Top Five of 2015

Top 5 2014This year trying to determine a Top Five was a bit harder than in the past. There were a few standouts but there were also so many that could have made the list based on a five star rating but I felt lacked the right feeling. After a lot of thinking and contemplating I finally settled on my Top Five books of the year.

Many of these books were amazing from start to finish, they grab you from the beginning and don’t let go, others draw you in slowly and tighten the hold as you reach the climactic and emotional conclusions. I recommend you read each book on this list, some of these are sequels and funnily enough the first books in the series made my Top Five list last year. If that isn’t a sign I don’t know what is.

For the first time every one of these books was technically a review request book, or offered to reviewers who had reviewed previous books by the author. These authors are amazing writers and are people I would never have read if I hadn’t started this blog so for that alone I am so grateful I finally took the plunge and started doing this.

Broken by Heather McCollum

This is the second book in the Guardians series and is just as fantastic as Siren’s Song. It deals with the consequences and outcomes of the first book and offers a deeper insight into the strange and magical world of Guardians and the cursed. McCollum captures the transition and consequences of the previous book wonderfully, the writing is expressive and intriguing, and there is suspense and mystery that draws you in and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Saltwater Secrets Series by Jade Varden (Song of the Sea + Death and the Deep)

This series is an absolute joy to read. There’s mythology and suspense, and characters that are flawed and complicated and trying their best. I am being a bit sneaky and adding both books in here but when you read them you will understand. Song of the Sea drags you unexpectedly into this hidden underwater world with this ongoing war, complicating the lives of those above land and below. Death and the Deep deals with the consequences and the aftermath and the creation of bigger problems for all involved. Varden balances the mythology and the real beautifully and brings a touch of reality to the fantasy seamlessly. I almost put Death and the Deep on here alone but realised both books have great stories to tell.

The Girl At Midnight by Melissa Grey

This is a book people tend to love or are not too fussed about. Personally I loved it and I eagerly await the sequel. The story is creative and the world Grey has created is divine. Echo is a wonderful character that you can’t help but love and Grey leaves you wanting the next one as soon as you finish. There is magic and fantasy and drama and suspense that keep you turning the pages and gets your heart racing.

Death Wish by Megan Tayte

There is a touch of paranormal with this book, it simmers in the background nicely though and doesn’t take over completely. Tayte’s characters are complicated and whole, and the way she uses the words to bring them to life is stunning. The story is told very much through the characters and their actions and Tayte is a master at simple complexity where it seems simple on the surface but is actual filled with depth and intricacy the further you read.

Animal by Nikki Rae

Despite featuring characters from The Sunshine Series, this story isn’t really a prequel and isn’t presented one. While it does deal with events before those in the series, it’s more a completely new story about one of the minor characters. Rae’s writing is captivating and I could not stop once I started reading this. Her words pull you along, and with characters that come to life on the page it is an absolute joy to read.

Honourable Mentions

I had to have a few because these were also excellent books with fantastic stories that were beautifully and creatively told.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

The Darkest Part Forest by Holly Black

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

Published: 3rd August 2015
Goodreads badgePublisher: Random House Australia
Pages: 512
Format: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fairytale retelling
★   ★   ★  ★   ★  – 5 Stars

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 Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany. 

The Beast’s Garden is the kind of story that appears to be a simple fairy tale retelling, a classic tale woven through history; but in actual fact it is a powerful and important story, filled with bold thoughts and acts of defiance, bringing history to life under the guise of a mere fairy tale. It is brutal and honest, yet told so wonderfully that amongst the horror of war and the raw subject, you are captivated and amazed at what happens, real or otherwise.

From the first pages Forsyth holds nothing back, showing off the beauty and danger early on, something that remains until the very last page. The combination and close proximity beauty and danger has in this novel is wonderful, the way Forsyth shows how both existed side by side for so long also adds a lot of meaning. The fact day to day life coexisted with such horror, especially in the early years, is incredible to discover, even more so in novel form.

As you read you are immersed in a fascinating yet brutal part of history and the past comes to life revealing Forsyth’s immaculate research skills. According to Forsyth the only created characters are Ava, Leo, Jutta and their families, everyone else is taken from history. The Beast’s Garden includes important and historic figures such as the Goebbels, Mildred Harnack, members of the Abwehr, as well as numerous others on both sides. Through Forsyth’s flawless and bold narrative their stories and movements during Hitler’s reign are brought to life again in a spectacular tale about war, love, strength, and music.

Though a few characters are created, they fit perfectly into the history. Forsyth blends the actions of the real with the desires of the fictional and manages to excel and telling both stories. Real events are woven meticulously and elegantly with the lives of her characters creating a personal and unique perspective on some of the people and key moments during World War Two.

