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REVIEW: 'Clara and Mr Tiffany' by Susan Vreeland

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Title: Clara and Mr Tiffany
Author: Susan Vreeland 
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 432 
My stars: 4/5 stars 

The Blurb:
Against the unforgettable backdrop of New York near the turn of the twentieth century, from the Gilded Age world of formal balls and opera to the immigrant poverty of the Lower East Side, bestselling author Susan Vreeland again breathes life into a work of art in this extraordinary novel, which brings a woman once lost in the shadows into vivid color. 

It’s 1893, and at the Chicago World's Fair, Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows, which he hopes will honor his family business and earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women's division. Publicly unrecognized by Tiffany, Clara conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which he is long remembered. 

Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that she faces as a professional woman, which ultimately force her to protest against the company she has worked so hard to cultivate. She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted in different ways to five men, including Tiffany, who enforces to a strict policy: he does not hire married women, and any who do marry while under his employ must resign immediately. Eventually, like many women, Clara must decide what makes her happiest--the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart. 

My Feelings:
I love Susan Vreeland’s books. She is interested in art and poetry and history, all the things which I love too. Her books always feel like a journey of discovery for me, illuminating the forgotten life of some brilliant, creative, unknown woman. Her latest book is called Clara and Mr Tiffany, and it brings to life Clara Driscoll, the woman behind the beautiful and exotic stained glass lamps that the House of Tiffany produced just before the turn of the century. The Mr Tiffany in this case is the son of the famous Mr Tiffany of the well-known aquamarine box. He was an extraordinary character too, and the relationship between him and Clara is quite fascinating. He made it a rule that none of the women artists working for him were permitted to marry, so that Clara was constantly having to choose between her art and love.  I really loved this book, and look forward to Ms Vreeland’s next wonderful creation. 



A Rapunzel poem by Adele Geras

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Adele Geras, a UK writer whose work I admire greatly, sent me this beautiful Rapunzel poem. I just wish I could have included it as an epigraph in Bitter Greens!

WHITE TOWER

          There were stairs
               on the way up.
               I am sure of it.
 
               I can see the wall.
               Beyond the wall
               there must be something,
               but I cannot say
               exactly what it is.
 
               There was a door
               on the way in.
               I am sure of it,
 
               but thorn trees have grown
               as quick as weeds
               and covered it.
 
               The stairs have melted.
               Your footsteps, as you left,
               turned them to wax,
               which has blocked the stairwell
               and set in every crevice.
 
               You have made the tower
               your particular candle.
               Presently,
               my hair will flare to gold.
 
               There were other places
               before this room.
               I am sure of it.
 

'Rapunzel' drawing by Isobel Lilian Gloag


Adele Geras has written a fresh and inventive retake on Rapunzel called The Tower Room, which is set in a 1960s English girls’ school. The story draws upon the key motifs of the fairytale - the tower, illicit love, an angry mother-figure - while still telling a compelling coming-of-age story. 

Adele Geras's website



'Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe' by Sandra Gullard

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe by Sandra Gullard

This is the second book in Sandra Gullard’s trilogy about the Empress Josephine, one of the most fascinating women in history.

Told in first person, in diary form, the books has an immediacy which brings the character of Mrs Napoleon Bonaparte vividly to life. I think it helps to know the story well; I’ve read biographies of Napoleon and Josephine before and am studying the period, and so find it intriguing to have the story told in such a fresh and engaging way. However, if you are interested in knowing more about the period, these books may well be a good place to start.

Sandra Gullar's website

BOOK REVIEW: 'Vienna Waltz' by Teresa Grant

Monday, March 12, 2012

Vienna Waltz by Teresa Grant

Vienna Waltz is a very enjoyable murder mystery set during the Vienna Congress of 1814.

It has a fascinating mix of true historical figures, such as the Russian Czar and Prince Metternich, and imaginary characters such as our heroine, Suzanne Rannoch, who has a rather shady past. With lots of descriptions of gorgeous clothes, diplomats dancing at glittering balls, and skulduggery in dark, stinking alleyways, the setting is vivid and believable, and the mystery itself an intriguing puzzle.

Teresa Grant's Blog

INTERVIEW: Margo Lanagan

Friday, February 17, 2012

I first read Margo Lanagan a few years ago, when Garth Nix pressed a copy of her short story collection Black Juice upon me at a writer’s conference. ‘You must read this,’ he said.

‘But I really don’t like short stories,’ I said.

‘You’ll like these,’ he answered. And he was right. One of the stories in particular really haunted me – ‘Singing My Sister Down’ was a strange, dark, heartbreaking and yet beautiful story which recounts the last hours in the life of a young woman condemned to death by drowning in a tar pool. We don’t know where or when the story is set, and we only gradually learn some of the reason why. What is striking about the story is the language, which was so unlike anything else I had ever read I was mesmerised. Margo Lanagan’s voice was bold, inventive, and filled with mystery.

I loved it.

So did the rest of the world. Black Juice ended up being a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, winning two World Fantasy Awards, the Victorian Premier's Literary Award, a Golden Aurealis Award, and a Bram Stoker Award nomination.

Phew!

So when I heard a few years later that Margo had written a novel, I was keen to read it. My interest sharpened when I learned that it was a retelling of the ‘Snow White and Rose Red’ fairy tale. You all know how much I love fairy tale retellings!

I finally read her novel Tender Morsels last year (about three years after it came out) and this is how I reviewed it:

This is a truly extraordinary book, and one that lingers in the mind for a long time afterwards. The language is astonishingly good – bold, original, unexpected – and the story itself takes all kinds of surprising directions ... It’s only occasionally that I finish a book with a real sense of awe, but this book delivered me that. If you haven’t read it yet, read it now. Then let’s talk about it. I’m dying to talk to someone about it!

Tender Morsels was a controversial book, dealing as it did with incest, rape, and revenge, and I certainly found some of the scenes hard to read. What I loved most about the book was the firecracker language, and that sense of strangeness and mystery that Margo seems to do so well. It went on to win a World Fantasy Award too, and was named a Michael L. Printz Honor Book as well.

Now Margo has a new book out and I could hardly wait to get my greedy little hands on it. It’s about selkies, I was informed. I love selkies! If you don’t all know how much I love selkies, well, you should be able to guess.

Sea Hearts is wonderful, in all senses of the word. It’s a dark, moody, storm-wracked book of love, longing, desire, and wickedness. Its central character, Misskaella the sea-witch, is one of the most powerful fictive creations I’ve read in quite some time. Her story - and that of the selkies and the men who covet them – is heartbreaking in its sadness, yet also so hauntingly beautiful, so filled with the sweeping rhythm of the sea, and pierced here and there with shafts of light, that the lingering feeling is one of awe and wonderment.

The blogosphere has been abuzz with the book, and so I’m very glad that Margo took some time out to answer my questions:

Are you a daydreamer too?

Yes, daydreaming is very important for idea development. It's very easy to become self-conscious and anxious about a story, and it's important to be relaxed at the beginning, when I'm first approaching the story, idea in hand, looking for a character and a situation to carry it.

With some stories, it's productive to sit down and make notes while I interrogate the idea, Q&A-ing myself about it; others are better if I give them time, bring the idea to the forefront of my brain for a little while and poke at its possibilities, try to imagine what would be the most fun place to take it; then I push it back into my subconscious to cook, until the next opportunity to daydream with it - when it often comes out of the sub-conscious with a new, better, unexpected something attached.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I would always have wanted to be a writer if I'd known that normal people could become writers, but that wasn't something I realised until I was in my late 20s. Before that, I wrote and published poetry, but I assumed that real books, full of story, simply fell out of the sky, as a kind of natural phenomena. It was only when I started working in publishing that I realised there was a process for making them from (sometimes really scrappy) manuscripts into finished books, and that I could manage to produce a scrappy manuscript myself, just fine.

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

I tell the story of this in the lovely book trailer that Allen & Unwin made for Sea Hearts. The short version? I bought some knitting wool!

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I never plan a novel really thoroughly, as that takes all the exploratory fun out of writing it. But during the writing there are usually many points where I have to step back and think about the story as a whole: where all the different bits fit, how each character's story flows and builds and combines with the others. At the start of a novel, I'm very experimental and free, then I stand back and try to sort things out, then let myself off the leash again within the new constraints I've set for myself; if I then find myself launching off in a new direction, I have to pause and sort things out again so that I'm comfortable that I know (but only roughly!) where I'm going.

I don't write character descriptions or biographies unless I need that information for plotting purposes. I don't write timelines unless I start to get confused about the order of things (meaning, for both Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts I wrote extensive timelines, several different versions of them).

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

I have occasionally, but only for short stories. The story "Wooden Bride" in Black Juice was largely a recounting of a dream I had. The sorts of dreams that are inspiring are the ones with both strong visual impressions and a strong atmosphere about them. Lately I haven't been having many memorable dreams at all, though. But that's no problem; there are far too many sources of inspiration in the world already!

Where do you write, and when?

Sometimes at the kitchen table, sometimes in my Writing Room, which is a rented room a couple of blocks from my house. I write best if I get up early-early in the morning before I've had time to properly shake sleep off; then I don't get in my own way with doubts or irrelevant thoughts. If I can get in an hour or so's good writing before breakfast, I know I'll get a lot done that day.

When I'm writing full-time (but I've been only part-time for the past few years), I'll write Monday to Friday, from as early as possible until I've written 10 pages, which might mean 11 a.m. and might mean 5 p.m. It depends on how much pausing-and-thinking I have to do to keep things moving along.

What is your favourite part of writing?

Oh, I pretty much like it all, from buying pens and paper (yes, I write first drafts in longhand) to keeping notebooks of ideas, to making the first stab at a story, to coming back and rereading and realising what it needs to make it interesting to me again.

When I'm working, and completely absorbed in whatever story I'm writing, and there's hardly space in my mind to realise it, that's probably when I'm happiest. But finishing a novel draft and listening to the printer churning out the pages for revision, that's satisfying too, and picking over editors' remarks or copyeditors' queries, working up the story towards being polished and finished - as long as any of these stages is not too badly pressurised by oncoming deadlines, I'm very happy spending my days this way.

I know I'm supposed to be all angsty and tortured by the process, but honestly, compared to writing tax procedures for a bank, it's heaven.

What do you do when you get blocked?

Physical exercise. Put the problem out of my head and get some oxygen to the brain. That usually lets some air into the plot-knot as well, and helps me be relaxed about it and regain my faith in untangling it. Also, having faced story-problems for more than 20 years and solved quite a few of them, I've built up confidence that I can crawl out of most holes I manage to dig for myself.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

By reading other people's books, good (for inspiration) and bad (for righteous rage). With poetry, music, art, movies and as much travel as I can afford. By taking time off from writing to break habits and patterns my voice falls into every now and again if I write too continuously. By having a social life that involves both other writers and real-world people with real jobs.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Just the getting up early thing. Oh, and eating carrots and Vita-Weets, for the purposes of crunching through plot and scene hitches. And not using pens, notebooks or writing-paper that's so fancy that it intimidates me. Cheap and scuffed is best.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

  • Anne Tyler
  • George Saunders
  • Anne Enright
  • William Mayne
  • Alan Garner
  • Kelly Link
  • Jennifer Stevenson, on the strength of Trash Sex Magic—I haven't read anything else of hers yet
  • W. G. Sebald
  • Gail Godwin
  • Ursula Dubosarsky

What do you consider to be good writing?

Good writing happens when the author gives the impression (doesn't matter how much sweat and pain have gone into creating the illusion) of not watching the audience but looking with great commitment and fascination at the matter at hand; where you can feel the writing as their exploration rather than a performance they're delivering. Ego-free, intense, well-crafted writing, that's what I like.

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

Forget "being a writer". Focus on the story in front of you. How can you best serve it? How can you learn the most from it? How can you get the most pleasure out of exploring it?

Also, read lots, write lots, and have some kind of life out in the real world as well, not just in your own head.

What are you working on now?

A novel about an Irish seer transported to colonial New South Wales, and a collection (the Blue collection) of not-very-nice stories.

Books I've been reading in 2011

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Books read in January 2011

All these books are by Elsie J. Oxenham, and are part of the Abbey Girls series which were written between 1920 and 1946. I've been collecting these books since I was twelve, and recently decided to read my way through the entire series again, in order, and trying to locate any books in the series that I didn't have. The final three in this list are all books I haven't read before and which I acquired thanks to the kindness and generosity of another Abbey Girls fan. I have quite a few more to read before I reach the end, but it was immensely satisfying to fill in the gaps in the story and see what happens to all my favourite characters!

The Principessa by Christie Dickason

This absorbing historical novel has the firemaster of James I of England as its hero, and is a follow-on from the novel The Firemaster's Mistress, which I read and enjoyed a few years ago. In this story, the firemaster – who is called Francis Quoynt – is sent as a spy to a small Italian state where he has to find a secret document that compromises the safety of King James's secretary of state, Robert Cecil. The task is complicated, however, by the madness of the prince of La Spada and the beauty and cunning of his daughter, Sofia, the Principessa of the title. A wonderful mix of history, suspense, adventure and romance, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend both of them.

The Virgins of Venice: Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent by Mary Laver

A very readable non-fiction book about Renaissance convents in Venice with some fascinating stories.

Interrupted Aria & A Painted Veil by Beverle Graves Myers

These are the first two books in the 'Baroque Mystery' series, which are set in Venice in the 1730s. Our hero is a castrati opera singer called Tito Amato and the books are full of all sorts of intriguing facts about Venice and the early years of opera.

A Venetian Affair by Andrea di Robilant

This book is sub-titled 'A True Story of Impossible Love in the Eighteenth Century' and is an extraordinary account of two star-crossed lovers and their forbidden affair in the mid-eighteenth century. Andrea Memmo is a Venetian nobleman, and Giustiniana is a beautiful young girl from a family of dubious lineage (her father was an English lord, but her mother was a scandalous nobody who conceived Giustniana out of wedlock). It's a beguiling story, destined to end tragically, which weaves together the lovers' own letters with a narrative that sets their affair in context with the times and places. I was particulrly charmed by the character of Giustiniana, who ended up a countess and a novelist in her own right.

3,096 Days by Natascha Kampusch

Natascha Kampusch is the young German girl who was abducted on her way to school one day and spent the next eight years locked in a dungeon-like room concealed below her kidnapper's cellar. This is her story, told with the help of two journalists, and is absolutely compelling and frightening. I ended up with such admiration for Natascha's courage, intelligence and wisdom, and I so hope she can find peace and happiness in her life now that she has escaped such horror. A very disturbing story.

Seventeen books read in January, plus a lot of research into Renaissance Venice as I'm now working on the Venetian sections of the book I'm writing. Though I feel a little guilty claiming so many books, since eight of them were Abbey Girl books which can be devoured in a single sitting!

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Books read in February 2011

The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridas

The tagline for this book reads 'Incest. Poison. Betrayal. Three wedding presents for the Borgia Bride.' This sums up the book really well. It's a real historical page turner, set in Italy in the 1490s when the Borgia family ruled Rome. Although it's a big, thick book I read it in a night, reading way past my bedtime. I have to warn you, some scenes are rather graphic – sex, incest, rape, murder – but we are talking about the Borgias here! Riveting stuff.

Seer of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier

Another wonderful historical fantasy from one of my all-time favourite writers. I was a little disappointed – given the title - that the book wasn't actually set at Sevenwaters (the location of many of Juliet's books), but it was lovely to meet some old friends and the story had me guessing almost to the very end. And the love story was quite beautiful.

An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan

Brian Keenan is an Irish teacher who was kidnapped in 1985 while working in Beirut. This is a memoir of his four and a half years as a hostage, enduring torture, beatings, and solitary confinement. A very hard book to read at times – how can humans be so cruel? Yet Brian survived mind and soul intact, an amazing testament to the strength of his spirit.

The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker

The story begins in Venice in the 1770s, with a little orphan girl being taken in by the Pieta, and finishes with the fall of Venice to Bonaparte in 1797. It's a novel on a grand scale, with themes of love, loss, suffering, and betrayal. Rosalind Laker is particularly good at the minutiae of life at the time – the clothes, the food, the hairdos. Although romances, her books are really more about female relationships and this is particularly true of this novel.

Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick

Another book set at the Pieta, the founding school which trained abandoned children to sing and play musical instruments. Antonio Vivaldi is a key character in this book, but the spotlight is mostly on Anna Maria dal Violin, a true life girl whose musical virtuosity was lauded in the early 18th century. And even though she is locked up behind the Ospedale's walls most fo the time, Venice itself comes vividly to life. A really wonderful read.

Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen

These books are great fun! Very frothy, but wonderfully quick-witted and amusing.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

This is a truly extraordinary book, and one that lingers in the mind for a long time afterwards. The language is astonishingly good – bold, original, unexpected – and the story itself takes all kinds of surprising directions. I really think it's going to be one of the best books of the year (OK, OK, I know it was published in 2008, but sometimes it takes me a while to get to a book!) It's only occasionally that I finish a book with a real sense of awe, but this book delivered me that. If you haven't read it yet, read it now. Then let's talk about it. I'm dying to talk to someone about it!

The King's Daughter by Christie Dickason

The King's Daughter is the story King James I's daughter, Princess Elizabeth. I have never known much about James I - who seems to be largely ignored by the history books - but he was a strange and rather cruel man with all sorts of odd tics and mannerisms and it must have been awful being his daughter. Christie Dickason brings the whole era vividly to life, and I felt enormous sympathy for both Princess Elizabeth and her black slave-girl who teaches her how to trust and how to love.

Lovesong by Alex Miller

This is a book as much about the craft of writing as the actual love story and, as such, was a fascinating read. It's about an ageing writer, Ken, who strikes up a friendship with a younger man, John, who is married to a Tunisian woman, Sabiha. Slowly John reveals the story of his marriage with Sabiha and how her longing for a child led them into betrayal and tragedy. Beautifully told, with a deceptively simple and elegant style.

Nine books read this month – a total of 26 for the year.

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Books read in March 2011

The Devil & Maria d'Avalos by Victoria Hammond

I had this book on my shelf for more than three years, and yet never picked it up to read it. I think this is because the book's blurb says "Steeped in the overripe beauty, violence and exoticism of sixteenth century Naples, this is the riveting story behind one of the most famous and terrible murders in the history of the Renaissance ... In 1590, the great and tormented composer Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, murdered his beautiful wife Maria d'Avalos and her aristocratic lover." It's hard to read a book when you know the protagonist is going to be murdered! It was, however, a really fascinating book that vividly brings the world of 16th century Naples to life. In some ways, the book reads more like a non-fiction book, though it is as gripping as any novel. I really enjoyed it!

In the Company of The Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

I've read and loved this book before and very much enjoyed re-reading it. Set in 16th century Venice, the story is told from the point of view of a courtesan's dwarf, Bucino, one of the most original characters in recent literary history. A wonderful book by a wonderful writer.

The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier

The first novel by Tracey Chevalier, this story is told in parallel between the voices of two women born four hundred years apart. Ella Turner is haunted by dreams which lead her to try and discover the life story of one of her ancestors, Isabella Tournier. Isabella's fate is tragic and heart-rending, but Ella is able to grow in self-understanding as a result of her investigations and ultimately finds happiness. I have read this before, but not for some years – it was great to revisit it.

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

This book is so vivid and rings so true that at first I thought I was reading a memoir. It tells the story of an Indian-born chef, Hassan Haji, and his journey to winning five Michelin stars. Filled with remarkable characters and some wonderful descriptions of food, it glows with joyousness and a love for life. A fabulous read.

Sorcery & Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

An unusual and amusing book which feels like a cross between Jane Austen and Terry Pratchett. Told in an epistolary narrative (i.e through an exchange of letters), the two heroines are cousins trying to deal with the London season, romance, magic and mayhem. The narrative structure is rather awkward at times, and the arch tone is sometimes a little annoying, but it made me smile, always something to be grateful for.

Game of Patience by Susanne Alleyn

The first book I read on my new Kindle. A historical murder mystery set in Paris after the French Revolution – not as gripping as it could have been but an enjoyable read, and the setting was fascinating.

Titian: A Short Biography by William Michael Rossetti

A biography that assumes you have read all the other biographies on a subject. Which I haven't. It raised more questions than it answered, and sent me in search of better biographies.

Titian's Women by Rona Goffen

An enormous book on the artist Titian, in all senses of the word. Thick, heavy, magisterial, and a little too academic for my taste, it was nonetheless illuminating.

Titian: The Last Days by Mark Hudson

Another biography of Titian, though this one concentrated on his final years and on the author's personal responses to his paintings. A much livelier read than the other two books, and with some illuminating insights into both Venice and Titian's art.

Vampire Forensics by Mark Collins Jenkins

A really engrossing and interesting look at the origins of the vampire myth in various cultures, and how it has changed and grown over various novel incarnations to the present-day fascination with all things fanged.

10 books in March!

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Books read in April 2011

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig

I've really enjoyed this series from Lauren Willig – light, clever, amusing and romantic. On the lookout for the next in the series.

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C W Gortner

An absolutely fabulous historical novel told from the point of view of Catherine de Medici, one of the most maligned women in history. This novel makes her seem sympathetic without white-washing some of her more dastardly deeds, and indeed illuminates and explains some of the most dramatic events of her life, for example the St Bartholomew's massacre in France. I loved C W Gortner's last book The Last Queen; this is even better!

The Beauty Chorus by Kate Lord Brown

This novel tells the story of three young women who fly planes for the airforce during the Second World War. It's based on fact; women really did fly planes during the Second World War, risking their lives to help the war effort. This is a great book, with vivid characters and a storyline filled with drama, romance, and intrigue.

