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BOOK REVIEW: The Pearler’s Wife by Roxane Dhand

Friday, February 16, 2018



The Blurb (From Goodreads)

The year is 1912. Nineteen-year-old Maisie Porter watches from the deck as England fades from view. Her destination is Buccaneer Bay in Australia’s far north-west. Her fate: marriage to distant cousin Maitland Sinclair, a man she has never met.

When Maisie arrives in her new home, she finds a stifling small town bound by Victorian morals. Shocked at her new husband’s callous behaviour towards her, she is increasingly drawn to the intriguing William Cooper, a British diver she met on board ship. It soon becomes clear that secrets surround her husband, as turbulent as the waters that crash against the bay. Secrets that somehow link to her own family – and secrets that put Cooper and his fellow British divers in great danger…

From the drawing rooms of London to the latticed verandas and gambling dens of Buccaneer Bay, The Pearler’s Wife is a sweeping, epic read, inspired by a lost moment in history.


My Thoughts:

An assured debut by author Roxane Dhand, The Pearler’s Wife is a sweeping romance set in a little-known corner of Australian history, the pearling industry in the far north of Western Australia. The heroine, nineteen-year-old Maisie, is sent to Australia from England to marry a man she has never met. Her new home is called Buccaneer Bay, which sounds like something out of a pirate novel but is in fact a real place (the Buccaneer Archipelago was named after the English buccaneer and privateer William Dampier, who charted the area in 1688).

Maisie’s new husband is a cruel and ruthless man who treats his employees with reckless disregard. Lonely and bored, Maisie finds herself drawn to a British diver named William Cooper. The sensual tension between them, and the slow realisation of dangerous secrets hidden by her husband, add slow-burning suspense to the narrative. The claustrophobic setting of a small pearling town in 1912 is superbly evoked, and the story is full of action, drama and romance, making it perfect escape reading for a long, hot summer.

For another wonderful historical novel, also set in Western Australia, check out my review of The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.

Remember to leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts.

BOOK REVIEW: The Betrayal by Kate Furnivall

Wednesday, January 17, 2018



The Blurb (from Goodreads):

Could you kill someone? Someone you love?

Paris, 1938. This is the story of twin sisters divided by fierce loyalties and by a terrible secret. The drums of war are beating and France is poised, ready to fall. One sister is an aviatrix, the other is a socialite and they both have something to prove and something to hide.

Discover a brilliant story of love, danger, courage ... and betrayal.

This epic novel is an unforgettably powerful story of love, loss and the long shadow of war, perfect for readers of Kate Morton and other exceptional historical fiction.


My Thoughts:

I bought this novel at the airport, having finished the book I had taken with me to read. I had never read anything by Kate Furnivall before, and bought it because the cover and the blurb made it sound like the kind of book I would like to read: a story of love, danger, courage and betrayal set in Paris, 1938.

The story begins with the brutal murder of the father of seventeen-year-old twins, Romaine and Florence. The family’s Arabic gardener is guillotined for the crime, but the twin sisters know that he is innocent.

Eight years later, Florence is a rich socialite married to a Nazi sympathiser, and Romy is an impoverished, reckless, hard-drinking aviatrix who flies guns and supplies to the rebels of the Spanish Civil War. From that point on, the plot gallops along with lots of surprises and nail-biting suspense. The contrast between the characters of the sisters is fascinating, while their love and support for each other is – by the end – heartbreaking. I particularly loved Romy: wild, passionate, loving, haunted by the past and determined to, somehow, make amends. This is historical storytelling at its best, and I am very keen now to read more by Kate Furnivall.


If you're interested in the lives of women during WWII, please take a look at my post about Women of the German underground resistance. 

Remember to leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

Friday, January 05, 2018



The Blurb (from Goodreads):


For most, the Black Death is the end. For a brave few, it heralds a new beginning.

When the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in Dorseteshire in June 1348, no one knows what manner of sickness it is or how it spreads and kills so quickly. The Church cites God as the cause, and religious fear grips the people as they come to believe that the plague is a punishment for wickedness.

