Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

BeautyinThorns_CoverTitle: Beauty in Thorns

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House/Vintage

Published: 3rd of July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 465

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A spellbinding reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the wild bohemian circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets.

The Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention. 

Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a Methodist minister – understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be confronted by many years of gossip and scandal.

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Booktopia

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.

Booktopia

Death at Victoria Dock By Kerry Greenwood

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Title: Death at Victoria Dock (Phryne Fisher #4)

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: First published 1992, this edition published March 2005.

Format: Paperback

Pages: 186

Price: $22.95

Synopsis: Phryne Fisher returns in her fourth magical mystery amidst bullets, sexy ex-anarchists, furs, tattooists and silken lingerie.

The devastating Phryne Fisher is under fire again in her fourth mystery.

A very young man with muddied hair, a pierced ear and a blue tattoo lies cradled in Phryne’s arms. But sadly it’s not another scene of glorious seduction – this time it’s death.

The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, beautifully dressed in loose trousers, a cream silk shirt and a red-fox fur has just had her windscreen shot out inches in front of her divine nose. But worse is the fate of the pale young man lying on the road, his body hit by bullets, who draws his final blood-filled breath with Phryne at his side.

Outraged by this brutal slaughter, Phryne promises to find out who is responsible. But Phryne doesn’t yet know how deeply into the mire she’ll have to go – bank robbery, tattoo parlours, pubs, spiritualist halls and the Anarchists.

Along this path, Phryne meets Peter, a battle-scarred, sexy Slav, who offers much more to her than just information. But all thoughts of these delights flee from Phryne’s mind when her beloved maid, Dot, disappears. There’s nothing Phryne won’t do to get her back safely.

~*~

aww2017-badgeKerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher is back, and solving another mystery. This time, she must work with ex-anarchists to uncover who killed the young man who died in her silk clad arms, and find out what has happened to a young girl, Alicia Waddington-Forsythe, who attends the same school as her adopted daughters, Jane and Ruth, and why she has gone missing. Managing both cases, she goes from adoring hostess and mother to undercover anarchist with a change of clothes, and finds that there is one named Peter, who catches her eye in more ways than one, and her style certainly catches his attention, and devotion. He becomes her go between in the anarchist world, and assists her in the case, eager to help, keen to see justice done, whoever the killer is. As usual, the Butlers are there, keeping the secrets that come through the house, as is Dot, who is becoming more and more adventurous with each story, but still maintains her innocence despite Phryne’s influence, and Bert and Cec are always on hand when she needs them.

Throughout the series, Kerry Greenwood’s titular character straddles the divide between what is expected of a woman of the 1920s in Australia and of her class station, yet at the same time, steps away from this as often as possible, feeling comfortable in both skins, knowing a world of poverty and war, and a world of wealth and comfort. Neither world escapes death or disappearance and scandal, though, and this is why she is able to engage so fluidly in both and understand how both worlds work, and the struggles and privileges she herself has been through drive her sense of self and dogged sense of justice, even if she is a tad unorthodox in how she solves crimes, worrying Constable Collins and Detective Inspector Robinson, yet at the same time, they watch in awe as she gets results and access that they can only dream of as they have to work within the confines of the law. Phryne, as a private detective, is not as constrained.

Book four does not disappoint. It has everything from murder to mayhem, order and intrigue, mystery and how society views outsiders and the consequences to people’s indiscretions, crimes and assumptions. Not only does Kerry Greenwood turn gender roles and expectations on their head, and show the spectrum of what women did in the late 1920s, but also turns society on it’s head, showing the flaws in class divisions and how class and status don’t make you better or worse than someone in a class below: in fact, having a character who has experienced both ends of the spectrum allows for the flaws, and the good and the bad for each level in the social structure to be revealed for what they are. The characters are also very Australian, ensuring that the Aussie flavour of literature is well served in bookstores and libraries for Australian readers keen to see their world in books.

