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BOOK LIST: Books Read in June 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I read 13 books in June, bringing my number for the year to a total of 65. My reading was a little broader than usual, with some contemporary settings and non-fiction stirred into the mix. All in all, a happy reading month!

June
1. The Duke and I – Julia Quinn
I really enjoyed this frothy historical romance - a lovely way to while away a few peaceful hours in a hot bath with a glass of sparkling wine. 



2. 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. You can read my review here and here's my Interview with Lauren Willig.



3. Keeping the Castle – Patrice Kindl
What a delightful surprise this book was! I'd read a review of it which said it was a cross between Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle (two of my absolute favourite books), and so I thought I'd give it a whirl. I loved it! It's funny, romantic, and has a slight satirical edge. I'm hoping to run a longer review and interview with the author in a few weeks' time - keep an eye out!



4. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
This book was another pleasant surprise. I'd heard it was rather like contemporary chick lit, except told from the point of view of an man with Asperger's, and so I was a little reluctant to read it. I've read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and The London Eye Mystery, and enjoyed them both, but was a little jaded with this type of voice after too many episodes of The Big Bang Theory. I'm glad I read it, though. Its a feel-good read, with enough intelligence to lift it out of the usual chick-lit rut, and it'd make a great rom-com movie. 

5. A Proud Taste for Scarlet & Miniver – E.L. Koningsburg 
The great American children's author E.L. Koningsburg sadly died in mid-April, and I remembered her books fondly from childhood. I had never read  A Proud Taste for Scarlet & Miniver and so ordered it in. It's an unusual book, quite unlike her others which are really about everyday kids. This one is a fictive biography of Queen Eleanor of Acquitaine, one of my historical heroines. Its brilliantly well done, bringing Queen Eleanor and her times vividly to life. 

6. A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness
I had been wanting to read A Monster Calls for quite some time, and seeing Patrick Ness speak at the Sydney Writers Festival in May gave me the impetus I needed to buy the book. What can I say? It's brilliant, surprising, harrowing, humbling. I found it hard to breathe after I finished reading it, and my dreams that night were restless and disturbed. A month later, I am still thinking about it. The book packs a hefty emotional wallop and deserves all the prizes it won. 



7. Barkbelly – Cat Weatherill
A wonderfully written, rambunctious adventure fantasy for children, Barkbelly also carries important messages about the importance of tolerance and compassion. I loved Cat Weatherill's earlier book Wild Magic which retells the Pied Piper of Hamelin fairy tale (you can read about it here), and so I was really glad to read her newest venture. 


8. Dark Road to Darjeeling – Deanna Raybourn
9. Dark Enquiry - – Deanna Raybourn
10. Silent Night – Deanna Raybourn

In April, I re-read The Lady Julia Grey series of historical murder mysteries by Deanna Raybourn and enjoyed them thoroughly (you can read my review of the first three books here). I settled in to read the last 2 books in the series (plus one Xmas novella) this month, and enjoyed them just as much. The characters are always sharply drawn, the mystery is always intriguing (and not always easy to guess), and the ongoing romance between Lady Julia and her enigmatic new husband is a large part of the pleasure. Well worth a read.


11. Me Before You – Jojo Moyes
I read The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes earlier this year and absolutely loved it, and so I thought I'd read some of her other books (you can read my review here). I did enjoy Me Before You, though not nearly as much as The Girl You Left Behind. Its a very readable book, with an unusual premise, and the two main characters do feel quite real. The contemporary setting and voice made it read like chick-lit, yet the tone is one of pathos, not humour. I was moved by the story, but did not cry buckets as had been predicted. Which is not like me (I'm an unashamed crier!) Perhaps because I knew what to expect ... anyway, an enjoyable read, and one that should be read with some tissues to hand, just in case ... 



