2017 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge Update

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a-waltz-for-matildaOn the first of January this year, I embarked on a reading challenge. That challenge was to read as many books by Australian women as possible, and at the beginning of the year, I made a list from books I had that I wanted to read, and came to about six, and so decided to take on the middle level – Miles – to read six books and review four. At the time, I was unsure of exactly how many I would read, and so chose this instead of Creating my Own Challenge and nominating a goal. I had no idea that I would be able to read more than four times my chosen goal by the beginning of August, juggling other review books as well, and trying to read across a broad range of genres.

if-blood-should-stain-the-wattlefairvaleAs at the second of August, I have read thirty books, and hope to read many more by year’s end, but I am not sure how many that will be. It could be ten, it could be twenty, I could even double or triple my goal – depending on what I read and how long it takes me, as some books have taken me a little longer than others, and some have been series, in particular, I began the year by working my way through The Matilda Saga by Jackie French within the first couple of months of the year, a six book saga beginning in 1894 with twelve year old Matilda O’Halloren and working through almost a century, taking the titles from well known bush poetry by poets such as Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, but positioning the stories through the eyes of the women in various to-love-a-sunburnt-countrylooking for rose patersontimes of turbulence and upheaval in Australia: 1894 to just after Federation, with the formation of unions, moves towards federation and women’s suffrage in A Waltz For Matilda, post World War One with the Girl From Snowy River, who despite all odds, saves the valley and gets the horses to safety, a Depression-era circus in The Road to Gundagai, where a young girl escapes from those who would do her harm, and finds a family who cares and nurses her back to health. In book four, To Love A Sunburnt Country, the story enters World War Two, and is told from Nancy’s perspective, a young part Aboriginal girl whose family has always lived and worked on Drinkwater. Books five and six are told in a few perspectives, during the sixties and seventies, during Vietnam and the moon landing. Matilda, Drinkwater and how women are perceived in society through each of these decades and the rights they fight for link the saga and with book seven due out later this year, I am eager to see where we get to go post-1975.

stars across the oceanFollowing this, I have read a variety of historical fiction, flying too highfantasy, Young Adult, general fiction and romance, ranging from ones that felt over the top and extremely clichéd to those that had more essence and plot than just the couple falling in love at first sight. Two of these, Girl in Between and The Hating Game, a Bridget Jones feel to them, and thus made them more enjoyable and a little more realistic, as the characters were not perfect. This challenge has brought me books I might not have ordinarily picked up and in doing so, has introduced me to new areas of interest but also determined what I prefer and what I don’t like.

my lovely frankieAs part of this challenge, I have also been writing articles on small presses: Pantera Press, Magabala Books, UWA Press, The Author People, Serenity Press, Odyssey Books (yet to be published on Australian Women Writer’s Challenge), Xoum, and Transit Lounge, all of the links have been provided here. I have enjoyed image004doing this, especially contacting some of the publishers. Those who have been rather enthusiastic about the challenge have been Odyssey Books, Serenity Press and The Author People.

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One of the highlights so far has had to be getting to be part of the blog tour for Kate Forsyth’s Beauty in Thorns. I always enjoy Kate’s books, and she writes so exquisitely that it is easy to get lost in her worlds and words. I have been trying to read more crime, and one series I would like to read again is Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair, though I have already reviewed those so they will be on my read but not reviewed list when I do so.

Below are the books I have read so far. Most have been fiction, with one collection of short stories and one non-fiction so far, and I am hoping to expand on these two areas as I go:

