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BOOK REVIEW: Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Friday, November 16, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

It is Winter Carnival in Quebec City, bitterly cold and surpassingly beautiful. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has come not to join the revels but to recover from an investigation gone hauntingly wrong. But violent death is inescapable, even in the apparent sanctuary of the Literary and Historical Society - where an obsessive historian's quest for the remains of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, ends in murder. Could a secret buried with Champlain for nearly 400 years be so dreadful that someone would kill to protect it?

Although he is supposed to be on leave, Gamache cannot walk away from a crime that threatens to ignite long-smoldering tensions between the English and the French. Meanwhile, he is receiving disquieting letters from the village of Three Pines, where beloved Bistro owner Olivier was recently convicted of murder. "It doesn't make sense," Olivier’s partner writes every day. "He didn't do it, you know." As past and present collide in this astonishing novel, Gamache must relive the terrible event of his own past before he can bury his dead.


My Thoughts:


I’ve been a fan of Louise Penny since her first book, Still Life, was published in 2006. When I met her at the Perth Writers Festival earlier this year, I was astonished to see how many books she had published and how many I had missed. I thought I’d better hurry and catch up with what’s been happening in the world of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

Bury the Dead is the sixth book in the series, and is set in Québec City, a lovely 16th century fortified town that is one of the oldest European colonies in North America. I really love the Canadian setting of Louise Penny’s books. They are so fresh and vivid, and I learn something new every time about Canadian history and life. Most of her books till now have been set in the fictional village of Three Pines, which – I joked to a friend recently – has had almost as many murders as Midsomer. Despite its extraordinarily high rate of murders, Three Pines is idyllic and makes me want to move there.

The change of setting to Old Québec was, nonetheless, welcome. I knew nothing about its long and bloody history, and found the history revealed in this novel fascinating. It is Winter Carnival, and the cobbled streets and slate roofs are thick with snow. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has not come to Québec City to join in the revelries, but to recover from an earlier investigation which had gone terribly wrong. The aftermath of that investigation haunts Gamache, but the details are only revealed slowly, through memory and flashback, and so the novel is really about two separate violent events, that reflect each other in surprising ways.

The murder in Québec City takes place in the Literary and Historical Society, an old stone library, where a historian’s body has been discovered buried in a shallow grave in the cellar. He had spent his career searching for the grave of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, which has been hidden for more than 400 years.

Meanwhile, Gamache’s second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir goes back to Three Pines to reinvestigate the last murder which happened there, as Gamache has a terrible feeling that he had got it wrong.

So, stories within stories, deaths in the now and in the past, and a fallible detective who is nonetheless dogged and intelligent … Louise Penny writes top-notch crime fiction, and I’m really glad I’ve decided to read the whole series.

You might be interested in my review of one of Louise Penny's other books, The Brutal Telling.

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


BOOK REVIEW: The Wildes of Lindow Castle by Eloisa James

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

 


The Blurb for Book 1 (From Goodreads):

For beautiful, witty Lavinia Gray, there's only one thing worse than having to ask the appalling Parth Sterling to marry her: being turned down by him.

Now the richest bachelor in England, Parth is not about to marry a woman as reckless and fashion-obsessed as Lavinia; he's chosen a far more suitable bride.

But when he learns of Lavinia's desperate circumstances, he offers to find her a husband. Even better, he'll find her a prince.

As usual, there's no problem Parth can't fix. But the more time he spends with the beguiling Lavinia, the more he finds himself wondering…

Why does the woman who's completely wrong feel so right in his arms?


My Thoughts:

Book 1: Wilde in Love
Book 2: Too Wilde to Wed
Book 3: Born to be Wilde


Eloisa James is one of the world’s most successful romance writers, with twelve New York Times bestsellers under her belt.

She is also Mary Bly, a professor of English Literature and the daughter of the poet Robert Bly, of Iron John fame, and the short-story writer, Carol Bly. Mary Bly is married to an Italian cavaliere, or knight, and spends her summers in Florence.

So by day she lectures on Shakespeare, and by night she pens steamy bodice-ripping historical romances while her gorgeous Italian nobleman waits for her in their boudoir.

I don’t know why I find this so delightful. It’s like the plot of one of her own books, or a winsome, charming rom-com.

