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BOOK REVIEW: The Juliet Code by Christine Wells

Wednesday, June 13, 2018



The Blurb (From Goodreads)

1947. The war is over, but Juliet Barnard is hiding a secret. While her family believed she was helping the war effort from the safety of England, in truth Juliet was a trained wireless operator, dropped behind enemy lines in Paris to spy on the Germans. But the mission went critically wrong when Juliet was caught and imprisoned in a mansion in Paris's Avenue Foch. Now she can't - or won't - relive the horrors that occurred there, and the people she betrayed . . .

The last thing Juliet wants is to return to France, but when ex-SAS officer Mac begs Juliet to help him find his sister, another British agent who is still missing, she can't refuse. And in retracing her past, Juliet begins to realise that in wartime, the greatest enemy isn't always the one that you're expecting to fight.


My Thoughts:

Australian author Christine Wells has been making a name for herself writing intelligent, suspenseful historical novels. Her latest offering, The Juliet Code, begins in 1947 when a young woman named Juliet Barnard is being interrogated about her role as an undercover wireless operator in Nazi-occupied France during the war. She is wracked with guilt and remorse over the disappearance of a friend and colleague of hers, and so agrees to help to her friend’s brother track down what happened to her.

The narrative moves back and forth between Juliet’s interrogation and subsequent return to France, and the events of 1943 when Juliet was first parachuted into France. She is young and naïve, but acutely aware of the danger if she should be caught by the Germans. Eventually her luck runs out and she finds herself a prisoner. Unable to escape, drugged and tortured, Juliet cannot help but betray her friends. This disloyalty haunts her. She blames herself for the deaths and disappearances of other secret operatives, and so when an ex-SAS officer named Mac begs for her help, Juliet reluctantly agrees – even though she is afraid of the horror of the memories it will rake up ... and the chance she may find herself in danger again.

I love books about resistance fighters and spies in World War II, and The Juliet Code is a fine addition to my collection. I really liked the fact that Juliet was not a particularly good secret operative, but determined to do her part. Her bravery, resolution, and quick wits prove to be more valuable than strength and ruthlessness. The tender love story at the heart of the book adds poignancy and warmth, without crowding out the true narrative arc – a story of an ordinary young woman who does her utmost to help and save those whose lives are torn apart by cruelty and war.

I also loved reading Christine Wells’s ‘Author’s Note’ at the end of the book which reveals the true-life inspirations for Juliet, Felix and Mac.

You can read my review of Christine's earlier book, The Traitor's Girl, here.

And I was lucky enough to interview Christine for the blog this week! You can read it here.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.

INTERVIEW: Christine Wells

Wednesday, June 13, 2018



Today I welcome Christine Wells, author of The Juliet Code, to the blog.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
While in the process of researching The Traitor's Girl, which was about World War II spies, I came across the story of Noor Inayat Khan. Noor was a wireless operator who worked for the British Special Operations Executive in occupied Paris during World War II. Everyone thought she was too gentle to survive such dangerous conditions but she managed to elude the Germans and operate effectively for months until she was betrayed. When German counterintelligence kept her prisoner in a mansion in Paris she made several attempts to escape and fought her captors so viciously that they deemed her a dangerous prisoner and kept her handcuffed in solitary confinement.

I wanted to tell a story about an unlikely spy, a woman who is flawed and makes mistakes, but who struggles and ultimately prevails.

How extensively did you plan The Juliet Code?
For this novel, I began with the premise, the inciting incident and an idea of the key turning points, but I didn’t plan Juliet extensively. In fact, it took a different direction from the one I intended when I began.

What were some of the major challenges and obstacles that you overcame while writing this book?

A major challenge for me was getting my head around ciphers and coding—in particular, the Playfair Cipher used by the Special Operations Executive during the war—and trying to then simplify and explain the process in the book. I didn’t want to let The Juliet Code get bogged down in detail because first and foremost, readers are interested in the story. Hopefully, I struck the right balance.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

I was keen to match up an SAS officer with a former Special Operations Executive agent in The Juliet Code but at the time I began the book I didn’t realise that the Nazi officer on whom I based the character of Kieffer had not only incarcerated Noor Inayat Khan but he had also ordered a group of SAS paratroopers to be executed and their identities obliterated in a manner contrary to the Geneva Convention. One SAS man escaped execution and it seemed a perfect way to give Mac, the SAS officer, a personal stake in hunting Kieffer after the war.

