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SPOTLIGHT: Sleeping Beauty

Monday, April 18, 2016

SLEEPING BEAUTY

History of the Tale

The earliest ‘Sleeping Beauty’ tale appears in oral tradition around 1300, in the tale 'Troylus and Zellandine'.  In this tale, a disgruntled deity places a curse on the young Princess Zellandine that causes her to go into a deep slumber. Many years later, Prince Troylus happens upon the princess and rapes her in her sleep. As a result, she has a child. In 1528, the same story appears in print for the first time, in Paris, in a book of romances called Perceforest.


The tale ‘Sun, Moon & Talia’ was written by Neapolitan writer and courtier Giambattista Basile in the early 1600s, and published posthumously in 1634 in a collection of stories called The Tale of Tales. This also included the earliest known versions of Cinderella and Rapunzel. 

Basile's story is not as pretty as the tale we know. It features the rape of the sleeping beauty, attempted infanticide, forced cannibalism and the threat of being burned alive.

Here is a brief outline of Basile's tale: 
 
It is prophesied at Talia’s birth that she will one day face great danger from a chip of flax. Her father orders that all flax be removed from the kingdom. When she is grown, Talia manages to find the only piece of flax in the entire kingdom, gets a splinter of it stuck beneath her fingernail, and falls into a deathlike sleep. 

Her father, beside himself with grief, orders the palace and surrounding countryside be abandoned so he can put the event out of his mind.

Eventually, another king stumbles upon the abandoned kingdom, and finds Talia sleeping alone. Unable to wake her, he decides to have sex with her while she sleeps. Talia falls pregnant and, without waking, eventually gives birth to twins. While the babies try to suckle, one sucks on her finger and the flax splinter is loosened. Talia wakes up, and is overjoyed to find herself the mother of twins, which she names Sun and Moon.

The king returns and finds Talia awake and his twin childrenborn. A relationship develops between them. 
The king’s wife learns of the affair and, pretending to be the king, sends for Sun and Moon. She gives them to the cook, and tells him to slaughter and roast them and serve them to the king. The cook, unable to kill the babies, hides the twins and serves up two baby lambs instead. The queen watches gleefully as the king devours the meal. 

She then sends for Talia, and demands she be burned alive. The King hears Talia screaming, and rescues her just in time. The awful queen is thrown in the fire instead, and roasts to death. The cook then produces the twins, alive and well, and they all live happily ever after.

In one 14th century version of the tale, the sleeping princess tells off the king and points out her lack of consent before deciding to give him another chance.


La belle au bois dormant’  was written by French author Charles Perrault in 1697, most probably drawing upon Basile’s stories which may have been brought to the French court in mid-1690s by an Italian publisher. Perrault's Mother Goose tales also included such well-known stories as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, and Puss in Boots. 

In Perrault's tale, a king invites seven fairies to bless his newborn daughter, and prepares golden plates and cutlery for them. One fairy was not invited because she was so old and no-one had seen her for so long. However, she comes anyway and then is angry  because there is no golden plate for her. She curses the baby princess to prick her on a spindle finger & die. One of the other fairies saves her by changing the curse of death to the curse of sleeping for 100 years.

At the age of 15 or 16, the princess pricks her finger on a spindle and falls into an enchanted sleep. The fairy puts the whole castle to sleep as well. A prince hears the story of the sleeping princess and goes to find her – the wood that hides the castle shows him the path. He finds the princess and kneels before her. The princess wakes up (NB: there is no kiss in Perrault's story) and they are married.

Perrault's story does not end here. The prince keeps Sleeping Beauty hidden for a few years and they have two children called Morning & Day. At last he becomes king & takes his wife and children to his home. The prince’s mother is an ogress – she conspires to eat the children and the princess but is outwitted by the cook, in a similar fashion to Basile's story. The Ogress queen dies in a tub of toads and snakes.

The uninvited fairy motif goes back to Greek mythology when he goddess Eris is not invited to a wedding, but arrives anyway, and throws the Golden Apple of Discord amongst the other goddesses with the inscription ‘For the Fairest’ which causes an argument over whom should claim it, and leads to the Trojan War.




'Dörnroschen' (Little Brier Rose) – Grimm Brothers

The story was told to Wilhelm Grimm by a young woman, Marie Hassenpflug, who had French ancestors and was included in the first 1812 edition.