  1. A Waltz For Matilda (Matilda Saga #1) by Jackie French
  2. The Girl From Snowy River (Matilda Saga #3) by Jackie French
  3. The Road to Gundagai (Matilda Saga #3) by Jackie French
  4. To Love A Sunburnt Country (Matilda Saga #4) by Jackie French
  5. New York Nights by CJ Duggan
  6. Country Roads by Nicole Hurley-Moore
  7. The Ghost By The Billabong (Matilda Saga #5) by Jackie French
  8. If Blood Should Stain The Wattle (Matilda Saga #6) by Jackie French
  9. The Last McAdam by Holly Ford
  10. From the Wreck by Jane Rawson
  11. Draekora (Medoran Chronicles #3_ by Lynette Noni
  12. London Bound by CJ Duggan
  13. Looking for Rose Paterson: How Family Bush Life Nurtured Banjo the Poet
  14. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
  15. Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood
  16. The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky
  17. The Song of Us by JD Barrett
  18. Singing My Sister Down and other stories by Margo Lanagan
  19. Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freema
  20. Murder on the Ballarat Train (Phryne Fisher #3) by Kerry Greenwood
  21. Girl In Between by Anna Daniels
  22. The Lost Pages by Marija Peričić
  23. Beauty in the Thorns by Kate Forsyth
  24. The Dream Walker by Victoria Carless
  25. My Lovely Frankie by Judith Clarke
  26. Death At Victoria Dock By Kerry Greenwood (Phryne Fisher #4)
  27. Leaving Ocean Road by Esther Campion
  28. The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Sophie Green – post scheduled to go up next week.
  29. Siren by Rachel Matthews
  30. A Reluctant Warrior by Kelly Brooke Nicholls

This challenge is about reading books by Australian Women, often with strong female characters in them, but not always about Australia. It is a way that participants can work to raise the profile of Australian Women Writer’s, and of writers in general in Australia. The writing and publishing industry in Australia isn’t as big as it might be overseas, but it is none the less just as important to be able to read stories by Australian authors and for Australians all throughout the country to be able to see themselves reflected in the literature that they pick up.

I have been trying to read broadly, and this is only thirty of the seventy books I had read this year. I am hoping that the next few months will bring more variety and surprises. My complete write up for the entire challenge will be available early January 2018.

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Once Upon A Time – Fairy Tales and The Pre-Raphaelites with Kate Forsyth

Kate_ForsythIt is very rare that I get to meet my favourite authors, or in fact, any authors, even though we interact over social media, so when I heard that Kate Forsyth would be at an author event at Kincumber Library, I booked to go before the tickets were all gone. It was a lengthy month waiting to go, but finally the day came to go and listen to Kate talk about her writing and fairy tales – creating a very interesting evening for all. Last night, Tuesday the 4th of July, was a magical evening and it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have had.

The night began with Kate telling us about her writing journey. Like me, she has always wanted to be a writer and has always loved reading, and at age 7, wrote her first novel, followed by her second and third at ages 9 and 11 – around the same ages I began writing and dreaming up stories, and at age sixteen, she sent off her first manuscript – something I would not have dreamed of doing at that age, as I had only just started thinking of writing novels then. But it has since been a goal of mine to achieve publication, and Kate had many words of encouragement about writing and publishing – to keep writing and trying, and rewriting and getting your work out there, so I am going to try entering a local short story competition, using her words as my inspiration and drive to do so.

IMG_0341At age 25, Kate’s boyfriend, and now husband, gave her five years to get published – five years, where she could polish her work and query it, and learn her craft through study and writing and rewriting. As Kate tells it, the story came, as several of her stories have, from a dream. Using this as a launchpad, she set out to write what would become her first book, with the contract signed two days before she turned thirty, and that book is turning twenty years old this year. I still have my original copy of this book that Kate signed for me after the talk on last night. This book was the beginning of a six-book saga that introduced me to the world of fantasy, and led me into reading Kate’s books for life. This book was Dragonclaw, first book in the Witches of Eileanan series, which is followed by the Rhiannon’s Ride Trilogy. Kate has written forty books, and has had them published into 17 languages across the world, and has cemented her as an extraordinary storyteller, with a broad audience across ages and genres, as evidenced by the gathering at the event at Kincumber Library.dragonclaw

Fun fact: Dragonclaw was published a month before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, and both just turned twenty this year!

