What Katie Read – The February 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.


Touchstone

by Laurie R. King

Laurie R. King is best known for her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes historical mystery series in which a brilliant young woman becomes first a student – and then the lover – of the brilliant and enigmatic detective. I’ve read quite a few of this series and really enjoyed them. Laurie R. King is as interested in the internal lives of her characters as much as in the actual solving of a crime, and so her books are rich, complex, psychologically acute, and slow. Touchstone is the first in a new series set in the 1920s in England, featuring the unlikely friendship between an American agent and a war-damaged British gentleman. The first is Harris Stuyvesant and he is on the hunt for a terrorist whose bombs have left a raw scar on his own life.  The trail leads him to England, where he meets Bennett Grey, whose acute sensitivity to the world following a shell attack makes him a kind of human lie detector. The two men find themselves tracking down the terrorist together … with tragic results.

This book took a while to cast its spell on me, but slowly and gradually the dramatic tension escalates until the book was unputdownable. And by that time I knew the characters so intimately I really feared for them. This is not the kind of thriller that will get your blood pumping and your heart racing; it will, however, make you think about it for a long time after you close the final, brilliant page.

Click here for more details about Touchstone


Mrs Mahoney’s Secret War

by Gretel Mahoney & Claudia Strahan

Claudia Strahan was at a friend’s house in London, listening to music one day, when a cross neighbour knocked on the door to complain about the noise. She was 78 years old, and spoke with a German accent. Claudia had been born in Germany and so asked her a little of where she came from. The cross old lady proved to be so interesting, Claudia went to have coffee with her. The more she discovered about Mrs Mahoney’s life, the more fascinated she became. Nine years later, the two published this extraordinary memoir of Mrs Mahoney’s life in Hamburg during the Second World War.

Gretel Wachtel, as she was then, helped to protect fugitives hunted by the Gestapo, hid her Jewish doctor in her cellar, and passed secrets she learned from her work on the Enigma encryption machine to the German Resistance, and was finally arrested by the Gestapo.

She was just an ordinary German girl who did extraordinary things to try and fight the cruel Nazi regime under which she lived. Her verve, courage, and humour shine through in every word … one can just imagine her as a feisty old lady, telling her stories to Claudia over kaffeeklatsch, remembering one story after another through her young visitor’s eager questioning. A great memoir of one woman’s extraordinary life.

Click here for more details about Mrs Mahoney’s Secret War


Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler

by Anne Nelson

When we think of Germany under Hitler, we often think of Germans as being either enthusiastic supporters of Nazism, or passive bystanders who did nothing to stop him. This fascinating non-fiction account of the Berlin Underground shows that there were, in fact, many Germans who risked everything to fight against the Nazi regime.

The Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra) was the Gestapo’s name for a group of German artists, actors, filmmakers, writers, journalists and intellectuals who worked indefatigably to undermine the Nazis in Berlin, the heart of Hitler’s war machine. Almost half of them were women.

Based on years of research, including exclusive interviews with the few that survived the war, Red Orchestra brings to life the different characters of the key people involved in the resistance ring.

These include Adam Kuckhoff, a playwright who found employment in Goebbels’s propaganda unit in order to undermine the regime, and his wife, Greta, who risked her own family to help smuggle Jews and homosexuals out from Berlin; Arvid Harnack, who collected anti-Nazi intelligence while working for the Economic Ministry, and his wife, Mildred, the only American woman executed by Hitler; Harro Schulze-Boysen, the glamorous Luftwaffe intelligence officer who leaked anti-Nazi information to allies abroad, and his wife, Libertas, a social butterfly who coaxed favours from an unsuspecting Göring; and many more.

The Berlin Underground was betrayed in 1942, and many of its members were tortured and executed, including young women in their teens. I ended the book with tears in my eyes – it is impossible not to imagine yourself living under such terrifying circumstances and wondering what choices you would make.


Storming the Eagle’s Nest: Hitler’s War in the Alps 

by Jim Ring

Another World War II book! I’m researching a novel to be set during that period and so you’ll need to expect a lot of books set during that time in my reading lists. This one is another non-fiction book, focusing on the role of the Alps in the Second World War.

Hitler declared: ‘Yes, I have a close link to this mountain. Much was done there, came about and ended there; those were the best times of my life . . . My great plans were forged there.’

The book examines the war in the Alps from all angles, including battles from resistance fighters in Italy, France and Yugoslavia, concentration camps in Bavaria,  Hitler’s enormous caches of art and wine hidden in caves, and Switzerland’s role as a centre for Allied spies – Storming the Eagle’s Nest is an interesting, unusual and very readable addition to WWII non-fiction.

Click here for more details about Storming the Eagle’s Nest


The Marsh King’s Daughter

by Elizabeth Chadwick

I’ve wanted to read a book by Elizabeth Chadwick for a while – a lot of my Goodreads friends rave about her work – and so I finally bought one to read. I chose this book because of the title – it’s the name of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale that I am actually thinking of rewriting one day. The title has little to do with the book, however, except that the heroine, Miriel, is the granddaughter of a rich weaver who lives near the marshes.

The book is set in 1216, one of my favourite periods of history (nasty King John ruled the land back then). Miriel is intelligent, high-spirited, and rebellious, and so is locked up in a convent by her violent and lustful step-father. She plans to escape but then helps rescue a half-drowned young man and stays so she can help nurse him back to health. The young man is Nicholas de Caen and he has a secret. He was present when King John’s treasure sank beneath the marshes (a true historical event), and he has hidden some of the treasure …

The two help each other escape, but their road of romance is rocky indeed. They have to deal with all sorts of misfortunes – including their own pigheadedness – before at last finding refuge in each other’s arms.

A big, brightly coloured romance, with lots of twists and turns, The Marsh King’s Daughter was a most enjoyable read and I’ll be picking up more books by Elizabeth Chadwick.

Click here for more details about The Marsh King’s Daughter


The Tulip Eaters

by Antoinette van Huegten

The premise of this book sounded so engaging that I was really keen to read it – a contemporary woman comes home to find her mother murdered and her baby stolen, and comes to realise these shocking crimes are somehow related to her mother’s past in Nazi-occupied Holland.

She sets off for Amsterdam, determined to find her baby and uncover the truth of her family’s history. The title refers to the Dutch having to go out into the fields to dig up tulip bulbs to stave off starvation during the Occupation.

It sounded just the kind of book I love to read. I have to admit, though, that I found the book disappointing. The most interesting parts were the ones that referred to the past, and they were all told, not shown.