The tale is different to Perrault's in the following ways: 
Differences 
- it has a much simpler style, closer to ‘oral’ traditions
- the Queen is told of her pregnancy by a crab (in later versions a frog) 
- There are 13 fairies but the king only has 12 golden plates so he does not invite one
- The thirteenth fairy curses the princess to prick herself with a spindle and die
- The twelfth fairy changes the curse to a sleep of 100 years
- When she pricks her finger, the whole castle falls magically asleep
- A thorn hedge grows up around the castle 
- Many princes try and fight through the thorns but fail – then the right prince comes along and the thorns turn into flowers 
- When he finds the sleeping princess, he kisses her
- The princes wakes up and so does the whole castle
- The story ends with their marriage


Jacob & Wilhelm argued about including this tale because of its French origins (they were collecting tales with German origins), but Wilhelm argued for its inclusion because of 1) its beauty and romance 2) it had linked to the Norse myth Sigur and Brynhild – she was a Valkyrie who disobeyed Odin and was cursed to marry a mortal. She feared being wed to a coward, so was allowed to sleep on a mountaintop surrounded by a ring of fire until there was a man brave enough to ride through it and wake her. She had fallen asleep after pricking her hand on a thorn from the ‘sleep tree’. 



Motifs & Meaning Of Tales

Bruno Bettelheim , the Freudian psychoanalyst, wrote in his seminal work ‘The Uses of Enchantment’ that Beauty’s sleep is the physical lethargy that occurs at puberty.  He sees the pricking of her finger as a symbol of menstruation, and sees sexual imagery in the girl’s search for a secret room, the circular stair, and the key in the lock. Therefore her awakening is a sexual awakening 

Maria Tatar has written:  “The story of Briar Rose has been thought to map a female sexual maturation, with the touching of the spindle representing the onset of puberty, a kind of sexual awakening that leads to passive, introspective period of latency”.

Joseph Campbell notes that fairy tales are often about girls who resist growing up. At the crisis of the threshold crossing, she baulks. So she goes to sleep until the prince comes through all the barriers.

Contrary to most feminist readings of the tale as being a bout a passive princess, many scholars have seen the Sleeping Beauty tale as containing remnants of matriarchal myth. 

In ‘The Feminine in Fairy Tales’, Marie-Therese von Franz says: ‘ the mother of the Sun and the Moon is not an ordinary human being, so you could say it is a symbol. But if the children were Sun and Moon, or Day and Dawn, as in other versions, you are [. . .] in the realm of what we normally call the world of the gods.’ (ie Sleeping Beauty is representative of the Great Goddess) 

This interpretation is borne up by some of the symbols in the story, such as the spinning wheel, a feminine tool and an instrument of the Fates. It symbolizes death—i.e. the cutting of the thread. The hundred-year sleep of the princess is evocative of winter and Persephone’s ordeal, and her awakening to love is therefore the awakening of spring. 

In ‘Once Upon a Time’, Max Luthi builds on this mythological interpretation, saying Sleeping Beauty ‘tells of death and resurrection. The flowering of the hedge of roses and the awakening of the sleeping maiden suggest the earth in lifeless repose which, touched by spring, begins to live anew and blossom as young and beautiful as ever. It suggests also the awakening of sleeping nature at the first glimmering of a new day.’(Aurora)

Luthi finds it significant that Sleeping Beauty is fifteen when she touches the spindle and falls into her enchanted sleep: she is 'in the time of transition from childhood to maidenhood.' Every important turning point, every transition from one stage of life to another, are times of threat and danger and change. 

'The story of Sleeping Beauty is more than the imaginatively stylized love story of the girl and the breaking of the spell through the young lover. One instinctively conceives of the princess as an image for the human spirit: the story portrays the endowment, peril, paralysis, and redemption not of just one girl, but of all mankind,' Luthi writes. 

Luthi also examines the idea that the twelve good fairies in the Grimm version of the tale may reflect "the twelve months (of the year) which bestow their manifold gifts of the earth and on nature.' The thirteenth fairy who was provoked to anger may then personify the "dethroned , neglected thirteenth month (and thus may) portray the transition from the lunar year with its thirteen months, to the solar year, with its twelve.'

In the same line of thought, 'the 100 years ... is nothing more than a poetic overstatement for the 100 days of winter, when the earth lies imprisoned in its sleep.' 

