Book Trailer of the Week – Half Bad by Sally Green!

This week’s Book Trailer of the Week goes to Half Bad by Sally Green.

Intense, mysterious, gripping, our own Sarah McDuling reviewed Half Bad recently and absolutely loved it, saying that, despite her “ridiculously high expectations, Half Bad did not disappoint.”

Could Half Bad be the next Harry Potter? The next Hunger Games?

Order your copy today and find out.

Grab a copy a Sally Green’s Half Bad here

Grab a copy a Sally Green’s Half Bad here

half-bad

REVIEW: Half Bad by Sally Green (review by Sarah McDuling)

half-badEvery so often you hear about a book that’s being touted as a “global sensation”. Usually in such cases the film rights have been bought, the author is being labelled “the next J.K Rowling” and the general consensus seems to be OMG this is it! The New Craze! The Next Big Thing! And so on, and so forth. We’ve heard it all before, right?

And yet it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I hear it, whenever a book like this comes along I get caught up in the hype. My expectations soar to dizzying heights. I find myself thinking, “This book is going to change my life! It will blow my mind and rock my world. It will save the rainforests and end world poverty! God bless this miraculous book!”

Of course, I’m nearly always disappointed.

It’s not the book’s fault. It’s just that sometimes hype can be dangerous. Too much hype can kill a good book, purely because it can’t possibly measure up to the high expectations of the reader. However, Half Bad by Sally Green might just be the exception to this rule

(NB: Half Bad by Sally Green is probably not going save any rainforests or end world poverty.  I mean it might. But probably not. I just want to be upfront about that, before we go any further.)

Sally Green, author of the upcoming Half Life trilogy, really doesn’t have all that much in common with J. K. Rowling. Well … except that they are both British. And female. Also, both are blonde and have children. Does this qualify Sally Green as the next J.K Rowling?  I’m not sure about that. What I am sure of are the following facts:

1). Sally Green is a first time author.Sally Green

2). Her Half Life trilogy has been sold into 42 countries.

3) There was a massive bidding war between major studios in order to secure the film rights.

4) All of this happened before the first book in the trilogy had even been published.

Now that’s a lot of hype to live up to.

In terms of what the book is about, I’m almost reluctant to say. Any kind of synopsis I give is probably going to make it sound like a Harry Potter rip-off. The truth is, comparisons to Harry Potter are unavoidable here. Both books are about teenaged boys with magical powers –  boys who must navigate their way through an intricate world of witches/wizards, burdened by tragic pasts and unwanted notoriety.

Still, despite these superficial similarities, Half Bad is actually a very fresh and imaginative take on a well known theme. At no point does it come off feeling clichéd or unoriginal which (let’s be honest) is an impressive feat for a Young Adult novel about witches. This is not new territory, after all. And yet, somehow Sally Green has managed to put a whole new spin on a familiar tune. Whereas Harry Potter is very much a fanstasy, Half Bad is more of a gritty, comptemporary coming-of-age story … that just happens to include witches. More importantly, it’s an enthralling page turner starring a complex and compelling protagonist. All up, a riveting first act in what promises to be an impressive show.

So. Will Half Bad live up to the hype and become the next big publishing phenomenon? I certainly hope so, but I can’t say for sure. These things can be hard to predict.  All I can say is that I completely understand why people are so excited about this new trilogy. Even handicapped by my ridiculously high expectations, Half Bad did not disappoint.

This is a series I’ll be very glad to see capture the hearts and minds of a new generation of teens.

Spoiler Alert: Despite what you may have heard, Half Bad  does not contain a map to the lost city of Atlantis or the secret to eternal youth. It is, however, a very good book that you will  have difficulty putting down.

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Sarah McDuling is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog and Editor of the Booktopia Young Adult Buzz.  Her hobbies include (but are not limited to) sword-fighting, ghost hunting and lion taming. She is also an enthusiaster fibber. You can read her other posts here or follow her on Tumblr at Young Adult @ Booktopia

Grab a copy of Half Bad here

half-badIn modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both.

Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.

REVIEW: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris (review by Sarah McDuling)

LokiHere’s what I knew about Norse mythology when I first picked up The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris.

a)     Norse gods live in a place called Asgard.

b)    Loki is the coolest god . Sure he’s evil, but he’s also played by Tom Hiddleston (see left) and therefore his evilness is cancelled out by his perfect male beauty.

c)     Thor is the god of Thunder. He has very large muscles and a magic hammer.

