Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

Published: 3 July 2017 (print)/ August 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Vintage Australia/Wavesound Audio
Pages: 464/19 hours
Narrator: Juliette Burton
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Historical Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention. 

Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a Methodist minister – understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be confronted by many years of gossip and scandal.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was smitten with his favourite model, Lizzie Siddal. She wanted to be an artist herself, but was seduced by the irresistible lure of laudanum. 

William Morris fell head-over-heels for a ‘stunner’ from the slums, Janey Burden. Discovered by Ned, married to William, she embarked on a passionate affair with Gabriel that led inexorably to tragedy.

Margot Burne-Jones had become her father’s muse. He painted her as Briar Rose, the focus of his most renowned series of paintings, based on the fairy-tale that haunted him all his life. Yet Margot longed to be awakened to love. 

Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era’s most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.

Once again Forsyth has written a beautiful book that is filled with beauty, history, and heartache. I had been looking forward to reading this book and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The lives of the Pre-Raphaelites is tragic and inspiring, and to be swept up into their world was a vivid adventure.

This retelling of Sleeping Beauty explores the life of the famous artists who called themselves the Pre-Raphaelites. It was an area of history and art I knew little to nothing about but discovering their story thorugh this book was delightful.

Forsyth brings their stories to life with such detail and expression, and I marvelled at how these characters are more than character, they are people from history who contributed to the world and who brought their art and passion to the public.

What I found absolutely marvellous is that I could look up the halls of the Oxford Union Debating Chamber and see the murals in their completion whilst listening to the story about their creation. Seeing the completed works of these historical figures and putting real faces to the names is a delight that historical fiction can bring, especially when Forsyth does such a wonderful job keeping it as close to historically accurate as possible, with her own fairy tale mastery woven through.

The narration shifts between all of the character offering up a rounded perspective of their experiences and characters. The passion of Rossetti and the tragedy of Lizzie, as well as the brilliant and fascinating men and women who surrounded them is fascinating to read about. The story moves slowly but not dully, the exploration of character and the creation of art is fulfilling. With multiple characters to explore Forsyth balances their introductions and their voices very well, each having depth and complications that make you understand who they are and who they were.

I was fascinated about how so many known people from history connected to these characters, Kipling and Bernard Shaw all connect with these artists and Forsyth has blended their stories together beautifully. This is a wonderful skill I have noticed in all of Forsyth’s books. She seamlessly includes a range of information into the story that act like natural conversation and narrative without ever falling into the exposition chunk trap, which makes for a wonderful read but also help define the period and inform readers of the historical aspects of the story. Details about the movements of characters and filling in events that occur during the skipped time fall into place. I often got caught up in the story that when a character mentions people passed away years ago or were married for a certain amount of years I realised how much time had passed and it amazed me that it felt so right to just go on this journey with these character across their entire lives.

Forsyth covers numerous decades over the lives of these artists and their families. Even in the short space of reading this book I felt nostalgic, as these great figures entered their older age and they themselves were reminiscing about their youth. I recalled the chapters when they were young and carefree. I felt like I had gone on this journey with these artists and I empathised with them and pitied them.

When characters like Georgie and Ned reminisce about being young I thought back to the chapters where they were so carefree and idealistic, painting the mural and found myself becoming wistful sad and nostalgic alongside them. It hadn’t been 30 years for me, but I had been on this journey of their lives and seen their struggles and achievements and I wanted to mourn for them and celebrate them in a small way.

Burton does a wonderful job narrating the audiobook. I could picture everything with Forsyth’s words and Burton distinguishes these characters and brings their personalities off the page. Listening to the audio also gave the sensation of storytelling, I was being told a story about these grand artists from long ago and I loved listening to Burton tell me about their lives.

I implore you to look up their artwork when you have finished reading this book, I loved that I could see the finished product of a piece I’d only read about, or see the models that Forsyth describes in her story. It is a benefit of historical fiction and with a wonderful historical fairytale as beautiful as this it was a delight to relive it in a new way.

You can purchase Beauty in Thorns via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

What’s Up Top by Marc Martin

Published: 28th August 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Viking
Illustrator: Marc Martin
Pages: 40
Format: Paperback Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

What’s at the top of the ladder? Is it a hat? Is it a cat? Is it a snail on a whale?

Simple, playful and absurdist, this new picture book by Marc Martin is about imagination and creativity.

I love this book. It’s clever, funny, creative, all the great things which make up good children’s books. The story is told in rhyme, and what starts off simple soon descends into nonsense and absurdity which is so much fun to read, especially out loud. What’s Up Top? is just as much fun for adults to read as it is for children, Martin has done a great job to make this a fun experience for everyone, and certainly one you can reread. It’s also an ideal book for invoking children’s imaginations and allowing them to interact with the story as they too can start to theorise ‘what’s up top?’

The text is simple and is on one side, while the opposite side illustrates whatever might be ‘up top’. I enjoyed the illustrations, they are realistic and colourful, but also basic and don’t take away from the story by being overly detailed.

Martin entices you and tells a humorous story and I loved every page. This was a notable Book in the 2018 CBCA awards and I can see why. It’s a fun and engaging book that has humour, mystery, and intrigue all wrapped up in 40 pages.