Luthi warns to be careful of such 'sophistical allegorising', saying 'one must guard against the desire to interpret every single feature, every thorn and every fly.'  Nonetheless, he says, Sleeping Beauty is not just a romantic fairy tale but a story filled with powerful themes of 'danger and redemption, paralysis and rejuvenation, death and resurrection.'  



Modern Retellings

'Sleeping Beauty' was a 1959 Disney animated musical fantasy film, the 16th in the Animated Classics series, it was released to theaters on January 29, 1959, by Buena Vista Distribution. This was the last Disney adaptation of a fairy tale for some years because of its initial disappointing box office gross and mixed critical reception. The studio did not return to the genre until years later, after Walt Disney died, with the release of The Little Mermaid (1989).

The film's musical score and songs, featuring the work of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, are arrangements or adaptations of numbers from the 1890 Sleeping Beauty ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The heroine has only 18 lines of dialogue throughout the entire film & appears in the film for 18 minutes. Her first line is spoken 19 minutes into the film, and her last is delivered 39 minutes into the film. However, she does sing two songs during this time frame.

The seven fairies were changed to three so that it was not too much like Snow White & the Seven Dwarves. 


Sleeping Beauty
is also the name of a 2011 Australian film written and directed by Julia Leigh. It stars Emily Browning as a young university student who begins doing erotic freelance work in which she is required to sleep in bed alongside paying customers. The film is based in part on the novel The House of the Sleeping Beauties by Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata.

In Matthew Bourne’s 2013 version of Tchaikovsky's ballet Sleeping Beauty, the action starts in 1890, the year the ballet first premiered in St. Petersburg. Baby Aurora is humorously portrayed by a puppet and the fairies are both male & female. Instead of beauty, grace and modesty, they bestow passion, plenty, spirit, temperament and presciently, rebirth. The wicked fairy Carabosse is danced by a man.


The Disney movie Maleficent has recently been released, starring Angelina Jolie.

Maleficent is a fictional character from Walt Disney Pictures's 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty. Here is the blurb:

Maleficent is the untold story of Disney's most iconic villain, from the 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty. A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land's fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal – an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king's successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realises that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom – and perhaps to Maleficent's true happiness as well.

I find this new take on the story particularly interesting, with the story being told from the point of view of the villainness allowing a new complexity of character and new moral ambiguity.



My Favourite Retellings of 'Sleeping Beauty' 


Sophie Masson. Clementine. Lady Aurora, daughter of the Count and Countess of Joli-Bois, and Clementine, the local woodcutter's child, have been firm friends for all of their sixteen years. Until, that is, the day they stumble upon a castle they never knew existed … A century later, Lord Arthur, a young amateur scientist, is determined to find out. But he discovers that science is no match for a magic that has been lying untouched for over one hundred years...

Adela Geras. Watching the Roses. Raped on the night of her eighteenth birthday by the despicable Angus, Alice remains in her room, in a near-catatonic state, communicating only with her diary, in a modern version of Sleeping Beauty in which the princess must ultimately save herself.


Helen Lowe. Thornspell. - reimagines the Sleeping Beauty story from the point of view of the prince. Read my review and an interview with Helen Lowe here  

Robin McKinley. Spindle's End.  Katriona, an apprentice fairy sees the wicked fairy, Pernicia, delivers the curse: one day before her 21st birthday, the princess will prick her finger on a spindle, fall into a poisoned sleep, and die. Katriona flees with the infant princess in order to save her.

Jane Yolen. Briar Rose. Written by one of the true greats in the field of folk and fairy tales, this novel explores the Holocaust with a storyline borrowed from Sleeping Beauty – brilliant!



Sleeping Beauty & Me

Sleeping Beauty has always been one of my own personal fairy tales, and images of roses and thorns are entwined through many of my books.

I am currently working on a fairy-tale infused historical novel for adults inspired by the fascinating story behind the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones's creation of a series of paintings inspired by 'The Legend of Briar Rose'. He painted it a number of times over thirty years, including this gorgeous version:

 

WANT TO KNOW MORE? 

I will be blogging about the new novel BEAUTY IN THORNS as I go along - and I make regular progress reports on my Facebook page and Twitter.

And of course I'm always blogging about fairy tales

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



INTERVIEW: Helen Lowe author of Thornspell

Friday, May 16, 2014

Please welcome Helen Lowe, author of the magical Thornspell!