There were also a few inconsistencies which marred the reading for me. However, if you’re looking for a light and easy suspenseful read, then this may appeal to you.

Click here for more details about The Tulip Eaters


Fairest of Them All

by Carolyn Turgeon

I’m in the final stages of a doctorate on Rapunzel, which means I simply must read every book ever inspired by the old fairy tale.

Fairest of Them All is an interesting take on the well-known story, imagining: What if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil stepmother? 

The story begins with a young Rapunzel living in a forest with her foster mother, Mathena, a witch who had been banished from court because of her magical powers. They live an idyllic life, tending the herb garden and helping the women of the village.

One day Rapunzel’s singing attracts a young prince who was out hunting in the forest. He climbs up her hair into her tower bedroom and they have a brief afternoon of passion before the prince must return to his kingdom and his betrothed.

Rapunzel loses the baby she carries, and is grieved to discover the king and his wife have a living daughter soon after hers has died. The girl is so beautiful she is named Snow White.

The tale then follows the familiar sequence of events known to us from the original Grimm tale – the mother dies, the king remarries, his queen has a magical mirror that tells her she is the fairest of all …

Written simply yet lyrically, this is a dark and powerful reimagining of two well-known fairy-tales and should appeal to the millions of fans of writers such as Donna Jo Napoli, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George and Gail Carson Levine.

Click here for more details about Fairest of Them All


Rose Under Fire

by Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein’s novel Code Name Verity was one of the best books I read last year, and I was very eager to read her latest book, Rose Under Fire.

Both books are set during World War II, and both pack a hefty emotional wallop. In Rose Under Fire, the heroine is a young American woman who is caught by the Germans while flying an Allied fighter plane back from Paris.  She is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped there in horrific circumstances, she has to try and survive, even while the German war machine grinds ever closer to genocide. Rose makes friends among the Rabbits (young Polish women who were experimented upon by doctors) and recites poetry to keep herself to stay sane. This book is so intense and powerful that I had trouble breathing by the end – like Code Name Verity, is one of the best WWII books for teenagers that I’ve ever read. Expect to be emotionally wrung out whilst reading it.

Click here for more details about Rose Under Fire


Poison

by Sara Poole

The Spaniard died in agony. That much was evident from the contortions of his once handsome face and limbs and the black foam caking his lips. A horrible death to be sure, one only possible from that most feared of weapons.

Poison.

What a great opening to what proved to be a real page-turner of a novel. The book’s heroine, a young woman named Francesca Giordano, kills a man to prove that she is the better poisoner. Her reward is to become the official poisoner of Rodrigo Borgia, during his dangerous quest to become the next Pope.

Francesca wants the job so she can find out who murdered her father, who had been poisoner before her. She finds herself caught up in an action-packed roller-coaster ride of an adventure, with intrigue, treachery, romance and murder a-plenty. A fabulous read!

Click here for more details about Poison


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 December Round Up (by award-winning author Kate Forsyth)

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

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

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

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


a-tryst-with-troubleA Tryst with Trouble

by Alyssa Everett

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

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

Grab a copy of A Tryst with Trouble here


the-midnight-dress

The Midnight Dress

by Karen Foxlee

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

Grab a copy of The Midnight Dress here


9781921901584Half Moon Bay

by Helene Young

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

Grab a copy of Half Moon Bay here


crowCrow Country

by Kate Constable

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

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

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

I loved it.

Grab a copy of Crow Country here


sisterSister

by Rosamund Lupton

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

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

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

Grab a copy of Sister here


under the wideUnder the Wide Starry Sky

by Nancy Horan

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

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

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

Grab a copy of Under the Wide Starry Sky here


the-bone-gardenThe Bone Garden

by Tess Gerritsen

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

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

Grab a copy of The Bone Garden here


Who Am I? : The Diary of Mary Talence

by Anita Heiss

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

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

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

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

For more books by Anita Heiss click here


a-gentleman-of-fortuneA Gentleman of Fortune

by Anna Dean

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

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

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


Wonderstruck

by Brian Selznick

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

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

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

Grab a copy of Wonderstruck here


wild-lavenderWild Lavender

by Belinda Alexandra

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

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

Grab a copy of Wild Lavender here


The Crimson Ribbon

by Katherine Clements

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

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

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

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


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

What Katie Read – The November 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 read 9 books this month, with an interesting mixture of historical fiction, contemporary suspense, and philosophy. It was also AusReading Month in the blogosphere and so I made an effort to read some of the books by Australian authors in my tottering pile of books to-be-read.

I managed four – Kelly Gardiner, Sara Foster, Jenny Bond and Damon Young – and I can recommend them all. Proof that we have an exciting degree of writing talent here in Australia!


Mrs Poemrs-poe

by Lynn Cullen

I have always thought of Edgar Allen Poe as being a strange, moody, melancholy drunk, prone to irrational rages, with a mind like a dark cabinet of curiosities. This novel bursts open those misconceptions and shines a bright light on his life, through the eyes of the woman who loved him. But no, not his wife. Mrs Poe is told through the eyes of his lover, the poet Frances Osgood. It is mostly set in 1845, the year Poe wrote his most famous poem, The Raven.

There is a Mrs Poe – Edgar’s wife was his first cousin and they were married when she was only 13 – and Frances finds herself torn by love for Edgar and guilt over hurting his naïve and childlike wife. This novel is a really fascinating read – it brought the world of 1840s New York vividly to life, taught me a whole lot I didn’t know, and made me want to go and read Poe again.

Click here for more details about Mrs. Poe


The Girl on the Golden Coin

by Marci Jefferson

The Restoration is one of my absolute favourite periods of history and I have read a lot of books set in that period. However, I had never read about Frances Stuart before and so I found this novel of her life by Marci Jefferson utterly fascinating.

Frances is a distant cousin of Charles II whose family lost everything in the English Civil War and their subsequent exile with the royal court.  Frances has only her beauty and her wit to help her survive in the decadent Restoration court, but she uses both to high advantage.

Spying for the French king, Louis XIV, on the one hand and keeping a sensual King Charles II on a short leash with the other hand, Frances must keep a clear head without losing her heart –which proves far more difficult than she imagined.  A wonderful read for anyone who loves historical fiction.

Click here for more details about The Girl on the Golden Coin


Act of Faithact-of-faith

by Kelly Gardiner

Act of Faith is an intoxicating mixture of history, adventure, romance and philosophy. It is, I think, one of the cleverest books to be published for young adults in the past few years, yet it wears its scholarship lightly.

