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KATE FORSYTH'S Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

Friday, January 08, 2016

Every year I try and take part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, in an attempt to read more books written by Australian female authors.

I only managed ten in total this year, much to my disappointment. It may have been more – I’ve had such a busy year that I was not as good as usual in writing down all I’ve read! Also, a lot of my reading was taken up in research books for the new novel I am working on, which is set in Victorian England. 


I will do better in 2016!




1. The Light Between the Oceans - M.L. Stedman

A compelling and beautifully written novel set in a lighthouse in Australia, and telling the story of a lost child, and how one small choice can break apart many lives.  



2. Daughters of the Storm - Kim Wilkins

A historical fantasy set in a world much like the Dark Ages, with an absolutely brilliant kick-ass heroine and lots of brilliantly drawn characters to love and hate.




3. The Soldier's Wife - Pamela Hart

A moving historical novel set in Sydney during the First World War, The Soldier's Wife tells the story of the women left at home, who must struggle on as best they an.  





4. The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

A gripping and utterly original psychological thriller set in a Sydney suburb much like my own ... unputdownable!






5. The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton 

This is one of my favourite books by one of my favourite writers - entwining the story of a Victorian fairy tale teller, a secret garden, and a murder ... so much to love! 





6. The Tide Watchers – Lisa Chaplin

An intriguing historical novel set during the Napoleonic wars and inspired by the fascinating true-life story of a a British female spy.





7. The Spring Bride – Anne Gracie

Anne Gracie's Regency romance novels are an utter delight! Funny, warm-hearted, and adventurous - I buy them as soon as they are released! 





8. Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty 

Another intriguing novel that looks at the dark secrets that can lurk under the surface of even the shiniest of lives, this was so good I gave it to my husband to read!




9. Small Acts Of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger  - Fiona Wright

A collection of interconnected essays inspired by the author's struggle with anorexia nervosa, written with crystalline prose.    





10. The Lake House – Kate Morton

I pre-ordered this book and read it as soon as it landed on my doorstep. Another compelling historica/contemporary tale of secrets and mysteries. Loved it!


KATE FORSYTH'S BEST BOOKS OF 2015

Thursday, January 07, 2016

BEST BOOKS OF 2015

This year I read 110 books in total, with 50 of these being research for the new novel I am working on (about the Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists and writers in mid-Victorian England). 

So it was difficult to pick only 10 novels and 10 non-fiction books for my annual ‘Best of the Year’ list! I began by eliminating books that I had already read (I tried to re-read an old favourite at least once a month this year) and then slowly whittled it back. Some of the books are not new releases, but they were new to me and I thought that was what was important. 

Most of these books have been reviewed on my blog - just click the link to read the full review.



FICTION:



1. The Light Between the Oceans - M.L. Stedman

This novel has at its heart a disturbing moral dilemma. A young woman married to a lighthouse keeper longs for a child of her own, but has lost all of her own babies. One day a boat washes up on their remote island. Inside the boat are a dead man and a baby, who is very much alive. The lighthouse keeper and his wife take in the founding child and, before long, Izzy begins to pretend the little girl is hers. The consequences of that decision will change their lives forever. 




2. Half a King - Joe Abercrombie

I just loved Half A King. It was tightly constructed, quick-paced, and surprising – qualities that can sometimes be rare in a fantasy novel. It was also beautifully written. I’m really looking forward to reading the next in the series, Half A World, and discovering his earlier book as well. A must-read for fantasy lovers.





3. The Devil in the Marshalsea - Antonia Hodgson

I can strongly recommend this to anyone who loves a really top-notch, fast-paced, and atmospheric historical thriller.




 
4. The Taxidermist’s Daughter – Kate Mosse

An utterly gripping murder mystery with gorgeous lyrical prose and the pace of a thriller, The Taxidermist’s Daughter was an absolute delight to read. 







5. Affinity – Sarah Waters

I have never read one of Sarah Waters’ books before. Now I want to gobble them all down as fast as I can get my greedy hands on them. Affinity is just brilliant!





 
6. The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first in the series of Robert Galbraith’s contemporary crime novels (Robert Galbraith being, of course, the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling) & is a compelling and surprising murder mystery that shines a spotlight on the murky world of modelling. 





7. The Quality of Silence – Rosamund Lupton

This is one of the most beautiful and haunting psychological thrillers I have ever read.






8. Possession – A. S. Byatt

This novel has been on my shelf for more than twenty years, and yet somehow I have never before read it. So at last I picked it up and began. Of course, I utterly adored it!  