I love the covers of your books. Do you get much of a say in how they’re designed?
I hear from readers that they love my covers and I feel very lucky because I don’t have much say in their design. I might give a physical description of the protagonist but that’s about the only input I have before the cover is sent to me. I am then able to comment but I haven’t felt the need to ask for changes in the three I’ve had with Penguin. The cover artist has done a wonderful job every time.

What are some of your favourite books that you’ve read recently?
Most recently, I read and loved Sally Hepworth’s The Family Next Door, a suburban mystery along the lines of Liane Moriarty’s books with that fine balance of sharp insight, humour and gut-wrenching sadness. I also enjoyed Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan, a thriller featuring a female barrister protagonist that I thought extremely well researched and authentic.

What are some of your favourite non-fiction books?
I absolutely love Of Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War by Leo Marks — Marks is a delightful storyteller who inspired the character of Felix in The Juliet Code. I totally fell in love with Leo when I read this memoir. I also devour Ben McIntyre’s rollicking tales of espionage and special forces, such as Operation Mincemeat and A Spy Among Friends.

Do you listen to music as you write, and if so, what?
I only listen to music as I write if I’m finding it difficult to block out other noise, and then I listen to Mozart.

Can you tell us more about your Author’s Note, and your true-life inspirations for Juliet, Felix and Mac?

I’ve spoken a little about the inspiration for Juliet above. As I’ve mentioned also, Juliet’s love interest, Felix Mortimer, is based on Leo Marks who was in charge of decoding wireless transmissions for the British Special Operations Executive during World War II. He wrote a poem for the agent Odette Sansom to use as a cipher key, called ‘The Life that I Have” which later became famous. He was the son of the owners of the bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road (made famous by a novel of that name) and after the war he became a playwright and scriptwriter.

My tough Scottish SAS captain, Steve Mcintyre (“Mac”) was inspired by a real SAS paratrooper who escaped the Nazis by using his watch spring to pick the lock on his handcuffs. I so admired the mix of supreme toughness, strategy and guile of the SAS men in World War II that I knew I had to write about one of these extraordinary men. Mac also serves as a foil to the more intellectual heroism Felix shows.


You can read my review of The Juliet Code here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross

Saturday, June 09, 2018



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

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


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

I am the Beast.

The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time.

My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded.

My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again.

And now I might lose her forever.


My Thoughts:

The Beast's Heart by debut Australian author Leife Shallcross is a retelling of the classic French fairy-tale ‘La Belle et la Bête’, told from the perspective of the Beast. Like many lovers of fairy-tales, it is one of my own personal favourites and I have drawn upon its symbols and structures in my own novel, The Beast’s Garden, which is set in Nazi Germany.

Leife Shallcross’s novel is a much more conventional fairy-tale retelling, set in a magical world of castles and forests and curses. I do not call it conventional as a perjorative: I love this type of story. Authors such as Robin McKinley, Juliet Marillier, Helen Lowe, Shannon Hale and Edith Pattou have all enchanted me with their reimaginings of old tales, and The Beast’s Heart deserves to take its place amongst the best of them.

The original tale was written by the French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740. It was then greatly reduced and simplified by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont and re-published in 1756, just thirty-three years before the French Revolution. It is Mme Beaumont’s version which is best known, and which Leife Shallcross has drawn upon rather than the 1991 Disney animated film.

One key difference is that Belle has sisters in the original tale, and their challenges and love affairs add action and humour to Leife Shallcross’s tale, as the Beast watches them through his magic mirror.

Leife Shallcross writes beautifully, and there is a great deal of charm in the depiction of the Beast and his longing for friendship and love. The Beauty of the tale is also brought to life with depth and complexity. She is called Isabeau, which is a name I love (I called the heroine of my own debut novel Isabeau too!)

