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BOOK LIST: Books Read in June 2014

Sunday, August 03, 2014

BOOK READ IN JUNE

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



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

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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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

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BOOK LIST: Books I Read in April 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

One of the fascinating things about keeping a record of what I’ve been reading is seeing the patterns which emerge. This month nearly every single novel I read had a historical setting, and half of them were murder mysteries. I’ve always loved a good murder mystery, particularly if it is set in the past. I do not, however, usually read three of them back to back!

Here’s what I’ve read this month: 


Astor Place Vintage – Stephanie Lehmann
This is a really charming, funny book that moves deftly from modern-day New York to the same city streets in 1907. 

Amanda loves old things – especially shoes and clothes – which she hunts down for herself and for her vintage clothes store, Astor Place Vintage. One day she discovers a diary from 1907, sewn into an ancient fur muff. Reading the diary, she finds herself drawn into the life of Olive Westcott, a young lady who lived in New York City one hundred years ago.

Both narrative threads are really interesting and engaging, and the lives of the two women touch in interesting and unexpected ways. Both are young woman trying to forge their own way, and both have various romantic intrigues that add an extra sparkle to the novel. 






Death Comes as Epiphany – Sharan Newman 
I’ve always had a soft spot for a medieval murder mystery, thanks no doubt to all the Cadfael books I read as a teenager. Sharan Newman is a new author for me (always a risk), but I enjoyed this very much and am planning to get the next in the series. 

The story revolves around Catherine LeVendeur, a headstrong and clever young woman who has been sent to the Convent of the Paraclete, famous for its abbess, the fabled Heloise. When a manuscript created by the convent disappears, Heloise asks Catherien for help in searching it out. For Heloise is afraid that the manuscript will be used to harm her one-time lover, Peter Abelard.

The story rolls along swiftly, with lots of interesting historical details, and a really lovely understated romance. Sharan Newman is a medieval scholar, but her knowledge of the period is never allowed to slow down the plot. 



Death on Blackheath – Anne Perry
I always enjoy the work of Anne Perry, who writes atmospheric and psychologically acute murder mysteries set in Victorian Britain. This is No 29 in her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series – an impressive number! I’ve not read them all, but one day I will sit down and read them all again, back to back, in order, because the growth and change in her major characters is so much an important part of the overarching series narrative. 

This one involves a missing housemaid, the corpses of horribly mutilated women appearing on the heath, and espionage. A brilliant historical murder mystery (but if you haven’t read any other of these, start with Book 1, The Cater Street Hangman.


Elegy for Eddie – Jacqueline Winspear 
Elegy for Eddie is the latest in Jacqueline Winspear’s elegant series of murder mysteries set in 1930s Britain. The books are serious and rather dark in tone, and a great deal of time is spent on the ruminations of the central character, Maisie Dobbs, a lower-class girl who has dragged herself up through the efforts of her own intelligence. At times I wish Jacqueline Winspear would give us more romance, more action, more humour, more sparkle! However, the books are very readable, nonetheless, and the London setting is most atmospheric. 


The Aviator’s Wife - Melanie Benjamin
The Lindberghs were incredibly famous in their day, both for their feats of flying, and for the kidnap and murder of their first child. This beautifully written novel reimagines the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh from the time of her first encounter with the handsome but controlling aviator Charles Lindbergh to his death. It deals with his infatuation with the Nazis, the terrible months following their boy’s kidnap, and the writing of Anne’s own book, ‘Gift from the Sea’, which I remember reading as a teenager. The Aviator’s Wife is a really moving and powerful novel about one woman’s extraordinary life – I strongly recommend it. 


Meanwhile, much of my reading time continues to be taken up with research on Hitler and Nazi Germany, for the new novel I hope to start writing soon. In fear of boring you, I won’t list every book I’ve read … only the best and most interesting. 

Road to the Wolf’s Lair: German Resistance to Hitler - Theodore S Hamerow
This book is an in-depth examination of the men behind the ill-fated Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler, and the events which drove them to take such a drastic and dangerous path. It does assume the reader is well acquainted with the story, so should perhaps be read in conjunction with the famous classic account by Allen Welsh Dulles, Germany’s Underground: The Anti-Nazi Resistance. Dulles was OSS chief in Bern, Switzerland, during World War II and was acquainted with many people in the German Resistance. 


In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin – Erik Larson
This is an utterly brilliant and beautifully written account of the life of the American Ambassador and his family in Germany in 1933. William E. Dodd was a mild-mannered history professor, with two Bright Young Things as children. On his appointment and subsequent arrival in Berlin, the Dodd family was at first entranced by the new Germany – everything was so clean, so pretty, so efficient, so well-ordered – and Adolf Hitler and his followers were so full of energy and conviction. Gradually, though, their view of Germany darkened. Dodd became convinced that Hitler planned war, but nobody listened to him. In fact, they thought he was a fool. One of the really illuminating things about this book is the way it shows the slow, gradual, and ultimately horrifying realisation of the depths of Hitler’s depravity. Most people in the world really had no way of knowing what was going on … until it was too late. 