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie, Ten Little Niggers by Agatha Christie & Why Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie

I spent Easter in a villa in Provence and they had a fantastic book collection, including a whole row of old Agatha Christie books. I read my way through three of them in a row. Why Didn't They Ask Evans is an old favourite, The Secret Adversary is one I haven't read in years and enjoyed meeting again, Ten Little Niggers is one of her worst, written by her as an exercise in an unsolveable mystery.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

'The Pillars of the Earth' by Ken Follett was one of my favourite books last year, so I was looking forward to this with great anticpation. I have to say I was disappointed.

It was readable, and interesting, and I came away with a much deeper and richer understanding of the causes and effects of the First World War, but ... I didn't laugh or weep or catch my breath in surprise or feel my pulse accelerate as I turned the pages faster and faster, desperate to find out what happened. It was simply too big. Too many characters, and not enough time spent with each one? Too much research and not enough story? A shame.

Ice Station Zebra by Alastair Maclean

Picked this up in a second-hand bookstore in Venice – I've read it before but always happy to read an Alastair Maclean again.

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Books read in May 2011

The Falconer's Knot by Mary Hoffman

'A tale of poison, bloodshed and passion', the front cover tells me. Sounds just like my kind of book! I thought. And since I had read and enjoyed Mary Hoffman's Stravaganza series, which features modern-day teenagers travelling backwards (or sideways) to an alternative Renaissance Italy, I grabbed it off the bookshelf right away. I was not disappointed. The Falconer's Knot tells the story of Silvano, a young man who falls in love with the pretty face of a married woman. When her husband is found murdered, with Silvano's knife in the body, he has to flee or face being hanged for the deed. He takes refuge in a friary, and meets a beautiful young novice-nun called Chiara.

Soon a friar is murdered too and once again suspicion falls on Silvano. It seems he is being stalked by tragedy. He and Chiara – who have met in their work grinding pigments for artists – decide to try and solve the mystery. A convoluted plot follows, though so simply and beautifully told it is a pleasure to read, and the murderer is at last unmasked. A fabulous book, and one I can highly recommend.

In the Shadow of the Sun King by Golden Keyes Parsons

A historical novel with a strong thread of faith running through it, In the Shadow of the Sun King was based on the writer's own family history. It tells the story of a Huguenot family suffering persecution at the hands of the Sun King, Louis XIV. I felt some trepidation reading this book because Golden Keyes Parsons describes herself as: 'A Speaker and Author who issues the challenge: Dare to take God seriously!'

I wanted to read it because the heroine of the novel I am writing is a Huguenot at the court of the Sun-King and so I have been reading anything I could get my hands on about French Protestantism. I was afraid the book would be virtually unreadable – a religious rant described as literature - but to my pleased surprise, it was a vivid and interesting story that truly illuminated the plight of the beleaguered Huguenots in France at this time.

Elizabeth of the Garret Theatre by Gwendolin Courtney

Published in 1948, this is a children's book about a family of four girls whose author-father remarries, and the step-mother's struggle to win the hearts of her new step-daughters. It's quite charming, in an old-fashioned way, and full of literary allusions that most children today simply wouldn't get, which is a shame.

The Tudor Secret by Christopher Gortner

I loved this book! It's a fast-paced historical thriller set during the last days of Edward VI, the teenage son of Henry VIII and the younger brother of Princess Elizabeth. I had thought the Tudor period had been milked dry, but this book brings in all the major players and still manages to be fresh, surprising, and a real page-turner. I stayed awake long past my bedtime to finish it, and was excited to learn it's the first in a series called 'Elizabeth's Spymaster'. I'll be buying the next one before the ink has a chance to dry on its pages!

The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella

I loved this book too! What a delight. The story of a love affair between a British officer and his tempestuous Italian cook in the final years of the Second World War, it would make a wonderful movie. I'd pay to see it, for sure. I've read two earlier books by Anthony Capella, The Food of Love and The Empress of Icecream, and like them, this book is full of fabulous descriptions of food. I cooked my family an Italian feast once I'd finished this book, though I had to look up some of the recipes on the internet. I can't believe this book is not better known – it should be. One of the best books so far this year.

The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley

This novel is set in 17th century France, during the reign of the Sun King, and has at its heart the shocking Affair of the Poisons which scandalised French society and saw many hundreds put on trial for murder, sorcery, abortion and satanic rites. I've been studying the period for the book I'm now writing and so it was very interesting to read another novel drawing on the same events. The Oracle Glass is a thick, dense, and rather strange book, jammed full of reflections on philosophy and religion. Judith Merkle Riley taught political science at Claremont McKenna College in California, and her intelligence – and that of her intriguing heroine, Genevieve – shines forth on every page. I say 'taught' instead of 'teaches' because sadly Judith died last year from ovarian cancer.

The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

A great title and a fantastic idea – a girl who is the thirteenth child born into a family of magic-makers and a world that believes birth order matters. Her twin brother is the seventh son of a seventh son, and so lauded from birth as someone special. The heroine, who has the dreadful name of Eff, is expected to turn to the bad, however, and so she learns to fear her own destiny. Set in a world that rather oddly combines the Wild West with creatures like steam dragons and mammoths, this book is a most unusual children's fantasy that chooses the small and domestic over thrills and chills.

Seven books read in May, bringing me to a total of 51 for the year so far.

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Books read in June 2011

Troll Blood by Katherine Langrish

This is the third in Katherine Langrish's Troll trilogy, which I have absolutely loved! The books are set in the world of the Vikings, a place where trolls skulk in the hills and Granny Green-teeth lurks at the bottom of the millpond. Katherine is a wonderful lyric writer who brings this world vividly to life without ever once letting the compelling pace flag. The three books are currently available in Australia in an abridged form as one complete book called West of the Moon. I'd recommend these books to anyone!

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks is one of my top 10 favourite writers, and so I was very keen to get my hands on her latest book. I just love the way she enters into the heart and imagination of a girl who lived so long ago, and brings that historical past so vividly alive. It's a truly fascinating story too – told from the point of view of young Bethia, it details the events which led her Wampanoag friend, Caleb, to study at Harvard in the 1660s, becoming the first Native American to matriculate there. I really loved this book, though it was very sad in parts.

The Assassin's Prayer by Ariana Franklin

This is a brilliant series of medieval murder mysteries featuring the intelligent and difficult Mistress of the Art Of Death, Adelia Aguilar, who is an early (very early) forensic investigator. In this book, Adelia is sent to accompany the king's daughter, Joanna, on her lavish thousand-mile journey to marry the King of Sicily. Travelling in the same train is a sadistic killer who seeks revenge on Adelia for a former mystery she solved. The killer's only aim is to see Adelia burn as a witch, and given the state of religious intolerance in Europe at that time, he may well succeed ... I'd really recommend these books to anyone who likes a good hefty medieval murder mystery!

The Sun King by Nancy Mitford

A classic biography of Louis XIV by Nancy Mitford, most remarkable for its racy style and personal comments (for Example, she calls The Marquie de Montespan, one of the king's mistresses, 'a grubby woman'). Beautifully illustrated, but feels a little dated now.

Eon by Alison Goodman & Eona by Alison Goodman

First published as Two Pearls of Wisdom, Eon is the first book in this wonderful fantasy duology by Melbourne writer, Alison Goodman, with Eona being the second. The books are set in a world that feels like medieval China, with a fascinating and rich culture all of its own. Compulsively readable, the book tells the story of Eon, a girl pretending to be a boy, who must navigate the treacherous waters of life at court in her bid to become a Dragoneye Lord, and so one of the most powerful people in the land. Book 1 won a swathe of awards and I can see why – they are vivid, action-packed, and beautifully written – highly recommended.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig

A lovely romantic romp with lots of intrigue and humour – if you love Georgette Heyer, then I think you'd enjoy Lauren Willig.

The Unquiet Bones: the first chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon, by Melvin R. Starr

A quiet, but charming, medieval murder mystery with a strong sense of the times (14th century England). Wouldn't mind reading more.

Eight books read in June, bringing me to a total of 59 for the year!

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Books read in July 2011

Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexandra

This novel had a subtitle 'Passion, longing, secrets, and a dangerous time' and is set in wartime Italy so it sounded just like my kind of book. Yet, despite its readability, I have to admit I was disappointed. I'm not sure exactly why. I should've loved sensitive Rosa, and I really adore romantic books set in wartime Italy ... yet ... I think it was too long, or the writing was simply too pedestrian, or because I never got to really like either of the two men Rosa falls in love with ... too much telling, not enough showing ...

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

This is a beautiful but slight book from Kate Mosse, author of 'Labyrinth' and 'Sepulchre', two historical novels I really enjoyed. I understand it was originally written as a short story and then expanded, and I think this shows. It is, nonetheless, a beautifully written tale of loss and grief and murder which vividly evokes the winter landscape of southern France – quite haunting.

White As Snow by Tanith Lee

An extraordinary retelling of the Snow White fairytale – dark and sensual and strange and rather frightening – with some astonishingly good writing. I have never read anything by Tanith Lee before but I will be hunting down her other books for sure. I'd be very careful about giving this to children to read, though – it is very confronting and even shocking in parts.

Charlie's Dream by Jamie Rowboat

Jamie was inspired to write this book after the son of friends of his was in a car accident and was locked in a coma for years. It imagines a boy in a coma who wakes up to find himself in the world of the elves and who learns about their work to save the natural world. It is a YA fantasy – though it has some quite sexy scenes in it. I launched it for him at Berkelouw Books in Glebe

The Understudy's Revenge by Sophie Masson

Set in the days of Dickens, The Understudy's Revenge tells the story of Millie Osborne, who works for The King's Company, a famous troupe of actors who have fallen on hard times following the death of its lead actor and director. The new manager is both the brother of the dead director and newly married to his widow. Perhaps recognising the thematic links to Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', he decides to put on a performance of the tragedy. A young actor called Oliver Parry is given a role in the play, but arouses Millie's suspicion because of all the questions he asks. One day she follows him to Seven Dials, one of the most dangerous places in London, and finds herself catapulted into an exciting mystery that soon sees her and her friend Seth facing danger, intrigue and murder.

I enjoyed The Understudy's Revenge immensely. It reminded me of some of my favourite writers including Agatha Christie and the UK children's writer Julia Golding who has written a great series of historical mysteries set in a Drury Lane theatre (The Cat Royal series). I'd really recommend The Understudy's Revenge to anyone who loves a quick-paced historical mystery.

The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella

I had enjoyed Anthony Capella's last two books so much I bought this to read on my Kindle, but I have to admit I didn't enjoy this as much. The opening chapters are hard to read because the primary character is so unlikeable – his tone is arch and artificial, and he spends most of time tossing off unpleasant comments and frequenting brothels. The only interesting part is the descriptions of coffee – which I didn't really respond to because I don't like coffee. However, perseverance paid off – our unpleasant hero is sent to Africa where he is taught some hard life lessons and loses his aphoristic tone. The chapters set in Africa are vivid and sexy and alive. Once our hero Robert returns to London, however, the writing changes gear once more and becomes a quite moving account of the suffragette movement. So the book has its rewards for those who persevere, but it doesn't have the vivid energy of The Food of Love, or the romantic joyousness of The Wedding Officer, or the warmth and charm of The Empress of Ice Cream. I'd choose to read all of his other books first.

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Wow! What an amazing read. From the very first page, I was unable to put this book down, reading late into the night and sneaking back to it during the day when I had many other things to do. It is so full of menace and atmosphere, and the characters are truly fascinating. Although it's very clearly a medieval murder mystery, it has the page-turning compulsion of the best thrillers and the depth and vividness of the best historical novels. One of the best books of the year so far!

The Lady Tree by Christie Dickason

Subtitled 'A Novel of Intrigue, Passion and Tulips', this novel is set in England and Holland in 1636 and is filled with a deep love of gardens and trees and flowers. Hawkridge House, the home of the hero John Nightingale, is created with such loving care that it feels as if it must be real. The novel isn't just about gardens, though. There's a murder mystery, blackmail, a love affair and a romance, and all the fever of tulip mania in 17th century Holland. A wonderful book.

Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradiz

A fascinating and very readable book about the women who told the Grimm brothers most of their stories.

The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World by Jack Zipes

A collection of academic essays on the Grimm Brothers by one of the world's best known fairytale scholars.

The Brothers Grimm: Two Loves, One Legacy by Donald R. Hettinga

A fabulous, brief biography of the Grimm Brothers with an emphasis on their daily lives and work. Lots of lovely illustrations.

Eleven books read in July – and a total over the year of 70.

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Books read in August 2011

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

An elegant but rather slow moving historical mystery, this book is told from the point of view of Lady Emily Ashton, who married her husband to escape her overbearing mother only to have him killed while on safari in Africa. The discovery of his journals make Emily realise she hardly knew her husband at all. Normally I love this kind of novel, but I must admit I found it hard to warm to Emily and I found her 'intellectual awakening' through long-winded discussions of Homer rather boring.

Daughter of Siena by Marina Fiorata

Filled with romance and suspense, this lush historical novel set in 18th century Siena is a fabulous read, with a perfect blend of action, mystery and love. The primary character if the 19 year old Pia Tolomei, who is married against her will to a cruel and vengeful man who is involved in a plot to overthrow the Duchess of Siena, Violante de' Medici. Pia, however, is in love with a handsome but poor horseman, Riccardo, who sets out to tame a battle-maddened stallion to ride in the Palio, Siena's famously dangerous horse race. This is the third book by Marina Fiorata that I've read, and each has been even better than the one before. I think she's made the leap to one of my favourite authors.

Violet for Bonaparte by Geoffrey Trease

I've been collecting Geoffrey Trease's novels since I was a kid, and it's always a pleasure to find a new one. He is definitely one of the great children's historical writers and should be more widely known. Violet for Bonaparte was written in 1976, and tells the story of an English boy Ben, who travels to Europe in 1814 during a lull in the Napoleonic Wars, with Napoleon himself having been confined to the island of Elba. Curious, Ben and his employer travel to Elba to see Boney with their own eyes, and there Ben meets a pretty and spirited American girl who hero-worships the deposed French emperor. Before they know it, Ben and Fanny are caught up in a dangerous situation as Napoleon escapes Elba and gathers together his army once more. This is not Geoffrey Trease's best book, but any book by Geoffrey Trease is very readable and he always manages his plot and the historical period with enviable lightness.

The Graveyard Book by Nail Gaiman

I've had this book on my TBR shelf for more than 2 years and for some reason never picked it up. I'm glad I did, for it's a true beauty of a book, pitch-perfect in every way. It deserves every prize it won. It reminds me in some ways of Nicholas Stuart Grey, and other great writers of the 40s and 50s, the "golden era of children's literature" – a perfect balance of beauty and pathos, terror and joy, and so beautifully written.

Five Bells by Gail Jones

A dense, poetic, beautifully written novel set during one day in Sydney, Australia, Five Bells is one of those novels that is read more for its lyrical language than for a compelling story. Not much really happens at all, other than the thoughts and feelings of four adults – three women and a man – whose paths cross, or fail to cross, at Circular Quay, under the arches of the Sydney Opera House. However, the inner life of those four adults is so well-imagined that the novel has its own compulsion, and the language is often so lovely it's a pleasure just to read and re-read it, rolling the words over your tongue.

Storm Peak by John A. Flanagan

This is an intriguing murder mystery set at Steamboat Springs, Colorado, featuring a serial killer who takes pleasure in killing right under the noses of the local police. Lee Torrens, the sheriff of Steamboat Springs, asks her old friend and ex-lover Jesse Parker to help her, for he was used to work as a detective in Denver, having given up police work with the death of his partner. Matters are complicated by the arrival of Jesse's ex-wife and the fanning of the embers of old feelings between Lee and Jesse.

The Seventh Swan by Nicholas Stuart Gray

Oh I loved this book so much! Nicholas Stuart Gray is truly a magical writer. I loved his books as a child and I think I love him even more as an adult, because he writes in such an effortlessly enchanting way, and I know now just how difficult that is. I've wanted to read this book for many years and at last ordered it over the internet – I'm so glad I did. It makes me want to track down more of his books.

Mourning Dress – A Costume and Social History by Lou Tayor

A fascinating look at the history of mourning dress - I read this book as research into the 19th century and really enjoyed it.

Pride and Prescience (Or a Truth Universally Acknowledged): A Mr & Mrs Darcy Mystery by Carrie Bebris

I'm not sure how I feel about this book, which is a historical murder mystery where the newly married Mr and Mrs Darcy feature as the amateur detectives. I think I would have enjoyed it much more if it had been the same story with a whole other cast of characters. I love historical mysteries and I love Jane Austen, and I'm certainly no purist – I think perhaps its simply that comparisons are odious. Although the author Carrie Bebris manages a fair approximation of Austen's style, it only ever feels like a poor copy. Sorry, Carrie.

Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross

Another historical murder mystery (I really do love them!), this one was actually very good. The amateur detective in this case is Julian Kestrel, a dandy who seems more concerned with the cut of his coat than with anything else. He is, however, a dandy with more a quick wit and a warm heart, though he does the best to keep both of these hidden. Staying at a country estate, he is confounded to find a dead girl in his bed. What follows is a really intriguing mystery with lots of twists and turns, and some interesting characters. I enjoyed it immensely.

Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees

The blurb for this book begins: "Six weeks ago, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart told his wife he had been poisoned. Yesterday, he died." The heroine is Mozart's sister Nannerl, who has been estranged from him for years. However, hearing of her brother's death, she travels to Vienna to investigate. Soon she finds herself caught up in secret Masonic plots, her life in danger. I really enjoyed this book. It's a little like The Da Vinci Code in some ways, with its emphasis on secret societies and symbolic codes, but warmer and more engaging because of Nannerl, who is very easy to sympathise with. A great historical thriller.

The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland

I absolutely loved this book! Even though its 550 pages long, it was so compelling I read it in only a few bites. A historical novel that reads likes an intelligent thriller, it is dark, chilling, atmospheric and absolutely impossible to put down. It tells the story of a community of Beguines in the English countryside who find themselves challenging a cruel pagan sect of men who call themselves the Owl Masters. I have read about Beguines before – groups of women who neither wish to marry nor take the veil as nuns set out to make a community of sisters who work and pray together. Of course, they were branded heretics and many of them burned. This novel has elements of supernatural horror in it as well as the terror of what humans can do to each other – an absolutely brilliant book and one of the best reads of the year.

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Books read in September 2011

Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge

Frances Hardinge is one of the most unusual and inventive writers of children's fantasy today. I loved her first book, Fly by Night, which featured the adventures of the feisty, foul-mouthed Mosca Mye and her bad-tempered goose. Mosca and her goose, Saracen, are back in Twilight Robbery, this time getting themselves into trouble in the strange and perilous town of Toll-by-Day ... which is a very different place at night. A brilliant, fresh, funny and right-minded fantasy for reads 12+, this is possibly the best children's fantasy I've read all year.

The Apple-Stone by Nicholas Stuart Gray

Ah, The Apple-Stone. One of my favourite books from my childhood. Why does no-one write books like this anymore?

Sins of the Wolf by Anne Perry

All I really need to say about this book is I finished it, went straight to the computer, and ordered more books by Anne Perry. Although I've read other books by her in the past, this really is a humdinger – interesting, complex characters, a really puzzling plot, lots of surprises, and a real sense of danger.

The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley

I really bought this book because its set in Edinburgh, one of my all-time favourite cities in the world and a perfect setting for a Victorian mystery novel. And perhaps it was because I had just finished reading Anne Perry's book, Sins of the Wolf, which was also set in Edinburgh, and had enjoyed it so much. The Edinburgh Dead is a quite different book altogether, having a large dose of supernatural terror to it, but I absolutely loved it. The tagline should probably have prepared me; it reads: 'There is a law against murder. But there are no laws for the dead.' However, the horror elements came as a complete surprise to me, but not unpleasantly. I love books that mix elements of different genres together, and this book does it particularly well.

Liberator by Richard Harland

Liberator is the sequel to the fabulous steam-punk adventure, Worldshaker, which I read and enjoyed immensely last year. Richard Harland really knows how to construct a page-turner. The books are set on board a giant metal juggernaut that rolls over the world, carrying an entire city on its back. In Book 1, the juggernaut was driven by down-trodden and maltreated menials called Filthies. With the help of Col, one of the Upper Deck aristocrats, they rise up and seize control of the juggernaut. Liberator tells what happens next, with an intoxicating mix of suspense, humour, romance and action.

The Kingdom of Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh

A classic children's fantasy written in 1960, this book is the sequel to Carbonel which I read and loved as a child. Carbonel is a cat, but not just any cat. He's the King of the Cats. In the first book, he has been imprisoned by a witch but with the help of Rosemary and her friend John, manages to escape and resume his rightful place ruling the rooftops of the city. In this book, he comes to Rosemary and John for help – he wants them to guard his kittens for him while he's away. A charming domestic fantasy.

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is the Spanish author of The Shadow of the Wind, one of my all-time favourite books, and so I had to buy this when I saw it. Originally published in 1994, it has been translated and published in English, presumably to take advantage of his international popularity. Set in Calcutta in the 1930s, it's a rather odd book, and ultimately very sad. It tells the story of twins separated at birth and hidden to protect them from supernatural danger – a man who does not die when he is shot and who can burn people to death with flames from his hands. The twins grow up – the boy in an orphanage where he makes a group of friends and the girl living a lonely existence on the run with their grandmother – but when they are sixteen the man in black comes after them once more. I really wanted to like this book – it sounded just the kind of book I would like – but my abiding reaction is one of sadness and even disappointment.

