Foreboding: Burial Rites

It’s pretty exciting when a book comes along that captures everyone’s imagination. Last month, that book was Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites from Picador.

Helped in no small part by the ABC’s fascinating Australian Story featuring this talented new author, often when I mentioned that I reading this book, the response was a rapid-fire ‘Me too!’.

burial ritesIn northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.

Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she?

Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about personal freedom: who we are seen to be versus who we believe ourselves to be, and the ways in which we will risk everything for love. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, where every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

It’s proving popular with book groups too, which give you some indication of how people are reading the book – they can’t wait to talk about it. I put this down to, for me, the intense sense of isolation that comes from the book, one that made me crave conversation with the next person I meet.

The haunting, desolate Icelandic setting created a really unique feeling as I read this ‘speculative biography’..

“I should like to hear you describe it,” Toti prompted.

“It’s not much more than the base of the mountain, and the shore of the sea. It’s a long line of rocky ground, with one or two smooth fields where winter fodder is grown, and all the rest is wild grass, growing around the stones. The shore is of pebbles, and huge tangles of seaweed float in the bay and look like the hair of the drowned. Driftwood appears overnight like magic, and eider ducks nest upon nearby banks of rocks near seal colonies. On  clear day it’s beautiful, and on others it’s as miserable as grave-digging in the rain.”

Hannah Kent, in her debut novel, has worked her craft expertly. She’s handled the difficulties of language, words of a different time and place, deftly. In a less disciplined hand the accents and mouthy surnames might have been difficult to pick through. Not so here though, rather, they create an authenticity without disrupting the flow of the narrative.

Hannah has clearly (and by all reports) completed incredibly thorough research in order to tell Agnes’ story. I’d venture to say that she’d know just about as much as any other person about the life and eventual fate of the last woman executed in Iceland. As such, she paints a sympathetic and quite heartbreaking picture of this woman condemned…

They have strapped me to the saddle like a corpse being taken to the burial ground. In their eyes I am already a dead woman, destined for the grave. My arms are tethered in front of me. As we ride this awful parade, the irons pinch my flesh until it bloodies in front of my eyes. I have come to expect harm now. Some of the watchmen at Stora-Borg compassed my body with small violences, chronicled their hatred towards me, a mark here, bruises, blossoming like star clusters under the skin, black and yellow smoke trapped under the membrane. I suppose some of them had known Natan.

The unforgivingly puritanical society, one operating on a harsh class system which is heavily reliant on a servant-class has the reader doubting the fairness, if not the accuracy of Agnes’ guilty verdict. This is a difficult time and place, where women are horribly mistreated as a matter of course. Agnes’ has clearly been a victim of repeated abuse, which of course one is tempted to use to excuse her her crimes. But, still there are things about her, mostly stories from others,that could maybe suggest that she is in fact the cold-blooded killer that people say she is.

The characters of the young Reverend Toti, sent to save Agnes’ soul and Margaret, the lady of the house where Agnes is billeted until her execution are well-drawn, compassionate and believable characters. They add an extra dimension to the story, and to Agnes herself.

I really enjoyed this book and found its meandering pace balanced nicely with a sense of foreboding and borrowed time, a really interesting reading experience.

I’m pretty sure that we’ll see this book pop up a lot over the next 12 months, and I’d recommend that you take a look. It’s great to see such impressive literature coming from a young Australian author.

You can find out more about Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites here…

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White with one: Coffee Encounters

Yesterday afternoon, at about 3pm, I almost had a nap. Problem was, I was sitting at my desk at work. Not really a good look, nodding off in the office…

Once I would have excused myself and shuffled down to the local coffee shop for an afternoon pick-me-up.

Now though, it’s not that simple. I don’t drink coffee anymore. My name is Mandi, and it’s been over two years since my last cup of coffee…

coffee encountersI’ve come to appreciate a lovely cup of tea, but still come mid afternoon most days I miss my coffee – the smell, the taste, the search for the best bean. And so, when Jonette George and Tyson Hunter’s gorgeous book Coffee Encounters – Adventures to Origin (Smudge) arrived at my home, it was a little bit of sweet relief…

Coffee Encounters will take you on a journey through the most exotic coffee farming regions within Latin America and Indonesia, whilst visiting Italy along the way.

Meet some of the most charismatic, passionate and innovative people in the world, and you will be amazed to learn just how much goes into that little cup of coffee you enjoy each morning. Learn to love your coffee for all the right reasons.

