Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess by Bettany Hughes

venus and aphroditeTitle: Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess

Author: Bettany Hughes

Genre: Biography, History, Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 12th November 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 242

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A vivid history of the ancient goddess Venus by the bestselling historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes

Through ancient art, evocative myth, exciting archaeological revelations and philosophical explorations Bettany Hughes shows why this immortal goddess endures through to the twenty-first century, and what her journey through time reveals about what matters to us as humans.

Charting Venus’s origins in powerful ancient deities, Bettany demonstrates that Venus is far more complex than first meets the eye. Beginning in Cyprus, the goddess’s mythical birthplace, Bettany decodes Venus’s relationship to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and, in turn, Aphrodite’s mixed-up origins both as a Cypriot spirit of fertility and procreation – but also, as a descendant of the prehistoric war goddesses of the Near and Middle East, Ishtar, Inanna and Astarte. On a voyage of discovery to reveal the truth behind Venus, Hughes reveals how this mythological figure is so much more than nudity, romance and sex. It is the both the remarkable story of one of antiquity’s most potent forces, and the story of human desire – how it transforms who we are and how we behave.

~*~

Many gods and goddesses from various religions and myth cycles from all over the ancient world have not only fascinated people throughout the decades and centuries, but often have many counterparts. Aphrodite and Venus are two such goddesses – the same goddess from two different societies, who have gone from Greek  to Roman origins, and have been found in other incarnations in other Near East or Middle Eastern ancient cultures where they have evolved and changed as the society has needed them in their pantheon of gods and goddesses in polytheistic religions that either pre-date or run concurrently with the monotheistic religions we associate with the modern equivalents of those places.

Bettany Hughes explores the Grecian and Roman sides of the same goddess – Aphrodite and Venus, and her role in art and the pantheon, and how she came to be in each tradition, and how this influenced arts, stories and other narratives and characters throughout history.

Venus-Aphrodite is a figure that is more than nudity, romance and sex. Like many gods and goddesses, she has many more roles and layers to her, and what she brings to mythology and the understanding of humanity and human emotion. This history adds to our understanding of a goddess who is often reduced to what she is known to represent and stand for in mythology, rather than the complexities behind what she does.

Rather than justify her actions throughout the various myth cycles, Bettany Hughes explores these as part of the history of Venus-Aphrodite and how she has been represented, and what this has meant in how she is viewed and builds on this with layers and complexities.

This is an intriguing book for anyone interested in antiquity, and especially women and their role in antiquity, which is only going to build on our understanding of women and their role in the ancient world. It will help bring to life these myths in a new and exciting way.

The Artist’s Portrait by Julie Keys

Artists Portrait.jpgTitle: The Artist’s Portrait

Author: Julie Keys

Genre: Mystery/Literary/Historical

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 290

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A story about art, murder, and making your place in history.

Whatever it was that drew me to Muriel, it wasn’t her charm.

In 1992, morning sickness drives Jane to pre-dawn walks of her neighbourhood where she meets an unfriendly woman who sprays her with a hose as she passes by. When they do talk: Muriel Kemp eyes my pregnant belly and tells me if I really want to succeed, I’d get rid of the baby. 

Driven to find out more about her curmudgeonly neighbour, Jane Cooper begins to investigate the life of Muriel, who claims to be a famous artist from Sydney’s bohemian 1920s. Contemporary critics argue that legend, rather than ability, has secured her position in history. They also claim that the real Muriel Kemp died in 1936.

Murderer, narcissist, sexual deviant or artistic genius and a woman before her time: Who really is Muriel Kemp?

~*~

The Artist’s Portrait moves between the early nineties and the first three decades of the twentieth century, up until 1936 – when a woman named Muriel Kemp is said to have died. Yet in 1992, Jane, on an early morning walk as she tries to combat morning sickness, encounters the long-presumed Muriel Kemp, whose abrasiveness somehow draws Jane in, and from there, an unlikely companionship forms – where Muriel constantly criticises Jane, as Jane begins to write Muriel’s biography as Muriel would like it to be written – on her own terms, in her words and only including what Muriel herself wishes to be in it.

