The Beast’s Heart by Liefe Shallcross

the beasts heart.jpgTitle: The Beast’s Heart

Author: Leife Shallcross

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton/Hachette Australia

Published:  24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 342

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A richly magical retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, from the point of view of the Beast.

A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time – read the Beast’s side of the story at long last.

My beast’s nose scented cold, and earth, and the faintest tang of magic. Not the same magic that pervaded the house, or even the forest. This was something older and wilder, filled with sadness and decay. Yet at its core was something pure and clear, like the peal of a bell or the heat of a burning ember. Or the colour of a crimson rose.

 

I am neither monster nor man – yet I am both.

I am the Beast.

I know why I was cursed; I know the legacy of evil I carry in my tainted blood. So how could she ever love me?

My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart when I was struggling just to be human.

And now I might lose her forever.

~*~

Most retellings of the French fairy tale, written in 1740, by Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve, and influenced by the literary fairy tales of authors such as Charles Perrault and Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy. Unlike the fairy tales collected by The Brothers Grimm, which include a similar tale known as The Singing, Springing Lark, Beauty and the Beast was one of the first literary fairy tales recorded, though the specific tale that many retellings are based on oral tales over many years beforehand.

Where many retellings of this tale focus on the perspective of the Beauty – the girl who will break the spell, told in first or third person with this focus, Leife Shallcross’s debut novel takes the traditional fairy tale, and gives it new life, writing it from the perspective of the Beast, and how he deals with his situation and the beautiful girl – named Isabeau in this story – living in his house.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAt the start of the story, the Beast, whom we know to be a prince or at least, a noble from the original and previous retellings, is lonely, and losing track of time. He mentions a Fairy and the curse, and the invisible servants – who see to his every need. When Isabeau’s father, Monsieur de la Noue stumbles across his wintry castle, where seasons don’t occur as they do outside the gates, the Beast and his invisible servants extend hospitality towards him – until he plucks a rise from the rose garden for Isabeau – and a deal is struck: Isabeau must come and stay with the Beast for a year in exchange for her father not being killed. Isabeau agrees, and whilst she is at the castle, the Beast watches her family thrive with gifts he sends them magically, and their fortunes change. As the year goes by, the Beast and Isabeau become friends – but the Beast – as in other reincarnations – begins to fall in love, seeking for her to save him from the curse.

But he can’t tell her this – the Fairy warns him against it and is quite malevolent in the few appearances she makes, and even when the Beast refers to her in his private musings. What I did like was that the Beast did not force Isabeau. Rather, he was hopeful and allowed her to come to him, but also, the respect and friendship they had for each other was more important. It was an exquisitely and enchantingly written story, where lessons must be learned by all, and where forgiveness becomes a large part of the plot – forgiveness of self, forgiveness of family and forgiveness of those who appear to have done the wrong thing. Set in France, in what I imagine is the eighteenth century, it has the same magic of the original and the other incarnations but an originality that no other retelling has come close to capturing. In each retelling, we always know the Beast isn’t the horrid monster some characters, such as Gaston in the Disney version – make him out to be – much like Isabeau’s father does in this novel, and her sisters, Claude and Marie, who are inclined to believe him, are the ones who at first believe their father’s claims but then begin to doubt them, hoping that Isabeau is alive – and it is Marie who is the catalyst for this.

Each character is flawed – not one is perfect, and to this end, I think this worked exceptionally well for this novel. It showed that flaws are everywhere, and that even if we see them in others, we don’t see them in ourselves all the time. Isabeau recognises her own flaws when she goes to live with the Beast and is aware of them. She can also see past his flaws. Yet it is her family she must find a way to reassure, with a father whose stubbornness would see her live at home forever, and sisters who once relied on her for everything, must recognise what they are capable of in her absence, and as a result, make their own fortunes with suitors. Each version of the story has a variance on the siblings the Beauty character has – from the six brothers and sisters of the original, to Belle as an only child in the Disney version, and in this version, the two sisters who work to pull the family through in Isabeau’s absence.

As each character begins to recognise their flaws, I could see them grow to accept what they had to deal with in life – except Monsieur de la Noue, whose resistance illustrated that not everyone adapts to change, or wishes to. Where I loved that his daughters made the best of their circumstances, I found myself wishing he would start doing the same.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I adore fairy tale retellings, and this is a really good one. It is up there with The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth, which is more of a fairy tale infused historical fiction, and other novels such as Frogkisserthat incorporate fairy tale elements. Whilst this used the traditional elements and tale, turning it around and telling the Beast’s story gave more of an insight into what it must have been like for him, living as a Beast under a curse that only love, and the promise of marriage can break, and return him to his true form. What I most enjoyed as well was that the mysteries of the castle, and magic, and Marie’s letters to Isabeau weren’t solved immediately – the answers to these and many other questions were given gradually.

