She Be Damned by MJ Tjia

She be Damned_Front_Cover.jpgTitle: She Be Damned

Author: M.J. Tjia

Genre: Historical Crime

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 251

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: London courtesan or professional sleuth?

London, 1863: Women in Waterloo are turning up dead, their sexual organs mutilated and removed. When another girl goes missing, fears grow that the killer may have claimed their latest victim.

The police are at a loss and so it falls to courtesan and professional detective, Heloise Chancey, to investigate.

With the assistance of her trusty Chinese maid, Amah Li Leen, Heloise inches closer to the truth. But when Amah is implicated in the brutal plot, Heloise must reconsider who she can trust, before the killer strikes again.

~*~

The popularity of amateur sleuths, historical crime and cosy crime means that there has been an explosion of these books of late – reviving the days of Agatha Christie and her characters, Poirot and Miss Marple, and joining the ranks of The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, Rowland Sinclair and modern amateur sleuths such as Mma Precious Ramotswe and Inspector Ashwin Chopra (Retd) in their quests to rid the world of criminals and crime. The latest, just as unique character to join them is Heloise Chancey, a courtesan in London during the 1860s, who is called upon to discreetly look into cases for some of London’s important people, or into the cases that nobody really worries about. Heloise becomes embroiled in a murder mystery about prostitutes turning up dead, minus their sexual organs in Waterloo when a young girl in the upper classes, Eleanor, goes missing. Her father and Sir Thomas, Heloise’s employer, believe she has met the same fate as the prostitutes, and employ Heloise, and require the utmost discretion, as she can go places that the police cannot, or will not. Together with her maid and companion, Amah Li Leen. Together, they will inch closer to the truth – but when Amah is embroiled in the plot, Heloise must use all of her wits to find the real culprit before they strike again.

BW Mirandi TjiaDebut novels, especially for a series, are crucial to establishing the character and style of the story and the author to the reader. They cement the setting for readers and with any luck, have them wanting more – often the mark of a series that will be successful and gain a loyal following. Heloise Chancey’s debut ensures that she has a place as a character and the author, M.J. Tjia, will have fans who will eagerly await her next book. It didn’t take me long to read this one, and I quite enjoyed it. It had strong characters, revealed their histories slowly, and still left some questions unanswered for future books, and allowed the reader to unfold the story with the protagonist, which is often quite fun in mystery stories, and allows the pacing to move along effectively.

In an engaging plot, M.J. Tjia’s characters become their own entity, each with their own flaws and strengths that make them engaging. Heloise is as stubborn as she is elegant, Amah is as snarky and sarcastic as she is honourable and faithful. Together, they work, and though Amah is at times disdainful of Heloise’s chosen occupation, she nonetheless puts up with her antics, whilst delivering some harsh truths to her mistress and ensuring she has done her best to prevent disasters happening to Heloise during her adventures and investigations.

True to the Victorian period, the male characters overwhelmingly concern themselves aww2017-badgewith Heloise’s delicate feminine sensibilities – sensibilities that Heloise doesn’t have, nor does she subscribe to, leaving the men quite shocked that she doesn’t faint all the time, whilst still maintaining her standing and the characteristics of a Victorian lady. She is, at the same time, appropriate for the time period, whilst standing out and away from the societal expectations of the time, ensuring a strong character with an intriguing story. I hope that Heloise has more stories and more secrets to come, and I await her further adventures eagerly.

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The Book of Secrets: The Ateban Cipher by A.L. Tait

atebanTitle: The Book of Secrets: The Ateban Cipher (Book One)

Author: A.L. Tait

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy,

Publisher: Lothian Children’s Books

Published: 12th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 250

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: What’s the secret of the book, and why is it so valuable? These are the questions Gabe must answer when a dying man hands him a coded manuscript with one instruction: take it to Aidan. Gabe is hurled into a quest that takes him beyond his monastery home and into a world of danger, political intrigue and adventure.

As he seeks to decipher the code and find a mystery man who may not even exist, Gabe learns that survival must be earned and that some of life’s biggest lessons are not found in books.

Gabe finds himself questioning everything he knows about right and wrong and wondering if he’ll ever find a way back home. He also discovers that the biggest secret of all may be his own.