Her novels are both sexy and intelligent, funny and poignant, utterly predictable and yet still capable of surprising. Reading one is like drinking one of those utterly delicious, frothy concoctions that you get on holidays, with little paper umbrellas and a bright red candied cherry, that get gulped down in seconds and leave you waving your hand at the barman wanting more, right now, this very minute. And only after you’ve drank quite a few, very fast, do you realise what a kick is hidden beneath all that sweetness.

The Wildes of Lindow Castle is her latest series, focusing on the romantic entanglements of a large and eccentric aristocractic family. Book 1: Wilde in Love tells the story of Lord Alaric Wilde, second son of the Duke of Lindow, who made himself famous by writing about his exotic adventures in faraway places. Returning to England, his ship is met by mobs of screaming ladies. He escapes to his father’s castle, set on the edge of a dangerous marsh, only to find his notoriety follows him everywhere. The only woman not infatuated with him is Miss Willa Ffynche, who much prefers serious literature and Egyptology.

Book 2: Too Wilde to Wed is the story of Alaric’s older brother, Lord Roland Northbridge Wilde, who was jilted by his bride-to-be and so ran away to war. He returns to find his love working in the castle as a governess to his little sister and her little nephew, and the whole countryside sure that she has born him a child out of wedlock.

Book 3: Born to be Wilde explores the romance between Willa’s best friend Lavinia and Alaric’s best friend Parth. One is a frivolous but impoverished blonde who lives only for fashion. The other is a sober Anglo-Indian who has made his fortune in trade.

In all three, comic blunders and romantic entanglements abound. There’s the parson’s daughter who ends up in a madhouse, attempted murder in the marshes, a light-fingered mother addicted to laudanum, and a duke’s daughter who refuses to curtsey. Also, much rucking up of silk skirts and mucking up of satin breeches. It’s all great frivolous fun, and perfect holiday reading, cocktail glass in hand.

You might also like my review of Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase.

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

THE BLUE ROSE: My Novel-in-Progress

Wednesday, October 31, 2018


For two years I have been working on a novel called The Blue Rose.

It tells the story of Viviane de Ravoisier, the daughter of a French marquis, and David Stronach, a Welsh gardener who travels to her chateau in Brittany to design and plant an English-style garden. The two fall in love, but their passion is forbidden. David is driven away  and Viviane is married against her will to a duc. She is taken to the palace of Versailles where she witnesses the early days of the French Revolution. Through her eyes, I tell the story of the fall of the Bastille, the abolition of the nobility, and the beginning of the Terror.

I imagine the Chateau de Belisima-sur-le-lac looking a little like this chateau in Brittany, the Château de Trécesson:




I first discovered this chateau when someone posted a picture of it on Facebook, wondering what the chateau was called. It was so like what I imagined Viviane's home looking like, I went and searched on the internet until I located it and it has been my desktop picture ever since.   

I have a very visual imagination and so I am always printing out pictures and sticking them in my notebooks, or pinning them on Pinterest (you can check out all the pictures on my Pinterest page if you like.) 

I also like to collect small artefacts that help inspire my imagination. 

The first is a small miniature of a 18th century French noblewoman that I bought on Etsy. It's the most exquisite little painting, and it has worked its way into the story as a miniature of Viviane's mother, who died the day she was born.  



My other treasure, I found in an old antique shop in France when I was there two years ago researching this book. 

It is a huge old key. The man in the antique shop told me that it was the key to a chateau that had been burned during the french revolution. The key was found in the chateau well 270 years later. No-one knows who threw it in the well, or why. This story really intrigued me and so I bought the key, and it now hangs on my wall. 



This anecdote too has worked its way into the story.

I have now finished the first major draft of The Blue Rose and will soon embark on the final edit and proofread. It's been such a marvellous adventure writing this book, I can't wait to share it with you. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

Monday, October 29, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The lead homicide investigator in a rural town, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is deeply unnerved when a high school classmate is found strangled, her body floating in a lake. And not just any classmate, but Rosalind Ryan, whose beauty and inscrutability exerted a magnetic pull on Smithson High School, first during Rosalind's student years and then again when she returned to teach drama.