The novel weaves between 1992-1993 in Jane’s perspective, and the first decades of the twentieth century in Muriel’s perspective – both told in first person. At first, this was a little confusing, but it became clear that the change in voice often coincided with the year or decade that was at the top of the chapter, thus making it easier to follow with both voices in first person.

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The mystery at the heart of this book is the true identity of Muriel Kemp, and whether or not she actually died in 1936. The trick for Jane in 1992-3 is getting those who rely on the official record to believe her. Mixed in with this is a story of the world of art and the ways in which gender could impact the role someone had in that world, and the breaking free of conventions to forge your own way in the world.

Where art critics and historians tell Jane that Muriel Kemp’s legend has secured her notoriety more than her artistic talent and her triptych paintings, and the mystery of the post-1936 paintings are relegated by the official archives as fakes, rumour – anything but the real thing, and even credited to a different Muriel. So, at the heart of the novel is a search for identity and the how a myth is created around a person, and the lengths people will go to deny anything that contradicts what they know.

Not everything I felt was revealed in this novel – some things are definitely left to the imagination, particularly when it comes to Muriel, and others are revealed slowly, likely peeling back the layers of an onion. It is a very layered novel, and one I found intriguing, and think is worth the read for those who like a mystery where not everything feels wholly resolved and bits left to the imagination of the reader.

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

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

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

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Ophelia, by John Everett Millais, featuring Elizabeth Siddal.

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

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

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

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

the clockmakers daughter.jpgTitle: The Clockmaker’s Daughter

Author: Kate Morton

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 12th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 592

Price: $32.99

Synopsis:Kate Morton’s highly acclaimed novels have sold over 11 million copies worldwide and are number one bestsellers around the world.

‘A truly hypnotic tale that is bound to please both fans and newcomers, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is another wonderful read from one of Australia’s most beloved authors.’ – Booktopia

‘Morton explores the tangled history of people and place in her outstanding, bittersweet sixth novel.’ – US Publisher’s Weekly

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.

~*~

Opening with an unnamed voice, reflecting on a distant past, there is an element of mystery and intrigue that crosses time and space, and envelopes several people into the mystery, all of whom have some kind of connection to Birchwood Manor. The story moves between the 1860s parallel to the Pre-Raphaelites, into World War One and Two, and 2017 and various years in between as Elodie, Ada, Lucy and other narrators with a link to Birchwood Manor tell their part of the story as the Clockmaker’s Daughter, Birdie Bell, narrates in interspersed sections that flow with the narration of the other characters as she bears witness to the years from 1862 to 2017, as people come in and out of Birchwood Manor, uncovering the past, attending school and unfurling the history that drew Elodie, and her mother, to the house that inspired a family story Elodie has never forgotten.

AWW-2018-badge-roseEach narrator tells their story, though the house, Birchwood Manor, and Birdie are the stars. Elodie’s story is woven throughout, and the ending to her story is hinted at quite cleverly. Not all stories are wound up as neatly as Birdie’s – as neatly as can be, given the plot, or Lucy’s, or indeed I suppose Elodie’s, where we find out little bits about the end or presumed ending to these stories, but I think this works and adds to the mystery and what the manor bore witness to over the years and decades. This adds to the mystery, and develops the history of the house in a unique ay, where all its secrets are not revealed at once, but gradually, each clue leading to another as the novel progresses.

As each time period is woven in and out of Birdie’s story, the four or five different stories are seen through Birdie’s eyes, and the other characters, each living their own story, contributing to the mystery and intrigue, and history of the house, leaving it with an ongoing sense of self and mystery as Birdie’s spirit lingers within the walls and grounds.

The sense of mystery, the various stories that trailed off once the connections had been made at first feel strange but then fall into place when I realised the star of the novel was truly the manor, and Birdie’s connection to the manor – a connection that slowly became clear as the novel went on, invoking a mystery that was unforeseen at first, and very intriguing.