So yeah. As you can see I had some major gaps in my knowledge. Gaps that have now been filled with Joanne M. Harris’ spellbinding recounting of Norse myth and legend, through the eyes of the most instantly engaging narrator I have encountered in a long while.

The Gospel of Loki is a surprising book. For starters, the only other book by Joanne M. Harris that I’ve ever read is Chocolat and The Gospel of Loki is a very different kind of read. I loved Chocolat. It was enchanting, heart-warming and utterly lovely.  The Gospel of Loki is none of these things. It’s dark, quirky, occasionally grim, often hilarious and gloriously bold.

Given the subject matter, I was expecting The Gospel of Loki to be more of a traditional fantasy epic, heavy on world building and probably involving some kind of The Gospel of Lokiheroic journey quest. Instead, I found myself lost in a series of episodic adventures, wicked little parables on how best to lie, cheat, trick and bluff your way to success. In Loki’s case, of course, success means getting revenge against his fellow gods and causing the downfall of Asgard.

By far and away the most wonderful thing about this book is the voice Joanne M. Harris has given her delightfully immoral anti-hero. I’m not always a great fan of first person narrative but I have to make an exception for  The Gospel of Loki because this is how first person narration should be done! Loki’s character shines through in every line, dripping sarcasm, twinkling with mischief and humming with that special kind of unrepentant arrogance so often found in archetypal “trickster” characters like Robin Goodfellow and Peter Pan.

This is a character who, when asked if he can achieve the impossible, routinely replies, “Of course. I’m Loki.” He is gloriously conceited, packed full of swagger and playful cheek. He’s a lovable villain, a mischievous bad-boy, a fiendish puppet master who knows just how to manipulate people. It doesn’t take much. Just whisper into someone’s ear, a well-timed and seemingly offhand comment and voila! Disaster ensues!

And yet, the true genius of Harris’ Loki is that he is so dammed lovable. Despite his inherent wickedness, you just can’t help rooting for him. He’s not malicious, after all. He’s simply a creature of chaos. It’s in his nature to cause trouble.

Now come on. Tell me he doesn’t sound like the coolest god ever?

Joanne m. harrisHarris gives us a Loki who is constantly mistreated by his fellow gods. Always an outsider, always rejected, always everybody’s convenient scapegoat.  This of course makes him the ultimate underdog. No matter how evil his plots become, or what depths of wickedness he sinks to, the reader cannot help cheering him on because … well … he’s Loki.

So thoroughly did I enjoy The Gospel of Loki that I was compelled to check whether Joanne M. Harris has written any other books in a similar vein. To my joy, I found out she has!  Runemarks and Runelight  – two Young Adult fantasies inspired by Norse mythology, both which of I will be reading as soon as possible.

And now excuse me while I go and pray to Odin, Allfather of the gods and ruler of Asgard, to give Loki his very own Marvel movie (with at least two sequels).

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Sarah McDuling is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog and Editor of the Booktopia Young Adult Buzz.  Her hobbies include (but are not limited to) sword-fighting, ghost hunting and lion taming. She is also an enthusiaster fibber. You can read her other posts here or follow her on Tumblr at Young Adult @ Booktopia

Grab a copy of The Gospel of Loki here

the-gospel-of-lokiWith his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.

But while Loki is planning the downfall of Asgard and the humiliation of his tormentors, greater powers are conspiring against the gods and a battle is brewing that will change the fate of the Worlds.

From his recruitment by Odin from the realm of Chaos, through his years as the go-to man of Asgard, to his fall from grace in the build-up to Ragnarok, this is the unofficial history of the world’s ultimate trickster.

 

Banish by Nicola Marsh: A Review by Sarah McDuling

banishBanish really surprised me.

When I pick up a Paranormal Romance these days, especially in the Young Adult genre, I automatically brace myself for a barrage of tropes and clichés.

1) Average human girl meets brooding immortal boy – cue Love At First Sight.

2) Requisite villain does something villainous (at which point, I usually start yawning and skipping pages).

3) Happy ending.

The details may vary slightly. Sometimes the brooding immortal boy is a vampire. Sometimes he’s a werewolf, or a fallen angel or a fairy prince. But the basic formula never really changes.

