Kate Forsyth, one of Australia’s favourite novelists and the author of books including The Impossible Quest series, Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl, The Beast’s Garden, and Beauty in Thorns, continues her blog with us, giving her verdict on the best books she read in May and June 2017.
Kate Forsyth’s Reviews
My cousin recommended this book to me. After reading it, she told me, she and a friend felt utterly compelled to visit Romania before it changed too much.
I can totally understand this. I long to go too now I’ve finished this book.
The author, William Blacker, was in Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Curious to see what lay beyond, he set out exploring and found himself discovering a long-lost world in which the peasants wore linen smocks and leather-wrapped shoes with upturned toes, and mowed their meadows with hand-made scythes. Fascinated by their cheerfulness and simplicity, Blacker ended up staying for almost a decade.
Along the way he fell in love with a Gypsy girl and found himself drawn into their wild and chaotic lives, and at odds with his old-fashioned Romanian hosts.
An utterly charming and poignant book that captures a way of life that is already vanishing, as Romania opens up to the west with its rampant materialism and advanced technologies… Learn more.
I really enjoy this series of contemporary crime novels by Martin Walker, partly because of its setting in the picturesque Dordogne and partly because of its hero, the gentle and good-natured police chief, Bruno. He is kind to dogs and children, cooks amazing French feasts, and falls into bed with various beautiful women, sometimes rather to his dismay.
Despite the emphasis on food and love, and the slow pace of the books, these mysteries cannot be described as ‘cosy’ as they always illuminate some dark aspect of French life. In this book – the eighth in the series – there are confrontations between environmentalists and hunters protecting their age-old traditions, and a powerful man with links to Russia and Israel. A great, light read... Learn more.
Natasha Lester is an Australian writer based in Perth, and A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald is her first foray into historical fiction, after two contemporary tales published by Fremantle Press.
I was irresistibly drawn to her book by its gorgeous cover and the promise of its title, A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald. I love books set in the 1920s, which was such a heady period of glamour and new freedoms. And I was intrigued by the premise: the heroine, Evelyn, is determined to become an obstetrician, at a time when women were rarely permitted to study medicine. To support herself, Evelyn becomes a dancer for the Ziegfield Follies.
The book didn’t let me down. Evelyn’s story is full of drama, heartbreak and determination, and the setting of Manhattan in the early ‘20s is brought to glorious vivid life. I particularly loved the scenes when Evelyn was fighting to be allowed to study medicine – they rang really true for me. I’m keen now to read Natasha Lester’s new book, Her Mother’s Secret... Learn more.
A wonderful, magical novel set in a snow-bound village in medieval Muscovy and drawing upon old Russian fairy tales, The Bear & the Nightingale is a brilliant debut from Katherine Arden.
The heroine of the tale is a young strong-willed woman named Vasya whose mother has passed on to her certain magical abilities, such as being able to see and converse with the magical spirits of the household. When her father remarries a devout Christian woman, and a new priest begins to preach against the old beliefs, Vasya finds herself the only one who can protect her home from the gathering forces of darkness.
I loved the Russian landscape, with its bitter cold winds and dark impenetrable forests, and the small details of medieval Russian life like the grandmother and children sleeping on top of the clay oven to stay warm. I also loved Katherine Arden’s pure, lyrical writing style. Apparently she is writing another book set in the same world. I cannot wait!… Learn more.
Another gorgeous cover and intriguing title made me very keen to read Christine Wells’s new book, The Traitor’s Girl, which moves between contemporary times and war-torn London in the 30s. I love novels with dual timelines, and really enjoyed Christine Wells’s earlier book, The Wife’s Tale. I also love books about female spies and resistance fighters, so this was always going to appeal to me.
Annabel Logan thinks she has no family, but one day hears from her long-lost grandmother begging for her help as she fears she is in danger. Annabel drops everything and rushes to Beechwood Manor, her grandmother’s old manor house in the Cotswolds. However, her grandmother is nowhere to be found and there are signs of a violent break-in. With the help of a handsome journalist, Simon, Annabel sets out to discover what has happened. She discovers that her grandmother was once a spy for MI5 during the Second World War, but that she was somehow betrayed and imprisoned.
Suspecting that the grandmother’s past may have something to do with her disappearance, Annabel races against time to learn her secrets and try and solve the mystery. Lots of intrigue, passion and betrayals made for a riveting read. The pages just seemed to turn themselves! Learn more… Learn more.