B_bitter-greensDragonclaw’s publication then led to Kate’s career as a full time writer, resulting in that series, and the trilogy that followed, her children’s books which include The Puzzle Ring in 2009, The Starthorn Tree, The Wildkin’s Curse and The Starkin Crown, as well as recent kids series The Impossible Quest and Chain of Charms, as well as picture books and the adult books: Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl, Dancing on Knives, The Beast’s Garden and Beauty in Thorns, all fairy tale infused historical fiction, apart from Dancing on Knives, which has a more contemporary setting – a distinction Kate and I discussed last night – that tell powerful stories of humanity and love against all odds and set against the back drops of very different time periods within each novel, resulting in powerful stories and characters that seep into your subconscious and dreams as you read.

Kate and her siblings have a literary lineage that can be traced back to at least colonial Australia, and Charlotte Waring-Atkinson, who wrote the first children’s book in BeautyinThorns_CoverAustralia: A Mother’s Offering to Her Children by A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales in 1841, the mother of four children, fighting to keep them safe, and loved in a harsh world that tried to separate them, and this book is a testament not only to the literary blood in Kate’s family but to the love, sacrifices, triumphs and moments of grief that Charlotte went through to keep her family safe.

KnivesHearing about Kate’s writing process and literary family was fascinating and she had the audience captured with her words, and very interested to hear about her writing journey, and the moments in her life that affected her and her writing, and introduced her to a love of fairy tales, a love that I share with her, just as we both enjoy reading and watching different fairy tale retellings to see how someone else interprets a fairy tale. The fascination of fairy tales has as much to do with their history and where they came from as what we know them as today – from the oral traditions to the many interpretations that have come about since they were first recorded the early 1800s by Jacob and Wihelm Grimm, whose stories mostly came from Dortchen Wild, their neighbour. During the talk, Kate recounted the childhood incident and subsequent hospital stays that had sparked her interest in fairy tales and desire to write, specifically the fairy tale of Rapunzel. puzzle_ring_med

Most people would associate Rapunzel with the version recorded by the Grimm Brothers, and this is the version Kate began focussing on in her Doctoral research. During this research, she found out more about the fairy tale, and that the first versions pre-dated the Grimm Brothers by about two hundred years, dating back to the 1600s and Giambiattista Basile, and soon came to the story of Charlotte Rose de la Force in the seventeenth century, and her imprisonment in a convent, while she was writing the story. There are three threads, the other two, the witch, and the third, Rapunzel’s perspective, and together, they form an intricate and surprising story, much like Kate’s other books.

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Moving on from Bitter Greens, Kate discussed her latest novel, Beauty in Thorns and the Pre-Raphaelites. Beauty in Thorns, and Kate’s journey in writing it, had been the first time I had heard about the Pre-Raphaelites talked about collectively. The art and poetry of the Pre-Raphaelites was inspired by myth and fairy tale, and a longing to be awakened from the dreariness of accepted art in Victorian times, to bring colour back into the world.

Before Beauty in Thorns and Kate Forsyth’s talk, I had heard the wild girlof individual names such as William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and had read some poetry by Dante’s sister, Christina – my favourite of hers was Goblin Market and re-reading it, I wondered if the characters of Lizzie and Laura in her poem had been inspired by Sleeping Beauty as well, and those in the Pre-Raphaelite circles, though perhaps not as obsessively as the series of paintings of her done by Dante Gabriel had been – an obsession that led him to running back to her after affairs, and burying his only copy of his poetry with her, and seven years later, digging her up to retrieve his poetry. Beauty in Thorns tells the stories of Lizzie Siddal, Georgie MacDonald, who married Edward Burne-Jones and Janey Burden, and the various affairs and love triangles that happened with each other and the models that the men longed to paint. But the main story became the story of Margot Burne-Jones, daughter of Georgie and Edward, whose father longed to keep her from growing up and falling in love an experiencing the pain of adult life, and the contrast in her longing to be awakened like Sleeping Beauty, an obsession that Edward had had for many years, since childhood. Together with Georgie’s story of being the faithful wife, Margot’s story shows how obsessions ate away at these artists, and what their passions did to their families and their great loves, how their obsessions became what finally consumed them in the end. Kate said she structured this story along the lines of Sleeping Beauty, with Margot representing Sleeping Beauty, and Georgie as the Queen, and the paintings were Edward’s way of awakening the world, as the Pre-Raphaelites were trying to do through their involvement in the suffrage movement, for example. I was lucky enough to be an early reader and reviewer for Beauty in Thorns, and it was full of hope, love, tragedy and despair, and everything else that makes Kate’s novels so good. Like her written word, Kate’s spoken word is powerful and weaves a spell on her audience, capturing their attention wholly and completely across the room, not even a gasp at times flying forth from the crowd. And like her books, the talk was over all too soon. It was a lovely evening for all, and Kate was so generous with her time afterwards as well.

