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BOOK LIST: Kate Forsyth's Best Books of 2016

Sunday, January 08, 2017



In 2016, I read around 90 books (not including research books!) 

That’s an average of seven or eight books a month, and is actually less than I usually read. I had a lot of research to do this year, though!

For my own interest I’ve done two pie-charts to break down the gender of the writers and the genres of the fiction. 

Unsurprisingly, I read a lot more books by women than by men, and my favourite genre was historical fiction. 

I was surprised by how little fantasy and romance I read – it’s not like me. I obviously have some reading to catch up on! 









Here are my lists of the Best Books of the Year. Just click on the links to read my reviews of these amazing books.




Fiction



1. The Observations – Jane Harris



2. Fingersmith – Sarah Waters



3. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr



4. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos – Dominic Smith  



5. Tower of Thorns – Juliet Marillier 



6. The Marvels – Brian Selznick



7. The Other Daughter – Lauren Willig



8. The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry 



9. The Midnight Watch – David Dyer



10. The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge



11. The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert



12. The Good People – Hannah Kent



13. The Suspect – Michael Robotham



14. Wolf Winter – Cecilia Ekback 



15. The Wonder – Emma Donoghue


Non-Fiction/Memoir




1. H Is For Hawk – Helen Macdonald 



2. The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece - Carola Hicks



3. Peacock & Vine – A.S. Byatt



4. A Woman on the Edge of Time: A Son’s Search for his Mother – Jeremy Gavron



5. Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place – Philip Marsden



6. Victoria the Queen – Julia Baird



Wondering what were my Best Books of the past few years? Click here!

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 

BOOK REVIEW: The Good People by Hannah Kent

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

THE BLURB (from GoodReads):

County Kerry, Ireland, 1825.

The fires on the hills smouldered orange as the women left, pockets charged with ashes to guard them from the night. Watching them fade into the grey fall of snow, Nance thought she could hear Maggie's voice. A whisper in the dark.

"Some folk are born different, Nance. They are born on the outside of things, with a skin a little thinner, eyes a little keener to what goes unnoticed by most. Their hearts swallow more blood than ordinary hearts; the river runs differently for them."

Nóra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál. The boy cannot walk, or speak, and Nora, mistrustful of the tongues of gossips, has kept the child hidden from those who might see in his deformity evidence of otherworldly interference. 

Unable to care for the child alone, Nóra hires a fourteen-year-old servant girl, Mary, who soon hears the whispers in the valley about the blasted creature causing grief to fall upon the widow's house. 

Alone, hedged in by rumour, Mary and her mistress seek out the only person in the valley who might be able to help Micheál. For although her neighbours are wary of her, it is said that old Nance Roche has the knowledge. That she consorts with Them, the Good People. And that only she can return those whom they have taken...


MY THOUGHTS:

Like so many others, I loved Hannah Kent’s debut novel Burial Rites and so I was excited to be sent a proof copy of her second novel, The Good People. In her letter to readers included at the front of the book, Hannah described herself as ‘someone who – as my friends describe it – writes books about dark happenings in cold places’; a description that gave me a little shiver of anticipation. She did not disappoint me.


The Good People is set in the Irish countryside in 1825, and begins with the death of a man. His body is found at the crossroads, a place of superstition and danger. His widow Nora, knocked sideways with grief, nonetheless takes care to send her grandson away for the day. She does not want her neighbours to see him and speculate about him. For all is not well with her grandson Micheal. Nora fears he is a changeling child, given to her by the Good People who have stolen her real grandson. Micheal is four years old, but he cannot walk or talk. He screams all the time. 


Unable to cope, Nora hires a girl to help her … and turns to the local wise woman, Nance, for advice. These three women must struggle to find a way to deal with the changeling child, at a time when long-held superstitions are being shaken by new scientific and rational thinking.


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.


You can read my interview with Hannah Kent about Burial Rites here 


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

BOOK LIST: Books Read in June 2014

Sunday, August 03, 2014

BOOK READ IN JUNE

I came home from the ANZ Festival of Literature & the Arts in London with a whole bag of books and am slowly reading my way through them. Quite a few of them are by Australian writers who were speakers at the festival – it seems ironic that I had to travel 17,000 kilometres to discover books I could have bought at my local bookstore! 