The novel is set in 1640. England is in the midst of the English Civil War, a time of extraordinary political and religious upheaval. The heroine of the tale is Isabella Hawkins, daughter of an Oxford don and philosopher. She has been taught by her father to read Greek and Latin, as well as many other languages, but she has to hide her brilliance for, in the mid-17th century educated women were considered quite freakish.

When Master Hawkins is imprisoned for his ideas, Isabella helps her father escape but sets in chain a sequence of events that will end in tragedy and exile. She ends up alone, in Amsterdam, working with a printer who is publishing seditious books and smuggling them all over the world. Danger is all around her, but Isabella is determined to work for political liberty and intellectual freedom. With a gorgeous cover and interior design from the Harper Collins designers, this is a book both beautiful and brilliant, and one I highly recommend.

Click here for more details about Act of Faith


death-and-judgmentDeath and Judgement

by Donna Leon

I always enjoy Donna Leon’s murder mysteries set in Venice and featuring the unflappable Commissario Guido Brunetti. This book is No 4 in the series and not one of her best, but its still very readable.

In this case, Brunetti is investigating the murder of a prominent lawyer. As he digs deeper, Brunetti discovers a sordid web of corruption, prostitution and lies which ends up hurting his own family.Donna Leon has now written 22 books, and apparently a TV series is being filmed. I’d recommend starting with No. 1 (Death at la Fenice) and reading your way through.

Click here for more details about Death and Judgement


Beneath the Shadowsbeneath-the-shadows

by Sara Foster

This contemporary suspense novel begins with a really intriguing premise. Our heroine Grace is living in an old Yorkshire cottage with her husband and newborn baby. One evening, her husband takes the baby out for a walk and never comes back. The baby is found on the doorstep in her pram.

One year later, Grace returns to the cottage in an attempt to put the pieces of her life back together. She finds herself troubled by strange happenings and gradually comes to realise that she and her daughter are both in grave danger. The suspense is a little unevenly handled, but the setting is truly creepy and evocative and the story kept me turning the pages.

Click here for more details about Beneath the Shadows


my-brother-michaelMy Brother Michael

by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart is one of my all-time favourite authors, and I like to re-read at least one of her books again every year. My Brother Michael has never been one of my favourites, but its been a long while since I last read it (at least six years!) so I felt it was time to revisit. I’m so glad I did.

Her books are such a joy to read – effortlessly graceful, suspenseful, character-driven and this one made me want to go to Greece so badly. My Brother Michael was first published in 1959, yet it has not dated at all. I wish I could find a modern-day romantic suspense author that writes this well!

Click here for more details about My Brother Michael


Goodbye, Marianne: A Story of Growing Up in Nazi Germanygood-bye-marianne

by Irene N. Watts

A novel for children inspired by the author’s own childhood, this is a beautiful and very moving account of life for a young Jewish girl in Berlin in the early days of World War II.

Marianne, like the author, escapes on the Kindertransport to Great Britain, leaving her family behind, so the book does not contain any great atrocity, making it a perfect read for a thoughtful and sensitive child.

Click here for more details about Goodbye, Marianne


perfect-northPerfect North

by Jenny Bond

This historical novel is the first book from Jenny Bond and illuminates a little known expedition to conquer the North Pole by hot-air balloon. A

lthough inspired by true events – the 1897 hydrogen balloon voyage by Swedish explorers S.A Andrée, Knut Frænkel and Nils Strindberg to the North Pole and the discovery of their frozen remains in 1930 – the story is much more focused on the inner life of Strindberg’s fiancée Anna.

An intriguing and unusual book.

Click here for more details about Perfect North


philosophy-in-the-gardenPhilosophy in the Garden

by Damon Young

What an unusual and engaging book! Damon Young is Honorary Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, which makes him sound rather musty and dusty. On the contrary he is young, hip, and has a very readable style. His premise is very simple – he looks at the lives and works of half-a-dozen authors in relation to their garden (or lack of garden) with a particular focus on their philosophies. I was very familiar with some of the writers’ work (Jane Austen, George Orwell, Emily Dickinson), had tried and failed to read some of the others (Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre) and had never heard of one (Nikos Kazantzakis).

Each chapter was full of illuminations and insights. I knew Jane Austen loved her garden but did not realise that her writing suffered when she was away from it. I didn’t know Proust kept bonsai by his bed, or that Friedrich Nietzsche lived in a ménage a trois (this was one chapter when I’d have liked to have known a whole lot more!)

I loved discovering Emily Dickinson was a gardener and that her poems were full of flower symbology. Each chapter made me want to know more, and sent me on little expeditions of googling and looking up other books. And I’m now off in search of books by Nikos Kazantzakis (he sounds so brilliant, how could I never have heard of him?) I’d really recommend this for anyone with an enquiring mind (even those who, like Sartre, hated gardens).

Click here for more details about Philosophy in the Garden

GUEST BLOG: What Katie’s Reading – The October Round Up (by award-winning author Kate Forsyth)

This month, I’ve read something old, something new and something blue – partly as a consequence of having visited Hay-on-Wye in Wales in September, the town said to have more second-hand bookshops per square mile than any other town in the world.

I adore rummaging around in second-hand bookstores and always come home with bags of old treasures (that I then have to lug all the way back to Australia).


A Cotswold Killing by Rebecca Trope

I always like to read books set in places where I am travelling and I love a good murder mystery, so I grabbed A Cotswold Killing by Rebecca Trope while I was over there. This is the first in a popular series of murder mysteries featuring the amateur detective Thea Osborne. Recently widowed and trying to begin a new life for herself, Thea decides to try house-sitting in the beautiful Cotswold village of Duntisbourne Abbots. She is woken in the middle of the night by a piercing scream, but does not get up to investigate and is horrified to find a body in the her pond the following day. Guilty and troubled by the murder, she begins to investigate…

A Cotswold Killing is a quiet, thoughtful and rather melancholy murder mystery, with as much space given to Thea’s interior life as to the events of the murder. I would have liked a much stronger sense of place and a faster pace, but the first in a series is often the worst and so I’m willing to try another of the series, perhaps next time I’m in the Cotswolds.


The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

A fabulous, big, fat, epic historical novel! The Tea Rose tells the story of Fiona Finnegan who flees a life of poverty and hardship in the docklands of East London, 1888 (a place where Jack the Ripper lurks and ruthless employers keep their workers half-starved) to make a new life for herself in New York. Love, desire, grief, betrayal, revenge … this novel has it all.

Although The Tea Rose weighs in at a massive 675 pages, the book never felt anything less than compelling reading. A hugely enjoyable read.