Are you a daydreamer too?

I definitely was as a kid, less so since I entered the adult world with its imperative to stay "on task."


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, pretty much ever since I was able to read independently. I began writing very soon after that.


Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in Wellington, New Zealand (NZ) although my family did not live there long, and since then have lived in several different locales within NZ, as well as in Singapore and Sweden at different times. I currently live in Christchurch, in the South Island of NZ where I enjoy walking and hiking, and spending time with friends. And because I’m a foodie and interested in wine, making and sharing food is a big part of that spending time.


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

Thornspell is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the prince’s perspective and the first inspiration came when I was at the ballet of Sleeping Beauty, with its wonderful Tchaikovsky score. I remember sitting up in my seat when the prince first came leaping onto the stage and thinking: "What about the prince? What’s his story?” The novel developed very quickly from there, especially once I started thinking about the wicked fairy’s motivation and what she would do when her death spell was thwarted.


How extensively do you plan your novels?

I think it would be fair to say that I am an evolver, rather than a planner, so much so that actively trying to plan can mitigate against my creative process. But I always have the arc in my head, including the main story elements and the beginning and end.


Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

Not directly know, although sometimes the emotion of a particularly “cinematic” dream will stay with me and I may draw on that when writing. And I have used the experience of dreams and the way they work to influence the magic of both Thornspell and The Heir of Night series.


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

Not that I can recall, no.


Where do you write, and when?

I write from home and have an official ‘study’, but having a laptop means I usually write from whichever part of the house is pleasantest. In terms of ‘when’, the times I write depend on circumstance, so I can write from 9 am to 5 pm, but there are other times when it will be something like 6 pm to midnight. Usually though, I try to get started no later than 9.30 am and will finish any time from mid-afternoon to early evening.


What is your favourite part of writing?

You know, I really do love every stage of the creative process, even though they all have me gnashing my teeth and tearing my hair at different times. But I think there is also something special about the second draft of a story: when you have the essential arc “down” and can then shape and refine, adding greater nuance, texture and subtlety. 


What do you do when you get blocked?

Sometimes even getting up and making a cup of coffee can be enough to ‘reboot’ the creative process. Going for a walk or doing something manual but still creative, like gardening or cooking, can help—although often I think it’s the least creative parts like weeding, or peeling and chopping vegetables, that are most therapeutic for the muse. When I’m really wrangling a gnarly part of a story I like to do regular longhand writing. A complete change of scene is also always beneficial for the muse.


How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I think that’s usually via regular deployment of the methods immediately above.


Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

No specific rituals, but I do like to do the regular longhand pages when I’m working on a book as I find it an excellent way of wrangling everything from plot issues to character development.


Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Ah, restricted to ten…  Also, I find that the prominence given to particular ‘favourites’ can shift around a fair bit in relation to my reading focus or simply what’s happening in my life. 

But to approach the question in small bites, three books that I often cite as being “extremely influential” for me as both a reader and writer are (in alphabetical order by author surname):


Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Aldous Huxley’s Eyeless In Gaza.
JRR Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings.


Three very formative children’s authors (again in alphabetical order), because more than one novel proved a firm favourite, were—and are, since I still love them:


Alan Garner, particularly for Elidor, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and The Moon Of Gomrath.
CS Lewis (of course!) for the Narnia series, although The Horse & His Boy is probably my most dog-eared edition.
Joyce West, a NZ author, for the classic Drover’s Road trilogy and The Year Of The Shining Cuckoo. 

Three very influential YA authors (again in alphabetical order) I regard as having shaped my reading awareness include:


Melina Marchetta, for her wonderful contemporary realism novels. On the Jellicoe Road may be the best known outside Asutralia, but I have enjoyed them all from Looking For Alibrandi to the more recent The Piper's Son. 
Patricia McKillip for so very many wonderful books, although The Riddlemaster Of Hed trilogy, The Forgotten Beasts Of Eld and Ombria In Shadow are particular favourites.
Robin McKinley for Beauty, the very first fairytale retelling I think I ever read and which “blew my mind.” I then went on to read The Blue Sword (and many others since), which I also loved.


I really deliberated over the tenth place, but decided to go with non-fiction and something that has always spoken to me as both a woman and a writer:


Virginia Woolf's A Room Of One's Own. 


Very well worth a read for those who have not done so already.