The chapters where Isabeau was at home for a time were dealt with well, written from the Beast’s perspective as he watched them in his mirror – his window to the outside world. The mirror and the roses were there, as they always are – key aspects to the fairy tale that has sparked many retellings and interpretations over the years.

A delightful read, and one I hope to be able to revisit one day.

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The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

the belles.jpgTitle: The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism, Young Adult

Publisher: Gollancz/Hachette Australia

Published: 13th February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 434

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: ‘Looking for the next big ground-breaking event in YA? This is it.’ Rick Riordan, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Percy Jackson series Welcome to the dark decadence of Dhonielle Clayton’s sharp tale of beauty, obsession and magic. . . 
I AM A BELLE. I CONTROL BEAUTY.
In the opulent world of Orleans, the people are born grey and damned, and only a Belle’s powers can make them beautiful.
Camellia Beauregard wants to be the favourite Belle – the one chosen by the queen to tend to the royal family.
But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that her powers may be far greater – and far darker – than she ever imagined.
When the queen asks Camellia to break the rules she lives by to save the ailing princess, she faces an impossible decision: protect herself and the way of the Belles, or risk her own life, and change the world forever.

‘Sumptuous and original world-building, heart-pounding plot and gorgeous prose.’ Samantha Shannon, New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Season ‘A whip-smart writer with grand, grand talents.’ Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist ‘Breathtakingly beautiful and deeply unsettling.’ Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author

~*~

In the magical world of Orléans, beauty is everything, and people will do anything to attain it and hide the drab features they are all born with. But there is a select group of girls who are born into this world with the power of beauty, who have the power to control beauty, and give people the look that they want” The Belles. Each generation has its own set of Belles, going back as far as Orléans does, an isle-like nation where the Belles are placed either in the palace as the favourite, or in the island tea houses to assist clients and make them beautiful, in the image that they desire, though they must adhere to rules set forth by the queen. In the generation in the books, it is Camellia and her sisters, Ambrosia, Hana, Padma, Edelweiss and Valerie who are competing for the role of the favourite. They’ve been training their whole lives for this chance, and when it comes, the result is not what they expected, nor what each of them desired.

Within the walls of the palace are dark secrets, secrets that nobody is privy to, and that the newsies and tatters can merely speculate at and send hushed whispers throughout the kingdom. The only people who truly know what is going on are at the palace – and unable to leave or disobey an order that they are given by the queen or her daughter, Princess Sophia. What Camellia will see, hear and have to do will be dark, and dangerous, hinting at a much darker power than any of the Belles could ever have imagined existing, and resulting in a climax that hints that there might be a sequel to come, as there are quite a few unanswered questions.

The world of the Belles is lavish and shows the darker side of beauty and fashion obsession and what it can drive people to, how desperate they might become. In a world where changing ones skin tone and entire look can be paid for, the racial tensions we experience in our world do not seem to be there, and relationships between the same sex and opposite sexes appeared to me to be the norm – where people are paired up based on alliances and the desires of a princess at times, and at other times, their own, but where a Belle is forbidden to fall in love with anyone. she must remain loyal to her sisters and the tea house she serves.

On the surface of Orl̩ans, things appear perfect: because people seem free to choose their look Рskin tone, features, hair colour, eye colour, and clothing (for a price and only if you can afford it), and be with someone you love, the dark, underbelly seems that much more sinister Рit is hidden beneath a layer of perfection, and desire for what one cannot be. In a world where loyalty can be bought, Camellia and her sisters will learn the price they must pay for loyalty and their own safety.

As the favourite, Camellia finds an ally in the Queen, her guard, R̩my, and the various former Belles who mentor her, including Arabella, the favourite from a former generation. As the story goes on, secrets are slowly revealed Рensuring that the interest of the reader is held throughout, even in darker areas where characters are forced into situations that where they fear for their lives. In a few scenes, the tension is raised, and the pacing in these scenes works well for what they portray Рthe darker side of the world the Belles live in and what they must do to survive Sophia.

It is a novel of many layers and facets that were peeled back slowly, and where things were hinted at that perhaps mean future books – the ending felt more like the climax of a to be continued storyline, where there is more to come about the Belles and their origins, secrets and powers.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this. I went into it not really knowing what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. Dhonielle Clayton has created a wonderfully complex world, and I hope we get to find out more about this world and its characters.

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Book Bingo Two: A book with a number in the title, a book based on a true story, a book by an Australian woman

 

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe next square I managed to fill was the last square in the fourth row a book with a number in the title. This also filled in a book published in 2018 for my other challenge and ticked off another book in the Australian Women Writer’s challenge – I have many books that will fill some categories in book bingo and the other challenge, but I am aiming for a different one for each category if I can.