As much as Rosalind's life was a mystery to Gemma when they were students together, her death presents even more of a puzzle. What made Rosalind quit her teaching job in Sydney and return to her hometown? Why did she live in a small, run-down apartment when her father was one of the town's richest men? And despite her many admirers, did anyone in the town truly know her?

Rosalind's enigmas frustrate and obsess Gemma, who has her own dangerous secrets—an affair with her colleague and past tragedies that may not stay in the past.


My Thoughts:

So many brilliant contemporary crime novels being published in Austalia right now! It’s like a new Golden Age of detective novels. And like the Golden Age of the 30s in Great Britain, many of the writers of this new great Australian flowering are women. In recent months I’ve read and loved books by Jane Harper, Dervla McTiernan, and Emma Viskic, and now I need to add debut author Sarah Bailey to the list. The Dark Lake really is bloody brilliant!

Set in a small rundown Australian town, the story centres on the murder of a beautiful young teacher, her body found floating in the lake strewn with red roses. Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock went to school with the dead woman, but she hides this fact from her boss and her partner as she is desperate to investigate the crime. Slowly Gemma’s obsession with her old school friend deepens, threatening to derail her life and destroy all that she holds dear.

This is the kind of book that – once started – you really can’t put down. As more and more secrets are revealed, and more and more of Gemma’s life exposed, the mystery of how Rosalind Ryan died becomes increasingly gripping. And the story has a very satisfactory ending, as all good crime novels must have. I can’t wait for Sarah Bailey’s next book now!


What's your favourite crime novel? Please leave a comment and let me know. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Anger of Angels by Sherryl Jordan

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

“Words hold a terrible power. They can break a heart, or give it a reason to live. They can grant freedom – or begin a war.”

In a world where it is a crime to speak against injustice, a jester dares to perform a play that enrages a powerful tyrant prince. The jester’s daughter, Giovanna, must journey into the heart of danger to turn back the terrible consequences unleashed by her father’s words – and becomes entangled in a treacherous plot to overthrow the prince. She alone holds a secret which, if made public, will end the prince’s reign and liberate his oppressed people. But when to openly denounce him brings certain death, will Giovanna have the courage to speak out?


My Thoughts:

I’ve never read any work by the New Zealand author Sherryl Jordan before, but I was drawn in with the promise of a beautifully written historical fantasy for young adults, set in a world much like Renaissance Italy.

The novel begins ‘I shovelled in a sprinkling of dirt, and it fell on the head of the corpse …’ From that moment on, the story races along with enormous pace and verve. The heroine of the story is Giovanna, the daughter of a court jester. She can juggle and throw knives, two skills that come in handy in a world ruled by autocrats. Her father, in the guise of a fool, has the right to speak the truth, but one day his words anger a neighbouring prince. As violence breaks out, war between the two neighbouring princedoms seems imminent. Giovanna sets out alone to try and avert the conflict. Behind her, she leaves her dying father and the young man with whom she is falling in love. Raffaelle knows first-hand the cruelty of the tyrant-prince, and it is too dangerous for him to return. Yet he risks his life by following her, hoping to help ...

The Anger of Angels was just as vivid, compelling and romantic as I had hoped for. Giovanna is a wonderful heroine, quick and clever and kind, and I loved the slowly growing relationship between her and Rafaelle. I have always really enjoyed young adult fiction, but lately I have been finding books published in this genre too dark and dystopic for my taste. Although The Anger of Angels is filled with danger, intrigue and conflict, the overall message is one of strength and hope. Most importantly, Sherryl Jordan has a crucial message to communicate about the power of words: ‘they can break a heart, or give a reason to live. They can grant freedom – or begin a war.’

A truly beautiful book, brimming over with compassion and wisdom.

For another great YA read, check out my review of A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge.

And click here to see my interview with Sherryl Jordan.

Please leave a comment, I love reading them!