Phryne excels in Death at Victoria Dock with the dual mystery to solve, and sets out to achieve results in both cases and in furthering her personal relationships in true Phryne Fisher style, often much to the horror of her maid Dot, who still goes along with whatever Phryne has planned, though makes her concerns known. What i enjoy about this series is that the characters are not merely stereotypes but that their layers and personalities shine through and each book reveals more about them, and shows their growth. It is an engaging series that I am working my way through, and hope to have finished by the end of this year as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.

Booktopia

Small Publisher Spotlight: University of Western Australia Publishing — Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

The following post by Ashleigh Meikle (co-authored by Elizabeth Lhuede) is the third in our occasional series highlighting small presses. It focuses on UWA Publishing. University of Western Australia Publishing (UWAP) was established in 1935, 24 years after the founding of the university. In that time, it has published over 800 books over a range…

via Small Publisher Spotlight: University of Western Australia Publishing — Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

 

The third in this series, with several more to come. Another small press that makes the effort to highlight lesser known authors that larger publisher’s might not take on.

 

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Murder On The Ballarat Train (Phryne Fisher #3) by Kerry Greenwood

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Title: Murder on the Ballarat Train

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: March 2005

Format: Paperback

Pages: 180

Price: $22.95

Synopsis: In Phryne’s third adventure, Phryne is off to Ballarat for a week of fabulousness, but the sedate journey by train turns out to be far from the restful trip she was planning.

For the elegant Phryne Fisher, travelling sedately is not at all what it seems.

‘Lie still, Dot dear, we’ve had a strange experience.’ But neither the resourceful Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher nor her loyal maid, Dot Williams, are strangers to odd events.

When the glamorous Phryne Fisher, accompanied by Dot, decides to leave her delightfully fast, red Hispano-Suiza at home and travel to the country in the train, the last thing she expects is to have to use her trusty Beretta .32 to save their lives.

What was planned as a restful country sojourn turns into the stuff of nightmares: a young girl who can’t remember anything, rumours of vile white slavery and the body of an old woman missing her emerald rings. And Phryne is at the centre, working through the clues to arrive at the incredible truth before another murder is committed.

Fortunately, Phryne can still find a little time for a discreet dalliance and the delicious diversion of that rowing team of young men.

~*~

aww2017-badgeJourneying to Ballarat on the train with Dot, Phryne is expecting a week of elegance and a break from the bustle of the city. However, Miss Fisher finds herself midst a murder case, a young girl whose memory has disappeared and rumours of white slavery occurring in Melbourne. Returning back to Melbourne with Dot, the young girl, Jane, and the daughter of the murder victim, Phryne sets herself the task of finding out who killed the old woman, and where Jane comes from so she can help her, and engaging in a dalliance with a rowing team from the local university, culminating in events that Phryne had not thought possible.

As always, Phryne engages the Communist drivers, Bert and Cec to help her look into the less savoury aspects, people and locations that are linked to Jane in order to help her, and eventually, another young girl called Ruth. Little does Phryne know that somehow the rowing team and the two cases she picked up on the train are to become linked, and the killer and their secrets revealed.

Kerry Greenwood has succeeded again in creating a female character who simultaneously fits in with the time period she lives in yet also flouts all socially acceptable behaviour for a woman of her standing. She allows the male police to act when necessary, but assists them and uses her feminine wiles to ensnare Detective-Inspector Robinson into helping her, which he does, gladly, and in awe of her.

Set in the late 1920s, during the early stages of the Great Depression that gripped the world during the 1930s, and up to the Second World War, Kerry Greenwood at times hints at moments of Australian history that are significant, though these moments are a bit more prevalent in Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair series, set roughly during the same time, and with a character who is also an amateur detective and gives the police he deals with a run for their money.

