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BOOK REVIEW: The Summer Bride by Anne Gracie

Saturday, February 11, 2017



BLURB:


Fiercely independent Daisy Chance has a dream—and it doesn’t involve marriage or babies (or being under any man’s thumb). Raised in poverty, she has a passion—and a talent—for making beautiful clothes. Daisy aims to become the finest dressmaker in London.

 

Dashing Irishman Patrick Flynn is wealthy and ambitious, and has entered society to find an aristocratic bride. Instead, he finds himself growing increasingly attracted to the headstrong, clever and outspoken Daisy. She’s wrong in every way—except the way she sets his heart racing.

 

However, when Flynn proposes marriage, Daisy refuses. She won't give up her hard-won independence. Besides, she doesn't want to join the fine ladies of society—she wants to dress them. She might, however, consider becoming Flynn's secret mistress. . .

 

But Flynn wants a wife, not a mistress, and when Flynn sets his heart on something, nothing can stand in his way. . 



MY THOUGHTS:


I’ve been eagerly awaiting the last book in Anne Gracie’s ‘Chance Sisters’ quartet, and now I’m all sad that the series is over. All four books have been delightful, full of wit and romance and poignancy, with each of the four young women so distinctly different in their personalities and each travelling a very different route towards happiness. 


If you love sparkling Regency romances, Anne Gracie is a must-read! Start with The Autumn Bride, which introduces the characters and situation, and then read them in order. 


SPOTLIGHT: My Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2016

Saturday, January 07, 2017

1.1


    Every year I take part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, in which readers all around the world do their best to read as many books written by Aussie women as possible. Last year I read only 10 books  by Australian women, and so I was determined to do better this year. I'm really rather proud of myself because I managed 28 books in total, and enjoyed them all.


     Here is my list (in the order in which I read them). Most of them have longer reviews that you can read by clicking on the title.


    I hope you are inspired to try the challenge for yourself in 2017. You can sign up here



1. 1. Wild Wood – Posie Graeme-Evans

WILD WOOD is a dual timeline narrative that moves between the Scottish Borderlands in the 14th century and an unhappy young woman in the 1980s who finds herself compelled to draw the same Scottish castle over and over again 


2.  Summer Harvest – Georgina Penney

A funny, romantic story with lots of heart, set in the Margaret River wine region and featuring engaging characters and light-hearted encounters. 



3. The Wife’s Tale  - Christine Wells 
The Wife’s Tale is a dual timeline novel that alternates between the point-of-view of Liz Jones, a young Australian lawyer whose ambition and drive to succeed have put her marriage at risk, and Delany Nash, who was at the centre of an infamous scandal in the 1780s.  




4. Tower of Thorns – Juliet Marillier 
Juliet Marillier’s books are an enchanting mix of romance, mystery and historical fantasy. Tower of Thorns is the second in her new series ‘Blackthorn & Grim’ which tells the story of the damaged and disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her faithful companion Grim. 




5. Our Tiny, Useless Hearts – Toni Jordan
The fourth novel by award-winning Australian author, Toni Jordan, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is a clever, funny, wise-cracking novel about love, infidelity and divorce. 




6. Nest – Inga Simpson
Inga Simpson is an Australian writer and Nest is a rhapsody about the importance of being at one with the natural world.. 




7. Daughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier
This is one of my all-time favourite books, that I like to re-read every few years. A retelling of the ‘Six Swans’ fairy-tale, set in ancient Ireland, it is a beautiful story of courage, love, peril and wonder set in a world where magic is only ever a hairsbreadth away from us all. 



8. The Lost Sapphire – Belinda Murrell
I always love a new timeslip adventure from my brilliant sister, Belinda. In The Lost Sapphire, a teenage girl Marli is reluctantly sent to stay with her father in Melbourne. Things began to get more interesting, though, when she discovers an abandoned house with a mysterious past, and makes a new friend, a boy with his own connection to the house. 





9. Hexenhaus – Nikki McWatters
Hexenhaus is a gripping story of three different young women at different times of history who all find themselves persecuted in some way for witchcraft. 




10. Enemy: A Daughter’s Story – Ruth Clare
A memoir of growing up in Australia with a brutal and domineering father who had been damaged by his experiences in the Vietnam war. 



11. The Good People – Hannah Kent
Dark, poetic, and intense, The Good People is a fascinating and atmospheric tale of the ancient fairy lore of Ireland and how it shaped the people who believed it. One of my best reads of 2016.



12. The Summer Bride – Anne Gracie
The last book in Anne Gracie’s delightful Regency romance quartet, ‘The Chance Sisters’. 



13. The Ties That Bind – Lexi Landsman
An engaging and heart-warming read that moves between the story of a modern-day woman’s desperate search for a bone marrow donor for her son, and the hidden secrets of the past.



14. Den of Wolves – Juliet Marillier
The final book in Juliet Marillier’s latest magical historical trilogy, Den of Wolves wraps up the story of Blackthorn and Grim beautifully. A wonderful mix of history, romance, and fairy-tale-like enchantment. 



15. Where the Trees Were – Inga Simpson
A beautiful meditation on the Australian landscape and the Aboriginal connection to it, Where the Trees Were is a must-read for anyone who has ever swung on a tyre over a slow-moving brown river or lain on the ground looking up at a scorching blue sky through the shifting leaves of a gum tree. 



16. On the Blue Train – Kristel Thornell
This novel was inspired by the true-life story of how Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days in 1926. A slow, melancholy, and beautiful meditation on failed love. 




17. The Dry – Jane Harper
Set in a small Australian country town, The Dry is a tense, compelling and atmospheric murder mystery, as well as an astonishingly assured debut from English-born novelist Jane Harper. 