It’s a stunning combination of elements, including captivating profiles of people, visits to farms and regions across the world, and of course, a beautifully clear picture of the bean itself and it’s end product, coffee.

coffee harvestingNo one misses out, from the farmer, the harvester, the trader and the barista, they all have their part to play in bringing this revered beverage to the masses.

“You can grow, source, roast and deliver quality coffee beans, but it’s the barista that oversees the final execution of every cup of speciality coffee. As more and more discerning coffee drinkers learn the journey from crop to cup, more and more are viewing baristas with greater respect, and in turn, the country’s baristas are training more intensely and providing higher quality coffees.”

It’s absolutely fascinating to see the lifecycle of coffee and to learn about the relationship people have to each other in bringing about a really top quality product.

coffee beansPersonally, I was absolutely thrilled to find out more about Australian coffee plantations. I once had a wild dream that I’d like to grow coffee beans in a nice warm corner of the country, but was pretty sure it was near-on impossible. Coffee Encounters does a beautiful job of profiling the clever and passionate people who are ensuring this industry has a place in Australia, overcoming challenging climates and issues of scale tto produce a top quality, local product.

In short, I so pleased to be able to enjoy coffee vicariously though this book, as I add it to my growing collection of Smudge Publishing coffee table books. Well worth a look!

Find out more about this book, and other Smudge titles here…

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On the Land: Redstone Station

TBYL Reviewer, Tam J can’t seem to get enough of rural literature. Here’s her thoughts on the latest…

***

Redstone Station (Allen and Unwin) is the debut novel by Therese Creed. Originally from Sydney, Therese moved to a farm in rural Queensland for love. She now helps run a 17,000 acre cattle station with her husband, an undertaking which has clearly inspired this novel, offering the reader a glimpse of the real-life dealings on the farm and putting them in a compelling story.

redstone stationAlice is happy to be returning home to Redstone Station after two years at Agriculture College. During various placements at farms and stations during her time at college she was shocked at the second-class status of women workers, whereas her grandfather, Sam, who owns Redstone, has always treated her as an equal.

For his part, Sam is delighted to have his granddaughter back on board. In shaping Alice he tried to avoid the mistakes he’d made with her mother, Lara, and she has lived up to his high expectations, graduating from Ag College with flying colours. He now sees Alice as his last chance to preserve his beloved station and successfully take it into the future.

Exceptionally hard-working, with great horsemanship, an instinctive understanding of animals and a natural aptitude for farming, Alice is determined to justify her grandfather’s faith in her. But will her budding regard for one of the stockmen throw her, and the future of Redstone, off track?

When we first meet Alice, she is an 18 year old girl fresh from Ag College. She is full of ideas as to how t improve the profitability of the now struggling cattle station, but she first has to convince her old-school farming Grandfather, Sam.

Sam is getting older and realises that they need some new help on the farm, and as a result they take a chance with the town clown, Jeremy. Jeremy appears to be the best of a bad bunch, however he fits in beautifully and brings new life to this farming family and Redstone Station. He also turns out to be a wonderful companion for Alice. This was perhaps one of my favourite things about this story, watching the beautiful friendship that these two developed quickly.

I did find it a little hard to see Alice as just a young adult. Her character’s voice seemed older, but perhaps this is just due to the fact that Alice had to grow up fast, when she was abandoned by her unwed mother and left with her grandparents Sam and Olive.

I liked Alice, but larrikin Jeremy was my favourite character by far, and I found myself wanting to be able to take care of him.

The author paints a detailed picture of the life and trials of farm life. Fighting fires, drought and other seasonal stresses, the constant job of fixing fences, keeping wild predators at bay, weaning cattle and the ongoing financial battle.  The characters are faced with life changing loss, friendship, racial tension, love and misunderstandings. Despite all these challenges, they are really only looking to be accepted and respected.

I did find this story a little slow in some parts, and felt that the end of the story dragged out a little. I was feeling anxious that there was not going to be a complete conclusion, but in the end Therese’s novel was resolved quite well, even if after a bit of length, it did seem to finish quite quickly.

It was a lovely story and it was refreshing to read a story that was set locally, with a climate and characters that were easy to relate to.

***

If you’d like to find out more about Redstone Station by Therese Creed, visit A&U here…

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August TBYL Book Club

Today we begin our conversation for the July TBYL Book Club, and I can’t wait to hear what you think of Kate Forsyth’s The Wild Girl (Random House). Personally, I’m loving it, so much so that I dreamt about it last night!

If you’d like to join in, the discussion is happening now on our Facebook page.

