Join Kate’s VIP Club Now!

Follow Me


Kate's Blog

Subscribe RSS

BOOK REVIEW: Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman

Friday, September 01, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

A story about love, motherhood, and learning whom you belong to in the world.

In 1874, wild and willful Agnes Resolute finally leaves the foundling home where she grew up on the bleak moors of northern England. On her departure, she discovers that she was abandoned with a small token of her mother: a unicorn button. Agnes had always believed her mother to be too poor to keep her, but Agnes has been working as a laundress at the foundling home and recognises the button as belonging to the imperious and beautiful Genevieve Breakby, daughter of a local noble family. Agnes had only seen her once, but has never forgotten her. She investigates and discovers Genevieve is now in London. Agnes follows, living hard in the poor end of London until she finds out Genevieve has moved to France.

This sets Agnes off on her own adventure: to Paris, Agnes follows her mother's trail, and starts to see it is also a trail of destruction. Finally, in Sydney she tracks Genevieve down. But is Genevieve capable of being the mother Agnes hopes she will be?

A powerful story about women with indomitable spirits, about love and motherhood, and about learning whom you belong to in the world.

My Thoughts:

A new book by Kimberly Freeman is always a must-buy for me. I just love the way that she combines romance, adventure, and family drama, with two stories in different historical periods weaving together in a deeply satisfying way.

The primary narrative in Stars Across the Ocean is the story of a foundling-child Agnes Resolute (named for a ship) who sets out on a quest to find her real mother in the late 1870s. All she has to guide her is a small silver button with a rearing unicorn engraved upon it. She discovers the button once belonged to Genevieve Breakby, the beautiful and wilful daughter of a local noble family. Agnes follows a series of tiny clues that lead her first to London, then Paris, then across the ocean to Ceylon. Indomitable, brave, and as resolute as the ship she is named for, Agnes refuses to give up despite hardships, loss and the growing fear that perhaps her mother is not as she imagined her to be …

Meanwhile, in modern-day London, Victoria is struggling with her own problems, including a troubled relationship with her husband and a mother who is struggling with Alzheimer’s.

The two stories echo each other in interesting ways across the century that separates them, in a beautiful novel about mothers and daughters and finding one’s place in the world.

Click here to read an interview with Kimberley Freeman.

Please write me a comment and let me know your thoughts!

WRITING ADVICE from Kimberley Freeman

Friday, May 08, 2015

To celebrate the launch of Kim Wilkins's wonderful new book Daughters of the Storm, I'm running a vintage post from her with some very useful writing tips. Enjoy!

As you will know, Kim Wilkins is the author of  some of my all-time favourite books, including 'Angel of Ruin' and 'The Autumn Castle' - books which entwine history and the supernatural with intoxicating results.

In recent times, she has been writing books with a greater emphasis on romance and suspense rather than magic, under the name Kimberley Freeman, using her beloved grandmother's surname. I love these books just as much as I do her earlier books. Although they do not have that chilling supernatural twist, they are still books that utterly refuse to be put down - utterly compelling  and readable.

Her most recent novel, 'Lighthouse Bay' was one of the Best Books I Read in 2012, while I can also strongly recommend her previous book, 'Wildflower Hill'. 

Born in London, Kim grew up in Brisbane and has degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing. I first met her in Melbourne when both of our first books were short-listed for the Aurealis Prize for Excellence in Speculative Fiction. Kim won, drat her.  

Since then we try and see each other whenever we can. We always talk long and hard about the craft of writing, something we both feel very passionately about. 

Here are Kim's top writing tips:

Look to your verbs. If you read a page back and it seems lifeless and flabby, find every verb on the page and see if you can improve it. Make a point of collecting great verbs every time you read or watch a movie or have a conversation. Verbs like gasp, surge, quiver, and drench work so hard. Verbs are the muscle of a sentence, and can punch up dull writing in a moment.

Chillax on chapter one. Easily the most common writing problem I see is the writer trying far too hard to impress in the first few pages of a story. Many stories warm up and get fantastic after page five, but by then the publisher has already put you on the "reject" pile. Often your first chapter is so overworked that it's uncomfortable to read. My advice is to finish the book, then scrap the first chapter all together and write it again without looking at the original.