I also loved the depiction of the Fairy and the unexpected reasons for her casting the curse.

There has been a fashion in recent years for depicting fairy-tales as dark, violent, and sexually charged fantasies, but I prefer this more lyrical and romantic style. The action of the plot unfolds slowly and sensitively, and time is taken to bring the magical world vividly to life.

A compelling and surprising retelling of ‘Beauty & the Beast’, this debut offering from an Australian author is filled with peril, darkness, romance and beauty. Utterly enchanting!

You might also be interested to read my post about my favourite fairy tale retellings.

I was lucky enough to interview Leife Shallcross for the blog this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.

INTERVIEW: Leife Shallcross

Saturday, June 09, 2018

 

Today I welcome Leife Shallcross author of The Beast's Heart, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Ohhhhh yes. Incorrigible. I think it's a really important part of being a storyteller! My desire to write stories is absolutely rooted in the (possibly excessive) daydreaming I indulged in as a kid. I can even remember the moment I decided to try turning my daydreams into actual stories! That yearning to escape into a daydream is what drives all my stories and underpins my reading choices. I still daydream all the time - and, in fact, I've discovered recently just how important it is that I make time in my life for daydreaming (having a book published soaks up your spare time in a thousand different ways and I'm only just realising how much I need to protect that precious "quiet time" for my dreaming mind.)

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Part of me certainly always did. I still have a bunch of stapled-together stories I wrote and illustrated as a child, and, as I said, I've always indulged in daydreaming. In high school I had a wonderful English teacher (the Australian poet, John Foulcher) who ran creative writing classes after school. That was when I realised how much I was in love with words and when I really started wanting to "be a writer". I came from a generation that weren't encouraged to consider artistic pursuits as serious careers, however, so it was very much only a hobby for me until my mid-thirties. I also took a long time to realise exactly what it was I wanted to write. I kept waiting to grow up and start writing "serious" literature. So at age 35 or thereabouts, I suddenly worked out fairy tales were my jam, I didn't want to write anything else, and, dammit, I was going to give writing them for publication a red hot go. I've been extremely fortunate in my publication journey and, by way of a happy ending, my English teacher turned up at my book launch in April! It was really thrilling to be able to see him and tell him how much I owed to his early inspiration.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I am a Canberran born and bred. I've live here most of my life, and I love it. Right now autumn has just finished; that's my favourite season and when the city is shown to its best advantage. There are beautiful autumn colours everywhere. Mornings can be cold and grey, but usually by 10.30 you get blue skies and glorious sunshine. I did live in London for a little while after I finished university, working as a nanny and soaking up as much as I could of the London atmosphere as I could and travelling around the UK. I think London is my favourite city. I would definitely love to go back and spend some more time there. When I'm not writing, I love baking, especially baking to share. And I'm one of those people who is not good at sitting still without having my hands busy. So if I'm watching TV with my kids, I tend to be doing something crafty at the same time - quilting or needlepoint mostly.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I started writing it long, long before I ever thought I had a hope of being published, and I just wanted a way to lose myself in one of my favourite fairy tales. So the Beast's chateau and gardens were probably the first "character" that really crystalised for me , as I created a fairy tale world to just go and live in for a little while. The rest of it grew from there.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I'm still working that out! I've found different stories require different levels of pre-planning, although I naturally tend to sit more on the wing-it end of the spectrum.

Where do you write, and when?
I still have a day job (which is currently pretty demanding), so I like to get up early and write for an hour or so before the rest of my family gets up and the day starts. I try to spend bigger chunks of time on my WIPs on weekends and I've just started taking myself on a writing date at lunchtime at least once a fortnight. Then I snatch any other bits and pieces of time to write as I can.

What is your favourite part of writing?

