Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Baroness

The Baroness – Hannah Rothschild
This is the biography of a woman. It is also the biography of a family and the world that created them. Hannah Rothschild was always interested in the things her esteemed family wouldn’t talk about- her aunt Nica (Pannonica) Rothschild. This was a woman who lived her life to the beat of a different drum, known as the Baroness of Jazz, she spend the latter part of her life consumed by the Jazz scene of the 50’s and 60’s, rejecting the world of wealth and privelidge to spend her time with the struggling musicians who so enthralled her.
Hannah Rothschild has spent her life documenting those of others via film. Her passion to discover the life of her aunt has led her to write this biography in a way that only a family member can. The Rothschilds are renound for their secrecy and as this book continues the reader sees the lengths that Hannah needed to go to in order to create anything at all. She follows the story of her family from their squalid beginnings in Juddengasse (or Jews-Alley) to their indespensibility amongst the powers of Europe due to their dominant banks. This was a well written, fascinating peek into the world that created Nica and her rebellious life thereafter. A life that enveloped the developing Jazz scene in the USA and the extremely taunt race relations therein, in particular her defining relationship with Thelonius Monk who was considered one of the giants of the scene.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Snake Ropes

Snake Ropes – Jess Richards
Every lock has a key, and every key tells a story.
Snake Ropes is one of the most atmospheric books to be released in the last few years. Set on an island that is ‘off the map’, complete with its own rich dialect and mythology, it follows the story of two girls. Mary, a native to the island, who can touch any piece of metal and root out the secrets of those who’ve held it, has had her brother taken by ‘the tall men’ who come to trade the island folk for their fish and crafts, and occasionally take more than they should. Locked in a house on the other side of the island is Morgan, a girl who can see ghosts and desperately wants to escape the prison of work and family her mother is content to have her die in. Snake ropes follows these women as they seek to unlock the secrets surrounding them.
Jess Richards grew up watching boats sail from Scotland to Ireland, this is evident in the wonderful immediacy of the island and the feeling created in the reader. This was a stunning debut novel – well written and extremely satisfying in its completeness.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Younger Man

The Younger Man – Zoe Foster
Written by the inestimable Miss Foster, former editor of Cleo, this is intelligent chick lit at its best. The tale begins with our mature heroine Abby kicking lovely young Marcus out of her bed (and life). But Marcus has other plans for Abby, and he’s not about to let her get away. Add to this a major overhaul for her small business, Allure, and the dramas of her two best friends, and Abby has her plate well and truly full. Will Marcus win Abs over? Or will she let her prejudices about age stop her from falling for the first man she ever felt she could trust?
I really enjoyed the tone set by Foster, and adored the fact that ‘The Younger Man’ was set in Sydney – it’s so refreshing to read about women in our real world. The conversational tone of the novel was witty and endearing in the way Foster has cemented her rise to love guru and all around good gal on. My only trouble was, can such a man as Marcus really exist? At any age, let alone at 22? Miss Foster, I’m putting the call out – have you really met a man like him? …and if he’s single…can I have his number??

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

If you're reading this I'm already dead

If you’re reading this I’m already dead – Andrew Nicholl

This is the fictional retelling of the true story of Otto Witte, a Hungarian acrobat who convinced the people of Albania that he was their King, just prior to World War 1. It almost feels as though no more need be said. This is one of those occasions where real life really is stranger than fiction. But what captivatingly written fiction it is. Told in first person our protagonist Otto is making a last desperate attempt to write him memoirs before the Allies drop a bomb on his little tin shack in Berlin. As such the novel shifts continuously between the past, where Otto and his circus friends (including Max, the strongman, Tifty, a former countess and horse trainer, and Professor Von Mesmer and his lovely daughter Sarah), travel from the Austro-Hungarian empire all the way to Albania.

Otto is a wonderfully rich character, and so funny, I found his voice so entertaining and warm to read. Nicholls writing was so conversational as to be almost a stream of consciousness at times, and Otto provided the perfect vehicle for this wonderful story of whimsy and risking it all for the chance of a lifetime. The real Otto Witte was thought to have been insane, or at the very least suffer from a very strong delusion, yet Nicholls has taken this man and given him back his honour – posing the question, if everyone believes you are the King, who are you to gainsay them?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Fables - Legends in Exile

Fables Vol 1 – Legends in Exile – Bill Willingham

This was my first graphic novel, or comic, if you will. I loved it- it was so easy, by the end I felt as though I had hardly read anything at all, I even went back to check I hadn’t missed anything. For anyone who is tentative to check out the genre I urge you to take the step –you won’t be disappointed. The graphics in this were so vivid and classic, so kind to the characters of which we’re all so fond. Which brings me to the plot.