~*~

aww2017-badgeRaised in an abbey with religious brothers, Gabe was a foundling on the steps of the abbey fourteen years ago, with no clue as to who his true family is. Trained in the various areas of the abbey, Gabe’s favourite place is the Librarium, where he finds comfort in reading and words, and where a special book has been hidden by Brother Benedict, and that the Prior and other people in the land are desperate to get their hands on. Forced to flee with the book and the help of Brother Malachy, Gabe finds himself stranded in the forest, not knowing how to survive. Here, he runs into a gang of what he thinks are robbers or highwaymen, but turn out to be girls: two sisters, Merry and Gwyn, searching for a way to save their father, jailed by Lord Sherborne for a crime he didn’t commit, their cousin, Scarlett, running from a forced marriage to someone older than her father, and their friend, little Midge, who has nowhere else to go. Together, they agree to help Gabe, with Merry taking to him faster than Gwyn and Scarlett, but he fascinates all the girls, and they embark on a journey to help him find the Aidan he’s been asked to deliver the book pressed in his hands at the start of the novel to.

Things get complicated when they enter the town on the day the jails are open for visitors and for the upcoming Tournament. From here, they must decide how to proceed, and how they are going to keep the book from falling into the wrong hands either at the Tournament or the Abbey, and it is here that their friendship is cemented. At the heart of the book is the formation of the friendship and bond between Gabe and the girls as they discover that perhaps their individual quests intertwine in some ways, and the lessons learnt about working together are presented in a fun and exciting way for younger readers. A.L. Tait has created a story and characters that are enthralling, exciting and individual, and I adored reading it, and am keen for the next book to find out what happens to Gwyn, Merry, Gabe and the others on their journey to prevent whatever evil Sherborne and the Prior are planning.

I found the characters to be realistic – they all showed weaknesses and strengths, and all bad flaws that they didn’t like to admit to. This makes them relatable characters to child readers and showing the girls as confident and able gives readers role models to look up to and to show them that they can have a go at what they set their mind to, and not to be afraid.

Set in a fantasy town with a medieval feel to it, The Book of Secrets is a fast paced story, where girls are the heroes alongside the boy, who is learning how to live off the land and away from the comforts of the only home he has ever known. Together, they are strong, and individually, each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, making them well rounded characters that will hopefully develop nicely over the rest of the series. The Ateban Cipher is a book that shows that girls can do anything, and is a great adventure for boys and girls aged eight and older from the best-selling author of the Map-Maker Chronicles.

The Cursed First Term of Zelda Stitch: Bad Teacher, Worse Witch by Nicki Greenberg

zelda stitch.jpgTitle: The Cursed First Term of Zelda Stitch: Bad Teacher, Worse Witch

Author: Nicki Greenberg

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Imagine if you read your teacher’s diary… and discovered she was a witch! With courage, imagination and a certain amount of recklessness, Zelda Stitch begins her first year of teaching primary school – as an incompetent (incognito) witch.

‘Zelda rides a broomstick!’
‘Zelda’s got a bat-friend!’
‘Zelda smells like toadstools!’
‘Witch! Witch! Witch!’

It was bad enough when I was eleven years old. But if they sniff me out now, it’ll be a disaster.

Zelda Stitch isn’t much of a witch – she’s hoping she’ll make a better primary school teacher. But if the vice principal finds out about her, her dream will go up in a puff of smoke.

Keeping her magic secret isn’t the only trouble bubbling in Ms Stitch’s classroom: there’s wild-child Zinnia, lonely Eleanor, secretive Phoebe and a hairy, eight-legged visitor called Jeremy. Not to mention the nits…

With NO HELP AT ALL from her disagreeable cat Barnaby, Zelda must learn to be a better teacher, a better friend and a better witch – even if that means taking broomstick lessons.

Magic. Mischief. Mayhem. Zelda’s classroom is a cauldron full of laughs.