Those times when a scene just explodes into being in your head and just runs like a movie and your fingers almost can't keep up a typing speed fast enough to catch it all. They're rare, and the bits in between can be a bit of a slog, but, God, those moments are so good.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I've been thinking a lot about this lately as I try and write my next novel! Going for a long walk, a run or a decent drive in the car often helps. Recently I've been working on synopses for a couple of my works-in-progress - this is a great exercise for distilling down the book to its purest essentials and clarifying exactly what it is you are trying to write. I also use music a lot to help me channel the mood for particular scenes.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I read! Or consume stories via TV or movies - not zone-out TV, it's gotta be quality story-telling and brimming with vibrant characters. Good screen-based story telling can teach you a lot about how to tell a tale. I also love throwing myself into research. That's always a good way of finding things that spark the imagination. I have a tendency to get lost down research rabbit holes, but that's half the fun, isn't it?

Immersing myself in art is always wonderful for inspiration. I feel like there's two kinds of inspiration. Firstly, there's direct inspiration, where something lights a spark that starts all sorts of fires for your story. And then there's general inspiration, which doesn't necessarily give you any particular ideas, but is useful for helping you get back to the grindstone when things are challenging. Immersing myself in other people's art can give me that direct inspiration I need for new ideas, but often it's just seeing what human creativity is capable of and remembering it takes hard work and reigniting my determination to be part of that endeavour to create beautiful things.

What do you consider to be good writing?
My favourite kind of stories are the ones that sweep you away into a whole other world and, when you stop reading, you want to just find your way back. Someone asked me once to describe what it is I do without using the word that describes it (ie, "writer"), and I said I create portals to magical worlds where people can lose themselves for a little while.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

1. Just write whatever it is that you love to write. Don't try and fit some preconceived notion of what you should be writing.
2. If you really want to write for publication, find your writing community. You will learn so much from other writers - about writing as well as about the industry. A good place to start is by joining your local Writers Centre.

What are you working on now?
I have a couple of projects on the go. First is another YA fantasy, but less of a historical retelling and more of a steampunk action adventure. This one borrows from Cinderella, but my Cinderella has faked her father's death to save him from his disastrous marriage to the evil stepmother, and then becomes embroiled in trying to foil a dastardly plot that threatens the throne. The second of my WIP is the beginning of a series set in 18th Century London and involves runaway heiresses, dissolute viscounts, magic and murder. So much fun!

You can read my review of The Beast's Heart here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Struggling detective Alisha Barba is trying to get her life back on track after almost being crippled by a murder suspect. Now on her feet again she receives a desperate plea from an old school friend, who is eight months pregnant and in trouble. On the night they arrange to meet, her friend is run down and killed by a car and Alisha discovers the first in a series of haunting and tragic deceptions.

Determined to uncover the truth, she embarks upon a dangerous journey that will take her from the East End of London’s to Amsterdam’s murky red light district and into a violent underworld of sex trafficking, slavery and exploitation.


My Thoughts:

I can always rely on Michael Robotham to deliver an intelligent, fast-paced and psychologically indepth crime thiller, and The Night Ferry is no exception.

At the end of his earlier novel, Lost, young Alisha Barba has her back broken by a murder suspect. She is now trying to get her life back together again, but no-one wants her on their team. One day she receives a plea for help from an old school friend:

Dear Ali, I’m in trouble. I must see you. Please come to the reunion. Love, Cate.

Alisha has not spoken to her onetime best friend in more than eight years. Reluctantly she goes to the reunion, only to discover Cate is eight months pregnant. Her friend only has time to whisper to her, ‘They want to take my baby. You have to stop them’ before she disappears into the crowd. Moments later, she and her husband are both dead in what appears to be a tragic car accident.

Alisha suspects foul play, and begins to dig. It is not long before she uncovers an intricate web of lies and secrets. Each new discovery leads to danger and death. Alisha follows the clues to Amsterdam’s red-light district and hints of baby trafficking.

Ex-cop Vincent Ruiz (the hero of Lost) makes a welcome appearance, in a fast-paced and brilliantly plotted story that changes Alisha’s life forever.


You can read my review of another Michael Robotham book, The Suspect, here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!




BOOK REVIEW: Frogkisser! By Garth Nix

Friday, June 01, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Plagued with an unfortunate ability to break curses with a magic-assisted kiss. And forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own.

Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land—and teach her a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed pucker, and the finding of friends in places both high and low.