A Childhood at Green Hedges: A Fragment of Autobiography by Enid Blyton's Daughter by Imogen Smallwood

I remember when this book was first published in 1989. I read a review of it in the newspaper, and was in tears. My mother comforted me, thinking that I was distressed because I had not realised that Enid Blyton, one of my all-time favourite authors, was dead. The true reason for my distress, though, was realising that the perfect writer's life that I imagined Enid Blyton to have (heavily influenced by her autobiography, My Life) was in fact really a lie. In My Life she describes her beautiful old house with its magnificent garden, filled with hedges and roses and waterlilies, her playful dogs, her loving daughters, her husband who bought her a beautiful statue of a little girl reading, her daily routine of writing and reading, and I wanted that life. To read that she used to beat her daughters and locked them away in the nursery and sent them to boarding school against their will so they grew up to hate her shook my own dreams of how I wanted my life to be. So I always wanted to read the autobiography of her daughter Imogen, and one day, seeing it in a second-hand shop, I bought it. In a way, I'm glad. Imgon does not come over well in her autobiography. It's clear it can't have been easy for Enid either. And I certainly understand the frustrations of trying to write and bring up a young family.

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Books read in October 2011

Hornet Flight by Ken Follett

This is the first Ken Follett thriller that I've read and I really enjoyed it. A spy thriller set in Denmark during World War II, it was fast-paced, with a few unexpected twists and the setting was fresh and unusual.

The Widow Cliquot: The story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman who Ruled It by Tilar J. Mazzeo

A fascinating and very readable biography of Barbe-Nicole Cliquot Ponsardin, the woman behind the famous champagne. She lived during Napoleonic times, when women were being repressed even more firmly than before, and yet she was able to save her family from financial ruin after the death of her young husband and founded an extraordinary empire of her own.

The House of the Winds by Titania Hardie

A story told in parallel between a modern-day American woman called Maddie and a 14th century Italian girl called Mia, this book centres on the mysterious House of the Wind which was destroyed – perhaps by magic – many centuries before. It's a rich and densely woven novel, with some wonderfully evocative scenes. I found myself much more interested in the historical thread, and occasionally wished for a quicker pace, but there is a lot of beauty in this book and a lot of heart and spirit.

I am Drinking Stars! History of a Champagne, edited by Gerhard Steidl

This book is a history of Dom Pèrignon, which would be my favourite champagne if I could afford to drink it. I have enjoyed a bottle or two in my time, but my primary reason for loving this champagne is the myth about the young Dom Pèrignon who, when he first tasted the sparkling concoction he had made, called, 'Brothers, come! I am drinking stars!' Although wine historians believe this story is probably apocryphal, I choose to believe it – it's too beautiful a tale to dismiss out-of-hand. A slim book, and a trifle sycophantic, its nonetheless an interesting look at the champagne brand over the centuries.

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

What a pleasure to curl up with a tattered old copy of a Georgette Heyer book on a rainy weekend. I've read this a few times before, and it's not her best book by far – but its set during Napoleonic times and so counts as research for the book I am working on (The Wild Girl).

Dragon's Lair by Sharon Kay Penham

Medieval murder mysteries, written by one of the most respected historical novelists of this era – I settled down with a sigh of anticipation from the very first word. I wish I had started with Book 1 – the early chapters talked a lot about characters I didn't know – but once the action moved to Wales, it was excellent. Ordering Book 1 now.

The World in 1800 by Olivier Bernier

A big thick historical book which did an excellent job of bringing the world of 1800 to life. Read for research for the new book I plan to write (The Wild Girl), but very readable for anyone interested in the era.

Napoleon & Josephine: An Improbably Marriage by Evangeline Bruce

I read this for research but hugely enjoyed it – I never really understood how Napoleon got to be Emperor before, or how he was then thrown down, but now I feel like I'm an expert on the subject. Very well written – clear, simple, evocative – and very, very useful to me.

The Mistaken Wife by Rose Melikan

A historical thriller set during the Napoleonic Wars, this is the third in a series that began with The Blackstone Key and continued with The Counterfeit Guest. I've enjoyed each of them, and found them amusing and engaging ... I'm not completely swept off my feet by them, though. The first was the cleverest, the second was the funniest, the third was action-packed ... I'm hoping the fourth will combine all these elements and be a real humdinger.

The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland

I absolutely adored this book! Susan Vreeland never fails to enchant, surprise, and illuminate. Her style is subtle yet powerful; the character of the Canadian painter Emily Carr was brought fully to life, as was her world. I had never heard of Emily Carr before I read this book. Afterwards I was googling her paintings and could not believe that this feisty, strong-willed, pig-headed and vulnerable woman was not more widely known. Her paintings are extraordinary - bold, unconventional and filled with light and mystery. Susan Vreeland's wonderful book is a wonderful introduction to her art, and to the world of the indigenous people of British Columbia.

The Golden Day by Ursula Duborsarky

A slight yet exquisitely rendered book about the mysterious disappearance of a girls' school teacher, and the ripples of unease that spread out across the lives of her young students. Beautifully written, with some striking metaphors and images, the book is haunting in its strangeness.

A Plague on Both Your Houses by Susannah Gregory

This is a medieval murder mystery with an unorthodox physician acting as amateur detective as dead bodies pile up all around the University of Cambridge. The story is at times incoherent, with so many characters and plots and sub-plots crossing and re-crossing that it is easy to become confused. However, some of the historical detail was very well done and any book that deals with the Black Death cannot help but be filled with ghoulish appeal. This is the first book in the long-running Chronicles of Matthew Bartholomew and I have been assured the books get better as they go on. It was readable enough that I'm willing to test this hypothesis.

12 books this month, bringing my total to 102 this year.

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Books I've been reading in 2010

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Books read in December 2010

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

An immensely thick, long, difficult yet interesting book about Thomas Cromwell and King Henry the Eight's divorce from Catherine of Aragorn. The primary difficulty for me was not the history, or the cast of thousands – which I know many other readers have struggled with – but the peculiar use of an extremely close third person narrative. It felt as if Hilary Mantel had begun to write in the first person, and then for some reason – perhaps to have other points of view - had changed it to third person, perhaps even with a global change on computer with every 'I' changed to 'He'. There were a lot of sentences that read 'He held him tightly to his shoulder, telling him that he would never leave him.' It read awkwardly, and jerked me out of the story again and again, preventing a deeper engagement with the narrative. After a while, I got used to it and found it a little easier, but I still think it was a strange narrative choice. I'm afraid I didn't manage to finish it – I put it down to read something else and went back to it a few times, but found myself bored. It's most unusual for me not to finish a book!

An Affair Before Christmas by Eloisa James

A very light and frothy historical romance with lashings of sex, made just a little more interesting by the inclusion of some chess games – a pleasant enough way to while away an hour, but not one I'll repeat quickly.

The Sign of the Book by John Dunning

Another murder mystery solved by the rough yet wise ex-cop turned bookman, Cliff Janeway. Not quite as fascinating as the others – less about books in this one.

Happy Ever After by Adele Geras

A collection of three interlinked novellas that retell the well-known fairy-tales Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White in the setting of an English girls' boarding school in the 60s. Some exquisite, haunting writing and a wonderful evocation of time – an interesting twist on the familiar tales.

Suffer The Little Children by Donna Leon

I usually love these murder mysteries, set in modern-day Venice, but this one seemed a little forced to me. It is her 16th Guido Brunetti novel, though, and so I guess it must be hard not to get stale. And the descriptionss of Venice and Venetian food were as wonderful as ever.

World Without End by Ken Follett

This is the sequel to 'The Pillars of the Earth' which I read earlier this year and loved, and I was looking forward to it immensely. It is not as good as 'Pillars', perhaps because it is too similar, but still enormously and compulsively readable. And I found it very interesting to read so close to 'Wolf Hall' – I had no problem at all in this book following who was who, and what they were doing at any given time and although it's even thicker, I finished it quickly. Once again I'm confounded by the Booker Prize. Is it me or is it them?

The Abbey Girls Go Back to School, Jen of the Abbey School, The New Abbey Girls, The Abbey Girls Again - all four books by Elsie J. Oxenham

Tired and weary after such a busy Christmas, I picked up and read through four old Abbey Girls books in quick succession, forwarding my aim to read the whole series in order. It was like meeting old friends again, and falling at once into eager conversation. A lovely relaxing way to end the year!

Ten books in December, a lot of froth and bubble balanced out by two big, magisterial historical novels.

Two books not included earlier:

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

A much celebrated book about an Irish girl moving to Brooklyn, I read this one for Book Club, but wasn't moved by it. These books which aim to capture the quiet, miserable lives of quiet, miserable people never do much for me. I'm always hoping something will happen!

The Ruby Talisman by Belinda Murrell

My sister's latest book, a wonderful time-travel adventure about a modern day girl who falls asleep wearing a ruby necklace belonging to one of her ancestors and wakes up at the beginning of the French Revolution. All sorts of exciting adventures and near-escapes follow until Tilly can at last return to her own time. A hugely enjoyable read!

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Books read in November 2010

A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

The first in the Cadfael mysteries, bought to replace my original copy which seems to have got lost. I've really been enjoying revisiting this series!

Juliet by Anne Fortier

A brilliant read! I really recommend it. This book tells the story of the original Juliet of Shakespearean fame, in parallel with the modern-day quest of a young American woman to find an ancient family legacy. I love books which parallel two historical periods, particularly when it is done as well as this one.

Still Life by Louise Penny

The first in the Inspector Gamache series and I read it last! I wish I'd read them in order as a few relationships are illuminated. If you haven't discovered Louise Penny yet, try this one first! Great murder mysteries with an old-fashioned feel i.e. an unknown murderer, great minor characters, wise and charming old detective, small village (though this one is set in Quebec).

The Rosie Black Chronicles: Genesis by Lara Morgan

A gripping, suspenseful science fiction tale for young adults with a strong Australian feel, I'm betting this one will be a winner. Set in what feels like a future-day Perth (Lara grew up in Western Australia and now lives in Geraldton), with a sidetrip to Mars, Genesis is filled with lots of lovely neologisms like pyroflex and digibook which I can see entering the popular lexicon. I'm putting this on my son's pile to read – I think he'd enjoy it too.

The Empress of Ice Cream by Anthony Capella

A wonderful historical novel set partly at the court of Louis XIV in France and partly at the court of Charles II in England, the story is shared between Carlo Demirco, the French king's confectioner, and Louise de Keroualle, sent to England to become the English king's mistress. Carlo Demirco's speciality are ices, and the story is as much about his search for the secret to making ice cream as it is about Louise's seduction of Charles II. A book about love, passion, secrets and food – I loved it!

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

I loved this book! The Distant Hours is the story of a modern day girl obsessed with discovering the secret of her mother's past involvement with a mysterious family of three sisters, daughters of a famous children's writer. The contemporary detective tale is woven together with the stories of the past, and in particular with the father's most famous book, The Secret History of the Mud Man. A suspenseful historical page-turner, with a touch of the gothic and a dash of romance, this book has a lost letter, a crumbling old castle, a murder mystery, madness, passion, and despair – a wonderful read.

The Rebel Prince by Celine Kiernan

The last book in the Moorehawke Trilogy, this volume takes us into the camp of the rebel prince himself. We finally get some explanations for all that has happened before, plus reach some kind of resolution at the end. Though not as suspenseful as the earlier two books, The Rebel Prince is still beautifully written and paced, and wraps up the story nicely. One of the best heroic fantasy series in recent years.

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

What a delight this book is! An old favourite that I haven't read for years, it sparkles with wit and charm. Really, Georgette Heyer is incomparable. I just wish I knew how she did it.

The Crimson Chevalier by Mary Andrea Clarke

I was really disappointed by this. I think I was expecting a Georgette Heyer type romantic adventure, but it was leaden and predictable. I could barely bring myself to finish it. Perhaps I shouldn't have read it straight after a Georgette Heyer? The contrast was too dismal.

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

A compelling and poignant family saga that parallels the story of Beattie Blaxland, a Scottish girl who emigrates to Australia in 1929, with the story of her granddaughter, Emma Blaxland-Hunter. Linking the generations is the old house, Wildflower Hill, in Tasmania. A love story, and a story about making the best of what life throws at you, this is a book where the pages just seem to turn themselves. I'd really recommend this to anyone who loves a heart-warming tale.

10 Books in November, bringing my total to the year to 111.

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Books read in October 2010

A Summer in Gascony by Martin Calder

A warm and charming memoir of a young man's summer working on a farm in Gascony. It really brought that little known corner of France to life for me.

The Counterfeit Guest by Rose Melikan

I enjoyed this book so much! It's a historical suspense tale, following on from Rose Melikan's earlier book 'The Blackstone Key'. I really enjoyed that as well, but this is much better. It tells the story of Mary Finch, a clever and unconventional woman in the late 18th century who finds herself embroiled with murder and spies. Romance, history, suspense, adventure - just my kind of book!

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

This is the second in the Inspector Gamache murder mystery series, and as engaging as the others I've read. Once again set in the Quebecois village of Three Pines in French Canada, Armand is this time round investigating the very clever murder of a very nasty woman.

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

I've read this book before & loved it – it stands up really well to a second round of reading. A beautifully told story of love, suspense and art set in Renaissance Italy, it's one of my all-time favourite books.

To Dance With Kings by Rosalind Laker

An historical novel which looks at four generations of women whose lives are intertwined with the fortunes of the palace of Versailles. This book is like a stately court dance, with lots of twists and unexpected turns, but plenty of time spent in developing character and place. It really brought the gilded world of Versailles to life.

A Curse As Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

A brilliant title and a very engaging book, being a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale. I love fairytale retellings, particularly when they breathe new life into the old tale, confounding expectations and surprising the reader. This is a really wonderful retelling, one of the best I've read in a long time. It is set in a small English village in the 1700s, during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and the heroine, Charlotte Miller, is fighting to save her family's mill after the death of her father. I loved it!

What Remains of Heaven by C.S. Harris

The latest St. Cyr murder mystery and just as good as the rest. I really enjoy this series – the characters are all brilliantly depicted and intriguing, and the puzzles very well thought out. Start with book 1, though, if you haven't read them yet – each novel in the series develops relationships between the characters.

Seven books read in October!

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Books read in September 2010

The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato

A grand romp of an adventure through Renaissance Italy and Botticelli's most famous painting, 'La Primavera', this was a great read (though you may need to willingly suspend your disbelief about quite a number of things). I loved it, though. The heroine Luciana is a delight, and the illumination of some of the possibly meanings behind the figures in the painting quite fascinating. I just wish they had put the painting on the cover. I read the book on the plane and so couldn't keep looking up the painting at each new revelation like I would have liked.

Once by Morris Gleitzman

A CBCA Honour Book, Once is the first in a loose trilogy of works by Morris Gleitzman which examine the Holocaust and its effects. Once tells the story of a boy called Felix who runs away from an orphanage to search for his parents, not realising they have been lost in the concentration camps of World War II. A deceptively simple book.

To Catch A Bride by Anne Gracie

A lovely romance novel, and a very pleasant way to while away a rainy Saturday evening.

Word of Honour, The Third Volume of 'The Laws of Magic' by Michael Pryor

When I read the first volume of 'The Laws of Magic', I was utterly captivated by the Edwardian atmosphere and the sense of almost-history which pervaded the book. I had not then heard of steam-punk, let alone understood what it meant. I actually hate the term – to me, books like the ones in this series by Michael Pryor are more like gaslight mysteries with magic in them. And I love gaslight mysteries (i.e. mystery novels set at the turn of the century, during the Industrial Revolution and a time of social upheaval). These books are among the best steampunk around, and so even if, like me, you think you don't like the genre, give them a go. This one is as fabulous as the first two!

Death and the Cornish Fiddler: A John Rawlings Mystery, by Deryn Lake

What a great title! And I enjoyed the book too. It was quite slow to start, but very readable and I enjoyed the colourful cast of characters. It made me want to go to Cornwall and see the Helstone Furry Dance (well, I've always wanted to do that but the book has revived my desire!)

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach

I loved this book when it first came out and I really enjoyed reading it again. A simple yet ingenious story that brings to life 17th century Amsterdam, illuminating love, art, and the mania for tulips. A really wonderful book.

Black Diamond by Martin Walker

The third in the Bruno Courrèges Investigation series, this time pitting dear Bruno against truffle hunters. I loved it! A murder, a mystery, a touch of romance, and lots of descriptions of the luscious French countryside, food and wine – a wonderful recipe for a crime novel!

The Whisperer by Fiona Macintosh

Short-listed for the CBCA Award, this is a light-hearted, action-packed children's fantasy adventure with separated twins, wonderful magical creatures, and a circus. Quite enchanting!

One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters

An old favourite, read so many times it's beginning to fall to pieces.

Heartstone by C.J. Sansom

It's always a sign that you really love an author or a series when you get a thrill of excitement seeing the latest book on the shelf in a bookstore and you buy it straightaway, even though you had made a stern promise to yourself NOT TO BUY ANY MORE BOOKS! C.J. Sansom didn't disappoint me – I read this very thick, heavy volume over the course of two nights and loved it! He really has a knack for bringing the world of England in the time of King Henry VIII to life, as well as creating an intriguing mystery.

Girls of the Hamlet Club by Elsie J. Oxenham

Anyone who follows my reading patterns will know I was first enchanted by the Abbey Girls series of books by English writer Elsie J. Oxenham when I was about thirteen. Staying with my grandmother in Melbourne, I had read my way through all of the books I had taken away with me and faced a long train journey back to Sydney with nothing to read. You can imagine my despair! My grandmother said 'I have some of your aunties' old books up in a cupboard – take a look and see if there's anything you like.' So I took down a book called 'New Abbey Girls' and read it on the train home and just loved it. I began looking out for and collecting Abbey Girls books, spending my pocket money on them every week, and I know have nearly the whole series. This is one of the rarest of all the titles, being the absolute first. I paid quite a lot of money for it and it's not even the original book, just a bound photocopy. I still was thrilled to read it though!

That's 11 books in September, bringing my total for the year to 94 books.

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Books read in August 2010

The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide and Satanism in the Court of Louis XIV by Anne Somerset

A fascinating, scholarly look at the so-called 'Affair of the Poisons' that occurred during the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV. I actually bought this book some time ago at a second-hand bookshop because it looked intriguing, only to realise some time later that a good portion of the new book I am writing is set during the same period. This book has really helped me understand the court of the Sun King and the society at the time.

The Girls of the Abbey Schools by Elsie J Oxenham

Bought this over the internet to fill a gap in my Abbey Girls collection. I read it as a child at someone's house and have been searching for it ever since. Lovely to read it again and fill in the gaps, and I also found all the descriptions of the abbey very inspiring.

The Devil's Novice by Ellis Peters

Still focused on Benedictine abbeys! I love the way Ellis Peters brings the life of the abbey alive with such a light touch.

The Dèvotes: Women & Church in 17th century France by Elizabeth Rapley

A scholarly examination of religious life of women in 17th century France, this is nonetheless very readable and illuminated the period for me beautifully. I found it so useful, I then went on and read:

A Social History of the Cloister: Daily Life in the Teaching Monasteries of the Old Regime, also by Elizabeth Rapley

Again, this was slow and heavy reading, but so useful to me in my research into life in a French convent in the last few years of the 17th century. Thank you, Elizabeth Rapley!

The Lucifer Stone by Harriet Graham

A children's adventury story set in the 1890s, this was a quick, light, fun read that I knocked off in a single night when I was too tired to read A Social History of the Cloister.

The House of The Paladin by Violet Needham

Someone recommended Violet Needham to me as a British children's writer of the 50s that I might enjoy, so I bought this second-hand when I was in London for £25. I think I was robbed. A very disappointing read, quite conventional and clunkily written. I won't be collecting more of her work.

The Age of the Cloister: The Story of Monastic Life in the Middle Ages by Christopher Brooke

More research into convent life - not as useful to me as the Elizabeth Rapley books, but still helping me build up my general knowledge.

Monasteries and Monastic Orders: 2000 Years of Christian Art and Culture by Kristina Krüger

A huge, thick and beautifully illustrated book on monasteries, it has really helped me visualise what my imaginary convent would look like. The ground plans and photographs were particularly helpful.

The Medieval Garden by Sylvia Landsberg & Monastic Gardens by Mick Hales

Both of these books were ordered off the internet to help me imagine, visualise and describe the convent garden in my new book. The first was brilliant for descriptions and history, the second was a visual feast and very lucid and succinct. Interesting research.

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

Sarah Dunant has become one of my favourite writers, someone whose new book will be snatched off the bookshop's shelf as soon as I can get my greedy little hands on it. I was particularly interested in this one because– wait for it – its set in a convent. Sarah Dunant's convent is in Ferrara, Italy, in the year 1570 while my area of interest is a French nunnery in the late 17th century, but I was still interested to see how she dealt with the technical difficulties of setting a novel within a small, enclosed community. Brilliantly, is the answer. I sat up till after 2am to finish this book. An absolute zinger!

The Apothecary's Daughter by Patricia Schonstein

Saw this book mentioned on the internet as one that featured an apothecary nun and a girl in a convent and then, two days later, saw it for sale in a second-hand shop. It was meant to be. A lush, sensual and rather strange tale that feels like a fable.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

I had to have a break from convents! Looked through my bookshelf and fell upon this with delight, as I'd absolutely adored his previous book, The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie. A murder mystery set in a small English village, it stars the utterly delightful (if rather dangerous) 11 year old girl-turned-detective, Flavia de Luce. The puzzle is wonderfully puzzling, the characters sufficiently eccentric and the asides about poisons and famous murderous funny and fascinating. Don't be turned off by the strange titles – these books are wonderful.

Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer

An old favourite, read and read again since I was a teenager. It is set in France and so counts as research. Doesn't it?

Duchess by Night by Eloisa James

A rather racy romance - which is actually dedicated to Georgette Heyer 'and her brilliantly funny cross-dressing heroines'. This was not nearly as funny or charming as a Georgette Heyer book, but then, what book is? It was rather disappointing, though, as I'd really enjoyed the last Eloisa James I read. This one had a few scenes that didn't ring quite true. Still, a very pleasant way to pass a few hours on a cold and windy winter's night.

