One of Australia’s favourite novelists Kate Forsyth, author of The Impossible Quest, Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl, continues her monthly blog with us, giving her verdict on the books she’s been reading.
Having at last delivered my novel THE BEAST’S GARDEN, which is set in World War II and so predicated my reading for many months, I have caught up with some books I’ve been wanting to read for a while. A lovely mix of fantasy, crime, historical fiction and non-fiction, I’m hoping to read a lot more for pleasure in the coming month (before I get engrossed in research for the next book!)
by Sarah Rose
A fascinating account of the man who stole the secret of tea-making from the Chinese in the mid 19th century.
Robert Fortune was a Scottish gardener and botanist who was employed by the East India Company in 1848 to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China, territory that was at that time forbidden to foreigners. His mission: to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea.
China had been the sole producer of tea for centuries, and the Emperor of China was determined to maintain its lucrative monopoly. To outwit the mandarins who controlled the tea trade, Robert Fortune disguised himself in silk robes and slippers and attached a long black pigtail. He hired Chinese interpreters to speak on his behalf, and travelled through remote landscapes where Westerners had never before trodden. His quest was complicated by the problem of smuggling the tea plants out and by the fact that Britain was waging a war with China over its opium imports. A truly remarkable unknown story, well worth a read.
Return to Fourwinds
by Elizabeth Gifford
I really enjoyed Elizabeth Gifford’s first book, Secrets of the Sea House, and was interested to see what her next book would be like. It’s a parallel story, moving from the present time to the 1930s in Spain and Great Britain. The contemporary story is a mystery about a runaway bride, while the sections set in the past untangle the knotted stories of her parents and soon-to-be parents-in-law.
My favourite sections were those set in the war years, but the whole book is very readable, being both swift-moving and lyrical.
by Anne Girard
I have always been interested in the lives and loves of great artists, and have read many a biography of Picasso. So I wanted to read this novel as soon as I saw its very gorgeous cover. It tells the story of Eva Gouel, a young French woman who had a tumultuous affair with Picasso while he was still a young man living in Paris and just beginning to make his name.
Eva works as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and meets Pablo while he is still in a relationship with one of his first models, Fernande Oliver. Picasso fell madly in love with Eva (whose real name was Marcelle) and painted “I love Eva” on many of his paintings of the time. I knew before I began the book that it could not have a happy ending, since I knew Picasso had had two wives and numerous mistresses. However, I was surprised by just how sad this story is. Poignant and beautiful.
by Pamela Hart
A beautifully told story of a young woman fighting to make her way after her husband is sent to fight in Gallipoli only weeks after their marriage. Living in fear of the telegraph boy, taking on a job in a man’s world, and trying to help those around her as the full horror of the war takes its toll, Ruby is an appealing and believable heroine. I also loved the Sydney setting, recognizing many local landmarks.
The Soldier’s Wife is a warm and intimate look at a marriage put under terrible strain by the costs of the First World War, told by a wonderful storyteller.
by Garth Nix
Clariel is a new book set in the Old Kingdom, the world of Gath Nix’s bestselling YA fantasy, Sabriel, which is one of my all-time favourite books. Before reading Clariel, I read all of the Old Kingdom books again, including Lirael and Abhorsen, and loved them just as much as I did on first reading them so many years ago (it is hard to believe that Sabriel was first published 20 years ago!)
Clariel is set long before the other three books and so it is not necessary to have read all of the series before tackling this one. It has all of Garth Nix’s characteristic imaginative flair and deceptively simple storytelling, making it a book that can be read in a single gulp.
The heroine of the tale, sixteen -year-old Clariel, is unhappy. Her parents have just moved to the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom, but Clariel wants to return to the wild, free life she had in the forests of Estwael. Clariel is a berserker, and finds it hard to control her temper when jostled about by people all day long. She is also aware that she is being used as a pawn in the political machinations of the capital. Murder and mayhem soon ensue, and Clariel finds herself on the run, trying to understand the Free Magic forces that surround her.
With a surprising plot that twists and turns most unexpectedly, Clariel is proof that fantasy for teenagers can be as compelling and moving as any other genre of fiction.
by Gillian Flynn
I was beginning to feel that I was the only person left on earth not to have read this blockbuster psychological thriller, so I picked it up in the airport one day and read it all the way home.
Fiendishly clever, compulsively readable, Gone Girl plays with most readers’ desire to connect and empathise with a novel’s characters. In the end, neither narrator is particularly sympathetic or likeable, but by that time the reader is hooked, wanting to know what happens in the end.
by Oscar de Muriel
An intriguing Gothic murder mystery set in Edinburgh in 1888, The Strings of Murder tells the story of Ian Frey, a disgraced Scotland Yard detective, who is trying to solve the murder of a renowned violinist. The brutality of the crime causes panic that Jack the Ripper has left London, while there is also a strange supernatural aspect to the case that leads Frey’s new boss, Detective McGray, to suspect witchcraft is in play.
As the corpses pile up, the two mismatched detective must try and hunt down the truth through the dark, fog-bound streets of Edinburgh. A very atmospheric historical thriller filled with strange lore about violins and music.
Kate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than twenty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both children and adults.
She was recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite Novelists. She has been called one of ‘the finest writers of this generation”, and “quite possibly … one of the best story tellers of our modern age.’
The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth
The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.
Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a more…