INTERVIEW: Sherryl Jordan

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

 

Today I welcome Sherryl Jordan, author of many books including The Anger of Angels, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
If I daydream at all, it is about the characters in my present book, and their world. I see everything as a very vivid image, before I write. More than an image, actually… I simply enter their world, smell the smells there, see the landscape, enter the houses, feel the tensions and joys and dangers, and know my book characters as real people. I “live” a scene as I’m writing it. Often I’m not conscious of myself at all, and I work far too long without a break – but a prolapsed disc earlier this year is teaching me to write sensibly. I’m finding it very hard – painful at times – to enter that other world for only 30 or 40 minutes at a time, before the timer goes off and reminds me to stop. So I suppose I live in a daydream, while I write. Like being on almost-permanent holiday in Medieval England. Or, in the case of The Anger of Angels, in Renaissance Italy.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I made my first book when I was four years old. I couldn’t write then, but I was given a notebook of blue paper, so I created a story in pictures, about a mermaid in the sea. By the time I was 11 years old I had written 4 novels. None published, though! I wrote 12 novels before I had one accepted. That 13th was Rocco, the first to be published. Since then I’ve published … Ah, 19 novels, I think. With a few scattered in between that were not published.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Hawera, NZ, more years ago than I care to admit. I live in Tauranga now, in a gorgeous little house not far from the sea. I love reading, seeing friends, listening to music, seeing good movies, doing Tai Chi, painting and drawing, doing calligraphy, writing, writing, writing…

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
In 2011 a French satirical newspaper published some cartoons that were offensive to Muslims. They caused a lot of violence and strife, and I began thinking about freedom of speech, and whether or not it was a good thing, if it caused violent reactions. I discovered two quotes:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” - Voltaire

“It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.” - Mark Twain

The Anger of Angels came out of my dilemma as I considered those two quotes. The book is my questions, not my answers.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I know roughly where I want the plot to go, but of course the characters always do their own thing, and surprise me. I often have to re-direct the plot, or make some other huge adjustment. When I planned The Anger of Angels, I always intended for Giovanna to act alone in going to the prince. I never intended her to have a male friend. Then, when she was on the balcony watching her father’s play, a young man arrived. I was a bit put out by him, but decided to let him stay for a paragraph or two. Then he said his name was Raffaele, and I protested loudly. Raffaele is my all-time favourite male name, and I most certainly wasn’t going to waste it on a minor character who was about to be deleted any moment. But he stayed, and kept his name, to my great surprise. I had no choice about it, really.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
No. Only the waking dreams, those images that rush across me when I least expect them, or the people who suddenly arrive on the edges of my imagination, and demand that I write their story.

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

This question could come only from a writer! Such discoveries happen often, too many times for me to record here. These amazing “coincidences” didn’t happen so much with The Anger of Angels, but they have happened with other books. Many of these uncanny things happen over the names I choose for characters. I choose names very carefully, and of course they have to be perfect for the character I’ve already seen, and who already exists as a fully-formed person for me. Sometimes I invent a name, or choose one from some obscure place without knowing the meaning or origin of the name – and then discover, sometimes years after the book is published, that the name I “invented” for my person was indeed a real name, with a meaning that was astonishingly relevant for them. Things like this make me suspect that some of my book people were real people in the past, and I tuned into their memories, or somehow connected with them in the world’s timeless collective unconscious. Often I think that my stories exist long before I write them, and all I do is record what I see and hear. It’s one of the awesome things about writing, and what gives a story its truth. This explains some of those incredible serendipitous discoveries. All things – past and present and perhaps future – are connected.

One strange thing has happened since The Anger of Angels was published: an interviewer asked me if the book, with its theme of freedom of speech and a powerful ruler, was based at all on Trump. The interviewer also pointed out that I had a Saint Melania in the story, and wondered if there were any connections. I can only say that the first draft of the book was written in 2012, all characters well established and named six years ago.

Where do you write, and when?
I have a lovely studio where I work. I write at all times, day and night – though as I said earlier, a back injury means I now have to limit writing times to short periods, and only two or three of those a day, at this stage. I used to work up to fifteen hours at a time, utterly lost in that other world. It’s why my back is protesting now, and I have to be sensible. Very difficult! My favourite writing time is at night, when the world outside is quiet, and there are no interruptions or phones ringing or knocks on the door. And there’s a wondrous energy in the moon and stars. My dream is to live in a lighthouse, far from everywhere, and work all night and sleep all day. Well, my first choice really is to live in a thatched cottage someplace sometime, but I suspect the night would be interrupted by mice in the thatch and the wind blowing smoke and ash down the chimney. Also, I’d never have enough candles or bottles of ink, or parchment. And publishing might be a tad difficult…

What is your favourite part of writing?
All of it, from the first glimpse of the book people I’m going to spend the next few months or years with, to working with an editor for the final polishes.
What do you do when you get blocked?