But Lady Anne of Develish has her own ideas. Educated by nuns, Anne is a rarity among women, being both literate and knowledgeable. With her brutal husband absent from Develish when news of this pestilence reaches her, she takes the decision to look for more sensible ways to protect her people than daily confessions of sin. Well-versed in the importance of isolating the sick from the well, she withdraws her people inside the moat that surrounds her manor house and refuses entry even to her husband.

She makes an enemy of her daughter and her husband's steward by doing so, but her resolve is strengthened by the support of her leading serfs … until food stocks run low and the nerves of all are tested by continued confinement and ignorance of what is happening in the world outside. The people of Develish are alive. But for how long? And what will they discover when the time comes for them to cross the moat?

Compelling and suspenseful, The Last Hours is a riveting tale of human ingenuity and endurance against the worst pandemic known to history. In Lady Anne of Develish - leader, saviour, heretic - Walters has created her most memorable heroine to date.


My Thoughts:

Minette Walters is best known for her contemporary psychological thrillers (which I must read again!) However, it has been ten years since her last book and now she has released a doorstopper of a novel set during the time of the Black Death in England.

The accepted wisdom is that a writer must continue to churn out books as much like their previous books as possible, but I think this leads to a steady decline in the quality of the writing. A creative artist must be constantly challenging themselves, trying new things, following new interests. And I love writers to break rules and subvert expectations. So the news that Minette Walters had written a historical novel filled me with joy. I ordered it straightaway, and plunged into it with delight.

Set in Dorset in 1348, the book begins when news begins to spread of a terrible new disease that strikes down quickly and spreads just as fast. Widowed by the death of her husband, Lady Anne tries to save her people by isolating them. However, she cannot banish lust, jealousy, and hatred, all of which lead to a tragic death within the walls of her castle.

The story swings along with great aplomb, filled with suspense, drama, murder and surprise. I particularly loved the character of Lady Anne, who is plain but intelligent and kind-hearted, and who has her own secrets. Although it's a massive book at 550 pages, the pace never flags …. At least not until the very last scene, in which Minette Walters’ control over her story falters. It turns out that there is to be a sequel, where the story shall be continued, and so the book ends on a cliffhanger. I would have so much rather have had a good strong resolution, with just a hint that there was still drama and darkness to come, but it’s just one quibble in a book which I enjoyed immensely. And I’ll be buying the sequel when it comes out, never fear!

Another great book about the plague, Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, made my 2013 list of Favourite Australian Authors.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: A Death at Fountains Abbey by Antonia Hodgson

Wednesday, January 03, 2018



The Blurb (from Goodreads):


Late spring, 1728 and Thomas Hawkins has left London for the wild beauty of Yorkshire - forced on a mission he can't refuse. John Aislabie, one of the wealthiest men in England, has been threatened with murder. Blackmailed into investigating, Tom must hunt down those responsible, or lose the woman he loves forever.

Since Aislabie is widely regarded as the architect of the greatest financial swindle ever seen, there is no shortage of suspects.

Far from the ragged comforts of home, Tom and his ward Sam Fleet enter a world of elegant surfaces and hidden danger. The great estate is haunted by family secrets and simmering unease. Someone is determined to punish John Aislabie - and anyone who stands in the way. As the violence escalates and shocking truths are revealed, Tom is dragged, inexorably, towards the darkest night of his life.

Inspired by real characters, events and settings, A Death at Fountains Abbey is a gripping standalone historical thriller. It also continues the story that began with the award-winning The Devil in the Marshalsea and The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins.


My Thoughts:

This novel is the third in a series of witty, fast-paced historical murder mysteries set in Georgian times in England. The hero, Thomas Hawkins, is a rake and a gambler who has spent time in prison for debt and was almost hanged in Book 2: The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins. And when I say ‘almost hanged’, I mean it. He still carries the scar of the hangman’s noose in this, his third adventure. Sent by the queen to investigate threats of murder against one of England’s richest men, Thomas finds himself drawn into a puzzling mystery which soon escalates into violence. The prose gallops along, enlivened by Thomas’s cynical asides, and the story is full of surprises. If you haven’t read Antonia Hodgson before, start with Book 1: The Devil in the Marshalsea. The whole series is great.