Set in New York City, hundreds of years have passed since the storylands our fairy tale characters inhabited were overrun by the brutal Adversary and the ‘fables’ are trying to make the best of their new lives in our world. Enter Snow White – having divorced prince charming centuries before for his philandering ways she is the one calling the shots in this underground community, so when her sisters apartment is found covered in blood she joins forces with Bigby Wolf (big bad anyone...?)to solve the mystery of who killed Rose Red. This story would have had my thumbs up no matter what the medium- but as a graphic novel it is certainly a series I’ll read again and again.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012


Drowned – Therese Bohman
This was a beautifully crafted novel. Separated into two parts it follows the story of two sisters, Stella and Marina, and their different relationships with Gabriel, Stella’s writer husband. Yet all is not as it seems – is it ever? This novel becomes a psychological look at the nature of power and desire. With the extreme popularity of Scandinavian crime writers over the past few years, I was interested to read a novel written by a Swedish author that didn’t involve the fast paced thrills of the likes of the Millennium trilogy. What I discovered was the level of description that brings these thrillers to life is what similarly makes novels such as this so enveloping.
Stella is a landscape gardener, and nature encompassed the entire novel, everywhere Marina looks there are plants, all adding to the atmosphere of the stifling summer, and then autumn that provides the setting. Similarly Gabriel, the man both women are so drawn to is ever present, suffusing the world these women inhabit. Gabriel is an enigma, the man Marina is desperate to figure out, to be consumed by.  Bohman examines the nature of sexuality and attraction in her polished debut novel, along with the concept of guilt – which of these things is the most binding, causing the deepest connection, and how this connection can be broken. Ultimately this is the question Bohman is asking, once we are bound to someone, how is it possible to break that connection? This is a well written, easy read, recommended for lazy Sunday afternoons in summer.

Sunday, 6 May 2012


Bitterblue – Kristen Cashore.

Loved it. Couldn’t put it down. Stayed up till the early hours to finish it. This is Cashore’s final installment in her vivid Graceling trilogy. As with the previous books the characters and world created are real and so enjoyable that it’s a shame the series is finished. I was gripped from the first word and drawn in by Cashore’s rich prose to the last. This is the stunning final installment in Cashore’s ‘Graceling’ Series. The wonderful thing about these books is that they don’t have to be read as a series and so can be enjoyed alone. Bitterblue is Queen of a country still reeling from the after effects of her tyrannical, murderous father’s rule, a country that is doing its best to forget that King Leck ever existed. Yet in order for Monsea to move forward, certain truths must come to light. Bitterblue must fight to establish herself as the true queen, proving to herself and her country that she is equal to the task, but first she decides to leave the confines of her palace and experience her people’s lives for herself. All is not what it seems and Bitterblue may find that trust is the most fragile commodity in a world that has been turned upside down.

Top 5 Books this Mothers Day

Lets get organised people! This is by no means an exhaustive list - just a bit of a jumping off point.

5. The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides. This one has just been released in b format  (the smallest size) and is a great read from a wonderful author.

4. Secrets of the Tides - Hannah Richell. Family drama at its best, beautifully written and great for a weekend in.

3. This was to Spaceship - Rhys Darby. One of New Zealands funniest men has written a biography...bound to have your Mum chuckling!

2. Bringing Up the Bodies - Hilary Mantel. For something with a bit more bite - you could always try this follow up to the Man-Booker prize winning 'Wolf Hall'.

1. Love & Hunger - Charlotte Wood. Ms Wood is a celebrated Aussie author who has turned her hand to writing about food and its place in our lives - delicious!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Secrets of the Tides

Secrets of the Tides – Hannah Richell
A young boy goes missing, a family falls apart.
Dora Tide is pregnant; her partner Dan is over the moon yet Dora is struggling to trust the happiness that threatens. So begins her journey to reconnect with a family that she has barely seen in over ten years to understand the mechanics and implications of the fall out of her little brother going missing years before. As Dora visits her family members in turn we discover the exact events of that tragic day along with the history of the Tides and those choices that were made to bring them to this point.
This was a beautifully, thoughtfully written debut novel that transcends the genre in a way that is almost cathartic. As I read I struggled with where to place blame just as the characters did, and as they came back together so did I. This novel really makes you think, forces you to examine your own prejudices and dares you to shy away from those implications. We follow not only Dora’s struggle but those of the entire Tide family as they strive to find something to bring them together again.
Hannah Richell will be at Better Read Than Dead later this month for a glorious High Tea event! Check out their website or email them for more info!