Also, don’t forget that our next TBYL Event is a live Facebook chat with Kate herself. I can’t wait, it’s happening on Monday 5 August, 7:30pm (EST) and you can RSVP here…

And that brings me to our book for August. I’ve been wondering what we should read for the August TBYL Book Club, and I’ve decided on something quick, suspenseful and a little bit scary!

dark horseFor August, I’m inviting you to read with us, Honey Brown’s Dark Horse (Penguin)

“It’s Christmas morning on the edge of the rugged Mortimer Ranges. Sarah Barnard saddles Tansy, her black mare. She is heading for the bush, escaping the reality of her broken marriage and her bankrupted trail-riding business.



Sarah seeks solace in the ranges. When a flash flood traps her on Devil Mountain, she heads to higher ground, taking shelter in Hangman’s Hut.

 She settles in to wait out Christmas.



A man, a lone bushwalker, arrives. Heath is charming, capable, handsome. But his story doesn’t ring true. Why is he deep in the wilderness without any gear? Where is his vehicle? What’s driving his resistance towards rescue? The closer they become the more her suspicions grow.



But to get off Devil Mountain alive, Sarah must engage in this secretive stranger’s dangerous game of intimacy”

I read this book last month and absolutely love it, it had me delightfully on edge the entire time I read it (in two sittings, I might add) and I’d love for you to share it with me.

Now, I can’t say too much more about the mystery that unfolds as Sarah and Heath wait for rescue, I’d hate to spoil the ending for you. It twists and turns with nightmarish frequency and will probably have you worried for Sarah, falling for Heath and waiting for the sky to clear so both rescue and resolution can come.

What I will say is that I’d most definitely recommend Dark Horse as a great winter read, the sound of the rain on the roof will only add to the atmosphere of the novel. Don’t be scared, it’s a fascinating read. You can read my full review here if you’d like to find out more.

I hope you’ll join us on Facebook to discuss Dark Horse. We’ll start the conversation on Monday, 26 August 2013 and carry it through to the Wednesday. If you’d like a reminder, you can RSVP to the TBYL Book Club here…

I can’t wait to hear what you think of this thriller!

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Happy reading!

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Saturday Catch-up Part 2

Today I bring you Part 2 of the big catch-up. These five titles have been sitting on my reading pile for a little while now and although I hope to still read them properly, I thought I’d tell you a little bit more about them in the meantime.

First up, some top class action writing…

ghost reconTom Clancy’s Ghost Recon – Choke Point by Peter Telep (Penguin) is an original novel based on the bestselling game of the same name. It promises all the fast-paced action that has made the game so popular…

Special Forces operators are renowned for their highly specialized training and courage behind enemy lines. But there’s a group that’s even more stealthy and deadly. It’s composed of the most feared operators on the face of the earth – the soldiers of Ghost Recon.

When a CIA agent operating in Colombia is kidnapped, the Ghosts battle their way through rebels to rescue the man. But during the operation, they discover evidence of a new terrorist group that’s being backed by South American drug cartels and rebel groups.

The Ghosts follow a trail that leads them around the world in a struggle to uncover the group’s true purpose, one that could mean billions to the South Americans, aid terrorists seeking to wreak havoc on US soil, and cause economic chaos all over the world.

But as the team chases down their quarry, they soon realize that their true foes have yet to reveal themselves . . .

Perhaps this book might be a good way to encourage that reluctant male reader in your life to put down the controller and pick up a book? You can find out more here.

Next is another title from Tom Clancy, written in conjunction Mark Greaney. Threat Vector (Penguin) is a hard-hitting, hardcover novel that’ll keep any Clancy fan thoroughly entertained…

threat vectorJack Ryan has only just moved back into  the Oval Office when he is faced with a new international threat. An aborted  coup in the People’s Republic of China has left President Wei Zhen Lin  with no choice but to agree with the expansionist policies of General Su Ke  Quiang. They have declared the South China Sea a protectorate and are planning  an invasion of Taiwan. 

The  Ryan administration is determined to thwart these Chinese ambitions, but the  stakes are dangerously high as hundreds of Chinese anti-ship missiles thwart the  US Navy’s plans to protect the island. Meanwhile, Chinese cyber warfare experts  have launched a devastating attack on American infrastructure. It’s a new combat  arena, but it’s every bit as deadly as any that has gone before.  

Jack Ryan, Jr. and his colleagues at the Campus may be  just the wild card that his father needs to stack the deck. There’s just one  problem: someone knows about the off-the-books intelligence agency and may be  ready to blow their cover sky high.

And if hardcover books aren’t your thing, it’s being released in paperback in September this year. Find out more here.