Don't write all your fun scenes first. Write in order. If you give a child her custard first, she's probably not going to be all that interested in her Brussels sprouts.

Be in a viewpoint, always. At the start of every scene make sure you know exactly whose viewpoint you are going to be in, and write the scene from inside their head. A story details a relationship between characters and events. The most impact is always achieved from describing that relationship from the inside.

Plan your story in advance, even if it's only loosely. It will save you so much time and heartache and, contrary to popular belief, it's actually MORE fun to do it this way. When you know that an exciting turning point is approaching, the scene and the ones around it can play out in your mind over and over as you think them through, becoming richer the more you anticipate it.

Most important of all: keep going. This is a tough craft, and it's an even tougher business. Dream big if you want, but your dreams can't sustain you on a day-to-day basis. The only thing that can sustain you is the work. Do it because you love it; because not to write hurts. Do it because you are mad about your story and obsessed with your characters. Don't make it another chore to fit into your busy day: make it the special place you go when your day has been rubbish. Keep going and keep going, and then keep going some more.

INTERVIEW: Kimberley Freeman, author of Evergreen Falls

Friday, August 08, 2014

Today I am very happy to welcome one of my all-time favourite writers to my blog. A new Kimberley Freeman book is something to grab joyfully with both hands. They weave together two narrative threads - one in the present and one in the past - and never fail to delight and move me.  Today Kim is talking about her new book, Evergreen Falls.

Tell me about your new book:

Evergreen Falls is set in the 1920s in a luxury hotel in the Blue Mountains. A forbidden love affair precipitates a great tragedy as the snow moves in. When the snow melts none of those involved ever speak of it again. In the present, a young woman fleeing her own family tragedy finds a bundle of old love letters and tries to find out what happened in 1926.

 What was the first flash of inspiration for it?

I read my grandmother's memoir, which she wrote before she died. In the 1920s she had worked in posh hotels in Sydney including the Wentworth, and she wrote all about it. She wrote about colourful characters, famous people of the time including opera singers and beauty queens, and of course many beautiful frocks she wore in rich detail. There is a story in her memoir about two young people, a brother and sister from a rich farming family, who are at dinner one night. The sister's pearl necklace breaks and my grandma found herself scrabbling on the floor helping her find pearls, when the brother climbed down onto the floor to do the same. In grandma's memoir, that's the end of the story. In my novel, it's just the beginning.

What do you love most in the world?
I love being immersed in a story, whether reading it or writing it. All the better if that story has mystery, history, or a sense of the mystical or the divine. I love sunny windy days and rainy nights and tea brewed properly in pots and being with my loved ones and pets. I'm a very simple woman.

What do you fear most in the world?
A life without imagination.

What are your 5 favourite childhood books?
Anne of Green Gables
The Magic Faraway Tree
The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking
The Hobbit
The Secret Garden

What are your 5 favourite books read as an adult?
Gone with the Wind
The Mists of Avalon
The Lord of the Rings
Jane Eyre

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
 I don't know that it's particularly surprising, but I do read very eclectically. I love chick lit much as I love Old English poetry, and I read masses of non-fiction.

How would you describe perfect happiness?
 In bed with book, a cup of tea, and a sunbeam on my shoulder.

What are your dreams for the future?
I'm bristling with ideas for books that I want to write. I'd like time to write all of them, time to be with my loved ones, and time to walk barefoot on the beach as well.


WRITER INSPIRATION: The story behind the writing of Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Today on the blog, Kimberley Freeman tells us the beautiful story behind the writing of her new novel Evergreen Falls.

My maternal grandmother and I were very close. Before she died she wrote down all her memories. Many of my cousins have read her memoir but I didn't for a really long time. We had had so many deep discussions I felt like I knew everything there was to know about her. Then I told my mother last year that I was going to write a story set in a luxury hotel in the 1920s, and she said to me, "your grandmother worked in luxury hotels in the 1920s; you should read her memoir." So I did. And in those 50 pages that dealt with her time working at the Wentworth hotel and other fancy hotels around Sydney I gathered all of the inspiration I needed to write Evergreen Falls. 

