One of Australia’s favourite novelists Kate Forsyth, author of The Impossible Quest, Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl and now The Beast’s Garden, continues her monthly blog with us, giving her verdict on the books she’s been reading.
August is always one of the busiest times of the year for me and so I gave myself the month off writing and researching, allowing myself to catch up on my reading. It was lovely!
by Paul Gallico (illustrated by Angela Barrett)
I remember reading this beautiful book when I was a child. It’s the story of a young crippled man, a girl, and a snow goose in 1940s Essex, in the lead-up to World War II. It’s a story of kindness and friendship, of the beauty of nature and our need to protect it, and of the importance of not judging by appearances. It is also a love story. Philip Rhavader is a hunchback, shunned by all, who looks after hurt and injured animals. He makes friends with a young girl named Fritha who brings him a snow goose to tend. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, he falls in love with her but cannot speak of what is in his heart. Then the Second World War breaks out, and Philip sails across to France to help rescue the thousands of soldiers stranded at Dunkirk. As a child, the book made a strong impression on me, but I had not read it in years. When I saw this lovely new edition, with exquisite illustrations by Angela Barrett, I had to buy it for my daughter.
by Charlotte Betts
I love books set in France, and have had a particular fascination with the French Revolution since reading my grandmother’s ancient copies of The Scarlet Pimpernel by the Baroness Orczy when I was a teenager.
I settled down with this novel and a cup of tea, hoping for a great swashbuckling romantic adventure. I was not at all disappointed. The voice of the heroine Madeleine is pitch-perfect – intelligent, highly educated and argumentative, she is the daughter of a French nobleman and an English lady. Fallen on hard times, they have opened a school for rich and well-bred young ladies, where Madeleine teaches. There are secrets in her parents’ life, however, and when they die tragically, Madeleine sets out to discover her hidden heritage. Her search takes her to France, and she witnesses the execution of the French king, Louis XVI, which shakes her understanding of the world to the core.
Trapped in a France gone mad with bloodlust, Madeleine finds herself falling in love …
The Chateau on the Lake is one of the best historical romances I have read for a while, and I was pleased to realise that I had previously read and enjoyed one of Charlotte’s earlier books, The Apothecary’s Daughter … and she has a few other books in her back list. I’ll be hunting them down forthwith!
The Cormoran Strike Series : Book 1
by Robert Galbraith
I really enjoyed The Silkworm when I read it earlier this year, and so I grabbed The Cuckoo’s Calling when I saw it. It is the first in the series of Robert Galbraith’s contemporary crime novels (Robert Galbraith being, of course, the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling). I enjoyed this one even more. It introduced Cormoran Strike, one-legged private detective, and his pretty red-headed sidekick Robin, in a compelling and surprising murder mystery that shines a spotlight on the murky world of modelling. The victim is Lula Landry, a young black model, who died after plummeting from her apartment one bitter winter night. Her adopted brother refuses to believe it is suicide, and hires Cormoran to investigate. I love murder mysteries in which the reader pits their wits against the detective and tries to guess the murderer, and I also love murder mysteries with strong and interesting characters, so this series is right up my alley. I have already pre-ordered the third in the series!
by Angus Donald
This novel of Robin Hood has a tagline ‘Meet the Godfather of Sherwood Forest’, promising lots of gore and violence. The book delivers, with an unflinching look at how the famous Robin of Locksley may have ruled his criminal empire. It has a lot more to it, however. The book sweeps along with an unrelenting pace, filled with sharply drawn chase-and-battle scenes. The narrator is a young man, Alan Dale, who swears allegiance to Robin after he is condemned to death for stealing a pie. The historical setting is fabulously well done, and the characters all complex and well-drawn. I can really recommend it for anyone who loves a gripping, fast-paced historical thriller.
by Martin Walker
I’ve really been enjoying this series of contemporary murder mysteries set in the Dordogne in the south-west of France. The first few books were gentle, warm and character-driven with lots of descriptions of Bruno cooking delicious meals and looking for truffles in the forest with his dog. The later books have become more like hard-edged thrillers, with a bit of sex and a lot of political intrigue thrown in. I am still enjoying them, but not as much. Bruno was such a lovable character to begin with, but now he’s bed-hopping a little too much for my taste. I’d like less torture and more romance and feasting. Ah, well! Still a very enjoyable read.
