Beauty in Thorns Revisited – And Stepping into the World of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in Canberra.

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In 2017, I was lucky enough to be approached by Penguin Random House to review Kate Forsyth’s book, Beauty in Thorns, the story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and in particular, William Morris (Topsy), Ned Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the women who inspired them:  Janey Burden, Lizzie Siddal, and Georgie MacDonald, and in the final section, Georgie and Ned’s daughter, Margot. Ned, Dante and William used the women in their lives as models for their paintings based on myths, literature and fairy tales – amongst other themes. Some of the most famous paintings by these artists feature in the story, and it opens with John Everett Millais painting one of the most well-known Pre-Raphaelite works, Ophelia, based on a character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

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Kate Forsyth is my go-to author, the one I will always read and devour within days – her adult, young adult and children’s fiction. Beauty in Thorns focusses on the stories of the women – and how they affected the art, what they themselves created, and why they created what they did. The men still have a role and voice, but it is Lizzie, Janey, Georgie and Margot whose voices are at the front and centre of the novel. The intricate links between all these people and those who come in and out of their lives, end in tragedy in some cases, but happiness in others. The art they created was seen as radical for their time, and Kate Forsyth hints at this when the artists discuss progress and reviews and shows. Reading this the first time was magical, but when I found out that a selection of the paintings were going to be shown in Canberra, I knew I wanted to see them – and not just as images on a screen or in a book (though I did buy the guide and a book of Christina Rossetti’s poetry), and we headed down for a few days.

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Ophelia, by John Everett Millais, featuring Elizabeth Siddal.

Starting from many paintings I was unfamiliar with, I saw the progression of subject matter, from the everyday themes, to modern life, faith, truth to nature, romance, portraits, and the ones I knew about, the ones linked to myth, fairy tale and literature, the latter themes being the ones focussed on in Kate’s novel, and the ones that everyone heading to the Tate or this exhibition likely knows about, but all their art is exquisite and it’s easy to see why they chose to paint in this style, and why Kate Forsyth was drawn to them.

2019 BadgeSeeing the paintings for myself, and reading the book during my visit, brought them to life more than ever before. The book coming to life in this way was magical and enriching, and brought a new dimension to the novel, knowing what the end result of what had occurred in the novel, and knowing the stories behind the paintings, and the names of the models that weren’t always credited on the placards, but are mentioned in the guide, was very enjoyable.

I’ve linked back to my original review here too but being able to visit the world Beauty in Thorns is based on was amazing, and I have bought a few post cards to display in my room of my favourite paintings.

Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Australia's Sweetheart.jpgTitle: Australia’s Sweetheart

Author: Michael Adams

Genre: Biography

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 29th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 404

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: This is the fascinating story of Mary Maguire, a 1930s Australian ingenue who sailed for Hollywood and a fabulous life, only to have her career cut short by scandal and tragedy. Packed with celebrity, history and gossip, AUSTRALIA’S SWEETHEART is perfect for readers of SHEILA and THE RIVIERA SET.

Mary Maguire was Australia’s first teenage movie star and she captivated Hollywood in the mid 1930s. Mary lived on three continents and was celebrated in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Los Angeles and London. Her life was lived in parallel with seminal incidents of the twentieth century: the Spanish Flu; the Great Depression; the Bodyline series; Australia’s early radio, talkies and aviation; Hollywood’s Golden Era; the British aristocracy’s embrace of European fascism; London’s Blitz; and post-war American culture and politics. Mary knew everyone, from Douglas Jardine, Don Bradman, Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan, to William Randolph Hearst, Maureen O’Sullivan and Judy Garland.

AUSTRALIA’S SWEETHEART in an irresistible never-before-told story that captures the glamour of Hollywood and the turbulent times of the twentieth century, with a young woman at its centre.