She told stories of the famous and glamorous people whom she waited upon in the gleaming dining room: beauty queens, filmstars, famous authors, and even Dame Nellie Melba (who she described as having a sweet voice but a sharp tongue). She described the beautiful dresses that she wore in rich detail, and every single one of those gowns makes an appearance in my novel. 

But there was one story she told that really captured my imagination. A brother and sister, the children of a rich grazing family, were at dinner one night. The sister wore a long string of pearls around her neck and she was worrying them over her fingers when the string broke and the pearls went bouncing off all over the floor. Grandma went under the table to help collect the pearls, and the handsome brother also went under there to find pearls. Their eyes met.

In grandma's story, that's the end: she goes back to serving dinner and he goes back to his seat. In Evergreen Falls, that is only the beginning. I felt like grandma was with me the whole time I was writing it, and I think she'd be really proud.

In grandma's story, that's the end: she goes back to serving dinner and he goes back to his seat. In Evergreen Falls, that is only the beginning. I felt like grandma was with me the whole time I was writing it, and I think she'd be really proud.

A photo of Kim's grandmother, Stella - I think she's gorgeous!

You can read my review of Evergreen Falls here


BOOK REVIEW: Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman

Monday, August 04, 2014

Evergreen Falls
Author: Kimberley Freeman
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Age Group & Genre: Historical/Contemporary Novel for Adults
Reviewer: Kate Forsyth
Source of Book: An ARC from the publisher

The Blurb:
A long-forgotten secret, a scandalous attraction and a place where two women's lives are changed forever - Evergreen Falls is the captivating new novel from Kimberley Freeman.

1926: Violet Armstrong is one of the few remaining members of staff working at the grand Evergreen Spa Hotel as it closes down over winter. Only a handful of guests are left, including the heir to a rich grazing family, his sister and her suave suitor. When a snowstorm moves in, the hotel is cut off and they are all trapped. No one could have predicted what would unfold. When the storm clears they must all keep the devastating secrets hidden.

2014: After years of putting her sick brother's needs before her own, Lauren Beck leaves her home and takes a job at a Blue Mountains cafe, the first stage of the Evergreen Spa Hotel's renovations. There she meets Tomas, the Danish architect who is overseeing the project, and an attraction begins to grow. In a wing of the old hotel, Lauren finds a series of passionate love letters dated back to 1926, alluding to an affair - and a shocking secret.

If she can unravel this long-ago mystery, will it make Lauren brave enough to take a risk and change everything in her own life?

Inspired by elements of her grandmother's life, a rich and satisfying tale of intrigue, heartbreak and love from the author of the bestselling LIGHTHOUSE BAY and WILDFLOWER HILL.

What I Thought: 
I love Kimberley Freeman’s books. They are absolutely compulsively readable. The pages just race past as I read as fast as is humanely possible - I’m always desperate to find out what happens.  I always love a novel that interweaves a contemporary narrative with a historical one, but often you find one narrative thread is much more interesting than the other (with me, I usually love the story set in the past the best). This isn’t true of Kimberley, though. Her contemporary story is as always as interesting and compelling as the other. I love her mix of romance and mystery and family drama, and can only wish that she could write just a little faster! I always get that little prickle of tears at the end of one of her books that show I’ve been really moved.  

I also love her setting of the Blue Mountains outside Sydney as this is a place I know well. The setting of a glamorous hotel in the 1920s – and the same hotel, now decayed and half in ruins – is incredibly atmospheric and reminded me of an Agatha Christie book. 

In short: I loved it! A must read for anyone who loves a big, fat, heart-warming read. 

Writer’s website:


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. 


BOOK LIST: Books Read in September 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

I’ve been on the move nearly all this month, with lots of Book Week events, followed by the Brisbane Writers Festival, and then the rest of the month spent on the road in England and Wales. So a lot of my reading was done on my e-book reader, which I really only use while travelling, and also dictated by where I was and what I was doing. I still managed to read 13 books (though one was only a novella), with lots of romance and murder mysteries, and one absolutely riveting and blood-chilling non-fiction.  