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After the talk, she signed books for us all, and spent time answering our questions, and when I approached the signing table, she gave me a huge hug, and we talked about her books, the book launch I had just attended, and my reviewing. Hearing how supportive she was, and getting advice on writing and reading and reviewing – to only review what I like, and not to worry about not reading something I get sent that isn’t my thing, so I am going to try this method, as well as being more honest i my reviews about things I don’t like or am unsure about. I appreciated this talk with Kate, and all the interaction she has with me and her other fans on social media, and hope to attend more events with her soon.

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Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

BeautyinThorns_CoverTitle: Beauty in Thorns

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House/Vintage

Published: 3rd of July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 465

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: 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.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was smitten with his favourite model, Lizzie Siddal. She wanted to be an artist herself, but was seduced by the irresistible lure of laudanum. 

William Morris fell head-over-heels for a ‘stunner’ from the slums, Janey Burden. Discovered by Ned, married to William, she embarked on a passionate affair with Gabriel that led inexorably to tragedy.

Margot Burne-Jones had become her father’s muse. He painted her as Briar Rose, the focus of his most renowned series of paintings, based on the fairy-tale that haunted him all his life. Yet Margot longed to be awakened to love. 

Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era’s most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.

~*~

aww2017-badgeKate Forsyth’s fortieth novel, Beauty in Thorns reimagines the Sleeping Beauty fairy tail, using the well-known version of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, and the world of the Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets working to free art from the conventional prison that the Victorian world tried to isolate and suffocate it in. The stories of Ned Burne-Jones and his wife, Georgie, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his many affairs and obsession with model Lizzie Siddal, William Morris, and Ned Burne-Jones’s daughter were all caught up in this life of perfecting art and the paintings of Briar Rose, and the betrayal of lovers and husbands, rushing into the arms of muses who wished to tear them away from their families. The lives are tragic and romantic, hopeful and realistic, showing the depths and flaws of these characters.

Sweeping across the latter half of the nineteenth century, we meet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, and New Burne-Jones as they enter the art world and find models for their paintings, and they fall in love and out of love. Rossetti’s favourite model, Lizzie Siddal, falls ill during a sitting and following her illness, becomes addicted to laudanum and uses her addiction to the drug and obsession to pull Rossetti towards her, and their tragic relationship faces many ups and downs, the final tragedy striking suddenly and harshly amongst the group of friends and lovers.

Whilst the men painted and had their works exhbited and commissioned, the women wrote poetry and painted too, with Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s sister, Christina, author of poems such as Goblin Market, making a few appearances, and other authors, such as Rudyard Kipling, appearing as infants, part of one of the families, and eventually, as Kate_Forsythadults in the world of art and poetry their parents raised them in. Lizzie, Georgie, Janey and the other models share in their jealousy of each other, and desire to have the men they love to themselves, but they are more than that – they wish to be recognised in their own right as artists and poets, not just wives and mothers, or lovers and models. Beauty in Thorns is a novel full of complex characters whose desires in all aspects of their lives drive them, and influence the decisions they make. I found Georgie and Ned’s story to be the most hopeful – they stayed together through thick and thin, and Georgie didn’t sacrifice her sense of self to become a wife and mother. It is a story of women who fit into their time period, but at the same time, step out of the conventions they were born into and forge their own paths, sometimes separate from the men in their lives, sometimes alongside them, and at times, they do both, creating intrigue within the plot, pulling the reader along towards the conclusion of a story filled with tragedy at times, but hope at others.

