GUEST BLOG: What Katie Read – January – April 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.


The Light Between the Oceans

by M.L. Stedman

This novel has at its heart a disturbing moral dilemma. A young woman married to a lighthouse keeper longs for a child of her own, but has lost all of her own babies. One day a boat washes up on their remote island. Inside the boat are a dead man and a baby, who is very much alive. The lighthouse keeper and his wife take in the founding child and, before long, Izzy begins to pretend the little girl is hers. The consequences of that decision will change their lives forever.

The 1920s setting of a small Western Australian town, and the remote island with its lighthouse, is brilliantly evoked. The loneliness of Tom and Izzy’s life on the island, the vast stretch of sea and sky, the comfort of its routines, all are brought vividly to life.

The story is simply but powerfully told, and the slow-building suspense soon has the pages turning fast. Each step the characters take, each choice they make, is utterly in character, giving the story the feel of an inescapable fate, like a Greek tragedy. The Light Between the Oceans really is a superb book, so tightly constructed that not a word feels out of place. I am very curious to see what M.L. Stedman writes next, as this is an astonishingly assured debut.

Grab a copy of The Light Between the Oceans here


Resistance: Memoirs of Occupied France

by Agnes Humbert

I’ve had this book on my shelves for a long time and finally picked it up to read over the summer holidays. Agnes Humbert was an ordinary woman in her late 40s when German troops invaded Paris in June 1940. She was an art historian, married with two sons, who loved to paint. After the Fall of Paris, Agnes began to scribble down her thoughts and feelings in a notebook. She would go mad, she wrote, if she did not do something to resist the Germans. She and a few friends began to meet, to make plans to defy the Germans, and to print a newsletter called Resistance. It was the first resistance group in France. Eventually they were betrayed, and Agnes was arrested and imprisoned in April 1941.

After a mock trial, the men in the group were all shot and the women were sentenced to five years hard labour. The diary ends at this point, and moves to being a memoir of the following horrific years. Agnes and her fellow prisoners were used as slave labour in such appalling conditions she almost died several times. Starved, beaten, and injured by the work, she somehow managed to survive.

After the work camp was liberated by the Americans in June 1945, Agnes set up soup kitchens for refugees and helped the Americans hunt down and prosecute war criminals. Her extraordinary strength, courage and humour shine though on every page, making it a very moving and heartwrenching tale to read.

Grab a copy of Resistance here


Half a King

by Joe Abercrombie

I was on a few panels with Joe Abercrombie at the Perth Writers Festival, and so I was sent his latest book to read. I had heard a great deal about him, as his books had been making big waves in the international fantasy scene. His first book The Blade Itself had sold for a five-figure deal in 2005 (or, as Joe likes to say, ‘a seven-figure deal if you count the pence columns’) and has sold, I am told, more than 3 million copies.

I just loved Half A King. It was tightly constructed, quick-paced, and surprising – qualities that can sometimes be rare in a fantasy novel. It was also beautifully written. I’m really looking forward to reading the next in the series, Half the World, and discovering his earlier book as well. A must-read for fantasy lovers.

 Grab a copy of Half a King here


A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War and a Ruined House in France

by Miranda Richmond Mouillot

Miranda Richmond Mouillot is an American-born writer of European Jewish descent. Her grandparents Armand and Anna lived through the Nazi occupation of France and managed to escape into Switzerland. Miranda’s grandfather worked as a translator at the Nuremberg trials after the war, translating the words of such Nazi criminals as Rudolf Hess. The young couple then bought a tumbledown old stone cottage in a small village in the South of France … only for Anna to flee a few years later, taking their children. She and Armand never spoke another word.

Brought up in the shadow of the Holocaust and troubled by all that was never spoken, Miranda set out to find out what happened. Her journey led her back to the old ruined house in the South of France, to a new understanding of the damage war can do, and – happily – to love and a new life. It’s a beautifully written and unusual memoir which examines the impossibility of ever truly knowing what happened in the past.

Grab a copy of A Fifty-Year Silence here


The Devil in the Marshalsea

by Antonia Hodgson

I met Antonia Hodgson at the Historical Novel Society conference in London last year and – after hearing her speak about her novel The Devil in the Marshalsea – had to buy it straightaway. I’ve finally had a chance to read it, and can strongly recommend it to anyone who loves a really top-notch, fast-paced, and atmospheric historical thriller.