Ophelia & the Marvellous Boy – Karen Foxlee
I really loved Karen’s mysterious and beautiful novel The Midnight Dress, and once I heard Karen speak about her new book Ophelia & the Marvellous Boy I knew at once that it sounded like my kind of book. I bought the gorgeous hard-back in London, and am glad that I did as the production is just exquisite.
The story revolves around eleven-year-old Ophelia who is smart and scientifically minded. She and her sister and father have moved to a city where it never stops snowing, as her father – who is an expert on swords – has taken up a position in a huge, dark, gothic museum filled with secrets and strange things. Ophelia sets out to explore, and finds a locked room hidden away in the depths of the museum. She puts her eyes to the keyhole … and sees a boy’s blue eyes looking out at her. He tells her that he has been a prisoner for three-hundred-and-three-years by an evil Snow Queen and her clock is ticking down towards the end of the world. Only he can stop her … but first he must escape.

A gorgeously written and delicate fairy tale, Ophelia & the Marvellous Boy reminded me of some of my favourite children’s writers such as Cassandra Golds and Laura Amy Schlitz, who are themselves inspired by Nicholas Stuart Grey and George Macdonald. (You can read my interview with Karen Foxlee here)


Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes – Mary M Talbot & Bryan Talbot 
Another book I bought in London was what I can best describe as a graphic memoir/biography. Told in comic book form, the story compares the life stories of Lucia Joyce, the daughter of the famous writer James Joyce, and that of the book’s author Mary Talbot, daughter of the foremost Joycean scholar, James S. Atherton. Both narratives begin with the girls’ childhood and show their struggles to grow up in the shadows of difficult and demanding fathers. Lucia wants to dance, but is confined by the petty societal rules of her time. She ends up confined in a madhouse.  Mary rebels against her father, and forges a life for herself. The book shows how she fell in love with a young artist and married him – he is, of course, Bryan Talbot, the illustrator whose incredible artwork adorns every page. The book is acutely intelligent but highly readable, illuminating both the heartbreakingly sad story of Lucia James and the work of two exceptional contemporary artists. Not surpisingly, Dotter of My Father’s  Eyes won the 2012 Costa biography award.



The Spare Room – Helen Garner
I heard Helen speak in London and thought she was warm and funny and beautifully articulate, so I was very pleased to have her sign my copy of her first novel in sixteen years, The Spare Room. Published in 2008, the novel won a swathe of awards including the Barbara Jefferis Award. It reads more like a memoir, being told from the first person point of view of a writer named Helen living in Melbourne and being inspired by events that actually happened in Helen Garner’s life. However, no doubt many of the people and incidents have been changed during the writing process. The story is driven by the narrator Helen’s fear and distress, after a dear friend who is dying of cancer comes to stay with her for three weeks while undertaking some kind of quack treatment. The writing is crisp and strong and poised, and the characters spring to life on the page with only a few deft strokes. I loved it. 


Goddess – Kelly Gardiner
I’m been a big admirer of Kelly Gardiner’s gorgeous historical novels for young adults, Act of Faith and The Sultan’s Eyes, both of which are set in the mid-17th century, one of my favourite historical periods for fiction. Goddess is Kelly’s first novel for adults, based on the fascinating true life story of Julie d'Aubigny, a woman out of step with her own time (The court of the Sun King, Louise XIV, in Paris during the 1680s) Raised like a boy by her swordsman father, Julie likes to dress like a man and will fight a duel with anyone who crosses her. One night she fights three duels back-to-back, winning them all. She elopes with a young nun and is sentenced to be burned at the stake, but escapes and becomes a famous opera star. The story of her adventures seems too incredible to possibly be true. The book is told in Julie’s voice – witty, intelligent and wry - and the whole is pulled off with wit and flair. 


A Stranger Came Ashore – Mollie Hunter
Mollie Hunter is a wonderful Scottish writer for children who is not nearly as well-known as she deserves to be. I have many of her books – some collected when I was a child and some (including a signed first edition) collected as an adult. I first read A Stranger Came Ashore when I was about eleven, after borrowing it from my school library. I’ve been looking for it ever since, but could not remember its name. Then, a month or so ago, I read a brief review of it on an English book blog and at once remembered how much I had loved it, and orderd a copy straightaway. 
It’s a Selkie tale, set in the Highlands of Scotland sometime in the 19th century. The novel begins with a storm, and a shipwreck, and a handsome, young stranger washed ashore. As his sister begins to fall in love with the stranger, forgetting her childhood sweetheart, 12-year old Robbie Henderson finds himself becoming more and more suspicious. He remembers an old tale his grandfather used to tell him about seals that turn into humans, but cannot believe it could be true. Soon he is caught up in a dark and suspenseful adventure as he tries to save his sister. A Stranger Came Ashore was rightly acclaimed when it was published in 1975, winning many awards including the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. 