The Bookman's Promise by John Dunning

I really enjoy these contemporary crime novels about a ex-cop turned second-hand bookseller. I always feel like a learn something about the literary world as well as enjoying a clever murder mystery.

Quillblade by Ben Chandler

This fantasy novel by newcomer Ben Chandler is an interesting mix of influences – it's like steampunk with its flying airships, but set in a sort of medieval Japanese world with samurai-like warriors and manga-like animals he calls Bestia, plus it has dragons and demons and prophetic dreams. An action-packed fantasy adventure with a really fresh, unusual feel to it because of its bravery in mingling so many new elements.

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

This book has been recommended to me a few times by people who know how I love historical novels, but I was always put off by its immense size. I shouldn't have been – this truly is an astonishing book, one of the best I've read in a long time. The blurb says 'it began with a curse, a song and a hanging and it builds into a magnificent adventure no reader will ever forget.' I couldn't say it better myself – this book has jumped into my list of all-time favourite books. A tale of love, revenge, passion and war, it tells the story of the building of a cathedral, and the intertwined lives of the people who dream of its magnificent completion, and those who plot to tear it down. You wouldn't think such a storyline would make for such compelling reading but I literally could not put the book down, reading when I should have sleeping, or working, or living a normal life. Utterly engrossing, all 1,076 pages of it!

The Pindar Diamond by Katie Hickman

Set in Italy in 1604, this is a romantic adventure tale filled with vivid and sometimes eccentric characters including a giantess, a mermaid baby, a crippled beauty and a nun that dreams of love. I enjoyed it immensely, and will certainly buy the next Katie Hickman book I see.

Twenty books read in August, which is rather a lot – that's five a week! Not a bad reading effort. A lot of research, though ...

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Books read in July 2010

Love and Louis XIV – The Women in the Life of the Sun King' by Antonia Fraser

I love Antonia Fraser's biographies. They are always such a pleasure to read, being clearly and beautifully written, and never weighted down with too much information. She has a knack for reminding the reader who everyone is and for bringing their characters to life. This particular biography is of the Sun King and the women in his life, and has brought that period of history to life for me.

'Cat Among the Pigeons' by Julia Golding

This is a great historical adventure series for kids, about a feisty girl called Cat who lives at the Theatre Royal, in Drury Lane, in Georgian times. I really enjoyed this book, which centres on the attempt of a slave-trader to recapture his escaped slave, Pedro, who is Cat's best friend and a talented musician and actor. An exciting story which also has a lot to say about the importance of personal liberty. Loved it!

'I, Mona Lisa' by Jeanne Kalogridis

This was the first book I have read by Jeanne Kalogridas and it won't be the last. I really enjoyed this book, which tells the story of the woman behind Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting. So little was known about Lisa Gherardini, Kalogridas was able to position her right in the heart of the intrigues, murders, and religious fanaticism of Florence in the days of Savaronola. I've read quite a few books set during this period, including Sarah Dunant's 'Birth of Venus' and Karen Essex's 'Leonardo's Swans' but each is so different and has such a fresh perspective that it still really fresh and fascinating. A really good, exciting, romantic book.

'The Abbey Girls' by E.J.Oxenham, 'Schooldays At the Abbey' by E.J.Oxenham & 'Secrets of the Abbey' by E.J.Oxenham

Unpacked a box full of all my old second-hand Elsie J Oxenham books and enjoyed reacquainting myself with them. Hard to explain exactly what enchantment these books hold for me – I think it's the abbey, and the vivid characters, and also the philosophy that underlies the books, much deeper and more thoughtful than most school stories of the era. I enjoyed revisiting them, and am keen to buy the few in the series that I'm missing.

'Monk's Hood' by Ellis Peters & 'The Sanctuary Sparrow' by Ellis Peters

I unpacked all my old crime novels some time ago, but thought I'd re-read some of this series too, partly because I've always enjoyed them & partly because the novel I'm now writing has quite a few scenes set in a Benedictine abbey and so this counts as research.

Only eight books read in July, but I had the kids home on school holidays and so was writing at night, instead of reading. We went to the circus, we went to the movies and we went up to my brother's farm – all a lot of fun but not much time for curling up with a book!

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Books read in June 2010

'The Death-defying Pepper Roux' by Geraldine McCaughrean

I really love the work of Geraldine MCaughrean, who can always be relied on for telling a story quite unlike anything you've read before, in language made fresh and new. This book, for readers aged about 10+, tells the story of a boy who fully expected to die on his fourteenth birthday, thanks to the predictions of his religious and malicious aunt. He manages to evade his fate, but feels it at his back, hunting him down, as he sets out a series of hair-raising and rather eccentric adventures. I don't think this is Geraldine McCaughrean's best book, but then her best books are so astonishingly good that it can hardly be expected. My favourites are The Kite-Rider and A Little Lower than the Angels, with A Pack of Lies and A White Darkness highly recommended too.

'The Glassblower of Murano' by Marina Fiorato

This novel tells the parallel stories of a glassblower in Venice, 1681, and his descendant centuries later, a young woman who dreams of being a glassblowing artiste herself. It's a simple, romantic story, but well told and with lots of lovely Venetian details.

'Foreign Bodies' by Amanda Craig

An interesting coming-of-age tale with a murderous twist, this book tells the story of Emma Kenward who wants to be an artist and so runs away to Italy. She meets two men – an Oxford don she hoped never to meet again and Lucio, a handsome young Italian who seduces her. It has some lovely writing and a strong sense of place, though one sentence grated on me strongly. Amanda Craig writes about an Australian: "she had the curious blip-like voice colonials always have, as if advertising their voices over an ancient wireless.' I didn't realise Australians were still called colonials (the book was published in 1990!) and I'm sure my voice isn't curiously bliplike. I don't know. Maybe it is. I still didn't like the description, though – it raises my hackles. Other than that, though, I really enjoyed the book!

'The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi's Venice' by Laurel Corona

A tale of two sisters abandoned as babies on the steps of the Ospedale della Pieta, Venice's famous foundling school. Taught to sing and play musical instruments, they end up having very different lives. One leaves the convent and marries a rich Venetian lord, the other ends up being Vivaldi's muse though she lives a life behind convent bars. This was a really fascinating story, beautifully told and sparked lots of ideas for me. I'm very interested in Venice at the moment as I plan on setting my new novel there and so I'm reading everything I can find on the city. I bought this book at the HNS Conference in Chicago last year and am only now settling back to read and enjoy it – thank you, Laurel!

'The Rose Of Sebastopol' by Katharine McMahon

I really loved this book! Its set during the Crimean War and almost has Florence Nightingale as a character – that was my only disappointment, I would've liked to have met Florence Nightingale. The book tells the stories of cousins and best friends, Rosa Barr and Mariella Lingwood. The first is beautiful, passionate, headstrong and determined to do good in the world. The second is shy; she sits sewing her sampler and trying to be good. Against all advice, Rosa sets off to be a nurse during the war and soon disappears. Mariella sets off to find her, and finds herself in the thick of the war. It's a romance, but not at all what you might have expected; it's a story of war and love and madness; it's an utterly compelling story which will have me eagerly searching out other work by Katharine McMahon. She has a backlist! Yay!

'The Last Queen' by C.W. Gortner

The story of Juana the Mad – daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella and sister to Catherine of Aragorn – has always interested me, although I knew very little about her. The back of the book says 'Married at sixteen. A queen at twenty-five. Declared insane and betrayed by the men she adored.' Who wouldn't want to read this novel? Luckily it was just as good as I hoped it would be. It really is a fascinating story about a passionate and cruelly wronged woman – God, it makes me glad I wasn't a woman in the 16th century! I'd probably have been locked up too!

'Relics of the Dead' by Ariana Franklin

1176, and our Mistress of the Dead, Adelia, is called upon to investigate the discovery of two skeletons at Glastonbury which rumour says are the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. Another great medieval murder mystery from Ariana Franklin !

'Deep Water' by Pamela Freeman

Book Two in the Castings Trilogy, an absolutely brilliant fantasy series by Australian author Pamela Freeman. Just as compelling and beautifully written as Book 1 – I'm now in a rush to find Book 3!

'Luncheon of the Boating Party' by Susan Vreeland

Susan Vreeland is now one of my top favourite writers of all time. I've loved her earlier books about great artists and their works (Girl in Hyacinth Blue and The Passion of Artemisia) and she certainly doesn't disappoint with this look at Renior's famous creation of the painting of the same name. The cover shows a replica of the painting – I was constantly turning the pages to stare at the cover and identify each character – and I marvel at her skill at turning this summer in Renoir's life into a compelling page-turner. I learnt so much about Renoir and Impressionist art and about France in the 1880s. Brilliant!

'The Miracles of Prato' by Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz

The Miracles of Prato told the story of the scandalous love affair between Fra Filipo Lippo, a monk and artist, and his model and muse, Lucrezia. Her face appeared in many of his paintings (and she truly was beautiful) - they lived together in defiance of the Church in 15th century Italy which can't have been easy. It was a fascinating story, and very well told. I'd have liked a little more passion, but I think the authors were trying to make sure it wasn't a bodice-ripper (which is rather a shame as I love a good love story).

'War Horse' by Michael Morpugo

I've wanted to read this since I saw the stage show in London last year – a simple yet heartstring-tugging story about a horse sent to war.

'The Wayward Muse' by Elizabeth Hickey

'The Wayward Muse' tells the story of Jane Burden, muse to the pre-Raphaelites, wife of William Morris, lover of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I really loved this book! I have always been fascinated by the pre-Raphaelites and wondered why no-one had written a book about them (I've read a few biographies but somehow novels are so much more fun to read!) I'd really recommend this to anyone who loves novels about art and artists.

Twelve books read in June, bringing my total for the year so far to 55 books. And some really great books too!

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Books read in May 2010

'The Blind Man of Seville' by Robert Wilson

This is an unusually deep, complex, thoughtful and intelligent thriller which is more interested in the inner life of its detective than in fast-paced action. Nonetheless, it is still a compelling read. And I loved the Spanish setting! This is the first in a series – I'll be looking out for more.

'Writing the Breakout Novel' by Donald Maass

I love books on writing, as I'm always interested in the craft. I am planning to start a new novel very soon, and it seemed like a good time to read this 'bible' by famous New York literary agent, Donald Maas. It was interesting and thought-provoking, and I'm sure I'll be dipping into it again.

'Grave Fairy Tale: A Romantic Novel' by Esther Meynell

I'm interested in fairytale retellings, particularly at the moment as I'm about to embark on writing my own. I bought this very old book at a second-hand shop purely on its title and because its blurb said it was set in the old Germany of the Brothers Grimm. I can't say I enjoyed the book – it had a very coy tone and not much really happened. Its setting was atmospheric, though.

'Blood Ties' by Pamela Freeman

Pamela Freeman is best known for her children's fantasies, the Florimonde books which begins with The Willow Tree's Daughter, and also for her biographical novel, The Black Dress, about the life of Sister Mark Mackillop. This is her first fantasy for adults and it is utterly brilliant. I haven't read a fantasy novel that I've enjoyed so much for a very long time, and one of the reasons for this is the fresh and surprising structure of the book, which takes the time to tell the stories of a myriad of minor characters that would, in most fantasy books, be merely flat, stock caricatures. Pamela says that her strength is really in short stories, and so what she has done in this novel is interweave small, vivid, sad, beautiful or shocking minor tales into the overarching dramatic arc. This does not at all detract from the action of the book, because it makes us understand the world so much better and all the stories link back to the main story of our heroes, Bramble and Ash. I just loved this book and am amazed it hasn't won prizes left, right and centre.

'Troll Fell' by Katherine Langrish and 'Troll Mill' by Katherine Langrish

I just loved both these books by Katherine Langrish, the UK author who wrote Dark Angels which was a wonderful new discovery of mine earlier this year. They tell of the adventure of an orphan boy, Peer, and his feisty friend and neighbour, Hilde, set in a Scandinavian world of history and mythology. Katherine Langrish's great strength is the beauty of her writing – I really love how well she draws a scene and how atmospheric her books are.

Only 6 books read in May – but I was on Book Tour and at the Sydney Writers Festival and barely had time to breathe!

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Books read in April 2010

'The Historian' by Elizabeth Kostova

This novel caused a huge buzz on publication, being the first book by a first-time novelist to hit the New York Times bestseller list the same week it was published (I so wish that had happened to me!) It is an intricate, atmospheric and compelling novel that draws upon the true history of Vlad the Impaler, the original Dracula prototype, intertwining his story with that of several generations of a family haunted by his presence. I've never really been a vampire lover, but this is an utterly brilliant book, superbly written and crafted, and has just leapt on to my list of all-time favourite books.

'Detection Unlimited' by Georgette Heyer

'The Unfinished Clue' by Georgette Heyer

'Duplicate Death' by Georgette Heyer

'They Found Him Dead' by Georgette Heyer

I've been slowly unpacking boxes of books to arrange on the new shelves in my new library and this weekend I unpacked the box labelled 'Crime H-L'. Most of them were old Georgette Heyer paperbacks which I have read before, some of them several times. GH is best known for her Regency romance novels, but she has a dozen or so murder mysteries too, which she wrote with the help of her barrister husband. The best of them are just as good as Agatha Christie, and usually have a nice little romance to add sparkle as well. I read four of them back to back, curled in a comfy chair by the fire in my new library, and a very nice way to spend a rainy weekend it was too!

'Last Voyage of the Valentina' by Santa Montefiore

I enjoyed this book, though I didn't love it - even though I love books set during WWII and set in Italy. Somehow the writing didn't quite come to life for me.

'World Shaker' by Richard Harland

I should probably declare that Richard Harland is a good friend of mine and so I really, really wanted to like this book. Luckily, I loved it! I've been told it's a YA steam punk novel – steam punk is not a new genre but it's hot at the moment and once I realised it simply meant books set in a sort of alternative Victorian world with lots of steam-propelled gadgets and frockcoats and corsets, I knew I'd enjoy it. It's an action-packed novel full of humour and drama and Dickensian characters and it really deserves its success!

'Where Eagles Dare' by Alistair Maclean

I unpacked the box labelled Crime M-P and found all my old Alistair Maclean books. This one was always a favourite of mine! I miss these old action-packed adventure thrillers – who's writing them now?

'The Moor' by Laurie R King

Laurie King has written a series of historical crime novels told from the point of view of Sherlock Holmes' unconventional academic wife, Mary Russell. This is number four in the series and takes us back to the dark, brooding scene of Dartmoor, where the Hound of the Baskervilles was set. These are complex and intelligent mystery novels, with beautifully drawn characters and a believable historical setting. I buy them whenever I see them.

Nine books read in April, including the very thick volume of The Historian which actually took me the better part of a week to read.

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Books read in March 2010

'My Life in France' by Julia Childs

A charming, if rather scatty, memoir about Julia Child's life which Nora Ephron drew upon for her movie 'Julie & Julia'. I'd never heard of Julia Child before the movie, but still enjoyed this – mainly because I so badly want to go and live in Paris!

'Devil's Bride' by Stephanie Laurens and 'A Rake's Vow' by Stephanie Laurens, published in one volume as 'On A Stormy Night'

We went away for a break by the sea, only to have it rain all weekend, and stupidly I'd left my book at home for the kitchen bench. Luckily for me, the holiday house had some books on the bookshelf, including this big, thick whopper. I was exhausted and very happy to curl up with these bodice-ripping Regency romances. The love scenes were much steamier than I'm used to, but the architecture of the story was good and strong, unlike so many romance books – I was pleasantly surprised.

'Willows For Weeping' by Felicity Pulman

Book 4 in a YA medieval murder series, Willows For Weeping sees our heroine Janna travel as a pilgrim past Stonehenge, where one of her party is mysteriously murdered. Janna is on a quest to find her father, and finds some clues to his whereabouts on the way. These are very enjoyable books, with an appealing heroine, for anyone who like thoughtful historical books for teenagers.

'Manhattan Dreaming' by Anita Heiss

Dr Anita Heiss has a most fascinating resume, ranging from writing what's been called 'Koori chick-lit' to political activism, poetry, journalism, academia, and children's books ('Yirra and her deadly dog, Demon' was written in conjunction with the students of La Perouse Public School.) 'Manhattan Dreaming' is a funny, warm-hearted chick-lit romance, lifted out of the ordinary by its heroine, a bright and talented Koori art curator who gets her dream job at the Smithsonian in New York, but has to leave her footballer boyfriend behind in Canberra. Smart, sassy, and rich with popular culture references including the showcasing of Australian Aboriginal artists, this was the best chick lit I've read in years. No, make that ever. Loved it!

'The Empty Sleeve' by Leon Garfield

I collect Leon Garfield's books, which I always loved reading as a child. They're becoming harder and harder to find in second-hand bookshops and church fetes, and so I was pleased to find this one - which I've never read – when I was in the UK last year. It's rather a strange story of a boy, Peter Gannet, who is born one stormy day in the midst of the ringing of the noonday chimes. An old ship's carpenter tells of a superstition that the chime child would see ghosts and communicate with the devil ... and sure enough, when he is fourteen, Peter begins to be haunted by a ghost with an empty sleeve. It's a spooky story, with murder and sly machinations and deceit in it, and Leon Garfield's trademark brooding atmosphere.

'Deadly Decisions' by Kathy Reichs

A series of forensic crime novels set in contemporary Montreal, Kathy Reichs' books are extremely popular, featuring Dr Temperance Brennan as the strong-willed and feisty forensic anthropologist who, in this book, gets caught up in bikie gangs and their innocent victims. I always enjoy them, though I felt the formula was getting tired with this one. Though perhaps it's just because I've read so many of the others? I think there's about ten now, which is always dangerous territory for an author writing about the same characters.

'A Royal Pain' by Rhys Bowen

Second in a series of comic historical murder mysteries set in 1930s London, this is a delightful, frothy whodunit that very gently takes off Agatha Christie and her kind. It features a very minor member of the royal family, Lady Georgina, who despite her royal connections is impoverished and must work as a maid to keep herself in cocktails. The first was called Her Royal Spyness, which sort of gives you the idea of what kind of book it is. Great fun.

'The Crowded Shadows' by Celine Kiernan

Second in the Moorhawke Trilogy by Celine Kiernan, a YA fantasy set in a world rather like 15th century France. Book 1 was like a small, exquisite miniature, taking place within the confines of a castle over the course of a few days. Book 2 is larger in scope. Our heroine Wynter Moorehawke gallops alone through the forest, facing all sorts of dangers, as she searches for her missing foster-brother, Prince Alberon. Superbly written, and filled with true suspense, the only thing I don't like about this book is the heroine's name, which sounds like a parody of a fantasy book. In this volume, her strange name is explained and her true name revealed which satisfied me a little (it's the beautiful Iseult, like my own heroine in the Witches of Eileanan). I can only admit, though, that in my first draft of the Witches of Eileanan, I called my twins Ysabel and Yseult – what is it with young fantasy writers and the Y?

'The Glass Castle' by Jeannette Walls

This heart-wrenching memoir begins with Jeannette, on her way to a swish New York party, seeing her bag-lady mother rummaging through a dustbin. Jeannette's parents were eccentrics who refused to live by society's rules, but whose children were made to pay the cost of a life lived dreaming big dreams while skipping out-of-town ahead of the debt collectors. Much of this book's poignancy comes from the difficulty in hating her parents for their choices they made – sometimes I wish I didn't have to wash dishes and worry about mortgage payments either! In one scene, the father tells his children that Christmas is just a big commercialised rip-off and that instead of getting presents that year, all the children could have a star instead. That really pierced my heart, both for its beauty and also for those poor children, who really just wanted to be kids like all the other kids in town. Best memoir I've read in a long, long time.

Ten books read in March, a far more respectable number and a sign that I've delivered my book! Yay!

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Books read in February 2010

'The Death Maze' by Ariana Franklin

This is the next book after The Mistress In the Art of Death, about Adelia, an woman doctor and forensic pathologist in medieval England. The king, Henry III (he who cried, 'who shall rid me of this pesky priest'), has a mistress, Fair Rosamund, who is kept in a tower in the centre of a maze (really, medieval men!) Nonetheless, someone somehow gets to Fair Rosamund and kills her. Adelia is sent to find out who and how. The king's wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is the prime suspect but if she is responsible, civil war will break out once again. It is winter, and the sense of bitter cold and foreboding is very well done indeed. I enjoyed this immensely and will eagerly buy the next in the series.

'A Florentine Death' by Michele Guittari

Michele Giuttari is the real-life police chief of Florence, and this contemporary murder mystery set in Florence is practically autobiographical. Both Giuttari and his alter-ego hero, Chief Superintendent Ferrara, are "well groomed, with a slight Sicilian accent, longish black hair combed back and streaked with white at the sides . . . sideburns white, in contrast with thick black eyebrows.' Both have a German wife and like cigars. Both are famous for capturing the 'Florence Monster', a real-life case of a serial murderer or murderers in Florence who brutally murdered more than thirty young men and women. The case is referred to in A Florentine Death, but the book focuses on a fictional series of murderers in Florence, with secrets from the past reaching out to shadow our intrepid hero. This is not so much a whodunit as a whydunit, but it was intriguing and well-written and Guittari has gone on to write another four or five bestselling books., which I'll happily read if they come my way.

'Secrets of A Perfect Night In' by Stephanie Laurens, Victoria Alexander and Rachel Gibson

Once upon a time, three young women each attended a New Year's Eve ball ... kisses were stolen and promises made. But what happens when morning comes ... This is the premise behind this collection of three romance novellas by three different authors. I was given this book as a lucky door prize at a 'Writing Romance' workshop and quite enjoyed it. I haven't read category romance in a very long time. I didn't read the three novellas back to back – that would have been far too much sugar – but quite enjoyed them spread out between books.