Jo of the Chalet School by Elinor M Brent-Dyer

One of the treasures I found in Hay-on-Wye – a third edition of Jo of the Chalet School by Elinor M Brent-Dyer, published in 1936, with illustrated bookplates intact. This is the second book in the famous series about a girls’ school in the Austrian Tyrol, but was the first one I ever read. I had found a box of them in my grandmother’s attic while staying there on Christmas holidays, and read my way through them. Years later, I asked my grandmother if I could have that box of books and she said she had thrown them in the bin. If only she had known how much they are worth now!

A first edition of ‘Book 1: The School at the Chalet’ is now worth a cool $3,600. Brent-Dyer wrote 59 books in the series in total, and they are the longest-surviving series of girls’ school stories every published, having been continuously in print for more than 70 years. More than 100,000 paperback copies are still sold every year. This one was first published in 1926 and is full of quaint expressions and old-fashioned values, but the setting and time is marvellously created and the story is full of charm and humour, just like I remembered.


The Barons’ Hostage by Geoffrey Trease

Geoffrey Trease is one of the authors I read as a child that gave me my lifelong love of historical fiction. He combined meticulous research with exciting, action-packed story lines that brought history vividly to life. He was remarkable for his ability to make his characters live on the page and, because he was careful to never use any archaic language like ‘prithee’ or ‘I troth thee’, his books are very readable and lively and have lasted the test of time extraordinarily well. I have collected his books for years but since he published 113, I still have quite a few to hunt down.

The Baron’s Hostage was first published in 1952 – the copy I bought in Hay-on-Wye is a first US edition, published in 1975. Like all of his books, the narrative is shared between a young man and a young woman, in this case Michael and Arlette, who are caught up in the civil war known as the Baron’s War in the late 1200s. A rattling good read.


The Storyteller & His Three Daughters by Lian Hearn

Lian Hearn is the author of the gorgeous bestselling Tales of the Otori fantasy series for adults, set in an alternative feudal Japan, as well as a number of children’s books published under her true name, Gillian Rubenstein. The first book in the Otori series, Across the Nightingale Floor is one of my favourite novels, the medieval Japanese setting being utterly fresh and fascinating.

The Storyteller and His Three Daughters is a departure from her other Lian Hearn books in many ways. The setting is Japan in the 1800s, and from many references to true historical events and people, it is clear that this is not an alternative world fantasy but rather a historical novel.

The main character is a middle-aged storyteller named Sei who is struggling to keep alive traditional tales and storytelling techniques in a culture that is being increasingly dominated by Western values and customs. He finds himself out of joint with the times, and unable to write anymore. However, he cannot stop observing and speculating on the lives of the people around him and finds himself creating a tale of love, jealousy, murder, treason and betrayal that seems as if it might be all too true. Drawing upon Japanese storytelling techniques, The Storyteller and His Three Daughters is an ambitious and unusual meditation on the nature and meaning of art.


Julius and the Watchmaker by Tim Hehir

An action-packed timeslip adventure for boys, that brings together a Dickensian cast of characters with a dash of humour and playfulness. The hero, Julius, is a bullied boy who lives in genteel poverty with his grandfather who owns a bookshop. One day he meets Jack Springheel, a charming rogue, and finds himself on the run with a magical watch and a host of villains on his heels.

The magical watch has the ability to transport the owner back and forth and even, perhaps, sideways, in time. These convolutions could be, perhaps, confusing for a child reader (and I would have liked a far more active female character), but the book is funny and fast-paced enough to keep the reader’s interest. A great debut for the author.


Faking it To making it by Ally Blake

I love historical romance but rarely read contemporary romance, for reasons unknown. I met Ally Blake at the Australian Society of Authors’ National Congress, where we were both speakers. She writes ‘fun, fresh, flirty romance’ for Harlequin Mills and Boon and has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide which is most impressive.

She was kind enough to give me a copy of one of her books (they are so slim she easily carry them around in my handbag while I’d dislocate my shoulder if I tried to heave copies of my books around with me).

I read it in the bath that night and enjoyed it immensely. Faking It to Making It is a sexy and funny contemporary romance set in Melbourne and would make a great rom com – I hope Hollywood comes knocking on Ally’s door!


Thornspell by Helen Lowe

New Zealand writer Helen Lowe reimagines the Sleeping Beauty story from the point of view of the prince in this beautiful, romantic fantasy for young adults. Prince Sigismund has grown up in a castle whose gardens and parklands are surrounded by a deep, tangled forest. He is kept locked away from the world, and so longs for adventures like the ones in the stories he loves so much – fantastical tales of knights-errant and heroic quests, faie enchantments and shape-shifting dragons.

One day a beautiful and mysterious lady in a fine carriage speaks to him through the castle gates, and Sigismund’s world begins to change. He dreams of a raggedy girl trapped in thorns, and a castle that lies sleeping … soon he is caught up in an adventure as perilous and strange as that of any story he had ever heard…

I absolutely adored this book! I love fairy tale retellings, especially ones that are full of magic, peril, and romance, and Thornspell is one of the best I’ve ever read. It reminded me of Robin McKinley’s early books, which are still among my favourite fairy tale retellings. Thornspell very deservedly won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best YA Novel – it’s a must red for anyone who loves fairy-tale-inspired YA fantasy.


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

Click here to see Kate’s author page with Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

What Katie Read: The September Round Up

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’ve been on the move nearly all month, with lots of Book Week events, followed by the Brisbane Writers Festival, and then the rest of the month spent on the road in England and Wales.

So a lot of my reading was done on my e-book reader, which I really only use while travelling, and also dictated by where I was and what I was doing. I still managed to read 13 books (though one was only a novella), with lots of romance and murder mysteries, and one absolutely riveting and blood-chilling non-fiction.


ember-islandEmber Island

by Kimberley Freeman

I get all excited when I hear a new Kimberley Freeman novel is due out. I know I’m in for a real page-turning delight, with a delicious mix of mystery, romance, history and family drama. These are books I like to clear some space for, because I know that once I pick one up I’m utterly compelled to keep on reading till the very end. ‘Ember Island’ was no exception.

It weaves together the story of Tilly Kirkland, newly married to a man of secrets in the Channel Islands in 1890; and the story of bestselling novelist Nina Jones, who retreats to a small Queensland island in 2012 in an attempt to heal her broken heart and overcome her crippling writer’s block. The two stories touch as Nina discovers old diary pages hidden in the walls of her dilapidated old house …

Click here for more details about Ember Island


Captive of Sin

by Anna Campbell

I like nothing better than a good romance novel, particularly when I’m feeling tired and over-worked (which seems to be all the time at the moment).