Each peripheral character impacted dynamics too, and the group was shaken at times of death and tragedy, but pulled through, showing the strength of family and friendship, not just romantic love in the Pre-Raphaelite community. Even the well-known authors mentioned by name or who make brief appearances such as Rudyard Kipling bring an interest to the story, and cement the setting with mention of their works and inspirations, perhaps hinting at other possible stories to be told. I was unaware of Rudyard Kipling’s familial link to the Pre-Raphaelites prior to reading this, and I hope to be able to look further into it, and read his works, and Christina Rossetti’s works, in a new light.

Beauty in Thorns is a book of beauty, from the cover to the story and characters within. It weaves a magic spell around the reader, and using the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, there are hints as to who the Sleeping Beauty of the Pre-Raphaelites was: Was it Lizzie Siddal, perfect even in death? Or Margot Burne-Jones, her father’s muse, and the child he desired to keep at home, young and innocent, free from the heartbreak of love that he and his friends had experienced? Or is it both, Lizzie sleeping, Margot awake, yet feeling as though she isn’t, and longing for love to awaken her? Having read the novel, I think both are Sleeping Beauty in a way, and Kate Forsyth has conveyed this through beautiful language and imagery that flows delightfully across the page and envelops the reader as though in a warm, comforting blanket.

In each of her books, Kate Forsyth works magic with her words, weaving a spell around characters – whether inspired by real people, imagined or a fictional yet believable image of a historical figure, artist or poet – and creating a world to escape into. Her historical fiction is exceptionally well researched, and Beauty in Thorns is no exception. Using history and fairy tales as inspiration, Kate Forsyth has created a world that I didn’t want to leave, and a book that I wanted to savour yet devour at the same time. I ended up devouring it in two days, as I often do with her books. This is usually the sign of a good book for me, and an intriguing story that combined many themes of family, love, friendship and tragedy, much like The Beast’s Garden, which I am hoping to read again this year.

Another exceptional novel from one of Australia’s favourite storytellers, a true master of the story, Kate Forsyth, Beauty in Thorns is sure to appeal to lovers of historical fiction, fairy tales and Kate’s other works. I look forward to her future novels as well.

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Release Date Announced for Kate Forsyth’s Beauty in Thorns

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On the 3rd of July this year, Kate Forsyth’s latest historical novel, Beauty in Thorns will be released by Penguin Random House, and is being hailed as her best work yet. Beauty in Thorns is Kate’s fortieth novel, and centres on the Pre-Raphaelites, and the series of paintings that Edward Burne-Jones completed in 1890 that had been inspired by the fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty. Other inspirations for the story come from a Dante Gabriel Rosetti print that Kate found during her days as a student, and encouraging a passion for the Pre-Raphaelites, which is evident in Kate’s writing.

The influence of the Pre-Raphaelites is evidence in their style of art and fashion, the work of William Morris and Gabriel Rossetti and is still evident, celebrated and available today, inspiring artists and designers. The stories Kate writes are a tribute to this, and Beauty in Thorns will be no exception upon its release in a few months.

The lifestyle of the Pre-Raphaelites was unconventional for the Victorian England they lived in. Their lifestyle of drug taking, partying and husband swapping was a stark contrast to the mores and expectations of the time period, and the women – Lizzie Siddal, Jane Morris, Georgie MacDonald and Margaret Burne-Jones – eschewed Victorian expectations and did away with corsets, and embracing a bohemian lifestyle – which is what draws people to them now and what made them fascination in the Victorian period.

Kate_ForsythKate’s story follows the four women listed above, and their association with William Morris and Rosetti, and how their experiences of being mothers, and losing children, being models and inspirations and having their own desires, formed who they were, and who they would become in history. Lizzie, Jane, Georgie and Margaret are the voices that tell the story, allowing love, desire, tragedy and betrayal, and the people behind the wives and the muses of the Pre-Raphaelite’s to be given a voice.

Kate Forsyth is an internationally recognised expert in the realm of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, and it was a childhood illness that led to her fascination with fairy tales, and in particular, Sleeping Beauty and the themes of innocence and fear of death. Most of her books for adults and children incorporate either fairy tale elements or retell a specific fairy tale, such as The Singing, Springing Lark in The Beast’s Garden, which is my favourite. I enjoy Kate’s writing because she finds that nice balance with all her elements and the research makes the settings genuine, and moving. There are many books of hers that I enjoy, and each for different reasons.