The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan

Irish writer Celine Kiernan has written an utterly gorgeous YA fantasy series which begins with The Poison Throne. Unlike many fantasy novels today, her canvas and cast of characters is small but vividly and brilliantly realised. The action begins when Wynter Moorehawk and her father return to the castle where she grew up, only to find everything has changed. The first intimation of trouble is the refusal of the castle cats to talk to her. She discovers, to her horror, that King Jonathan has ordered all the cats killed. Soon she realises that one of her best friends, the king's son Alberon, is in rebellion against his father who is forcing his illegitimate son, Lord Razi, to take his place. Wynter and her father must try and discover what has happened to break the royal family apart, with a growing undercurrent of menace and danger. Although the action takes place only over a few days and within the halls and dungeons and gardens of the castle, it is a compelling narrative, driven by the emotional intensity of the relationships between the characters. There is murder, intrigue, mystery, romance and a touch of horror, all written with a sure, deft touch.

'The Life You Want' by Emily Barr

Why did I buy this book? It's not at all the sort of book I usually buy. Perhaps that's why. Every now and again I feel as if I should be more in touch with what everyone else in the world is reading. This is a contemporary novel by a UK writer about a woman called Tansy who leaves her husband and two boys at home in London and heads to India to find herself. She gets caught up in a kind of cult that's trafficking in orphaned children, and gets herself into all kinds of trouble. I must admit I didn't really like this book. It was kind of chick lit, only without the humour, and kind of a thriller except without any real suspense, and kind of a contemporary drama, except rather slow and predictable. I have to admit – this is just not my cup of tea.

'The White Queen' by Philippa Gregory

I love Philippa Gregory's work and so I was quick to borrow her new book from my sister. Thankfully The White Queen is not set in Tudor times because I was sick of the whole poxy lot of them (something I never thought would happen!) Instead it's set in the time of the War of Roses, a period which I find interesting but confusing, like most people, I suspect. The White Queen is Elizabeth Woodville, who enchants King Edward IV with her beauty (some people think she did so with witchcraft) – and marries him, finding herself caught up in a world of shifting loyalties and war. The book ends with the imprisonment of the two princes in the Tower, though Philippa Gregory has gone with the story that Elizabeth manages to save one of her sons which I must admit makes sense. I loved the use of the supernatural in the book, and think she's back in form!

Only 6 books this month! I'm too busy writing!

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Books read in January 2010

'Mistress of the Art of Death' by Ariana Franklin

This is an unusually well-written medieval murder mystery, featuring a most unusual detective - Adelia, the Mistress of the Art of Death. An unconventional, strong-minded (some would even say bloody-minded) woman who trained as a doctor and forensic pathologist in Salerno, Italy, she must keep her skills and intelligence hidden in England where she would be accused of being a witch if anyone knew that she cut up dead bodies for a living. Brought from Italy by King Henry III of England to investigate the murder of a child, she must pretend that her Arabian eunuch assistant is the real doctor, else face execution on the death pyre. Once you manage to suspend your disbelief about a woman doctor in 1171, you can immerse yourself in the story which is actually quite fascinating. The historical world comes vividly to life, the characters are well-drawn and interesting, and the actual murder mystery a nice tricky puzzle. I loved it.

'Julie & Julia' by Julie Powell

I loved the movie so much I bought both Julie Powell's memoir and Julia Child's My Life in France. Powell is rather shockingly honest and forthright, and at times very funny – however, her humour can be sharp-edged and mordant and I thought that Amy Adams was actually a bad choice to play her in the movie, being far too sweet and soft. However, perhaps you needed the sweetness to make her more likeable, because the real Julie Powell was not always sympathetic. I picked this book up and put it down again numerous times, and read a few other books before I finished it.

'The Trouble With Magic' by Madelyn Alt

A fluffy, light and pleasurable read, about an American woman who quits her job and starts to work in an antique shop owned by a witch. Before she knows it, Maggie's up to her neck in trouble, including a murder, two disturbingly attractive men (one a policeman investigating the murder, the other a devilishly handsome warlock), and her own peculiar psychic warnings.

'Dark Angels' by Katherine Langrish

I was absolutely swept away by this book, which is a children's historical adventure setting during medieval times in, I think, Wales. It tells the story of Wolf, who runs away from a cruel monk in a monastery and encounters a strange, mute elf-child, and a pack of hunting dogs owned by the local lord of the castle. The lord takes Wolf and the elf-child in, and his daughter Nest help him care for her and try to teach her how to speak. Then, one day, a passing jongleur comes by who ends up being far more than he seems ... A beautifully written, atmospheric tale that draws upon folklore and history, Dark Angels is my favourite children's book of the year so far. I must find more of her books!

'The Book of A Thousand Days' by Shannon Hale

A retelling of an old Grimm fairytale 'Maid Maleen' which is a Maiden in the Tower type, obviously of intense interest to me at the moment as I am writing my own Rapunzel retelling. Shannon Hale has made her career out of fairytale retellings and has done extremely well – I really loved her first book The Goose Girl. I enjoyed this a lot, but I am not head over heels in love with it, the way I hoped and expected to be. Perhaps its because the world did not have that fairytale sense of wonder that I love so much in Robin McKinley's books and in other fairytale retellings I've read.

The Stone Cage by Nicholas Stuart Gray

Garth Nix gave me this beautiful old second-hand book years ago, when he heard that I wanted to write a Rapunzel retelling one day. Published in 1963, this reworking of the Rapunzel story is told from the point of view of the witch's cat, a clever and cynical creature that stays with the evil woman because he cannot resist the lure of magic. I absolutely love this book, and read it again as part of my immersion in all old Rapunzel tales. An absolute classic.

The House of Arden by Edith Nesbit

I spent the weekend unpacking boxes of my old children's books to put in my beautiful, new library and found all my E. Nesbit books. I sat down right away and re-read this, books piled all over the couch and round my feet. No wonder its taking me so long to unpack all my boxes of books! I keep re-discovering ones I simply have to read again!

'The Temptation of the Night Jasmine' by Lauren Willig

The latest in this series of historical romance romps, and just as much fun as the earlier books. Lauren Willig must be running out of flowers thought ...

'The Heretic's Daughter' by Kathleen Kent

Kathleen Kent is a direct descendant of Martha Carrier, one of the women hanged following the Salem witch trials. Growing up with stories of her notorious ancestor, Kathleen sets out to tell her story, choosing as her protagonist Martha's young daughter Sarah. Beautifully told, this book was a true insight into the Salem witch trials and into the world of the American Puritans. I absolutely loved it. It really doesn't reach the witch trial until more than halfway through the book, but is so beautifully and compellingly told, this really doesn't matter. In fact, it's better than that – because we understand each of the characters and the situation so well, we really, really care about what happens to them.

'The Letter From Spain' by Frances Parkinson Keyes

I bought this book from a second-hand bookshop because a romantic mystery set in Spain is just my cup of tea. Unfortunately I didn't like it & will probably sell it on. Why? It was, frankly, my dear, boring. Big yawn!

The Turf-Cutter's Donkey by Patricia Lynch

I read this book when I was a child and always remembered it, so I gladly snaffled it when I found it at a second-hand bookshop in Brisbane. It has a lovely inscription inside: 'To dearest Sheila, with love from Auntie Eileen.' Doesn't that sound so gorgeous and Irish? Patricia Lynch was an Irish journalist and writer and this is her best known book, a simple novel about two Irish children, Seamus and Eileen, and their adventures with an enchanted teapot, a leprechaun, a golden eagle, various witches, gypsies and Irish heroes, including the Salmon of Knowledge, and a grey donkey called Long Ears. It's really a collection of short stories, rather like Enid Blyton's Adventures of the Wishing Chair, but very charming and sweet.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna tells the story of a sensitive young American who works in the tumultuous household of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, while they shelter Leon Trotsky. He is present when Trotsky is assassinated, and his own life is marked by his experiences there. Yet its about much more than that – The Lacuna a complicated book with a complicated plot, much of it told in letters or journal excerpts, and with a mystery at its heart, symbolised by the lacuna of the title, and by the underwater cave that the hero Harrison Shepherd finds as a boy. I found it an utterly fascinating book, though the structure does take some time to get used to. Frida in particular is brought to vivid and memorable life and, like all good novels that feature the lives of artists, took me back to pore over her paintings, finding them illuminated by my new understanding of her as a woman and as an artist. As Rivera said of his wife, 'Never before had a woman put such agonizing poetry on canvas as Frida did.'

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Books I've been reading in 2009

Monday, January 09, 2012

Books read in December 2009

  1. 'Remarkable Creatures' by Tracey Chevalier. Tracey Chevalier simply cannot write fast enough to keep me happy. I'd queue up overnight to get one of her books (well, almost). Remarkable Creatures tells the story of Mary Anning, the young woman who first discovered the fossils of dinosaurs in her home town of Lyme Regis. Because she was a working class woman, she was virtually ignored and certainly made no money out of the fortunes paid for dinosaur fossils. The novel is told from the point of view of Mary, and of her well-bred and unconventional friend, Elizabeth Philpot. Chevalier manages the two different voices with great aplomb and creates a vivid and evocative story. I just wish I didn't have to wait another year or more for another Tracey Chevalier story.
  2. 'The Seduction of the Crimson Rose' by Lauren Willig. A sparkling romantic romp which made me laugh out loud. Gorgeous fun.
  3. 'Madensky Square' by Eva Ibbotson. I bought this copy in a second-hand shop as I love Eva Ibbotson books and had not heard of this one before. A bittersweet love story set in Vienna before the war, it was written for adults – as were many of her other titles that have since been re-released as YA titles, something I had not realized. As always, her minor characters are a delight and her humour is light and sweet. The romance is a little darker-edged, though, which probably explains why it has not been reissued as YA.
  4. 'The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy' by Penelope Lively. An old favourite from my childhood. Penelope Lively is one of those authors that first began my fascination with books filled with folklore and history. I read this in 1979, and have long remembered its strange eerie power. Reading it again as an adult, it doesn't have quite the same magic – but is still worthy of its place on my shelf of childhood favourites.
  5. 'Shiver' by Maggie Stiefvater. I had heard a great deal about this book and so I grabbed it as soon as it finally arrived in Australian shores. I read it in a single setting – it is a small, simple, elegant story – with a sense of brooding melancholy and bittersweet longing. Essentially a tale of first love, it is beautifully told and I rate it much more highly than any other paranormal romances for teenagers that I've read this year. It is true that there are no surprises, but that is true of the genre as a whole, I think. Teenage girls (or anyone else) do not read paranormal romance for twists and turns and switches and surprises – they read it for the sense of strange and wonderful in the midst of the real experiences of first meeting someone who stirs you, and of the real fears and problems we all face as we grow into adulthood. They read it longing to find love like that for themselves. Structured in very short chapters alternating between the points of view of Grace, the teenage heroine, and Sam, the mysterious wolf-boy, the book moves at an elegiac pace. Much of the pleasure in it comes from Stiefvater's lyrical use of language, and especially for me, by the use of one of my favourite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke. Also, the characters are carefully and lovingly drawn. Sam quickly became a favourite of mine, because he has the good taste to love Rilke, and because he composes songs in his head which made him a far deeper and more interesting character that is usual in YA paranormal romance. I liked Grace too. She was strong, intelligent and capable, and the romance between the two was delicate and rather lovely. By the time I finished the book I was completely enchanted.
  6. 'Where Serpents Sleep' by C.S. Harris. The 4th in the Sebastian St Cyr series, this book revolves around the murder of eight young prostitutes near Covent Garden. Sebastian is brought on to the cast by Hero Jarvis, a strong-minded young lady who ignores social convention by working among London's poor and needy. She has always been one of my favourite characters in this series and so I was really pleased to see her given a more active role. I think this is a series that just keeps on getting better.
  7. 'The Angel's Game' by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. His earlier book, The Shadow of the Wind, is one of my favourite books and so I was looking forward to The Angels' Game. I enjoyed it immensely, but it isn't anywhere as good as his first book. Though perhaps that's because I've read many books with a similar premise i.e. Lucifer the fallen angel on earth. Still a vivid, compelling read, though.

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Books read in November 2009

  1. 'Death of a Stranger' by Anne Perry. This is one in a series of Victorian murder mysteries featuring Inspector William Monk and his wife, Hester, who was once a nurse in the Crimea War. These are intelligent and complex thrillers which bring the Victorian world vividly to life. Many of Perry's plots have unexpected twists and turns in them, which is something I always love – so few writers can truly surprise the reader. Something which not many people know – Anne Perry is actually a non-de-plume. Her real name is Juliet Hulme, and she is one half of the infamous Parker-Hulme murder case in New Zealand which was filmed in 1994 as Heavenly Creatures (Juliet Hulme was played by Kate Winslet, Peter Jackson was the director). You may remember the story – two teenage girls bludgeon the mother of one to death to avoid being separated. They were convicted and spent five years in gaol. I had read most of Anne Perry's books before I discovered this, and it's hard not to feel an extra degree of fascination with her insigt into the mind of murderers when you know she's a convicted murderer herself.
  2. 'The Slap' by Christos Tsolkias. An Australian contemporary novel set in Melbourne, this book tells what happens after a man slaps a child who is not his own at a suburban backyard BBQ. Told from eight differing points of view, the book shows the way this single act of (justified?) violence ripples out through the circle of friends and family. Most of the characters were extremely unlikeable, obsessed with sex, and engaged in illicit drugs and/or illicit affairs. My suburb is totally not like this. Or is it? Not a book I particularly enjoyed reading, but I've had more conversations about this book than any other work of fiction I've read all year.
  3. 'Passion of Artemisia' by Susan Vreeland. I just loved this book! It tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a woman painter in the Renaissance. She was raped at 18 by her father's colleague and had to endure a trial in which she was tortured to see if she was telling the truth. She went on to paint some extraordinary paintings, and to become the only woman ever to be accepted into the Florence salon. Brilliant!
  4. 'Island to Abbey – Survival and Sanctuary in the books of Elsie J. Oxenham 1907 to 1959' by Stella Waring & Sheila Ray. I've been collecting books by Elsie J. Oxenham since I was about 11, and I do like to read books about writers and their work. This was quite fascinating, especially since it filled in many of the gaps in my collection. A must for Abbey Girls fans.
  5. 'The Midnight Disease – The Drive to Write, Writer's Block and the Creative Brain' by Alice. W Flaherty. This is my absolute top pick for the best non-fiction book of the year. It examines why some people (like me) are compulsively driven to write and what can sometimes cause that compulsion to run dry, using examples from literary history and medical case studies. Like Oliver Sacks, the author is a neurologist but she is also an exquisite writer and the examples from her own life are compelling and heart-breaking. It was so good that as soon as I had finished, I turned back to the beginning and read The Midnight Disease through again. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
  6. 'A Beautiful Blue Death' by Charles Finch. Another Victorian murder mystery, rather slow, rather cozy – but I liked the hero, a gentleman with a Sherlock Holmes-like ability to notice and process obscure information in order to make his case. And the murder was clever.
  7. 'The Blackstone Key' by Rose Melikan. Another historical mystery, this time set in 1795. This is really more of an adventure thriller, with smugglers, spies, gunpowder plots and a rather clever secret code (I do love a book with secret codes!). Our heroine, Mary Finch, is clever, bold and resourceful, and the minor characters are all vivid and believable. There's even a touch of romance. All in all, a great debut novel and a writer I'll be reading again.
  8. 'Heart's Blood' by Juliet Marillier. I just love Juliet Marillier! Her books are gorgeous. She is the undisputed queen of historical fantasy in my mind. If you love tales of far, far away and long, long ago, tales filled with romance and danger and magic, then you must read Juliet Marillier!
  9. 'Why Mermaids Sing' by C.S. Harris. I've describe this series before as being like Georgette Heyer with a darker edge – murder mysteries set in Regency London, with a brooding viscount playing at detective, a beautiful doomed romance, various fascinating minor characters like the viscount's best friend, a crippled surgeon addicted to opium, and an aristocratic early suffragette who despises men. This is one series where I'm always eagerly looking forward to the next book.

Only nine books read this month, but I did read The Midnight Disease twice! Can I count that as ten?

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Books read in October 2009

  1. 'Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight' by Alexander Fuller. In my determination to widen my reading, after a month or two dominated by historical murder mysteries and children's fantasy, I picked up this memoir of an African childhood which has been on my shelf for so long I forget who gave it to me. Alexandra Fuller was born in England, but both her parents were white Rhodesians in the days when Zimbabwe was still ruled by the British. Alexandra and her family lived through the turmoil of the 1970s and 1980s, as Southern Rhodesia first declared its independence from Britain, then became embroiled in a lengthy civil war that saw Mugabe seize power. It's a fascinating book, at times quite shocking and confronting, fearlessly honest and uncompromisingly unsentimental. If you're interested in Africa at all, read it!
  2. 'The Lost Symbol' by Dan Brown. This was my Book Club choice, and for once we read a hardback book because we could all buy it so cheaply at the discount department stores (not something I usually do, on principle). My Book Club had all read and enjoyed 'The Da Vinci Code' when it came out, and so I was quite looking forward to this book, partly out of curiosity to see what rabbit Dan Brown would pull out of the hat. I must admit I was not impressed. I love thrillers, but thrillers need to be action-packed and fast-paced, and this one was slowed down by a great deal of description and explanation. The dialogue was leaden and unnatural, and although all the stuff about Masons was interesting, it didn't seem important enough to justify the plot. Brown is very good at building suspense, and so there were a lot of chapter cliffhangers and switches, but all in all, I thought it was a disappointment. However, the man has all my sympathy. It can't be easy to meet such a load of expectation, and he was writing about Washington and so must have been limited by his natural desire to give his capital city some kind of reverence.
  3. 'A Corpse in Shining Armour' by Caro Peacock. This is the third in a brilliant historical murder mystery series, set in the early days of Victoria's reign, and starring the independently minded Liberty Lane. Excellent period detail never slows down the action, and Liberty Lane is a beguiling heroine, intelligent, observant, and doing her best to live her own life amidst the strictures of early Victorian society. Basically, this is a series I gobble up as soon as the latest book hits the shelves. Wonderful!
  4. 'Desperate Duchesses' by Eloisa James. What can I say? The kids were on school holidays, I had worked myself half to death finishing my own book before they broke up, I was tired and not very well, and I wanted a book to curl up with for a morning in bed while the kids watched TV. And I didn't really pay much attention to the title or the tagline which reads, 'Games in the bedroom!' The exclamation mark is the book designer's, not mine. What I did notice was the gorgeous frock and a woman's hand holding a chess piece, and so on impulse I grabbed the book (along with a pile of others, planning to have a feast of reading while waiting for my own manuscript to come back from my editor). When I did pay attention to the title, my heart sank. Oh, no. The reference to 'Desperate Housewives' was obvious to anyone paying attention, and the dress was topped by a rather impressive décolletage. Oh, well. I was tired, I was sick, it was raining & the kids were happy. I plunged in. What a pleasant surprise! A bodice-ripping historical romance it is, without a doubt, but also warm, funny, and rather clever. I was completely captivated for a couple of hours, and was interested enough to google Eloisa James afterwards. Turns out she's a Shakespeare professor by day, and a New York Times best-selling author by night. I might even read her again.
  5. 'Murder at Madingley Grange' by Caroline Graham. This book has as its taglines: 'From the creator of the Midsomer Murders' and 'A classic whodunit from a master storyteller'. Now I love the TV series of the Midsomer Murders, mainly because of the gorgeous countryside and the old manor houses used in the shoots, and I love a classic whodunit, so I grabbed this as soon as I saw it. It was a big disappointment. Badly written and at times incoherent, it jerked and jarred its way through to the (unsatisfactory) end, and makes me want to never read a book by this author again. It makes me wonder about the glowing quotes on the back cover – one of which says she is the best detective writer since Agatha Christie. Did they read the same book? Or are her other books better? Or is she friends with all the journalists? It's a mystery.
  6. 'The Dark Vineyard' by Martin Walker. A murder mystery set in the Perigord region of France, and featuring small town policeman Bruno, this book was a real discovery. The murder was intriguing, the descriptions of small town French life were fabulous (making me want to move there right now!), the characters charming and well-developed, and the writing fluid and at times lyrical. An author whose books I'll definitely be looking out for!
  7. 'The Masque of the Black Tulip' by Lauren Willig.The Ropemaker
  8. 'The Deception of the Emerald Ring' by Lauren Willig. I met Lauren Willig when I was at the Historical Novel Society conference in Chicago, and grabbed her first book 'The Secret History of the Pink Carnation' to read on the plane home. I enjoyed it so much I ordered the next two in the series from the US and settled down to enjoy them as soon as they arrived. Willig had taken the Scarlet Pimpernel as her inspiration, and created a whole battalion of French and English spies going by ridiculous flower names, fighting, frolicking and falling in love during the time of Napolean's regime. Framing these spy stories is the modern-day story of Eloise Kelly, a Harvard grad student who is so busy researching the flower spies that she almost fails to notice the very handsome British descendant guarding their secrets. Frothy, funny, romantic and clever, these books are charming and deftly written.
  9. 'The Ropemaker' by Peter Dickinson. I read and loved many of Peter Dickinson's books as a teenager, in particular 'The Dancing Bear' and the Weathermonger series. This novel is was short-listed for the Carnegie Medal and was a Printz Honor Book. It is a clever, thoughtful and demanding fantasy novel for Young Adults, and may not appeal to teenagers used to quick and ultimately forgettable reads. It has a quartet of unlikely heroes, being a girl and her grandmother, and a boy and his grandfather, and at times the action is rather slow and deliberate. However, it has lingered in my mind for a long time since reading it, and I think will become a classic of children's fantasy. Highly recommended.
  10. 'Zorro' by Isabel Allend. A wonderfully rich and evocative historical adventure tale imagining the birth and life of the legendary Zorro. Isabel Allende does a wonderful job, though this book is nowhere near as poignant and beautiful as some of her other books. I enjoyed it, but much prefer House of Spirits or Love and Shadows.Cupid's Arrow
  11. 'Cupid's Arrow' by Isabelle Merlin. This is the third in a series of fresh, fast-paced YA suspense novels which I have been really enjoying. Each novel stands alone, with new characters and situations, yet they are linked by their French settings, their gentle romances, a twist of the eerie or supernatural, and their use of the newest technologies, such as google, blogs, and so on. In 'Cupid's Arrow', an Australian teenager Fleur travels with her mother to Avallon, meant to be the 'true' resting place of King Arthur. She meets a lovely French boy called Remy, but soon finds herself caught up in a murderous mystery. The romance is romantic, the suspense is suspenseful, and the writing style is easy and natural and very readable. Definitely recommended for teenage girls!
  12. 'Silent in the Grave' by Deanna Raybourn. This novel is the first in the series of Lady Julia historical mysteries, and was recommended to me by a cyber-friend in the UK who knows I love the genre. It's a clever book, strong on atmosphere but rather slow on action, which brings the world of 1886 London vividly to life. The characters are all appealing and well-developed, and the murder itself is intriguing and difficult to solve (like all lovers of murder mysteries, I like to try and guess the murderer on my own!) I'd have liked the pace to have been a little racier, but all in all a very enjoyable and clever murder mystery by an author I'll be reading again.
  13. 'Black Ice' by Anne Stuart. Anne Stuart was recommended to me by a reader on Shelfari who read a post I'd made about wanting to read some good romantic suspense a la Mary Stewart. She is an American author who has won just about every romance award it is possible to win, and moves easily between gothic romances, romantic suspense and historical romance. The novel is about a rather silly girl who finds herself caught up a situation with arms dealers, and gets rescued by an undercover agent. I must admit I was not really swept away by this book, and didn't warm to either the hero or the heroine or the romance itself, si I'm not rushing out to buy more in this series.

