Vera: A Tale of Pelythia by J. A. Knight

Published: 24th June 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Independently published
Pages: 54
Format: Book 
Genre:
 Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The time has come for Vera to complete her Ceremony, a coming-of-age tradition of the mountain people of Torsti. To claim her place as an adult of her village, she must use her wits to survive a week of isolation in the wilderness of the mountain.

I was loaned a copy of this book and I was pleasantly surprised. This easily stands alone as a short story, there is impressive world building and character development and with a few lines and few words Knight can convey meaning and intent. I understood who Vera was, what she wanted to achieve and why, and I understood the villagers and their opinion.

This is also a wonderful introduction to a bigger, longer series if that’s where Knight is headed. There is space to grow and the events after Vera’s journey to unfold. The ending leaves you with questions and curiosity and while it’s impactful on its own, there’s a temptation to find the answers and further the story.

Vera’s a character who is young but isn’t looking for pity. Her own coming-of-age journey is one she ventures into with pride and determination. Her youth and naivety is evident but so is her strength and intellect. Knight brings her to life with her vulnerabilities, jealousy, and her insecurities that are relatable even for this fantasy world.

While I wasn’t expecting to hate it, I was impressed at how much I enjoyed reading this short story. I look forward to reading more about Vera and Pelythia if that is on the cards. Knight has the beginnings of a well thought out and creative world, not to mention strong and relatable characters like Vera.

You can purchase Vera: A Tale of Pelythia via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

AWW 2018 Wrap Up

It is the end of the year which means it’s time for a wrap up of my Australian Women Writers Challenge. After a brilliant start then a dry spell, I’ve come good just in time. One of these years I am going to sustain my streak of reading Aussie authors because even if I get a really good roll going until August, I then drop off again. I also keep forgetting to update my progress which is also why I start to fall behind because I don’t remind myself to do it and the numbers aren’t staring at me in the face telling me I’m behind.

But despite that happening, this year by some miracle I have managed to surpass my goal both in reading and reviewing! Some reviews are only on Goodreads right now because of my blog schedule and literally running out of days to post reviews this year, but I might do a sneaky work around and publish them early next year on the blog too.

This year I’ve read a great variety of books by amazing Aussie women including picture books, junior fiction, historical fiction, romance, short stories, and suspense. I tried a few new authors like Karly Lane who has always been on my list, and continued the back catalogue of others like Liane Moriarty and Zoe Foster. Another achievement was a lot of these books were published this year or last year. There’s a lot of satisfaction having actually read current books and not getting to them years after everyone else.

I’m thinking perhaps of upping my goal slightly for 2019, maybe sitting around the 30 mark. I think I can inspire/guilt myself into hitting the goal again.

If you are interested in signing up again or for the first time, the 2019 sign up page is live.

 

AWW18 BOOKS

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Sophie Green – Review

Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth – Review

Heart Beat by Belinda Williams

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – Review

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty – Review

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah – Review

Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody – Review

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G Drews – Review

Chasing Odysseus by S. D. Gentill – Review

A Walk in the Bush by Gwyn Perkins – Review

The Great Rabbit Chase by Freya Blackwood

The Women in Black by Madeleine St John – Review

It’s Hard to Love a Tiger by Anna Pignataro – Review

I Don’t Believe in Dragons by Anna Walker – Review

I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon – Review

Blood Secret by Jaye Ford

Heartstrings by Belinda Williams

If Wishes Were Horses by Karly Lane

Vera: A Tale of Pelythia – Review

The Younger Man by Zoe Foster – Review

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – Review

The Internet is Like A Puddle by Shona Innes – Review

P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry-Jones – Review

Nose to Tail by Louise Harding – Review

Meet Alice by Davina Bell – Review

Alice and the Apple Blossom Fair by Davina Bell

Alice of Peppermint Grove by Davina Bell

Peacetime for Alice by Davina Bell

Truly Tan by Jen Storer

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty – Review

Meet Rose by Sherryl Clark

Rose’s Challenge by Sherryl Clark

Rose in Bloom by Sherryl Clark

Rose on Wheels by Sherryl Clark

Force of Nature by Jane Harper – Review

That Feeling When by S. M. James – Review

The Great Garden Mystery by Renee Treml – Review

 

AWW18 TOTAL

Read: 37/25

Reviewed: 24/15

 

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

Does my Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Published: 1st August 2005Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Australia
Pages: 293
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

The slide opened and I heard a gentle, kind voice: What is your confession, my child? 
I was stuffed. The Priest would declare me a heretic; my parents would call me a traitor… 
The Priest asked me again: What is your confession, my child? 
I’m Muslim. I whispered.

Welcome to my world. I’m Amal Abdel-Hakim, a seventeen year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim still trying to come to grips with my various identity hyphens.