Now maybe it sounds like I’m complaining. And maybe it sounds that way because I am complaining. The truth is, I’m sick to death of reading the same story over and over again, so when I come across an author who breaks away from all the predictable stereotypes, that’s when I reach for my metaphorical pom-poms and start cheering.

Continue reading

Chasing the Valley by Skye Melki-Wegner: Review from Sarah McDuling

Sarah McDuling, the fearless editor of Booktopia’s Young Adult Buzz, takes a look at the latest offering from author Skye Melki-Wegner.

Chasing the ValleyI’m not really sure how to categorise Chasing the Valley. Unless “Phantasmagorical” can be considered a category?

No? Okay, fine. Categorise this:  An insanely glorious blend of Steampunk Adventure and Dystopian Fantasy with a touch of Romance and the promise of a great series to follow. In other words… awesome! That’s Chasing the Valley for youin a nutshell.

Our heroine here is plucky orphan girl, Danika Gylnn. Along with a rag-tag group of rebellious teens, Danika runs from a life of poverty and oppression in the slums of the city, striking out in search of a legendary safe haven. Their destination is a place called Magentic Valley, however, no one really knows where it is or how to get there. Continue reading

Requiem by Lauren Oliver (Review by Sarah McDuling – Editor of the YA & Teens Buzz)

Lauren Oliver is mean.

Please understand, this criticism comes from a place of love. I say this as a devoted Lauren Oliver fan. I’m not suggesting she is a bad person. I’m sure she’s a lovely person. But she’s downright cruel to her readers.

Case in point: The Delirium Trilogy.

Anyone who suffered through the heart-breaking ending of Book One in this trilogy will back me up here. Delirium ends with the sudden and completely gut wrenching death of a beloved character. It’s pretty brutal.

And then there is Book Two, Pandemonium. Unlike so many Young Adult series that start out strong and then tend to fall apart, the second book in the Delirium Trilogy is stronger than the first. Even better, it’s a game changer. The ending of Pandemonium is a real sucker punch – one that I never saw coming.

And now the trilogy is coming to an end (don’t worry, fans. There is a TV show in the works). Requiem marks the dramatic conclusion of this emotionally fraught, completely addictive, dystopian series.

But I am drifting off topic. The subject at hand is Lauren Oliver’s cruelty.

There are some authors who give readers what they want and everyone is happy (if slightly bored). And then there are authors like Lauren Oliver, who give readers agonizing cliffhangers, shocking twists and bucket-loads of heartbreak – which is all fine and dandy until that moment when you turn the last page and… nothing. The book is finished and you have no choice but to wait on tenterhooks for the next one.

That’s mean. I’m just saying.

All things considered, I’m very, very glad that I did not discover Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy until recently. I feel as though I dodged a real bullet, avoiding the painful wait between each instalment. To all those poor, patient fans out there who have been with this series from the beginning, I can say only this: Respect.

Seriously guys, I feel for you. After the way Delirium ended, if I had been forced to wait more than three seconds for the next book, my head might well have exploded. And if, having finished Pandemonium, I did not have immediate access to Requiem, I would have had no real choice except to hunt down Lauren Oliver and demand answers.

Luckily for me (and Lauren Oliver) I was able to read all three books in quick succession

Set in a grim future where love has been identified as a disease and scientists have developed a cure, The Delirium trilogy is dystopian YA at it’s best. Bound to appeal to fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent, this is a series that combines romance, suspense and adventure in an imaginative and original dystopian setting. Our main character, Lena, has been raised to view love as a fatal disease and looks forward to turning 18 so that she can be “cured”. And then she meets a boy called Alex and her simple world gets all messy and complicated.

Tales of forbidden love are always pretty amazing. But creating a world where love of any kind of is literally against the law… well, that takes the “forbidden love” angle to a whole new level.

Undercover missions, family secrets, shocking deaths, ever more shocking resurrections, heartbreak, betrayals, suspense, betrayals, adventure, and a few more  betrayals, a love triangle, an evil totalitarian government and best of all…. rebels! I love rebels. Nothing gets me cheering quite like a rag-tag group of rebels banding together to fight injustice. It’s just so heart warming and makes me want to start waving a French flag and singing, “Do You Hear The People Sing”. But that’s another story…

If you have read the first two books in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy then I’m sure you already have Requiem on pre-order. And if you haven’t read the first two books?  Get cracking. Requiem comes out on the 12th of March so this is really a perfect time or you to begin.