12. The Bolter: The Story of Idina Sackville – Frances Osborne
In Lauren Willig's Acknowledgements at the back of The Ashford Affair, she mentioned that her novel had been inspired by reading The Bolter by Frances Osborne. it sounded so fascinating I ordered it straightaway and it was just as interesting as I had expected. 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, as explored in James Fox's well-known book White Mischief (which I have also ordered.) Although The Bolter is non-fiction, it reads as compulsively as any novel - I loved it. 
PS: I have also read and loved Frances Osborne's earlier non-fiction book, Lilla's Feast - here is a review of it I wrote some years ago for Good Reading magazine. 



13. Raven Flight – Juliet Marillier
Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite authors and a new book from her is always reason to celebrate. So when Raven Flight appeared in my mailbox, I gave a little jump of joy and read it straightaway. Raven Flight is Book 2 in the Shadowfell series. I loved Shadowfell and it made my List of Best Books 2012 - the books are 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.  

REVIEW: 'The Girl You Left Behind' by Jojo Moyes

Monday, January 21, 2013



Title: ‘The Girl you Left Behind’
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Penguin
Age Group & Genre: Adult Fiction – Parallel Contemporary/Historical 


The Blurb:

What happened to the girl you left behind?

In 1916 French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front. When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything - her family, reputation and life - in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.

Nearly a century later and Sophie's portrait is given to Liv by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. Its beauty speaks of their short life together, but when the painting's dark and passion-torn history is revealed, Liv discovers that the first spark of love she has felt since she lost him is threatened...

In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for the thing they love most - whatever the cost


What I Liked About This Book: 
Is there anything more wonderful than discovering a fabulous new author?

I had not read anything by Jojo Moyes before, but was drawn to this book because of its parallel narrative structure and because it is set in France during the First World War, one of my favourite historical periods and, of course, one of my favourite places in the world. 

'The Girl You Left Behind' starts in occupied France during World War I, with the main character, Sophie Lefevre standing up the local German Kommandant. He sees a painting of Sophie, rendered by her artist-husband who is off fighting the German army. The Kommandant is drawn irresistibly to the painting – and to its beautiful, red-haired subject – and begins to show her favour. This attracts the suspicion and contempt of the other French villagers, and sets in chain a series of tragic events. 

The action then moves to modern-day London, where the young widow Liv now owns the painting and becomes the centre of a legal battle by the Lefevre family to get it back. 

I usually find I like the historical sections of a parallel narrative the best, but in this book I really enjoyed both strands and feared and worried for both of the protagonists. There’s romance and drama and suspense aplenty in both sections of the book – I really loved it and am looking forward to reading more books by Jojo Noyes (she has a back list!)

'The Girl She Left Behind' by Jojo Moyes was one of the best books I read in 2012 - check out the others!

Other parallel narratives you may also enjoy: 



BOOK LIST: Best Books Read in 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I didn't quite make my target of 100 books this year, reading only 95, but I did discover some brilliant new writers. Here are my top reads of the year: 


Best Historical Novel


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey 

What a wonderful, amazing, magical book! I just loved this and think it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long while. I wish I’d written it. A retelling of the Russian fairytale, the Snow Child, set in Alaska at the turn of the 19th century, it seems far too accomplished to be by a debut novelist ... I can only look forward hopefully to many more books by Eowyn Ivey.


Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder

I was sure I was going to love this book as soon as I read the subtitle: ‘The Story of a Quest, a Castle and Mary Queen of Scot’. And I did love it! A fabulous, dark, surprising historical novel, with a hefty dose of mystery, intrigue, passion and cross-dressing. This was one of the best reads of the year so far.


The Lady’s Slipper by Deborah Swift

Set in 1666, soon after the restoration of King Charless II, this novel tells the story of how Alice – a young wife and talented painter - discovers a rare orchid, the Lady’s Slipper, growing in a nearby wood. She is captivated by its beauty and wants to paint it, but the owner of the wood —a Quaker called Richard Wheeler, is determined to keep the flower where God intended it to grow. So Alice steals the flower, and sets off a chain of events including murder, riot, witchcraft, betrayal and exile. Brilliant historical fiction.