My Thoughts:


A funny and charming subversion of the well-known ‘Frog Prince’ fairytale, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix tells the story of a bookish princess, an eager but clumsy puppy, and a whole host of young men turned into amphibians.

Princess Anya just wants to be left alone to study sorcery, but unfortunately her step-stepfather wants to take over the kingdom and so transforms any suitor for her big sister’s hand into a frog. Anya reluctantly sets out on a quest to gather the ingredients that will enable her to turn the enchanted frogs back into humans, and encounters many obstacles – both humorous and deadly – along the way.

Along her travels, Anya learns a great deal about the dangers of absolute power and the importance of kindness, compassion and political awareness. Fabulous fun!

You can read my 2013 interview with Garth Nix here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

INTERVIEW: Emma Viskic

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

 

Today I welcome Emma Viskic, author of And Fire Came Down, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
My tendency to daydream was mentioned frequently in my primary school report cards, and I haven’t grown out of it since then. I’m particularly prone to daydreaming when I’m doing mundane things like cooking, so I’ve bought myself an electric kettle, coffee maker and rice cooker to try and make things a little safer. Unfortunately I still manage to burn tea towels on a regular basis.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I could read, but never really imaged I could be a writer when I was a child. Writers lived in places like Britain or America and always seemed to be men. It wasn’t until I turned thirty that I began writing with a view to possibly getting published. I wrote two never-to-be-published full length manuscripts before I wrote Resurrection Bay.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I grew up on the fringes of Melbourne with my brother, sister and parents. It was a pretty free-range childhood, without much money, but with plenty to do. I went to the local schools, then went on to study classical clarinet at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne and the Rotterdam Conservatorium in The Netherlands. These days I live in inner Melbourne with my family, dog and chickens. I spend a bit of my down time bushwalking and bike riding, and a lot of it reading.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
And Fire Came Down deals with the aftermath of trauma, and a lot of its inspiration came from scar trees. There are still quite a few scar trees in Victoria, the scars on their trunks showing where Indigenous people removed bark to create canoes and vessels. I’ve been drawn to them ever since my father-in-law, a Gunditjmara elder, showed me one over twenty years ago. The idea of the bark growing inwards to protect, but not erase, the wound is one that resonated strongly with me, as it was a difficult time in my life. When it came to writing And Fire Came Down, it felt natural to use a scar tree as a metaphor for pain and healing.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I never pre-plan, but spend a lot of time plotting as I go. I tend to begin with a few significant scenes in mind, which act like sign posts. I know I have to get to those scenes, I’m just not sure how. This way of plotting involves a lot of rewriting, but all my efforts to pre-plot have failed miserably.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
No, but 3 am does bring me a lot of plot ideas. They usually turn out to be terrible ones in the bright light of day, but occasionally they’re exactly what I need. I always keep a pen and paper under my pillow in case inspiration really does strike.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Nothing serendipitous, but I discovered a lot about myself! I’m always surprised at how much my subconscious runs the writing process. Every time I read over a finished piece I realise that it’s been working away in the background, pushing me in directions I wasn’t aware of at the time.

Where do you write, and when?

I work part-time and have a family so every day has its own pattern. I sublease a writing studio a few days a week, otherwise I write on the living room couch, with my dog, Otto, by my feet. If I need to escape my family, I go into the bedroom. I usually start writing around 8. I do my best work before lunch, so the morning hours are precious. After lunch my brain powers down, so I write in short busts to try and keep focused. I used to write late into the night but I struggle with insomnia so I’ve got a computer off at 9:30 rule now. Except when I’m on a tight deadline. Or on a real roll. Or have one more idea...

What is your favourite part of writing?
I love writing dialogue and the actual work of crafting sentences. There’s also a special moment in every manuscript when I’m able to slip into my character’s minds. It’s wonderful when I manage to get lost in their world, even when it’s not a great place for them.

What do you do when you get blocked?