The Color Purple - Alice Walker
I saw Alice Walker speak at the Sydney Writers Festival in May, and bought The Color Purple which I had read and adored about thirty years ago (it was first published in 1982 – impossible to believe it’s been so long!) I read it all in one gulp and loved it just as much as I did when I was a teenager. I loved the movie too. This book will always be on my list of all-time favourite books.


Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
I finally had a chance to read this brilliant historical novel by debut author Hannah Kent. Burial Rites been a critical and a commercial success, and deservedly so. The writing is so precise and vivid, and the story so compelling. I found myself stopping to read certain sentences again, just for the pleasure of the words: ‘it is as though the winter has set up home in my marrow.’ Burial Rites is set in Iceland in 1830, the last year in the life of a woman condemned to be executed for murder. The use of real historical documents as epigraphs at the beginning of each section adds to the sense of truth and awfulness. A clever and truly beautiful book.  


Meanwhile, my research into Nazi Germany continues. Two stand-out books I read this month: 



Some Girls, Some Hats & Hitler – Trudi Kanter
Sifting through a second-hand bookshop in London, an English editor stumbled upon this self-published memoir of a young Jewish woman in Vienna and – enchanted by her romantic love story and vivid writing style – republished the book.
In 1938 Trudi Kanter was a milliner for the best-dressed women in Vienna. She was beautiful and chic and sophisticated, travelling to Paris to see the latest fashions and selling her hats to some of the most wealthy and aristocratic ladies of Europe. She was madly in love with a charming and wealthy businesseman, and had a loving and close-knit family. Then the Nazis marched into Austria, and everything Trudi knew was in ruins. She and her new husband had to try and find some way to escape and make a new life for themselves … and Trudi would need all her wits and panache just to survive.  


Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of The Woman Who Defied Hitler – Frank McDonough
The heart-breaking story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, a group of young university students who protested against the crimes of the Nazi regime and paid for it with their lives. 

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




INTERVIEW: Hannah Kent, author of Burial Rites

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Hannah Kent, author of Burial Rites is one of the many authors I'm looking forward to hearing speak at the Sydney Writers Festival this year.

Born in Adelaide in 1985, she travelled to Iceland on a Rotary Exchange as a teenager, and there heard the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. Hannah is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and is completing her PhD at Flinders University. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Burial Rites is her first novel.

Hannah is appearing at the following sessions:

Historical Fact and Fiction
People of Letters
Stella Prize Trivia
Love Letter to Iceland

Go to the Sydney Writer's Festival site for more information. 



What is your latest novel all about? 

Burial Rites is based on the true story of the last person to be executed in Iceland. Agnes Magnusdottir was a woman who was sentenced to be beheaded for her part in a gruesome double murder of two men, and the fire that was lit in an attempt to hide the evidence. My book, which is based on a great deal of research, imagines the last six months of her life, as she is held in custody on a farm in north Iceland. 

Much of the novel explores Agnes's relationship with the family who is forced to live with her, and the young priest who is assigned to give her spiritual care. As the months go past, Agnes starts to tell her side of the story, and they realise that not everything is as they originally thought. 



How did you get the first idea for it? 

I first got the idea for Burial Rites when I was an exchange student in Iceland, over 10 years ago. I lived in the north of the country for twelve months, and during that time I frequently passed the site of Agnes's execution. Hearing snippets of the murder story filled me with curiosity, and when my desire to know more increased rather than abated when I returned to Australia, I decided to research the events and write a novel. I wrote Burial Rites to address what I saw as some pretty wild assumptions about this elusive convicted murderess; to try and find answers for my questions.


What do you love most about writing? 

A hard question! I love so much about it. I love the research that goes into a book. I love the slow deliberation over what words to use and what order to put them in, so as to convey or suggest a very particular idea or feeling. I love the way it lets me inhabit other worlds and other lives. I love the fact that I can do it in my pyjamas. I love the feeling of connection it gives me - that through writing I can explore something bigger, more universal than myself. 


What are the best 5 books you've read recently? 

Another hard question. In the last two months I've read and loved Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels, How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman, Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire (not a huge crime buff, but I loved this second novel in his Millenium series), Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project, and Karl Ove Knausgaard's A Death in the Family.



What lies ahead of you in the next year? 

I'm very fortunate in that I have quite a bit of travel coming up. I'm looking forward to travelling to the UK in August for the release of Burial Rites there, and later to the US for the Sept 10 release in North America. Other than that, I'm hoping to have some time to knuckle down to my next book.


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