I, Pierre Seal: Deported Homosexual – Pierre Seal
I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs from people who lived through the Second World War, but this is one of the most gut-wrenching I’ve encountered. Pierre was a normal teenage boy just discovering his own sexuality when the Germans invaded his homeland of Alsace-Lorraine. He and other young homosexuals were rounded up, tortured, raped, and sent to a concentration camp. The account of the murder of Pierre’s young lover is just horrifying, and the psychological damage it caused Pierre for the rest of his life moved me to tears. The atrocities committed against homosexuals in Hitler’s Third Reich are not widely known, though there has been a movement in recent years to give voice to those that were deported and killed. A chilling read.  


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BOOK LIST: The most gorgeous fairy tale books in the world

Friday, May 02, 2014

I was asked by a fan to post a blog about my favourite fairy tale picture books absolute ages ago, but I’ve been so busy I simply haven’t had time. 

I thought I’d celebrate the launch of my own fairy tale picture book TWO SELKIE TALES FROM SCOTLAND by doing it now!




I'd love to add to my collection so if you know any other utterly gorgeous illustrated fairy tales, please tell me in the comments so I can add them to my collection. 

Here are my favourites (in no particular order):




This is the most beautiful version of 'The Singing, Springing Lark', the Grimm Brothers' variant of 'Beauty & the Beast'(here titled 'The Lady & the Lion')  - the illustrations are utterly exqusite!




Paul Zelinsky's gorgeous 'Rapunzel' which sets the story in the Italian Renaissance which is, of corue, what I did to in my historical novel BITTER GREENS




More by Paul Zelinsky, one of my favourite children's illustrators - this is a brilliant rendition of 'Rumpelstiltskin'




Paul Zelinsky's 'Hansel & Gretel' - doesn't the witch's cottage look delicious?




My absolute favourite fairy tale artists is K. Y. Craft - I'd give almost anything to have her illustrate one of my books. They are so gorgeous, intricate, mysterious and magical! This one is 'Twelve Dancing Princesses', which is also one of my favourite fairy tales 




A swoon-worthy 'Cinderella' from K.Y. Craft




'Sleeping Beauty'from K. Y. Craft



A lovely version of the 'Tam Lin' ballad, retold by Geraldine McCaughrean and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft - I also have versions of this story by Susan Cooper and Jane Yolen 





This exquisite retelling of 'Persephone' is retold by Sally Pomme Clayton and illustrated by Virginia Lee 






My favourite Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, 'The Snow Queen' is illustrated here by Vladyslav Yerko in a mesmerisingly beautiful edition 




Oscar Wild's fairy tale 'The Happy Prince' is illustrated beautifully by Jane Ray





Finally, this utterly beautiful version of 'Wild Swans', retold by Naomi Lewis and illustrated by Anne Yvonne Gilbert 


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BOOK LIST: Books Read in January 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I read 15 books in January, with my number bolstered by the back-to-back reading of six old books by the 1930s Irish novelist, Maurice Walsh, while I was sick in bed with bronchitis. Do you like reading old beloved books when you are sick too? Usually I go for Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie or Mary Stewart - it was interesting reading six books by the same author, one after the other. You do begin to see a plot pattern emerge ...

But I read lots of other great books this month as well. I hope you find some new ones to discover here:




1. Touchstone – Laurie R. King
Laurie R. King is best known for her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes historical mystery series in which a brilliant young woman becomes first a student – and then the lover – of the brilliant and enigmatic detective. I’ve read quite a few of this series and really enjoyed them. Laurie R. King is as interested in the internal lives of her characters as much as in the actual solving of a crime, and so her books are rich, complex, psychologically acute, and slow. Touchstone is the first in a new series set in the 1920s in England, featuring the unlikely friendship between an American agent and a war-damaged British gentleman. The first is Harris Stuyvesant and he is on the hunt for a terrorist whose bombs have left a raw scar on his own life.  The trail leads him to England, where he meets Bennett Grey, whose acute sensitivity to the world following a shell attack makes him a kind of human lie detector. The two men find themselves tracking down the terrorist together … with tragic results.
This book took a while to cast its spell on me, but slowly and gradually the dramatic tension escalates until the book was unputdownable. And by that time I knew the characters so intimately I really feared for them. This is not the kind of thriller that will get your blood pumping and your heart racing; it will, however, make you think about it for a long time after you close the final, brilliant page. 