So, thirteen books read in September, a sign that I was not tied up writing like I have been the previous few months. A lot of frivolity and not much serious reading, but some great new authors discovered with – even better! – backlists. So I need not fear having nothing to read for a while.

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Books read in September 2009

  1. 'The Shakespeare Secret' by J.L. Carrell. This is an absolutely brilliant, compelling and intelligent thriller that moves at breakneck speed from London to Boston to the Arizona desert, with flashbacks to the days of Shakespeare himself. Filled with utterly fascinating tidbits of information about the mysterious playwright himself, it nonetheless doesn't lose pace for a second. The best thriller I've read in a long time, and definitely one of the best books I've read this year.The Shakespeare Secret
  2. 'The Bee's Kiss' by Barbara Cleverly. A murder mystery set in 1920s London, this book will inevitably be compared to Agatha Christie. I don't think it stands up to the comparison, unfortunately. This one should have been great – it has a clever plot, interesting characters and she has a readable style. However, it just didn't seem to get it quite right. Perhaps because she telegraphed one of the biggest 'surprises' in the opening sequences … or perhaps because too many of her narrators lied to the reader ... or perhaps just because it didn't seem to bring any new insight into the historical period. I have enjoyed earlier books of hers, perhaps because the India setting made them feel fresh, but I won't be chasing down any other of her books.
  3. 'Die in Plain Sight' by Elizabeth Lowell. I've been looking for some romantic suspense novels, having so enjoyed my re-visit to my favourite Mary Stewart books earlier in the year. Elizabeth Lowell was recommended to me, but I found it hard to get into this book. It took me a couple of tries, but I did enjoy it once I read it. Very American in tone and style and setting, and the mystery was not too hard to guess, but a pleasant enough way to while away the time.
  4. 'Death by Water' by Kerry Greenwood. One of my favourites of the Phryne Fisher series. Clever, quirky, sexy and very enjoyable.
  5. 'Death in Kashmir' by M.M. Kaye. I picked this up at a second hand book stall for 20c and never was 20c better spent. M.M.Kaye is the author of 'The Far Pavilions' which I read and adored in my teens. I didn't know she also wrote a series of romantic suspense novels, of which this was the first. Just delightful, with a perfect combination of romance, suspense, mystery and an exotic location – very like Mary Stewart and just what I was looking for. I must hunt out her others.
  6. 'Speak Daggers to Her'
  7. 'Book of Moons', both by Rosemary Edghill. Murder mysteries set in New York, with the amateur detective being a Wiccan priestess. Edgy, dark, funny, and clever, they're really very good. I think a tighter edit wouldn't have gone astray, but very readable and I love the Wiccan angle.

That brings my total of books read so far this year to 80, which is fairly respectable. That's an average of eight and a half a month. A lot of historical crime and children's books, as always. I must try and read some contemporary literary fiction!

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Books read in August 2009

  1. 'Dancer's Luck' by Lorna Hill. A lovely first edition, bought in The Children's Bookshop in Edinburgh, and posted home. This one is set in Scotland, and is very charming. A classic girls' ballet story and one that I am sure my daughter will enjoy one day.
  2. 'Bring Out the Banners' by Geoffrey Trease. A first edition of one of his later books, written in 1994, sixty years after the publication of his first book and four years before he died at the age of 89. This novel is all about Mrs Pankhurst and the Suffragettes and although it doesn't have quite the verve of some of Geoffrey Trease's earlier books, it is still absolutely fascinating and made me want to know a lot more about the fight for women's liberation.
  3. 'Danger in the Wings' by Geoffrey Trease. Another first edition, bought like the previous two at The Children's Bookshop in Edinburgh, an absolute treasure trove for collectors of classic children's books. This one was his last book, published in 1997, the year before he died. What a brilliant writer he was! Writing at 88, he still has all his trademark charm, wit and adventure. I just hope I'm still writing as well at 88!Leonardo's Swans
  4. 'Leonardo's Swans' by Karen Essex. A lovely signed copy, bought at the Historical Novel Society's conference in Chicago, where I met the author, a statuesque and strikingly beautiful woman whose intelligence shone out with very word she spoke. Set in Renaissance Italy, the book charts the lives, loves and marriages of two sisters. Isabella and Beatrice, and their relationship with Leonardo da Vinci. This is historical writing at its best, vivid, alive, crackling with sexual and political tension, and uncompromising in its reality. I'd recommend this one highly! By far the best book of the month.
  5. 'The Corinthian' by Georgette Heyer. Since I am writing a book where my heroine pretends to be a boy, I thought I'd re-read this old classic to see how the mistress of gender-bending adventure manages it. I have reads this book so often it's in tatters, but I still enjoyed it immensely.
  6. 'The Silver Blade' by Sally Gardner. I was really looking forward to this book, having enjoyed her previous two books, 'I, Coriander' and 'The Red Necklace'. This one was a little disappointing, however. Maybe I read too many Scarlet Pimpernel novels as a teenager, or maybe the gruesome twists seemed a little too much like window-dressing.
  7. 'The Angel's Game' by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. 'His earlier book, 'The Shadow of the Wind' is one of my all-time favourites, and so I was really looking forward to this too. Again, it was a little bit of a disappointment. I think he writes beautifully, and his Barcelona is as vivid and fascinating as ever. I really connected with the hero, a young writer struggling to be true to his art, yet … yet … perhaps it was the whole dark angel thing, which seemed a little trite or predictable … I love 'The Vintner's Luck' by Elizabeth Knox and 'Angel of Ruin' by Kim Wilkins, both of which use the same idea but so much better.
  8. 'Twilight' by Stephanie Meyer. Yes, I finally gave in and read it, after months of being asked my opinion and having to admit I knew all about it but couldn't judge because I hadn't read it. My impressions? A rather flimsy teenage romance with vampires. Competently written, utterly predictable, and rather trite. Some disturbing undercurrents about sexual politics, but no worse than a million other romances. I felt I had read it all before, but would I have felt differently without the hype? It's not as if I came to the story fresh, and I always knew that vampire romance is not at all the kind of book I like to read. It did seem, however, rather thin and shallow. There was none of the deepness and richness and complexity of character and plot that I like in a book. However, ultimately it's a romance and I think that the longing for romantic happiness is a deep human need that shouldn't be mocked. And it's a book for teenagers, and when I think of other fare they could be reading, like Sweet Valley High, well, it's not so bad.
  9. 'Magic Flutes' by Eva Ibbotson. Another teenage romance, by one of my favourite authors. A perfect antidote to the gloom and dankness of Twilight. Just as predictable, but filled with life and vitality and charm, with all sorts of fascinating tidbits about Vienna and opera and music, and filled with Eva Ibbotson's trademark cast of eccentric and lovable minor characters. I don't remember the names or personalities of any of Twilight's minor characters, while the Littlest Heidi, the Bulgarian Boris and his flocculating yoghurt, Prince Maximilian and his dogs, Bubi and all the rest just leap off the page and dance around the room. A delight, as always.

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Books read in July 2009

  1. 'The Gimlet Eye' by James Roy. The first ever children's fantasy by this Australian author, better known for his YA social realism. This book is part of the Quentaris 'shared world' fantasy series, in which different Australian authors write adventures all set within the same world, which was first developed by Paul Collins and Michael Pryor in 2003. Although the quality is sometimes uneven, due to the range of different writers working in the world, this one is a lot of fun, with an assassination plot, a creepy half-child, half-old woman, and a melodramatic actor who steals the show.Revelation
  2. 'The Woman In the Fifth' by Douglas Kennedy. This book had been recommended to me by a friend and so I bought it, even though the melodramas of a middle-aged American academic is exactly the sort of book I normally try to avoid. It is beautifully written, in a very simple yet gripping way, and has an extraordinary twist to it that I simply did not see coming. Books very rarely surprise me anymore, as I read so much, but I was quite flabbergasted by this one. My overall impression – intriguing, clever, but perhaps a little too clever. Not sure I want to sample another of his books – but then again, it was bracing.
  3. 'City of Flowers' by Mary Hoffman. I love these Stravaganti books! YA historical fantasy, about a group of modern day teenagers who travel back in time (or perhaps sideways to an alternative universe) to a medieval Italy with flying horses and other magical things. I wish I'd thought of stravaganting.
  4. 'Blood of Love' by Susan Parisi. I wanted to love this book. Venice, murder, opium, romance – it should have been just my cup of tea. But unfortunately I found the style so florid and overwrought, I put it down without finishing it – something I rarely do. A disappointment.
  5. 'Operation Typhoon Shore – Book 1' by Joshua Mowll. A YA historical adventure, with lots of fascinating footnotes and illustrations. I enjoyed it immensely.
  6. 'The Wave Runners' by Kai Meyer. A YA historical fantasy, filled with action and adventure, pirates and pollywiggles, it was a lot of fun.
  7. 'Revelation' by C.J. Sansom. This is just the most brilliant series of historical murder mysteries. Absolutely compelling and fascinating, I recommend them highly. This one is a fascinating look at Bedlam and religious madness. I'll be very interested to see where C.J. Sansom goes next.

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Books read in June 2009

  1. 'Cocaine Blues' by Kerry Greenwood. I have read most of the books in the Phryne Fisher mystery series, but always enjoy them. This is the first in the series, introducing the flapper-turned-detective, the Divine Miss Phryne. Clever, witty, and fun, these books are always a delectable diversion.The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
  2. 'The Sanctuary Seeker' by Bernard Knight. Historical murder mysteries with a strong emphasis on gritty realism. Enjoyable.
  3. 'Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles' by Margaret George. A thick, magisterial fictive biography of the tragic queen from birth to death. Brilliantly imagined and told, and highly illuminating.
  4. 'The Secret History of the Pink Carnation' by Lauren Willig. A wonderful concoction blending historical romance and chick lit – I loved it!
  5. 'The Nostradamus Prophecy' by Therese Breslin. An absorbing historical adventure for children featuring a wonderful leopard and his trainer, and a minstrel's headstrong daughter.
  6. 'The Serpent in the Garden' by Janet Gleeson. A historical murder mystery set in 1795, and filled with fascinating details about growing pineapples. Rather slow, but interesting.
  7. 'Flying Too High' by Kerry Greenwood. The second in the Phryne Fister mystery series.

That brings my total for the first six months of the year to 48 books, which is not very many for me. I'm sure I must have forgotten a couple! It has been a very busy six months though.

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Books read in May 2009

  1. 'Madam, Will You Talk?' by Mary Stewart. An old favourite of mine, found when unpacking boxes of books, and fallen upon with joy. What a wonderful writer she is! Why doesn't anyone write books like this anymore? A perfect blend of suspense and romance, with a beautiful, clear, lyrical style.
  2. 'Nine Chariots Waiting' by Mary Stewart. Another old favourite about a governess who falls in love with the heir to the chateau but suspects him and his father of seeking to murder her young charge. A lovely romantic suspense novel.
  3. 'Touch Not the Cat' by Mary Stewart. Haven't read this one in quite a while. Touches of ESP enliven a story about a girl whose family house is slowly crumbling into ruin.
  4. 'The Magician's Apprentice' by Trudi Canavan. A fantasy novel by one of Australia's top-selling fantasy authors. She writes persuasively and well, though this book seems a little jaded.
  5. 'The Alchemy of Murder' by Carol McCleary. A historical murder mystery with a fantastic bluestocking detective – Nellie Bly, the world's first female reporter. With cameo roles by Oscar Wilde, Jules Verne, and Louis Pasteur, this is set in Paris in 1889 and is, I hope, the first in a long series.
  6. 'The Case of the Diamond Shadow' by Sophie Masson. A great old-fashioned mystery filled with humour and glamour! I really enjoyed it.
  7. 'A Wicked Gentleman' by Jane Feather. Another Regency romance, with spies and murder thrown in. I enjoyed it. Perfect reading for a busy, busy month.
  8. 'Dark Fire' by C.J.Sansom. I cannot recommend this series highly enough. Historical murder mysteries set in the days of Henry VIII, and featuring a hunchback lawyer called Matthew Shardlake as the detective, these books are rich and thick and complex and clever and compulsively readable. Wonderful!

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Books read in April 2009

  1. 'The London Eye Mystery' by Siobhan Dowd. A lovely little book that worked like clockwork – not one unnecessary word or sentence. It deserves to be as big a success as 'The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time', which has a similar plot device but is not nearly as clever.
  2. 'Surviving with Wolves' by Misha DeFonseca. An extraordinary story of the wartime survival of a seven year old girl who trekked across 3,000 miles of Nazi-occupied Europe, and was at one time taken in by a pack of wolves. A very affecting story.
  3. 'Friends in High Places' by Donna Leon. One of a series of murder mystery novels set in Venice, by one of my favourite contemporary crime novelists. Consistently good.
  4. 'Temptation and Surrender' by Stephanie Laurens. A torrid Regency romance that made me blush once or twice. Georgette Heyer never told it like this. Could have done with a good cut, but better than usual romance fare.
  5. 'The Priestess and the Slave' by Jenny Blackford. A novella set in Ancient Greece comparing the lives of a priestess of Apollo and a slave girl. Lovely historical detail.
  6. 'Thunder of Valmy' by Geoffrey Trease. I was thrilled to discover this old out-of-print gem down in Bowral, and read it in a single sitting over lunch. Classic Trease!
  7. 'The Swetness at the Bottom of the Pie' by Alan Bradley. I loved this book! A quirky and charming murder mystery with an odd ten year old girl as the detective. I'll look forward to more books by this author.
  8. 'The Abbey Girls on Trial' by Elsie J. Oxenham. Found this in a second-hand bookshop and snaffled it up. I have it already but not such a beautiful old one. Features my favourite Abbey girls, Rosamund and Maidlin.

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Books read in March 2009

  1. 'The Lost German Slave Girl' by John Bailey. This is an truly amazing book – as readable and compelling as a novel, yet bursting with extraordinary facts about slavery in the New Orleans before the Civil War. I was shocked, horrified, entranced, and moved to tears – and quite amazed that I hadn't heard so much more about his incredible book. It should be an international bestseller.
  2. 'Blue Castle' by L.M. Montgomery. I was having a virtual conversation about this book with another writer, Sally Odgers, and coincidentally that week came across it as I was unpacking boxes of books. I sat down at once and began to read it (making my husband rather cross as I was supposed to be putting books on the shelves). I remember reading it as a child and it still has a lot of charm. A book about seizing the day.The Lost German Slave Girl
  3. 'The White Tiger' by Aravind Adiga. I was rather reluctant to read this book as I haven't enjoyed a Booker prize winner in years. I didn't hate this, but I didn't love it either. It had a strong voice and a strong sense of place, which I've decided is what the judges are looking for, but it seemed very predictable to me – I felt like I'd read it all before.
  4. 'Camelot's Blood' by Sarah Zettel. Not as good as some of her earlier books, but still beautifully written historical romance.
  5. 'The Remarkable Secret of Aurelia Bonhoffen' by Deb Abela. I loved this book! Quirky, funny, filled with mystery and mayhem, its just the sort of book I would have loved as a 10 year old.
  6. 'Zarconi's Magic Flying Fish' by Kirsty Murray. A children's book about an Australian travelling circus, this book is filled with a sense of the magic of everyday things.
  7. 'The Murder's Club' by PD Martin. A genuinely creepy and all too believable crime thriller, about an FBI profiler who has ESP. Definitely have to read more in this series, I couldn't put it down (almost missed my plane because of it!)
  8. 'The Art of Love' by Elizabeth Edmondsen. This is a charming, slow, atmospheric historical novel, set in the 1930s in London and France. Although it has a mystery at its heart and a simmering romance, neither of these plot elements are nearly as important as evoking a wonderful sense of the time and the place and the characters. Certainly a writer I'll read again.
  9. 'Pop Princess' by Isabelle Merlin. Romantic suspense for the teenage market, this book is extraordinarily fresh and funky, crammed full of popular culture references and a modern sensibility. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as 'Three Wishes', the earlier book by Isabelle Merlin, but that's just because being the bestie of a pop princess is not one of my dreams, while discovering I'm heir to a French chateau most certainly is.
  10. 'Locket of Dreams' by Belinda Murrell. This is written by my beautiful, talented sister Belinda and is a wonderful story that slips between contemporary Sydney and 1840s Scotland and outback Australia. I enjoyed reading it so much, and think its got success stamped all over it.

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Books read in February 2009

  1. 'Badger Valley' by Monica Edwards. Published in 1976, this is the true story of the writer's bid to observe and help the endangered badgers of England. It is part of a series of non-fiction books she wrote about the farm in which she lived with her husband, who was severely hurt in a tractor accident in 1968. Filled with charming details of badgers and other wild animals, this is really a book only for badger-fans or Monica Edwards-fans (of which I am both)Heir to Sevenwaters
  2. 'Heir to Sevenwaters' by Juliet Marillier, who is one of my absolute all-time favourite waters. This is part of the popular Sevenwaters series, though like them all, can stand squarely on its own feet, and is filled with magic, wonder, and romance. I was so pleased to return to Sevenwaters and would love it if Juliet would write more in this series.
  3. 'The Museum of Mary Child' by Cassandra Golds. This is an extraordinary book about the power of love to transform the world. With a fairy-tale, out-of-world quality, it reminded me of books by Elizabeth Goudge and Joan Aiken, writers who I love. Delicate and yet riveting, timeless and yet surprising, tender and yet sad, it's a truly beautiful book.
  4. 'The Murder Stone' by Louise Penny. A clever murder mystery with a few surprises along the way, this book adds a fresh feel to the classic manor house mystery. I started reading these books after I heard Louse Penny being compared to Agatha Christie, and she certainly can weave a good tale. Looking forward to reading more.
  5. 'The Lighthouse' by P.D. James. I haven't read this author for quite some time so I enjoyed revisiting her. This is not an action-packed book, but she writes so well it doesn't matter. She has a clever, vivid, supple style, and respects the intelligence of her readers.
  6. 'The Book of Unholy Mischief' by Elle Newmark. I loved this book! No, that's not strong enough. I adored this book. A novel about love, food, the power of books and words, and set in Venice, one of my all-time favourite cities, this book had it all for me. Definitely leaping on to my list of all-time favourites.
  7. 'Skin & Bone' by Kathryn Fox. An Australian writer giving Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwall a run for their money, this is a tightly-plotted forensic thriller with a fresh feel thanks to its Sydney setting. She certainly deserves to be as widely read as her competitors.
  8. 'Death Of A Dancer' by Caro Peacock. This is the second book in the Liberty Lane series of murder mysteries set in Victorian England. I really enjoyed both of these and hope the author keeps on writing. Clever plots, an engaging heroine, fluid writing and lots of fascinating historical detail - a lovely package all round.
  9. 'The Book Thief' by Marcus Zusak. I've read this book but felt compelled to read it again, always a sign of true love with me. Such a wonderful book, so sad and yet filled with such hopefulness. If you haven't read it, you really really must.

So, nine books this month and once again, many of them historical in nature. My picks for the month are definitely Cassandra Golds and Elle Newmark 'The Book Thief' is already on my list of favourites so can't be picked again!