by Hazel Gaynor
This a bittersweet, delicate novel which moves between Chicago, 1982, and Ireland, 1912. A young American woman Grace discovers that her grandmother Maggie is a survivor of the Titanic, and asks her to tell her story. Maggie was one of fourteen Irish emigrants to leave a single village to sail on the Titanic. They all have hopes and fears for the new life they are sailing towards, and many are leaving behind friends and loved ones. Hazel Gaynor deftly moves back and forth between the two narrative threads, showing how grief and loss can cast its shadow over lives, and how important it is to seize love when you find it.
by Michael Morpurgo, Michael Foreman (Illustrator)
This is my daughter’s favourite book, and she returns to it again and again. I was curious to know why, so I wrested it from her and sat down to read. It really is a delightful book, gorgeously illustrated by Michael Foreman. It tells the story of Johnny Trott, a bellboy at the Savoy, who makes friends with a cat named Kaspar.
‘From his whiskers to his paws he was black all over, jet black and sleek and shiny and beautiful. He knew he was beautiful too. He moved like silk, his head held high, his tail swishing as he went.’
Kaspar belongs to a Russian countess who befriends Johnny, and introduces him to a world of beauty and art and music. When the countess tragically dies, Johnny must keep Kaspar safe from the horrible head housekeeper, called ‘Skullface’ by the hotel staff. He is helped by the daughter of a rich American who is staying at the Savoy. They have all sorts of adventures – including escaping the sinking of the Titanic – before finding happiness and safety in America. I asked my daughter why she loves it so much, and she said, ‘because it’s about a cat, and a boy and a girl who save it, and because it makes you sad one minute, then happy the next.’ Wonderful!
by Anne Gracie
Anne Gracie is my favourite living romance author. Her Regency love stories are a perfect blend of romance, humour and pathos, and I never fail to finish with a lump in my throat. The Spring Bride is the third in a series following the romantic entanglements of four young women struggling to make their way in the world. The series began with The Autumn Bride, and continued with The Winter Bride – I would definitely start at the beginning. This one involves a rescued mutt, a gentleman-turned spy, a murder mystery, and a girl who fears to fall in love. Can’t wait for the next in the series!
by Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen is a wonderful American children’s author known for her interest in fairy tales and folklore. I have read and enjoyed many of her books, in particular The Devil’s Arithmetic and Briar Rose. Snow in Summer is a reworking of the Snow White fairy tale, set in the hillbilly mountains of West Virginia during the Great Depression. The story is both familiar and unfamiliar, as the best fairy tale retellings are. It is not her finest work, but a must-read for anyone interested in the imaginative use of fairy tales.
by Heather Webb
I remember watching the movie ‘Camille Claudel’, starring Isabelle Adjani and Gerard Depardieu in the late 1980s, and being stirred by the intensely romantic yet tragic story of this young sculptor as she struggled to make her way as a woman and a creative artist in the male-dominated world of the late 19th century.
Heather Webb has now brought Camille Claudel to life on the page, in this delicate and haunting novel told from her point of view. We see her as a strong-willed and determined young woman, stealing clay from a garden late at night so she can use it for her sculptures. Then we see Camille’s meeting with Auguste Rodin, the controversial sculptor, and the beginning of their tumultuous affair. The tension between Love and Art torments Camille. She breaks off their relationship as her work is dismissed as being copies of his, even as she longs for him. Her emotional and psychological breakdown is deftly and sensitively handled, and the ending brought tears to my eyes. A beautiful novel for anyone who (like me) loves books inspired by real-life artists.
by Lucinda Hawksley
In recent months, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction books written by the British biographer Lucinda Hawksley, and enjoyed them all. So I was drawn to read this biography of one of Queen Victoria’s daughters as much by the author as by the promise of the blurb: ‘packed with intrigues, scandals and secrets, (this is) a vivid portrait of a royal desperate to escape her inheritance.’
I was not disappointed. Lucinda Hawksley has a knack for bringing stories alive on the page, and Princess Louise is a wonderful character. Outspoken, creative, and sensual, she smoked cigarettes, rode bicycles, and refused to wear a crinoline. It is rumoured she had an illegitimate baby, smuggled out of the palace by the queen’s doctor, and one of her lovers’ may have died in her arms. It is impossible to know the truth because – nearly 70 years after her death – her archives are stoutly locked away and no-one is permitted to read them. A fascinating mystery, indeed.
Kate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than twenty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both children and adults.
She was recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite Novelists. She has been called one of ‘the finest writers of this generation”, and “quite possibly … one of the best story tellers of our modern age.’
The Beast’s Garden
by Kate Forsyth
The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.
Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a more…