Moving is pretty much the only way for me to shake ideas loose. I’ll go for a walk or a run, or even do housework if I’m really desperate. The worst thing I can do is sit in front of the computer. As a classical musician, I find it hard not to keep trying to push through, but I’ve learnt that time away from the computer is an important part of the process.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I read and go to plays and exhibitions, watch TV and eavesdrop shamelessly. Public transport is one of the best places to get inspiration for a character or story. I never listen to music when I’m on the train – there are too many great conversations to overhear.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Coffee before, coffee during, coffee after.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Oh this is a hard question. I can’t do an exclusive top ten, but a few of my favourites are Elizabeth Strout, Vikram Seth, Peter Temple, Kate Atkinson, Raymond Chandler, Kazuo Ishiguro, John le Carré, Annie Proulx, Don Delillo and Hilary Mantel.

What do you consider to be good writing?

There are so many different aspects to good writing. It can be poetic sentences, or a story that makes me think, writing that draws me into a character’s head, or dialogue so real I can ‘hear’ it.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

Nothing you read or write is ever wasted. It’s like practising scales: every word you write and every word you read makes you a better writer.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the third novel in the Caleb Zelic series, Darkness For Light. It will be out in 2019.

You can read my review of And Fire Came Down here.

BOOK REVIEW: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

 

The Blurn (From Goodreads):

Deaf since early childhood, Caleb Zelic is used to meeting life head-on. Now, he’s struggling just to get through the day. His best mate is dead, his ex-wife, Kat, is avoiding him, and nightmares haunt his waking hours.

But when a young woman is killed, after pleading for his help in sign language, Caleb is determined to find out who she was. The trail leads Caleb back to his hometown, Resurrection Bay. The town is on bushfire alert, and simmering with racial tensions. As Caleb delves deeper, he uncovers secrets that could ruin any chance of reuniting with Kat, and even threaten his life. Driven by his own demons, he pushes on. But who is he willing to sacrifice along the way?


My Thoughts:

A contemporary crime novel set in Australia, and featuring a hearing-impaired private investigator, And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic is bold, fresh, original, and achingly real.

I bought her book after putting out a call on Facebook for some great crime recommendations. Emma Viksic’s name was mentioned several times and so, seeing this novel while browsing in a bookstore, I grabbed it.

It’s the second in a series, with the first book Resurrection Bay winning a swathe of awards including the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction. I do wish I’d bought Book 1 first, as there are inevitable references to what happened previously, and some of the characters are introduced only briefly, the reader obviously meant to recognise them from earlier encounters.

Nonetheless, I was hooked in from the very first page, in which a mysterious young woman asks the hero Caleb for help in sign language … and then dies. Written in taut, pared-back language, with moments of dark wit and humour and high-octane action, And Fire Came Down is a compulsive page-turner.

The setting is vivid and memorable too – a small Australian country town baking in the summer heat with drug-fuelled violence and racial tensions simmering just below the surface. I could feel the sweat sliding down Caleb’s back and smell the dangerous hint of bushfire smoke in the scorchingly hot air. Just brilliant.

You might also be interested in my review of another great Australian crime novel, The Dry by Jane Harper.

I was lucky enough to interview Emma Viskic for the blog this week, you can read it here.

BOOK REVIEW: Three Gold Coins by Josephine Moon

Friday, May 25, 2018



The Blurb (From Goodreads):


One coin for love, one for marriage, one to return to Rome.

Two days ago, Lara Foxleigh tossed three gold euros into the Trevi Fountain. Now, she is caring for a cranky old man and living in a picturesque villa, ...half a world away from her home and the concerns of her loving family.

Soon, it seems as if those wishes she made in Rome just might be coming true, and she may even be able to help heal a fifteen-year-old tragedy.

Until Lara's past threatens to destroy everything she loves...

Three Gold Coins is a masterfully written celebration of food, family, triumph over adversity, and love - a deliciously imperfect life.


My Thoughts:

A warm-hearted contemporary tale set in Australia and Italy, Three Gold Coins is the first book written by Josephine Moon that I have read but it won’t be the last. I just loved the skilful twisting together of romance and suspense, chick-lit and family drama. This is a novel which celebrates family ties, food and the importance of kindness, all things which I passionately believe in.

