter’s first wife, Rebecca, had died some months earlier in mysterious circumstances, and her personality is imprinted everywhere in the house.

The new Mrs de Winter is shy and painfully awkward. She lives intensely in her imagination, and slowly finds herself obsessed with the former Mrs de Winter and with the mystery around her death. The feeling of dread slowly tightens, and yet there are surprises around every corner. Brilliantly plotted and executed, Rebecca is an absolute tour-de-force. If you haven’t read it before, read it now. If you have, read it again. You won’t be sorry.

Grab your copy of Rebecca 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: What Katie Read – The September Roundup (by award-winning author Kate Forsyth)

Kate Forsyth
What Katie Read…

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’s been reading.

 


The Quality of Silence

by Rosamund Lupton

The Quality of SilenceThis is one of the most beautiful and haunting psychological thrillers I have ever read. It breaks so many rules, and yet does so with such cleverness and such confidence. Set in Alaska, the novel is mostly told from the point of view of a ten-year-old deaf girl. She and her mother have arrived in the vast, icy darkness that is subarctic Alaska in winter.

To Ruby’s surprise, her father is not there to meet them at the airport. Instead, a policeman tells her mother that there has been a terrible accident. Ruby’s father is dead.

Refusing to believe the news, Ruby and her mother set out across the black, wind-scoured ice to find the truth. They soon become aware that someone is following them, hunting them. From this simple premise, Rosamund Lupton weaves an extraordinary spine-chilling tale of love, guilt, sorrow, survival … and silence. At times, the bitter cold and darkness and terror were so vivid, so real, that I could not stop shaking. Absolutely riveting.

Grab your copy of The Quality of Silence here

 


The House of Silk

by Anthony Horowitz

The House of SilkAnthony Horowitz is a big favourite in our family. My sons love his Diamond Brothers and Alex Rider books, my husband read and enjoyed his James Bond novel, and I am madly in love with the TV series he’s worked on, particularly Foyle’s War.

And I’ve read all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries. So of course I grabbed this book as soon as I saw it on the shelves. I enjoyed it immensely.

I really liked how faithful Anthony Horowitz was to the original feel and flavor of the books. “Pitch-perfect” was how I described it on twitter.


Grab your copy of The House of Silk here


Lamentation

by C.J. Sansom

LamentationLamentation is the latest in a series of utterly brilliant, devious and evocative Tudor murder mysteries by C. J. Sansom.

The series features a hunchbacked young lawyer called Matthew Shardlake, in the final years of Henry VIII’s rule. The novel begins with the burning of heretics, one of them a young woman named Ann Askew. She is a true historical figure, and the only woman known to have been tortured in the Tower.

Henry’s last wife, Catherine Parr, is under suspicion for sympathizing with the heretics, who are all Protestant. Matthew is called in to help her solve the mystery of a missing book, and the string of unexplained murders that follow. As always, the world of Tudor England is brought to vivid and putrid life, with the obese and malevolent figure of the king brooding over all.

This is historical crime at its best. Start with Dissolution, the first book in the series, and read in order.

Grab your copy of Lamentation here


Put Out All The Stops

by Geraldine McCaughrean

Pull out all the StopsGeraldine McCaughrean is one of Great Britain’s most celebrated children’s authors.

She is probably best-known for Peter Pan in Scarlet, the brilliant “official” sequel to J.M. Barrie’s famous story of the Boy Who Won’t Grow Up.

I love her work, and am trying to slowly read my way through all 150 of her books. This one is a rambunctious adventure story set in a steamboat on the Missouri River. It features a cast of lovable, oddball characters, a lot of slapstick humour, a dash of poignancy, and a whole lot of heart.

Grab your copy of Pull Out All The Stops here


Holloway

by Robert Macfarlane

HollowayIt is difficult to know how to describe this exquisite little book. It is only 33 pages long, and some of those pages are filled with delicate black-and-white drawings of trees.

It’s a memoir of a camping trip inspired by a book I’ve never heard of; it’s a extended poem about the sunken holloways of Dorset – those deep, mysterious tunnels between tree-roots that were once roads, goat-tracks, and field-paths – and it’s a celebration of nature, friendship, and language.

I’ve read it three times now, and find new delights each time. It was so beautiful, so marvellous, I have gone and bought several more of Robert Macfarlane’s books since, hoping for more enchantment.