Anna Campbell had recently been voted Australia’s Favourite Romance Author and I had read and enjoyed one of her earlier novels ‘Seven Night’s In A Rogue’s Bed’ and so hunted down another of her books.

Captive of Sin is a very readable Regency romance with a hero tormented by dark secrets in his past and a heroine on the run from her abusive step-brothers. I enjoyed it immensely!

Click here for more details about Captive of Sin


Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein

I’ve been hearing some slowly building buzz about this book for some kind, which grew much louder after it was named a Michael L. Printz Honor Book and shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Then I met Elizabeth Wein at the Brisbane Writers Festival and so grabbed a copy. I’m so glad I did. I loved this book so much. ‘Code Name Verity’ begins with the first person account of a young English woman who has been captured by the Nazis in German-occupied France during the Second World War. She has been tortured and has agreed to tell her interrogators everything she knows.

Instead, however, she writes about her growing friendship with Maddie, the female pilot who had dropped her into France. The first person voice is intimate and engaging and surprisingly funny; the descriptions of flying are lyrically beautiful; and the growing fear for our heroine masterfully built. At a high point of tension, the narrative voice suddenly swaps to Maddie, and we hear the rest of the story from her point of view.

This switch in view destabilises the whole story in an utterly brilliant and surprising way. I gasped out loud once or twice, and finished the book with eyes swimming with tears. Once of the best YA historical novels I have ever read.

Click here for more details about Code Name Verity


The Passion of the Purple Plumeria

by Lauren Willig

This is Book No 12 in a long-running series of delightful and very funny historical romances that tell the adventures of a set of English spies in Napoleonic times.

The spies all have named like the Pink Carnation and the Black Tulip, and rampage about in disguise, getting into trouble, falling in love, and fighting off bully-boys with swords hidden in their parasols.

Think the Scarlet Pimpernel mixed with Georgette Heyer and Sophie Kinsella (the books also have a chick-lit thread with the contemporary adventures of a young woman tracking down the truth about the Pink Carnation and other spies). Fabulous, frivolous fun (but you must start with Book 1 ‘The Secret History of the Pink Carnation’.)

Click here for more details about The Passion of the Purple Plumeria


Hanns & Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz

by Thomas Harding

The author of this utterly riveting and chilling book found out, at his great-uncle’s funeral, that the mild-mannered old man he had known had once been a Nazi hunter. And not just any Nazi. His Great Uncle Hanns had been the man who had hunted down and caught Rudolf Hoss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz and the architect of the Final Solution that saw millions of people efficiently and cold-bloodedly murdered.

Thomas Harding was so surprised and intrigued by this revelation, he began to try and found out more. His research led him to write this extraordinary book, which parallels the lives of the two men from birth till death.

Rudolf Hoss was born in 1901 in Baden-Baden, and ran away at the age of 14 to fight in WWI. He was a Commander at just sixteen years old, and joined the National Socialist Party after spending time in prison after murdering a traitor.

Hanns Alexander, meanwhile, was born in 1933 in Berlin to a prosperous middle-class Jewish family. He managed to escape Germany in time, but his great-aunt died in the concentration camps and his family lost everything. When WWII broke out, he fought for the British army, along with his twin brother.

Hoss, meanwhile, was busy fulfilling his orders to make Auschwitz ‘a site of mass annihilation.’ The chapters set during this time are truly disturbing and had me in tears more than once. Then, as Germany lost the war, Hoss escaped – abandoning his wife and children – and hid himself in an assumed identity.

After the concentration camps were discovered, the War Crimes Commission was established and Hanns Alexander was chosen to help track down war criminals. How he tracked down Hoss makes for riveting reading; in parts, it feels more like a thriller than non-fiction. An utterly brilliant book which I recommend very highly.

Click here for more details about Hanns & Rudolf


Anybody Out There

by Marian Keyes

I have never read any of Marian Keyes’ books before and bought one on the very strong recommendation of a friend.  She said that they were the sort of books that make you laugh and make you cry, and really, what more could you want from any book?

Anybody Out There is certainly an engaging mixture of humour and pathos and gave me a lump in the throat more than once. It tells the story of Anna Walsh, who has been in some kind of terrible accident, and is recuperating on her parents’ couch in Dublin. But Anna is desperate to speak to a man named Aiden and so returns to New York to find him.

There’s a vast cast of eccentric characters, some odd and some funny moments, and a dark and serious streak I was not expecting. Marian Keyes is not afraid to grapple with themes of grief, depression, loneliness, and pain, even as she mocks the shallowness of the beauty industry and throws in some slapstick humour. The warmth and wit of her heroine, Anna, keeps the story from jangling too wildly. This is chick-lit with heart and an acute social conscience.

Click here for more details about Anybody Out There


Love on a Midsummer Night

by Christie English

A lovely, gentle and lyrical Regency romance with themes and images from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream woven through.

The hero is a dissolute rake who has never been able to forget his first love.

The heroine is a vulnerable widow who had been forced into marriage with a much older man and is now forced to stand against his lascivious heir. She turns to her old flame for help, and finds herself falling in love all over again. A sweet and easy read.

Click here for more details about Love on a Midsummer Night


Witch Child

by Celia Rees

This wonderful historical novel for teenagers begins: ‘I am Mary. I am a witch.’ It is set in 1659, during the tumultuous months after Cromwell’s death and before the return of Charles II.

Her story is purportedly told in diary entries that have been found sewn inside a quilt. It is a tragic and powerful tale, which begins when Mary’s grandmother is arrested and tortured by witch-finders and then hanged in the town square.

Mary is rescued by a rich woman who she suspects may be her real mother, and sent to join a group of Puritans fleeing to the New World. However, the Puritans are stern and narrow-minded and quick to blame any misfortune on witchcraft. Mary finds herself in increasing danger as the party lands in Salem, Massachusetts. A growing friendship with a Native American and his shaman grandfather increases her risk.

A simple yet powerful tale that explores the nature of magic and superstition, faith and cruelty.

Click here for more details about Witch Child


The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy

by James Anderson

As one can probably tell from the title, this book is a gentle spoof of the Golden Age type of mysteries written by authors such as Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. The story is set in a stately home.

There is a butler, a beautiful and mysterious baroness whose car just happens to crash outside the manor’s front gate, a daring jewel thief, an amiable fool called Algernon Fotheringay, and a very puzzling mystery that involves not just a locked room but, indeed, a locked house.