You can read my review of The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins here.

Please leave a comment!

BOOK REVIEW: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Wednesday, December 27, 2017



The Blurb (from Goodreads):


Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit partying, and sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch tells the story of four Londoners - three women and a young man with a past - whose lives, and those of their friends and lovers, connect in tragedy, stunning surprise and exquisite turns, only to change irreversibly in the shadow of a grand historical event.


My Thoughts:

I am such a huge fan of Sarah Waters. I think she may be my favourite author at the moment. I’ve been slowly working my way though her backlist, and finally had the chance to read The Night Watch, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the Orange Prize.

The novel has an unusual and audacious structure, in that each new section of the book moves backwards in time rather than forwards. So the first section begins in 1947, in the aftermath of World War II, when the people of London are struggling to get their lives back together; the second section is set in 1944, when it seemed the war would never end; and the final in 1941, during all the chaos and horror of the Blitz. We are introduced to a handful of people whose lives are linked, we shall discover, in surprising ways. There is Kay, a young woman who dresses like a man and who cannot recover from a broken heart. There is Duncan, a young man who spent much of the war in prison. And there are Helen and Viv, two young women who work together and yet know surprisingly little about each other’s secret private lives. Working backwards through their stories, much like an archaeologist may dig deeper for new revelations about a place and time, has an unexpected effect of slow-building suspense. The book, though slow and deep, becomes unputdownable. I cared so much for them – especially heart-broken Kay and soul-damaged Duncan – that I could almost not bear to reach the parts where the hurt was done.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because this is a book rife with spoilers. All I will say is that – like all of Sarah Waters’ books – it is utterly brilliant! I wish I could write so well.

Please also check out my review of another brilliant Sarah Waters book, Fingersmith.

Remember to leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts!


BOOK REVIEW: Behind the Sun by Deborah Challinor

Wednesday, November 22, 2017




The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Irreverent and streetwise prostitute, Friday Woolfe, is in London′s notorious Newgate gaol, awaiting transportation. There, she meets three other girls: intelligent and opportunistic thief, Sarah Morgan, naive young Rachel Winter, and reliable and capable seamstress, Harriet Clarke.

On the voyage to New South Wales their friendship becomes an unbreakable bond -- but there are others on board who will change their lives forever. Friday makes an implacable enemy of Bella Jackson, a vicious woman whose power seems undiminished by her arrest and transportation, while Harriet is taken under the wing of an idealistic doctor, James Downey. Rachel catches the eye of a sinister passenger with more than honour on his mind, whose brutal assault leaves her life hanging in the balance.

When they finally arrive on the other side of the world, they are confined to the grim and overcrowded Parramatta Female Factory. But worse is to come as the threat of separation looms. In the land behind the sun, the only thing they have is each other ...



My Thoughts:

Deborah Challinor and I shared a stage at the Historical Novel Society (Australasian) conference in Melbourne a few years ago, and so I was keen to read some of her work. She’s a New Zealand author and historian who has written over a dozen books, quite a few of them set in Australia. Behind the Sun is the first in a quartet following the adventures of four young women in the 1820s who are all convicted of various crimes and transported halfway around the world to the convict settlement of Sydney.

There is Friday Woolfe, a cheeky and irreverent prostitute, Sarah Morgan, a cool and intelligent thief, Rachel Winter, young and beautiful and far too naïve, and Harriet Clarke, a seamstress who stole some cloth in the hopes of saving her family from starvation.

Moving from the filth of Newgate Prison, to the hardships of the notorious convict ships, and arriving at last in Sydney, the four women find their friendship and courage tested to the limits.

Written with verve and zest, Behind the Sun has bright moments of humour and warmth and some very dark moments of cruelty and loss. The story races along at a cracking pace, but not once is historical veracity or vibrancy sacrificed for narrative momentum. A really great holiday read with some truly unforgettable characters. 