The story begins when Australian tourist Lara Foxleigh tosses three gold coins into the Trevi Fountain in the age-old superstition: one coin for love, one coin for marriage, one coin to return to Rome. As she watches the crowd passing by, she notices a stooped old man struggling along, helped by a young woman in tight flashy gym gear. Then the old man is alone. His carer has robbed him and abandoned him, and he has no way of getting home. Lara is moved to help him, and ends up offering to drive the old man home. She does not realise Samuel lives in Tuscany, a long way from Rome, and so finds herself embarked on a much bigger adventure than she had imagined.

Before long, Lara finds herself cooking and caring for Samuel, and drawn into his family feuds. The only person to talk to him is his nephew Matteo, a handsome young man with a debilitating stutter. My heart was won at that moment. As someone who has struggled all my life with a stutter, I could not help but warm to the world’s first stuttering romantic hero!

Lara learns to milk the goats and make pasta and ricotta cheese, while slowly falling in love with Matteo.

Yet there is darkness in both Lara and Samuel’s pasts that threatens her new-found happiness. Back in Australia, Lara’s mother, Eliza, her sister Sunny and Sunny’s young twins, Daisy and Hudson, are facing a threat that Lara has tried to run from. And in Italy, Samuel’s loneliness and isolation are a problem she must try to solve.

The story moves back and forth between the voices of Lara and Sunny, and between the past and the present, slowly revealing the secrets that are overshadowing Lara’s life. Josephone Moon sensitively explores themes of depression and mental illness, psychological abuse and violence, which give her story extra gravitas and depth to balance the warmth and charm.

You might also be interested in my review of The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning.

I was lucky enough to interview Josephine Moon for the blog this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. 




INTERVIEW: Josephine Moon

Friday, May 25, 2018

 

Today I welcome Josephine Moon, author of Three Gold Coins, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Of course! I'm forever burning the rice or leaving the tap running in the horse's trough because I've been whisked away somewhere inside my mind. (And the latter is particularly bad because we're on tank water. I did once actually drain the entire tank!)

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first book at aged nine. It was called Starlight the Brumby. I was obsessed with The Silver Brumby series and I acted the whole thing out in the backyard before writing it down. My dad took it to work and asked his secretary to type it up, which was such a thrill. I was always a writer of some sort but throughout school I wanted to a vet because animals are a huge part of my life and I wanted to help them. But when I got to Year 11 Physics it was abundantly clear that Physics and I were never going to get along, which dashed my hopes right there. It took me quite a few false starts before I had the 'full body moment' of realising I wanted to be a career author. The wonderful thing about writing is that I can write about whatever passion I want, which includes animals.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in Brisbane and lived there most of my life but now live in Noosa's hinterland. As a child, I holidayed in Noosa each year with family, which cemented my love for the northern beaches of the Sunshine Coast and it was always my dream to live here. Because I always had horses, I thought I'd end up in Eumundi, but when we finally bought some acreage here in 2012 it was in Cooroy, where we still live. We just love it here. It feels like my 'true' home.

My son is still young (just turning six) so he is still tremendous fun and we love our family time together with him. We also have twenty animals, so a lot of my time is spent caring for, playing with, nursing and loving our animal crew. I'm a foodie in as much as I am passionate about food and I spend a lot of time reading about it, researching it, following foodies online, growing it and eating it, though I tend to read and drool over recipe books more than I actually cook from them.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

In 2016, I went to Italy to attend a writing retreat. My sister came with me and we started our time in Rome. On the very first day, as we were walking the cobblestone streets towards the Trevi Fountain, I saw a stooped, elderly man ahead of me, struggling to stay on his feet, leaning on his cane, with a young woman next to him. I had such a strong feeling of concern for him and instantly had so many questions. I wanted to know his story. I pulled out my phone and snapped a couple of photos and a week later, sitting under the trees next to a seventeenth century villa in Tuscany, the image of that man came back to me and that's exactly where the story of Three Gold Coins starts.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I wish I was a hard core plotter! I am sure that would save me so much time in rewrites but it just never seems to pan out that way, despite my best intentions for every book. I have a mud map of where I'm going, but as for breaking down scenes and chapters, it doesn't work for me. My characters very much lead the story and inevitably I have one idea of what I want the story to do but my characters want to do very different things. Still, I will keep trying to improve my plotting with each new book.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I have wild, crazy, technicolour dreams every single night but so far they haven't resulted in any particular narrative.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

Not one specific thing, but I had a moment between the second and third versions of Three Gold Coins when the story told me it wanted to go in a certain direction and I was resisting it. Once I committed to take it in that direction, for the next two weeks, at least every second day, someone or something turned up unexpectedly that was directly related to that new direction. It was astonishing and felt like a real sign from the universe that I was on the right track.

