Murder on Christmas Eve edited by Cecily Gayford

murder on xmas eve

Title: Murder on Christmas Eve

Author: Various Authors, Edited by Cecily Gayford

Genre: Crime, short stories

Publisher: Profile Books

Published: 22nd November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The follow up to the bestselling crime collection Murder under the Christmas Tree

Christmas Eve. While the world sleeps, snow falls gently from the sky, presents await under the tree … and murder is afoot. In this collection of ten classic murder mysteries from the best crime writers in history, death and mayhem takes many festive forms, from the inventive to the unexpected.

From a Santa Claus with a grudge to missing diamonds spirited away by a mysterious visitor, these are stories to enjoy – and be mystified by – in front of a roaring fire, mince pie to hand – or at the beach!

 

~*~

 

In Murder on Christmas Eve, some of the best crime authors have had stories with a Christmas theme collected into one volume. From Ellis Peters and the Trinity Cat, whose inexplicable appearance at the scene of a murder on Christmas Eve has the police and witnesses scratching their heads, wondering what the cat could know – and what exactly happened, to the clever stories by authors such as Ian Rankin, who invite well-known characters such as John Rebus into the fold of Christmas, where what appears to be an innocent Christmas party soon becomes a little more sinister. Some authors are British, such as Ian Rankin, some American, such as John Dickson Carr, mixed in with well-known authors – Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and G.K. Chesterton and some that I had not been aware of, and that perhaps are not as well-known as some of the others.

 

Nevertheless, they are all collected together, with a common thread of crime and Christmas linking them. They are stories that make you think and more often than not, leave you scratching your head at what had driven someone to commit the crimes depicted in the story, that have flawed characters of all kinds that make you question the human condition.  Though each story is set at Christmas, it is not always immediately obvious – sometimes it is mentioned, sometimes there are subtle clues about the setting, and all are blanketed in snow and the feel of winter that sends chills throughout the story.

 

Each story is unique, and the intrigue in each ensures that the reader will be kept guessing, and the assumed outcome will not necessarily be what happens – in clever twists, the authors hint at what could have happened, what some characters might have been driven to or were driven to – not redeeming the criminals but showing the complexity of right and wrong and how, as humans, we navigate these two factors in the world around us.

 

This was an intriguing collection of short stories, a tiny taste of each of these authors and their characters to please current fans and introduce new fans to the authors and their detectives. It showed that crime doesn’t stop just because of the season or holidays, and through these crimes, sometimes the true nature of people is revealed, and that there are times, that even the people we think we know can understand what has driven another to crime and murder. All in all, a very interesting set of stories that even though the show a darker side to humanity, make for great holiday reading alongside Charles Dickens.

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Soon by Lois Murphy

Soon_cover-for-publicity-600x913.jpgTitle: Soon

Author: Lois Murphy

Genre: Literary Thriller

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: An almost deserted town in the middle of nowhere, Nebulah’s days of mining and farming prosperity – if they ever truly existed – are long gone. These days even the name on the road sign into town has been removed. Yet for Pete, an ex-policeman, Milly, Li and a small band of others, it’s the only place they have ever felt at home.

One winter solstice the birds disappear. A strange, residual and mysterious mist arrives. It is a real and potent force, yet also emblematic of the complacency and unease that afflicts so many of our small towns, and the country that Murphy knows so well.

Partly inspired by the true story of Wittenoom, the ill-fated West Australian asbestos town, Soon is the story of the death of a haunted town, and the plight of the people who either won’t or simply can’t abandon all they have ever had. With finely wrought characters and brilliant storytelling, it is a taut and original novel, where the people we come to know and those who are drawn to the town’s intrigue must ultimately fight for survival.
‘A dark and powerful novel that takes the reader on a journey through a disturbingly new and hostile world. Lois’s characters carry their old ways into this new order with grave consequences if they don’t heed the signs. Her haunting and persuasive tale which nods at the tropes of genre fiction while subverting and elevating them heralds a compelling new talent.’

Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, Kate Gordon and Chris Gallagher, Judges, Tasmanian University Prize, Tasmanian Premier’s Awards

‘A  powerful literary thriller where the dark, yet poetically beautiful detailing of events will draw you into a nightmarish world that will have you questioning your understanding of love and loss, and the very nature of your reality. Atmospheric, intense and thought provoking.’