1. Ember Island – Kimberley Freeman

I get all excited when I hear a new Kimberley Freeman novel is due out. I know I’m in for a real page-turning delight, with a delicious mix of mystery, romance, history and family drama. These are books I like to clear some space for, because I know that once I pick one up I’m utterly compelled to keep on reading till the very end. ‘Ember Island’ was no exception. It weaves together the story of Tilly Kirkland, newly married to a man of secrets in the Channel Islands in 1890; and the story of bestselling novelist Nina Jones, who retreats to a small Queensland island in 2012 in an attempt to heal her broken heart and overcome her crippling writer’s block. The two stories touch as Nina discovers old diary pages hidden in the walls of her dilapidated old house … 

2. Captive of Sin – Anna Campbell
I like nothing better than a good romance novel, particularly when I’m feeling tired and over-worked (which seems to be all the time at the moment). Anna Campbell had recently been voted Australia’s Favourite Romance Author and I had read and enjoyed one of her earlier novels ‘Seven Night’s In A Rogue’s Bed’ and so hunted down another of her books. ‘Captive of Sin’ is a very readable Regency romance with a hero tormented by dark secrets in his past and a heroine on the run from her abusive step-brothers. I enjoyed it immensely!

3. Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein
I’ve been hearing some slowly building buzz about this book for some kind, which grew much louder after it was named a Michael L. Printz Honor Book and shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Then I met Elizabeth Wein at the Brisbane Writers Festival and so grabbed a copy. I’m so glad I did. I loved this book so much. ‘Code Name Verity’ begins with the first person account of a young English woman who has been captured by the Nazis in German-occupied France during the Second World War. She has been tortured and has agreed to tell her interrogators everything she knows. Instead, however, she writes about her growing friendship with Maddie, the female pilot who had dropped her into France. The first person voice is intimate and engaging and surprisingly funny; the descriptions of flying are lyrically beautiful; and the growing fear for our heroine masterfully built. At a high point of tension, the narrative voice suddenly swaps to Maddie, and we hear the rest of the story from her point of view. This switch in view destabilises the whole story in an utterly brilliant and surprising way. I gasped out loud once or twice, and finished the book with eyes swimming with tears. Once of the best YA historical novels I have ever read. 

4. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria – Lauren Willig
This is Book No 12 in a long-running series of delightful and very funny historical romances that tell the adventures of a set of English spies in Napoleonic times. The spies all have named like the Pink Carnation and the Black Tulip, and rampage about in disguise, getting into trouble, falling in love, and fighting off bully-boys with swords hidden in their parasols. Think the Scarlet Pimpernel mixed with Georgette Heyer and Sophie Kinsella (the books also have a chick-lit thread with the contemporary adventures of a young woman tracking down the truth about the Pink Carnation and other spies). Fabulous, frivolous fun (but you must start with Book 1 ‘The Secret History of the Pink Carnation’.)

5. The Dress of the Season – Kate Noble
A sweet little Regency romance novella, adroitly handled by the author, and quite a nice way to pass the commute to work. It’s so short it can be read in an hour or so. I downloaded it on to my e-reader while caught with nothing to read in an airport, and finished it just as the gates opened for boarding. Nice.

6. 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 and the architect of the Final Solution that saw millions of people efficiently and cold-bloodedly murdered.

Thomas Harding was so surprised and intrigued by this revelation, he began to try and found out more. His research led him to write this extraordinary book, which parallels the lives of the two men from birth till death.

Rudolf Hoss was born in 1901 in Baden-Baden, and ran away at the age of 14 to fight in WWI. He was a Commander at just sixteen years old, and joined the National Socialist Party after spending time in prison after murdering a traitor. 

Hanns Alexander, meanwhile, was born in 1933 in Berlin to a prosperous middle-class Jewish family. He managed to escape Germany in time, but his great-aunt died in the concentration camps and his family lost everything. When WWII broke out, he fought for the British army, along with his twin brother.

Hoss, meanwhile, was busy fulfilling his orders to make Auschwitz ‘a site of mass annihilation.’ The chapters set during this time are truly disturbing and had me in tears more than once. Then, as Germany lost the war, Hoss escaped – abandoning his wife and children - and hid himself in an assumed identity.