If you like being kept on the edge of your seat and having your mind blown by surprise twists – or if you just like the sound story about brave kids fighting for for love, Lauren Oliver is the author for you.

Just be warned… she’s kind of mean. Awesomely, amazingly, additively mean.
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Click here to buy Requiem from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Sarah is the editor of Booktopia’s YA & Teens Buzz. You can follow her genius on twitter here.

REVIEW: ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ and ‘Days of Blood and Starlight’ by Laini Taylor (Review by Sarah McDuling)

Days of Blood and Starlight is the second book in what has to be the most wildly imaginative and beautifully written Urban Fantasy series I have come across in a long, long time.

There was a time I’d have said Urban Fantasy was one of my favourite genres. But then along came a multi-million dollar book/movie franchise that will remain nameless (cough, cough, Twilight, cough) that was so insanely – dare I say inexplicably – popular that suddenly the market was flooded with books about vampires, werewolves, angels, demons etc. Unfortunately, so many of them were so amazingly awful that the genre was effectively ruined for me. Before long, I reached the stage where just thinking about Urban Fantasy caused me to start humming the Gotye song, “Somebody I Used to Know”.  When asked to express my thoughts on my once-beloved genre, I routinely responded with an exaggerated yawn and a dismissive “meh”.

Then along came Laini Taylor and Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I heard a lot of hype about Daughter of Smoke and Bone when it was published back in 2011. Friends recommended it to me – friends whose opinion I normally trusted. Then, too, the cover of the book was very pretty, which should not influence me but always does. I decided that I might be ready to give Urban Fantasy another shot, a chance to win back my love. Then I read the blurb and saw that it was about angels and demons and forbidden love and that was all I needed to know. Based on the blurb alone, I decided Daughter of Smoke and Bone was yet another trite, clichéd, predictable example of how a genre I used to love had been spoiled beyond all hope of redemption. Clearly the book was evil. I ran away, screaming.

And then, a few weeks ago, the book was recommended to me again – this time by my Booktopia co-worker and expert on all things Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Mark Timmony. Our conversation went a little something like this –

Mark: “You should read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It’s pretty good.

Me: (backing away whilst making the sign of the cross with my fingers) “NEVER!”

But I guess there are only so many times that someone can recommend a book to me before curiosity demands I discover what all the fuss is about. So I caved to peer pressure. I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And as soon as I had finished it, I wanted more. I could not get my hands on Days of Blood and Starlight fast enough and was delighted to find that it was even better than the first book.

If you have not read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I strongly urge you to do so. I say this especially to anyone who, like me, may have given up on Urban Fantasy. If you once loved reading about fantastical creatures and magical, hidden worlds existing alongside our own, but then got sick of it all and quit, a dose of Laini Taylor might be just what you need.

Giving a brief synopsis of this series will only make it sound like a hundred other Urban Fantasy books that you have probably already read (or fallen asleep trying to read). So you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you this Urban Fantasy series is something special. Yes, it’s about angels and demons (or more specifically, seraphs and chimaera) and yes, it includes a subplot of Romeo and Juliet style forbidden romance. But the difference here is that Laini Taylor has an imagination that can best be described as exquisitely grotesque. The world she has created in Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight is both enchanting and frightening, rich in that special blend of magic and horror that is found in all the old, original fairytales. She matches her gorgeous prose with striking imagery in such a way that her writing manages to paint mental pictures as visually stunning as scenes from a Guillermo del Toro movie.

The Chimaera are beautiful monsters, half human and half animal. The Seraphim are ruthless angels with wings made of invisible flame, seen only in their shadows. These two races have been at war with one another for centuries, while the human race remains blissfully ignorant of their existence. And at the centre of the conflict is a blue haired girl called Karou, who is everything a reader could ask for in a heroine. Brave, strong minded, compassionate and loyal, Karou is no damsel in distress, waiting to be rescued by her one true love. Admittedly, this is mostly because her one true love has become her worst enemy. Still, Karou isn’t the sort to sit around moping just because her boyfriend “did her wrong”. This is why she is made of awesome, while so may other heroines of countless other urban fantasy novels are made of lame.