~*~

aww2017-badgeZelda Stitch has just started a new teaching job, and she has more to worry about than just being a good teacher and the Vice Principal liking her. Zelda is a witch, and, according to her Mum and friends, not a very talented witch at that. Between witch lessons and teaching a class of children who seem to be trying to drive her away, to a Vice Principal who is constantly suspicious of her, Zelda must hide the fact that she is a witch from the class. Living a double life is hard, especially when one of your friends writes fantasy novels that use the tropes associated with witches, and your mother and friends are insisting you use your powers more than you do. And having a judgemental, disagreeable cat named Barnaby doesn’t help. Told in diary format, Zelda’s first nine weeks of teaching are filled with laughs, fun and magic, hinting at something bigger to come. Telling it in diary form is interesting and different – it allows the reader to truly get inside Zelda’s mind and see things the way she does, and she peppers her entries with conversations with her witchy circle, what happens in class and the snarky observations of her cat, Barnaby, whose character really shines from the page and he soon came to be the one I most looked forward to hearing about.

Zelda’s diary has illustrations of her class, Barnaby and other things she has written about, giving it colour and character that a purely text doesn’t always have. Aimed at children aged eight and older, I think it can be enjoyed by boys and girls, of any age, and by readers of all levels, from those learning, to confident readers, and will hopefully, like Harry Potter did for my generation, encourage reluctant readers to explore the world of books and words.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, even as an adult, and for older readers, I think is a wonderfully quick read when you just want something fun to enjoy and relax with.

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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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Sky by Ondine Sherman

SKY-final-257PX-194x300.pngTitle: Sky

Author: Ondine Sherman

Genre: YA

Publisher: The Author People

Published: 28th June, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 166

Price: $18.99

Synopsis: Sometimes you have to lose everything to find yourself.

After her mother’s death, Sky leaves her city life to move in with her aunt and uncle in a small Australian town. But the city isn’t all that she leaves behind. Trying to fit in with her new friends means doing things she never dreamt she’d do.

Just as she thinks everything is starting to feel normal, Sky stumbles on a case of animal cruelty that forces her to make some tough decisions.

Will Sky risk everything to stand up for what she believes in?

~*~

After the death of her mother, and removal to a small country town from the city, Sky is left with an empty, desolate feeling, a sense of disconnect from everyone and everything, including her aunt and uncle who have taken her in as guardians, and the sensation that she is losing her identity, and who she is, as well as her convictions about animal rights, and being vegan. Terrified of the isolation that comes with being a teenager and the new girl in school, Sky hides what she is passionate about in an attempt to fit in, and get in with the popular crowd – something that many teenagers feel during the turbulent years where they can sacrifice any part of themselves – interests, convictions, beliefs – in an attempt to fit in. Sky is torn between doing the right thing – staying true to herself and befriending Lucy, a less popular girl, but one who shares Sky’s passions – and joining in with the popular crowd, which means becoming a hypocrite.

aww2017-badgeAs well as this, Sky has been interacting online with a fellow vegan, and a boy at school who is also a devoted animal lover – could they be the same? This love story evolves as the story goes on, and does not dominate Sky’s thoughts – she is in mourning and the evolution of the story reflects this, and the reader’s ability to pause and think about these issues, but also, gives them the freedom to make their own choices as well.

Ondine Sherman has written a novel that reflects her beliefs but also reflects the nature of humans and the contradictions and challenges they face after death and in new places, and within themselves. Whilst Sky does speak a lot about being vegan and animal cruelty, rather than trying to convert the reader, Sherman shows one aspect of the fight for animal rights, and she does it well. With an open ending, leaving much to the imagination of the reader, I found that this worked for Sky and her story, and left off in a place where, like many people, she was left in a state of indecision.

Starting this novel, I wasn’t sure if I would connect with it or enjoy it, but found that like any novel, it had good points and bad points, and it is a powerful story about finding out who you are, and staying true to yourself, finding a family and finding friends who will always stand by you. At times I did find Sky annoying, but the popular girls were more annoying, and I did like that Sky stood up for what she believed in but at the same time, I also felt that she accepted that not everyone would agree with her all the time.

The power of this novel lies in its ability to communicate a message about what the author believes but also, a general message about being who you are. It may not be one I will revisit right away, but it was an unexpected and interesting read that had a story behind the story, and that fits in with the philosophy of The Author People and Lou Johnson.