If you’re after something a little more lady-like, how about The Forbidden Queen, by Anne O’Brien (Harlequin). I read the first couple of chapters of this book, but got called away (more’s the pity, I was really enjoying it) and even in that short read, I could tell that this story promised to be an absolutely luxurious period-piece full of romance, betrayal and royal intrigue…

forbidden queen1415: The jewel in the French crown, Katherine de Valois, is waiting under lock and key for King Henry V. While he’s been slaughtering her kinsmen in Agincourt, Katherine has been praying for marriage to save her from her misery. But the brutal King is one of war. It is her crown he wants not her innocent love.

For Katherine, a pawn in a ruthless political game, England is a lion’s den of greed, avarice and mistrust. And when the magnificent King leaves her widowed at twenty-one she is a prize ripe for the taking. Her heart is on her sleeve, her young son the future monarch, and her hand in marriage worth a kingdom.

This is a deadly game; one the Dowager Queen must learn fast. The players — Duke of Gloucester, Edmund Beaufort and Owen Tudor — are circling. Who will have her? Who will stop her? Who will ruin her?

This title, and many more stories from Anne O’Brien are available here.

Next is something a little more modern. I’ve had Too Hot To Handle by Victoria Dahl (Harlequin) on the Reading Pile for a few months, and although it’d be fun to go along for this romantic ride, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet…

too hot to handleMerry Kade has always been the good girl. The best friend. The one who patiently waits for the guy to notice her. Well, no more. Merry has just scored her dream job, and it’s time for her life to change. As the new curator of a museum in Wyoming, she’ll supervise some — okay, a lot of — restoration work. Luckily she’s found the perfect contractor for the job, and even better, he lives right next door.

Shane Harcourt can’t believe that someone wants to turn a beat-up ghost town into a museum attraction. After all, the last thing he needs is the site of his dream ranch turning into a tourist trap. He’ll work on the project, if only to hasten its failure…until the beautiful, quirky woman in charge starts to change his mind.

For the first time ever, Merry has a gorgeous stud hot on her heels. But can she trust this strong, silent man — even if he is a force of nature in bed? When Shane’s ulterior motives come out, he’ll need to prove to Merry that a love like theirs may be too hot to handle…but it’s impossible to resist!

A perfect will-she-won’t-she story, I’ll just have to keep wondering whether Merry will give into that hot stud ‘on her heels’! You can find out more about Victoria’s latest title here.

Finally, I’ve one more Harlequin Teen title that I’d like to mention. I’m still hoping to read and review this book properly, as it only came out in June, but in case I don’t get to I’ll mention it now. The book is Dare You To, by Katie McGarry and it promises to be steamy, secretive and pretty dramatic…

dare you toIf anyone knew the truth about Beth Risk’s home life, they’d send her mother to jail. And who knows where they’d send seventeen-year-old Beth. So she protects her mum at all costs — until the day her uncle swoops in, and Beth finds herself starting over at a school where no one understands her. Except for the one guy who shouldn’t get her…but does

Ryan Stone is the town golden boy, a popular jock with secrets he can’t tell anyone. Not even the friends he shares everything with, including constant dares to do crazy things. The craziest? Asking out the skater girl who couldn’t be less interested in him! But what begins as a dare becomes an intense attraction.

Suddenly, the boy with the flawless image is risking everything for the girl he loves. And the girl who won’t let anyone get too close is daring herself to want it all…

I’m sure that you’d agree that there’s no shortage of romance in the air with these four titles. I hope that something here tickles your fancy, but if not, never fear, I’ll have a catch-up full of adult fiction next Saturday.

I reviewed Katie’s Pushing the Limits last year (you can read the review here) and really enjoyed it, it was a great mystery and really multifaceted. I’m looking forward to taking a look at her most recent novel, but in the meantime you can find out more about it here.

Five new titles, five books closer to caught up! Anything tickle your fancy?

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Green equals Classic Crime

Of course, I love all my books, my book collection is my pride and joy, but I’ll admit to having a some favourites…

I love Popular Penguins, and I have shelves of the orange lovelies. It’s been a fantastic way to add some must-haves to my library and they look fantastic all shelved together. I have recently added a sweet little collection of Pink Popular Penguins too, released earlier in the year to raise funds for the McGrath Foundation.