For those who read Urban Fantasy primarily for the romance factor, strap your boots on for the ride of your life. Karou and her main squeeze, Akiva, have a really spectacularly screwed up relationship. If “forbidden romance” floats your boat, you are going to love these guys. Most of the romance is played out in flashbacks, with the narrative switching viewpoints and time lines so that we get to see both sides of the story – his and hers, past and present. Karou and Akiva’s tale of thwarted love provides an underscore of raw heartache throughout both books, in spite of the fact that they hardly ever see each other in the present time line. In fact, they spend Days of Blood and Starlight fighting on opposites sides of an epic war. There’s no time to make-out. They’re way too busy planning rebellions, resurrecting the dead and love/hating each other from a distance.

Laini Taylor has created a fascinating world, with an equally fascinating history. There is plenty of tension and drama in the war between the races, with a whole host of compelling and original characters on both sides of the conflict. Karou’s best friend Zuzana, and her boyfriend Mik, are a delight to read – funny, cute and very endearing. Meanwhile, the “White Wolf” Thiago is a truly terrifying and repellent villain who, by the end of Days of Blood and Starlight is set up to play a very intriguing role in the next book.

To say that I am looking forward the follow up to Days of Blood and Starlight would be an understatement. With her excellent world building, character driven plots and beautiful imagery, Laini Taylor has reminded me why I used to love reading this genre so much.And while I’m not sure I’m ready to re-commit to a serious relationship with Urban Fantasy, I will say that I’m considering the possibility of something more casual. Perhaps a summer fling?   

Review by Sarah McDuling

REVIEW: Paving the New Road : A Rowland Sinclair Novel by Sulari Gentill (Review by Sarah McDuling)

The only thing better than discovering a new series of books is realising that the author is not going to make you wait too long for the next instalment.

Having been introduced to Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair novels earlier this year with Miles off Course, and then devouring books one and two with all the gusto of a confirmed historical fiction addict, I was pretty much ecstatic when I realised that book four, Paving the New Road, was due to be released in August this year. My reaction to this news was not quiet. It was not calm. It may have involved a spontaneous happy dance. Imagine a hyper active child being told that Christmas will be coming twice in one year and you might then begin to grasp my level of excitement.

Paving the New Road sees Rowland Sinclair and his band of bohemian eccentrics back in full force. For those unfamiliar with this series, Rowland “Rowly” Sinclair is Gentleman/Playboy Adventurer/Artist/Amateur Detective. Now, as of Paving the New Road he can also add “International Spy” to his already impressive list of accomplishments.

Wherever Rowly goes (in this instance, Nazi Germany) he is accompanied by his entourage – Clyde the landscape painter/staunch Communist, Milton the flamboyant poet and Edna the dazzlingly beautiful sculptress. Having been sent to Germany in the capacity of unofficial spies, Rowly and his friends soon find themselves knee deep in intrigue and subterfuge. The best part about all this is that none of them are even remotely qualified for the role of “secret agent”. They approach the mission almost as though it were a game and their unorthodox methods are both refreshingly original and highly entertaining. Together, Rowly and his friends take a ride on the Orient Express, masquerade as German soldiers, accidentally aid in the escape of a German Communist and become involved in an underground network of Anti Nazi activists. And at the heart of the mystery that slowly begins to unfold is a sad and fragile girl named Eva…

Much like the first three books in the series, Paving the New Road is a light and charming read full of adventure and humour. This book is pure fun. Better yet, it is consistently clever. One of the best aspects of this series is the imaginative way in which the author plays with the historical setting. Gentill is a master at seamlessly weaving real historical figures into her plot. This can be a dangerous conceit when not handled properly. The appearance of a well-known historical figure in a work of fiction can often be the kiss of death, breaking the spell of make-believe by pushing the reader’s credulity too far. Luckily, Gentill knows just how to blend fact and fiction together in a way that is not only completely believable but so delightfully inventive as to provide endless treats for history buffs.

Fans of television’s Underberlly: Razor will be tickled by cameo appearances from notorious Sydney madam Tilly Devine and gangster Phil “The Jew” Jeffs. Similarly, Rowly & Co. are flown to Germany by none other than famous Australian aviator Charles Kingsford Smith – a journey that takes an astonishing 14 days and sees them crossing paths with author William Somerset Maugham.