~*~

These days, it’s very hard to imagine Hollywood not being infiltrated by Australians. Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Heath Ledger, Margot Robbie and many more these days. But where did it all start? Who were the Australians who led the way, and paved the now well-trodden path that many Australian actors and actresses walk to Hollywood? The book I am about to review from Hachette is about Australia’s first teenage movie star – and her journey from small, local films in Australia, to captivating Hollywood in the 1930s, in a time of growing uncertainty in Europe. Throughout her life, Mary would live across three continents, and would be celebrated in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Los Angeles and London. She lived through events such as The Spanish Flu, The Great Depression and The Bodyline series. she saw the development of radio in Australia, talkies (films with sound) and aviation. She starred in films during Hollywood’s Golden Era and saw the British aristocracy – including her own husband – embrace European fascism and lived through London’s Blitz and post-war American culture and politics. She knew so many people that today, we know by name from film and history, but these times were also turbulent and uncertain for Mary, and Michael Adams carefully explores these in this biography.

When Mary Maguire’s stardom began, the world was falling at her feet, and her journey to America would be the beginning of many more Australians flocking to Hollywood to make their fortunes. Perhaps her influence also had an influence on the film industry at home, which over the past decades has produced memorable films such as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Moulin Rouge, The Dish and many more, and renowned directors such as Baz Luhrmann. These are stories we know about, and figures and movies that are always in our consciousness as Australians these days. But where did all this come from? From many places, but Mary Maguire was one of those people, and her story has been one that has been widely unknown until now.

This was a fascinating story to read, because it reveals an unknown story, of a woman who might be known to older generations, but has possibly been hidden from history, or simply ignored or forgotten until recently. A story that contributes in many ways to our entertainment history, but also a sense of what people went through during the 1930s and 1940s and the cut-throat world of Hollywood: how short careers could be, and the lengths people went to remain in films and maintain their career – keeping to a specific look and weight were important, and it seemed that whilst male actors maintained lengthy careers, female actors like Mary and Judy Garland might have had shorter ones – with factors like age, marriage and motherhood hinting at why they might not have the same success at thirty as they might at twenty. Nevertheless, it seems after suffering tuberculosis, her first husband being sent to jail, and losing her son, Mary attempted a comeback, but then decided to live a quieter life, though she still spent some time in the papers, with major events in her life being reported when they happened.

Mary Maguire’s life is fascinating and complex, from performing in her home town to starring in movies and being suspected of pro-fascist sentiments by MI5 during World War Two, and her struggles with illness and her marriage, to a second, more peaceful marriage in her later years. The whole time she was supported by her parents and sisters, who would eventually join her in London and America. It is a fascinatingly complex story, with too many layers to go into here. Each layer added something to who Mary would become, from a carefree young girl taking dance classes, to one with stars in her eyes and finally, to a woman who led a quiet, if troubled life until she died. She had suspicions follow her during the war years. In these days, she would be misquoted by the media – something not uncommon today either. She is an important figure because it shows how Australians were treated and seen in Hollywood, and perhaps the novelty that young Mary was at first. At the same time, the political dealings of her first husband darkened her later life, and knowing how she pulled through shows the strength of her character as a woman and an Australian.

Booktopia

Australian Women Writer’s Check-in three: thirty-one to forty-five

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My next fifteen takes me to book 45 of the challenge – The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell. In this set, I read a wide array of fiction – all by authors I had never read before, from contemporary fiction, to historical fiction, literary fiction, and kids’ books that delved into the world of spies, and one of my favourite periods of antiquity, the Minoans and the explosion of Akrotiri on Thera. I read a non-fiction book by Kitty Flanagan, which was more like an extended comedy routine, to mysteries and family legacies.

From World War Two seen through the lens of Jewish refugees in Shanghai, to book illumination in the middle ages, and the melding of various mythologies and histories to create unique characters and voices that stretch out across the decades and centuries to tell stories of war, family, fear and mystery, and the fun of child spies and wildlife adventures.

These next fifteen were recently completed and, the last fifteen will take me to the start of August. Just over half way done for the year, I have read four times what I pledged, and hope to read many more in the months to come, adding to my ever growing list.