The detective is humble and crumpled, and, oh yes, there’s a few international spies thrown in too. I adored it. Clever, amusing, and surprisingly surprising.

Click here for more details about The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy


A Parcel of Patterns

by Jill Paton Walsh

I spent a weekend in the Peaks District during my time in the UK this month. Given a choice between visiting Chatsworth House (the opulent seat of the Duke of Devonshire which was used as the site of Pemberley in the 2005 film adaption of Pride and Prejudice) and a small local village called Eyam (prounced ‘eem’), you might be surprised to know I chose the latter.

Eyam, however, is the famous ‘plague village’ which isolated itself voluntarily in 1665 after the Black Death arrived in a flea-infested parcel of cloth. Only 83 villagers survived from a total population of 350.

One of my all-time favourite books, Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, published in 2001, imagines what may have happened in that village in that year. ‘A Parcel of Patterns’ by Jill Paton Walsh, published in 1983, was one of the first fictional attempts to grapple with the subject. It is told from the point of view of a young woman named Mall, and shows how the coming of the plague destroyed lives and loves, and faith and fealty.

It’s a delicate little book, and very sad.

Click here for more details about A Parcel of Patterns


Secrets of the Sea House

by Elisabeth Gifford

An intriguing and atmospheric novel set in the Hebrides Islands of Scotland, the narrative moves between the contemporary story of Ruth and her husband Michael, and the islands in the 1860s when crofters are being forced to emigrate and science and religion are in conflict.

Ruth and Michael are living in, and renovating, the ramshackle Sea House on the Hebridean Island of Harris. Ruth is haunted by feelings of fear and grief, and worries they have made a mistake in sinking all their savings into this remote and run-down house. Then they discover, buried beneath the floorboards, the tiny bones of a dead child. Its legs are fused together, its feet splayed like flippers. The discovery unsettles Ruth, reminding her of her dead mother’s strange tales of a selkie ancestry. She begins to try and find out how the skeleton came to be buried under the house.

The story moves to 1860, and the alternating points of view of the young and handsome Reverend Alexander Ferguson and his intelligent yet illiterate housemaid, Moira. Alexander’s obsession with mermaids and selkies, and his forbidden attraction to the daughter of the local laird, lead to grief and betrayal and death.

The weaving together of the two threads is masterfully done. The story is powerful, beautiful, and magical, and Ruth’s struggle to overcome the shackles of the past is sensitively handled. Hard to believe this s a debut author – definitely one to watch.

Click here for more details about Secrets of the Sea House


Beware This Boy

by Maureen Jennings

I had never heard of Maureen Jennings before I picked up this book, but apparently she is best known for a series of historical mysteries that have been televised as ‘the Murdoch Mysteries’.

I was interested in this book because it was compared to ‘Foyle’s War’, which I love, and because generally anything set during the Second World War is of interest to me. It’s an unusual crime novel. Yes, there is murder, and sabotage, and spies, and skulduggery, but the action is slow and deliberate, and much of the emphasis is on the interior lives of its troubled characters.

The action all takes place in in rain, in fog, in bomb shelters, and in munitions’ factories. The atmosphere is gloomy and laden with dread. This is historical crime at its most serious and deliberate, and most effective in its evocation of a terrible time in British history.

Click here for more details about Beware This Boy


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 25 Novelists, coming in at No 22, just after Peter Carey. She has been called one of ‘the finest writers of this generation”, and “quite possibly … one of the best story tellers of our modern age.’

Click here to see Kate’s author page with Booktopia

What Katie’s Reading: The August Round Up

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.

August is Book Week in Australia, and that means lots of authors, including myself, have been on the road, talking about our books at schools, libraries and literary festivals.

With so much travelling and talking, there’s not much time for reading and so this month I managed only eight books – however, I discovered a couple of wonderful new authors and read the new work of a few old favourites and so it was a happy reading month for me.


The Tudor Conspiracy

by C.W. Gortner

The Tudor period was a time of turmoil, danger, and intrigue … and this means spies. Brendan Prescott works in the shadows on behalf of a young Princess Elizabeth, risking his life to save her from a dark conspiracy that could make her queen … or send her to her death. Not knowing who to trust, surrounded by peril on all sides, Brendan must race against time to retrieve treasonous letters before Queen Mary’s suspicions of her half-sister harden into murderous intent.

The Tudor Conspiracy is a fast-paced, action-packed historical thriller, filled with suspense and switchback reversals, that also manages to bring the corrupt and claustrophobic atmosphere of the Tudor court thrillingly to life. It follows on from C.W. Gortner’s earlier novel, The Tudor Secret, but can be read on its own (though I really recommend reading Book 1 first – it was great too).

Click here to buy The Tudor Conspiracy from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


Pureheart

by Cassandra Golds

Cassandra Golds is one of the most extraordinary writers in the world. Her work is very hard to define, because there is no-one else writing quite like she does. Her books are beautiful, haunting, strange, and heart-rending. They are old-fashioned in the very best sense of the word, in that they seem both timeless and out-of-time. They are fables, or fairy tales, filled with truth and wisdom and a perilous kind of beauty. They remind me of writers I adored as a child – George Macdonald Fraser, Nicholas Stuart Gray, Elizabeth Goudge, or Eleanor Farjeon at her most serious and poetic.

I have read and loved all of Cassandra’s work but Pureheart took my breath away. Literally. It was like being punched in the solar plexus. I could not breathe for the lead weight of emotion on my heart. I haven’t read a book that packs such an emotional wallop since Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. This is a story about a bullied and emotionally abused child and those scenes are almost unbearable to read. It is much more than that, however.

Pureheart is the darkest of all fairy tales, it is the oldest of all quest tales, it is an eerie and enchanting story about the power of love and forgiveness. It is, quite simply, extraordinary.

Click here to buy Pureheart from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


Park Lane

by Frances Osborne

Park Lane is the first novel by Frances Osborne, but she has written two earlier non-fiction books which I really enjoyed. The first, called Lilla’s Feast, told the story of her paternal great-grandmother, Lilla Eckford, who wrote a cookbook while being held prisoner in a Japanese internment camp during World war II. The second, called The Bolter, was written about Frances Osborne’s maternal great-grandmother, the notorious Lady Idina Sackville. Married five times, with many other lovers, Idina was part of the scandalous Happy Valley set in Kenya which led to adultery, drug addiction, and murder. Both are absolutely riveting reads, and so I had high hopes of Park Lane, particularly after I read a review in The Guardian which said ‘Frances Osborne will be in the vanguard of what is surely an emergent genre: books that appeal to Downton Abbey fans.’ Well, that’s me! I should have been a very happy reader.