This week I added a new colour – classic green penguins, full of classic crime tales…

The Green Popular Penguins are a new generation of iconic, instantly recognisable Popular Penguin books. With a nod to the design for Penguin’s original ‘Mystery and Crime’ series, these new titles have been dressed to kill with a sharp price of $9.95 and a bold green cover twist on the iconic Penguin triband.

green popular penguinsWith fifty collectable crime classics available from 38 acclaimed crime writers, the Green Popular Penguins collection features classic stories from favourite authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle as well as the gritty detective fiction of Raymond Chandler and the hard boiled work of Dashiell Hammett.

Victorian era writer Mary Elizabeth Braddon (the sister of an ex-Premier of Tasmania) features in this collection, as does British Spy novel specialist Eric Ambler and the contemporary husband and wife crime writing duo Nicci French. Much loved characters make a return including Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason, a defence attorney and Francis Durbridge’s ever gentlemanly Paul Temple.

Crime as a genre has always been a specialty of Penguin Books. In fact, on that fateful day in 1935 when Allen Lane stood on a British railway platform looking for something good to read on his journey (consequently creating Penguin and the Popular Penguins books), he was returning from a visit with the doyenne of crime fiction herself, Agatha Christie.

The Green Popular Penguins will reintroduce a whole new generation of readers to the magical world of crime fiction throughout the ages with their suspenseful, compelling plots and captivating characters.

You can find out details of all 50 titles here…

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to start my collection!

Screen shot 2013-07-26 at 1.30.34 PMOn the release of this new collection, I was lucky to receive three titles in the mail, hot off the press. I’m going to read and review one of them, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but the other two are up for grabs for two lucky readers!

Screen shot 2013-07-26 at 1.31.01 PM

If you’d like to go into the running to win a copy of Blood and Judgement by Michael Gilbert or Edgar Wallace’s The Door with Seven Locks all you need to do is email info@thatbookyoulike.com.au and let me know which of the 50 titles you would pick as your favourite. Include your name and address, and use the subject line CRIME THRILLERS. I’ll draw two winners at random next Friday, 2 August 2013. Please note, this competition is open to those with an Australian postal address and that each winner will win one title, which will be allocated at random.

Good luck, and happy reading!

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Tragedy: The Son-in-Law

Today’s post is a true triple-threat! One part review, one part author-interview and a give-away to sweeten the deal. Here’s what Carolyn thought of Charity Norman’s The Son-In-Law (Allen and Unwin)…

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“My mother used to say her wedding day was like a fairytale. It was a blue and gold morning, and a million daffodils rippled beneath the city walls. She and my father were young, beautiful and crazy about each other. 

Son-in-Law‘Don’t let people tell you love isn’t like in the films, Scarlet,’ she said. It was one of those moments when she seemed to be surfing right on top of a foaming, frothing wave of happiness…

She gave a little laugh, humming along to the jazz music she had playing on the stereo… For some reason, that evening is one of my clearest memories of Mum. She smelled of well, of Mum; her special sandalwood scent, and coffee and maybe wine. I’ve got one of her soft cardigans under my bed, and it still smells like her. If I press my face into it and shut my eyes, I can pretend it is her.”

The Son-In-Law is the latest novel by rising-star Charity Norman, and it tells the story of a family torn apart by a tragic episode, changing the course of the lives of three very young children.  The transcript of a 999 call made by a ten year old girl opens the book – the account is very real and immediately had the hairs on my arm standing on end. I read the transcript again because I couldn’t believe where I was about to taken by this beautiful and powerful novel, a story that will stay with me for a very long time.

This is a story told from three points of view. The first being Joseph who kills his wife in the presence of his three young children; his oldest child Scarlet and their Grandmother Hannah who, with her husband become the primary caregivers to their grandchildren after this tragic event.  Each narrator gives the reader a different perspective on the death of Zoe, a beautiful and charismatic wife, mother and daughter and on how they manage to carry on after such a sudden loss in their lives.

“I didn’t sleep that night. Not until three in the morning, anyway. I didn’t sleep the next night either, or the one after that, or any night in the days leading up to the court hearing. I felt more and more tired, but at the same time twitchy and tangled up.”

Before turning her skills to writing, Charity Norman practised as a high-powered barrister specialising in family law.  This, combined with a colourful upbringing, has allowed her to draw on personal experiences, delving into issues of mental health, domestic violence and the devastating results these factors can have on families.

From the very outset of the story you know that you will be faced with difficult dilemmas when deciding what is right for each character. I found myself loving each person no matter how self-centred their motives seemed to be.  The adult narrators in the story are at opposite ends of the argument, pulling Scarlet and her younger brothers from one side to the other.  This pull naturally causes guilt in the young characters thus leading to disturbed behaviours and actions which made me, the reader feel incredibly sad for them.  As much as I loved the adult characters, their selfishness is blinding and gets in the way, making them forget about what is right for the children. This is a central theme throughout this book, asking questions about what is the right and best outcome for this family?