Books thirty-one to forty-five

  1. The Jady Lily by Kirsty Manning
  2. The Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader
  3. Burning Bridges and Other Hobbies by Kitty Flanagan
  4. Bluebottle by Belinda Castles
  5. The Upside of Over by J.D. Barrett and Interview
  6. P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones
  7. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey
  8. The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady
  9. Ella and Olivia: A Wild Adventure by Yvette Poshoglian
  10. Kensy and Max: Breaking News by Jacqueline Harvey
  11. Swallow’s Dance by Wendy Orr
  12. We See the Stars by Kate van Hooft.
  13. The Far Back Country by Kate Lyons
  14. Beneath the Mother Tree by D.M. Cameron
  15. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

So far I haven’t mentioned favourites on any lists, because there have been so many on the others, but on this one, The Jade Lily, Kensy and Max, Swallow’s Dance and The Peacock Summer are the ones that stood out for me and that I enjoyed the most for various reasons, all stated in my reviews on these books.

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge Check-in One – books one to fifteen

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All year I have been meaning to write progress posts for every month, or every ten books. Until now, I have woefully neglected this activity, and having read 61 books already, am breaking it up into posts of fifteen – and will continue to do this until the end of the year/early 2019, making the collation of posts for my final wrap up of this challenge easier than last year’s attempt. Each list will be varied, with review books and ones I chose to purchase making up my count – they will be diverse in terms of story, genre, fiction or non-fiction, readership, age and as many other aspects of diversity as I have stumbled across on my reading journey – greatly depending on what I have been able to find, have been sent and what I have access to, but also, I choose books based on what I enjoy as well, and in doing so, I feel like I hit as much diversity in my reading as possible without too much trouble.

These lists – to date so far by today, are a little less than half of my total books logged for the year, which on the 11th of August, stands at 115, and counting. I have well surpassed my goal of fifteen for the challenge – a conservative estimate as I often have a list in mind of upcoming releases and books I own, yet also don’t always know what else will come my way. I find it best to underestimate – and then anything extra becomes bonus points.

So below is my first batch of fifteen out of sixty one, with links to each review.

First fifteen

  1. The Sister’s Song by Louise Allan
  2. The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett
  3. Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings by Janine Beacham
  4. Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner
  5. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier
  6. The Endsister by Penni Russon
  7. Graevale by Lynette Noni  
  8. Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn 
  9. Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen
  10. The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht and Interview
  11. Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French 
  12. Surf Rider’s Club #2: Bronte’s Big Sister Problem by Mary van Reyk
  13. Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer
  14. Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard 
  15. Mayan Mendacity by L.J.M. Owen 

Coming up next, posts sixteen to thirty of the Australian Women Writer’s challenge and at some stage, a Book Bingo wrap up post for both of my rounds of the challenge with Mrs B’s Book Reviews and Theresa Smith Writes.

The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1) by Jessica Fellowes

mitford 1.jpgTitle: The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1)

Author: Jessica Fellowes

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Sphere

Published: 12th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 422

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A Golden Age-style mystery bursting with period detail and set amid the Mitford household, THE MITFORD MURDERS is the glittering start to a thrilling and sumptuous new series written by Jessica Fellowes, author of the number one bestselling Downton Abbey books.

‘A lively, well-written, entertaining whodunit’ THE TIMES

***You can now preorder Bright Young Dead, the thrilling second book in The Mitford Murders series*** Lose yourself in the sumptuous first novel in a new series of Golden Age mysteries set amid the lives of the glamorous Mitford sisters.

It’s 1919, and Louisa Cannon dreams of escaping her life of poverty in London, and most of all her oppressive and dangerous uncle.

Louisa’s salvation is a position within the Mitford household at Asthall Manor, in the Oxfordshire countryside. There she will become nurserymaid, chaperone and confidante to the Mitford sisters, especially sixteen-year-old Nancy – an acerbic, bright young woman in love with stories.

But when a nurse – Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of her famous namesake – is killed on a train in broad daylight, Nancy and amateur sleuth Louisa find that in postwar England, everyone has something to hide . . .