The Uninvited Guests

The Uninvited Guests – Sadie Jones
A glorious Edwardian tale complete with an upstairs downstairs family dramedy.
Sadie Jones has established herself as a writer with a wonderful insight into the human condition, and this is what makes her latest offering so much more than just a ghost story. It begins the morning of Emerald Torrington’s birthday, despite their reduced circumstances there is to be a quiet but sophisticated dinner that evening for the family and a few guests, these being the neighbour, John Buchanan and Emerald’s best friend Patience with her brother Ernest.
But when a crash on the bridge line occurs and suddenly the Torrington’s find their night is overtaken by a host of misplaced passengers. One passenger in particular shakes things up – leading to a few revelations that will leave the family forever changed. Add to this the youngest Torrington’s ‘great endeavour’ and the scene is set for an evening of delightful mystery and shenanigans aplenty. I so enjoyed this novel, I was entertained the entire time, and laughed out loud more than once. This was a delightful, extremely atmospheric read.

Bitter Greens

Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth
Three women, joined by time and fate and the story that connects them all.
This rejuvenated tale of Rapunzel is set in various centuries, skipping between Paris, Venice and, of course, Rapunzel’s tower. Except Rapunzel isn’t Rapunzel – she’s Margarita, and her captor isn’t an ugly crone, she’s a stunningly beautiful courtesan whose desire to never grow old causes her to commit unspeakable acts. Woven through this tale of magic, love and loss is the story of the second person to commit the Rapunzel tale to paper – Charlotte-Rose De La Force, her rise and fall in the salons of Paris and Versailles and the wild life which leads her to a nunnery to hear Rapunzel’s fate herself.
This is a beautifully written book, full of finely drawn characters and places or times. Kate Forsyth’s books always contain suspense, romance and magic, yet it is the thoroughly researched history that makes Bitter Greens such a delight to read – Paris and Venice come alive in Kate’s hands. As with all wonderful stories, I was sated and saddened when I reached the last page.
I was lucky enough to meet Kate last weekend - check out her Pintrest page for some of her inspiration! 

The Man From Primrose Lane

The Man From Primrose Lane – James Renner
You really HAVEN’T read anything like this before!
This is surely the most promising debut this year. It begins with the murder of an old man known simply as ‘The Man from Primrose Lane’, no-one knows who he really is, and it would appear this is the way he wanted it as he was constantly wearing mittens, cutting off his own fingers and putting them into a blender to hide his identity even in death.
David Neff, a true crime writer has recently lost his wife to suicide and has closeted himself away from the world with their small son. Yet when the story of this reclusive man comes to his attention, he is powerless to stop the domino effect that pulls him back into the world. What follows is a wonderful recounting of how David met his late wife, and the search for a killer that resulted in his first book. Yet there are many more things that must be uncovered, and this book will have you gasping. I truly found this to be a consuming novel – one of those books that you can’t help but rave about and force onto your friends. This is a triumph of a debut – James Renner is certainly one to watch!

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

And the first blog goes to...

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky – Simon Mawer
A scintillating tale of espionage in German occupied France.
This is the eagerly awaited follow up to the booker shortlisted ‘Glass Room’, set in Britain and then France during the German occupation in WW2. The protagonist is one Marian Sutro, aliases Alice, Anne-Marie Larouche and Lawrence, and her journey is a profound one from innocent young woman to cunning spy always looking over her shoulder. Yet there are larger concerns for Marian then simply becoming a spy (this in itself, however, is no small feat), she has been sent to bring home one of France’s top scientists to help other expats work on the theory of an atomic bomb. The fact that this man is also her childhood sweetheart, newly married and with a child, simply adds to the atmosphere of intrigue Mawer has created.
We follow Marian from her beginnings being plucked from the Women’s army, through her training and onto the frontline. One the way Mawer takes advantage of the world her is working within to have Marian learn everything from blowing up a bridge to encrypting a letter. I found this to be an unflinching look at the lengths people will go to in a time of war. Mawer poses the question, how far would any of us go? Who would be become, in the right, or wrong, circumstances? As is to be expected from a writer of Mawer’s talents, this was a really entertaining and thouroughly authentic read.