Where Kate’s previous novels have been focussed very much on the mystery of people, and identity, here she has intersected people and place, and woven it across a span of over 150 years to create a mystery that is seemingly never solved completely solved, yet at the same time, there is a sense that someone knows what happened – is it Elodie, Lucy, Ada or one of the many other people with a link to the manor who discovers the secret that manor is hiding?

The intricacies and complexities of this novel are what make it work, and that allow the wispy strands of some plotlines to float away yet still have a feeling of completion in relation to Birchwood Manor. A stunning read that I really enjoyed.

The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

the peacock summer.jpgTitle: The Peacock Summer

Author: Hannah Richell

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Two summers, decades apart. Two women whose lives are forever entwined. And a house that holds the secrets that could free them both.

At twenty-six, Lillian feels ancient and exhausted. Her marriage to Charles Oberon has not turned out the way she thought it would. To her it seems she is just another beautiful object captured within the walls of Cloudesley, her husband’s Chilterns manor house. But, with a young step-son and a sister to care for, Lillian accepts there is no way out for her. Then Charles makes an arrangement with an enigmatic artist visiting their home and her world is turned on its head.

Maggie Oberon ran from the hurt and resentment she caused. Half a world away, in Australia, it was easier to forget, to pretend she didn’t care. But when her grandmother, Lillian, falls ill she must head back to Cloudesley. Forced to face her past, she will learn that all she thought was real, all that she held so close, was never as it seemed.

An utterly compelling story of secrets, betrayals and the consequences of a long-ago summer from the internationally bestselling author of Secrets of the Tides and The Shadow Year.

~*~

The Peacock Summer opens with Lilian and Maggie in 2015, each in different countries, as the impetus for Maggie’s return to Cloudesley to look after her grandmother, who raised her after Maggie’s father, Lilian’s step-son – Albie – has left and been out of her life for quite some time. Both women have past secrets that they must face when they reunite with each other and those around them – as memories of past summers come back into their minds and psyches. Woven throughout the narrative are the reasons each woman is secretive and slowly, these secrets are revealed through flashbacks and interactions with other characters, adding to the mystery of the novel as it moves along, and the intrigue of Lilian’s relationship with her husband and the painter he has hired to paint a room in their house.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs well as this, Maggie’s search for her mother becomes a plot point, and an answer that must be given – her uncertainty about events in her life, and her feelings about her family are slowly revealed. Even though the pacing of the novel is slow, it fits with the storyline and events of the plot in 1955 and the 2015 plot that weave in and out of each other, and eventually, culminate in an ending that is bittersweet, but nonetheless enjoyable.

The painter employed to paint the room – Jack Fincher – develops feelings for Lilian, that she yearns to return. Their story provides the backbone to the mystery of the house and the lives of Maggie, Lilian and Albie that culminate in a surprising, unexpected and heartbreaking ending for all the characters. Jack was a balm to Charles, who seemed to only want Lilian to raise Albie, whereas Jack wanted more for her – whatever it took to get that for her. Loyalties are tested in this book, in both women’s lives, but they remain loyal to each other the whole way through, determined to be there and to love each other.

As the realities of Maggie and Lilian’s lives evolved and revealed themselves throughout the novel, the story grew, and the mysteries of the family were revealed – why Maggie lived with her grandparents, where Albie always was, what was behind the locked door, and why Maggie had run away and was only just returning. It is a novel of intrigue and family secrets, that show what the characters thought did not reflect the truth behind what they knew or were told.

In the aftermath of World War Two, Lilian marries and becomes a step-mother, and goes from village life to living on an estate with servants, where she must find a way to fit in with society ladies in an ever-changing world, where what was once expected is now seen as acceptable, but where some things are still seen as something not to be spoken about – and yet, as a reader, there is always the sense that something is not quite right, in 1955 and sixty years later, and also a sense that Maggie and Lilian are secretive themselves, even if they want to talk about things, and make amends.

Overall, it is an excellent novel, and the first of Hannah’s that I have read. It weaves history and the past into the present, and flows nicely between each perspective, and is meticulously researched as well, giving it a sense of authenticity.