It’s hard enough being cool as a teenager when being one issue behind the latest Cosmo is enough to disqualify you from the in-group. Try wearing a veil on your head and practicing the bum’s up position at lunchtime and you know you’re in for a tough time at school.

Luckily my friends support me, although they’ve got a few troubles of their own. Simone, blonde, gorgeous and overweight – she’s got serious image issues, and Leila’s really intelligent but her parents are more interested in her getting a marriage certificate than her high school certificate!

I thought I would like this more. I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t the amazing book people made it out to be. It felt clunky and uneventful, and while there are great moments that shine through, the moments that falter stand out more.

The dialogue was…awkward. Conversations didn’t feel natural and Abdel-Fattah uses a lot of them to explain everyone’s back stories or Amal to educate the character (or us) about various topics and situations. They never seem to talk about anything else. The language was stilted and while what they are saying is valid and important, it doesn’t sit comfortably in the story. I don’t mind being told these things, but I think a more seamless inclusion was needed. This includes the excessive amount of metaphors and examples used, I understood that Amal wearing the veil sparked a need to educate the people around her but I felt overloaded with them.

I enjoyed the parts where Amal talks about why she wants to wear the veil and why it is important to her. I loved that I got to dislike the principal because of her own opinions and prejudices, no matter how subtle they were. And I liked Amal not putting up with anyone’s ignorance or preconception; her confusion, real or mocking, over why there is a problem at all is wonderful.

What was weird was being late reading this, it feels so old but it wasn’t at the time of course. I did not realise this was published in 2005, I thought it was the early twenty tweens, not the mid-2000s. The benefit of this however was I did enjoy reliving 2002 when Big Brother and Craig David were hot topics of discussion, I even think a bum bag reference was made which was fun.

It wasn’t all bad. There are some good moments like Amal’s frustration of being the token Muslim and I enjoyed getting to read about Muslim practice and faith. But it remained an average book, one I couldn’t connect with and whose clunky writing never let me fall into the story completely.

You can purchase Does My Head Look Big in This via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

The Women in Black by Madeleine St John

Published: 30th March 2009 (print)/10 September 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Text Publishing/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 233/5 hours 56 minutes
Narrator: Deidre Rubenstein
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Sydney in the late 1950s. On the second floor of the famous F.G. Goode department store, in Ladies’ Cocktail Frocks, the women in black are girding themselves for the Christmas rush. Lisa is the new Sales Assistant (Temporary). Across the floor and beyond the arch, she is about to meet the glamorous Continental refugee, Magda, guardian of the rose-pink cave of Model Gowns. With the lightest touch and the most tender of comic instincts, Madeleine St John conjures a vanished summer of innocence. The Women in Black is a classic.

This is a curious book. It was a decent read, the characters were all unique in their own way and yet have the wonderful conformity of the 1950s, and the era comes to life with St John’s words. I am caught between liking it and thinking it was just ok. Somewhere in the 2.5 star field because somehow I couldn’t give it a three.

If I stopped listening I found myself forgetting I was reading it at all. There was nothing in the story to get me back into it, and yet I didn’t hate it while I read it. I wasn’t bored per se, it’s just that nothing happens. I think it was the final third or even further when something happened that I finally got into it, and even then it’s not much. I think that was more the ending coming to a head so it felt conclusive.

This is a novel that is character driven, certainly more so than plot. I certainly have nothing against character driven novels, I think though that enjoyment comes from having characters that interest you so you want to read about their lives. I enjoyed Magda, and Lisa was endearing, but so few others piqued my interest. I felt two or three of these women took centre stage and felt more real than others which may have had something to do with it.

I did love the writing style. St John’s words are elegant and natural without being formal or unnecessarily complicated. The language puts you into this era and it separates the characters from one another with ease, almost so you don’t even notice it. This is emphasised by Rubenstein’s narration. Her use of voices and tone brought this story to life and highlighted St John’s beautiful words. There is slight humour but not enough to be a distraction, and the conversations are often humorous simply for their stark contrasts to modern times. This language was also why I enjoyed the ending. St John concludes this novel with style and it was a seamless ending that suited the characters she had created. There was a heartfelt sentimentality that gave extra meaning to all that had come before it, all through the characters she uses to bring this story together.

Oddly enough, I also found the obituary at the end of my audiobook quite enjoyable. I enjoyed listening about St John and her life from someone who knew her. It was interesting too because I learnt that the book was actually published in 1993. I was impressed because St John captures the language and the feel of the 50s remarkably well. It didn’t feel forced or over the top and there was class and charm in her words that she managed to recreate the era remarkably well.

I will be interested in the movie now (retitled Ladies in Black) because I would like to see how they portray this, if not for the story, but to see these wonderful cocktail frocks for myself.

You can purchase The Women in Black via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

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