After the concentration camps were discovered, the War Crimes Commission was established and Hanns Alexander was chosen to help track down war criminals. How he tracked down Hoss makes for riveting reading; in parts, it feels more like a thriller than non-fiction. An utterly brilliant book which I recommend very highly. 

7. Anybody Out There – Marian Keyes
I have never read any of Marian Keyes’ books before and bought one on the very strong recommendation of a friend.  She said that they were the sort of books that make you laugh and make you cry, and really, what more could you want from any book? ‘Anybody Out There’ is certainly an engaging mixture of humour and pathos and gave me a lump in the throat more than once. It tells the story of Anna Walsh, who has been in some kind of terrible accident, and is recuperating on her parents’ couch in Dublin. But Anna is desperate to speak to a man named Aiden and so returns to New York to find him. There’s a vast cast of eccentric characters, some odd and some funny moments, and a dark and serious streak I was not expecting. Marian Keyes is not afraid to grapple with themes of grief, depression, loneliness, and pain, even as she mocks the shallowness of the beauty industry and throws in some slapstick humour. The warmth and wit of her heroine, Anna, keeps the story from jangling too wildly. This is chick-lit with heart and an acute social conscience.

8. Love on a Midsummer Night – Christie English
A lovely, gentle and lyrical Regency romance with themes and images from 
Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" woven through. The hero is a dissolute rake who has never been able to forget his first love. The heroine is a vulnerable widow who had been forced into marriage with a much older man and is now forced to stand against his lascivious heir. She turns to her old flame for help, and finds herself falling in love all over again. A sweet and easy read.

9. Witch Child – Celia Rees
This wonderful historical novel for teenagers begins: ‘I am Mary. I am a witch.’ It is set in 1659, during the tumultuous months after Cromwell’s death and before the return of Charles II. Her story is purportedly told in diary entries that have been found sewn inside a quilt. It is a tragic and powerful tale, which begins when Mary’s grandmother is arrested and tortured by witch-finders and then hanged in the town square. Mary is rescued by a rich woman who she suspects may be her real mother, and sent to join a group of Puritans fleeing to the New World. However, the Puritans are stern and narrow-minded and quick to blame any misfortune on witchcraft. Mary finds herself in increasing danger as the party lands in Salem, Massachusetts. A growing friendship with a Native American and his shaman grandfather increases her risk. A simple yet powerful tale that explores the nature of magic and superstition, faith and cruelty.

10. 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. The story is set in a stately home. There is a butler, a beautiful and mysterious baroness whose car just happens to crash outside the manor’s front gate, a daring jewel thief, an amiable fool called Algernon Fotheringay, and a very puzzling mystery that involves not just a locked room but, indeed, a locked house.  The detective is humble and crumpled, and, oh yes, there’s a few international spies thrown in too. I adored it. Clever, amusing, and surprisingly surprising. 

11. Beware This Boy – Maureen Jennings
I had never heard of Maureen Jennings before I picked up this book, but apparently she is best known for a series of historical mysteries that have been televised as ‘the Murdoch Mysteries’. I was interested in this book because it was compared to ‘Foyle’s War’, which I love, and because generally anything set during the Second World War is of interest to me. It’s an unusual crime novel. Yes, there is murder, and sabotage, and spies, and skulduggery, but the action is slow and deliberate, and much of the emphasis is on the interior lives of its troubled characters. The action all takes place in in rain, in fog, in bomb shelters, and in munitions’ factories. The atmosphere is gloomy and laden with dread. This is historical crime at its most serious and deliberate, and most effective in its evocation of a terrible time in British history.

12. A Parcel of Patterns – Jill Paton Walsh
I spent a weekend in the Peaks District during my time in the UK this month. Given a choice between visiting Chatsworth House (the opulent seat of the Duke of Devonshire which was used as the site of Pemberley in the 2005 film adaption of Pride and Prejudice) and a small local village called Eyam (prounced ‘eem’), you might be surprised to know I chose the latter. Eyam, however, is the famous ‘plague village’ which isolated itself voluntarily in 1665 after the Black Death arrived in a flea-infested parcel of cloth. Only 83 villagers survived from a total population of 350. One of my all-time favourite books, ‘Year of Wonders’ by Geraldine Brooks, published in 2001, imagines what may have happened in that village in that year. ‘A Parcel of Patterns’ by Jill Paton Walsh, published in 1983, was one of the first fictional attempts to grapple with the subject. It is told from the point of view of a young woman named Mall, and shows how the coming of the plague destroyed lives and loves, and faith and fealty. It’s a delicate little book, and very sad.