Grab your copy of Holloway here


Possession

by A.S. Byatt

PossessionThis novel has been on my shelf for more than twenty years, and yet somehow I have never before read it. So at last I picked it up and began. Of course, I utterly adored it! For those of you who have not read it, I can really recommend it.

It’s a story about two English academics in the late 1980s, who get caught up in a literary mystery about the secret love affair of two Victorian writers. Their poems and stories are woven through the narrative, in one of the most dazzling ventriloquist acts I have ever seen in fiction. The pastiches are utterly pitch-perfect. The story is driven by the hunt for the truth of the Victorian love affair, which mirrors the slowly developing romance of our modern-day literary detectives.

I particularly loved all the clever fairy tale allusions!

Grab your copy of Possession here


Kate Forsyth

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. 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 Forsyth

Click here to see Kate’s Booktopia author page

The Beast’s Garden

by Kate Forsyth

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

Bestselling Australian Author Kate Forsyth Releases ‘A Small and Very Polite Rant About the Importance of Writers to the World’

Just when we thought we couldn’t love Kate Forsyth any more….

Australian Author Kate Forsyth has released an impassioned plea for increased government support for local authors in the wake of the announcement that $104 million will be removed from the Australia Council for the Arts.

db270f619280cd6c801271047f1604e6_400x400A regular guest at writers festivals both home and abroad, Forsyth has always been a highly respected member of the Australian literary community, coming from a long line of writers. Her sister, Belinda Murrell, is also a bestselling children’s author .

Here’s an excerpt from her blog:

Although I have been perturbed and disturbed by much that I see happening in our homeland – and, indeed, the world – for a long time, things came to a head for me yesterday at the National Writers’ Congress, held by the Australian Society of Authors at Sydney’s iconic Luna Park yesterday (and continuing on today).

The audience and panels were composed of novelists, poets, academics, biographers, illustrators, literary critics, publishers, agents, editors, literary festival organisers, directors of writers’ centres, booksellers … and politicians.

It was the address by one of these politicians – the Minister for the Arts, the Hon George Brandis – which has provoked me to rise in the darkness, long before the first weird cackle of the kookaburras, and write down some of what is bothering me.

You can read all of Kate’s ‘very polite rant’ here.

Grab your copy of Kate’s new novel The Beast’s Garden here

Grab your copy of Kate’s new novel The Beast’s Garden here

GUEST BLOG: What Katie Read – The June/July Round Up (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’s been reading.

It has been a busy few months for me! Every June, I run a writers’ retreat and literary tour in Oxford and the Cotswolds (http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/writing-retreat-in-the-cotswolds) and I always set a reading list for my students. So many of the books I read during June were books that we talked about in class – books filled with history, mystery and magic.


The Vanishing Witchthe-vanishing-witch

by Karen Maitland

I’ve really loved Karen Maitland’s earlier books, which are probably best described as medieval supernatural thrillers, and so I was keen to read her latest book. The Vanishing Witch is set during the troubled reign of Richard II, and features a number of scenes set during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. One of the most striking aspects of Karen’s writing is the way she brings the 14th century world so vividly to life, with all its stench and dirt and fear. These are superstitious times, rammed home by small quotations of the time at the beginning of each chapter. Some are quite amusing, but others are truly chilling in their advice on how to identify witches or cure illnesses.

The story follows the entwining fortunes of two families. The first is that of Robert of Bassingham, a wealthy wool merchant, and his wife and two sons. The other is a mysterious widow with one grown-up son and a younger daughter.

Then Robert’s wife dies in mysterious circumstances and he finds himself entranced with the beautiful young widow and her family. Death follows death, as Robert and his sons find themselves drawn deeper into intrigue and witchcraft.

Vivid and suspenseful, The Vanishing Witch also has a wry-voiced ghost who watches and waits and plots …

Grab a copy of The Vanishing Witch here

 


the-forgotten-gardenThe Forgotten Garden

by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden is one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors, and a pleasure to revisit. It has everything I could possibly want: a foundling child, an old book of mysterious fairy tales, a maze that leads to a secret garden, a mystery to be solved, and a love story – it’s as if Kate Morton set out to write the perfect book for me.

The book is cleverly structured like a Russian doll, with stories within stories, histories inside histories. Modern-day Cassandra inherits a mysterious house in Cornwall after her beloved grandmother Nell dies. As she explores the house and its forgotten garden, she discovers that there was much about Nell she did not know – and indeed, that Nell did not know. For Nell was a foundling child, and does not know her own history.