9. The Marriage of Opposites – Alice Hoffman

Beautiful, romantic, haunting, and alive with sensuality, I cannot recommend The Marriage Of Opposites highly enough. Read it!





10. The Lake House – Kate Morton

Mysteries and secrets have always been at the heart of Kate Morton’s books, but with this one she takes a step closer to the crime genre. The result is as beguiling and suspenseful as always. 



NON-FICTION



11. A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War and a Ruined House in France - Miranda Richmond Mouillot

An extraordinary memoir of her grandparents' dramatic escape from Nazi-occupied France and their troubled marriage which followed, A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War & A Ruined House in France is as much a meditation on memory, storytelling, and the dark shadow that the Holocaust continues to cast over the descendants of those who survived. 






12. The Life of Anne Frank – Menno Metselaar & Ruud van der Rol 

This small book from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam tells the tragic story of Anne Frank's life and death through photographs and scraps of her diaries. Intended for children, it is nonetheless a heart-piercing record of the impact of Nazism upon one girl.  





13. Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside - Andrea di Robilant

Another wonderful book from the Venetian journalist and historian Andrea di Robilant, this time about a unknown rose growing among the ruins of his family's once magnificent estate on the Italian mainland. His search to identify and name the rose takes him on a journey through the history of roses, and he meets many fascinating and eccentric rose enthusiasts along the way. 






14. For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink - Sarah Rose

A really interesting non-fiction book about Robert Fortune, the Scottish horticulturist who went to China and bought, borrowed and stole the secrets to growing tea, which had been up to then a closely guarded secret of the Chinese emperor. Utterly fascinating.   






15. March, Women, March: Voices of the Women’s Movement from the First Feminist to the Suffragettes  – Lucinda Hawksley 

What I most loved about the book is the way it foregrounded the stories of the real-life women who suffered so much to bring about such a fundamentally important change in the laws of the United Kingdom, which flowed on to affect countries elsewhere. Famously, Australia and New Zealand were among the first countries in the world to bring about the vote for a limited number of women. It was a little too little, far too late, as far as I can see, and I think many people today are not aware of just what a bitter battle it was.






16. What We See When We Read – Peter Mendelsund

A strange, fascinating and totally original book about the relationship between the words on the page and the images seen in the mind’s eye, this is a book to be thought about and re-read again and again






17. Small Acts Of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger  - Fiona Wright

An utterly extraordinary collection of essays inspired by the author's long struggle with an eating disorder – intelligent, fierce and deeply informative. 






18. The Old Ways – Robert Macfarlane 

Robert Macfarlane has been a new discovery of mine this year. He writes exquisitely crafted personal essays on his adventures exploring ancient landscapes on foot ... the result is magical and eye-opening. 






19. Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa – Joan Jacobs Brumberg

This book is exactly what the title promises - a social history of anorexia nervosa. And it's utterly fascinating & illuminating!





20. A Year With Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke – translated & edited-Joanna Macy & Anita Barrows

A collection of snippets from the poems, letters and diaries of the lyrical German-language poet Rainer Maria Rilke, one of my favourite poets, this book is designed to be read a page a day for a year. I can really recommend it! 

BOOK REVIEW: The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Monday, May 18, 2015




THE LIGHT BETWEEN THE OCEANS
M.L.Stedman 


BLURB:
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. 

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them. 

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss. 

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel. 


WHAT I THOUGHT:
This novel has at its heart a disturbing moral dilemma. A young woman married to a lighthouse keeper longs for a child of her own, but has lost all of her own babies. One day a boat washes up on their remote island. Inside the boat are a dead man and a baby, who is very much alive. The lighthouse keeper and his wife take in the founding child and, before long, Izzy begins to pretend the little girl is hers. The consequences of that decision will change their lives forever. 

The 1920s setting of a small Western Australian town, and the remote island with its lighthouse, is brilliantly evoked. The loneliness of Tom and Izzy’s life on the island, the vast stretch of sea and sky, the comfort of its routines, all are brought vividly to life.

The story is simply but powerfully told, and the slow-building suspense soon has the pages turning fast. Each step the characters take, each choice they make, is utterly in character, giving the story the feel of an inescapable fate, like a Greek tragedy. The Light Between the Oceans really is a superb book, so tightly constructed that not a word feels out of place. I am very curious to see what M.L. Stedman writes next, as this is an astonishingly assured debut. 




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