Booktopia

P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones

p is for pearl.jpgTitle: P is for Pearl

Author: Eliza Henry Jones

Genre: Young Adult, Literary

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 19th of February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A POIGNANT READ BURSTING WITH HEARTACHE, GRIEF AND SMALL-TOWN FAMILY SECRETS THAT WILL DRAW YOU IN UNTIL THE FINAL PAGE’
– Gabrielle Tozer, award-winning author of The InternFaking It and Remind Me How This Ends

Seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn P. Pearson has become very good at not thinking about the awful things that have happened to her family.

She has also become used to people talking about her dead mum. Or not talking about her and just looking at Gwen sympathetically.

And it’s easy not to think about awful things when there are wild beaches to run along, best friends Loretta and Gordon to hang out with – and a stepbrother to take revenge on.

But following a strange disturbance at the cafe where she works, Gwen is forced to confront what happened to her family all those years ago. And she slowly comes to realise that people aren’t as they first appear and that like her, everyone has a story to tell.

From the talented author of the celebrated novels In the Quiet and Ache comes a poignant and moving book that explores the stories we tell ourselves about our families, and what it means to belong.


PRAISE

P is for Pearl is a complex, authentic exploration of grief, friendship, mental illness, family and love, sensitively written by a writer whose voice will resonate with teen readers.’  Books+Publishin

~*~

Gwendolyn P. Pearson hides the dark family secrets that have plagued her family for years very well, and she is good at it. For years, the small Tasmanian town of Clunes has whispered and spoken about her mother, who died when Gwen was a child, one of two family tragedies that happened within months of each other. Gwen has her best friends, Loretta and Gordon, school and running to distract her – that is, until a strange incident at the cafe she works at triggers a memory, and Gwen must confront her memories. When new kids, Ben and Amber arrive in town, Gwen is torn between letting them be, and befriending them and their aunt. As she tries to hide secrets from everyone and hide from her past, it is Ben who will show her that the surface of someone is not always what they seem, and that it is okay to be angry when you are hurt.

AWW-2018-badge-roseP for Pearl completes my book bingo for the first half of 2018 – this will be in a separate post next Saturday, and then I am embarking on round two, using the same card but hopefully, different books as much as I can. First written when Eliza was sixteen, P for Pearl is the world of tragedy and loneliness seen through the eyes of a teenager whose understanding of what happened is coloured by what she wants to believe, and what, as a child, she was told or led to believe. Through narrative and diary entries, Gwen’s story is slowly revealed, and we see the pain she has been in for years, slowly emerging and bubbling its way to the top following the smashed windows at work.

Gwen’s family – her father, stepmother Biddy, step-brother Tyrone and half-sister Evie, are all key figures in the way Gwen experiences her life, and of them all, she seems to feel closer to Evie at first, and a little distanced from the rest of her family, perhaps feeling a little lost in it all. Tyrone is older – and at first, is rather annoying but later, I found something endearing about him and the way he genuinely cared for Gwen, which comes through gradually as she comes to terms with her confusion and pain. In the end, Tyrone, Ben, Loretta and Gordon are the ones who help her come through her pain and the realisation of the painful family history that has haunted her.

P for Pearl is aimed at teenagers but is a novel that speaks to the grief and complicated events and tragedies in life that we all face and endure. Gwen’s voice is genuine, and works well in the novel, as is the character growth and learning little bits about characters as the novel progresses. A greet novel to check off my final bingo box.

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Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham

eleanor's secret.jpgTitle: Eleanor’s Secret

Author: Caroline Beecham

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 432

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An engrossing wartime mystery of past deceptions, family secrets and long-lasting love…

London, 1942
When art school graduate, Eleanor Roy, is recruited by the War Artists Advisory Committee, she comes one step closer to realising her dream of becoming one of the few female war artists. But breaking into the art establishment proves difficult until Eleanor meets painter, Jack Valante, only to be separated by his sudden posting overseas.

Melbourne 2010
Although reluctant to leave her family at home, Kathryn can’t refuse her grandmother Eleanor’s request to travel to London to help her return a precious painting to its artist. But when the search uncovers a long-held family secret, Kathryn has to make a choice to return home or risk her family’s future, as Eleanor shows her that safeguarding the future is sometimes worth more than protecting the past.