At the heart of the novel is the old book of fairy tales written by the Victorian Authoress, Eliza Makepeace. Like so many old tales, Eliza’s stories have two levels of meaning … and if Cassandra can just decipher the secret the stories hide, she may find out the truth about her grandmother’s dark past.

I’m not alone in my love of Kate Morton’s books – millions of readers attest to her popularity – but if by chance you have not read this wonderful book, I’d urge you to grab it now.

Grab a copy of The Forgotten Garden here

 


The Taxidermist’s Daughterisbn9781409153764

by Kate Mosse

An utterly gripping murder mystery with gorgeous lyrical prose and the pace of a thriller, The Taxidermist’s Daughter was an absolute delight to read. Set in Sussex in 1912, the story begins with local villagers gathering in a churchyard to follow an old superstition that says, on that night, the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year will be seen.

Our heroine is Constantia Gifford. Her father once owned a world-famous museum of taxidermy, but now all that is left is a few decaying specimens. The family is haunted by secrets from the past. Connie has lost her memory, and her father takes his solace from a bottle.

In the morning, the body of a dead woman is discovered at the bottom of their garden. Connie must try to find out who is responsible, even as lost memories from the past rise to haunt her.

Haunting, beautiful, horrifying and absolutely unputdownable, The Taxidermist’s Daughter shows just what can be done with the historical mystery genre.

Grab a copy of The Taxidermist’s Daughter here


Falling Angels9780007217236

by Tracy Chevalier

Another old favourite by a favourite author. Falling Angels is not as widely known as Girl With A Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier’s most celebrated book, but is, I think, even better. It has a bold and unconventional structure, with a series of very short chapters told in first person from a multitude of different characters. Some of the chapters are only a few paragraphs; one is only two short lines. It breaks so many rules about narrative structure, but I think it is utterly brilliant and brave. The story itself is riveting. Two families that live next door to each other, in the shadow of a graveyard, in the tumultuous years of change between Queen Victoria’s death in 1910 and King Edward’s death in 1910. It also has one of my all-time favorite last lines.

Grab a copy of Falling Angels here

 


affinityAffinity

by Sarah Waters

I have never read one of Sarah Waters’ books before. Now I want to gobble them all down as fast as I can get my greedy hands on them. Affinity is just brilliant. It tells the story of Margaret, a depressed young Victorian woman, who begins visiting the women’s ward at Millbank Prison as part of a do-gooder charity mission. She meets a number of different women, some incarcerated for acts that today would not be considered crimes. Among them is a beautiful young woman named Selina Dawes. Selina is a spiritualist. She was imprisoned after one of her séances went horribly wrong, causing the death of one woman and the psychological stress of another. Margaret finds herself reluctantly convinced of Selena’s clairvoyant powers, and draw to her beauty and fragility.

I don’t want to say much more, because the brilliance of this book is in its clever and surprising plot. I can say, though, with absolute conviction: READ IT!

Grab a copy of Affinity here


The Tide Watchers9780062379122

by Lisa Chaplin

The time of the Napoleonic wars is such a fascinating period and there are still so many stories to be told. Lisa Chaplin (who is a friend of mine) has discovered the intriguing untold story of a group of British spies working undercover in France in the early 19th century, trying to prevent the French invasion of Great Britain.

At the heart of Lisa’s tale is a young English woman, Lisbeth, and her determination to win back her baby son who has been taken by his violent French aristocratic father.   In order to gain the help of the British establishment, Lisbeth goes undercover in the house of the hot-tempered and brilliant American inventor, Robert Fulton (a real-life character), who is working on making the world’s first submarine. How far is Lisbeth prepared to go to win Robert Fulton’s trust and gain control of the submarine? This moral dilemma helps drive the suspense, as Lisbeth fights her attraction for one of the British agents, yet knows the only way to get back her son is to win Robert Fulton’s heart.

The Tide Watchers is a surprising and unusual historical thriller with a twist of romance that will appeal to anyone who loves books set in the 19th century.

Grab a copy of The Tide Watchers here


I am also in the early stages of writing and researching a new novel, and so I read a great many non-fiction books this month on the Pre-Raphaelites. I am planning a book about Edward Burne-Jones and his famous Briar Rose series of paintings, and so much of my reading is centred on his work and that of his great friend and colleague, William Morris. The books are all so fascinating, I thought I’d share them with you.

lizzie-siddal

Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel

by Lucinda Hawksley

Like many others, I’ve always been fascinated by the brief tragic life of Lizzie Siddal, whose face appears in so many early Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

She rose to become one of the most famous faces in Victorian Britain and a pivotal figure of London’s artistic world, until tragically ending her life in 1862.