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dragonclawI first came to Kate Forsyth’s writing through her first book, Dragonclaw, which celebrates its twentieth birthday this year. I still have my original set with the original covers on my shelves, and have plans to revisit the series. Dragonclaw is the first book in the six book Witches of Eileanan series, a tale of dark mysteries and dire mixed with dangerous quests, it follows Isabeau the Foundling, and her quest across Eileanan to save the children of Fairgean and stop the rise of the Ensorcellor, and also incorporates fairy tale themes.

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Some of my Favourite Australian Authors

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Today is Australia Day, and I usually spend it quietly with books, often by an Australian author such as Kate Forsyth, Sulari Gentill, Anita Heiss,  or Jackie French. Many of the Australian authors I enjoy are women authors, and their books genre blend and tell the stories of characters who may be forgotten or silenced, a-waltz-for-matildathe invisible stories that history may have forgotten, such as Jackie French’s Matilda Saga, which begins in 1894 in book one, and by book seven, is in the 1970s. It deals with the silenced voices I mentioned before – the women and children left out of the record, or simply associated with a husband’s name, or the fictional daughter of the swaggie of Waltzing Matilda, whose imagined existence and therefore imagined erasure from the song by Banjo Paterson brings Matilda O’Halloran of the Matilda Saga to life.

the-girl-from-snowy-riverOver the course of seventy years, the Matilda Saga tells the story of women’s rights, of wars – The Boer War, World War One, World War Two and Vietnam by book five The Ghost by the Billabong, which I am currently reading, those left behind on the home front, and the road-to-gundagaiinnocents whose lives are turned upside down. It tells of the inter-war period between World War One and The Great Depression, and how orphaned teenagers like Flinty McAlpine raised families, after injuring her back, and how Blue escaped a prison-like home to find her family, and how Nancy went to Malaya to get her sister-in-law home, and found herself trapped in a prisoner of war camp by the Japanese on a small island off Malaya. The most recent books focus on Jed Kelly, and as I’ve just started book five, I’m still getting to know her and her story, but she comes to Drinkwater – Matilda’s property – and the characters that link all the books together – to find out who her great-grandfather is. Jackie French weaves history and imagination together to create this world and those who worked behind the scenes and brings the forgotten stories to light – the women, the orphans, the Indigenous Australians whose voices are clear in these books. Each book can be read alone, however, reading them in order has helped me see all the connections and links.rowly-7

the beasts gardenAnother Australian author I enjoy is Kate Forsyth. Her historical fiction stories also place the female character in the centre. My favourite is The Beast’s Garden, set in World War Two Germany, where Ava works to subvert Nazi power, whilst married to a Nazi, one whom she loves but at the same time fears, unsure of what he will do should he find out about her Jewish friends and their resistance, or her work against the Nazis. The power of a subversive voice not often heard in literature is what gave The Beast’s Garden it’s heart and power: we saw the impact of the Nazi regime through Ava’s eyes. What it did to her family, her friends, and what having a Spanish mother did to her, how it affected her as she lived with typically Aryan sisters. Even though this doesn’t tell the story of an Australian character, it is definitely one of my favourites.

I have only read one Anita Heiss book so far, and that was Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms, set in World War Two and told by an Indigenous narrator, Mary, who comes to care for the Japanese Prisoner of War hebarbed-wire-and-cherry-blossoms-9781925184846_lg.jpgr family is hiding. The book delves introwly-1o various prejudices in the community at the time of war, and how they felt towards each other. As I read this, I had the question in the back of my mind: Did societal expectations drive the behaviour of some? The book dealt with the history nicely, and again, used voices not often heard in the history books to tell those experiences – perhaps something the history books need more of to have a rounded understanding of the war as a whole, even on the home front. Using silenced voices like Heiss, Forsyth and French have done makes the story more powerful, gives it more impact.
For a final Australian author I enjoy, I turn to Sulari Gentill, author of the Rowland Sinclair series. Rowland isn’t a silenced voice, but his adventures in crime solving, and his journeys to England, Nazi Germany , and his time between Sydney and Yass, artist Rowland Sinclair and his friends, fellow painter, Clyde, the sculptress, Edna, and Milt, the communist, Jewish poet, whose lines are all plagiarised from the well known poets, comprise a crime solving team that come to assist the police rowly-4throughout the series. Poor Rowly has been shot, stabbed, beaten, and in a car accident, and has come through it all. He is an Australian gentleman. It is another fabulous series by a great Australian author.