18. Castle of Dreams – Elise McCune
A gorgeous cover and intriguing title drew me to Castle of Dreams by Elise McCune, described as an ‘enthralling novel of love, betrayals, loss and family secrets.’  



19. The Family with Two Front Doors – Anna Ciddor
Inspired by the real-life stories of Anna Ciddor’s grandmother, The Family with Two Doors is a charming and poignant account of the life of a family of Jewish children in 1920s Poland. 



20. Beyond the Orchard – Anna Romer 
A story that moves between the past and the present, with intrigue, passion, betrayal and the metafictive use of a dark fairy-tale – it’ll be no surprise to anyone that I loved Beyond the Orchard, the first novel of Anna Romer’s that I have read. 



21. The Locksmith’s Daughter – Karen Brooks
An absolutely gripping page-turner of a novel set in Elizabethan times. 




22. The Waiting Room – Leah Kaminsky
Set in modern-day Israel, The Waiting Room tells the story of a single day in the life of a female Jewish doctor who is haunted by her parents’ tragic past. 



23. Rose’s Vintage – Kayte Nunn
A warm-hearted and very readable contemporary romance set in an Australian vineyard, Rose’s Vintage throws failed-British chef-turned-au-pair Rose into the midst of a range of lovable, eccentric characters including two adorable children and their brooding, difficult but gorgeous father. 




24. The Anchoress – Robyn Cadwaller
Set in England in 1255, the story begins with 17-year old Sarah being enclosed within her cell. Her door is literally nailed shut. Yet the world is not so easy to lock away. Sarah sees and hears glimpses of the life of the village, and is threatened by desire, grief, doubt and fear just as much as any other woman. 



25. Kumiko and the Dragon – Briony Stewart
26. Kumiko and the Dragon’s Secret – Briony Stewart
27. Kumiko and the Shadow-catchers – Briony Stewart
A trilogy of charming fantasy books for very young readers, inspired by the tales that Briony Stewart’s Japanese grandmother used to tell her. 



28. Victoria the Queen – Julia Baird
Described as ‘An intimate biography of the woman who ruled an empire,’ Victoria the Queen busts open many of the myths about both the woman and the era. 


Want more? Read my list of Books by Australian Women Writers in 2016 

KATE FORSYTH'S Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

Friday, January 08, 2016

Every year I try and take part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, in an attempt to read more books written by Australian female authors.

I only managed ten in total this year, much to my disappointment. It may have been more – I’ve had such a busy year that I was not as good as usual in writing down all I’ve read! Also, a lot of my reading was taken up in research books for the new novel I am working on, which is set in Victorian England. 


I will do better in 2016!




1. The Light Between the Oceans - M.L. Stedman

A compelling and beautifully written novel set in a lighthouse in Australia, and telling the story of a lost child, and how one small choice can break apart many lives.  



2. Daughters of the Storm - Kim Wilkins

A historical fantasy set in a world much like the Dark Ages, with an absolutely brilliant kick-ass heroine and lots of brilliantly drawn characters to love and hate.




3. The Soldier's Wife - Pamela Hart

A moving historical novel set in Sydney during the First World War, The Soldier's Wife tells the story of the women left at home, who must struggle on as best they an.  





4. The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

A gripping and utterly original psychological thriller set in a Sydney suburb much like my own ... unputdownable!






5. The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton 

This is one of my favourite books by one of my favourite writers - entwining the story of a Victorian fairy tale teller, a secret garden, and a murder ... so much to love! 





6. The Tide Watchers – Lisa Chaplin

An intriguing historical novel set during the Napoleonic wars and inspired by the fascinating true-life story of a a British female spy.





7. The Spring Bride – Anne Gracie

Anne Gracie's Regency romance novels are an utter delight! Funny, warm-hearted, and adventurous - I buy them as soon as they are released! 





8. Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty 

Another intriguing novel that looks at the dark secrets that can lurk under the surface of even the shiniest of lives, this was so good I gave it to my husband to read!




9. Small Acts Of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger  - Fiona Wright

A collection of interconnected essays inspired by the author's struggle with anorexia nervosa, written with crystalline prose.    





10. The Lake House – Kate Morton

I pre-ordered this book and read it as soon as it landed on my doorstep. Another compelling historica/contemporary tale of secrets and mysteries. Loved it!


REVIEW; The Spring Bride by Anne Gracie

Wednesday, October 07, 2015




The Spring Bride (Chance Sisters #3)

by Anne Gracie 

THE BLURB:

A dog in need of rescue brings together a young debutante and a mysterious stranger in this regency charmer from the beloved Anne Gracie. For fans of Mary Balogh and Madeline Hunter.

On the eve of the London Season, Jane Chance is about to make her entrance into high society. And after a childhood riddled with poverty and hardship, Jane intends to make a good, safe, sensible marriage. All goes according to plan until a dark, dangerous vagabond helps her rescue a dog.

Zachary Black is all kinds of unsuitable—a former spy, now in disguise, he’s wanted for murder. His instructions: to lie low until his name is cleared. But Zach has never followed the rules, and he wants Jane Chance for his own.

If that means blazing his way into London society, in whatever guise suits him, that’s what he’ll do. Jane knows she shouldn’t fall in love with this unreliable, if devastatingly attractive, rogue. But Zach is determined—and he‘s a man accustomed to getting what he wants.

MY THOUGHTS:

Anne Gracie is my favourite living romance author. Her Regency love stories are a perfect blend of romance, humour and pathos, and I never fail to finish with a lump in my throat. The Spring Bride is the third in a series following the romantic entanglements of four young women struggling to make their way in the world. The series began with The Autumn Bride, and continued with The Winter Bride – I would definitely start at the beginning. This one involves a rescued mutt, a gentleman-turned spy, a murder mystery, and a girl who fears to fall in love. Can’t wait for the next in the series!