Grab a copy of Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel here


A Circle of Sisters: Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter and Louisa Baldwin9780140284898

by Judith Flanders

The Macdonald sisters were a fairly ordinary mid-Victorian family. Their father was a Methodist preacher, their mother a chronic invalid. They moved often, following their father’s itinerant preaching routes, and so relied one each other for comfort and amusement. Attractive, lively girls, none of them was startling beautiful or brilliant, and yet they all made extraordinary marriages that led to extraordinary family dynasties. Agnes married Edward Poynter, president of the prestigious Royal Academy of the Arts; Georgiana married Edward Burne-Jones, one of the most extraordinary painters of the era; Alice was the mother of Rudyard Kipling; and Louisa gave birth to the future prime minister, Stanley Baldwin. In a way, their stories are a prime example for the way in which class boundaries in the Victorian era was changing, allowing those with talent and drive to change their social status.

Grab a copy of A Circle of Sisters here


the-last-pre-raphaeliteThe Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones & the Victorian Imagination

by Fiona McCarthy

This is a great big chunk of a book, but very readable, and magisterial in its approach to the life and work of Edward Burne-Jones, one of my favourite artists. Best of all, it shines a light on to the inner life of the artist, helping illuminate the forces that drove this complex and haunted man.

Grab a copy of The Last Pre-Raphaelite here


Pre-Raphaelites in Love

by Gay Daly

This is a great book for anyone who wants a really readable look into the passions and scandals that defined the relationships of the Pre-Raphaelites. There’s wife-swapping, suicide, trials for impotence, affairs with models, exhumation of dead wives, madness, and horse skeletons being boiled in front yards. Gripping stuff.


Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelitesdesperate-romantics

by Franny Moyle

Franny Moyle’s book was published in 2009, twenty years after Gay Daly’s Pre-Raphaelites in Love. So she has access to new research into the Pre-Raphaelites, as well as a greater freedom to talk about sex and drugs and rocking-and-rolling. Her style is racy and often funny, and lacks any kind of deep analysis or evidence. It was written as a tie-in with the BBC series of the same name, which very much focuses on the love affairs, rather than the art. It is, nonetheless, immensely readable and engaging, and is probably the best place to start if you want to know all the racy stuff abut the Pre-Raphaelites.

Grab a copy of Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites here


march-women-marchMarch, Women, March

by Lucinda Hawksley

I have always been interested in the suffragette movement, and have long wanted to write about it. Lucinda Hawksley’s beautifully written account looks at the history of women’s fight to vote from the Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792 all the way through to the change in British law in 1928.

Drawing on first-hand accounts such as letters and diaries, as well as newspaper reports of the time, the book is written in simple, lucid prose that is a joy to read. It was published on the centenary of the death of the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who was dragged under King George V’s horse during the Derby horse race and killed.

After finishing it, I wanted to press this book into the hands of every young woman I met …and every young man. A really important book.

Grab a copy of March, Women, March 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. 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

The Beast’s Garden

by Kate Forsyth

the-beast-s-gardenA retelling of The 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 the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a more…

Click here to grab a copy of The Beast’s Garden

GUEST BLOG: What Katie Read – The May Round Up (by award-winning author Kate Forsyth)

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

Having at last delivered my novel THE BEAST’S GARDEN, which is set in World War II and so predicated my reading for many months, I have caught up with some books I’ve been wanting to read for a while. A lovely mix of fantasy, crime, historical fiction and non-fiction, I’m hoping to read a lot more for pleasure in the coming month (before I get engrossed in research for the next book!)


For All the Tea in China

by Sarah Rose

A fascinating account of the man who stole the secret of tea-making from the Chinese in the mid 19th century.

Robert Fortune was a Scottish gardener and botanist who was employed by the East India Company in 1848 to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China, territory that was at that time forbidden to foreigners. His mission: to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea.

China had been the sole producer of tea for centuries, and the Emperor of China was determined to maintain its lucrative monopoly. To outwit the mandarins who controlled the tea trade, Robert Fortune disguised himself in silk robes and slippers and attached a long black pigtail. He hired Chinese interpreters to speak on his behalf, and travelled through remote landscapes where Westerners had never before trodden. His quest was complicated by the problem of smuggling the tea plants out and by the fact that Britain was waging a war with China over its opium imports. A truly remarkable unknown story, well worth a read.