What do you consider to be good writing? 

A 'big" question indeed! The first criteria will always be that the writing, whether fiction or non fiction, must snare my attention and refuse to let it go. And when I reach "the end" I must both feel satisfied and long for more at the same time. Within that, I really appreciate writing where the language and construction is both beautiful and elegant, and I will always respond most strongly to writing that delivers an emotional pay-off. 


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

Stop dreaming and get writing! 


What are you working on now?

I have just completed the manuscript for Daughter Of Blood, The Wall Of Night Book Three, which is currently with my US and UK editors, and having a much-needed holiday. When the edit is done, I'll commence work on the fourth and final book in the WALL series, which I've given the working title The Chaos Gate. 

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

BOOK LIST: Helen Lowe's Favourite Fairy Tale Retellings

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I recently read & loved Helen Lowe's gorgeous retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, which is called 'Thornspell'. It's been added to my list of all-time favourite fairy tale retellings.

As I'm always on the hunt for new and beautiful books in this genre, I thought I'd ask Helen to list her favourites for me: 




A Few Of My Favourite Fairytale Retellings
by Helen Lowe

I have always loved fairytales, and it may come as no surprise – given that Thornspell is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the prince – that Sleeping Beauty was always my 'favourite" when I was a kid. 

Later, Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid probably ran it a close second as my 'favourite" fairytale, and I was always remarkably fond of Snow White and Cinderella. 

When it comes to retellings, however, I was already an adult before I discovered Robin McKinley's Beauty ("Beauty and The Beast"), which has the distinction of being a "first" for fairytale retellings and therefore a firm favourite – although her Deerskin (adapting the traditional "Donekeyskin") is also a powerful and compelling read. 




Another longstanding favourite is Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's "Godmother" series: The Godmother, The Godmother's Apprentice, and The Godmother's Web.  The first novel draws on an array of fairytales, including Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Hansel and Gretel, to name just a few, while the second and third books delve more specifically into Celtic and Amerindian tales. Wonderful reads: I thoroughly recommend them.

Another tale that draws on an array of fairytales is Juliet Marillier's Wildwood Dancing, and the primary tale is another longstanding favourite, "The Twelve Dancing Princesses."



Other more recently enjoyed reads include Malinda Lo's Ash (Cinderella) and Grace Lin's Where The Mountains Meets The Moon, which draws on Chinese folklore in a Junior fiction retelling. Alan Garner's The Owl Service is an eerie retelling of the Celtic fairytale / myth of Blodeuwedd from the Mabinogion – but I suspect Maggie Stiefvater may be drawing on the same tale for part of her new The Raven Boys series, which I'm also very much enjoying. (Although it's yet to be completed so I may be proven completely wrong regarding Blodeuwedd!) I have also always loved Diana Wynne HJones'retelling of the story of Brunnhilde and Siegfried in Eight Days of Luke.




Perhaps I am interpreting "fairytale" too broadly here since both the Mabinogion and the tale of Brunnhilde and Siegfired may be counted as myth – but if so it is the same blending that infuses Thornspell, where I have worked the Arthurian cycle into the fairytale retelling. In much the same way, I may add, as fairytale and history are blended in Bitter Greens



But stepping away from novels briefly, I very much enjoyed Juliet Marillier's short story By Bonelight (published last year in the collection Prickle Moon), a retelling of the Russian Baba Yaga fairytale that has recently won both the Aurealis and Sir Julius Vogel Awards. And when it comes to film, I can't go past Ever After – my "best ever" retelling of Cinderella.


Thanks, Helen! I love many of these too, and have added a few new titles to my must-read-soon list!

And I've just updated my list of FAVOURITE FAIRY TALE RETELLINGS - check them out!


BOOK REVIEW: Thornspell by Helen Lowe

Monday, May 12, 2014




Title:
Thornspell
Author:  Helen Lowe 
Publisher:  Knopf Books for Young Readers 
Age Group & Genre: Fairy Tale Retelling/Fantasy for Young Adults
Reviewer: Kate Forsyth
Source of Book: I don’t remember! I either bought it or Helen sent it to me …


What I Thought: 
New Zealand writer Helen Lowe reimagines the Sleeping Beauty story from the point of view of the prince in this beautiful, romantic fantasy for young adults. Prince Sigismund has grown up in a castle whose gardens and parklands are surrounded by a deep, tangled forest. He is kept locked away from the world, and so longs for adventures like the ones in the stories he loves so much – fantastical tales of knights-errant and heroic quests, faie enchantments and shape-shifting dragons. 