~*~

The first in what I am sure will be a gripping and enthralling series, The Mitford Murders takes place in 1919-1921, the years immediately following the end of World War One, with soldiers and nurses still returning from the front and various theatres of war. During late December 1919, Louisa Cannon has escaped London, and her uncle. She’s on her way to take up the position of nursery maid in the Mitford household at Asthall Manor – but an incident on the train she’s one delays her. This incident delays her arrival – and almost jeopardises her job, had it not been for the oldest Mitford daughter, Nancy’s intervention and excitement at a confidant other than her younger sisters and brother. As Nancy and Louisa become friends, they become involved in the murder investigation – helping a police officer – Guy – find out what happened and who the killer was, and looking into people who are not quite who they say they are, introducing another mystery to the story as Louisa does her best to protect Nancy and remain her friend amidst the societal conventions they must live and work within.

These side characters add flavour to the novel, and the premise of the novel, the murder of Florence Nightingale Shore on the train heading towards Sussex that Louisa was on, is based on a real case, a real murder that remains unsolved in reality, but in fiction, is given a resolution, and in true murder mystery style, a murderer caught and brought to justice, and the other strands and characters brought together to conclude the plot and lead into the next book, out later this year.

Taking real life people, historical figures, ad placing them in a fictional context is always interesting and always has potential to go really wrong, or really right. Jessica Fellowes has done an exceptional job – taking historical figures who would later become well known in various circles – Nancy for her writing, Unity for her Nazi tendencies – and created a world where we can see what might have triggered these choices for the girls, and we get to know the Mitford sisters as children and humans and also get to know the ones whose names might not instantly come to mind such as Pamela, and Deborah.

Using an unsolved mystery from history and giving it a potential resolution in its own time and place in fiction worked wonderfully – it was a case that captured the imaginations of the characters and gave them a drive to find out what had happened. Louisa is cleverly written, as is Nancy – both confined by what society wants them to do, yet at the same time, rebellious and eager to step outside these boundaries, Louisa perhaps less so as she wants to remain in the safety of the job and away from her uncle – a plot point that swims through the narrative as well, and at times, these little shifts outside of what they’re expected to do take the plot in an unforeseen yet useful and intriguing direction that helps to bring the many strands together to solve the mysteries that surround the murder, Louisa herself, and Roland Lucknor, a young man who served with Nancy’s father in war and whose suspicious behaviour triggers alarm bells in Louisa and Guy’s minds. Like all good mysteries, it of course has the initial crime and investigators but also red herrings and conflicts between characters that show their flaws and humanity, but it also encapsulates a period in history where class and gender could dictate what one could do and say, and how to present oneself – and I felt this was dealt with really well, and in a way that is believable and accessible to a modern audience, as well as dealing with the hints at rebellion Nancy showed, whilst ensuring she still fit into the mould her parents wanted her to.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of these novels go, and what will happen next with Louisa and the Mitford sisters.

Booktopia

Cover Reveal: The Crimes of Grindelwald Screenplay

Releasing on the 16th of November, 2018, is the screenplay of the second part in the Fantastic Beasts series, The Crimes of Grindelwald,which will pick up where the first film left off two years ago, with the capture of Gellert Grindelwald by Newt Scamander and the MACUSA squad. However, Gellert has escaped and is on a quest to give power to pure blooded wizards over non-magical beings. Newt is enlisted by Albus Dumbledore to thwart these plans, and draw lines between loyalty and love, as they fight to save the wizarding world.

The cover of the screenplay (pictured below), hints at what is to come in the film and screenplay. As expected, the Deathly Hallows symbol is present, its significance known to fans of the Harry Potter books. The Eiffel Tower is present, signifying a move into the wizarding world of countries beyond the UK and Hogwarts and America, a few favourite magical creatures, and other symbols from the film. We will not know what these symbols mean until we see the film and read the screenplay.

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MinaLima is the graphic design team behind the cover and the Fantastic Beasts series, and they have done a wonderful job of this cover as well as the previous one. They used the Art Nouveau aesthetic for this because of the centrality of France to the film and the iconography of the Eiffel Tower associated with France. Looking forward to reading this and seeing the film when they are released, and a review of the screenplay will appear on my blog later in the year.