“I wasn’t in a cheerful mood as we drove away. Far from it.  I looked back as we turned out of Faith Lane, and I could see two lost souls standing on the pavement. They were holding hands, which was something they never used to do in public. I felt so guilty. I wanted Dad to turn the car around and take us back.”

The Son-In-Law has secondary characters who through kindness and wisdom offer support to this family. Their opinions are put forward in the form of letters and court transcripts providing a depth to this story. I personally have not had to deal with a tragedy of this magnitude and it only made me more grateful to the people who dedicate their lives to helping others through the family courts.

I can highly recommend this book to you.  It had me sitting up until early hours of the morning because I needed to know the outcome for these powerful characters.  Whilst I cried for three quarters of the book (something that I secretly enjoy) Charity Norman gave me hope that life can take a different course and carry on beautifully for people who encounter such a traumatic road block in their early lives.

I was fortunate enough to be able to ask a few questions of Charity Norman…

Before you wrote The Son-In-Law, I understand that you practised as a barrister, specialising in family law.  ‘The Son-In-Law’ delves deeply into issues of domestic violence, family and mental health.  Is your book based on one specific incident?
I think the short answer is no. Years ago I did act for the children in a case where the father had murdered the mother and was asking for them to have contact with him while he was in prison. His case was utterly different to Joseph’s – as I recall he had killed her in cold blood and was going to be in prison for a very long time – but I remember sitting there in court while he was in the dock at the back, and thinking about the rights and wrongs of contact for such a man. That may have sown the idea in my mind, but no more than that. The book is entirely fictional, and influenced by numerous experiences rather than just the one.     

Charity NormanWas this a story that you wanted to tell for a while? Do you have more stories you wish to tell?
This story had been bubbling in a pot on my mental stove for a while, and seemed the right one to choose when I was thinking about what to write next. Yes, I have lots more stories that I’d like to tell! 

Your novel often had me in tears as I sympathised with each character.  How do you create such real emotion throughout the story?
Thank you – though sorry to make anyone cry! I don’t really have a conscious technique, but it helps me to take time to get to know my characters. I try to listen very carefully to each and walk in their shoes, really be that person in my head. It’s very like using empathy when you have a friend who’s in trouble – you listen to what they say – and also to what they don’t say – and you try to understand exactly what they are feeling. I do that with the characters. Then I write it down.   

Scarlet showed considerable maturity for a thirteen year old?  In your experience is this maturity normal for such a young person who has been through the life changing events that Scarlet had to go through?
Yes, I believe it is. To a degree, she’s taken on the role of carer for her younger brothers and found depths of maturity that she wouldn’t have had to otherwise. Of course, there are plenty of young children looking after even younger ones, for example in areas of the world where HIV has ravaged the population. They lose their childhoods even more than Scarlet has.

I do have a daughter who was Scarlet’s age as I was writing the book. She is definitely not Scarlet of course, but quite similar in terms of maturity, and I found it really helpful to know what a switched-on girl of that age might be thinking, saying and doing. At the launch of the book here in New Zealand, she read out the part of the panicking Scarlet in the prologue and I read the part of the emergency operator. I felt quite moved to hear her!

Why is it told through the first person for Scarlet and Hannah but not for Joseph?
Ah. I am so glad you asked me that! I spent weeks agonising about this. I wanted to make it very personal, so chose the first person for Scarlet and Hannah which I felt worked for them. Yet when I tried to give Joseph a first person voice, I found it just was not his voice. I think that’s because of who he is. He was always a more self-effacing type, not the sort who starts many sentences with the word ‘I’ – even more so after causing Zoe’s death, and the years in prison. He feels awful guilt and hides away on the moors. I just don’t think he wants to talk about himself. Oddly, I found this slight distance helped me to see him more clearly, rather than just seeing him as he sees himself.  

Have you had much correspondence from readers who have identified with some of the major themes in this book? If so were they positive or negative?
Not so far, though I am very grateful to those readers who have written to tell me that they like it. So far nothing negative, but I know there will be some who feel I was too generous to Joseph. I had lots of interesting feedback after ‘Freeing Grace’, which was about adoption; and again after ‘Second Chances’, which was about emigration, drug addiction and a teenager who is in deep trouble. Many people have said they identified with those themes, especially adoption.