One day a beautiful and mysterious lady in a fine carriage speaks to him through the castle gates, and Sigismund's world begins to change. He dreams of a raggedy girl trapped in thorns, and a castle that lies sleeping … soon he is caught up in an adventure as perilous and strange as that of any story he had ever heard …

I absolutely adored this book! I love fairy tale retellings, especially ones that are full of magic, peril, and romance, and ‘Thornspell’ is one of the best I’ve ever read. It reminded me of Robin McKinley’s early books, which are still among my favourite fairy tale retellings. ‘Thornspell’ very deservedly won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best YA Novel – it’s a must red for anyone who loves fairy-tale-inspired YA fantasy.

Interested in other fairy tale retellings I have loved? Here's a list!


Helen's website 

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. 

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BOOK LIST: Books Read in October 2013

Sunday, November 24, 2013


This month, I’ve read something old, something new and something blue – partly as a consequence of having visited Hay-on-Wye in Wales in September, the town said to have more second-hand bookshops per square mile than any other town in the world. I adore rummaging around in second-hand bookstores and always come home with bags of old treasures (that I then have to lug all the way back to Australia). 


1. A Cotswold Killing – Rebecca Trope
I always like to read books set in places where I am travelling and I love a good murder mystery, so I grabbed ‘A Cotswold Killing’ by Rebecca Trope while I was over there. This is the first in a popular series of murder mysteries featuring the amateur detective Thea Osborne. Recently widowed and trying to begin a new life for herself, Thea decides to try house-sitting in the beautiful Cotswold village of Duntisbourne Abbots. She is woken in the middle of the night by a piercing scream, but does not get up to investigate and is horrified to find a body in the her pond the following day. Guilty and troubled by the murder, she begins to investigate …
‘A Cotswold Killing’ is a quiet, thoughtful and rather melancholy murder mystery, with as much space given to Thea’s interior life as to the events of the murder. I would have liked a much stronger sense of place and a faster pace, but the first in a series is often the worst and so I’m willing to try another of the series, perhaps next time I’m in the Cotswolds. 
 

2. Jo of the Chalet School – Elinor M Brent-Dyer
One of the treasures I found in Hay-on-Wye – a third edition of ‘Jo of the Chalet School’ by Elinor M Brent-Dyer, published in 1936, with illustrated bookplates intact. This is the second book in the famous series about a girls’ school in the Austrian Tyrol, but was the first one I ever read. I had found a box of them in my grandmother’s attic while staying there on Christmas holidays, and read my way through them. Years later, I asked my grandmother if I could have that box of books and she said she had thrown them in the bin. If only she had known how much they are worth now! A first edition of ‘Book 1: The School at the Chalet’ is now worth a cool $3,600. Brent-Dyer wrote 59 books in the series in total, and they are the longest-surviving series of girls’ school stories every published, having been continuously in print for more than 70 years. More than 100,000 paperback copies are still sold every year. This one was first published in 1926 and is full of quaint expressions and old-fashioned values, but the setting and time is marvellously created and the story is full of charm and humour, just like I remembered.



3. The Barons’ Hostage – Geoffrey Trease
Geoffrey Trease is one of the authors I read as a child that gave me my lifelong love of historical fiction. He combined meticulous research with exciting, action-packed story lines that brought history vividly to life. He was remarkable for his ability to make his characters live on the page and, because he was careful to never use any archaic language like ‘prithee’ or ‘I troth thee’, his books are very readable and lively and have lasted the test of time extraordinarily well. I have collected his books for years but since he published 113, I still have quite a few to hunt down.

‘The Baron’s Hostage’ was first published in 1952 – the copy I bought in Hay-on-Wye is a first US edition, published in 1975.  Like all of his books, the narrative is shared between a young man and a young woman, in this case Michael and Arlette, who are caught up in the civil war known as the Baron’s War in the late 1200s. A rattling good read.