Aside from the historical elements, the detail and style of the narrative is wonderful to read. Nothing is included that isn’t of some importance and everything has meaning in some form or another. Ava is strong and resilient and watching her grow over the course of the story is incredible, truly an example of not knowing what you’re capable of until you have no other choice. Each created character brings something to the story, whether it is the perspective of the Jewish, the resistance, or those caught in between,

Ava’s story is not the sole one being told with many other figures having their stories explored as well, including members of the resistance, Libertas and Harro Schulze-Boysen. Forsyth has woven Ava into history marvellously and with the perspective of others included it brings a lot more intensity to the story than if the events and historic figures were merely background noise to Ava’s own life. Forsyth treats each of her characters with respect, and those taken from history have become as true and honest as they are able with actions, opinions, and fates reflecting what happened.

Forsyth combines the fairy tale and the real together stylishly and with skill. There are quotes from The Singing, Springing Lark opening each section and Ava reads and draws strength from the story of the lark herself, through all its torments and triumphs, each action reflected in her own story.

Coupled with the story of The Singing, Springing Lark and the facts and truths of World War Two, Forsyth’s incredible creativity and ability to mix together what is real and what is not is to be admired. The story spans seven years, from 1938 to 1945, and through Ava’s story you see the world change around her and see it change herself. Through her story and others an understanding is gained about the effect Hitler had on not just the outside world but Berlin and the German people too.

This is a story that is riddled with real faces and real events, connected and combined with characters that are filled with bravery, bold opinions, and incredible strengths. It is a novel told against the backdrop not only of history but of a fairytale, and one that demonstrates the power Germany had shown the world, but it also shows the power hidden within Germany itself. A spectacular story.

You can purchase The Beast’s Garden via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Booktopia | Dymocks

Bookworld | QBD

Top Five of 2014

Top 5 2014After a little searching and hard decisions I have created the new list for Top Five books of 2014. The books read last year were a mix of review requests, book club books, and personal choices. Something from all three categories made it into the list this time around and I included a few honourable mentions as well that were pretty spectacular reads as well but just missed the cut.

In the past some books have stood out from the start. They are immediate choices and they have been books that had a strong impact on me in some form or another, they were amazing reads that blew my mind while I was, and when I had finished, reading them. This time I picked books again that stayed with me in some way or that were really wonderful to read but 2014 did not have many books that truly stood out like the past. But I am a strong believer in that not all 5 star books are the same, and the reason for giving one book five starts can and often is totally different than the reason you gave them to another.

Many of the books on the list (both lists really) I think were very profound. They demonstrated so many remarkable things about its characters that say so much about people in general and each of these authors told a brilliant story. Superbly written each of these books were a joy to read, and while not always overly exciting or adventurous, they offered instead a wonderfully told story that astounds you in the writer’s capabilities and results in a complete admiration for their ability to tell such a story that you very rarely were expecting when you picked up the book.

1. The Weight of a Human Heart by Ryan O’Neill

This is the book of short stories that resulted in me tweeting the author after the reading the first two stories to tell him how much his book had already changed my life. These are not your usual stories; O’Neill tells his brilliant stories in so many unique ways. He tells many of his stories with graphs, diagrams, and peculiar layouts BUT IT WORKS! And once you adore him and are astounded by his creativity of making such a strange writing system make sense, you have to admire him for the truly heartbreaking and heart-warming and gorgeous stories that he tells with so few (sometimes barely any) words. He is a master at challenging how a short story, or any story really, needs to be presented.

2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The reason this book made it on to the list this year is because it is such a beautiful story. It is simple but it is astonishingly gorgeous in how Gaiman presents it. He uses Bod beautifully as a character and the characters tell this story as much as the narrative does. There is such honesty and simplicity, and such love and sincerity that even when the everyday is happening it remains a wonderful story.

3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

I was not sure what to expect from this book but it was not long before I realised just how magical this book is. What Haddon has done in a magnificent fashion, is that he has managed to explain and describe what it is like to be a person who has behavioural difficulties. But this is in no way the focus of the book, set as a mystery Haddon explores how 15 year old Christopher sees and explores the world while trying to solve the mystery about the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. It is a beautiful book and one that needs to be read because it opens your eyes but also gives you a fantastic story with a mystery, humour, and compelling characters.

4. Tears of the River by Gordon Rottman

This was one of the books I was asked to review and I was amazed and captivated early on and in love with it by the end. Rottman tells an amazing story, one that is real and unforgiving at times, and demonstrates the power of determination and just what humans are capable when they have no other choice. It is filled with adventure, the unknown, and drama that comes from being in impossible situations, with language barriers, and no one but your wit and your knowledge to rely on to make sure everyone comes out the other side.