I loved this book. Thank you for writing it and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I will be singing its praises for quite a while I think.
Thank you very much for that, and for your thoughtful questions –much appreciated!

***

You’ve got a chance to win a copy of Charity’s book, courtesy of Allen and Unwin. All that you need to do to enter is email info@thatbookyoulike.com.au with the subject line ‘SON IN LAW’ and include your name and postal details. A winner will be chosen at random on 31.07.13 and notified by email.

Good luck!

If you’d like to find out more about The Son-in-Law, you can do so here…

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TBYL Events: Meet Kate Forsyth

Don’t you love it when the stars align?

During July, the TBYL Book Club has been reading Kate Forsyth’s latest novel The Wild Girl (Random House), a fantastical new take on the brothers Grimm. I’m really looking forward to chatting about the book on the TBYL Facebook page next Monday, 29 July.

kate forsythEven more exciting though, is that since we decided to read The Wild Girl, I’ve been in touch with the lovely Kate and we’ve been able to arrange an online chat on the evening of Monday, 5 August 2013!

That means that the next TBYL Event will be a free, interactive, online chat with Kate Forsyth!

Kate will be chatting on the TBYL Facebook page on the evening of Monday, 5 August 2013 and you can join us at 7:30pm to ask Kate questions, and get involved in in the conversation.

Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of more than twenty books, including The Witches of Eileanan and Rhiannon’s Ride series for adults, and The Puzzle Ring, The Gypsy Crown, and The Starthorn Tree for children. She has won or been nominated for numerous awards. Her books have been published in 13 different countries, including Japan, Poland, Spain and Turkey, and Kate is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairytale retellings at the University of Technology and recently published Bitter Greens a retelling of the Rapunzel story.

It’s going to be a great opportunity to find out a little more about Kate, and about her beautiful brand of fantasy!

If you’d like to make sure that you don’t forget to tune in, you can RSVP to the event here…

I hope you’ll join us!

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Enigmatic: Shooting Stars

If you ask me, we all need an excuse to reminisce every now and then, and for me, that was one the best thing about the book that I’m reviewing today, Shooting Stars, by new author, Clayton Zane (Odyssey Books).

Shooting StarsI had a ball reading this rock ‘n’ roll adventure, all the time with myself and my friends in mind, traversing the halls of our high school, guitars in hand, heading for one hell of an adventure.

The Beatles sang “All you need is love”, but whatever happened to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll?

For one young Sydney musician, life is like a shooting star – fast and beautiful. He has unparalleled talent, a record contract with his band, and after fleeting relationships with a parade of gorgeous girls, he has finally met the enigmatic girl of his dreams. But love isn’t always written with four chords and a major key, and soon he finds himself heartbroken in his very own fairytale.

I’ll admit, our teenage fun included a little less sex and drugs in favour of a little more rock ‘n’ roll, but still I had no trouble imaging the wildness and debauchery that this motley crew of musos enjoyed.

The story’s hero is a musical prodigy, spoilt and protected, yet still capable of finding himself in harms way…

I had an upbringing any normal person would have considered enviable, spoilt beyond comprehension and spoon-fed everything I ever desired. I just felt blank, merely existing rather than living, and always searching to fill that enigmatic void.

He had parents to catch him on his fall from grace, a sports car with which to impress and a rent-free flat complete with grand piano set up for noise and joviality, much to the neighbours displeasure. Despite all of this, at the opening of his story, we find him in a grave state of intoxication – moving in slow motion, blurred and hopeful for death. And, possibly the worst of it – in love…

The album had to be perfect, because it was my ticket back to her, the key to my plan. I began to think that my whole life had been leading me to this piece of music. All my years of musical training, excessive partying and brotherly adventures had all been just a prelude to a boy convincing a girl that he loved her, and that would be enough.

Ah, what’s a rock song without a little heartbreak?

Shooting Stars is entertaining, well painted, but it’s real strength lies in its authenticity. Our hero’s voice is so true, at time I thought perhaps I might have been reading an autobiography. The novel’s cast are all grit and wildness, the girls husky and beautiful, and the scenery romantically dingy, lit by club lights and smelling of smoke and booze.

The authenticity, as you might expect, helps to endear you to the protagonist, despite the fact that he is irresponsibly, a little emotionally stunted and hopelessly self destructive. In the end, you accept that this is all part of the price one pays for musical genius. Pure rock ‘n’ roll.

This is a pretty wild ride, but the wonderful referencing of literature and music keeps the reader grounded, helping to diffuse the slight head spin you might get from all the friends and foes, and crazy corners these boys find themselves backed into. A thoroughly entertaining read, one which I’d recommend.