The Queen’s Vow by C.W Gortner

The Queen’s Vow brings Isabella of Castile, a powerful and passionate woman, to life, illuminates the forces that drove her, and paints a vivid picture of late 15th century Spain, one of the most fascinating of countries. I absolutely loved this book, and loved this place and time in history – I hope C.W. Gortner writes a lot more books, fast!



Best Parallel Historical/Contemporary Novel

Secrets of the Tide by Hannah Richell

Secrets of the Tides is a suspenseful page-turner of a family drama, taking place mainly in Cornwall and London, and moving back and forth between the past and the present. It begins with a girl jumping off a bridge into the Thames. We do not know who she is or why she is jumped, or even if she lives or dies. Slowly the answers to these mysteries are revealed, some of them very surprising. I absolutely loved it, and look forward to more from this debut author.


Lighthouse Bay by Kimberly Freeman

Lighthouse Bay begins in 1901, with a woman – the only survivor of a shipwreck - dragging a chest full of treasure down a deserted beach. The narrative then moves to contemporary times, with a woman secretly grieving at the funeral of her married lover. These two women – Isabella Winterbourne and Libby Slater – are joined through time by a lighthouse and its secrets and mysteries. I raced through this compelling and intriguing book, utterly unable to put it down. Fabulous rollicking read. 


The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left Behind starts in occupied France during World War I, with the main character, Sophie Lefevre standing up the local German Kommandant. He sees a painting of Sophie, rendered by her artist-husband who is off fighting the German army. The Kommandant is drawn irresistibly to the painting – and to its beautiful, red-haired subject – and begins to show her favour. This attracts the suspicion and contempt of the other French villagers, and sets in chain a series of tragic events. 
The action then moves to modern-day London, where the young widow Liv now owns the painting and becomes the centre of a legal battle by the Lefevre family to get it back. There’s romance and drama and suspense aplenty – I really loved it.


Best Historical Mystery

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

A historical thriller set in Tudor England, this novel features a beautiful young nun, Sister Joanna, as its heroine. The book begins with the burning of Joanna’s cousin for treason, and sees our intrepid nun being thrown in the Tower and then coerced into a hunt for a mysterious crown thought to have supernatural powers. The book moves swiftly along, with lots of danger, suspense, and a little romance. An engaging read.


Where Shadows Dance by C.S. Harris

The latest in a series of great Regency murder mysteries featuring the aristocratic detective Sebastian St Cyr. I really enjoy this series, and buy each new one as soon as it comes out. Begin with the first in the series, What Angels Fear, as part of the pleasure is the unfolding relationships. 


Best Contemporary Mystery 

The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker

The latest in the delightful Bruno Courreges mysteries set in the Perigord in southern France, this one seems a little darker in tone than the previous ones, with terrorists, animal rights campaigners and archaeologists keeping Bruno busier than ever. There are the usual wonderful descriptions of French food and French countryside, and a little romance – I’m just hoping Martin Walker is writing fast. 


Best Fantasy

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

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




Flame of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier 

The sixth in the wonderful Sevenwaters series, this book is, as always, filled with wonder, peril, magic, romance, courage, wisdom and compassion. Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite writers and she never, ever disappoints. A beautiful, radiant book. 


Best Children’s Fiction

The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell 

The most recent book by my beautiful sister, Belinda, The Forgotten Pearl is set in Darwin and Sydney during the Second World War. The heroine, Poppy, is a young girl who faces danger, loss, grief and new love during one of the most tumultuous times in Australian history. She lives through the bombing of Darwin and is evacuated to Sydney where she must learn to make a new life for herself. I always judge a book by whether it brings a prickle of tears to my eyes, and this book did that a number of times – a beautifully written historical novel for children set during a fascinating and largely forgotten period of Australian history. 