 

For square twenty, I read Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part Time Husband by Barbara Stoner, which I reviewed on the 29th of January on this blog, and has been linked to this post.

four respectable ladies

 

Sent to me by Penguin Random House, I was pleasantly surprised by this book, and its focus on the female characters and their determination to get help where needed but when things went wrong, they banded together to help each other without needing husbands to do it all for them. My previous book bingo book, Rose Rave

nthorpe Investigates, would have fit into this category also, and they would both have fit into a book by an Australian woman, though each square needs its own book, as I will show in my final post when I have hopefully filled the entire square.

 

mr dickensI have managed to check off three other squares as well. For square twenty-two, a book based on a true story, I read Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva, about Charles Dickens journey writing A Christmas Carol, and why he wrote it – more out of economic need than desire to write such a story. And square eleven, a book by an Australian woman, has been filled by The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett, an historical fiction novel using storytelling and fairy tales to capture an arduous journey across the seas.The-Tides-Between-300x450

 

Look out for my next book bingo due in two weeks.

 

book bingo 2018.jpg

The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett

The-Tides-Between-300x450.jpgTitle: The Tides Between

Author: Elizabeth Jane Corbett

Genre: Historical Fiction, YA

Publisher: Odyssey Books

Published: 20th October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 300

Price: $23.95

Synopsis: In 1841, on the eve of her departure from London, Bridie’s mother demands she forget her dead father and prepare for a sensible, adult life in Port Phillip. Desperate to save her childhood, fifteen-year-old Bridie is determined to smuggle a notebook filled with her father’s fairy tales to the far side of the world.

When Rhys Bevan, a soft-voiced young storyteller and fellow traveller realises Bridie is hiding something, a magical friendship is born. But Rhys has his own secrets and the words written in Bridie’s notebook carry a dark double meaning.

As they inch towards their destination, Rhys’s past returns to haunt him. Bridie grapples with the implications of her dad’s final message. The pair take refuge in fairy tales, little expecting the trouble it will cause.

When Elizabeth Jane Corbett isn’t writing, she works as a librarian, teaches Welsh at the Melbourne Celtic Club, writes reviews and articles for the Historical Novel Society and blogs at elizabethjanecorbett.com. In 2009, her short-story, Beyond the Blackout Curtain, won the Bristol Short Story Prize. Another, Silent Night, was short listed for the Allan Marshall Short Story Award. An early draft of her debut novel, The Tides Between, was shortlisted for a HarperCollins Varuna manuscript development award. Elizabeth lives with her husband, Andrew, in a renovated timber cottage in Melbourne’s inner-north. She likes red shoes, dark chocolate, commuter cycling, and reading quirky, character driven novels set once-upon-a-time in lands far, far away.

~*~

Bridie Stewart’s life is about to change forever. Aged fifteen, she is about to embark on a journey with her mother and stepfather that will take her half-way across the world to the colonies of Australia, far from what she knows. Adamant she will never forget her father, Bridie smuggles a notebook, her final gift from him on board, where she meets Rhys Bevan and his wife, Siân, and with Rhys, she begins to fill her notebook with Welsh fairy tales. These stories help them on their journey, both of them loved by their families but at the same time, feeling alone. And so, a friendship forms between Rhys, Siân and Bridie, as they write stories together along the arduous journey from England to Port Phillip. Along the way, there will be magic, woven through the words and music of the stories Rhys shares with Bridie, and over time, she will grow up. As they enter the waters of Australia, there is trouble and tragedy to come, that will hit them all and cause immense pain.

Elizabeth Jane Corbett’s novel takes place almost entirely on the fictional emigrant ship, The Lady Sophia, bookended by the departure and destination in the opening and final chapters. Through Bridie and Rhys, in third person, the novel moves easily between their perspectives and has a shroud of mystery about it, where details about the characters and their histories are revealed at exactly the right time. The fairy tale feel of this novel is what makes it unique and magical, and makes what would have been a very arduous journey in the 1840s bearable, at least for a while.

It is a lovely story of friendship and the power of fairy tales during hard times and tragedy, and how stories can shape our world and the way we see it. The stories are what begin to heal Bridie, leading up to the climatic tragedy that brings several surprises to those aboard the ship, and realisations from characters who had once shrugged Bridie and her family, and the other steerage passengers off, such as Doctor Roberts. Each character has flaws that they come to recognise, or not, as the novel progresses, and relationships between some have changed by the end of the novel.

I enjoyed that this novel focussed more on the friendships and family relationships, and Bridie’s individual character than a romantic relationship, something that is quite refreshing in literature and in Young Adult novels, showing that there is more to life than romance – it shows that other relationships can have the same degree of love, but in a different and perhaps more important way to some people. Bridie was a delightful character, full of life, wonder ad kindness towards those around her. The ending was sweet and realistic, showing the impact that the journey and her friendship with Rhys had had on the two of them. A wonderful novel that can be enjoyed beyond the Young Adult age group.