Other notable historical figures that play key roles in Paving the New Road include German Communist Party member Hans Beimler as well as notorious British aristocrat and Nazi sympathiser Unity “Lady Bobo” Mitford. Gentill is in top form when writing Mitford, who leaps off the page in all her horrifying glory. This is a woman who stalked Hitler like a crazed fan-girl before eventually becoming his mistress. Described by Rowly as “a lunatic, from what appeared to be a family of lunatics” Mitford only makes a few brief appearances in the novel, however, they are memorable for being almost as hilarious as they are disturbing.

By far my favourite guest star, however, is the indomitable Nancy Wake. Anyone who has not already read Wake’s memoir, The White Mouse,will be rushing for a copy after finishing Paving the New Road. The novel is set before the outbreak of WWII when Wake was working as a journalist, however, Gentill imbues her character with so much sparkling vim and vigour than one can easily see how she ends up becoming a kickass lady-spy, fighting Nazis with the French Resistance.

When all is said and done, I cannot recommend the Rowland Sinclair novels enough. Paving the New Road is the most entertaining instalment yet in what was already a great series. Anyone with a taste for classic crime writers like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh is bound to fall in love with Rowland Sinclair. And with the success of the recent television adaptation of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, I’m hoping (i.e. seriously considering starting an Internet petition) that it won’t be too long before we see a Rowland Sinclair miniseries.

In the meantime, I rest easy in the knowledge that Sulari Gentill is currently averaging two books a year and that it won’t be long before I find out what Rowly and his friends get up to next.

Review by Sarah McDuling

Click here to buy Paving the New Road

Find The Rowland Sinclair Novels here

Click here to read an extract from Paving the New Road.

Read Sarah’s review of Miles Off Course here

REVIEW: Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady (Guest Blogger: Booktopia’s Sarah McDuling)

In Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady, Kate Summerscale casts a spotlight on a little known chapter in history. This is a very thoroughly researched case study detailing the true story of an unhappily married woman in Victorian Society.  In this, the age of Cougar TownSex and the City and Desperate Housewives, when women are applauded for chasing younger men and practically expected to experience dissatisfaction in their marriage, the idea of a woman keeping a diary of her extra martial affairs is not really very shocking. In fact, it sounds like the plot to the next Katherine Heigl movie.

In 1850s England, however, such an idea was enough to stop the press. Although a woman sat on the throne, this was an age in which woman did not yet have the right to vote. As Kate Summerscale’s research shows us, this was also an age in which any woman who was known to desire a man she was not married to was deemed to be suffering from sexual mania, in which PMS was actually considered to be a mental disorder that might land a woman in an asylum. Most of all, it was an age in which a lady’s husband was her lord and master.

Marriage, in the words of Queen Victoria herself, can be “a very doubtful happiness”. Still, in Victorian England, divorce was very rare. Not only did the social stigma of a failed marriage make divorce virtually unthinkable, most people simply couldn’t afford to get divorced. Divorce was such a lengthy and expensive process that it simply wasn’t an option outside of the aristocracy, who were ironically less inclined to go through the scandal of a divorce than unhappily married people of the lower classes. In the 1850s new laws were passed in order to make divorce cheaper and therefore more accessible to the middle class.

The first half of Summerscale’s book outlines the true story of Isabella Robinson, a women in her early thirties who had just entered into her second marriage. Like most marriages of the time, it was a marriage of convenience. Isabella’s husband could provide her with financial security, but very little else. Being an intelligent and passionate woman at her sexual peak, Isabella (trail blazing for generations of “cougars” to follow) soon finds herself lusting after a young man ten years her junior. Her obsession with him begins to rule her life and she pours all her repressed passion and frustrated sexual energy into her diary. When her husband finds her diary, he announces his intention to divorce her.

The second half of the book follows the explosive divorce trial. The case rests on proving whether or not Isabella’s diary is true. If it was true then she cheated on her husband and he can therefore divorce her on the grounds of adultery. If it’s not true then (according to Victorian society) she is obviously a madwoman suffering  from a sexual mania such as erotomania or nyphomania and therefore cannot be held legally responsible for her actions.

Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady might be non-fiction but it reads very much like a novel. For those who see the words “historical non-fiction” and immediately start snoring – don’t be too hasty to judge! This is an exciting story of scandal and intrigue, as well as a riveting courtroom drama. And on top of that, it is truly a revealing snapshot of Victorian times with cameo appearances from notable historical figures such as Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens.