Kathryn’s journey takes her back to Eleanor’s life as a young woman as she uncovers Jack’s missing war diaries and uses new technology to try and solve the puzzle of the missing artist, confronted by Jack’s record of war compared to the depiction of terrors of the present day.

But when it becomes evident that Jack’s nephew is trying to stop her finding him, and her concern for Christopher’s care of Oliver deepens, she has to decide whether to return home or risk the dangers to carry on.

Eleanor’s Secret is at once a surprising mystery and compelling love story.

~*~

Having just graduated art school Eleanor Roy is recruited to the WAAC – the War Artists Advisory Committee – to do her part for the war effort during the 1940s. To her, this is a stepping stone to becoming a female war artist, in a time when women were often relegated to domestic jobs or working at home. For Eleanor though, breaking through tradition into a world her parents and family didn’t want her to go into, this is her chance.  Seconded to a series of administrative meetings for the council, Eleanor encounters Jack Valante, a war artist, and SOE officer, whose friendship encourages her to paint her war, and to try and submit them to the WAAC, and other exhibitions. But she is a woman, and Jack comes up with a plan to get her art shown, and a relationship forms – and then falls away as he is sent overseas to serve. Almost seventy years later in 2010, Eleanor’s granddaughter, Kathryn, has returned to England to help her grandmother uncover the secret of a painting and where Jack is. She takes it as a welcome break from the family problems that plague her back home with her husband, Chris, though being apart from son Oliver, is testing. But what Kathryn will discover is more than a missing painting – she will discover a secret that Eleanor has been holding onto for many years.

AWW-2018-badge-roseLately, I have been reading a lot of World War Two based historical fiction, covering the Holocaust, the ghettos and the home front in England. Each story is a mere drop in the ocean of the experiences of these six years, on all sides, and for all those affected. There are still many stories to discover and be told. One of my favourite themes has been the role of women in the war on the home front, and their stories. So, I was quite delighted to receive Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham, having previously read Maggie’s Kitchen two years ago. Like in Maggie’s Kitchen, the protagonist inEleanor’s Secret is also seeking to do something for the war effort and break out of the confines of what is expected of her gender. Instead, she strives to become an artist in her own right, and tries to gain the attention of a colleague, Aubrey, whom she hopes will help her exhibit her paintings. Through Eleanor, the home front of destroyed buildings in London and the East End is shown, though nobody wishes to accept them as hers, though she tries to make them see she is just as capable. Caroline Beecham’s characters – especially the female ones – find a way to step out of the norm whilst maintaining a facade in public that allows them to find a way to go against what is expected of them.

The impacts of the war that Eleanor captured in the novel – destroyed homes, families with nothing, picking through the ruins for something to hold onto, to sell for food, and the orphans, with nobody but the people running the orphanage and Eleanor’s art lessons to lift their spirits – are not the images of war that the WAAC wanted. It was Eleanor’s determination to capture these scenes that I found the most powerful, because it was her world, the world she lived in and passed by every day, rather than the battle fields of Europe that felt so distant to many, and though those events still affected people back home, what those left behind experienced also needed to be captured in paints.

_J1_7213-Edit.jpgThe love story between Jack and Eleanor is woven in nicely, and I enjoyed that they each grew as characters and developed in their own way, with their own secrets that were woven throughout and took time to come out, ensuring that the mysteries of art and Jack, and Eleanor’s own secrets were not so easily revealed. Going back and forth between 1942 and 2010 was effective – it allowed for the mystery to develop, and for the reader to discover what was happening at the same time as Kathryn. Family and friends were also important in this novel, and the effects of what Jack and Eleanor did and had to do came through. Eleanor’s sister Cecily, a nurse, was an important character – acting as Eleanor’s confidant and secret keeper. This was an important relationship too as it showed that sibling and familial love during times of war was just as important, if not more so, to get people through hard times and challenges that came their way, that they needed help to face.