2. Mrs Mahoney’s Secret War – Gretel Mahoney & Claudia Strahan
Claudia Strahan was at a friend’s house in London, listening to music one day, when a cross neighbour knocked on the door to complain about the noise. She was 78 years old, and spoke with a German accent. Claudia had been born in Germany and so asked her a little of where she came from. The cross old lady proved to be so interesting, Claudia went to have coffee with her. The more she discovered about Mrs Mahoney’s life, the more fascinated she became. Nine years later, the two published this extraordinary memoir of Mrs Mahoney’s life in Hamburg during the Second World War. 
Gretel Wachtel, as she was then, helped to protect fugitives hunted by the Gestapo, hid her Jewish doctor in her cellar, and passed secrets she learned from her work on the Enigma encryption machine to the German Resistance, and was finally arrested by the Gestapo. 

She was just an ordinary German girl who did extraordinary things to try and fight the cruel Nazi regime under which she lived. Her verve, courage, and humour shine through in every word … one can just imagine her as a feisty old lady, telling her stories to Claudia over kaffeeklatsch, remembering one story after another through her young visitor’s eager questioning. A great memoir of one woman’s extraordinary life.  

3. Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler - by Anne Nelson 

When we think of Germany under Hitler, we often think of Germans as being either enthusiastic supporters of Nazism, or passive bystanders who did nothing to stop him. This fascinating non-fiction account of the Berlin Underground shows that there were, in fact, many Germans who risked everything to fight against the Nazi regime. 
The Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra) was the Gestapo’s name for a group of German artists, actors, filmmakers, writers, journalists and intellectuals who worked indefatigably to undermine the Nazis in Berlin, the heart of Hitler’s war machine. Almost half of them were women.
Based on years of research, including exclusive interviews with the few that survived the war, Red Orchestra brings to life the different characters of the key people involved in the resistance ring.
These include Adam Kuckhoff, a playwright who found employment in Goebbels’s propaganda unit in order to undermine the regime, and his wife, Greta, who risked her own family to help smuggle Jews and homosexuals out from Berlin; Arvid Harnack, who collected anti-Nazi intelligence while working for the Economic Ministry, and his wife, Mildred, the only American woman executed by Hitler; Harro Schulze-Boysen, the glamorous Luftwaffe intelligence officer who leaked anti-Nazi information to allies abroad, and his wife, Libertas, a social butterfly who coaxed favours from an unsuspecting Göring; and many more. 
The Berlin Underground was betrayed in 1942, and many of its members were tortured and executed, including young women in their teens. I ended the book with tears in my eyes – it is impossible not to imagine yourself living under such terrifying circumstances and wondering what choices you would make. 


4. Storming the Eagle’s Nest: Hitler’s War in the Alps  - Jim Ring
Another World War II book! I’m researching a novel to be set during that period and so you’ll need to expect a lot of books set during that time in my reading lists. This one is another non-fiction book, focusing on the role of the Alps in the Second World War. 

Hitler declared: ‘Yes, I have a close link to this mountain. Much was done there, came about and ended there; those were the best times of my life . . . My great plans were forged there.’

The book examines the war in the Alps from all angles, including battles from resistance fighters in Italy, France and Yugoslavia, concentration camps in Bavaria,  Hitler’s enormous caches of art and wine hidden in caves, and Switzerland’s role as a centre for Allied spies – Storming the Eagle’s Nest is an interesting, unusual and very readable addition to WWII non-fiction.

Note: I received an ARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley.


5. The Marsh King’s Daughter – Elizabeth Chadwick
I’ve wanted to read a book by Elizabeth Chadwick for a while – a lot of my Goodreads friends rave about her work – and so I finally bought one to read. I chose this book because of the title – it’s the name of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale that I am actually thinking of rewriting one day. The title has little to do with the book, however, except that the heroine, Miriel, is the granddaughter of a rich weaver who lives near the marshes. 

The book is set in 1216, one of my favourite periods of history (nasty King John ruled the land back then). Miriel is intelligent, high-spirited, and rebellious, and so is locked up in a convent by her violent and lustful step-father. She plans to escape but then helps rescue a half-drowned young man and stays so she can help nurse him back to health. The young man is Nicholas de Caen and he has a secret. He was present when King John’s treasure sank beneath the marshes (a true historical event), and he has hidden some of the treasure …

The two help each other escape, but their road of romance is rocky indeed. They have to deal with all sorts of misfortunes – including their own pigheadedness – before at last finding refuge in each other’s arms. 

A big, brightly coloured romance, with lots of twists and turns, The Marsh King’s Daughter was a most enjoyable read and I’ll be picking up more books by Elizabeth Chadwick.