I have to admit, however, that the book did not live up to my expectations. This was partly because it is written entirely in present tense, a literary tic which I hate, and partly because of the style, which felt heavy and awkward.

The sections told from the point of view of the aristocratic Beatrice are the most readable, perhaps because this is a world that Frances Osborne knows well (she is the daughter of the Conservative minister David Howell, Baron Howell of Guildford, and wife of George Osborne, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, which means she lives next door to the Prime Minister on Downing Street in London.) However, the sections told from the point of view of her servant, Grace, are less successful, and her voice did not ring true for me. Also, I was just getting interested in her story when she disappears from the page, popping up again at the end.

The sections I enjoyed the most were those detailing the suffragettes’ struggle for the vote. These scenes were full of action and drama, and draw upon Frances Osborne’s own family history, with her great-great-grandmother having made many sacrifices for the women’s cause. I’d have liked to have known much more about their struggle and the hardships they faced (maybe I’ll need to write my own suffragette novel one day).

Click here to buy Park Lane from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


The Devil’s Cave

by Martin Walker

I really love this series of murder mysteries set in a small French village in the Dordogne. A lot of the pleasure of these books does not come from the solving of the actual crime – which is often easily guessed – but from the descriptions of the town, the countryside, and the food and wine (I always want to cook the recipes, many of which can be found on the author’s website). These books also really make me want to go back to France!

The hero of this series is the small-town policeman Benoît Courrèges, called Bruno by everyone. He lives in an old shepherd’s cottage, with a beagle hound, ducks, chickens, a goat and a vegetable garden. He’s far more likely to offer some homespun wisdom than arrest anyone, a trait I appreciate. There’s always a touch of romance, and a cast of eccentric minor characters who add warmth and humour.

The first few books were lazy and charming; the tension is slowly growing in later books which I think is a good thing as the series may have grown just a little too comfortable otherwise. In this instalment – no 5 in the series – there is a dead naked woman in a boat, satanic rituals and chase scenes in an underground cave, a Resistance heroine to be rescued, a local girl led astray, and an omelette made with truffle-infused eggs and dandelion buds. A big sigh of happiness from me.

Click here to buy The Devil’s Cave from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


Let It Be Me

by Kate Noble

I bought this book solely on the cover – a Regency romance set in Venice? Sounds right up my alley … I mean, canal …

I have never read a book by Kate Noble before, but I certainly will again. Let It Be Me is clearly part of a series, as is often the case with historical romances, but I had no trouble working out who everyone is. The book was set in 1824, and our heroine is the red-haired Bridget Forrester. Although she is quite pretty, none of the men at the ball ask her to dance as she has a reputation for being a shrew. It seems she has been over-shadowed by her sister, the Beauty of the family.

So Sarah is over-joyed when she receives an invitation to be taught by the Italian composer, Vincenzo Carpenini. After a series of troubles and complications, Bridget ends up going to Venice and before she know sit, finds herself part of a wager to prove that women can play the piano just as well as men. All sorts of romantic entanglements occur, with a wonderful musical leitmotif running through – a very enjoyable romantic read.

Click here to buy Let It Be Me from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


The Sultan’s Eyes

by Kelly Gardiner

I was on a panel with Kelly Gardiner at the Melbourne Writers Festival, and so read The Sultan’s Eyes in preparation for our talk together. Historical fiction is my favourite genre, and I particularly love books set in the mid-17th century, a time of such bloody turmoil and change. I set my six-book series of children’s historical adventure novels ‘The Chain of Charms’ during this time and so I know the period well. I absolutely loved reading The Sultan’s Eyes, which is set in Venice and Constantinople in 1648, and am now eager to read the book that came before, Act of Faith.

The heroine of the story is Isabella Hawkins, the orphaned daughter of an Oxford philosopher, and educated by him in the classics as if she had been a boy. She has taken refuge in Venice with some friends following the death of her father, after what seem like some hair-raising adventures in Book 1. An old enemy, the Inquisitor Fra Clement, arrives in Venice, however, and afraid for their lives, Isabella and her friends free to the exotic capital of the East, Constantinople, which is ruled by a boy Sultan. His mother and his grandmother are engaged in covert and murderous intrigues to control him, and it is not long before Isabella and the others are caught up in the conspiracies. I loved seeing the world of the Byzantine Empire brought so vividly to life, and loved the character of Isabella  – passionate, outspoken, intelligent and yet also vulnerable.

Click here to buy The Sultan’s Eyes from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


The Wishbird

by Gabrielle Wang

I love Gabrielle Wang’s work and I love listening to her speak, so I was very happy to be sharing a stage with her at the Melbourne Writers Festival.  Her new novel The Wishbird is a magical adventure for young readers, and has the added bonus of illustrations by Gabrielle as well, including the gorgeous cover.

Boy is an orphaned street urchin in the grim City of Soulless who makes a living as a pickpocket. One day he has a chance encounter with Oriole, a girl with a ‘singing tongue’ who was raised by the Wishbird in the Forest of the Birds. The Wishbird is dying, and Oriole has come to the city to try and find a way to save him. She finds herself imprisoned for her musical voice, however, and Boy must find a way to help her. What follows is a simple but beautiful fable about courage, beauty, love and trust that reminded me of old Chinese fairy tales.

Click here to buy The Wishbird from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


Elijah’s Mermaid

by Essie Fox

Elijah’s Mermaid is best described as a dark Gothic Victorian melodrama about the lives of two sets of orphans. One is the beautiful and wistful Pearl, found as a baby after her mother drowned in the Thames, and raised in a brothel with the rather whimsical name of The House of Mermaids. The other two are the twins Elijah and Lily, also abandoned, but lucky enough to be adopted by their grandfather, an author named Augustus Lamb.

The voices of Pearl and Lily alternate. At first Pearl’s voice is full of street slang and lewd words, but as she grows up many of these are discarded. For the first third of the book, the only points of contact are the children’s fascination with mermaids and water-babies (Pearl has webbed feet), but then they meet by chance at a freak show in which a fake mermaid is exhibited. After that, their lives slowly entwine.

Although the pace is leisurely, the story itself is intense and full of drama and mystery. The Victorian atmosphere is genuinely creepy. I could feel the chill swirl of the fog, and hear the clatter of the horses’ hooves on the cobblestones, and see Lily struggling to run in her corset and bustle. The story’s action takes place in freak shows, brothels, midnight alleys, underground grottos, and a madhouse, and so the dark underbelly of Victorian society is well and truly turned to the light. Yet this is a novel about love and redemption, as well as obsession and murder, and the love between the twins, and between Elijah and Pearl, is beautifully done.