For another great read about women and crime, check out my review of See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt. 


Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts! 

BOOK REVIEW: The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning

Friday, November 17, 2017




The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Travelling between lush gardens in France, windswept coastlines of Tasmania, to Tuscan hillsides and beyond, The Midsummer Garden lures the reader on an unforgettable culinary and botanical journey.

1487 Artemisia is young to be in charge of the kitchens at Chateau de Boschaud but, having been taught the herbalists' lore, her knowledge of how food can delight the senses is unsurpassed. All of her concentration and flair is needed as she oversees the final preparations for the sumptuous wedding feast of Lord Boschaud and his bride while concealing her own secret dream. For after the celebrations are over, she dares to believe that her future lies outside the chateau. But who will she trust?

2014 Pip Arnet is an expert in predicting threats to healthy ecosystems. Trouble is, she doesn't seem to recognise these signs in her own life. What Pip holds dearest right now is her potential to make a real difference in the marine biology of her beloved Tasmanian coastline. She'd thought that her fiance Jack understood this, believed that he knew she couldn't make any plans until her studies were complete. But lately, since she's finally moved in with him, Jack appears to have forgotten everything they'd discussed.

When a gift of several dusty, beautiful old copper pots arrives in Pip's kitchen, the two stories come together in a rich and sensuous celebration of family and love, passion and sacrifice.


My Thoughts:

Kirsty Manning is an Australian journalist and author who has previously co-authored a book on gardens and cooking called We Love Food. These two passions are apparent on every page of her debut novel, The Midsummer Garden.

The novel travels back and forth in time between the stories of Pip, an Australian doctoral student in 2014, and Artemisia, a cook at the Chateau de Boschaud in 1487. The two are linked by the discovery of a small book of hand-written recipes hidden within a set of antique French copper pots given to Pip as a wedding gift. Artemisia is planning to marry also, although she must keep her romance a secret from the cruel Abbot Roald who would never give his permission. Pip’s marriage plans are also in danger of falling apart, as her studies into Tasmanian marine life do not seem as important to her fiancé Jack as they are to her.

As both women’s hopes and dreams unravel, the story travels to Spain and then to Italy as Pip searches for her true calling. This is a rich, sensual, and evocative novel, fragrant with the smell of crushed herbs and flowers, and haunted by the high cost that women must sometimes pay to find both love and their vocation. 


For another book about food and France, see my review of Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard. 


Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment! 

BOOK REVIEW: The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel

Friday, November 10, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

There is no easy path for a woman aspiring to power. . . .


A concubine at the palace learns quickly that there are many ways to capture the Emperor’s attention. Many paint their faces white and style their hair attractively, hoping to lure in the One Above All with their beauty. Some present him with fantastic gifts, such as jade pendants and scrolls of calligraphy, while others rely on their knowledge of seduction to draw his interest. But young Mei knows nothing of these womanly arts, yet she will give the Emperor a gift he can never forget.

Mei’s intelligence and curiosity, the same traits that make her an outcast among the other concubines, impress the Emperor. But just as she is in a position to seduce the most powerful man in China, divided loyalties split the palace in two, culminating in a perilous battle that Mei can only hope to survive.

The first volume of the Empress of Bright Moon duology paints a vibrant portrait of ancient China—where love, ambition, and loyalty can spell life or death—and the woman who came to rule it all.


My Thoughts:

I met Weina Dai Randel when I was in the US earlier this year, attending the Historical Novel Society conference in Portland. A gorgeous cover and intriguing premise worked their usual powerful force on me, and I added her novel The Moon in the Palace to the great pile of books I had to lug home.