Overall, a good novel, with a fascinating historical backdrop. Prior to reading this novel, I did not know much about the WAAC or war artists, and I found it really interesting, and the way that reporting and creation of art was done back then, sometimes months after a battle, compared to today when images appear instantly, or within hours or days of something happening in current conflicts. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, reading it in about three sittings. The mystery of the paintings, the art and Eleanor’s determination to become more than an assistant were what caught my attention the most, and the love story with Jack was a nice bonus.

Booktopia

Lovesome by Sally Seltmann

lovesome.jpgTitle: Lovesome

Author: Sally Seltmann

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An offbeat and beguiling story of finding your own happiness.

My warm breath makes a beautiful fog in front of me. It’s times like this when I feel most alive. I feel free, and at one with the world and everything around me. It’s an invigorating version of euphoria. But I don’t want to arrive home to no one; I want someone to come home to.

It’s 1995 and 21-year-old Joni Johnson is fresh out of art school and loving her life. Working at Harland, a French restaurant, makes her happy – it’s as romantic as she is herself. Harland’s owner, Lucy, and chef, Dave, make her evenings both entertaining and complicated. By day, Joni sets up her easel in her backyard bungalow, turns on her music, and paints.

But when Joni’s best friend, Annabelle, arrives on the doorstep one night ecstatic in love, everything changes. The life Joni has built for herself seems lacklustre in comparison to Annabelle’s rising star. And when Annabelle makes a beeline for the one man who seems interested in Joni, it looks unlikely that their friendship will survive.

Tender, funny and romantic, Lovesome is a triumph.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseI received Lovesome as a surprise book – and it was one that I decided I’d give a go. Joni Johnson is twenty-one in 1995. She is an artist, painting by day, and waitressing by night, going through the motions of her life in her early twenties, following her dream but also working to support herself, while her best friend, Annabelle, is living overseas in London as a singer. When Annabelle re-enters her life, it is like a tornado has landed – a tornado where Annabelle moves from excitement and hyperactivity about her current boyfriend coming to Australia, to a tense disagreement about James, the photographer for an article on Annabelle. When Joni and James show interest in each other, Annabelle’s jealousy flares – so used to having men fall for her instantly, it seems that their once stable friendship might be falling apart.

Part romance, part literary and part coming of age, Lovesome is the kind of novel where the people you thought would fall in love, don’t, and where the falling in love happens when and where you least expect it to in the storyline. The first half to a third is Joni exploring her life and trying to work out who she is at twenty-one, having finished art school, and aiming for an art career, she finds herself working at eclectic Harland, where each room has a different theme for diners, and where the enigmatic and complicated Lucy, runs the restaurant. Each character is flawed – Joni seems to doubt herself at times, Lucy is all over the place, or so it seems until quite late in the book, where she reveals secrets to Joni she perhaps has not revealed to anyone else, and Annabelle comes across as selfish at times, interrupting Joni to talk about whatever is on her mind, leaving Dave, the head chef, as Joni’s confidant.

At first I wasn’t sure what to expect or think, but it is a coming of age story that reflects the way some young people find themselves and their passion, and the relationships that they are in and out of, platonic and romantic, family and work. It was a rather quick read, and at times quite compelling – i kept wondering which way things would turn, and how it would work out. As such, I felt it wasn’t the typical love story that it might be seen as – rather, a unique one where the love interest pops up quite late, and although it happens quickly, didn’t feel rushed at all, unlike some I have read – it felt natural, and worked well for Joni. The friendships between Joni, Annabelle, Dave and Lucy were just as strong as just as important – they showed that love can happen in a variety of ways for different people, and that it isn’t always romantic. Showing that friendship is just as important, if not more important, than a romantic relationship, as shown by Joni and Annabelle’s friendship, is a great thing to see in novels.