A memoir about life as a female boffin, melded with fascinating facts about trees and botany, this is an unusual but very readable book. Both funny and poignant, the book charts Hope Jahren’s journey through the cut-throat world of scientists, and her joy in the secret world of trees. She charts her friendships and love affairs, her battle with bi-polar disorder, her muddles and mistakes, and her profound insights into the natural world.
Her writing is at times lyrical, and her enthusiasm for botany is infectious. A clever, quirky, and informative book about why we should love and protect the world’s trees… Learn more.
A new book by Kimberly Freeman is always a must-buy for me. I just love the way that she combines romance, adventure, and family drama, with two stories in different historical periods weaving together in a deeply satisfying way.
The primary narrative in Stars Across the Ocean is the story of a foundling-child Agnes Resolute (named for a ship) who sets out on a quest to find her real mother in the late 1870s. All she has to guide her is a small silver button with a rearing unicorn engraved upon it. She discovers the button once belonged to Genevieve Breakby, the beautiful and wilful daughter of a local noble family. Agnes follows a series of tiny clues that lead her first to London, then Paris, then across the ocean to Ceylon. Indomitable, brave, and as resolute as the ship she is named for, Agnes refuses to give up despite hardships, loss and the growing fear that perhaps her mother is not as she imagined her to be …
Meanwhile, in modern-day London, Victoria is struggling with her own problems, including a troubled relationship with her husband and a mother who is struggling with Alzheimer’s.
The two stories echo each other in interesting ways across the century that separates them, in a beautiful novel about mothers and daughters and finding one’s place in the world… Learn more.
Lizzie Borden took an axe, / and gave her mother forty whacks; / when she saw what she had done, / she gave her father forty-one.
This chilling children’s playground rhyme was inspired by the true-life story of Lizzie Borden, who was – in 1892 – tried but then acquitted for murdering her father and stepmother with an axe. The case was never solved, and still continues to interest more than a hundred years after the event.
Sarah Schmidt says that she was inspired to write Look What I Have Done after Lizzie Borden came to her in a dream. I’m always fascinated by novels inspired by dreams, as so many of my own books begin in this way, and so I was eager to read her take on the well-known story.
The novel is told in alternating first-person accounts by Lizzie, her sister Emma, the Irish housemaid Bridget, and a loutish young man who seems to have been hired by the sisters’ maternal uncle to hurt or attack their father in some way. None of the voices seem particularly reliable, and so it is hard to ascertain the truth of what has happened. The atmosphere in the house is claustrophobic and cloying, with many descriptions of the stench of rotting meat and over-ripe pears. Lizzie’s voice is awkward and childish and gleeful in turns, and – although Sarah Schmidt does not attempt to answer the question of who was truly the murderer – by the end of the book, I felt sure that it was Lizzie and that her acquittal was a miscarriage of justice… Learn more.
I was in the US in late June, and made a pilgrimage to Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote her beloved novels at a tiny desk in her bedroom.
Louisa May Alcott was one of the most successful authors of her day, earning more than any of her male contemporaries. Her classic Little Women has been a favourite with many since it was first published nearly 150 years ago. Like many other girls, I loved the story of tomboy Jo March and her three sisters, particularly since it was one of the few books that featured a girl who wanted to write, as I did.
I had re-read Little Women a few weeks earlier, and in preparation to visiting her house, I decided to read a little more about her life. I chose Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother because the author, Eva LaPlante was a descendant of Abigail May, Louisa’s mother and the inspiration for Marmee, the famous mother of the Little Women. In writing this biography, she drew upon the family’s letters and journals and other private papers, some of which had only recently been discovered in an attic.
Louisa’s father has long been credited with being the primary shaping influence on her, but this biography shakes that assumption and examines the key role her mother had in her life.
Abigail May was certainly a fascinating woman, who fought for women’s suffrage and an end to slavery. Her life, and the life of her four daughters, is brought to vivid life and really helps to illuminate Little Women and Louisa may Alcott’s other wonderful books… Learn more.
She was recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite Novelists. She has been called one of ‘the finest writers of this generation’, and ‘quite possibly … one of the best story tellers of our modern age.’
Kate’s books have been published in 14 countries around the world, including the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Japan, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Poland and Slovenia.
Beauty in Thorns
A spellbinding reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the wild bohemian circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets.
The Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention. Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a Methodist minister – understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be confronted by many years of gossip and scandal...