The story begins when a Buddhist monk predicts that a five-year-old girl named Mei would one day be the mother of emperors and reign over the kingdom of China. From that moment, Mei’s father began to plot to have his beautiful little girl brought to the attention of the Emperor. Her father’s plans are disrupted by his unexpected death, but then Mei – now twelve years old – finds herself summoned to the court as one of fifteen maidens chosen to enter the Inner Court. From this moment, her life changes drastically. Separated from her mother, she must learn to negotiate through the intrigues and dangers of the life at the palace. The Emperor has many hundreds of concubines, most of which he has never seen. If Mei wants to become his Most Adored, she must use her wit as well as her beauty … and be very careful not to fall in love with another man …

The Moon in the Palace brings the claustrophobic world of ancient China to vivid life. Exotic, dangerous, brilliantly coloured and romantic, it’s an astonishingly assured debut and a fascinating story.


For another great read set in Ancient Asia, in this case Japan, I recommend Lian Hearn's book Across the Nightingale Floor, the first in a fantastic series. It made my list of favourite books by Australian Authors. 


Remember to leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts!



BOOK REVIEW: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

Friday, October 20, 2017




The Blurb (From Goodreads)

From the #1 bestselling author of The Historian comes an engrossing novel that spans the past and the present and unearths the dark secrets of Bulgaria, a beautiful and haunted country.

A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.

As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shat
tered by oppression and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.

Kostova's new novel is a tale of immense scope that delves into the horrors of a century and traverses the culture and landscape of this mysterious country. Suspenseful and beautifully written, it explores the power of stories, the pull of the past, and the hope and meaning that can sometimes be found in the aftermath of loss.

My Thoughts:

Elizabeth Kostova is best known as the author of The Historian which was a huge bestseller in 2005, riding the tsunami of vampire craziness. Elizabeth Kostova’s book was dark, complex, intelligent, and filled with the true history of vampiric lore. I loved it. I also loved her second novel, The Swan Thieves, about art, love and madness. So I was really thrilled when I was asked to do an event with Elizabeth during her Australian tour in July.

She was here to promote her third book, The Shadow Land, which moves fluidly between the past and the present in Bulgaria. The story begins when a young American woman – newly arrived in the capital city of Sofia – accidentally finds herself in possession of someone else’s bag. Inside the bag is an urn filled with human ashes.

Distraught at the discovery, Alexandra tries to find the original owner but the only clue she has is the name engraved on the urn – Stoyan Lazarov. In her quest to identify him, she finds herself in ever increasing danger.

The sections set in the past are told from numerous points-of-view but circle ever closer to the life and death of Stoyan Lazarov, a musician who sees something he should not have seen during the years of the communist regime.

Heart-breaking, evocative, and suspenseful, The Shadow Land explores a little-known and tragic part of European history in beautiful, restrained writing that brought me to tears several times.

For another great historical read set in Europe, check out my review of Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.

BOOK REVIEW: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The author of The Girl Who Came Home turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

My Thoughts:

One hundred years ago, two girls went down to the stream at the bottom of their garden in the village of Cottingley in Yorkshire, and took some photographs of fairies. Elsie Wright (aged 16) and Frances Griffiths (aged 10) were cousins, and each took turns in being photographed. They developed the photos, and showed them to Elsie’s father who had mocked them for believing in fairies. Elsie’s mother showed the photos at a meeting of the Theosophical Society, and eventually they came to the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who championed the two girls and their photos as evidence of supernatural phenomena. The two girls maintained the truth of their photographs all through the ensuing media storm but eventually confessed - when in their 80s – that the fairies had been drawn on paper and carefully cut out and stuck on hat-pins. All except one, Frances said. One of the photographs was real.

Hazel Gaynor brings the mystery of the Cottingley Fairies thrillingly to life in a gorgeously written narrative that moves seamlessly between Yorkshire in the 19th century - a time when Conan Doyle and other men of science wanted desperately to believe in the possibility of fairies and ghosts and spirits - and Ireland in the 21st century. A mystery, a love story, and an enchanting and surprising journey of self-discovery, 'The Cottingley Secret' unwraps the true story behind one of the great hoaxes of the 19th century while still allowing the possibility of the magical.



Read my 2015 interview with Hazel Gaynor here.

Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts!


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