BOOK LIST: Books I Read in May 2014

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Its been such a busy time for me lately that I haven't had much time for blogging! I hope you'll all forgive me ... the good news is that I've been working on a new novel. 

I always have time for reading, though - here's my May roundup of what Books I've Been Reading. 

May is festival time in Sydney, and so I spent a lot of time talking about, and listening to other writers talk about, books and writing. It was wonderful to see the festival precinct at the wharves so alive and buzzing with book-lovers, and I bought a great pile of books that I shall be slowly working my way though in the upcoming weeks. 

A lot of my reading time is still being taken up by research, but I managed to read a few other lovely books as well. 


The Sequin Star – Belinda Murrell
Many of you may know that Belinda Murrell is my elder sister, and so I have to admit to a strong partiality to any book I read of hers. The Sequin Star is the latest in her very popular timeslip series for teenage girls. The action follows a modern-day Australian girl named Claire who finds herself thrown back in time to a Great Depression-era circus in 1932. She is rescued by a warm-hearted girl named Rosina who is riding on the back of an elephant. Claire has no way of getting back to her own time, and so begins to work in the circus. As well as Rosina and her pet monkey, Claire makes friends with two boys from very different backgrounds. Jem’s family is dirt-poor and living in a shanty town, while Kit has a chauffeur and lives in a mansion. Kit comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina ride her beautiful dancing horses, not realising he is putting himself in danger. When Kit is kidnapped, Claire and her friends have to try and work out the mystery in order to save him. The Sequin Star is exactly the sort of book I would have loved to have read in my early teens (in fact, any time!), and is gives a really vivid look at life in Sydney in the early 1930s. Loved it!


Gift from the Sea – Anne Morrow Lindbergh 
After reading and enjoying Melanie Benjamin’s wonderful novel about the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh in The Aviator’s Wife, I was inspired to go back and read ‘Gift from the Sea’, the most famous of Lindbergh’s numerous books. It’s a small, delicate and wise book, full of meditations on the life of women. I first read it when I was sixteen, and am now thinking I shall pass it on to my daughter at the same age.  


The Unlikely Spy – Daniel Silva
I love a good spy thriller, particularly when its set during World War II, and Daniel Silva did not disappoint. The unlikely spy of the title is an amiable history professor and he is on the track of a ruthless Nazi spy working undercover in Great Britain in the lead-up to D-Day. This is more a novel of psychological suspense than an action-packed page-turner, but I enjoyed seeing the action from all sides, and found the historical details fascinating. 


Ingo – Helen Dunmore
I’ve been meaning to read this book for so long, but only picked it up this month because I was doing a talk on retellings of mermaid tales, and thought I should catch up on recent additions to the genre. I am so glad I did – I loved this book! It’s a very simple story – after a girl’s father disappears and is believed drowned, she finds her brother beginning to be drawn irresistibly to the sea as well. In time, the girl (whose name is Sapphire) learns of the mysterious realm of Ingo, the world of the mermaids that lies in the depths of the ocean. Its enchanting siren song is dangerous, however, and Sapphire will find it hard to escape its spell. What lifts this novel out of the ordinary, however, is the beauty of the writing. Helen Dunmore is a poet as well as an Orange Prize-winning novelist for adults. Her writing is both lyrical and deft, and I’m looking forward to the rest in the series. 


The Winter Bride – Anne Gracie
Anne Gracie is my favourite living romance novelist; she never disappoints. The Winter Bride is the second in a Regency-times series featuring four plucky young women trying to make their own way in the world, and finding all sorts of trouble along the path towards true love. Read The Autumn Bride first, but have this one close to hand as once you’ve read one, you’ll want more. I’m just hanging out for the next in the series now. 


The Chalet School in Exile – Elinor Brent-Dyer
Elinor Brent-Dyer was an extraordinarily prolific author who wrote more than 100 books in total, many of them in the famous Chalet School series about a 1930s girls’ school set in the Austrian Tyrol. I’ve been collecting them for years and had been searching for this one in particular – the rare The Chalet School in Exile, set during the Nazis’ Anschluss of Austria. The girls of the school fall foul of the Gestapo after trying to save an old Jewish man from being beaten to death, and have to escape Austria on foot through the Alps. It’s an extraordinarily vivid snapshot of a time and a place, and one of the few children’s books of the era to deal directly with the terror of the Nazis. I read it when I was about 10, and it made a deep impression on me at the time. An original first edition hardback with the original dust-jacket showing a SS officer confronting the girls is worth over $1,000 (though this is cheap compared to the almost $4,000 you need to fork out for a first edition copy of the first book in the series, The School at the Chalet). I however bought my copy from Girls Gone By publishers which re-issue the rarer editions at a much more affordable price (and feature the famous dustjacket as well). 


Meanwhile, I’ve continued with my own research into the Nazi era. I’ve read another half-a-dozen non-fiction books on the subject. Here are three of the best I’ve read this month: 



Between Dignity & Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany – Marion A Kaplan
This powerful and heart-rending book draws on many different memoirs, diaries, letters and post-war interviews to give us an extraordinary insight into what it was like to be a Jew in Germany during the Nazi years. It shows how the many small humiliations and unkindnesses of the early years gradually began to drag the Jewish community inexorably towards the horror of the Holocaust, and gives a sense of how that horror continues to shadow those that survived. 



Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields – Wendy Lower
This book was so chilling that I could only read it in parts. It tells the stories of the active role played by Nazi women in the Third Reich: nurses and secretaries and wives, as much as the already well-known horrors of the female camp guards. Some of the events seem impossible to believe, except that they have been documented in the Nuremberg court of law. 