Booktopia

2018 NSW PREMIER’S LITERARY AWARDS

The NSW Government has a long tradition of celebrating and connecting the public with art and literature. The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards are an opportunity to highlight the importance of literacy and literature, whilst enjoying and learning from the work of our writers in NSW and Australia. Like other literary awards, this award in highlighting the spectacular Australian Literature Australian writers produce, highlights and honours the achievements of Australia’s writers, and their artistic contributions to society, but also to highlight our literary achievements to the world. The State Library administers the awards.AWW-2018-badge-rose

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards have more categories than the Victorian awards. These categories are:

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction

2017 Winner: The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

2017 Shortlist: Vancouver #3 in the series Wisdom Tree by Nick Earls

Their Brilliant Careers: The Fantastic Lives of Sixteen Extraordinary Australian Writers by Ryan O’Neill

Where the Light Falls by Gretchen Shirm

After the Carnage by Tara June Winch

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood.

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing

2017 Winner: Letter to Pessoa by Michelle Cahil

2017 Shortlist:

The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon

Dodge Rose by Jack Cox

Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down

Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh

The Bonobo’s Dream by Rose Mulready

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction

2017 Winner: Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead by Thornton McCamish

2017 Shortlist: Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

Talking to My Country by Stan Grant

The Art of Time Travel: Historians and Their Craft by Tom Griffiths

Avalanche by Julia Leigh

Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire by Shane White

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry

2017 Winner: Ghostspeaking by Peter Boyle

2017 Shortlist: Burnt Umber by Paul Hetherington

Breaking the Days by Jill Jones

Fragments by Antigone Kefala

Firebreaks: Poems by John Kinsella

Comfort Food by Ellen van Neerven

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature

2017 Winner: One Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noël Zihabamwe

2017 Shortlist: Elegy by Jane Abbott

The Ghost by the Billabong by Jackie French 

the-ghost-by-the-billabong

The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson

One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature

2017 Winner: Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall

2017 Shortlist: Magrit by Lee Battersby and Amy Daoud

Something Wonderful by Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair

Desert Lake Pamela Freeman and Liz Anelli

Figgy and the President by Tamsin Janu

Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy

Nick Enright Prize For Playwriting

 

2017 Winner: The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

2017 Shortlist:  The Hanging by Angela Betzein

You, Me and the Space Between by Finegan Kruckemeyer

Ladies Day by Alana Valentine

Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting

2017 Winner: The Code – Series 2, Episode 4 by Shelley Birse

2017 Shortlist: Down Under by Abe Forsythe

Sucker by Lawrence Leung and Ben Chessel

The Kettering Incident episode 1 by Victoria Madden

Afghanistan: Inside Australia’s War by Victoria Midwinter Pitt

Cleverman Episode 5 “Terra Nullius” by Michael Miller

Multicultural NSW Award

 2017 Winner: The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

2017 Shortlist: Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru by Madeline Gleeson

Not Quite Australian: How Temporary Migration is Changing the Nation by Peter Mares

Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the Sea by Marie Munkara

Promising Azra Helen Thurloe – on my To Be Read pile.

The Fighter: A True Story by Arnold Zable

NSW Premier’s Translation Prize

 2017 Winner: Royall Tyler

2017 Shortlist: J.M.Q Davies

Penny Hueston

Jennifer Lindsay

Multicultural NSW Early Career Translation Prize

 2017 Winner: Jan Owen

2017 Shortlist: Christopher Williams

Indigenous Writer’s Prize – Biennial Prize Next Awarded in 2018

Last awarded in 2016.

2016 Winners: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe and Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

2016 Shortlist: Ghost River by Tony Birch

Inside My Mother by Ali Cobby Eckermann

Dirty Words by Natalie Harkin

Not Just Black and White by Lesley Williams and Tammy Williams

Other Awards:

NSW Prize for Literature

2017 Winner: The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

People’s Choice Award

 2017 Winner: Vancouver #3 in the series Wisdom Tree by Nick Earls

 Special Award

 The Special Award was last awarded to Rosie Scott AM in 2016.

Across these twelve categories and the three additional ones, there is a diverse range of authors and stories, that tell of personal experiences, imagined worlds and that draw on history and the world the authors have lived that led them to write these books. Each prize I have looked at so far has shown a different degree of diversity, with this one having a broader range, if only because it has more categories than the others I have looked at. Last year’s winners and nominees are in good company with past winners Peter Carey, David Malouf AO, Elizabeth Jolley, Thomas Keneally AO and Helen Garner.