Summerscale’s research is impressive. She has gone to extraordinary lengths compiling letters, newspaper clippings, public records and census information in order to build a really solid social and historical framework through which to view Mrs. Robinson’s story.

Still, throughout everything, Isabella Robinson remains something of a mystery. With her original diary lost, sadly all that remains of her words are the sections that were printed in the newspapers during the divorce trial. From Summerscale’s account, Isabella emerges as a woman full of contradictions. Impulsive and creative, selfish and hysterical, in ways born ahead of her times and in others wholly a product of her times – all that can be said for certain about Isabella Robinson is that she was very unhappy in what she called “the bonds of a dreaded wedlock”.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady is that it gives readers a rare glimpse into the sheer wealth of feeling that went unspoken during this time period. Here is proof that people in Victorian times were not really all that different from people nowadays. Isabella Robinson was an emotionally intense woman who either led a very rich fantasy life, or conducted multiple extra martial affairs (it is unclear how much of her diary was true and how much was simply “make-believe”). Either way, she clearly had just as many issues going on as the average modern woman. She was simply better at hiding her issues because she lived in a society in which any kind of strong emotional display was considered “bad manners”. This was a time when one avoided airing ones dirty laundry at all costs, let alone plastering it all over Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The idea of a Victorian woman obsessing over a younger man and feverishly detailing her sexual fantasies about him in her diary is just… well it’s like imagining Queen Victoria shopping for naughty lingerie, or Charles Darwin reading dirty magazines. It’s shocking, and fascinating and strangely comforting. It’s nice to think that perhaps our ancestors weren’t quite as stuffy and dull as they appear to be in all those old back and white pictures.

Summerscale’s previous book, The Suspicions of Mr Wicher, is said to be a study of the real life detective who inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes. In this same vein, Isabella Robinson could easily be said to have inspired characters like Madame Bovary and Lady Chatterley. But the best thing about Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady is the realisation that Isabella Robinson probably wasn’t all that different from the average Victorian woman. In fact, the only real difference was that the average Victorian woman was a little more clever about hiding her diary.

Guest Reviewer: Booktopia’s Sarah McDuling

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Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale

From the bestselling, multi-award-winning author of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher comes a brand new true story of a Victorian scandal.

On a mild winter’s evening in 1850, Isabella Robinson set out for a party. Her carriage bumped across the wide cobbled streets of Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town and drew up at 8 Royal Circus, a grand sandstone house lit by gas lamps. This was the home of the rich widow Lady Drysdale, a vivacious hostess whose soirees were the centre of an energetic intellectual scene.

Lady Drysdale’s guests were gathered in the high, airy drawing rooms on the first floor, the ladies in dresses of glinting silk and satin, bodices pulled tight over boned corsets; the gentlemen in tailcoats, waistcoats, neckties and pleated shirt fronts, dark narrow trousers and shining shoes. When Mrs Robinson joined the throng she was introduced to Lady Drysdale’s daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Edward Lane. She was at once enchanted by the handsome Mr Lane, a medical student ten years her junior. He was ‘fascinating’, she told her diary, before chastising herself for being so susceptible to a man’s charms. But a wish had taken hold of her, which she was to find hard to shake…

A compelling story of romance and fidelity, insanity, fantasy, and the boundaries of privacy in a society clinging to rigid ideas about marriage and female sexuality, Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace brings vividly to life a complex, frustrated Victorian wife, longing for passion and learning, companionship and love.

About the Author

Kate Summerscale is the author of the number one bestselling The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2008, a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and adapted into a major ITV drama. Her first book, The Queen of Whale Cay, won a Somerset Maugham award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread biography award. Kate Summerscale has also judged various literary competitions including the Booker Prize. She lives in London.

Click here to order Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace from Booktopia,
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REVIEW: Wonder Girls by Catherine Jones (Guest Reviewer: Booktopia’s Sarah McDuling)

Catherine Jones’ debut novel, Wonder Girls, is an inspirational and at times heartbreaking story about love and friendship, ambition and loss. More importantly, it’s a celebration of GIRL-POWER. This is the kind of read that will have woman of all ages raising their fists in solidarity and saying things like “I am Woman, here me roar!” or similar. Menfolk beware. This book may make you a teensy bit disappointed in yourself for being born with a Y chromosome.

The prologue of Wonder Girls takes place in 1937, in a hospital and (deliciously) in the dead of the night. Cecily Stirling is 14 years old and about to change the course of her life with a spot of covert baby-stealing.