Hitler’s Spy Chief: the Wilhelm Canaris Mystery – Richard Bassett
Wilhelm Canaris was the enigmatic head of the Abwehr, the German secret service. He was executed for treason in a Bavarian concentration camp only days before the Allies’ reached the camp and liberated it. He had been involved in the failed assassination of Hitler immortalised in the movie ‘Valkyrie’, but many researchers believe that he had been working to undermine the Third Reich from before the beginning of the war.  This detailed and in-depth examination of his life and work is not for the casual reader (it assumes a wide knowledge of the Nazi era and the Valkyrie plot), but it is utterly fascinating and convincingly argues that Canaris had been feeding secrets to the British for many years and was in fact protected to some extent by them. 

Want more? Here's my list of Books Read in April 

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

BOOK LIST: Best books of 2013

Saturday, January 04, 2014

I have read so many brilliant books this year that I had great trouble narrowing it down to only a few. However, at last I have managed it – here are the best books I read in 2013, divided by genre. 

Because I love historical fiction, and stories that move between a historical and a contemporary setting, most of my favourite books are in these genres. However, there are a few utterly brilliant contemporary novels and fantasy novels as well. As always, my list is entirely and unashamedly subjective – many of these writers are my friends and colleagues, and one is my sister! 

However, all I can say is I am incredibly lucky to know so many über-talented writers. 

Best Historical Novel for Adults



Chasing the Light – Jesse Blackadder
A beautiful, haunting novel about the first women in Antarctica.


The Crimson Ribbon – Katherine Clements
Set in England in 1646, in the midst of the English Civil War, this is a utterly riveting tale of passion, intrigue, witchcraft, and treason. 


Longbourne – Jo Baker
A beautiful, intense, heart-wrenching tale about the lives of the servants at Longbourne, the home of the Bennets from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. 


A Spear of Summer Grass – Deanna Raybourn
Set during the Roaring 20s, this is the story of debutante Delilah Drummond who has caused one scandal too many and so is banished to Kenya .. where she finds intrigue, murder and romance. 


Letters from Skye – Jessica Brockmole 
This charming epistolary novel moves between the First World War and the Second World War, and tells the story of the blossoming romance between a young Scottish poet and an American university student. 


Best Historical Mystery


The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy - James Anderson
As one can probably tell from the title, this book is a gentle spoof of the Golden Age type of mysteries written by authors such as Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh – utterly clever and charming!


Bellfield Hall, or The Deductions of Miss Dido Kent – Anna Dean
Imagine a novel where Miss Marple meets Jane Austen, and you will begin to have a sense of this delightful Regency murder mystery. Miss Dido Kent, the heroine and amateur sleuth, is clever, witty, and astute … and finds a touch of romance in her search to uncover the murderer. 


Best Historical Thrillers



The Falcons of Fire & Ice - Karen Maitland
An utterly compelling historical novel which moves between Portugal and Iceland as a young woman searches for two rare white falcons in a desperate attempt to save her father's life. Her journey is fraught with danger, betrayal, murder and horror, with the strangest set of seers ever to appear in fiction.


The Tudor Conspiracy – C.W. Gortner
A fast-paced, action-packed historical thriller, filled with suspense and switchback reversals, that also manages to bring the corrupt and claustrophobic atmosphere of the Tudor court thrillingly to life.


Ratcatcher – James McGee
A ratcatcher is a Bow Street Runner, an early policeman in Regency times. A great historical adventure book, filled with spies, and intrigue, and romance, and murder. 


Best Historical Romance



The Autumn Bride - Anne Gracie
Anne Gracie never disappoints. This is beautiful, old-fashioned romance, driven by character and situation and dialogue, and, as always, is filled with wit and charm and pathos. 


A Tryst with Trouble – Alyssa Everett
Lady Barbara Jeffords is certain her little sister didn't murder the footman, no matter how it looks … and no matter what the Marquess of Beningbrough might say ... A fresh, funny and delightful Regency romance. 


I bought this book solely on the cover – a Regency romance set in Venice? Sounds right up my alley … I mean, canal … It proved to be a very enjoyable romantic romp, with musical interludes. 


Best Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retellings for Adults



The Year of Ancient Ghosts – Kim Wilkins
'The Year of Ancient Ghosts' is a collection of novellas and short stories - brave, surprising, beautiful, frightening and tragic all at once


Beauty’s Sister – James Bradley
Beauty’s Sister is an exquisite retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale, reimagined from the point of view of Rapunzel’s darker, wilder sister. 


Best Parallel Contemporary/Historical



Ember Island – Kimberley Freeman
A real page-turning delight, with a delicious mix of mystery, romance, history and family drama. One of my all-time favourite authors, Kimberley Freeman can be counted on to deliver an utterly compelling story. 


Secrets of the Sea House - Elisabeth Gifford
An intriguing and atmospheric novel set in the Hebrides Islands of Scotland, its narrative moves between the contemporary story of troubled Ruth and her husband Michael, and the islands in the 1860s when crofters are being forced to emigrate and science and religion are in conflict.


The Shadow Year – Hannah Richell
A perfectly structured and beautifully written novel which uses parallel narratives to stunning effect. A compelling and suspenseful novel about family, love, and loss.


The Perfume Garden - Kate Lord Brown
A young woman inherits an old house in Spain, discovers clues to buried family secrets, meets a gorgeous Spaniard, and finds her true path in life ... interposed with flashbacks to her grandmother's experiences during the bloody and turbulent Spanish Civil War  ... 


The Ashford Affair – Lauren Willlig
I absolutely loved this book which moves between contemporary New York, and 1920s England and Africa. It's a historical mystery, a family drama, and a romance, all stirred together to create a compulsively readable novel.