The novel is set in London in 1727, soon after the death of King George I and before his son was crowned George II. Most of the action takes place in the sordid Marchelsea debtors’ prison. The story’s hero, the young, handsome and raffish Tom Hawkins, has been clapped in irons due to his predilection for wine, women and gambling. The Marshalsea is a dangerous place at the best of times, but a violent murder has just taken place within its walls … and Tom is sharing a cell with the prime suspect.

All the action takes place over just a few days, and the plot twists and turns with ferocious speed. I could not put it down once I started. It is without doubt one of the best historical thrillers I’ve ever read and a highly deserving Winner of the CWA Historical Dagger award for 2014.

Grab a copy of The Devil in the Marshalsea here


Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside

by Andrea di Robilant

I first encountered Andrea di Robilant’s work some years ago, when I read The Venetian Affair, his account of the passionate and doomed love affair between one of his ancestors, the dashing Venetian aristocrat Andrea Memmo and Giustiniana Wynne, the half-Italian bastard daughter of an English baronet. Andrea di Robilant’s father had found a mouldering packet of their love letters in the attic of their family’s palazzo, many of them written in secret code. He spent years unravelling the mystery of the letters, but died before he could publish the story. His son Andrea was then a journalist and academic. He took on the task, and the result is an absolutely engrossing look into the closed and rarefied world of the Venetian Republic in the mid 1700s.

Andrea di Robilant has since published several more non-fiction books inspired by his extraordinary family’s history, and Chasing the Rose is the latest. It is, quite simply, an account of his search to find the history of a nameless silvery-pink rose that only grows in the abandoned gardens of the his family’s former country estate. His hunt takes him back in time, to the days of Napoleon’s occupation of Venice and his wife’s obsession with roses, and across the world, from Venice to Paris to China. It is a charming and utterly fascinating little book, and makes me wish my family had once owned a palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice with mysterious letters in the attic and a mysterious, sweet-scented rose in the garden.

Grab a copy of Chasing the Rose here


 Daughters of the Storm

by Kim Wilkins

Kim Wilkins is one of Australia’s most accomplished writers, and Daughters of the Storm is the first in a new fantasy series set in a world very much like Anglo-Saxon Britain. The heroine of the tale is a ferocious female warrior named Bluebell. She has spent her life trying to overcome the liabilities of her flowery name, but she lives in a world where women cannot rule and her sonless father lies in an enchanted sleep. Bluebell must try and find the way to wake her father, while fending off all those enemies who circle the land, eager to take it for themselves. She can trust no-one but her own sisters … but they all have secrets of their own, secrets which could destroy all that Bluebells holds dear.

It’s a compelling story, beautifully told, and Bluebell is a most unusual heroine. It’s lovely to see Australian writers producing such world-class fantasy.

Grab a copy of Daughters of the Storm here


Hansel and Gretel by retold by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Nail Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Both of these exquisitely illustrated hardback editions are published by Bloomsbury, and written by Neil Gaiman with all his characteristic flair. The illustrations for Hansel and Gretel are dark and filled with foreboding and a sense of evil lurking in the shadows. The illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti created the artwork for an exhibit celebrating the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of the Hansel and Gretel opera, which in turn inspired Neil Gaiman to retell the story. It’s a haunting and powerful version, very close to that published in the original 1812 edition of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I also loved the potted history of the tale at the back of the book.

The Sleeper and the Spindle is even more beautiful and strange. In this retelling of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Neil Gaiman has allowed his dark and macabre imagination to run free. Accompanied by the extraordinary illustrations of Chris Riddell – at times beautiful, at times funny, at times disturbing – the story twists the old tale in unexpected ways, to wonderful effect. This was my favourite of the two books, both because of its beautiful production and also because of the way the story is turned inside out. Magical.

Grab a copy of Hansel and Gretel here
Grab a copy of The Sleeper and the Spindle here


The Bletchley Girls: War, Secrecy, Love and Loss: The women of Bletchley Park tell their story

by Tess Dunlop

The story of the codebreakers of Bletchley Park is a fascinating one, and there has been a flood of books and movies about them in recent years, including ‘The Imitation Game’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the mathematician Alan Turing.