Click here to buy Elijah’s Mermaid from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


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 25 Novelists, coming in at No 22, just after Peter Carey. She has been called one of ‘the finest writers of this generation”, and “quite possibly … one of the best story tellers of our modern age.’

Click here to see Kate’s author page with Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

A Month Of Books: The July Edition – A Guest Blog From Kate Forsyth

As we say goodbye to July, award-winning novelist Kate Forsyth gives her verdict on the books she read for the month.

Thanks to a lot of time spent in planes and airports, and a weekend sick in bed, I read 14 books this month, with an eclectic mix of fiction, non-fiction, children’s and adults, historical and contemporary.


Stay: The Last Dog in Antarctica

by Jesse Blackadder

This is Jesse Blackadder’s first book for children, and was inspired by her trip to the icy south after she won the Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship in 2011/2012. Jesse was travelling there to research her wonderful historical novel for adults Chasing the Light, and was most surprised to see one of those life-sized fibreglass seeing eye dogs used to collect donations for the Royal Blind Society. It had been dognapped from a Hobart shopping centre in 1991 by some Antarctic expeditioners who were earth-broken at the impeding loss of huskies from the South Pole. In the decades since, the fibreglass dog had become a sort of mascot and had even ended up going to the North Pole. Jesse has turned the story of these adventures into a heart-warming book for 8+.

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Playfulness in Writing: A Guest Blog From Kate Forsyth

We’re so excited to be hosting award-winning novelist Kate Forsyth on the blog for a series of contributions on books and writing.

Here’s her first installment, on the art of writing. Stay tuned for more!

I read a lot. I read for my own selfish pleasure, and I read for work. I read stories submitted to me by my students. I read manuscripts by aspiring writers hoping I’ll help them write better. I read books which are just not quite good enough to be published, to see if I can help diagnose what’s wrong with them.

I dissect stories for a living. Many of these manuscripts I read share the same flaws – poor structuring, slow pace, a slack narrative thread. However, by far the most common mistake that I am finding in recent years is a lack of pizzazz. A lack of playfulness.

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Kate Forsyth, author of The Wild Girl, Bitter Greens and more, answers Five Facetious Questions

the-wild-girlThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Kate Forsyth

author of The Wild Girl, Bitter Greens
and many, many more…

Five Facetious Questions

1. Every writer spends at least one afternoon going from bookshop to bookshop making sure his or her latest book is facing out and neatly arranged. How far have you gone to draw attention to your own books in a shop?

I’ve trained every member of my family, from my mother to my youngest child, to turn my books cover outwards … not to mention the sneaky transfer to the Bestsellers shelf.

2. So you’re a published author, almost a minor celebrity and for some reason you’ve been let into a party full of ‘A-listers’ – what do you do?

Enjoy myself.

3. Some write because they feel compelled to, some are Artists and do it for the Muse, some do it for the cash (one buck twenty a book) and some do it because they think it makes them more attractive to the opposite sex – why do you do write? (NB: don’t say -‘cause I can’t sing, tap or paint!) Kate by tree sml

Because its my one true destiny. Trust me, you don’t do it for the cash!

4. Have you ever come to the end of writing a particularly fine paragraph, paused momentarily, chuffed with your own genius, only to find you’ve been sitting at the computer nude or with your dress half-way over your head or shaving cream on your face or toilet paper sticking out the back of your undies or paused to find that you’re singing We are the Champions at the top of your voice, having exchanged the words ‘we are’ for ‘I am’ and dropping an ‘s’?

No? Well, what’s your most embarrassing writing moment?

I often find myself writing half-nude … thanks to flashes of inspiration in the middle of the night … perhaps I should wear more to bed.

5. Rodin placed his thinker on the loo – where and/or when do you seem to get your best ideas?

A lot of my best ideas comes to me as dreams. I also like to walk every morning, as a kind of meditation in motion. Ideas will come, inspiration will strike … I can’t manage without it.

Booktopia TV with John Purcell: Kate Forsyth chats with John about her new novel The Wild Girl

Click here for more details or to buy The Wild Girl

The Wild Girl

by Kate Forsyth

One of the great untold love stories – how the Grimm brothers discovered their famous fairy tales – filled with drama and passion, and taking place during the Napoleonic Wars.

The Wild Girl tells the story of Dortchen Wild. Growing up next door to the Grimm brothers in Hesse-Cassel, a small German kingdom, Dortchen told Wilhelm some of the most powerful and compelling stories in the famous fairytale collection.

Dortchen first met the Grimm brothers in 1805, when she was twelve. One of six sisters, Dortchen lived in the medieval quarter of Cassel, a town famous for its grand royal palace, its colossal statue of Herkules, and a fairytale castle of turrets and spires built as a love nest for the Prince-Elector’s mistress. Dortchen was the same age as Lotte Grimm, the only girl in the Grimm family, and the two became best friends.

In 1806, Hesse-Cassel was invaded by the French. Napoleon created a new Kingdom of Westphalia, under the rule of his dissolute young brother Jérôme. The Grimm brothers began collecting fairytales that year, wanting to save the old stories told in spinning-circles and by the fire from the domination of French culture. Dortchen was the source of many of the tales in the Grimm brother’s first collection of fairy tales, which was published in 1812, the year of Napoleon’s disastrous march on Russia.

Dortchen’s own father was cruel and autocratic, and he beat and abused her. He frowned on the friendship between his daughters and the poverty-stricken Grimm Brothers. Dortchen had to meet Wilhelm in secret to tell him her stories. All the other sisters married and moved away, but Dortchen had to stay home and care for her sick parents. Even after the death of her father, Dortchen and Wilhelm could not marry – the Grimm brothers were so poor they were surviving on a single meal a day.

After the overthrow of Napoleon and the eventual success of the fairytale collection, Dortchen and Wilhelm were at last able to marry. They lived happily ever after with Wilhelm’s elder brother Jakob for the rest of their lives.

About the Author

Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of more than twenty books, including The Witches of Eileanan and Rhiannon’s Ride series for adults, and The Puzzle Ring, The Gypsy Crown, and The Starthorn Tree for children. She has won or been nominated for numerous awards. Her books have been published in 13 different countries, including Japan, Poland, Spain and Turkey, and Kate is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairytale retellings at the University of Technology and recently published Bitter Greens a retelling of the Rapunzel story.

Click here to order your copy of The Wild Girl from
Booktopia, Australia’s Local Bookshop

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