A series of historical fiction crime books with a female character who is strong and feminine in equal measures, and whose escapades shock the prim and proper, and traditional echelons of society in a young Australia, merely ten years fresh from a world war and almost three decades old, Kerry Greenwood has captured an essence of the Australian character in a unique way. I am enjoying this series, and look forward to reading more, and hopefully getting through them all this year.

Booktopia

Singing My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan

singing my sister downTitle: Singing My Sister Down and Other Short Stories

Author: Margo Lanagan

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th January. 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: An outstanding collection of thirteen short stories from the internationally acclaimed, multi-award winning author of Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels.

‘We all went down to the tar-pit, with mats to spread our weight.’ So begins ‘Singing My Sister Down’, Margo Lanagan’s internationally acclaimed, award-winning short story.

Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories brings together ten celebrated short stories, along with three new ones, from the extraordinarily talented author of Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts.

A bride accepts her devastating punishment. A piece of the moon is buried. A ferryman falls into the Styx. Wee Willie Winkie brings a waking nightmare. A new father dresses a fallen warrior princess. A sniper picks off clowns one by one. Margo Lanagan’s stories will stay with you, haunting you with their quiet beauty and fine balance.

 

~*~

 

aww2017-badgeSinging My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan brings together a collection of surreal, fantastical and timeless short stories. They are not interconnected, but each reflect on the human condition, and aspects of the fantastical. In the title story, Singing My Sister Down, a bride is forced to accept a devastating punishment while her family watches and assists – it is heartbreaking and yet, has a feeling of fairy tale or the distant past, where punishments were harsh. One story, Ferryman, draws on Greek Mythology and the underworld, with the ferryman of the River Styx falling into the river he crosses every day, ferrying the recently departed to the Underworld to live with Hades and Persephone. Not All Ogre is an unusual retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a not so happy ending for the sleeping princess. These are just three of the thirteen stories that are included in this anthology, and that evoke a sense of timelessness mixed with a fairy tale or mythical feel. Another story shows a more sinister side to the Wee Willie Winkie nursery rhyme.

 

Each story is written in first person, and set in undetermined times and places, and at times, drawing on myth and fairy tale to create the story. This gives each story an eerie feel, but at the same time, it works really well, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the stories that Lanagan has written. In some tales, the sinister side of tradition and fairy tales or nursery rhymes emerge –Wee Willie Winkie is shown as a living nightmare, a world where the worst dreams come true and haunt people for a long time. Yet others are more surreal, where I was unsure about the setting and plot and characters – yet at the same time, show a world that is not quite perfect at times, but idealised through the eyes of some of the narrators. The characters are all flawed, but driven by their own natures and desires towards the final outcomes of each story.

 

Within each story, Margo Lanagan has created a world we can recognise – the world of human nature and human flaws, not a physical world. It is lyrical and full of rich language and imagery that makes each read compelling, something that I didn’t want to set aside. It is another book that can be devoured or savoured, and I tried to do both, wanting to know how each story ended, yet not wanting to finish it too quickly.

 

In most anthologies, the stories can be linked by a theme, or even a series of characters or other plot devices. Yet in Singing My Sister Down, each story is its own entity, and yet, this works. I liked the different stories and characters within each tale, alternating between timeless worlds or worlds of magic and wonder, or unknown worlds hinting at a non-human existence. She does all of this in a wonderful way that captures the imagination and brings together ideas of what makes us human – and how an individual might deal with certain circumstances. If I had to pick a favourite, or at least one that sticks with me, it is probably Not All Ogre – I recognised the fairy tale motifs and this was exquisitely done, even though the conclusion and events that led to the conclusion were unexpected. I think this worked well for this tale in particular, leading the reader to believe one thing and then allowing another to happen – this made it intriguing and memorable.

 

A good read for young adult and adult readers. It can be read in a few days, and I hope to revisit it.

 

 Booktopia

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

 

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2015 Winner

The Strays by Emily Bitto

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2014 Winner

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Claire Wright

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2013 Winner

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

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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: