Review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Title: The Book of Speculation

Author: Erika Swyler

Published: St Martins Press June 2015

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Status: Read from June 27 to July 01, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In Erika Swyler’s gorgeous debut novel, The Book of Speculation, Simon Watson receives an old ledger that once belonged to a traveling carnival in the mail, along with a note mentioning a connection to his late mother’s family. Struggling with his recent redundancy, the inevitable crumbling of his family home into the sea, and the return of his sister, Simon develops an obsession with the book which reveals a troubling history. For generations, the women of his family, all with a talent for holding their breath, including his mother, have drowned on the same date.

Dual narratives reveal Simon’s growing concern for his fragile sister as July 24th approaches, and the truth of the tragic curse that has haunted their family since the early 1800’s beginning with Evangeline, ‘The Atlantis Mermaid’. Similar themes are reflected in both tales – lust, guilt, love, betrayal, loss, and magic, and tangible connections are drawn with a tattered deck of tarot cards and the appearance of horseshoe crabs.

“At the corner of a page, just above a quickly jotted note about oppressive heat and fog, is a delicate brown illustration of a horseshoe crab. I shut the book and leave the house as quickly as my ankle allows. I need to get into the water, to clear my head….On the sand, crabs scramble around my feet and over each other. The tide has come up since the afternoon, hiding the thousands more horseshoes that lurk beneath.”

I loved reading about Peabody’s spectacular traveling carnival. The characters of The Wild Boy, the Seer, the Mermaid and Peabody himself are vividly drawn, their dark secrets are haunting and tragic.

“Heralded by a glorious voice, a troupe of traveling entertainers arrived. A mismatched collection of jugglers, acrobats, fortune-tellers, contortionists, and animals, the band was presided over by Hermelius H. Peabody, self-proclaimed visionary in entertainment and education, who thought the performers and animals (a counting pig deemed learned, a horse of miniature proportions, and a spitting llama) were instruments for improving minds and fattening his purse.”

The pace of the novel is measured, reflecting the melancholic, often close, atmosphere of the novel. The tension builds slowly in both timelines, as the truth of the curse is unraveled. The prose is often beautiful and enhanced by the illustrations that accompany it.

The Book of Speculation an enchanting tale.

“She knows that her name will find its way into his speculations. So will his. Because there are things you do for people you’ve known your whole life. You let them save you, you put them in your books, and you let each other begin again, clean.”

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Review: Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale

 

 

Title: Palace of Tears

Author: Julian Leatherdale

Published: Allen & Unwin June 2015

Status: Read from June 10 to 12, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Set in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales Palace of Tears is a generational saga of family, passion, secrets and vengeance from debut author Julian Leatherdale.

The shifting third person narrative unfolds from the perspective of several characters, Angie and her mother Freya; Adam’s wives, Adelina and Laura; Laura’s daughter, Monika; and in the present day, Lisa, Monika’s daughter. Only briefly do we hear from Adam Fox, the owner of the Palace and the man who connects these three generations of women.

Lisa’s interest in the past is triggered when, during a visit with her ailing mother, Monika laments the mysterious fate of Angie, the ‘girl who broke Adam Fox’s heart’. The name is unfamiliar to Lisa and curious she decides to investigate, contacting Palace historian Luke Davis. Over the course of the novel, Leatherdale unravels a family history marred by untimely death, adultery, betrayal, heartbreak and revenge. What became of Angie remains a mystery til the very end with a surprising twist.

Leatherdale firmly grounds his fictional characters in time and place. Adam Fox’s Palace is modeled on the Hydro Majestic Hotel, opened in 1904 in the tiny township of Medlow Bath in the upper Blue Mountains and he ably describes the opulence of the hotel and the magnificence of the setting. The author also references several relevant historical events of the first half of the twentieth century from the wartime internment camps, to the deadly influenza outbreak that swept New South Wales, to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Antipodean tour, enriching the story with intriguing detail.

The tale is well structured, despite shifting between multiple perspectives and time periods. The story is well paced, with plenty of twists and turns in the plot to maintain interest. Descriptions, particularly of the setting are vivid, and

Melding history and fiction, Palace of Tears is an entertaining novel and an impressive debut from Julian Leatherdale.