Best Contemporary Novel



The Midnight Dress – Karen Foxlee
A beautiful, haunting, tragic tale of love and loss and yearning. 


The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
A feel-good romantic comedy, with wit and charm. 



Best Contemporary Suspense Novels


Sister – Rosamund Lupton
Utterly compulsive, suspenseful, clever, surprising, this is one of the best murder mysteries I have ever read. 


Shatter – Michael Robotham
Chilling, powerful and superbly written. Highly recommended for the brave.   


Best YA Fantasy/Fairytale Retellings



Thornspell – Helen Lowe
Helen Lowe reimagines the Sleeping Beauty story from the point of view of the prince in this beautiful, romantic fantasy for young adults. 


Raven Flight – Juliet Marillier
A classic old-fashioned high fantasy with a quest at its heart. The writing is beautiful and limpid, the setting is an otherworldy Scotland, and the story mixes danger, magic and romance - sigh! I loved it. This is YA fantasy at its absolute best.  


Pureheart – Cassandra Golds
Pureheart is the darkest of all fairy tales, it is the oldest of all quest tales, it is an eerie and enchanting story about the power of love and forgiveness. It is, quite simply, extraordinary. 


Scarlet in the Snow – Sophie Masson 
I just loved this retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, told with flair, dash, and panache, by one of my favourite Australian women writers. This is YA fantasy at its best - filled with magic, adventure and just a touch of romance. Loved it!




Best Historical Novel for Young Adults



The River Charm – Belinda Murrell
This beautiful, heart-wrenching novel is inspired by the true life story of the famous Atkinsons of Oldbury, earlier settlers in colonial Australia. It moves between the life of modern-day Millie, and her ancestor Charlotte Atkinson, the daughter of the woman who wrote the first children’s book published in Australia (who was, by the way, my great-great-great-great-grandmother. So, yes, that means Belinda is my sister.) 


Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein
One of the best YA historical novels I have ever read, it is set in France and England during the Second World war and is the confession of a captured English spy. 


Witch Child – Celia Rees
Set in 1659, during the tumultuous months after Cromwell’s death and before the return of Charles II, this is a simple yet powerful tale that explores the nature of magic and superstition, faith and cruelty.


Act of Faith - Kelly Gardiner
A heart-breaking and thought-provoking historical novel for young adults, set during the rule of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. 


Best Children’s Books



A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness
What can I say? It's brilliant, surprising, harrowing, humbling. I found it hard to breathe after I finished reading it – such an emotional wallop!


Fire Spell – Laura Amy Schiltz
I absolutely adored this book! Laura Amy Schlitz reminds me of one of my all-time favourite authors, Joan Aiken, which is very high praise indeed. This is a rather creepy story about children and witches and a puppet-master in London a century or so ago. Brilliant. 


Wonderstruck – Brian Selznick
A perfect title for a book that is, indeed, struck with wonder. 


Best Non-Fiction




Hanns & Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz – Thomas Harding
The author of this utterly riveting and chilling book found out, at his great-uncle’s funeral, that the mild-mannered old man he had known had once been a Nazi hunter. And not just any Nazi. His Great Uncle Hanns had been the man who had hunted down and caught Rudolf Hoss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz. 



84 Charing Cross Road – Helen Hanff
84 Charing Cross Road is not a novel, but rather a collection of letters between an American writer and an English bookseller over the course of many years. That description does not really give any indication of just how funny, heart-wrenching and beautiful this book is – you really do have to read it yourself.


The Bolter: The Story of Idina Sackville – Frances Osborne
The Bolter is the non-fiction account of the life of Idina Sackville, the author's great-grandmother, who had inspired the key character in Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate. She married and divorced numerous times, and was part of a very fast set in 1930s Kenya that led to scandal and murder - I loved it. 

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

BOOK LIST: Books I Read in February

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

I read 10 and a half books in February, bringing my yearly quota to 24.5 books. There's a lot of romance in the list - my favourite was 'The Autumn Bride' by Anne Gracie - plus one of my all-time favourite children's classic, 'The Stone Cage' by Nicholas Stuart Gray, which I have read at least a dozen times (but it never wearies me). 

The two stand-out titles for me were 'Scarlet in the Snow' by Sophie Masson and 'The Year of Ancient Ghosts' by Kim Wilkins (both due to be released in May 2013 - lucky me got advance copies!) I also really enjoyed the medieval murder mystery, 'The Queen's Man'by Sharon Penham. 


1. The Lost Duke of Wyndham – Julia Quinn

A frothy Regency romance that was marred for me by being a companion book to an earlier title which I had not read, and so it contained lots of references to things I was obviously meant to know. A lesson in how NOT to write a sequel (or perhaps a lesson in making sure you read books in a series in the order in which they are published.)

2. Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed – Anna Campbell
A very sexy Regency romance with appealing characters and a dash of adventure. I enjoyed it hugely, and have ordered another by this author (who is Australian and so bolsters my reading of Australian Women Writers in the AWW2013 challenge - yay!)

3.  The Stone Cage - Nicholas Stuart Gray

A wonderful classic children's fantasy which retells the Rapunzel fairy tale from the point of view of the witch's cat. The book which first made me think about writing my own Rapunzel retelling, when I was only 12. 


4. The Autumn Bride - Anne Gracie

My favourite living romance writer, Anne Gracie never disappoints. This is beautiful, old-fashioned romance, driven by character and situation and dialogue, and, as always, is filled with wit and charm and pathos. Love Anne Gracie romances!



5. Scarlet in the Snow – Sophie Masson 

I just loved this retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, told with flair, dash, and panache, by one of my favourite Australian women writers (yay! Another AWW2013!) Sophie Masson has really found her niche with these books ('Scarlet in the Snow' is set in the same alternative-world Prague as Sophie's previous novel, 'Moonlight & Ashes', which was one of my BEST BOOKS READ IN 2012.) This is YA fantasy at its best - filled with magic, adventure and just a touch of romance. Loved it!