My Year of Reading in 2016: Reviewing, A Challenge and My Favourites

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In 2016, I read seventy-one books, twenty-five of which were part of a reading challenge, and most were books I had been sent to review from various publishers and their imprints. It was the year I started reviewing properly, and got things moving with my blog. As I began this journey of book blogging, I found that I discovered books I would not have otherwise picked up in store – some for good reason because they most certainly were not what I enjoy reading, others because I would have had to given it some thought, whilst there were many that I devoured and enjoyed, and not just review books. I finished off the year with one that I wasn’t so keen on from Hachette, due out on the tenth of January 2017. It is one I am unlikely to read again, unlike the Inspector Chopra books, or Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair books, or Harry Potter.

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My high school ancient history teacher ran the challenge I took part in this year via Facebook, and there were several categories that I struggled to fill. By the end of the year, though, I had completed the challenge, and below is the list of categories and what I read for each one:

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2016 Reading Challenge

A Book That Became A Movie: The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

A Book with a Number in the Title: Third Time Lucky by Karly Lane

A Book Written by Someone Under 30: Raelia by Lynette Noni

A Mystery or Thriller: The Falls by B. Michael Radburn

A Book With A one word Title: Virgins by Diana Gabaldon

A Non-Fiction Book: The Jane Austen Writer’s Club by Rebecca Smith

A Popular Author’s First Book: Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling

A Pulitzer Prize Winning Book: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A Book Based on a True Story: Is It Night or Day? By Fern Schumer-Chapman

A Book That Came out the Year You Were Born (1986): Going Solo by Roald Dahl

A Book Published this Year: Confused by Wanda Wiltshire

A Book With a bad review: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

A Book from Your Childhood: Northern Lights/The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

A Book Set in the Future: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

A Book with a Colour in the title: Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

A Book with Magic: The Hawkweed Prophecy by Irina Brignull

A Book With Antonyms in the Title: Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

A Book that has been translated: Between Enemies by Andrea Molesini

A Book written by an author with the same initials: When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne

A Book with a female heroine: The Blood of Wolves by S.D. Gentill

A Book set in Spring: The Lost Sapphire by Belinda Murrell

A Book with a Green Cover: Fearless by Fiona Higgins

A Book Set Somewhere You Want to Visit: The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan (Cornwall)

A Book with Pictures: A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee

A Book You Own but have never read: The Winter Isles by Antonia Senior


Challenge Completed

Raelia

Perhaps one of the trickiest to fill was a book with a bad review as reviews are always subjective. The book I filled that category with had a mix of bad, good and average, and I gave it a good review, but with at least one bad review, I felt that it was okay to use it there, and another was a book set in he future – of which there are many, yet the only one on my shelf at the time was The Hunger Games. In order to complete this challenge, I had to re-read a few books, such as a book from my childhood, and a popular author’s first book. Many books on this list were also review books, which solved my problem of filling categories such as a book with a green cover, and a translated book. I enjoyed this challenge, and am eager to attempt it with the same group of people this year again, and hopefully my review books will fill some categories.

Reviewing was new to me this year. I started in 2015, during an internship and worked from there, reviewing what I could, and requesting review copies, which come at least monthly now, sometimes with several books due out on the same day. This is where scheduled posts come in handy, where I can write the post and get it ready once I have read the book. In doing this, I free up time to write other posts and read other books when I get them.

born-a-crimeWriting reviews for books that aren’t my taste or that I don’t enjoy, or just find a bit boring or not quite up there can be hard. I want to be honest, but at the same time, be positive, so I’ve taken to giving balanced reviews, saying good and bad things about them, and hopefully that doesn’t hurt anyone, reader, reviewer or author. Honest reviews can help guide people too. My review website has slowly been improved over the months as I’ve found my way around WordPress and it’s functions – I tend to learn by doing it on my own, before asking for help with some things. I hope to review much more in 2017, without having to juggle studying as well, but at some stage will likely be juggling a job whilst reviewing.

