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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 


INTERVIEW: Melanie Benjamin author of 'The Aviator's Wife

Friday, June 06, 2014

Please welcome Melanie Benjamin to the blog, answering five quick questions about her new book The Aviator's Wife. 


What is 'The Aviator's Wife' all about?
The Aviator’s Wife is a historical novel concentrating on the epic marriage between Anne Morrow and Charles Lindbergh


How did you get the first idea for it?
I thought the early days of aviation would be interesting and romantic, even, to write about.  And the name “Lindbergh” certainly looms over all of those days.  So that was what drew me to further research the lives of Charles and Anne, and hope that they would yield an interesting novel – I think they did!

What do you love most about writing?
I love playing with the language, rearranging the words on the page, primarily.  I also love learning through the research process.

What are the best 5 books you've read recently?
What lies ahead of you in the next year?
I hope to finish up my next historical novel.

Melanie Benjamin


SPOTLIGHT: Anne Morrow Lindbergh author of Gifts From the Sea

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Last month I read The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin which is a historical novel inspired by the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Until then, I had not realised that the author of the inspirational book Gift from the Sea was the mother of the kidnapped and murdered Lindbergh baby. 

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was born June 22, 1906 and was a pioneering aviator and the wife of fellow aviator Charles Lindbergh. She wrote many books, spanning from poetry to memoir to non-fiction. On march 1, 1932, their 18 month old baby was kidnapped from their home and sparked a massive investigation that ruined many lives. His body was found the following May, dumped only 6 km away from their house. Its probably one of the most famous -and most tragic - kidnappings in the world.

Gift from the Sea celebrates the need for simplicity, solitude and caring for the soul, and has sold over 3 million copies in 45 languages. It was also the number one non-fiction bestseller in the United States for 1955.

I had long ago given away my copy of 'Gift from the Sea' so I ordered a new copy and read it again. It's a very simple book, yet beautifully written, and contains, I think, a lot of quiet wisdom that really spoke to me in the midst of my frantic writing life. Here are a few of my favourite quotes: 

“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.” 
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

“The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.” 
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

“it takes as much courage to have tried and failed as it does to have tried and succeeded.” 

― Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“Only love can be divided endlessly and still not diminish.” 
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh

 “Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves.” 
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

 “...I want first of all - in fact, as an end to these other desires - to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact - to borrow from the language of the saints -to live 'in grace' as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony...” 
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls--woman's normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.” 
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

 “When you love someone you do not love them, all the time, in the exact same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships.” 
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

And, finally, a quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh's private diaries:

 “One writes not to be read but to writes to think, to pray, to analyze. One writes to clear one's mind, to dissipate one's fears, to face one's doubts, to look at one's mistakes--in order to retrieve them. One writes to capture and crystallize one's joy, but also to disperse one's gloom. Like prayer--you go to it in sorrow more than joy, for help, a road back to 'grace'.” 
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, War Within & Without: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1939-1944

Want to know more about her? Read The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin.

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