5. Siren’s Song by Heather McCollum

What I loved about this book is a combination of the characters, the story, and the way McCollum writes. The characters are complete and determined, and fascinating in their own way, and the balance and expression of the real and the paranormal is ideal and they interact really well. The story grips you and you cannot put the book down once you start, always wanting to find out what is going to happen, eager and excited to see where the story could possible go next. It is a story filled with suspense, secrets, and a bit of magic for good measure.

Honourable Mentions

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Nocturnes by John Connolly

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Sunshine Series by Nikki Rae

 

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Birthday

Today is the birthday of Australian author Kate Forsyth!

Kate Forsyth is an Australian author known for her children’s books, her heroic fantasy series, as well as her historical novels. With more than twenty books under her belt for both adults and children, there are stories to suit all ages. She has also won or been nominated for numerous awards, including winning the Aurealis Award five times. Before becoming a writer, Forsyth worked as a journalist before then moving on to freelance work to have more time to focus on her writing. Having written her first novel at the age of seven Forsyth has gone on to become an internationally bestselling author, and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Forsyth’s love of fairytales is one of the reasons I really like her, her adult historical fictions Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl allow a backstage pass behind the fairytales we know and love today, including new insights into what the truth is behind these gripping stories. Bitter Greens about the origins of the tale of Rapunzel, and The Wild Girl about the woman and the love story behind many of the Grimm Brothers fairytales. Understanding how these timeless tales came about gives them so much more meaning and puts important and forgotten faces in front of stories where they belong.

One of the other things I love about Kate Forsyth is her ongoing and enduring passion for fairytales. It is a joy to hear her speak about fairytales and her passion, as well as the impact and influence they have had on her life, as is listening to her discuss her passion for books and reading in general. I implore you all to pick up one of her books, any of her books, and start reading them straight away, and I wish Kate a very happy birthday!

To learn more about Kate and her work just pick a link and start clicking!

 All Your Bits and Pieces Needs

Website
Blog
Goodreads
Twitter
Pintrest
Facebook

 

Published: 20th March 20123349b-goodreads-button
Publisher: 
Vintage Australia
Pages:
 576
Format: 
Book
Genre:
 Historical Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★   – 5 Stars

Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. She is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens…

Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-four years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition, retaining her youth and beauty by the blood of young red-haired girls.

After Margherita’s father steals a handful of parsley, wintercress and rapunzel from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off unless he and his wife give away their little red-haired girl. And so, when she turns seven, Margherita is locked away in a tower, her hair woven together with the locks of all the girls before her, growing to womanhood under the shadow of La Strega Bella, and dreaming of being rescued…

Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic and the redemptive power of love.

Bitter Greens is the story of the fairytale Rapunzel, told against the backdrop of seventeenth century Europe and through the lives of many extraordinary women. The story focuses on three women in particular, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force – a member of King Louis XIV’s court, Margherita – a girl stolen from her family and shut away, and a courtesan surrounded by magic – Selena Leonelli. Each of their stories is told through an intricately threaded narrative and through the eyes and lives of these women, a wonderful story is told about passion, history, and fairytale.

The way Forsyth connects each of these stories together is brilliant. Her storytelling ability is engaging, mystical, and pulls at all the right emotions. What she has done is create a compelling novel that is based on history, based on the life of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, based on a period of time with royalty and court, convents, and just to keep things interesting, the Black Death.

The story starts with Charlotte- Rose and we learn of her banishment from court and it is through her new life in the convent that the stories of the other women are brought to life through the tale told by Sister Seraphina. The altering nature of each woman’s story was particularly enjoyable because it allowed you to feel like you too were being told the story in multiple sessions by someone. An entire story cannot be told in one afternoon in the garden, and Forsyth does not try to pretend like it is possible.

As I read about the convent life Charlotte-Rose endures I remember liking it to a women’s prison, though I’m sure that is a slight exaggeration but the way Forsyth describes it, especially coming from the life Charlotte-Rose had in court, it seems like a horrible place to end up and made me wonder why anyone willingly chose it. But as we see it through Charlotte-Rose’s eyes we are only exposed to her view of things, and it is writing like this that is truly excellent. The story Forsyth writes is enthralling and is one that is packed with detail making you feel like you are there beside each character the entire time. This is not just for Charlotte-Rose’s story though, the details throughout this book are extraordinary and there are minute details and grand details that not only add to the story but make you admire the writing and writer even more so.

By telling us the three women’s stories – Charlotte-Rose, Margherita, and Selina Leonelli, you learn that everyone has a story. The women in this story do not necessarily start out as the people they become, nor do they remain the same people there were, there are, like for everyone, many influences in their lives and each of these unique women are certainly victims of their circumstance, but it is what they do with it that can change everything and makes this a gripping story.