Dominique Wilson, author of  That Devil’s Madness and The Yellow Papers

~*~

aww2017-badgeSoon is an unusual book – a paranormal mystery that envelopes a mysterious, fictional mining town in Western Australia called Nebulah, where Pete, Milly and Li are amongst the last remaining residents of the town after the winter solstice when the birds disappear, and the mist descends upon the town, picking people off slowly, one by one. Pete, an ex-policeman, Milly, Li, a Cambodian who fled the Khmer Rouge, and the other remaining residents, feel it is the only place they belong, and are forced to stand by, watching the mist suck the life out of people and the town, unable to explain it, and unable to get help from the police in a neighbouring town, who believe it to be a hoax, a prank or Pete covering up something they believe he – or another – has done. There is a sense of stubbornness about these people who won’t leave a town that has had the life sucked out of it and run from a mist that won’t stop until the town’s last resident has had their life sucked away. It is a strange story, where I felt a bit lost until half way through, where things started to make a bit of sense, and from there, the plot unfolded to reveal the fates of those left, and the lives that the town and mist mercilessly stole from innocent people.

The world that Lois Murphy has created is also hostile and dark world that perhaps uses the paranormal elements that kill Nebulah to explore dying towns around Australia that collapse after people or industries leave, having sucked the place dry of resources, or industries closing down. The press release cites Wittenoom, an ill-fated asbestos town as the inspiration for Nebulah, a town where the residents who have lived there for years, face grave consequences for straining against whatever new order or forces the mist heralds. The devastating consequences of the choices made by some characters are not sugar coated, but dealt with in a raw and very visual fashion.

It was an unusual story, though it had a sense of mystery, it was not quite the kind of mystery I was expecting. However, it was still intriguing enough for me to complete the novel. It may not be one I will read again, but I am sure there is an audience out there for it. As thrillers go, the air of difference about this one is perhaps what will make it stand out in bookstores for prospective readers.

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The Secret Books by Marcel Theroux

the secret books.jpgTitle: The Secret Books

Author: Marcel Theroux

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Faber Fiction

Published: 27th September, 2017

Format: Hardback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A world on the brink of catastrophe. A two-thousand-year-old mystery. A lost gospel. Both a page-turning adventure and an examination of the stories that humans are willing to kill and die for.

Seeking adventure, a young man flees the drudgery of shopkeeping in Tsarist Russia to make a new life among the bohemians and revolutionaries of 19th century Paris.
Travelling undercover in the mountains of British India, he discovers a manuscript that transforms the world’s understanding of the historical Jesus.
Decades later, in a Europe threatened by unimaginable tragedy, he makes a despairing attempt to right a historic injustice.

This breathtaking novel by the award-winning author of Far North and Strange Bodies tells the extraordinary tale of Nicolas Notovitch and his secret gospel.

It is the epic story of a young man on the make in a turbulent world of spies and double-cross, propaganda and revolutionary violence, lost love and nascent anti-semitism – a world which eerily foreshadows our own era of post-truth politics.

Based on real events, The Secret Books is at once a page-turning adventure and an examination of the stories that humans are willing to kill and die for.

~*~

With most historical fiction novels, it is easy to delineate between the history behind the story, and the fictional elements the author has employed – whether it is characters, or integration of time travel, employed in books such as the Outlander series, or an alternate history, where elements can be changed but some aspects remain historically the same to ensure a degree of authenticity. The Secret Books by Marcel Theroux takes these aspects and turns them on their head, making the reader question what is real, and what is not, and in doing so, has written a clever piece of literary fiction that captures a figure and a moment in time linked to his family, and that interrogates the Pali Gospels, looking at the lost years of Jesus in a historical context, with a touch of spirituality thrown that illuminates the doubt that the religious scholars the main character interacted with had when he presented them with his theories.

Nicolas Notovitch was a real person, the one who looked into these lost years and tried to bring them to the attention of the world, suggesting that the gospels had somehow ignored these years in favour of spreading the message they wanted. At the same time, it explores the journey Nicolas took that led him to these gospels, and down a path of love, marriage and fatherhood, beginning during the late nineteenth century and moving forward into the early decades of the twentieth century, the First World War and eventually, the beginnings of the Second World War. Nicolas’s obsession with proving the existence of these books will cost him – he does not know what until it happens, and I felt him have his heart broken and the rug ripped from beneath his feet. In following a passion for discovering something of historical importance, he had sacrificed the passion and love of family. Prior to discovering these manuscripts and investigating them, Nicolas had escaped his dreary life in Russia for a new bohemian one in Paris, where he meets a variety of characters who introduce him to new ways of thinking such was McGahan, a female journalist in a male dominated world – one aspect that had me questioning whether this was set in current times, a time travel story or whether the author was having a bit of fun with the history – and I feel it was the latter as it left me questioning whether that would have been possible in the time period and social structure of the time.