6. The Tulip Eaters – Antoinette van Huegten 
The premise of this book sounded so engaging that I was really keen to read it – a contemporary woman comes home to find her mother murdered and her baby stolen, and comes to realise these shocking crimes are somehow related to her mother’s past in Nazi-occupied Holland. She sets off for Amsterdam, determined to find her baby and uncover the truth of her family’s history. The title refers to the Dutch having to go out into the fields to dig up tulip bulbs to stave off starvation during the Occupation. It sounded just the kind of book I love to read. I have to admit, though, that I found the book disappointing. The most interesting parts were the ones that referred to the past, and they were all told, not shown. There were also a few inconsistencies which marred the reading for me. However, if you’re looking for a light and easy suspenseful read, then this may appeal to you. 
Note: I received an ARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley.


7. The Small Dark Man – Maurice Walsh
8. Castle Gillian - Maurice Walsh
9. The Man in Brown - Maurice Walsh
10. Danger Under the Moon - Maurice Walsh
11. Trouble in the Glen - Maurice Walsh
12. The Hill is Mine - Maurice Walsh


I first read Castle Gillian by Maurice Walsh as a teenager, and was enchanted. It’s a romance set in Ireland in the 1930s, and tells the story of a young man, broken by the war, and his family’s struggle to keep the ancestral home. Whenever I go into an old, cobwebby  second-hand bookstore, I look to see if they have any of his books and over the years I’ve amassed half-a-dozen of them. Fighting off a nasty bout of bronchitis over the summer holidays, I stayed in bed and read my way through the whole lot of them again. Nearly all follow the same plot sequence as Castle Gillian (which is still my favourite) – a small quiet man comes to the glen, usually to visit a friend; there’s a beautiful girl (sometimes there are two, giving the friend a romance too); he has to outface a big tough cocksure man; at the end of the book, they fight; the small, quiet man wins against all odds and gets the girl. Sometimes there’s a murder involved as well. Most of them are set in Scotland and celebrate the wild and beautiful landscape (Castle Gillian is the exception, being set in Ireland); all of them are whimsical and a little wry.

Maurice Walsh was Irish himself (born in County Kerry in 1879), but spent a lot of time in Scotland and married his wife there in 1908. He is best known for the short story ‘The Quiet Man’ which was made into an Oscar-winning film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. He was one of Ireland’s best-selling authors in the 1930s, but no-one I know has heard of him. It’s a shame, I think. The best of his books (Castle Gillian, Trouble in the Glen, Danger Under the Moon & The Small, Dark Man are all well worth reading. 


13. Fairest of Them All - Carolyn Turgeon

I’m in the final stages of a doctorate on Rapunzel, which means I simply must read every book ever inspired by the old fairy tale. 

Fairest of Them All is an interesting take on the well-known story, imagining: What if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil stepmother?  

The story begins with a young Rapunzel living in a forest with her foster mother, Mathena, a witch who had been banished from court because of her magical powers. They live an idyllic life, tending the herb garden and helping the women of the village. 

One day Rapunzel’s singing attracts a young prince who was out hunting in the forest. He climbs up her hair into her tower bedroom and they have a brief afternoon of passion before the prince must return to his kingdom and his betrothed. 

Rapunzel loses the baby she carries, and is grieved to discover the king and his wife have a living daughter soon after hers has died. The girl is so beautiful she is named Snow White.

The tale then follows the familiar sequence of events known to us from the original Grimm tale – the mother dies, the king remarries, his queen has a magical mirror that tells her she is the fairest of all …
Written simply yet lyrically, this is a dark and powerful reimagining of two well-known fairy-tales and should appeal to the millions of fans of writers such as Donna Jo Napoli, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George and Gail Carson Levine.


14. Rose Under Fire -  Elizabeth Wein
Elizabeth Wein’s novel Code Name Verity was one of the best books I read last year, and I was very eager to read her latest book, Rose Under Fire.

Both books are set during World War II, and both pack a hefty emotional wallop. In Rose Under Fire, the heroine is a young American woman who is caught by the Germans while flying an Allied fighter plane back from Paris.  She is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped there in horrific circumstances, she has to try and survive, even while the German war machine grinds ever closer to genocide. Rose makes friends among the Rabbits (young Polish women who were experimented upon by doctors) and recites poetry to keep herself to stay sane. This book is so intense and powerful that I had trouble breathing by the end – like Code Name Verity, is one of the best WWII books for teenagers that I’ve ever read. Expect to be emotionally wrung out whilst reading it. 



15. Poison – Sara Poole
‘The Spaniard died in agony. That much was evident from the contortions of his once handsome face and limbs and the black foam caking his lips. A horrible death to be sure, one only possible from that most feared of weapons.
Poison.’

What a great opening to what proved to be a real page-turner of a novel. The book’s heroine, a young woman named Francesca Giordano, kills a man to prove that she is the better poisoner. Her reward is to become the official poisoner of Rodrigo Borgia, during his dangerous quest to become the next Pope. Francesca wants the job so she can find out who murdered her father, who had been poisoner before her. She finds herself caught up in an action-packed roller-coaster ride of an adventure, with intrigue, treachery, romance and murder a-plenty. A fabulous read!

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