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Books read in January 2009

  1. 'Sovereign' by C.J. Sansom. This is just an extraordinary book! Set in the time of Henry VIII, it follows a hunchbacked lawyer's investigation of the murder of a glazier. I read the first in this series, 'Dissolution' and loved that as well. Incredibly rich, vivid, compelling and suspenseful, this is historical mystery writing at its absolute best.
  2. 'The Sunken Kingdom' by Kim Wilkins. An omnibus of four titles published under the 'Fantastica' imprint, 'The Sunken Kingdom' follow the adventures of Princess Asa and Prince Rollo as they struggle to fight against the cruel Emperor Flood who has drowned their kingdom. A rollicking read for upper primary kids.
  3. 'Wine & War' by Don & Petie Kladstrup. Subtitled 'The French, the Nazis, and France's Greatest Treasure,' this is a completely fascinating and readable account of what happened to France's vineyards during the German occupation. I loved it!
  4. 'The Spice Box' by Lou Jane Temple. This is a murder mystery set in 19th century New York, and the detective is a young Irish cook called Bridget Heaney. Filled with appetising descriptions of food and cooking, and vivid details of New York in the 1860s, plus a truly puzzling murder mystery, this was my kind of book.
  5. 'In Camelot's Shadow' by Sarah Zettel. I enjoyed this Camelot romance, though not as much as others in this series, perhaps because it featured Sir Gawain, and I've read so many other re-tellings of his tale. Sarah Zettel writes beautifully, though, and weaves a magical tale.
  6. 'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte. One of my all time favourite books, which stands up to regular re-readings. I love the passionate writing, the suspenseful tale, the weaving of sorrow and love and redemption, the touch of the supernatural.
  7. 'The Secret Of Grange Farm' by Frances Cowan. Published in 1970 and awarded in that year to Lyndell Yates of St Paul's Sunday School, Gloucester, I bought it for 10c at the church sale. A conventional suspense story with an old-fashioned feel.
  8. 'The Rule of Four' by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomasin. This is a murder mystery crossed with an intellectual thriller, and apparently sold squillions. The details of the ancient book and the working out of the codes hidden within it were fascinating and believable, but the framing device of the murder mystery at Princeton was a little less well done. I found it hard to care as the characters were rather flat, but other than that, I thought it very clever and a good read.
  9. 'The Cruellest Month' by Louise Penny. I have not read any by this author before, but she was called the modern day Agatha Christie in a review I read and so I rushed out straightaway to find her. I really enjoyed this, though it took me a while to get into the book and to keep the characters straight. I had the feeling I should have read the other books in the series first. I will be reading more, though.Three Wishes
  10. 'The Castle of Yew' by Lucy Boston. Another 10c buy at the church sale, I was pleased with this as I love Lucy Boston and have never read this one. A first edition copy, published in 1965, and with her trademark charm and whimsy. A good buy.
  11. 'The Interpretation of Murder' by Jed Rubenfeld. A murder mystery set in New York in 1909, this novel has the unusual distinction of having Sigmund Freud as a major character. I just loved it. Clever, suspenseful, and tricky, and filled with surprises and reversals, I could not put it down. Highly recommended.
  12. 'The Mystery of the Silver Circle' by Molly Chappell. Another 10c buy, and quite an engaging read.
  13. 'Looking For Enid – The Mysterious and Inventive Life of Enid Blyton' by Duncan McLaren. A rather odd memoir of reading and loving Enid Blyton, it has some interesting insights and facts about this most prolific and loved children's author, as well as far too much fandom. I could have done without the pastiche, but otherwise found it fascinating.
  14. 'Princess Academy' by Shannon Hale. I loved 'The Goose Girl' and so was looking forward to this book eagerly. It was fresh and different and beautifully told, but did not have quite the same level of enchantment as her earlier books.
  15. 'Three Wishes' by Isabelle Merlin. I loved this book! I would just love to discover I was the long-lost granddaughter of a French count and heir to a chateau ... Very cleverly told, filled with romance, suspense, mystery and a pair of silver shoes (I just happen to own six pairs of silver shoes myself).

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Books I've been reading in 2008

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Books read in December 2008

  1. 'A Puree of Poison' by Claudia Bishop – an American murder mystery, very frothy and lightweight, with a thin plot and thin characters. Not a keeper.
  2. 'The Irish Manor House Murder' – ditto. Bought these books on remaindered sale, and I can see why. A pleasant way to while away an hour, but ultimately forgettable.
  3. 'The Untamed Heiress' by Julia Justiss. A Regency Romance – the first M & B book I've read in a thousand years – and part of the same remaindered sale, yet this one I really quite enjoyed. It stretched incredulity – but the romance was competently handled and I at least enjoyed the read.
  4. 'Bad Girls and Wicked Women' by Jan Stradling. This is a collection of autobiographical sketches of mad, bad and dangerous women through history. Very interesting. I actually read more than half of this last month, but finished it in December so it gets included here.
  5. 'Spin Straw to Gold' by Barbara Sleigh. A 1964 collection of fairy tales from round the world.
  6. 'The Pere-Lachaise Mystery' by Claude Legris. A historical murder mystery set in 19th century Paris. A little slow, but filled with interesting and vivid detail. I enjoyed it!
  7. 'The Rose Bride' by Nancy Holder. I've been slowly reading my way through the 'Once Upon A Time' fairy tale retellings, and have not been swept away by any of them. It's not that the writing is bad – they are all competent writers – I think it's due to a lack of surprise and suspense because the original stories are so well –known (at least to me). Pretty cover.
  8. 'The Iron Tsar' by Geoffrey Trease, who never disappoints. A first edition copy, written in 1975, towards the end of his writing life, it is filled with action, adventure, romance and humour. What more could anyone want?
  9. 'A Masque for the Queen' by Geoffrey Trease. One of his slighter books for younger children, but extremely well told. One of my internet buys – a first edition 1970 copy.
  10. 'The Firemaster's Mistress' by Christie Dickason. A historical romance set in the time of James I, built around the Guy Fawkes plot to blow up Parliament. Brilliantly done, making me understand the period and the politics so well. Definitely an author I'll read again … eagerly.
  11. 'Devil May Care' by Sebastian Faulks. I love Sebastian Faulks, and so I was a little disappointed by this James Bond novel which was a fairly straightforward, connect-the-dots spy thriller. No doubt it'll make a good movie.
  12. 'More Mere Mortals' by Jim Leavesley. An absolutely fascinating book about medical maladies in history. More, more, more!
  13. 'Camelot's Honour' by Sarah Zettel. I just loved this book! I had really enjoyed Sarah Zettel's fantasy trilogy, but steered clear of this one as I had read so many Camelot romances. But this is a zinger! Fantastic.
  14. 'Carbonel' by Barbara Sleigh. A girl buys a cat and a broom from a retiring witch, and finds herself in all sorts of magical mayhem. I loved it! I think I must've read it as a child and forgotten it, for it seemed so familiar in the very best of ways. A classic of its kind.
  15. 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, or the Murder at Road Hill House' by Kate Summerscale. This is a fantastic book! I really loved it, and stayed up past midnight to finish reading it. It's a non-fiction book as full of suspense and surprise as any novel, and that tells the story of a true life murder which rocked Victorian society. I'd recommend this to anyone who loves a good detective novel.
  16. 'Number the Stars' by Lois Lowry. A beautiful, simple and moving story about the Danish Resistance during the Second World War.
  17. 'The Duchess' by Amanda Foreman. I saw the movie with Keira Knightley, and loved it, so I was very keen to read the book and get the real story. An absolutely fascinating book about an absolutely fascinating woman. I felt such a connection to her – so many of her faults are mine too, and I shudder to think how I would have survived in the narrow, strict, and artificial world of the 18th century aristocracy. Loved it.
  18. 'Green Boy' by Susan Cooper. Susan Cooper is one of the writers who most profoundly affected me as a child reader. I will read and love anything she writes. I had to order this from the US over the net, as I couldn't find it here in Australia – I thought it a beautiful, moving, intelligent and insightful book that I immediately passed over to my 10-year old son and niece to read. A humbling writer.
  19. 'Whispering to Witches' by Anna Dale. Another one I ordered over the net – and I enjoyed it immensely. Pitch-perfect.
  20. 'Her Royal Spyness' by Rhys Bowen. A lovely frothy confection to end the year with. Very light reading, but fun and clever.

Having read 20 books this month, it was hard to pick a winner. 'The Firemaster's Mistress' by Christie Dickason, 'Camelot's Honour' by Sarah Zettel, and 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, or the Murder at Road Hill House' by Kate Summerscale are my top three adult books, with 'Carbonel' by Barbara Sleigh, 'Green Boy' by Susan Cooper and 'Whispering to Witches' by Anna Dale winning on the children's front. Sorry, but they were all so good!

That brings my books to the year to 154 books! Not bad. That's an average of 12 books per month, or 3 per week. A very happy reading year.

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Books read in November 2008

  1. 'Loving Frank' by Nancy Horan – an absolutely fascinating novel based on the true life story of Mamah Cheney, who left her husband and children to run off with Frank Lloyd Wright. Beautifully written, compelling and ultimately very sad, its definitely the best book I read this month.
  2. 'The Silent Pool' by Patricia Wentworth – I quite enjoy these murder mysteries from the 50s but this is not one of her best. She wrote it only 5 years before she died so perhaps was not at the top of her game.
  3. 'The Silver Curlew' by Eleanor Farjeon. I bought this first edition at a second-hand bookshop in Dee Why and am quite thrilled with it. A classic Eleanor Farjeon tale, told with her usual vim and charm, and quite a reasonable price since it had been inscribed 'To Susan' from her aunt and uncle in 1955. Inscriptions drop the price of old books, but I love them – they give me a sense of the history of the book. I love to think of Susan curled up and reading this book – maybe in an orchard while eating an apple or in a big wing-chair before a fire – eleven years before I was even born. Lovely.
  4. 'The Titian Committee' by Iain Pears. I loved 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' by this author, and tend to pick up his detective novels when I see them though they never really dazzle me. This is a clever plot, but the characters never really charm me.
  5. 'Recipe for Cherubs' by Babs Horton. I had high hopes of this book since it has all the ingredients to please me – art, history, food, mysteries – and I loved every word of it. I think the plot got a little tangled at the end – but maybe that's because I stayed up past midnight to read it and so may have missed a crucial clue. However, I definitely want to go on and read more of Babs Horton's books.
  6. 'A Novel In A Year' by Louise Doughty. A refreshingly honest, practical and down-to-earth guide to writing a novel – I'd recommend it to anyone trying to write a book, though I'm not sure it would really help you to actually write one within a year!
  7. 'Jessamy' by Barbara Sleigh. A time travel story for children written in 1967. I don't think it's as good as 'Tom's Midnight Garden' – which is strongly resembles – but enjoyable nonetheless.
  8. 'The Bookman's Wake' by John Dunning. I really enjoyed this! Clever, complex mysteries coupled with lots of info about book collecting which I find absolutely fascinating. I'm looking out for more.
  9. 'Mister Pip' by Lloyd Jones. This was my Book Club choice, and I really loved it, though it was not a happy read at all – the book is sad and shocking and quite compelling. I was fascinated by how cleverly Lloyd Jones wove the life and writing of Charles Dickens into his story of a girl growing up in Bougainville. It sent me back to Dickens' work, which is how I came to read:
  10. 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens. I had read this at school and hated it. Now I really enjoyed it, though I wish it was much shorter. I found his characterization extraordinarily vivid – to the point of caricature – yet it made me wish mine had half the life and energy and instant recognisability (if that's a word).

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Books read in October 2008

  1. 'Poseidon's Gold' by Lindsey Davis. A light, amusing murder mystery set in Ancient Rome. Touches of romance and a wry protagonist add to its charm, though I don't think this is one of her best.
  2. 'In the Land of the Mogul' by Geoffrey Trease. A children's historical adventure novel based on the true story of how English merchants began trade with India and laid the foundations of the East India Company. Interesting story, told with verve and style (but once again, not one of his best books)
  3. 'The Ice Queen' by Alice Hoffman. I loved this book! A story of two lightning victims who are drawn together by their shocking experiences (forgive the pun), it is aptly described as a fairy tale for grown-ups. Alice Hoffman has a way of finding the extraordinary and the strange in the everyday, so her books are filled with magic and science, allusion and fact, fantasy and reality. Spellbinding.
  4. 'Gold Dust' by Kimberly Freeman. This is the story of two sisters and a cousin who use trickery and deceit to escape Post-Stalinist Russia, but find their shady past comes back to haunt them. Engrossing and moving.
  5. 'Tolkien's Gown' by Rick Gekoski. I wish this book was twice as long. I found it absolutely fascinating. The story of an antiquarian bookseller's encounters with famous books and their writers. It concentrates only on the better-known writers of the 20th century, and is a little snobbish, but a fabulous read nonetheless.
  6. 'Sepulchre' by Kate Mosse. I love books which weave past and present stories together, and the historical detail in this was excellent. The plot veered out-of-control a couple of times, but maybe only because the reader has so much to keep track of. A lovely, thick, meaty read that kept me happy for hours.
  7. 'Girl In Hyacinth Blue' by Susan Vreeland. I've been talking about this book all month. It's an absolute beauty. Clever, moving, meticulous – it's a masterpiece in itself.
  8. 'Pardonable Lies' by Jacqueline Winspear. The third Maisie Dobbs mystery. I really enjoy these murder mysteries set in post-war London. Filled with fantastic historical detail, with a clever and intriguing heroine.
  9. 'Angels and Insects' by A.S. Byatt. I loved this book when I first read it as an undergraduate, and I still enjoyed it this time – though I skipped pages and pages of subtext and discussions on religion and physiology. I think I'm too old to be bored.
  10. 'The Damascened Blade' by Barbara Cleverly. This is an historical murder mystery set in India in 1910. No real plot twist, or surprise, but enjoyable reading nonetheless.
  11. 'Coraline' by Neil Gaiman. An odd, spooky tale that lingers in the mind. He uses the device of the holey-stone which is what I've used in my latest book ... I guess we all draw upon the same wellspring of inspiration...
  12. 'Booked To Die' by John Dunning. A detective-turned-antiquarian bookseller is the protagonist in this book – I loved it!

Best books of the month – definitely 'Girl In Hyacinth Blue' by Susan Vreeland and 'The Ice Queen' by Alice Hoffman. 125 BOOKS THIS YEAR AND COUNTING!

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Books read in September 2008

  1. 'The Game of Kings' by Dorothy Dunnett. This is a thick, complex, difficult yet exhilerating novel, set in the early days of Mary, Queen of Scots, and filled with Machiavellian politics and intrigue, and a very enigmatic hero. thisis a novel which would bear several re-readings, and you would understand more with each reading.
  2. 'Down In The Cellar' by Nicholas Stuart Grey. I'm a big fan of this post-war British writer, who sets the mystery, wonder and strangeness of magic side by side with the ordinariness of British children. This book was published in 1961, and is an absolute classic. I first read it as a child, and pounced on it when i saw this copy in a second-hand store. Wonderful.
  3. 'Black Jack' by Leon Garfield - another one of my favourite classic writers for children. This book was first published in 1968, and I'd never read it before - I fond it in a fabulous second-hand bookstore in Inverness, Scotland , when I was there earlier this year. A beautiful story, dark and frightening and filled with exquisite use of language.
  4. 'The Ghosts of Glencoe' by Mollie Hunter. I bought this signed first edition copy in the second-hand bookshop in Inverness, Scotland- I wish this bookshop was in Sydney, Australia! I love Mollie Hunter, who seems largely forgotten now - this is a tense and gripping retelling of the massacre of Glencoe in the 17th century, first published in 1966, the year of my birth.
  5. 'The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society' by Mary Ann Shaffer. A wonderful book, written by an elderly librarian who did not live to see it published. Such a shame to think we'll have no more gems like this from her. It was recommended to me by one of my publishers - I bought it on the way home from lunch, took it to bed with me, and read it into the midnight hours, unable to put it down. I laughed, I cried, and I put it down with a sigh of regret that it had to end. Perfect!
  6. 'Nine Parts of Desire' by Geraldine Brooks. I love her fiction - she's one of my favourite writers - and so I read this with great interest. She's always an elegant and accomplished writer, but since this is a a journalist's view of women in Islam, it lacks the charm and spark of her novels. Enormously interestinga dn illuminating, though.
  7. 'Dissolution' by C.J. Sansom. A murder mystery set in the time of the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, this is a clever, evocative and beautifully written book, which I enjoyed immensely. I'm now looking for other books by this author, always a sign of a wonderful read.
  8. 'A Company of Swans' by Eva Ibbotson. I love Eva Ibbotson! I always grab her new books as soon as they come out, go home and read it straightaway. They are very comfortable and comforting - like a long, hot bubble bath when you're really tired. This is not one of her best - but I love ballet and so that added a degree of interest - i just wish her heroines were a little more feisty. They're always so sweet and charming, I could wish they'd show a bit more gumption.
  9. 'No Mistaking Corker' by Monica Edwards. Another classic children's author - this time writing a pony holiday book. This was her first ever book, written in 1947 (my copy is another first edition) - its more conventional than her other books, but has her usual sharply drawn characters and beautiful settings.
  10. 'The Thief Taker' by Janet Gleeson. A murder mystery set in Victorian England, one of my favourites settings for crime novels due to the mist and the squalid back streets and the divide between upstairs and downstairs. This book does not disappoint. Perhaps a little slow on action, but filled with marvellous and evocative period details.
  11. 'The Naming of Tishkin Silk' by Australian author Glenda Millard. A perfect little gem of a book, fulfilling all my requirements for beauty - I wish I could write like this.
  12. 'A Drowned Maiden's Hair - a Melodrama' by Laura Amy Schlitz. I loved this book! I want more! Please write more, Laura! Just my kind of children's book - filled with secrets, mystery, drama, sadness and joy, it tells the story of Maud Flynn - a "plain, clever and bad" orphan who is adopted by a trio of elderly spinsters who are not what they seem. Not a false note anywhere in the book - very highly recommended.

That's 12 books this month, most of them children's books or historical mysteries - my best picks were 'The Guernsey and Potato Peel Pie Society' for adults and 'A Drowned Maiden's Hair' for children.

That brings my total for the year to 113 books - and still so many books in the world to read!!!

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Books read in August 2008

  1. 'Jim At the Corner' by Eleanor Farjeon. She is one of the wonderful and almost-forgotten authors who I collect, and this book cost me $15 second-hand.It's an old library book, rather tattered, but a short and sweet collection of tales for young children.
  2. 'Fivefold' by Nathan Burrage. A religious thriller by a first-time Australian author. I was brought up by atheists and so this sort of book has no shock value for me (it's tagline is "what if the first 5 books of the Bible weren't about good and evil at all"?) It was a little slow for me, but I enjoyed it, and I can see potential for even better books to come.
  3. 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' by Baroness Orczy. i read and oved this as a teenager, and bought it second-hand to read again. Loved it just as much again, though its a little flowery and over-wrought by modern standards. But fabulous, nonetheless!
  4. 'The Household Guide to Dying' by Debra Adelaide. I really enjoyed this book and thought it was beautifully written. It didn't make me laugh, though, or cry ... though i nodded my head a number of times in empathy ...
  5. 'Grimbold's Other World' by Nicholas Stuart Gray. I've been seaarching for books by this author for a while, and found this in an old second-hand shop for practically nothing. It's a strange yet beautiful book, quite slim, and filled with magic.
  6. 'The Riddle', 'The Gift', 'The Crow' and 'The Singing, a quartet of heroic fantasy books by Alison Croggon, an Australian author. This books are wonderful, I really loved them. Beautifully told and quite compelling, these are not your usual sword-and-sorcery, but literary fantasy with a high tone and clear moral centre. Just wonderful.
  7. 'Ring Out the Bow Bells' by Cynthia Harnett. Recommended to me as a children's historical author writing in my period of interst (ie books published in Britain after the war) - this book is set in medieval London, at the time of Dick Whittington, who appeared as a character in the book. Slow and thoughtful and filled with vivid and exacting historical detail, it was a charming read (if a little too slow for me).
  8. 'When Gods Die' by C.S. Harris. A murder mystery set in Regency London. I'm really enjoying this series and am definitely looking out for more! Excellent reading!
  9. 'Fireworks and Darkness' by Natalie Jane Prior. A children’s historical fantasy novel, drawing upon the fascinating world of firework makers - I enjoyed this very much.
  10. 'The Iron Hand of Mars' by Lindsay Davies. Not nearly as good as her other books I've read - which was a shame - but I will try more.

A good mix between old children's books, some new literary stuff, and - for the first time in quite a while - some adult fantasy. A happy reading month!