The Perilous Gard
by Elizabeth Marie Pope

I am so grateful to whoever it was that told me I should read this book - an absolute masterpiece of children's historical fantasy, written with such deftness and lightness of touch. It has become one of my all-time favourite children's books.


Flint Heart by Katherine & John Paterson

Katherine Paterson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child – I absolutely loved ‘Bridge to Terabithia’, and a lesser known book of hers, ‘Jacob Have I Loved’. So when I saw she and her husband John had retold an old English folktale and that it was sumptuously illustrated by John Rocco, the former creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering, I had to have it. It’s a beautiful book in every sense of the word. The writing is simple and pitch-perfect, and the illustrations are strange and sumptuous – after I read it, I gave it to my 8 year old daughter and she loved it too. A lovely antidote to all those sparkly fairy books.


Best Young Adult Fiction

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

A lovely retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale, Jessica Day George has a light touch, a sweet romance, and a clever use of knitting – I’d recommend this to anyone who loves YA fantasy and fairytale retellings. 


One Long Thread by Belinda Jeffries

This is a beautiful, moving coming-of-age novel, refreshingly original and beautifully written. It tells the story of Ruby Moon, whose family has been split in half by her parents’ divorce. The mother moves to Darwin to join what can only be described as a cult, and takes Ruby’s twin sister with her. This seems to me so insensitive, so cruel … and, sure enough, the fallout from that decision has tragic consequences. The action of the book moves from Melbourne to Darwin to Tonga – the sections set there are among my favourite in the book. I also loved the use of the silkworm as a recurring motif and symbol. This was the first of Belinda Jeffries’ books that I have read but I will be seeking out more. 


Moonlight & Ashes by Sophie Masson

I really loved this new book by Sophie Masson. I think it's her best book yet, and I'm a long-time fan of her work. 'Moonlight & Ashes' is a retelling of the Aschenputtel fairy tale, the German Cinderella. It is set in alternative Prague, and is full of adventure, magic and romance. It has the most beautiful, dreamy cover too - loved it!


Shadowfell
by Juliet Marillier

The latest book from one of my all-time favourite authors, Shadowfell is a magical quest set in an otherworldy Scotland. I loved it!

Best Historical Romance



The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie

The Perfect Waltz by Anne Gracie

The Perfect Kiss by Anne Gracie

I read a lot of romance this year, by a lot of different authors, possibly because I am studying my doctorate and so was seeking the very best kind of comfort reading as an antidote to all the academia I was ploughing through. Nonetheless, the three top romance books I read this year were all by the Australian author, Anne Gracie. Such lightness and deftness of touch, such wit and warmth, such sparkling dialogue - she never disappoints. 


Best Contemporary Romance

I didn’t read any this year – I wonder why?


Best Non-Fiction

Napoleon & Josephine: An Improbable Marriage by Evangeline Bruce

An utterly engrossing and illuminating look at Napoleon and his Empress, this thick tome is as readable as any novel. I went it to it understanding nothing about Napoleon and his rise and fall, and came away feeling I understood everything.


1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow by Adam Zamoyski

Looking at the single year of 1812 - and drawing on thousands of first-hand accounts from both sides - this brilliant book looks at each step of Napoleon’s march on Russia and his disastrous retreat. Utterly compelling, shocking and fascinating. 



I need to make a disclaimer, of course:
1) My choice is utterly and unashamedly subjective
2) I know many of these writers, and am lucky enough to call some of them my friends. One of them is even my sister! Regardless of whether they’re friends or family, I still absolutely loved their works, though, and hope you will too.
3) Many thanks to the publishers and writers who sent me books this year– I’m sorry if I haven’t read those books yet and I will try to get to them. My reading choices are prompted purely by my own selfish pleasure and so sometimes I don’t read the books I should!
4) This means, of course, that there are many absolutely wonderful books out there which I haven’t yet discovered. I hope that I shall soon. 


You may enjoying reading my interviews with some of the above authors:






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