6. All That I Am – Anna Funder

I am very ashamed to admit that I could not finish this book, the most awarded and lauded Australian book of 2012. And another AWW! Was I too tired? Am I too frivolous? Or was the book just too slow and self-aware for my tastes? It should have ticked all my boxes. Historical fiction - yay! Set in Nazi Germany - yay! About a brilliant, independent woman mostly forgotten by history - yay! I really, really wanted to love this book, but it just put me to sleep every night. I've left it on my bedside table and will hopefully return to it once I'm not so tired. Maybe in my next life. 


7. To Wed A Rake – Eloisa James

A delightful Regency romance novella, razor-sharp and not a word wasted. Bought it on my Kindle as I was waiting for my ferry and had read it by the time my ferry had come. Not a yawn in sight. 


8. The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr Wright – Tessa Dare

Another Regency romance novella, not quite as light on its feet as the one by Eloisa James, but still light, amusing and a wonderful way to pass by ferry ride home. I enjoyed it so much I tried another by the same author:

9. A Night to Surrender – Tessa Dare

I really enjoyed this deliciously frothy and amusing Regency romance, with likeable characters and a great premise. A lovely way to while away and hour or two. 


10.  The Year of Ancient Ghosts – Kim Wilkins

I LOVED this book! Kim Wilkins is one of my all-time favourite writers, spinning together suspense, romance, history and mythology into books that are utterly unputdownable (is that a word?) However, she's been busy the last few years writing parallel historical/contemporary books under the name Kimberley Freeman (still uputdownable but with a greater emphasis on family drama than mythology and fairy tale -  read all about Kimberley Freeman's books HERE). 

So I was very excited to be sent an advance copy of her first Kim Willkins' title in a few years.  'The Year of Ancient Ghosts' is a collection of novellas and short stories - brave, surprising, beautiful, frightening and tragic all at once. I WANT MORE! 


11. The Queen’s Man – Sharon Penham

Sharon Penham is best known for her magisterial novels set during the Middle Ages - I haven't read any yet, though I hear they are utterly brilliant - I do plan to get to them eventually. In the meantime, I've started with Sharon Penham-lite. 'The Queen's Man' is the first in a series of mystery novels set during the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a figure who has always fascinated me. I enjoyed this a lot, and plan to read more - the world is vividly and accurately portrayed, the characters and the relationships ring true, and the mystery was satisfyingly mysterious. Lovely to find a new medieval mystery series to devour!   
(See my Spotlight on Ellis Peters, author of the Cadfaely medieval mysteries, and my interview with Karen Maitland, who writes brilliant medieval supernatural thrillers).



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BOOK LIST: Some of my favourite romance novels

Friday, February 15, 2013

Its 'Romance Week'on the blog as we celebrate St Valentine's Day and all things romantic. Already this week, I've interviewed my favourite Australian romance writer, Anne Gracie, and reviewed her new book, 'The Autumn Bride'.

To continue with the theme, I thought I'd list a few of my own favourite romance reads.


1) 'These Old Shades' by Georgette Heyer is one of my all-time favourite books. It is an utterly perfect mix of humour, adventure, and romance, though modern day readers may find it lacking in the levels of sensuality they are used to. I don't care one whit. Georgette Heyer is the queen of Regency romance because she writes so  well, and because even minor characters are an utter delight.

 


2) 'Roselynde' by Roberta  Gellis. I read this, and all the other books in the Roselynde Chronicles, when I was in high school and they utterly swept me away. They were the first romance books I ever read that had a strong sensual component, but they were also filled with the political machinations of living under the evil King John, and brought the life of 13th century England vividly and compellingly to life. 

3) 'Desperate Duchesses' by Eloisa James brought me back to reading historical romance after quite a few years when I had not read any. It is witty, sexy, and filled with feisty and likeable female characters, as well as quite a bit about chess and Shakespeare. This is romance writing at its most intelligent, and I've enjoyed many more of her books since discovering this one quite by chance. 

4) 'The Secret History of the Pink Carnation' is the first in a series of frivolous, funny and utterly fabulous romances by the US author Lauren Willig. Its quite hard to categorise them, as they mingle a contemporary chick-lit-style romantic narrative, with a historical spy-thriller-romance narrative. Its best to read them in order, as characters appear and reappear, but each is a sparkling little gem in its own right, and I always looks forward to them eagerly. 

 

5) I read the 'The Lost Duke of Wyndham' by Julia Quinn only recently, and really enjoyed it. She has a light, humorous touch, some sparkling dialogue, and the story moves along at a spanking pace. I liked it enough to order some more of her books.


6) 'Seven Nights in a Rogue's Bed' is by an Australian author, Anna Campbell, who I had never read before. This is a seriously sexy book, but the high level of sensuality is utterly believable as the hero and heroine are given a chance to fall in love, even as they fall into bed. There's a dastardly villain, some wonderful descriptions of food and clothes, and a very satisfying denouement, in all senses of the word. It's wonderful to see Australian authors writing such world-class romance.

7) 'His Captive Lady' is one of my favourite books by Anne Gracie, one of my favourite romance writers. I really loved the sub-plot of a missing child in this book, and the strong and silent hero. This is part of a series about four friends who fought together in the Napoleonic Wars, and now have to adapt to peacetime England, and so there's a darker undercurrent to these books than in many romances set during the same period. 