With each section book-ended by quotes, it was an unusual yet intriguing format that questions what we know about history and what is known about Biblical history, and how these books could alter our understanding of religion and history, and how it might impact religious scholars. It interrogated how people respond to the unknown with fear, something that happens in many areas and places. It was an intriguing book, but one that needs focus to be read, and fully appreciated. It may not be the best before bed book, but it is indeed one that will have an audience out there – and one that can be appreciated by anyone with an interest in history and society.

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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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The Stella Prize 2017

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In 2013, The Stella Prize, a major literary award that celebrates Australian women’s writing and Australian women writers was established. Named after one of Australia’s most iconic female writers, Stella Maria Sarah “Miles” Franklin, The Stella Prize seeks to:

  • Recognise and celebrate Australian women writers’ contribution to literature
  • Bring more readers to books by women and thus increase their sales
  • Provide role models for schoolgirls and emerging female writers
  • Reward one writer with a $50,000 prize – money that buys a writer some measure of financial independence and thus time, that most undervalued yet necessary commodity for women, to focus on their writing,

aww2017-badgeThe Stella Prize also participates in the Stella Count, looking at how many male and female writers are reviewed each year for newspapers. This count is conducted to understand reading and reviewing habits, and hopefully, highlight more women writers, authors of various sexualities, ethnicities, race and gender identities, and also disabilities. The Australian Women Writer’s Challenge encourages this too – in reading more women writers whose identity can be made of one, or several of these distinctions, the profile of women writers is highlighted.

The Stella Prize has been running for five years. Below are the winners for each year, from the most recent to the earliest prize:

2017 Winner

museum of modern love

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose “The Museum of Modern Love is an unusual and remarkable achievement, a meditation on the social, spiritual and artistic importance of seeing and being seen. It is rare to encounter a novel with such powerful characterisation, such a deep understanding of the consequences of personal and national history, and such dazzling and subtle explorations of the importance of art in everyday life.”

2017 Shortlist

Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clark

Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (Winner)

Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

2017 Longlist:

Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clark

Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (Winner)

Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

Victoria by Julia Baird

Offshore by Madeline Gleeson

The High Places by Fiona McFarlane

Avalanche by Julia Lee

Wasted by Elspeth Muir

The Media and the Massacre by Sonya Voumard

2016 Winner

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

 

natural way of things

2015 Winner

The Strays by Emily Bitto

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2014 Winner

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Claire Wright

rebels of eureka

2013 Winner

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

mateship with birds

Link to the website with the short and long lists for each year: http://thestellaprize.com.au/

I haven’t read many of the winners or the short and long list books yet, but have Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2014), and The Golden Age by Joan London (2015) and a few undecided titles on my want to read list. I look forward to trying to read a few this year, and seeing what next year brings.

By these books here:

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

 

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The written word is a magical thing to behold, and there is nothing more magical and amazing than a fairy tale and its retellings. The world and magic of fairy tales permeates most works of literature these days. Folk and fairy tales, as the beginnings of story telling along with the myths of the ancients began as an oral tradition. Some books have carried on this tradition and one is Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, published in 2012.  Though a literary work, it has the feel of a tale that could be told by a campfire orally without referring to the page, and this magic about the story is something that I loved.

Set in Renaissance France, it tells the story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a member of the court of the Sun king, Louis XIV, and the time she spent there as a young woman, and her eventual exile to a convent. Here, she is told the story by one of the nuns, Soeur Seraphina of a young girl a century before, locked away in a tower.

Margherita lives in Venice one hundred years before, leading a happy life until she is taken away, and sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens. She is alone in the world until somebody hears her singing, and comes to see what the sound is. When Margherita discovers what is below her lonely and desolate home, she looks for a way to escape from the clutches of the witch, La Strega Bella, whose story is as interesting and carefully woven through that of Margherita’s story.

Not only did this book take me back to my love of fairy tales but to my love of history and let me travel back to a world that I can now only access through the pages of history. Like Margherita, Charlotte-Rose is locked away and forgotten for many years. The novel’s historical fiction aspect is just as intriguing as its fairy tale aspect, and the conflict between Catholics and Huguenots in Renaissance France highlighted just how fragile and important our beliefs are to us, whatever they may be. Charlotte-Rose, a Huguenot, held onto her belief for as long as possible and was a very strong female character. I saw her as in control of her femininity and proud of it yet also determined to make the most of the society she was born into and become a part of it the way women of her stature were expected to. It was this combination that kept me reading this book, and not wanting to put it down at all.

And when each part of one woman’s story ended on a cliffhanger, I was desperate to find out what happened, pushing my way eagerly and carefully through the next section so nothing went amiss. I won’t give away the ending but I will say that it is one of the best books incorporating history, romance, fairy tales and drama that I have ever read and was extremely well executed. I would give this five out of five stars, and definitely recommend it if you enjoy any of these genres or if you are just looking for something different by a wonderful Australian author to read.