13. Secrets of the Sea House - Elisabeth Gifford
An intriguing and atmospheric novel set in the Hebrides Islands of Scotland, the narrative moves between the contemporary story of 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.  

Ruth and Michael are living in, and renovating, the ramshackle Sea House on the Hebridean Island of Harris. Ruth is haunted by feelings of fear and grief, and worries they have made a mistake in sinking all their savings into this remote and run-down house. Then they discover, buried beneath the floorboards, the tiny bones of a dead child. Its legs are fused together, its feet splayed like flippers. The discovery unsettles Ruth, reminding her of her dead mother’s strange tales of a selkie ancestry. She begins to try and find out how the skeleton came to be buried under the house. 

The story moves to 1860, and the alternating points of view of the young and handsome Reverend Alexander Ferguson and his intelligent yet illiterate housemaid, Moira. Alexander’s obsession with mermaids and selkies, and his forbidden attraction to the daughter of the local laird, lead to grief and betrayal and death. 

The weaving together of the two threads is masterfully done. The story is powerful, beautiful, and magical, and Ruth’s struggle to overcome the shackles of the past is sensitively handled. Hard to believe this is a debut author – definitely one to watch. 


BOOK LIST: My Favourite Books by My Favourite Australian aUTHORS

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Get Reading! is running a search for the favourite Australian books of all time. I've given them a list of some of my favourite books by my favourite Australian authors - here are 16 books by my favourite Australian contemporary authors. I will compile a list of my favourite classic authors very soon. 

Vote for your favourites at the Get Reading! website

Jesse Blackadder -  THE RAVEN'S HEART

Geraldine Brooks - YEAR OF WONDERS

Alison Croggon - THE GIFT 

Kimberley Freeman - WILDFLOWER HILL

Pamela Freeman - BLOOD TIES

Kate Grenville - THE SECRET RIVER


Toni Jordan - NINE DAYS

Margo Lanagan - SEA HEARTS




Belinda Murrell - THE RIVER CHARM

Hannah Richell - THE SHADOW YEAR

Kim Wilkins - ANGEL OF RUIN

Marcus Zusak – THE BOOK THIEF

INTERVIEW: Kimberley Freeman, author of 'Lighthouse Bay''

Friday, March 01, 2013

'Lighthouse Bay', by Kimberley Freeman, was one of the Best Books I Read in 2012  (as you will know if you've been following my blog).

Kim is not only a brilliant author, but she also teaches creative writing at the University of Queensland, plus has two children, and so she is a very busy women. So I was very pleased that she spared me some time to answer my questions: 

Are you a daydreamer too?
I'm a terrible daydreamer. I love to just lie down and think of things that might be nice, or remember things that I loved doing. I go to sleep imagining things and wake up imagining things.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes. My mum has the first "book" I wrote at age 5. 

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in London but grew up in the northern bayside suburbs of Brisbane. I live in Brisbane's inner west now, where it's very hilly and leafy. I actually live at the bottom of a mountain, and that mountain is my gym. I walk up it or ride up it on my bicycle several times a week. As for what I like to do: I like to write, I like to hang out with my friends, I like to read but mostly non-fiction now (especially books about history and mythology). My favourite thing in the world is to sit in my garden with a notebook in my hand to catch my daydreams, while my kids draw or play nearby.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for 'Lighthouse Bay'?
I was at the beach at Peregian, on Queensland's sunshine coast, in the early morning. The Noosa beaches still have their bushland verges, so you go through bush to get to the beach and there are no highrises either. So when you're on the beach alone, it could be anytime: the present, 1000 years ago, 100 years ago... Just the ancient sea and the bush and sand. So I was on the beach alone and I imagined what it might be like to be from a completely different environment--say English Victorian high society--and finding yourself the only survivor of a shipwreck on this deserted beach. It all came from there.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
Pretty extensively. The planning process for me is a process of big brush strokes, growing more and more narrow and fine as I proceed through the books. So I'll work out some key turning points, then work out a few ideas for scenes to negotiate my way between them. then write a bit, plan a bit, write a bit, and so on.