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INTERVIEW: Anne Gracie, author of 'The Autumn Bride'

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I've always loved historical romance novels, ever since I read my mother's Georgette Heyer books to utter rags when I was a young teenager. I find that when I'm very busy and very tired - like I am now - I read a lot of romance. My favourite contemporary romance novelists is Australia's own Anne Gracie, and so I thought I would celebrate Valentines Day by chatting with her about the wonderful, warm-and-fuzzy world of romance fiction. 




Kate: Why do you think romance is such a popular genre of fiction?

Anne: Pure, feel-good escapism. The world can be a grim and stressful place and romance fiction provides an escape that guarantees you a happy ending. The story might take you on a wild journey, with danger and sad or scary moments, but no matter what dark places it might take you to, you know it'll finish well. That's a very appealing kind of escape.


Kate: Romance has many different sub-genres - romantic suspense, Regency romances, paranormal romance to name just a few. They each seem to have different conventions or tropes, and a different type of readership. Can you please give me a brief run-down on the various sub-genres and their tropes?


Anne: No, sorry. <g> I couldn't begin to do them all justice. The genre is constantly evolving and new sub-genres are appearing all the time. Let me just say there is enormous variety under the romance umbrella — pretty much any other genre can be combined with romance and as long as the development of the romance is a central part of the story, it's still regarded as romance. The best way to become familiar with the conventions is to read widely; that said, people are breaking conventions all the time.


The best advice I can give to anyone wanting to explore the romance genre and what it offers is to trawl the web, and the romance sites. And read the books. In Australia, there are romance specialist bookshops that you can browse and the assistants are generally great readers of romance and can advise you. Some will also will send out catalogues by post or email. 


Kate: My particular favourite sub-genre is historical romance, particularly Regency romance, which is what you write. What do you think is the appeal for this particular period of history?

Anne: It's a brilliant period for writers — wars, Napoleon rampaging around Europe, the industrial revolution and the growth in all kinds of knowledge, the glamor of balls and fabulous fashions, Almacks and gentlemen's clubs, aristocrats desperately trying to maintain their exclusivity in the face of the rise of the merchant class, the growth of the British Empire, desperate poverty and a surge in crime — this is when Australia was colonized, remember. You can write almost any kind of story you want. It's historical enough to feel exotic, but modern enough for modern audiences who know little of the period, to still feel at home.

For me personally, the Regency is a place I feel very comfortable in because I grew up on Georgette Heyer. Because of her and Jane Austen, the Regency novel is also associated with humour, which suits me, too.



The incomparable Georgette Heyer

Kate: What are the other 'hot' historical periods?

Anne: In the USA the Victorian era is very popular. In the early part of my career my English editor warned me off the Victorian era because she said it held dreary memories for everyone. But not in the USA. There it's seen as almost modern and very glamorous, with fabulous clothes and exciting inventions and suffragettes and adventure. And of course it ties into steampunk — yes there's steampunk and dystopian romance, and also paranormal historical romance.

The medieval period used to be very popular, and I'm still very fond of medieval romances, but some of the best medieval writers are now writing Regency historicals because that's what the market wants. (If you want a great medieval romance, try "By Design" by Madeline Hunter)


Kate: I've noticed many romance novels have the hero as the primary point of view. The book opens with  their POV, and the reader spends more than half of their time in his head. This puzzles me. I would have thought it was the heroine who should dominate the novel's 'screen time'.  Why do so many romance writers give so much space to the man's thoughts and feelings?

Anne: As I said, romance is a constantly evolving genre. In the past, the heroine's point of view (pov) ruled, and the hero was this distant, mysterious "other" whose thoughts and motivations and feelings the heroine (and the reader) could only guess at.  It made for some lovely tension, and some people mourn the passing of the single pov story.

But in the last twenty years or so, the male point of view has become incredibly popular. There are several reasons for this, I think. For a start, people have been going darker and darker in romance — pushing the boundaries. And if we consider character arcs, often the one who most needs to change, who most needs to confront his inner demons, the one who the story is really about, is the hero, usually because of damaging experiences in his past that have made him resistant or even actively hostile to the idea of love. 

Readers barrack for a happy ending, and if the hero seems completely surly and damaged and inexplicable and hostile, readers won't want the heroine to end up with him, and if his change seems superficial and convenient, they won't buy the happy ending. But if we can slip into his head and start to see what's driving him, and what's holding him back, and  feel how difficult this journey is for him — well, we're on his side and barracking madly. And it makes the happy ending that much more satisfying.

Using the hero pov allows the reader to experience the slow stages of the hero falling in love— suspiciously, reluctantly, fighting against it but unable to stop himself. Readers love that kind of journey. They also enjoy seeing the heroine through the hero's eyes — it's part of the romantic fantasy. For instance, my hero in The Perfect Rake is the only person in the story who doesn't see the heroine as little and dumpy and ordinary looking — he thinks she's the beauty of the family. Readers loved that.

Of course, as romance writers, we put the kinds of thoughts in men's heads that we want them to have. It's possibly not how they think at all, but it adds to the fantasy. And the fun.


Kate: Romance novels have been getting sexier and sexier. Some seem to have abandoned story for a string of sex scenes (not you! I think you have the perfect mix :))
Why do you think this is so? How do you judge how much is enough?


Anne: The horrid truth is, sex sells and the more it sells, the more people want it, so it's market driven. For me, the sexiness or otherwise of the story depends completely on the characters and the story. I don't find sex scenes easy to write, so they have to fit the story. Quite a few of my stories are marriage of convenience stories (a trope I'm fond of) and in that situation, sex plays an important part in the development of the relationship. My new book, by contrast, has only one lovemaking scene, right at the end. 


In the end, it's up to each individual author to decide how much is enough. I've heard that some publishers urge their authors to put more and more sex in, but that's never happened to me.