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Sunday Spotlight via Australian Women Writers, interview with Kate Forsyth and Theresa Smith

Welcome to Sunday Spotlight. Today it gives us great pleasure to bring to you a conversation with Kate Forsyth about her exciting new book, Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women. I read on your blog that Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women was born out…

via Sunday Spotlight with Kate Forsyth on Vasilisa the Wise — Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

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Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women by Kate Forsyth and Illustrated by Lorena Carrington

Vasilisa the wise.jpgTitle: Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women

Author:  Kate Forsyth and Illustrated by Lorena Carrington

Genre: Fairy tales, children’s literature

Publisher: Serenity Press

Published: 14th December 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 100

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: For many young women, the only fairy-tales they know are the ones that have been retold by Walt Disney Studios.

Once upon a time, these stories of magical transformation were meant for young women as they grew away from childhood and towards adulthood. They were told by their mothers and grandmothers and the wise women of the clan as they spun and wove and stirred their pots and made their potions. The heroines of these old tales set out on a difficult road of trials to discover their true destiny. And, contrary to popular opinion, marrying a prince was not the only goal. These ancient tales of wonder and adventure are about learning to be strong, brave, kind and true-hearted, and trusting in yourself to change the world for the better.

Meet the brave young women from tales of yore …

Vasilisa who must try to outwit the fearsome witch Baba-Yaga.

Katie Crackernuts who sets out to save her sister from dark magic.

Flora, the gardener’s daughter, who marries a giant serpent to save a prince.

Fairer-Than-A-Fairy, a princess who is kidnapped by an evil one-eyed enchantress.

Lullala, in love with a prince cursed to be a lion by day and a man by night.

Rosemary, a Scottish lass whose baby is stolen by the wicked faery folk of the Sidhe.

Ursula, a princess replaced by a walking, talking automaton.

These are not your usual passive princesses, waiting forlornly for their prince to come …

~*~

aww2017-badgeWhat a joy to read another new Kate Forsyth book this year. Of the three she published – Beauty in Thorns, Vasilisa the Wise with illustrator Lorena Carrington, and The Silver Well, I have bought them all and read two – with The Silver Well having to wait until the New Year. Like me, Kate has a fascination with fairy tales. As children, the first fairy tales we are exposed to are Disney retellings, or sanitised versions that have the names of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Charles Perrault or Hans Christian Andersen stamped on them. If we are lucky, we get to read the dark, original versions, often more terrifying and much darker than the originals. However, it is rare to see female characters with as much power as some modern retellings give them. There are examples, such as Hansel and Gretel, where Gretel saves her brother, yet it is often through the actions of being saved by the prince that the princess can finally exert her power. In Vasilisa the Wise, Kate Forsyth has retold traditional fairy tales by Andrew Lang, The Brothers Grimm, and from Scandinavia with the strong female characters at the forefront, who take charge of their own fate using what is available to them within their worlds.

It was a pleasure to see Kate’s version of The Singing, Springing Lark included, as I enjoyed the original and her fairy tale infused historical fiction, The Beast’s Garden. I think it was my favourite of all the tales, however, as they were all filled with amazing characters who took charge of their own fates, it was very hard to come to this decision. I also enjoyed the Pre-Raphaelite tale, The Toy Princess by Mary de Morgan – it would be lovely to read some more fairy tales by women, and to have studied these tales would have been amazing too.

Kate’s stories are accompanied by amazing artwork by Lorena Carrington, comprised of photographs, items from nature and layered to create evocative images that sing the song of the words they sit next to, and carry the heart of the story within their simplicity and beauty. Alone they tell a story as well, showing the reader what is to come, and what has come before, capturing the essence of characters and the tragedy of consequences of the actions of others, contrasted with the happier outcomes for the main characters of Kate’s tales. These exquisite silhouetted illustrations suit these stories perfectly.

As a lover of fairy tales, I can always find something to enjoy about oral tales recorded by figures like Jacob and Wilhelm, the literary fairy tales of Charlotte Rose de la Force, Mary de Morgan, Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde, and their various reincarnations and retellings throughout time. Kate’s retellings are special, and words that evoke the same magic of the tales they were inspired by, and keep the integrity of the original whilst giving it wings and a new voice through the courageous and loving women she has focussed on. These stories will endure, and become part of fairy tale canon and the wonderful library of Kate Forsyth stories. It is an amazing book that can be read alone or out loud to younger people and shared with young women of all ages to show them how to be courageous and brave.

This is my final read for the 2017 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and I don’t think I could have finished on a better note.

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Release Date Announced for Kate Forsyth’s Beauty in Thorns

BeautyinThorns_Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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