4. Julius and the Watchmaker – Tim Hehir
An action-packed timeslip adventure for boys, that brings together a Dickensian cast of characters with a dash of humour and playfulness. The hero, Julius, is a bullied boy who lives in genteel poverty with his grandfather who owns a bookshop. One day he meets Jack Springheel, a charming rogue, and finds himself on the run with a magical watch and a host of villains on his heels. The magical watch has the ability to transport the owner back and forth and even, perhaps, sideways, in time. These convolutions could be, perhaps, confusing for a child reader (and I would have liked a far more active female character), but the book is funny and fast-paced enough to keep the reader’s interest. A great debut for the author. 


5. The Tea Rose - Jennifer Donnelly
A fabulous, big, fat, epic historical novel! The Tea Rose tells the story of Fiona Finnegan who flees a life of poverty and hardship in the docklands of East London, 1888 (a place where Jack the Ripper lurks and ruthless employers keep their workers half-starved) to make a new life for herself in New York. Love, desire, grief, betrayal, revenge … this novel has it all. Although it weighs in a massive 675 pages, the book never felt anything less than compelling reading. A hugely enjoyable read.



6. Faking it To making it – Ally Blake
I love historical romance but rarely read contemporary romance, for reasons unknown. I met Ally Blake at the Australian Society of Authors’ National Congress, where we were both speakers. She writes ‘fun, fresh, flirty romance’ for Harlequin Mills and Boon and has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide which is most impressive. She was kind enough to give me a copy of one of her books (they are so slim she easily carry them around in my handbag while I’d dislocate my shoulder if I tried to heave copies of my books around with me). I read it in the bath that night and enjoyed it immensely. ‘Faking It to Making It’ is a sexy and funny contemporary romance set in Melbourne and would make a great rom com – I hope Hollywood comes knocking on Ally’s door!


7. Thornspell – Helen Lowe
New Zealand writer Helen Lowe reimagines the Sleeping Beauty story from the point of view of the prince in this beautiful, romantic fantasy for young adults. Prince Sigismund has grown up in a castle whose gardens and parklands are surrounded by a deep, tangled forest. He is kept locked away from the world, and so longs for adventures like the ones in the stories he loves so much – fantastical tales of knights-errant and heroic quests, faie enchantments and shape-shifting dragons.  
One day a beautiful and mysterious lady in a fine carriage speaks to him through the castle gates, and Sigismund's world begins to change. He dreams of a raggedy girl trapped in thorns, and a castle that lies sleeping … soon he is caught up in an adventure as perilous and strange as that of any story he had ever heard …

I absolutely adored this book! I love fairy tale retellings, especially ones that are full of magic, peril, and romance, and ‘Thornspell’ is one of the best I’ve ever read. It reminded me of Robin McKinley’s early books, which are still among my favourite fairy tale retellings. ‘Thornspell’ very deservedly won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best YA Novel – it’s a must red for anyone who loves fairy-tale-inspired YA fantasy. 



8. The Storyteller & His Three Daughters – Lian Hearn

Lian Hearn is the author of the gorgeous bestselling ‘Tales of the Otori’ fantasy series for adults, set in an alternative feudal Japan, as well as a number of children’s books published under her true name, Gillian Rubenstein. The first book in the Otori series, ‘Across the Nightingale Floor’ is one of my favourite novels, the medieval Japanese setting being utterly fresh and fascinating.

‘The Storyteller and His Three Daughters’ is a departure from her other Lian Hearn books in many ways. The setting is Japan in the 1800s, and from many references to true historical events and people, it is clear that this is not an alternative world fantasy but rather a historical novel. The main character is a middle-aged storyteller named Sei who is struggling to keep alive traditional tales and storytelling techniques in a culture that is being increasingly dominated by Western values and customs. He finds himself out of joint with the times, and unable to write anymore. However, he cannot stop observing and speculating on the lives of the people around him and finds himself creating a tale of love, jealousy, murder, treason and betrayal that seems as if it might be all too true.
Drawing upon Japanese storytelling techniques, ‘The Storyteller and His Three Daughters’ is an ambitious and unusual meditation on the nature and meaning of art. 



9. The Nargun & the Stars – Patricia Wrightson
Patricia Wrightson was my favourite Australian author when I was a child, and ‘The Nargun and the Stars’ was one of my favourites of her books. I found myself giving a very impassioned speech about her at an event on ‘Writing Villains for Children’ at the NSW Writers Centre in late October, which led into a long conversation with members of the audience afterwards. I came home, went straight to my bookshelf, got down my old copy of this book, and read it again that night. It’s as wonderful as I remembered. 


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