Tess Dunlop’s book is a timely addition to the field of knowledge, as she has taken the unusual approach of tracking down and interviewing a number of women who worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Their backgrounds and experiences were all very different, and give a well-rounded view of life at the park during that time. Some of the women came from aristocratic and academic backgrounds; most did not. Some worked in the code-breaking department; most did not. Many have never before spoken about what they did, bound by confidentiality agreements that only recently have been lifted.

Many of the women interviewed are now elderly, and so these first-hand accounts are important primary historical documents. Tess Dunlop is an award-winning historian, and this is a careful and observant account of Bletchley Park, beyond the better-known story of the breakers of the Enigma code.

Grab a copy of The Bletchley Girls here


The Silkworm

by Robert Galbraith

Robert Galbraith is, of course, the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling. Like much of the world, I was interested to read her take on contemporary crime and so grabbed a copy in the airport one day.

I enjoyed it immensely. The characters are all interesting and well-drawn, and the actual murder mystery ingeniously plotted. I enjoyed the wintry London setting, and the interplay of human relationships between the one-legged private detective Cormoran Strike and his pretty red-headed assistant Robin. I really enjoyed the subtle poking of fun at the world of publishing, and loved the mix of humour and pathos. In fact, it’s one of the best contemporary crime novels I’ve read in a while. I’m now tracking down the first in the series The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Grab a copy of The Silkworm 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

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 Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany.

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

Australia’s Favourite Author 2015 – Places 30-21

Australian Stories - BannerJanuary is the month of Australian Stories at Booktopia, and to celebrate we’re counting down Australia’s 50 Favourite Authors, as voted by you!

Monday and Tuesday’s announcements had some big surprises, will today be any different?

The countdown continues…


41600_2398143326_9891_n30. Traci Harding

Traci Harding’s work combines fantasy, facts, history and esoteric beliefs.

She has recently sold the film rights to The Alchemist Key, with production recommencing in 2010 She was born and raised in Carlingford, a western suburb of Sydney, Australia.

dreaming-of-zhou-gong

Our Pick

Harding states that her early interests were, “music, boys, daydreaming and storytelling”.

After leaving school she first pursued an interest in music. Later she started writing stories, novels, and then film scripts.

Click here to go to Traci Harding’s author page


29. Kate Grenville

Kate Grenville is one of Australia’s best-known authors. She’s published eight books of fiction and four books about the writing process. Her best-known works include the international best-seller The Secret River, The Idea of Perfection, and The Lieutenant.

The Secret River has won many prizes, including the Commonwealth Prize for Literature and the Christina Stead Prize. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Miles Franklin Award.

Our Pick

Our Pick

Several of her novels have been made into major feature films, and all have been translated into European and Asian languages.

In March 2010 Kate Grenville was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of New South Wales and in November 2012 she was awarded the same honour by the University of Sydney.

Click here to go to Kate Grenville’s author page


28. Colin Thiele

Colin Milton Thiele (1920 – 2006) was renowned for his award-winning children’s fiction, most notably the novels Storm Boy, Blue Fin, the Sun on the Stubble series, and February Dragon.

storm-boy-other-stories-limited-edition

Our Pick

Thiele wrote more than 100 books, which often described life in rural Australia, particularly the Eudunda, Barossa Valley, and Murray River/Coorong regions of South Australia. Several of his books have been made into films or television series.

In 1977 he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia, the second highest level of the order, for his services to literature and education.

Click here to go to Colin Thiele’s author page


27. Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan was born in 1974 and grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. In school he became known as the ‘good drawer’ which partly compensated for always being the shortest kid in every class. He graduated from the University of WA in 1995 with joint honours in Fine Arts and English Literature, and currently works full time as a freelance artist and author in Melbourne.

Shaun began drawing and painting images for science fiction and horror stories in small-press magazines as a teenager, and has since become best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through surreal, dream-like imagery.

the-arrival

Our Pick

Books such as The Rabbits, The Red Tree, The Lost Thing and the acclaimed wordless novel The Arrival have been widely translated throughout Europe, Asia and South America, and enjoyed by readers of all ages. Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer, and worked as a concept artist for the films Horton Hears a Who and Pixar’s WALL-E. He is currently directing a short film with Passion Pictures Australia; his most recently published book is The Oopsatoreum: inventions of Henry A. Mintox, written in conjunction with the Powerhouse Museum.