Now onto the hardest part of my wrap up post – choosing my top reads. I’m never quite sure whether to do a top five or a top ten, nor do I feel like putting them in any order that rates one book over another – some books are hard to rate above or below another, so in no particular order or preference, the top seven books I enjoyed this year:

  • The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth – I always enjoy Kate’s books and her fairy tale retellings are exceptional. Her latest, The Beast’s Garden, takes place in Germany during World War Two, and the horrors endured by Ava and those close to her. It is a disturbing yet fascinating read.
  • Raelia by Lynette Noni – book two in the Medoran Chronicles Series, Raelia takes us back to Akarnae and Medora, with Alex, Bear, Jordan and D.C. and an ongoing fight against people who wish to harm Alex and those she cares for.
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – a memoir about growing up mixed race in South Africa – and not fitting into any of the legal categories, at a time when his very existence was a crime, Trevor Noah handles those dark days with humour and grace, and a mother who he knew never to cross.
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer – an origin tale for the Queen of Hearts from Lewis heartlessCarroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Meyer’s story shows how the Queen of Hearts became the character in the original, a girl who had dreams that fate thwarted.
  • Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz a murder mystery within a murder mystery, a fictional author and his manuscript lead an editor on a real life mystery that is written in an extremely clever and effective way.
  • The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan 
  • The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan – I enjoyed both Baby Ganesh books and their characters for the refreshing take on the crime genre and the private detective. Chopra has a place with Rowland Sinclair, Phryne Fisher and Mma Ramtoswe as a private detective who tends to get himself into a little bit of a pickle with each case, but his loyal friends and family are always there to back him up, along with his elephant, Ganesha.

There are many more books I enjoyed this year, but these are definitely amongst my favourites. For various reasons, of course, and I have the third book by Lynette Noni, Draekora, to look forward to in April.

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In 2017, I hope to read as many, if not more, wonderful books. Keep watching this site for more reviews over the coming months.

Many thanks to Hachette, Pantera Press, Allen and Unwin, Bloomsbury, and all their imprints who have sent me some wonderful books to read, enjoy and review, and share with the world.

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The Rebirth of Rapunzel by Kate Forsyth

Fairy tales have a long and varied history, from their beginnings in an oral format, to fairy tale collectors such as The Brothers Grimm, and creators such as Hans Christian Andersen, Oscar Wilde and Charlotte-Rose de la Force, author of Persinette. Various authors and collectors have different versions of these tales stemming from different traditions that journeyed across Europe and the world. Today, the best-known fairy tales are from Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen. Little is known about female authors such as Charlotte-Rose and their contributions to the fairy tale tradition.
In The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower, and the novel Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth brings Charlotte-Rose to life and explores how her tale of Persinette evolved into the story of Rapunzel that we know today, and the various incarnations and retellings of the tale, culminating in Disney’s Tangled.
Unlike the fairy tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, de la Force’s fairy tale is a literary fairy tale. The distinction being, that even though it was inspired by other sources, de la Force created it herself.
The Rebirth of Rapunzel is a well-written, intelligent collection of non-fiction writing exploring the evolution of the tale of Rapunzel. It presents the history of the tale to the reader in an effective manner, and will be of great interest to anybody who has studied or is studying fairy tales and their history. Kate’s distinctive writing style shines through, making reading this offering as enjoyable as her novels, and is an engaging read for anyone interested in the subject matter.
The book includes a doctorate on the Rapunzel fairy tale, and at the end, other pieces of Kate’s writing on Rapunzel and fairy tales, which, when read with Bitter Greens in mind, gives a greater understanding to the fairy tale of Rapunzel, in an accessible way for many readers.