It’s a pretty amazing prologue, virtually dripping with atmosphere and mystery. I defy anyone to read it and not find themselves desperate to know what comes next.

In fact, what comes next is an abrupt leap forward into the future. Suddenly, Cecily has become “Ceci”, an elderly woman who lives alone in a big house after the death of her partner. When a neighbourhood woman in her thirties befriends Ceci and starts asking questions about her past, it soon becomes clear that Ceci is an old lady with quite an interesting story to tell.

We readers already know this, of course. Ceci stole a baby back in the prologue, remember? Obviously a stunt like that is bound to have dramatic consequences. And yet before we can discover the fate of the stolen baby we are drawn into a different (but no less compelling) story.

This story takes us back to 1928 and 16-year-old Ida Gaze, a determined young girl who decides she’s going to swim the Bristol Channel. Everyone says it can’t be done, especially not by a mere schoolgirl. But this is the “Roaring Twenties” and the world is starting to change. Things that were once unthinkable are suddenly becoming possible. Women are flying aeroplanes. Even more shockingly, they are wearing trousers! And so with the support of her best friend, Freda Voyle, and inspired by her idol, Amelia Earhart, Ida Gaze sets out to prove everyone wrong.

Ida and Freda are more than just your standard BFFs. They share a close bond, so inseparable as to be co-dependant. They live in a small village in which people tend to gossip. Most people in the village know that Ida and Freda’s relationship goes deeper than just friendship (particularly on Freda’s side). But this was an era in which such things were not openly acknowledged.

Wonder Girls is a richly detailed and meticulously crafted novel. Catherine Jones executes flawless shifts in narrative and timeline in order to construct dual stories that gradually begin to dovetail in rather unexpected ways. This is that special kind of storytelling in which seemingly unconnected threads are drawn slowly together and tied up so neatly and satisfyingly that it seems like magic. It’s one of those novels in which everything plays out just right. The pacing is perfect, each part of the story unfolding exactly as it ought to and yet somehow never quite in the way that you predicted it would.

But where Catherine Jones really excels is in portraying the strong relationships between her characters and conveying the curious blend of pain and joy that comes from truly loving someone, whether it’s a best friend, a kindred spirit, an adopted daughter or the love of your life. Catherine Jones skilfully maps out a journey of love through a series of transformations, beginning with the fierce and all-encompassing love that is forged between childhood best friends and then moving on to explore the heartsick longing as friendship deepens into unrequited love. She covers basically every kind of love that can exist between women, from the selfless love of motherhood to the strong bonds of sisterhood, the fluttering euphoria of first love to the tragedy of love that goes unspoken.

Wonder Girls is a story that is at times tragic and painful, while at others triumphant and uplifting. It’s a story about best friends who were bold and fearless in the pursuit of their dreams. At the same time, it’s a story about an old woman who stole a baby when she was young and then spent decades trying to solve the mystery behind the baby’s mother.

But most of all, Wonder Girls is a story about girls being awesome. I’d recommend it for any little girl who has ever dreamt big, or for anyone (boy or girl) who has ever cherished a dream that seemed impossible.

Overall, this is a very  impressive debut from an author I’ll be looking out for in future.

Guest Reviewer: Booktopia’s Sarah McDuling

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From the publisher: ‘Don’t follow the crowd,’ she’d be telling schoolgirls at the swimming baths. ‘Follow your own star and when you have achieved your goal you will have that with you for the rest of your life…’

In 1928, a plucky young Welsh girl named Ida Gaze swims the Bristol Channel with the help of her best friend Freda and the inspiration of her heroine Amelia Earhart.

In 1937, on the instructions of the matron, a young skivvy at a grand maternity hospital in London smuggles out an orphaned baby on one of the coldest nights of the year.

Now, in a small town in Wales, an old lady named Ceci pieces together these stories and is about to discover the surprising ways in which they link to her own. It begins with two girls in the twenties who left their small Welsh village for the Big Smoke, feeling that the world was changing and everything was possible…

About the Author

After studying English Literature at universities in Wales and the USA, Catherine Jones worked as a journalist in print, TV and PR. She was born in England, has lived in many different countries, and now makes her home in Wales. She works in the sale room of an auction house and thinks mainly about writing, inspired by the fascinating letters, diaries and trinkets that her work brings her into contact with.

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