As I say there are many points of view as well as jumps in time through this book, meaning every perspective and every story can be told. This does not result in any confusion however as each story is woven together beautifully, heartbreakingly, and magically all at once. They are all connected, flowing one after the other, twisting together with such ease that you never lose your place, nor forget what has come before. You do however get so engrossed with each story that Forsyth is telling you are suddenly brought back to reality when the scene chances again and you realise you are in a memory, or the past, or someone else’s mind.

Bitter Greens isn’t so much a story within a story, but at the same time it is. Sister Seraphina tells the tale of Margherita to Charlotte-Rose, but through these two stories we see many other stories emerge, histories and pasts, all connecting together in the epic tale filled with history, passion, and longing. It is truly spectacular and a joy to become lost in and the historical aspects only add to the wonder. The detail and the complexities certainly show the years of research behind it, even passing comments can be something wonderful as you recognise a small seemingly obscure part of history being referenced.

Along with everything else this book has to offer from, the way Forsyth brings the story to an end is superb. The details possibly forgotten by the reader are brought back and reconnected to the story and a full circle is made where you didn’t know one needed completing. After initially being a tad saddened by the ending I soon recovered and understood. It is also hard to argue with history about where a story ends up. What was also wonderful was that the Afterword provides you with a brief ongoing story about Charlotte-Rose’s life, and what became of her and how her story got to be told, there is also additional information in the Forward.

There is a lot of power in Bitter Greens, not just in the life and realities people had to deal with during this time, but also the power of the people, the women, and the stories of the past. Historical fiction, good historical fiction, can make you see the past in a new light, bring out the everyday and make it shine. That is what Forsyth has done with this book, made it not just Rapunzel’s story retold, but looked at where she came from and how she came to be with integrity and adventure.

This book not only makes you realise there are more fairytale writers away from Grimm, Perrault, and Anderson, but discovering how these stories were created is astonishing. The fact that there is so much truth threaded into this work of fiction is marvellous and it makes you wish that some of the magical elements were a little bit real. Though having said that there is actually more reality than magic, and what magic there is is more on the unconventional side than fairytale magic typically is, enough to steep it more in reality than pure fantasy.

I explained this book to my sister as one she must read. She argued she did not like historical novels but I told her this was too good a story to pass up. I believe my words were “But it has fairytales! And prostitutes! And the plague!”. Possibly not the best argument but it is certainly not an untrue one. Bitter Greens does have all of these things, but what Forsyth does with the fairytales, prostitutes, and the plague is something to be admired, she takes these components and captures them into this story and turns them into a novel that is must read for lovers of history and fairytales alike. This is so much more than a simple Rapunzel story, it is a story that will leave you amazed, educated, and delighted.

The Australian Fairy Tale Society Conference

I discovered the greatest thing this afternoon. I got an email from Sarah Gibson, the filmmaker who wrote and directed the stunning series on ABC and gorgeous website about Re-enchantment, and she was sending out an email to say that her book “Re-enchantment: Ways to Interpret Fairy Tales” was available from the iTunes store for $4.99. That was cool enough, but then, underneath it also had a note to say that Sarah would be speaking at the Australian Fairy Tale Conference on Monday June 9th in Sydney. And I was like, the what now? Now I did not know that there was a Fairy Tale Conference, I thought I had been missing out for years on fairy tale conferences but it seems this is the inaugural year. I am seriously considering going as well; I think it would be wonderful.

The conference is being put on by the Australian Fairy Tale Society with the theme ‘The Fairy Tale in Australia’. The society, which is a national not-for-profit, are focused on “collecting, preserving, discussing, sharing, and creating Australian fairy tales.” according to their website. The conference is being held in Paddington at the Paddington Uniting Church and the standard cost is $95, less if you are a member of the society. The program is also available from the society website where you can see the breakdown of the day plus the special guests. There are a range of wonderful people speaking including Sarah Gibson, Kate Forsyth, as well as a many others.

The conference is on the Queen’s birthday long weekend for those considering going, and at $95 for a day of listening to how Australia plays a role in the creation of fairy tales, it is a pretty good day. You can register your place on the website, as well as check out more about the Society and the conference.

e-flyer

All Your Bits and Pieces Needs
Australian Fairy Tale Society Website
Australian Fairy Tale Society Facebook
Re-enchantment website

 

Also, for those interested in Sarah’s ebook here is some more information.

RE EBOOK COVER 7Written by Jungian analyst and filmmaker Sarah Gibson and designed by Rose Draper, this eBook presents new ways to interpret fairytales in a visually stimulating and immersive way. Chapters explore the hidden psychological meanings of fairy tales symbols and motifs. They unlock the secrets of the emotional power of fairy tales and why they continue to stir our imagination. The eBook features video, audio, animation and stunning visual design. It showcases re-imaginings by over thirty contemporary artists. Be curious. Be surprised. Be inspired.

Buy from iTunes

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