Click here to go to Shaun Tan’s author page


26. Craig Silvey

From the moment Craig Silvey’s first book Rhubarb hit the shelves in 2004, it became clear Australia had unearthed another incredibly exciting talent. In 2005 Silvey was named as one of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Novelists. Rhubarb was selected as the inaugural book for the ‘One Book’ series of events at the 2005 Perth International Arts Festival, and was included in the Australian national ‘Books Alive’ campaign. And then came Jasper.

Our Pick

Silvey says of his literary influences that “I’ve always been attracted to Southern Gothic fiction. There’s something very warm and generous about those regional American writers like Twain and Lee and Capote, and it seemed to be a literary ilk that would lend itself well to the Australian condition.”

Click here to go to Craig Silvey’s author page


Jackie25. Jackie French

Jackie French’s writing career spans sixteen years, 42 wombats, 120 books for kids and adults, translations into nineteen languages, and slightly more awards than wombats, both in Australia and overseas.

to-love-a-sunburnt-country

Our Pick

Her books range from provocative historical fiction such as Hitler’s Daughter and They Came on Viking Ships to the hilarious international bestseller, Diary of a Wombat with Bruce Whatley, as well as many nonfiction titles such as The Fascinating History of Your Lunch, and To the Moon and Back (with Bryan Sullivan), the history of Australia’s Honeysuckle Creek and man’s journey to the moon.

In 2000, Hitler’s Daughter was awarded the CBC Younger Readers’ Award. To the Moon and Back won the Eve Pownall Award in 2005. Macbeth and Son, and Josephine Wants to Dance were both shortlisted for the 2007 CBC Awards.

Click here to go to Jackie French’s author page


24. Paul Jennings

The Paul Jennings phenomenon began with the publication of Unreal! in 1985. Since then, readers all around the world have devoured his books.

Paul Jennings has written over one hundred stories and has been voted ‘favourite author’ over forty times by children in Australia, winning every children’s choice award.

Our Pick

The top-rating TV series Round the Twist and Driven Crazy are based on a selection of his enormously popular short-story collections such as Unseen! which was awarded the 1999 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for Best Children’s Book.

In 1995 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to children’s literature and was awarded the prestigious Dromkeen Medal in 2001. Paul has sold more than 8 million books worldwide.

Click here to go to Paul Jenning’s author page


23. 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.

the-wild-girl

Our Pick

Since The Witches of Eileanan was named a Best First Novel of 1998 by Locus Magazine, Kate has won or been nominated for numerous awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US. She’s also the only author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year, for her Chain of Charms series – beginning with The Gypsy Crown – which tells of the adventures of two Romany children in the time of the English Civil War. Book 5 of the series, The Lightning Bolt, was also a CBCA Notable Book.

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. She lives by the sea in Sydney, Australia, with her husband, three children, a rambunctious Rhodesian Ridgeback, a bad-tempered black cat, and many thousands of books.

Click here to go to Kate Forsyth’s author page


22. Morris Gleitzman

Morris Gleitzman grew up in England and came to Australia when he was sixteen. He was a frozen-chicken thawer, sugar-mill rolling-stock unhooker, fashion-industry trainee, student, department-store Santa, TV producer, newspaper columnist and screenwriter until he wrote his first children’s novel in 1993.

Our Pick

He is now one of the world’s best-known and loved children’s authors. Gleitzman tackles tough subjects in a funny and offbeat way . He has never set out to write “issues books” and says that his writing is as much for himself as for his readers.

Click here to go to Morris Gleitzman’s author page


21. Di Morrissey

Di Morrissey is one of the most successful authors Australia has ever produced. She trained as a journalist, working in the media around the world. Her fascination with different countries; their landscape, their cultural, political and environmental issues, forms the inspiration for her novels.

Her first book Heart of the Dreaming instantly became a bestseller. Since then she has published another 20 bestsellers.

the-road-back

Our Pick

Di Morrissey’s books have touched the hearts and emotions of readers around the world. She writes about personal relationships, the environment, Aboriginal reconciliation, identity and Australia’s relationship with its South East Asian and Pacific neighbours. All her novels are inspired by a particular landscape.

Click here to go to Di Morrissey’s author page


Don’t forget to comeback at midday tomorrow as we continue our countdown towards Australia’s Favourite Author for 2015!

Love Australian books?

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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

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