You can find out more about Clayton Zane, and his writing here…

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Melbourne Writers Festival 2013

It’s almost that time of year when I kiss the kids goodbye and abscond for days, all in the name of writing.

That’s right, August brings with it the Melbourne Writers Festival, Enquire Within running from 22 August to the 1 September 2013.

The release of this year’s program last night has made my day today and as I’ve just finished booking my tickets, I thought you might like to know which sessions I’m getting along to.

Here goes…

peter singerI’m going to kick off my festival experience with some philosophy, hearing Peter Singer speak on ‘Effective Altruism’ as part of the Big Ideas series.

Effective altruism is an emerging movement of people who have  accepted that we ought to live more altruistically, and make our altruism as powerful as possible.  Philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer will discuss the ethical issues that effective altruism raises, and introduce this developing concept by presenting the effective altruists themselves: who they are, how they live, and why they have chosen to live that way. 

As controversial as he might be, Peter Singer was always a bit of super star around the philosophy department of Monash when I was at uni, and so I’m looking forward to hearing his thoughts.

I’m back to Federation Square on Saturday, changing gears to something a little more light-hearted, although I’m sure it’ll be no less controversial with the likes of Sean Condon, Max Barry and Catherine Deveny chatting about comedy in writing for ‘Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard.’

Fittingly it’ll be starting to get dark when I attend my second session for the day ‘Tartan Noir’ in which Andrew Nette, Doug Johnstone and Liam McIlvanney talk about crime literature in Scotland and whether or not books in this genre accurately reflect modern life in Scotland.

No doubt spooked, I’ll head home after this session and rest up before a bit Sunday.

I’ve booked in for three great session on Sunday, first up being ‘No Safe Place’ featuring Morris Gleitzman and Deborah Ellis.  Both of these authors write powerful books about children in danger and in this session they’ll explore writing about war, their research, and where they draw the line in showing children what the world can be like. Incredibly relevant, as I struggle with questions regarding books that my 12 year old should and shouldn’t be reading.

michelleAfter that, it’s straight on to hear an in-conversation session with the talented Michelle de Kretser, winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Award. Looking forward to finding out a little bit more about her incredibly successful novel.

To finish off Sunday, I’ll be heading to ‘Destroying the Joint?’ …

More than 28,000 self-proclaimed Destroyers have ‘liked’ Destroy the Joint – a Facebook page that ‘shines a light on sexism and misogyny.’ While social media may provide a platform for participative activism, social commentator Jane Caro, comedian Stella Young, and activist Aidan Ricketts join Sushi Das from The Age to ponder the question: how many likes does it take to change the world?

After this session, I’ll have to wait until the end of the week for my next outing. On Friday, 30 August, I’ll sneak off after dropping the kids at school and get a little bit political.

I’m really looking forward to the first session ‘New News: The News About News’ as I’m often quiet perplexed, concerned even, about what’s happening with media and journalism…

Is journalism in rotten shape, or better than ever? Is information still reliable? Will big media continue to dominate, or will citizens and startups step up? Eric Beecher (Private Media), Katharine Viner (Guardian Australia), Mark Forbes (The Age) and Pamela Williams (Australian Financial Review) take the media’s temperature with Margaret Simons (Centre for Advancing Journalism).

politics of sexI’ll follow this up with a session featuring Anna Krien, Shereen El Feki and Sophie Cunningham ‘The Politics of Sex’ as they discuss how the politics of sex provides a literary lens from which to view society.

The second Saturday of the Festival is exciting because it has quite a few free sessions, which I’ll stay around for in the afternoon, after I’ve gone along to a professional development seminar ‘The Art of Literary Criticism’. I’ve not been to one of the seminar sessions before (they cost a little more than a regular session) but I’m really looking forward to this one, I think I’ll learn a lot…

The London Review of Books publishes the biggest names in contemporary literature, ideas, society, and the arts. Editor Mary-Kay Wilmers, publisher Nicholas Spice and contributors Jeremy Harding and Jacqueline Rose take us inside the LRB, Europe’s leading literary magazine. Chaired by Sally Heath.

I think it’s fair to say that by the end of Saturday my brain will be well and truly full, and I’ll be able to go home and fall in a happy heap.

The Melbourne Writers Festival program is out now, and you MUST take a look! If you’re going to be attending, please feel free to connect with TBYL… I’ll be on Facebook and Twitter the whole time and no doubt loitering around Fed Square on and off, I’d love to hear from you!

Here’s to the countdown to August 22nd!

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