Booktopia

The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

the burning chambersTitle: The Burning Chambers

Author: Kate Mosse

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 608

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Bringing sixteenth-century Languedoc vividly to life, Kate Mosse’s The Burning Chambers is a gripping story of love and betrayal, mysteries and secrets; of war and adventure, conspiracies and divided loyalties…

Carcassonne 1562: Nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father’s bookshop. Sealed with a distinctive family crest, it contains just five words: SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE.

But before Minou can decipher the mysterious message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes her destiny forever. For Piet has a dangerous mission of his own, and he will need Minou’s help if he is to get out of La Cité alive.

Toulouse: As the religious divide deepens in the Midi, and old friends become enemies, Minou and Piet both find themselves trapped in Toulouse, facing new dangers as sectarian tensions ignite across the city, the battle-lines are drawn in blood and the conspiracy darkens further.

Meanwhile, as a long-hidden document threatens to resurface, the mistress of Puivert is obsessed with uncovering its secret and strengthening her power…

~*~

In 1562, France is caught in a war between the Catholics and the Huguenots – a Protestant movement who faced persecution from the Catholics and were called heretics. Carcassonne and Toulouse are at the centre of this novel, where Minou Joubert is charged with taking care of her brother – Aimeric, sister – Alis and the bookstore that her father owns in his absence when she stumbles upon a Will, and a note delivered to her, inscribed with She knows that you live. And so, Minou sets off on a journey to discover the person behind the note and find her father, and ask about her past, and makes discoveries that will forever change her life. Amidst this mystery, is the backdrop of religious conflict between the Catholics and the Huguenots, the latter considered to be heretics, and the ownership of a Protestant Bible feared. On her journey, Minou meets Piet Reydon, a Huguenot convert, who has his own mission. Their missions and tasks will cross paths, leading to a confrontation where it seems those who want them dead, such as the mistress of Puivert, where Bernard Joubert was headed, might just succeed.

The Wars of Religion in France were a sequence of eight civil wars between the Catholics and the Huguenots, ending in millions dead or displaced over the thirty-six-year conflict. If modern wars are much to go by – I don’t think very much has changed since the 1560s.  In a time of darkness and brutality, Kate Moss has done an excellent job showcasing this dark history for what it was, and what it meant to so many – that two factions of the same religion, who followed the same God, and a similar religious text to fall into war seems unfathomable these days, yet for people like Minou and Piet, was very real, and very harsh.

It is a very long book – dense with historical fact, and strong women who did what they could to fit in, were strong and brave and yet at the same time, appropriate for their time – they knew what they had to do, and how to act. Minou, the main character, is caught between these wars and her heritage – she has always known she is not quite like her family – and the way Mosse has dealt with this ensures the mystery is intriguing and holds its own for the entire book, and is also sensitive, showing that Minou’s heritage was something that was worth another woman pursuing her over, going to extreme lengths to draw Minou into her deluded game of cat and mouse. It is this mystery that drives the novel, and the shorter chapters in italics are at first a mystery, making the reader wonder who this person could be – until later in the novel, when things start to become a little clearer, but are still a little murky and need to be resolved. Opening 300 years in the future in South Africa – a time and place that we will hopefully return to soon, hints at what is to come, in a strange yet mystical way. What connection do these characters have with those in 1562?

It is a dark history, and the book is one that a genre cannot be pinned down to. It has history, mixed with suspense, with a touch of romance woven throughout that happens as the war progresses, with the dark, gothic backdrop and mystery that influence everything the characters do. The reader is swept up into the story, living in these times along with the characters, which shows that Kate Mosse’s sense of time and place is evocative and highly emotive.

This is the first in a series. with book two, The City of Tears, due in 2020. A rather long time to wait, but given the depth of this book, will be well worth it for the deepening research that Kate Mosse will be undertaking for it.

Thanks to the NSW Writer’s Centre for a copy of this to read