“Nothing was achieved without risk and cost. The allure of the mountains had taught Adam that lesson…. The mountains offered up vistas of inspiration, horizons of wonder where the mind dared to leap and the imagination to soar. It enriched the spirit, breathed hope back in to the wounded heart. Yet there was always that reminder of the fall: vertigo’s strange seduction that dragged you down the bright waterfall into the shadow of the valley below. Mortality, failure, despair – all these must be acknowledged. Adam realised, over time, that his beloved mountains expressed the inner drama of his own soul.”

CLICK HERE to read How the Hydro Majestic inspired the Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale

 

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Guest Feature: How the Hydro Majestic inspired the Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale

I’m happy to introduce Julian Leatherdale to my readers today.  Julian Leatherdale’s first love was theatre. On graduation, he wrote lyrics for four satirical cabarets and a two-act musical. He discovered a passion for popular history as a staff writer, researcher and photo editor for Time-Life’s Australians At War series. He later researched and co-wrote two Film Australia-ABC documentaries Return to Sandakan and The Forgotten Force and was an image researcher at the State Library of New South Wales. He was the public relations manager for a hotel school in the Blue Mountains, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Palace of Tears is Julian Leatherdale’s debut novel. Set in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales it is a generational story of family, passion, secrets and vengeance.

Angie loved Mr Fox’s magnificent, absurd hotel. In fact, it was her one true great love. But … today Angie was so cross, so fed up with everybody and everything, she would probably cheer if a wave of fire swept over the cliff and engulfed the Palace and all its guests.
A sweltering summer’s day, January 1914: the charismatic and ruthless Adam Fox throws a lavish birthday party for his son and heir at his elegant clifftop hotel in the Blue Mountains. Everyone is invited except Angie, the girl from the cottage next door. The day will end in tragedy, a punishment for a family’s secrets and lies.
In 2013, Fox’s granddaughter Lisa, seeks the truth about the past. Who is this Angie her mother speaks of: ‘the girl who broke all our hearts’? Why do locals call Fox’s hotel the ‘palace of tears’? Behind the grandeur and glamour of its famous guests and glittering parties, Lisa discovers a hidden history of passion and revenge, loyalty and love.
A grand piano burns in the night, a seance promises death or forgiveness, a fire rages in a snowstorm, a painter’s final masterpiece inspires betrayal, a child is given away. With twist upon twist, this lush, strange mystery withholds its shocking truth to the very end.

My review is posted HERE, in the meantime, please read on to learn what inspired Palace of Tears.

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HOW THE HYDRO MAJESTIC INSPIRED THE PALACE OF TEARS – JULIAN LEATHERDALE

Three years ago, I decided I wanted to write a family saga set in the Blue Mountains. I have lived here for over twenty-five years and never tired of its sublime and savage beauty. But I soon realised that my family saga needed something else besides poetic landscape and atmosphere. It needed a building at its heart that would be the family’s inheritance and keeper of all its memories.
Like many locals, I have long been fascinated by the Hydro Majestic, one of our best-known landmarks apart from the Three Sisters. As drivers head west through the tiny township of Medlow Bath in the upper Mountains, they still do a double-take at the sight of this grand Edwardian-era hotel that stretches for over a kilometre along the escarpment.

With its distinctive dome and crenellated wings, the Hydro has always struck me as a kind of madman’s castle. Perched on the cliffs high above the Kanimbla valley, wrapped in fog and snow in winter and blue haze in summer, what could be a more perfect setting for a tale of family secrets and Gothic mystery?

Mark Foy is probably best known for his luxury department store in Sydney but he had already taken a huge gamble back in 1904 with his Hydro Majestic, the first health retreat of its kind in Australia, modelled on the spa hotels of Europe. He spared no expense on lavish décor, a gallery of expensive artworks, a hydropathy clinic with a German doctor, and luxuries and mod cons such as Turkish coffee and a telephone in every room. The clinic was short-lived but the hotel itself thrived as a mecca for the rich and famous well into the 1920s and 1930s. Guests included the Russian Ballet and one of the world’s richest women, German armaments heiress Baroness Bertha Krupp.

The more I researched the Hydro’s past the more its imaginative appeal deepened. I did not want to write a fictionalised history of the hotel itself. Instead I wanted to use elements of its history to create my own opulent hotel in the bush, the Palace at Meadow Springs, and the story of its visionary owner Adam Fox and his wives, lovers, daughters and grand-daughter.