Where do you write, and when?
I have a writing room in our house and now that my son is at school I write there more often than not these days. I used to have to leave the house because if he was home I'd get nothing done. What I would really like is a glamorous 'She Shed' in the backyard, though I think I'd spend a terrible amount of time styling it and dressing it up and then changing my mind and wanting to change the theme, from French country, to gypsy caravan, to colourful Indian or fairy garden.

I also have about three cafes that I write from, all of them laid back, with lost of space and earthy, family friendly atmospheres and they don't feel the need to hurry me on.

I mostly write during school hours, though sometimes I will write in the middle of the night when I can't sleep, or at four o'clock in the morning, and on weekends too.

What is your favourite part of writing?
That moment when I don't have to 'conjure' up words and actions for my characters but instead just have them fully alive in my mind and all I have to do is type fast enough to get down everything they're saying. That is magic.

Other than that, I do a lot of research for my books and I am very much in my happy place when researching. I love learning new things and I am free to follow rabbit trails of interest all over the place before I'm boxed in by the limitations of the story. Research time is such a free, optimistic stage of writing.

What do you do when you get blocked?
If it's a small block, I take a walk outside in the sunshine and water my plants or do something with the horses. If it's a bigger block, I might have to go for a drive to a different location, go see a movie for some visual input, or bake (baking is remarkably good for breaking through blocks). Sometimes, I just need to wait it out. If I can sit with the discomfort long enough, something usually gives and it often gives in a big way and all sorts of wonders are on the other side. If I'm really in a tizzy about something, I will make a bargain with myself that I only have to sit there for ten minutes. I don't think I've ever gotten up after ten minutes. It just breaks the psychological pressure to perform. You can't expect much in ten minutes, right? Works like a charm.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I've recently started going to the movies again. I didn't go for years after my son was born but now I see it as an essential part of narrative and visual input. I'll always book tickets to a few theatre performances a year as well. I love live theatre and find it so invigorating. I try to go out on 'artist's dates' by myself, often with no plan except to just see where life takes me. (A small warning on that one, though. One day I did this and came home with a kitten.)

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Masala chai brewed on almond milk accompanies me to each writing session (or coffee if I'm really tired). I also like to put on a really energising song that I know all the words to and sing it out loud and preferably do a bit of crazy dancing to shrug off whatever domestic scene has been playing out a minute before. This gets the blood pumping, the oxygen flowing and raises my optimism. After that, I have to switch to some sort of calming, instrumental music, otherwise I just keep singing instead of writing.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Monica McInerney, JoJo Moyes, Marian Keyes, Enid Blyton, James Herriot, John Marsden, Kimberley Freeman, Mem Fox, Jane Austen, Glennon Doyle.

What do you consider to be good writing?

I love writing that is clever, original, thought provoking, entertaining and transportive all at once.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

You wouldn't go and pick up a hammer and start building a house if you had no idea how to build a cubby house, right? Same goes for writing. My advice is to invest effort into writing short stories. Putting together a story of a couple of thousand words is not a big investment of time but it will give you a lot of valuable feedback. Take those opportunities to write in a variety to styles and across many genres. This will help you to find your voice, your strengths and your passions. You'll be stuck in a full length manuscript for years so you want to have some idea that you can carry it through to the end before you get bogged down in it. Short stories will help you work that out.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on my fifth contemporary fiction novel, which is due out in April 2019. It is set in Melbourne and follows the story of a woman who has had a heart transplant and the wife of the organ donor of that heart. Together they are trying to solve a mystery. My food theme is coffee (because there's always a food theme in my books).

You can read my review of Three Gold Coins here.

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