You can purchase What’s Up Top? via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository | QBD

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka

Published: 1st March1996Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Puffin Books
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Pages: 32
Format: Paperback Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  ★  – 5 Stars

You thought you knew the story of the “The Three Little Pigs”… You thought wrong.
 
In this hysterical and clever fracture fairy tale picture book that twists point of view and perspective, young readers will finally hear the other side of the story of “The Three Little Pigs.”

I love this book. I remember someone reading this book perhaps in person, perhaps on a TV show and as it was read and as I listened I fell in love. It was short and simple but what it did was show me for the very first time someone could mess with the traditional storytelling of these nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

As a kid I didn’t know it could be done and yet here it was in book form telling me that what I knew was not indeed what really happened to the three little pigs. I then marched down to Dymocks with my mother and made them order it in so I could have a copy. Since then I have enjoyed reading retellings of fairytales and nursery rhymes and it all stemmed from this little book.

Scieszka has created a hilarious story and it makes you look at other stories and ponder whether they really are as innocent as they seem. It is very fun and clever and a delight to read over and over again. Alexander T Wolf is a victim of circumstance and being framed when all he was after was some sugar for his cake. His innocence is explained through misfortune and bad timing and seeing his insistence and justification that what he does wasn’t really his fault connects the original story to this fractured one. The story goes an extra step further and you see what happens afterwards, but as a retelling it is one that is creative and clever and has charm and humour that you can’t help but love.

The illustrations are unique with an old timey feel. The characters are realistic but with a certain creative flair to them. Smith has portrayed a world where these fairytales exist, there’s one colour scheme and the style of the creatures keeps it in the fairytale realm. It feels like it happened long ago, which you get from the style of the old newspapers as well.

This really is a fantastic book. As I say, it got me hooked on fractured fairytales and retellings and the humour and tone of the narrative is delightful.

You can purchase The True Story of the Three Little Pigs via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Wordery | Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon

Truly Devious (#1) by Maureen Johnson

Published: 16th January 2018 (print)/16th January 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Collins/Harper Audio
Pages: 416/10 hours 12 minutes
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult / Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym, Truly Devious. It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

I finished reading this book and immediately wanted to read it again. I don’t mind waiting for the next one, I will live on the excellent cliff-hanger for a year if I have to, it will give me a chance to go back and relive the wonderful clues because even that cliff-hanger had clues once I thought about it. It’s divine.

Johnson knows how to write a good mystery and is great at writing a mystery that doesn’t feel too intense or overly complicated. She balances the mystery and the regular story wonderfully but blends them together marvellously.

There are the red herrings, plus my CSI brain went over the top and I already have a suspect for the 1930s case, not so much for the current one. I love that nothing is what it seems and what might just be a shy or reclusive character is now a suspect. Having a mystery around a bunch of teenagers is a great premise and in a grand old school with grounds and hidden tunnels is a prime location.

Johnson is new to writing these kinds of mysteries but she already a master at creating a fascinating and captivating mystery filled with unique characters that have quirks and fantastic personalities. Stevie is a great character, she is passionate and a tad obsessive about the Ellingham mystery. Stevie loves true crime podcasts and detective books which drive her passion and thinking processes. But I also love that she has her own flaws; she has anxiety, she isn’t the friendliest and she is often lost in her own world. It was refreshing to read about a character like her, driven and focused and perplexed by other people.

One thing I adored was listening to it as an audiobook. Rudd does a fantastic job and the tone and voice of Stevie is natural and flows seamlessly. As with all of Johnson’s books there is so much of herself in these words. The story is written the way she speaks and tweets which was a delight, plus Rudd’s voice sounded like Johnson’s which, for me, was like having Johnson herself in my ear which made it even more wonderful.

You can purchase Truly Devious via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond | QBD

 

There’s a Monster in Your Book by Tom Fletcher

Published: 29th June 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Puffin
Illustrator: Greg Abbott
Pages: 32
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

A mischievous monster has invaded the pages of your book!

This read-aloud, interactive picture book treat invites children to make magic happen page by page, tilting, spinning and shaking the book, and then seeing the funny results when each page is turned. A fantastic celebration of all the fun that can be had with a book, with a wonderful wind-down bedtime ending!

I love Fletcher’s books, they are funny and clever, not to mention adorable. Kids will love this book because it is an interactive experience. They can tilt the book, blow on the page and try a range of fun things to try and make the monster leave the book.

The sentences are simple and easy to understand, and I love how the monster, the story, and the illustrations all work together to create the story. Pages that give the illusion of being torn, as well as having the monster ‘peeking through’ make this a brilliant book that plays with the format and the expectations of a picture book.

The monster itself is adorable, Abbot has done a great job because it looks like an identifiable monster and not too scary, more cheeky than anything, something that kids could keep locked in a book and not mind. Abbot’s illustrations reflect Fletcher’s words and as the reader either blows on the page or tilts it per instruction, Abbot’s matched this consequence brilliantly making the monster react accordingly.

This is a fun read that certainly could be read over and over, and enjoyed every time. I think both adults and children will get delight from reading it and every read has the potential to be slightly different depending on how each instruction is interpreted.

You can purchase There’s a Monster in Your Book via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Fishpond | QBD

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