Kate: I've also noticed a lot of romance writers are now writing in series. Often the writer follows the romantic adventures of a whole family - the brothers or the sisters, or a combination of both. Why?


Anne: Again, this is market driven. People love to follow the fortunes of a family, and really, romance readers are a bunch of matchmakers who want practically everyone — sometimes even the villain, if he's a dashing sort of villain— to have a happy ending.  So they will write to the author begging for so-and-so's story.

It's also partly to do with not wanting to leave that particular world, so you follow each character through their own journey. Some fantasy series do that too. 


Kate: I do think humour is such an important ingredient in a successful romance novel. It can be hard to get the tone just right, however. How do you go about inserting humour into a story?

Anne: I don't really try to insert it, but it comes pretty naturally to me. I was always getting in trouble at school for inappropriate humour. The one time I set out to write a story with a brooding, dark and dangerous hero, a charming, flippant rake strolled onto the page instead, making me laugh. (The Perfect Rake.) So now I just go with the characters and the story, and some turn out light and funny and some are darker and more angsty. I don't seem to have a lot of control. 


Unless it does come to you naturally, I wouldn't advise anyone to try to make a story funny. Sense of humor is personal and variable and if you try too hard, and force it, you can get it horribly wrong. I have writer friends who will read my work in draft and they have excellent comedy instincts and will tell me if I've gone too far, or it doesn't work. 


Kate: I've always wondered why the heroes of romantic novels are often given such silly tongue-in-cheek names i.e. Lance, Rod, Steel etc. However, I recently read a blog which said the blogger found that the sillier the hero's name, the funnier the book. What do you think?


Anne: I haven't come across many as silly as that and I suspect that blogger or possibly the writer was slightly tongue-in-cheek — or simply having fun playing with some OTT tropes. I have seen a few surnames of the iron, steel and rock type. (Remington Steele, anyone?) and I wrote a series of short stories once that were very much tongue-in-cheek, starring Troy Hunkthighs, Clint Shoulderman and Miss Pouty Luscious. But it was all in fun. 



Names are important though, and no matter what the genre, authors choose character names to give a particular impression. I'm always looking for good names, as long as they fit the era and the country. For a hero, I want a name that sounds reasonably strong and masculine, but if I were foolish enough to name someone Lance O'Steele I'd deserve all the mockery I'd get. (Unless I made him one of Hunkthigh's mates, which I just might do.) My heroes have names like Gideon Carradice, Sebastian Reyne, Nicholas Blacklock, Dominic Wolfe, Gabriel Renfrew, Max Davenham... All pretty ordinary really.


Kate: Any tips you can give to someone wanting to write romance?

Anne: It's no different than any other genre — read widely until you find books in the genre that you love. Find authors whose writing you love and subgenres that excite you. Then write the very best book you can. The more you read and the more you write, the better your writing will get.

Also join Romance Writers of Australia. It's an organization that does a lot to promote good writing in the genre and supports writers on their journey to publication.
Romance Australia website's


Kate: Finally, is it true romance readers have better sex?

Anne: Of course. University tests prove it. 


An excellent reason to read more romance books! Thank you, Anne, for illuminating the romance genre for us.


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BOOK REVIEW: 'The Autumn Bride'by Anne Gracie

Monday, February 11, 2013



Title: The Autumm Bride
Author: Anne Gracie 
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Age Group & Genre: Historical Romance for adults


The Blurb:
Governess Abigail Chantry will do anything to save her sister and two dearest friends from destitution, even if it means breaking into an empty mansion in the hope of finding something to sell. Instead of treasures, though, she finds the owner, Lady Beatrice Davenham, bedridden and neglected. Appalled, Abby rousts Lady Beatrice's predatory servants and—with Lady Beatrice's eager cooperation—the four young ladies become her “nieces,” neatly eliminating the threat of disaster for all concerned!

It's the perfect situation, until Lady Beatrice’s dashing and arrogant nephew, Max, Lord Davenham, returns from the Orient—and discovers an impostor running his household…

A romantic entanglement was never the plan for these stubborn, passionate opponents—but falling in love may be as inevitable as the falling of autumn leaves...  


What I Thought: 
I love Regency romances, probably because – like so many people – I grew up devouring the wonderful romantic adventure stories by Georgette Heyer. In recent years, however, I’ve found many Regency romances quite disappointing, mainly because the characters all seem so interchangeable, and because so many of them get so heavy-handed with the sex scenes. Don’t get me wrong. I love a little sizzle in my romance. However, many recent novels seem to abandon story itself – with all of its plot and character development - so that I find myself skimming over endless descriptions of rumpus in the drawing room, to find out what happens to the characters. 

Then I discovered Anne Gracie. Her books are wonderfully warm and subtle, perfectly blending romance, suspense, pathos and desire. I never, ever skim over her scenes of seduction and I always end up with a little sting of tears at the end, my way of knowing when a book has genuinely moved me.

Her latest book is ‘The Autumn Bride’, which I really loved because of the strength of the characters. 

Her protagonists are Abby, a genteel governess struggling to support her young sister and friends, and Max, a rather stern lord who has had to struggle to bring his family back from the brink of ruin. An utter delight is the character of Max’s aunt, a frail-bodied but strong-spirited old woman who meddles in everyone’s business. 

Another favourite character of mine was Max’s best friend Freddy, because he brought so much humour to the story – I can’t wait to read what romance lies ahead for him.

The slowly growing attraction between Max and Abby is delicately done, and feels much more natural and believable than all those books which have the hero and heroine rolling in the hay after five minutes’ acquaintance. There is also a mystery to be solved and a few adventures to be had, all adding to the immense readability of ‘The Autumn Bride’. 

This is romance as it should be – making you laugh one moment, swoon the next, and then blink back tears at the end. I loved it. 


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