Sometimes if a story isn’t working, I realise I need to delete a page or two, or the most recent scene, and go back to when I was last enthralled. Sometimes it means I’ve taken off in a wrong direction, or a character has something to do or say that I haven’t realised yet.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Before The Anger of Angels was accepted by Walker Books, I had five years of having books rejected. Five manuscripts were dumped as no good, and The Anger of Angels was in danger of following them. A friend suggested Walker Books, so I sent the manuscript off, and it was accepted. But those five years of failure were hard for my soul, and I was very much in need of fresh inspiration. I longed to travel, and this year I was booked to go on a glorious trip to Italy, including a week in a monastery in Siena, and then to Spain. My prolapsed disc put an end to that, and the trip was cancelled. So I don’t know when I’ll travel. However, I am blessed in that the inspiration flows again, and I’m working on another book, Wynter’s Thief. It’s set in my beloved Medieval England.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

No. I just sit in front of the computer, and I’m there, in that other world. Sometimes, for days on end, I don’t really leave it.

What do you consider to be good writing?
Words that transport me to another place, lift my spirit to new heights, challenge me, leave me feeling satisfied. I believe that what we read shapes our minds, the way the food we eat shapes our bodies, and either enhances or harms them. For me, a book must have correct grammar, punctuation, etc. It’s surprising how many “popular” books fail on that count. I can’t stand it when I mentally edit a book while I’m reading. If a book doesn’t grip me in the first two pages, I give up on it. I love fine literature – work where every word counts, and is in its perfect place within its sentence.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Write. Write. Write. Always write with joy, about things that enthral you. And never give up.

You can read my review of The Anger of Angels here.

GUEST POST: Why we should read classic novels by Melissa Chan

Sunday, October 21, 2018



Why We Should Read Classic Novels by Melissa Chan

Before answering the question of why we should read classics novels, we must first define or at least distinguish what a classic novel is. Classic literature is a key aspect of history and culture. Well known authors are some of the most famed individuals remembered throughout time. But what exactly defines a classic novel? A book or story that has been around for a while? Does it have to be famous, old, celebrated? Every reader has a general sense of what defines classic literature, that a title such as The Iliad by Homer is a classic, while a more recently published and lesser known title is not as classic, or perhaps not even considered literature at all.

Indeed, what is considered a classic in one reader would not be considered a classic to another another. For the purpose of this argument on why we should read them, I will define classic novels as any work of literature, whether it is book, collection of stories, or poem, that is in the general sense, noteworthy, well-regarded, and considered by most individual readers, news outlets, and the general public as a classic.

Why should we read classic novels? I would like to discuss just what exactly makes them so special, and why we go out of our way to read them. I expect this question is many readers ask themselves when considering any new read. Here are a few reasons why you should consider adding a classics to your ever growing future to-be-read pile.

There is no denying it, some of our best loved stories are everywhere. Told, and retold, translated, adapted for younger readers, older readers, and readers of different genres. And as a result these treasured tales are passed onto future generations. We see them everywhere, in movies, TV, and even in music. One should read classic novels because it better helps us see and understand the variations and re-tellings.

Take the case of the vampire, although the idea of the vampire has been crafted, rewritten, and retold countless times especially in the recent years, Bram Stoker's Dracula is still one of the most recognized stories about vampires. I enjoyed reading Stoker's novel immensely, not only for it's suspense and horror, but as an in-depth understanding of the general concept of a vampire. Reading it has helped me to understand and appreciate the recent renditions more than if I had not read it beforehand.

Many readers are also writers. Classics are not only treasured for their quality of writing, but also for the fact that they represent paradigmatic and iconic instances of these stories. In case of Cinderella, it is a tale still very much enjoyed to this day. One of the most well known re-tellings was that of the Brothers Grimm in Grimms' Fairy Tales in 1812. Reading and understanding these paradigms, can help strengthen your writing as an author.