'Lighthouse Bay' is a parallel narrative, moving between the modern-day and the past. What particular challenges are there to writing in this structure? Do you write one strand and then the other, then weave them together, or are you continually moving back and forth?
I write the books in order, from page 1 to page 400-and-something. The two time periods allow me a break from each story line to think and replot etc. 

Why do you think parallel narratives are so popular?
Because it's two stories in one! And also because the present story usually has a connection to the past story, and that means there's a nice easy contemporary access point for the history, for people who find straight historical fiction a little bit daunting.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I have in the past, but only in my fantasy work that I write under my real name, Kim Wilkins.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Yes! I had scenes where the main character had to get from the sunshine coast to Brisbane. I presumed there would be a train, but there wasn't. there was a PADDLE STEAMER!! I had no idea we had paddle steamer history in Queensland, and I was so excited. There's such a romance about paddle steamers.

Where do you write, and when?
When the kids aren't around/are sleeping. That's it. I can't be precious anymore.

What is your favourite part of writing?
Coming up with story ideas, imagining where the plot will go, getting those "ding!" moments when you see how two parts of the story are going to fit snugly together.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I don't. I just keep writing. I have bills to pay.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I can't imagine it running dry. There are stories literally EVERYWHERE. Every place I go, every person I meet, I could get a story out of.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I make a playlist of music for every book I write: music that somehow captures the spirit of the story. And I put it on every time I write. My all-purpose playlist is one called "Working in Bed" because I really do write so much in bed. That one has lots of quiet, melancholy songs on it.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
J. R. R. Tolkien; Marion Zimmer Bradley; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; John Keats; Charlotte Bronte; Ann Radcliffe; Georgette Heyer; Marian Keyes; the Gawain poet; Astrid Lindgren! Just off the top of my head!

Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite authors too!
What do you consider to be good writing? 
Writing that makes the world go away. Writing that performs the magic trick of making the black marks on the white page disappear, and creates worlds in your head. 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
It's very simple. Read a lot, work out what makes you love a story, then write a lot.

What are you working on now? 
I'm writing Kimberley Freeman number 5, 'Ember Island', which is a slightly gothic governess story set on two islands in 1892--one in the English Channel, and one in Moreton Bay. It's wrapped in a contemporary story, too.


BOOK REVIEW: 'Lighthouse Bay'by Kimberley Freeman

Monday, February 25, 2013

Title:  Lighthouse Bay
Author: Kimberley Freeman
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Age Group & Genre: Parallel Contemporary/Historical Fiction for Adults

The Blurb:
A compelling tale of love, secrets, and the power of forgiveness.
1901: Isabella Winterbourne has suffered the worst loss a woman can know. She can no longer bear her husband nor his oppressive upper-class family. On a voyage between London and Sydney to accompany a priceless gift to the Australian parliament, Isabella is the sole survivor of a shipwreck off the sun-drenched Queensland coast. But in this strange new place, she finds she cannot escape her past quite as easily as she d hoped.
2011: A woman returns from Paris to her beachside home town to reconcile with her sister. But she, too, has a past that is hard to escape and her sister is not in a mood to forgive her. Strange noises at night and activity at the abandoned lighthouse raise her curiosity, and she finds herself investigating a century-old town mystery.

What I Thought: 
‘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. 

Tightly plotted and quickly paced, I found myself quite unable to put the novel down, even reading it with one hand while I was cooking dinner with the other.  It deftly weaves together romance, suspense, and adventure, all acted out by a cast of strong, defiant women and a suitably dastardly villain. Although it has various love affairs in it, this novel is not about romantic love. It is really more about the relationships between women – as friends, as sisters, and as mothers. 

I absolutely loved it! One of my favourite books of 2012. 

Subscribe RSS

Recent Posts



Blogs I Follow