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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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My Lovely Frankie by Judith Clarke

my lovely frankie

Title: My Lovely Frankie

Author: Judith Clarke

Genre: YA Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th June 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A masterful, moving story about a teenage boy caught between faith and love, by one of Australia’s finest YA writers.

‘Frankie believed in Heaven quite literally, as if it was another lovely world out past the stars. And when he spoke the word “love”, it seemed to spring free and fly into the air like a beautiful balloon you wanted to run after. But I couldn’t tell my parents about Frankie, not properly. I told them I’d made friends with the boy in the room next to mine, and how he’d come from this little town out west. I couldn’t tell them how he was becoming the best thing in my world. I couldn’t tell anyone, I hardly admitted it to myself.’

In the 1950s, ‘entering’ the seminary was forever, and young boys were gathered into the priesthood before they were old enough to know what they would lose. Tom went to St Finbar’s because he was looking for something more than the ordinary happiness of his home and school.

But then he discovered that being able to love another person was the most important thing of all. For Tom, loving Frankie made him part of the world. Even when Frankie was gone…

~*~

aww2017-badgeSet during a time when entering the seminary was for life, with some boys sent there from a very young age, unable to know or discover what they would be giving up, and a time when homosexuality was something that wasn’t spoken about , or accepted, and given different names, or described differently, being able to talk about how you felt was hard. What My Lovely Frankie does is take a young boy, just realising he is gay, and entering St Finbar’s with a desire to join the seminary, on his journey of the conflict he finds between the love he feels for someone that society tells him he shouldn’t, and the faith he has followed in his heart, into a priesthood. Tom tells the story as he is nearing the end of his life to his cousin Miri, who has always known, and accepts him for who he is. In the world they grew up in, the gay couple Tom’s parents knew are accepted by Tom and his family, and his father always says “Love is love.” Clarke moves easily from Tom’s narration as an elderly man into the voice of a sixteen year old boy, discovering what love and faith mean, and finding a way to accept who he is.

Entering St FInbar’s later than most of the boys. Tom is befriended by Frankie, sent there by his father for something he shouldn’t have done with a girl – had sex – as a punishment, yet to Frankie, it is almost a sanctuary. He is friendly and bubbly, and takes Tom on as a friend almost immediately upon meeting him. As Tom tells the reader, Frankie always did things his way: arriving at the school, caring for the younger kids such as Hay, who might need food or a handkerchief, or even just reaching out for Tom, who escorts him to a dentist and then keeps his secrets about his feelings for one of the St Brigid’s girls. Frankie is not gay, but still loves Tom, still loves those who care for him, but in a different way to how Tom does. Tom uses his love to try and protect Frankie from Etta, the bully who spies on everyone and reports to the Rector to get those he feels need punishing in trouble. Together, Tom and Frankie work – the love they share, though different for each boy, is written beautifully and with great care and sensitivity.

Though heartbreaking in the knowledge that Tom will never be able to tell Frankie how he feels, telling the story of an LGBTQ+ character in the 1950s, where it is not accepted and fear can prevent people from revealing their true selves, as it did with Tom – he always knew but also knew he would not be accepted, and the fear that Frankie would think less of him – My Lovely Frankie reveals that the love of a friendship can be just as powerful as romantic love, and examines how faith and love are at times, in conflict with each other and how this affected someone like Tom.

I fell in love with Frankie and his exuberance and kindness towards just about everyone, and the way he just accepted Tom as a friend the first time they met. Reading and watching their friendship grow, I hoped that things would work out nicely for Tom and Frankie, that maybe they would fall in love – and perhaps they did, but in different ways for each of them. I felt it celebrated the differences in love, and highlighted the importance of accepting yourself for who you are, and not what others expect you to be, or to see yourself as a mirror of another who might share your feelings. I felt though there was tragedy and heartbreak, this made it more realistic for me, the unrequited love, the unspoken love, because it is probably something quite relatable for many people, whoever they love from afar.

It is a great book for any YA readers and fans, and Judith Clarke has tackled this subject matter sensitively and in an accessible way that does not present too much darkness, yet at the same time, is telling readers that it is okay to be who you are.

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