Most classics were written such as long time ago that their copyrights have long expired. While this is great for the distribution and sharing of the works, it also means that fewer or in many cases no one has anything to gain by promoting by these works. Especially in the sea of brand new books with all the hype and advertisement that goes along with them. Classics should be read, or at least given a try alongside these newer options. They have been enjoyed by so many other readers in the past, that perhaps you might enjoy reading them as well.

The books we still know about and read are the ones that have lasted through the ages. They are not necessarily better but worth a look to see why they may have weathered the test of time.

It was my love of reading classic literature that led me to start Literary Book Gifts. I design each and every piece to suit the characters, themes, and stories in each particular novel. In the case of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, I designed it to capture not only the idea of childhood exploration but the feeling of flight. It has been a joy to recreate some of my favorite books into artwork for shirts and totes. I started this company because I believe that classic literature deserves a place in modern day society, that it should be appreciated and ultimately shared with others. Perhaps the Pride and Prejudice T-Shirt will help spark a conversation about Jane Austen's classic, and maybe a new reader will pick up a copy.

For Kate Forsyth's readers use the exclusive code KATEFORSYTH20 at checkout to receive 20% off on your order! There is no minimum and this coupon code does not expire.

Do you read classics? Share your favorites.

BOOK REVIEW: Butterfly on A Pin by Alannah Hill

Friday, October 19, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Unflinching, funny, shocking, inspiring and tender: this is a story like no other.

Alannah Hill, one of Australia’s most successful fashion designers, created an international fashion brand that defied trends with ornamental, sophisticated elegance, beads, bows and vintage florals. But growing up in a milk bar in Tasmania, Alannah’s childhood was one of hardship, fear and abuse. At an early age she ran away from home with eight suitcases of costumes and a fierce determination to succeed, haunted by her mother’s refrain of ‘You’ll never amount to anything, you can’t sew, nobody likes you and you’re going to end up in a shallow grave, dear!’

At the height of her success, Alannah walked the razor’s edge between two identities – the ‘good’ Alannah and the ‘mongrel bastard’ Alannah. Who was the real Alannah Hill? Reprieve came in the form of a baby boy and the realisation that becoming a mother not only changes your life, but completely refurbishes it, forever.

Yet 'having it all' turned out to be another illusion. In 2013 Alannah walked away from her eponymous brand, a departure that left her coming apart at the seams. She slowly came to understand the only way she could move forward was to go back. At the heart of it all was her mother, whose loveless marriage and disappointment in life had a powerful and long-lasting effect on her daughter. It was finally time to call a truce with the past.


My Thoughts:

I always loved Alannah Hill’s clothes. Gorgeous velvets, silks and lace, embroidered and embellished with flowers, put together with humour and whimsy and bravado. As a young journalist and writer, I could rarely afford these alluring, fantastical creations, but I used to rummage in the sales bins or buy second-hand, and throw them together with other op-shop finds and a pair of red dancing shoes.

I have a fine collection of vintage Alannah now, most of which I can’t fit into anymore. I’m hoping my daughter will inherit them and create her own unique look (probably with jeans and sneakers). I still like to hunt through the Alannah Hill sales rack for a pink silk cami, a red lace dress, or a flamboyant rose hairpin. A dash of Alannah can make any woman feel glamorous.

I met Alannah Hill a few times, when I worked in fashion magazines, and she was always funny, raucous, and dressed to the nines. She made every other woman look drab and dull. And then, about five years ago, Alannah walked away from the fashion industry, leaving her brand to be designed and managed by Factory X, the name behind such brands as Dangerfied, Gorman and Princess Highway. There were rumours of bitter infighting, but neither Alannah or Factory X has revealed what really went on behind the scenes.

When I saw Alannah had written a memoir and was a guest at the Sydney Writers Festival, I went along to hear her speak and then bought the book and asked her to sign it for me. Her story, Butterfly On A Pin: A Memoir of Love, Despair and Reinvention, tells the story of her poverty-stricken abusive childhood, her wild adolescence, her search for love and meaning, and the creation and loss of the iconic Alannah Hill brand. The writing is raw, honest, heartfelt, and poignant. I was deeply moved at times, discovering the hurt and heartbreak behind her manic energy and edgy flamboyance. It really is an astonishing story of survival and transformation, and makes my vintage fashion collection so much more meaningful to me now.