Grab a copy of For All the Tea in China here


Return to Fourwinds

by Elizabeth Gifford

I really enjoyed Elizabeth Gifford’s first book, Secrets of the Sea House, and was interested to see what her next book would be like. It’s a parallel story, moving from the present time to the 1930s in Spain and Great Britain. The contemporary story is a mystery about a runaway bride, while the sections set in the past untangle the knotted stories of her parents and soon-to-be parents-in-law.

My favourite sections were those set in the war years, but the whole book is very readable, being both swift-moving and lyrical.

Grab a copy of Return to Fourwinds here


Madame Picasso

by Anne Girard

I have always been interested in the lives and loves of great artists, and have read many a biography of Picasso. So I wanted to read this novel as soon as I saw its very gorgeous cover. It tells the story of Eva Gouel, a young French woman who had a tumultuous affair with Picasso while he was still a young man living in Paris and just beginning to make his name.

Eva works as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and meets Pablo while he is still in a relationship with one of his first models, Fernande Oliver. Picasso fell madly in love with Eva (whose real name was Marcelle) and painted “I love Eva” on many of his paintings of the time. I knew before I began the book that it could not have a happy ending, since I knew Picasso had had two wives and numerous mistresses. However, I was surprised by just how sad this story is. Poignant and beautiful.

 Grab a copy of Madame Picasso here


The Solider’s Wife

by Pamela Hart

A beautifully told story of a young woman fighting to make her way after her husband is sent to fight in Gallipoli only weeks after their marriage. Living in fear of the telegraph boy, taking on a job in a man’s world, and trying to help those around her as the full horror of the war takes its toll, Ruby is an appealing and believable heroine. I also loved the Sydney setting, recognizing many local landmarks.

The Soldier’s Wife is a warm and intimate look at a marriage put under terrible strain by the costs of the First World War, told by a wonderful storyteller.

Grab a copy of The Soldier’s Wife here


Clariel

by Garth Nix

Clariel is a new book set in the Old Kingdom, the world of Gath Nix’s bestselling YA fantasy, Sabriel, which is one of my all-time favourite books. Before reading Clariel, I read all of the Old Kingdom books again, including Lirael and Abhorsen, and loved them just as much as I did on first reading them so many years ago (it is hard to believe that Sabriel was first published 20 years ago!)

Clariel is set long before the other three books and so it is not necessary to have read all of the series before tackling this one. It has all of Garth Nix’s characteristic imaginative flair and deceptively simple storytelling, making it a book that can be read in a single gulp.

The heroine of the tale, sixteen -year-old Clariel, is unhappy. Her parents have just moved to the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom, but Clariel wants to return to the wild, free life she had in the forests of Estwael. Clariel is a berserker, and finds it hard to control her temper when jostled about by people all day long. She is also aware that she is being used as a pawn in the political machinations of the capital. Murder and mayhem soon ensue, and Clariel finds herself on the run, trying to understand the Free Magic forces that surround her.

With a surprising plot that twists and turns most unexpectedly, Clariel is proof that fantasy for teenagers can be as compelling and moving as any other genre of fiction.

Grab a copy of Clariel here


Gone Girl: Film Tie-In Editiongone-girl

by Gillian Flynn

I was beginning to feel that I was the only person left on earth not to have read this blockbuster psychological thriller, so I picked it up in the airport one day and read it all the way home.

Fiendishly clever, compulsively readable, Gone Girl plays with most readers’ desire to connect and empathise with a novel’s characters. In the end, neither narrator is particularly sympathetic or likeable, but by that time the reader is hooked, wanting to know what happens in the end.

Grab a copy of Gone Girl here


The Strings of Murderthe-strings-of-murder

by Oscar de Muriel

An intriguing Gothic murder mystery set in Edinburgh in 1888, The Strings of Murder tells the story of Ian Frey, a disgraced Scotland Yard detective, who is trying to solve the murder of a renowned violinist. The brutality of the crime causes panic that Jack the Ripper has left London, while there is also a strange supernatural aspect to the case that leads Frey’s new boss, Detective McGray, to suspect witchcraft is in play.

As the corpses pile up, the two mismatched detective must try and hunt down the truth through the dark, fog-bound streets of Edinburgh. A very atmospheric historical thriller filled with strange lore about violins and music.

Grab a copy of The Strings of Murder 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. 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

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

the-beast-s-gardenA retelling of The 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 the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a more…

Click here to grab a copy of The Beast’s Garden

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