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Books read in July 2008

  1. 'Rosamund's Tuckshop' by Elsie J. Oxenham - a friend in the Uk sent me this book as it is one I am missing from my collection. Any book collector will know how pleased I was to get it! A charming old school story.
  2. 'Rosamund's Castle' by Elsie J. Oxenham - another sent to me from the UK. Not an old copy, but a modern reprint of a very hard to get book. I'd rather have an original, but glad to fill in gaps in the story.
  3. 'Five Runaway Together' by Enid Blyton. I had the worst 'flu imaginable this month and so spent a lot of time in bed, blearily reading comfort books. This is one of the best, as good as eating a whole family size block of chocolate.
  4. 'These Old shades' by Georgette Heyer. More comfort reading! I had to go and dig this one out of a box in the garage, but it was worth it. one of my favourite Heyer books.
  5. 'Calabrian Quest' by Geoffrey Trease. Not his best by a long shot, but GT can't write a bad book. Another of my internet indulgences ...
  6. 'Tomboys At The Abbey' by Elsie J Oxenham. I bought this from the same internet dealer as the book above and they helped brighten a dreary winter's day confined to bed. Plus added to my collection (if you haven't realised, I collect post-war british children's books)
  7. 'Friday's Child' by Georgette Heyer. Another old favourite!
  8. 'Cotillion' by Georgette Heyer. Ditto.
  9. 'The Nonesuch' by Georgette Heyer. I like this one too, though its not a favourite - basically i dug out the top layer from the box and this was one of them.
  10. 'The Time of the Hunter's Moon' by Victoria Holt. I had just about run out of comfort books to read and so heaved myself up out of my sickbed and ventured down to the second-hand bookstore to buy some more. I hadn't read VH since I was in school. It wasn't as good as I remembered. Though it helped while away another day in bed.
  11. 'Duet' by Kimberley Freeman. A family drama spanning two continents - very readable with lots of interesting stuff about music. I'll look out for more of her books.
  12. 'Bootlegger's Daughter' by Margaret Marron. A clever murder mystery with a lot of personality. A lttle too deep south American for my taste, but well written with quite a lot of charm.
  13. 'That's Why I Wrote This Song' by Suzanne Gervay. This book was written by a friend of mine, and contains lyrics written by her daughter too - apparently you can download the songs off the internet and watch the music video. Amazing!
  14. 'An Expert in Murder' by Nicola Upson. This is an historical murder mystery which features the real-life writer of early 20th century crime novels, Josephine Tey, as the amateur detective. I really enjoyed this book. It was fresh and clever and I didn't guess the murderer at all!
  15. 'Devil's Cub' by Georgette Heyer. yes, another one, but you can never have too much Heyer, can you?
  16. 'A Walk in Wolf wood' by Mary Stewart. Lady Mary is one of my favourite writers but i couldn't find her box in the garage and so I read this children's book of hers that I hadn't ever seen before. She's a gorgeous stylist, a little old-fashioned but in the nicest possible way.
  17. 'The Rider of the White Horse' by Rosemary Sutcliff. The queen of children's historical fiction! This book was published in 1959 and is perhaps a more adult book, being the story of the relationship between a Roundhead soldier and his wife during the Civil War. It is subtle and warm and clever and perhaps a little slow for modern-day chidlren, but I loved it. One of the books I bought in Scotland.
  18. 'Fivefold' by Nathan Burrage. The tagline for this book is "what if the first five chapters of the Bible weren't about good and evil at all?' This is a supernatural thriller which moves a little too slowly to really thrill, but was an engaging read nonetheless. I was brought up by good old-fashioned atheists and so suffered greatly from a lack of knowlege of, or interest in, the Bible and associated arcana - but I just skipped those bits :)
  19. 'The Forgotten Garden' by Kate Morton. What a fabulous book! I loved, loved, loved it! It's definitely jumped into my list of all time favourite books. I could have read it forever. A foundling child, a mystery, a secret garden, a maze, dark fairy tales, a romance ... sigh! I want Kate to write another book now!
  20. 'Bath Tangle' by Georgette Heyer. The last of the Heyer books I brought up from the garage! Lovely comfort food on a miserable, grey, wintry day when you're sick in bed. It may be the last Heyer book i read in a while, though!
  21. 'Venus In Copper' by Lindsey Davis. This is the second book by this author that I've read and i'm so thrilled! I love discovering a new author and then realising they have a nice hefty back list. These are murder mysteries set in Ancient Rome, and they are clever, funny, wry and romantic. I think they need to be read in order, like so many murder mysteries with the same central character - but if you can do that then are really very, very good. Such a pleasure to read.

Twenty one books! That's a lot, even for me. That's what you get for spending a whole week in bed, and most of the rest of the month barely out of it. I haven't written a word, but I did enjoy the rest for my poor old overworked brain. Best book? Definitely 'The Forgotten Book' by Kate Morton, with Lindsey Davis highly recommended too.

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Books read in June 2008

  1. 'Crime Brulee' by Nancy Fairbanks. A light, frothy murder mystery, very thin on plot, but I enjoyed the recipes.
  2. 'The Dark Mountain' by Catherine Jinks. This is a gothic historical mystery based on the true lives of an Australian settler family in the early part of the nineteenth century. It is told from the point of view of Charlotte Atkinson, who happened to be my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother. Her mother, Charlotte Waring, wrote the first children's book published in Australia while her sister, Louisa Atkinson, was the first Australian born novelist. The Atkinsons were an absolutely fascinating family, and this is a story filled with murder, mystery, and romance. I enjoyed Catherine Jinks' interpretation though it is hard to read about people who belong to you as characters in a book - quite hard to suspend one's disbelief!
  3. 'Zel' by Donna Jo Napoli. I love fairytale retellings and I've enjoyed other books by Donna Jo Napoli but I wasn't as entranced with this book as I expected to be. Perhaps it is because I am planning my own retelling of the Rapunzel tale and so I had all my critical faculties firmly switched on. Or perhaps its because one of the problems with fairytale retellings is that the story is already so familiar and so there is no sense of suspense or surprise.
  4. 'Face Down Beside St Anne's Well' by Kathy Lynn Emerson. This series of murder mysteries were recommended to me because they are set in Elizabethan times and are meant to have a great deal of accurate historical detail. This is true - but the plot was quite weak and the charaters hard to keep apart.
  5. 'The Rossetti Letter' by Christi Phillips. A wonderful historical mystery set in Venice. The best book I read all month, without a doubt. The action moves adriotly between modern-day and the 17th century, and is filled with the smell and feel of Venice. I loved it!
  6. 'The Island of adventure' by Enid Blyton. I actually read this one to my kids - they all loved it!
  7. 'A Knot In the grain' by Robin McKinley. I love Robin McKinley and had not yet read this collection of short stories. As beautifully told as ever.
  8. 'Popinjay Stairs' by Geoffrey Trease. This book was recommended to me by a writer friend of mine, Sally odgers, who is a big GT fan too. I bought a pile of them over the net and settled in for a few happy nights reading. This is a great historical adventure story for kids, set during the Restoration, and featuring Samuel Pepys as one of the characters. It's become a favourite!
  9. 'The Dutch Are Coming' by Geoffrey Trease. This is really for younger readers and so is more of a short story than a novel, but very satisfying nonetheless.
  10. 'The Field of the Forty Footsteps' by Geoffrey Trease. Another historical adventure set in the time of the Restoration, this one is about actors and a playhouse, and the girl who became the first female to tread the boards. Geoffrey Trease writes so effortlessly well, he makes it look all too easy ... but as we all know, its really not easy at all.
  11. 'Face Down Below the Banqueting House' by Kathy Lynn Emerson. Another Elizabethan murder mystery, a little better plotted than the last but still not that riveting.
  12. 'Death At Apothecaries Hall' by Deryn Lake - a much better read! A murder mystery set in 18th century London. Lively, amusing, romantic, and although the murderer was obvious, still a very enjoyable read.
  13. 'The Red Necklace' by Sally Gardner. I loved this book!!! I had really enjoyed her previous book, 'I, Coriander' and with this book she makes it into the list of one of my favourite writers at the moment. So beautifully written, and filled with just the sort of things I love - mystery, magic, romance, danger. I can't wait for her next book!
  14. 'Breath' by Tim Winton. This was my Book club book for the month, and I really enjoyed it. I'm not such a big TW fan but I liked 'Dirt Music' and this one was even better I thought. beautifully written and I feel it has truy illuminated the feelings behind those that go in for extreme sports, something I've never been able to understand before. Very worth reading.

Fourteen books this month, lots of history (again), lots of children's books (again), lots of murder mysteries (again). I also finished reading 'Musicophilia' by Oliver Sacks, but I'd already counted that earlier in the year. That 13 brings my total for the year to 68 books, so I've easily managed the goal of 50 books! I feel like I need a bit of a change to my reading diet - maybe I should read a chick lit book ...

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Books read in May 2008

  1. 'The Dragonfly Pool' by Eva Ibbotson. I always get excited at the idea of a new book from Eva Ibbotson. I bought this at the airport in Heathrow and it was perfect for reading on the long flight home to Sydney. I don't think its her best book - not as good as 'A Song For summer' or 'The Star of Kazan' but still very charming and warm and funny and filled with memorable and eccentric characters. It left me with a lovely warm fuzzy feeling.
  2. 'The Art Thief' by Noam Charney. This book was described as a thriller about art thefts, and so I thought I would love it. I couldn't finish it, though. There were too many characters, and it was hard to know who was the hero - I always like to "imprint" on a character and follow them through their adventures. I actually really enjoyed the lectures on art history, that didn't really add to the plot at all - but they'd have been better as articles. A disappointing read.
  3. 'Murder in the Limelight' by Amy Myers. A Victorian Whodunit. I quite enjoyed this - i'm on a quest for a decent "cosy" murder mystery - one with a fantastic plot, charming characters, a great setting, and not a serial murderer in sight. So sick of hard-boiled crime thrillers about serial murderers!!! This one didn't quite hit the mark - I think it was all done a little fast - but I still enjoyed it. I might read another ...
  4. 'The school at the Chalet' by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer. This is the first in the chalet School series and I had never read it, so when I saw it in a second-hand bookshop I bought it. I enjoyed all the descriptions of the Swiss countryside, and the characters were vivid and sharp - i quite enjoyed it. I wonder why no-one writes school stories anymore? if they did, they'd be full of bullying and self-harm and so on, rather than midnight feasts and pranks that go wrong ...
  5. 'Heaven's Net is Wide' by Lian Hearn. This is a prequel to her multi-best-selling series of books set in an imagined Japan in feudal times. Lian Hearn writes exquisite, measured prose, filled with fascinating historical detail. This book, however, was not as riveting as the others in the series - perhaps because I already knew what was going to happen having read the later books. It'd be a great book to start with, though, reading all the books in chronological order. and it does fill in some of the background for fans of the other books.
  6. 'Hobberdy Dick' by K.M. Briggs. Another of the old children's books I bought in Wigtown, Scotland in April - an old classic (first published in 1955) told from the point of view of a hobgoblin on a farm in the aftermath of the English civil war. This is one of my periods of interest, as I set 'The Gypsy crown' in much the same time - and so I was very interested to read one of the very few historical children's novels set in the same time frame. It's not an easy read - I wonder how kids of today would find it - but I loved it. A true classic.
  7. 'The Fire in the Flint' by Candace Robb. This is a murder mystery set in 13th century Scotland. I was sure I would love it, but once again I was disappointed. I can't quite put my finger on why - but I think it was because I couldn't really connect with the main character, who seemed very diffuse. If I'd enjoyed this book, I would've gone on and read all of her books, but it didn't grab me, which was a shame.
  8. 'Life In His Hands' by Susan Wyndham. This is a non-fiction book written by the literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, telling the story of Charlie teo, a controversial but brilliant neurosurgeon, and a young pianist Aaron McMillan who at the age of 24 was diagnosed with a rare type of brain tumour. He was given just 6 weeks to live. The book tells of Charlie's life-saving operation on Aaron, and the weeks and years that follows, and is absolutely fascinating. This was without a doubt one of the best books I've read this year. Note-perfect in its style and composition, beautifully written, meticulously researched, it was both fascinating and moving. You must read it!
  9. 'Bearkeeper' by Josh Lacey. This was a book I got for my 10-year old boy Ben and he really loved it and told me I must read it. It tells the story of a 12 year old boy in Shakespearean London, and his adventures with a gang of cut-throats, a troupe of actors (including shakespeare) and a bear. Definitely my kind of book! The biog says Josh Lacey has worked as a teacher, and I think you can tell - there is a definite desire to teach in this book - but it does so lightly and well that I don't think it matters. The authorial intrusions actually make the book feel quite fresh and unusual, and must help for kids who know very little about the period.
  10. 'The Other Queen' by Philippa Gregory. This is a historical novel about Mary, Queen of scots. Philippa Gregory always writes well, and has a knack for bringing history vividly to life. Her method in the last few books is to enter the heads of a few different characters and tell the story from their different points of view. This works very well at its best, though at its worst it does mean the book's a little repetitive, or predictable. This book does suffer a little from these faults, but I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless. Of course, I'm still in the throes of an obsession with Mary, Queen of Scots, the sixteenth century and Scotland, as I've just been finishing my own novel set during this period ... hopefully, I can stop reading about her now!

Only ten books this month, but I've been busy writing and editing my own novel for delivery. Mainly historical fiction, both for adults and chidlren, with a preponderence of scottish and sixteenth century themes. To be expected when I'm in the grip of a fever about a place and time, but I think I'm ready to read something else now. Still looking for a good murder mystery!

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Books read in April 2008

  1. 'Disease: The Extraordinary Stories Behind History's Deadliest Killers' by Mary Dobson - an absolutely fascinating, gruesome and very beautifully illustrated hardback about 30 diseases, ranging from the plague, leprosy, syphilis, polio, influenza, ebola, AIDS, cancer - not a light read or a happy read but absolutely compelling. Highly recommended.
  2. 'The Camp Mystery' by Elsie J. Oxenham - I am still reading my way through a pile of second-hand or rare children's books I bought when in Perth. This is a reprint of a very rare EJO book and connects up with some of her later Abbey books.
  3. 'The Conquest of Christina' by Elsie J. Oxenham - an old and rare EJO which cost me a fortune - but fun, light reading.
  4. 'Some Bitter Taste' by Magdalen Nabb - a murder mystery set in Florence which I really enjoyed. I'll look out for more of this writer.
  5. 'The Witch's Brat' by Rosemary Sutcliff. Another old, rare children's book and an absolute beauty. I'd not read it before and I think its one of Rosemary Sutcliff's best. Very poised - a perfect gem.
  6. 'Portrait Of An Unknown Woman' by Vanora Bennett - an historical novel about Hans Holbein and the family of Thomas More (who was executed by Henry VIII for criticising his marriage to Anne Boleyn). I love this period of history and I found discussons of Holbein's paintings utterly fascinating too. I'd recommend this one highly, especially for art and history lovers.
  7. 'Kate Crackernuts' by K.M.Briggs - I found this in a second-hand bookshop in Wigtown, in Galloway, where we were staying in an old, romantic castle overlooking the Solway Firth. It was a very special find for me - 1) because K.M.Briggs is one of the foremost fairy scholars in the world and I have been using her books extensively for the novel I'm now writing 2) the book is set in a old romantic castle on the Galloway coast overlooking the Solway Firth. A very serendipitious find.
  8. 'The White Riders' by Monica Edwards. Another buy from the Wigtown secondhand bookshop. I like Monica Edwards and buy her books when I see them - which is not very often. Set in the Romney marshes, these are charming girls' adventure stories - with lots about horses.
  9. 'Mortal Engines' by Phillip Reeve - a very clever and unusual children's book which won the Nestle Smarties Book Prize Gold Award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Book Award. I really enjoyed this, and would recommend it to any bright 10 year old.

I also began 'The Bronze Horseman' by Paullina Simons but put it down as I'm so focused on the book I'm writing at the moment I can't read anything that isn't going to help (this is why I have so many children's books on the list at the moment!)

So only 9 books on the list this month, mostly children's books, many of them old and out of print ... one non-fiction, one historical ... I really must try and read some contemporary fiction!

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Books read in March 2008

  1. 'Labyrinth' by Kate Mosse - although I enjoyed this historical fantasy, which entwines the tale of a modern woman with that of a 13th century woman, I was a little disappointed after all the hype. It was interesting, particularly the scenes set in the past, yet the writing seemed rather pedestrian and there were no surprises at all. I have read quite a few books like this before, though, notably Tracey Chevalier's 'The Virgin Blue' which I thought was much better.
  2. 'The Iron Ring' by Lloyd Alexander - not one of his best by a long shot, but charming nonetheless.
  3. 'Musicophilia' by Oliver Sacks - I've only read half this book as I tend to pick it up and read a few chapters in between novels. I'm really enjoying it though. Sacks is always fascinating, erudite and articulate, and I've always been interested in how the brain works, and in music. Well worth reading.
  4. 'Queen's Own Fool' by Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris - I loved this book! It tells the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, from the time of her marriage to the Dauphin of France through to her escape from Lochleven after her abdication - all through the eyes of her fool, La Jardinier. I'm writing a children's book set in much the same place and period and I found it fascinating how the authors interwove fact and fiction. My take on events is slightly different, of course ...
  5. 'Fires In the dark' by Louise Doughty. This is one of the best books I've read so far this year. It's an utterly compelling story of a Romany boy born in the early part of the 20th century who ends up - like so many other Gypsies - being taken to Hitler's concentration camps. I read this on the plane flying home from a book conference in Cairns and ended up crying so much the man next to me handed me his napkin. Just beautiful!
  6. 'April In Paris' by Michael Wallner. A bitter-sad love story set in Paris during the Occupation, told from the point of view of a German soldier. I've thought about this book a lot since I finished reading it - so sad.
  7. 'Clever maids - The secret history of the Grimm fairy tales' by Valerie Paradiz. I read this book for research for a novel I'm planning to write next year. It's a wonderful book, beautifully told, and utterly fascinating, wich debunks much fo the Grimm brothers mythology without ever osing its love for the tales and its respect for the job the German scholars did. a must-rad for any fairy tale lover.

Only 7 books this month, but some were very thick ('Labyrinth' took me more than a week, most unusual for me) and some were quite dry. most of them were historical or reference books - not very eclectic at all this month!

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Books read in February 2008

  1. 'The Swan Kingdom' by Zoe Marriott - a re-telling of the Wild Swans story, for a YA format. Solid but unexciting book, nowhere near as good as Juliet Marillier's 'Daughter of the Forest' which uses the same story.
  2. 'To Kill A Mockingbird' by Harper Lee - I've read this many times, but not for quite a few years. I do think its a perfect gem of a book, and an absolute must for every book shelf.
  3. Neil Gaiman 'Stardust' - I saw the movie first and then read the book. Loved it! A gorgeous fantasy, not quite as colourful and amusing as the movie, but beautifully told.
  4. 'Golden' by Cameron Dokey - a retelling of the Rapunzel story which I was interested in as I'm planning to retell the story myself. Was not as good as I expected.
  5. 'On Chesil Beach' by Ian McEwan - I do enjoy McEwan's work and this was no exception. A very easy read, without much plot at all, but thick on detail. Rather predictable, I thought, and so short its really a plumped-up short story than a novel.
  6. 'Fairest' by Gail Carson Levine - a subtle retake on snow White. Clever and charming, but not as good as 'Ella Enchanted'.
  7. 'Death at Dawn' by Caro Peacock - a wonderful murder mystery set in Victorian England, beautifully and elegantly told. I really loved it, and will read more in the series.
  8. 'Oscar Wilde and the Candlelit Murders' by Gyles Brandreth. Another murder mystery set in Victorian England, but this time the 'detective' is Oscar Wilde himself. Filled with Wildean witticicms and cameo appearances by people like Arthur Conan Doyle, this was very clever and a good read.
  9. 'Castle Secrets' by Jean Seivwright - a Girls Own Book set in Scotland which was published in 1935. I bought it for $10 from a second-hand shop because I'm interested in books set in Scotland. Not very well written really, but whiled away an hour or two.
  10. 'Expelled from School' by Elsie J. Oxenham. Another Girls Own book, first published in 1939, this one reprinted in 1941. Still set me back $100, as EJO books are rare nowadays. Not one of her best, but stirred my collectors' blood.
  11. 'Addition' by Toni Jordan. Met the author at the Perth Writers Festival and so bought her book. Really enjoyed it. Clever, funny, girls' chick with a brain. Well worth picking up.
  12. 'People of the Book' by Geraldine Brooks. I really enjoyed this book, although I don't think its her best by a long shot. She did the historical sections very well, but the contemporary framing story rang a little false. I'll still buy and read anything she writes, though.

Twelve books this month! Not as good as last month, but still a respectable amount. A mixed bag once again. Five children's books, 2 of them antiques, 2 historical murder mysteries, 1 classic, 1 fantasy, 2 contemporary, 1 historical fiction (though Geraldine Brooks could also be classified as contemporary ...)

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Books read in January 2008

  1. 'Physick' by Angie Sage (third in a YA fantasy series - loved it!)
  2. 'Champagne: How's the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hardship' by Don and Petie Kladstrup (an absolutely fascinating 'biography' of champagne - one not to miss!)
  3. 'Death of Kings' by Philip Gooden - (a Shakespearan murder mystery featuring a young player at the Globe - a real goody! Enjoyed it immensely)
  4. 'The Almost Moon' by Alice Sebold (author of 'The Lovely Bones' A very dark, dreary book - well-written but leaves you sad and troubled)
  5. 'Wild Magic' by Cat Weatherill (a children's fantasy, which retells the fairytale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Just delightful!)
  6. 'The Anonymous Venetian' by Donna Leon (murder mystery set in Venice _ I love Donna Leon's books and this was once of her best)
  7. 'No Wind of Blame' by Georgette Heyer (murder mystery set in the 40s in England - Georgette Heyer is always a delight to read, witty, sparkling and clever)
  8. 'Garden' Spells' by Sarah Addison Allen (a charming magic realist book set in a small American town. Very reminiscient of Alice Hoffman's 'Practical Magic' but certainly a writer to look out for)
  9. 'To Love and Be Wise' by Josephine Tey (A slight but entertaining detective story set in 1950s England. A refreshing change from bloody and guts thrillers!)
  10. 'A Suitable Vengeance' by Elizabeth George - a murder mystery featuring her well-known detective Lynley. I've decided her books must be read in order, as the developing lives of ehr characters are just as important to the story as the mystery - and it can get confusing when people who are married in later books are engaged to different people!)
  11. 'The Death of Faith' by Donna Leon - another murder mystery set in Venice. Not one of her best but still very readable.
  12. 'The Morning Gift' by Eva Ibbotson (a delightful love story set in Vienna and England just before the war. Not as good as 'Song for Summer' but v. good nonetheless)
  13. 'North by Northanger' by Carrie Bebris. A mystery featuring Elizabeth and Darcy from Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' One for JA fans only, I'd say)
  14. 'Cybele's Secret' by Juliet Marillier (YA fantasy set in Constantinople - utterly wonderful!)
  15. 'Prodigal Summer' by Barbara Kingsolver (contemporarty American fiction, set in Appalachian mountains. I've read it before and just adored it. One of my all-time favourite contemporary novels. Enjoyed it just as much second time round. An absolute classic of love, death, nature and humanity)
  16. 'Tartan Tragedy' by Antonia Fraser (I felt a bit tricked by this - bought it thinking 'oh, I've read a few by AF, they weren't bad' but began reading to find out it was one of the books I'd already read which had been published previously as 'The Wild Island') Wish publishers wouldn't do that! I think I want my money back!
  17. 'Water for Elephants' by Sara Gruen (a love story set in a travelling circus during the Depression. I loved this book, and was so glad I read it. It was the January pick for 'Moms Who Read To Escape Their Weary Lives' and well worth picking up)

So 17 books in January. Whoo hoo!

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