Each prize has a different amount of money, and further details can be found in the provided links. In 2018, the total prize money, including sponsored awards is up to $305 000, and to be nominated for any of these awards, the writer and illustrator must be living Australian citizens or hold permanent resident status.

Taken from the website:

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards are presented by the NSW Government and administered by the State Library in association with Create NSW. We are pleased to acknowledge the support of Multicultural NSW and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

The 2018 winners will be announced on 30 April 2018.The short-list will be announced in March.

Purchase any of the above books here:

Booktopia

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society

fifth avenue artists society .jpg

Title: The Fifth Avenue Artists Society
Author: Joy Callaway
Genre: Fiction/Popular Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 23rd November 2016
Format: Paperback
Pages: 358
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: Devastated after being jilted by the boy next door, Ginny Loftin turns to writing in an attempt to rewrite their story with a better ending. But it is among the painters, musicians, actors and other writers she meets at a Fifth Avenue salon that she finds new purpose and a second chance at love. A richly told historical novel of family loyalties, loss and artistic desires.
‘The creative sisterhood of Little Women, the social scandal of Edith Wharton and the courtship mishaps of Jane Austen . . . The Fifth Avenue Artists Society is a delightful, and at times touching, tale of Gilded Age society and creative ambition with an inspiring heroine.’ New York Daily News

The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love.

When Charlie instead proposes to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up in her room and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her-until she attends an elite salon hosted at her brother’s friend John Hopper’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John’s increasingly romantic attentions.

But just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon’s bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren’t quite as she’d imagined them, Ginny will realise how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love.

~*~

A story that has romance within its pages, yet it is the kind that doesn’t take over everything else in the story that the characters experience and go through, and nor does it turn Ginny, the main character, into less than she is at the beginning of the novel. Virginia Loftin comes from a family of artistic ambition. Sister Bessie is a milliner, her twin brother Franklin is a painter, her younger sister Alevia is a musician, and Virginia is a writer. Only her oldest sister Mae isn’t an artist, taking to teaching orphans instead, yet supportive of the pursuits of her siblings. The years since her father’s death have been hard on Virginia’s family, all doing whatever they can with their creativity to bring in the money. Virginia’s best friend Charlie is an artist too, and together, they have grown up, sharing their love of art, painting and the written word. And an undying loyalty to each other that rarely wavers, and Virginia is sure that they will marry – until Charlie proposes to another woman.

As an aspiring writer, Virginia has faced sexism from other artists and writing groups because of her gender – because of how the society she was a part of at the time viewed the genders and what they were supposedly capable of. Virginia and her family, and Charlie, know that she is capable of anything. But Virginia still must find a way to prove herself, and it is The Fifth Avenue Artists Society that she attends where she uncovers a way to unlock her talent and to meet like-minded men and women. It all seems too good to be true, and perhaps it is: because nothing ever happens so easily.

Escaping as most writers do into her words, Virginia joins a society of artists – The Fifth Avenue Artists Society in New York, where she meets several characters who will change her life and the course of the lives of her family over the course of the novel. A courtship with fellow society member, John Hopper, encourages Virginia to share her writing, and to aim for publication of her work that is inspired by her feelings and the people around her. As she works on her novel, a shadow of mystery about Franklin’s new job begins to emerge, and it is not long before a series of tragic events unravel and reveal secrets that threaten to bring shame upon the family and alienate them from the upper class society that they are a part of.

A story that is based on the family history of the author, which gives the characters a depth and authenticity that makes one feel as though they are in late nineteenth century New York less than thirty years after the end of the American Civil War, where the war is briefly mentioned a few times to set the scene and the background to the families, The Fifth Avenue Artists Society celebrates the value of art to the individual, and society. It explores what society expected of men and women at the time, and what was accepted, but also shows a woman who, though she sees the value in the conventional, does not always ascribe to the roles society deems right. She is an intriguing character who ends up following her heart for love and for her goals of publication. An intriguing read that brings society life to light and shows how attitudes have changed in many ways.