For another great memoir, check out Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

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

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved he Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette by Deborah Cadbury

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

  

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

In 1793, when Marie-Antoinette was beheaded at the guillotine, she left her adored eight-year-old son imprisoned in the Temple Tower. Far from inheriting the throne, the orphaned boy-king had to endure the hostility and abuse of a nation. Two years later, the revolutionary leaders declared the young Louis XVII dead, prompting rumors of murder. No grave was dug, no monument built to mark his passing. Soon thereafter, the theory circulated that the prince had in fact escaped from prison and was still alive. Others believed that he had been killed, his heart preserved as a relic. The quest for the truth continued into the twenty-first century when, thanks to DNA testing, a stolen heart found within the royal tombs brought an exciting conclusion to the two-hundred-year-old mystery.

A fascinating blend of royalist plots, palace intrigue, and modern science, The Lost King of France is a moving and dramatic tale that interweaves a pivotal moment in France's history with a compelling detective story.


My Thoughts:

I have spent the last two years reading every book I could find on the French Revolution, as that is the setting of my novel-in-progress, The Blue Rose. It is such a fascinating period of history, I’ve really loved being deeply immersed in it.

Most people know the broad outlines of the story: the opulent royal court at Versailles, the uprising of the starving peasants, the storming of the Bastille, and the tragic deaths of King Louis XVI and his flamboyant queen Marie-Antoinette under the merciless blade of the guillotine.

Many people do not know that the royal prince, known as the Dauphin in France, automatically inherited the throne of his father upon his execution. Only eight years old, Louis XVII was kept imprisoned in a dank old medieval prison called the Temple tower. Two years later, he was declared dead. Some believed he had been murdered, others that he had died from abuse and neglect. Still others whispered that he had been rescued, smuggled out from his prison and a dying beggar-boy left in his place.

As time passed, it was these whispers that began to grow. There was no grave, no monument. And when the monarchy was restored in France, several young men stepped forward and claimed to be the true heir. The reigning monarch, Louis XVIII, the brother of the guillotined king, dismissed such claims but pretenders to the throne continued to win supporters. Almost one hundred years after the Dauphin is said to have died, Mark Twain has a con-man in Huckleberry Finn claiming he is the missing ‘dolphin’.

And two hundred years later, scientists have tested an old mummified heart – said to have been cut from the Dauphin’s chest by the doctor conducting the autopsy in the Temple tower – to try and prove, once and for all, if the boy-king died in his filthy prison or escaped, as so many people believed.

It’s an utterly intriguing account of a tempestuous period in human history, and how modern-day science can be used to solve ancient mysteries. I loved it. 

You might also be interested in my review of Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey, you can read it here. 

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


BOOK REVIEW: Verity Sparks, Lost and Found by Susan Green

Friday, October 12, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Melbourne. 1879. Verity Sparks has found her father. But she has lost her gift - the ability to find lost things. Papa Savinov, eager for Verity to become a proper lady, sends her to the exclusive boarding school Hilltop House. But Verity is more interested in solving the case of the missing Ecclethorpe heiress. As the investigation deepens, danger and intrigue grow closer. Will Verity's gift return before it's too late?


My Thoughts:


I have had this lovely book on my shelves for quite some time, but had never managed to find the time to read it. Being on a panel with Susan Green at the Bendigo Writers Festival gave me the impetus I needed (I always like to read the novels of people I share a stage with).

It is clear from the opening pages that I had begun reading the second in a series, which I never like to do. Susan Green does a great job of explaining back story without losing pace, however, and so I soon discovered that Verity Sparks had been abandoned as a baby on the steps of a church in London, had survived the mean streets of Victoiran London, and had a special pyschic gift called teleagtivism (the ability to find lost things) which had helped her find her father.

I was soon transported to Melbourne in 1879, where Verity Sparks is sent to a boarding school so that she can learn to become a lady. But her gift has deserted her, and some of the girls at the school are unkind to her. She misses her father, and the school has hidden secrets that Verity must uncover, not to mention the intriguing case of the missing Ecclethorpe heiress. Murders and mysteries abound, but luckily Verity’s gifts of observation and deduction are as sharp as ever.

This is a charming tale, a kind of psychic-detective-historical-melodrama mashup for younger readers, with a really engaging heroine.

You might also be interested in my review of A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee.

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.



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