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In October 2014, the Hydro Majestic was reopened, restored to its former glory under new owners and inspiring wonder in me all over again. While still writing my first draft, I was lucky enough to have a behind-the-scenes tour of the hotel still under refurbishment. Standing under the dome, it was easy to imagine the swank Edwardian balls and raucous jazz-age fancy dress parties held here, the society ladies gossiping on their lounges in Cat’s Alley while their husbands played billiards or retired to the smoking lounge.

Photos, memoirs, interviews and newspaper stories filled my imagination, suggesting fertile details or incidents for my own story. A visit by Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in 1921 inspired a confronting séance scene that reveals a dreadful truth for Adam Fox and his wife Adelina.
The filming of a silent movie (now lost) at the hotel with its erotic Spider Web dance made the perfect backdrop for Adam Fox to meet his young lover Laura.

In 1942, the Hydro became a US military hospital for wounded soldiers; it is where Adam’s daughter Monika sneaks in to meet ‘Yanks.’

With its own dramatic past, the Hydro was a gift for a writer but one that had to be handled with care, resisting the temptation to overwhelm my readers with wonderful oddities from my research. History always had to serve story-telling, not the other way round. As the story developed, the Palace, my fictional half-sister of the Hydro Majestic, became a character in her own right.
Writing is always a journey full of surprises. For me, one of the greatest joys of writing Palace of Tears was to rediscover the place where I live through the eyes of the past.

Every morning, as I drop my daughter off at her primary school, I drive past the ruins of a grand guest house on the corner of the highway. As part of my research, I now know the story of the fire that destroyed my daughter’s school and this guest house on one fateful day in December 1957.
I look at them both quite differently now and think of the people in my village who lived through that day. It is a humbling experience but also an uplifting one, a tribute to the power of stories.

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Review: In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Title: In the Unlikely Event

Author: Judy Blume

Published: PanMacmillan June 2015

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Status: Read from June 02 to 04, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

As a young girl, I devoured everything written by Judy Blume, from Superfudge to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Forever as well as her adult novels Smart Women, Wifey, despite the fact I wasn’t yet even a teenager. I remember being excited when her third adult novel, Summer Sisters, was published in 1998 and seventeen years later we finally have a fourth and, Judy Blume herself confesses, her last, In the Unlikely Event.

While the tone and style of Blume’s writing remains remarkably familiar, the subject of this novel is quite different from what some may expect. Inspired by a series of passenger airplanes crashed in Elizabeth, New Jersey within a three-month period in 1951–1952, the author brings to life three generations of families, friends, and strangers, who are all profoundly affected by these events, either directly or indirectly.

While Blume employs multiple points of view in the narrative it is teenager Miri Ammerman who has the strongest voice. Against the background of such frightening community tragedy, Miri struggles with the typical trials of adolescence, such as identity, friendship, family and first love. Meanwhile her Uncle Henry makes his name as the journalist who covers the incidents, her best friend, Natalie, is haunted by a plane crash victim, and an elderly man mourning his wife beds down on her grandmother’s couch. The large cast may be off-putting to some readers but I felt the the varied perspectives enriched the narrative.

Blume successfully brings to life the facts surrounding the New Jersey plane crashes, honouring the real life victims of the tragedies. She authentically evokes the era that heralded social change in America, exploring issues such as changing morality and political unrest.

Written with genuine compassion and insight, and with finely drawn characterisation, In the Unlikely Event is an engaging story of life’s ordinary and extraordinary events.

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Review: The Confectioner’s Tale by Laura Madeleine

 

Title: The Confectioner’s Tale

Author: Laura Madeleine

Published: Black Swan Publishing May 2015

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Status: Read from May 19 to 21, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Unfolding through dual timelines, The Confectioners Tale by Laura Madeleine is a pleasant blend of history, romance and light mystery.

In the present (well, 1988), Cambridge PhD candidate Petra Stevenson is desperate to protect her adored late grandfather’s reputation from being sullied by a biographer promising to reveal his role in an old scandal. Anxious to deflect any dishonour, and hoping to discover a more benign truth, Petra doggedly works to piece together events that took place in Paris nearly 70 years ago.

The alternating narrative is set during 1909 in Paris and slowly reveals the story of Guillaume (Gui) Du Frere, a railway labourer from Bordeaux, his forbidden romance with Mademoiselle Jeanne Clermont, the daughter of a famous Parisienne confectioner, and ultimately the scandal involving Petra’s grandfather.

For me the strength of the novel lay in the historical timeline, I liked the characters of Gui and Jeanne, delighted in their meeting, their secret romance, and despaired when scandal threatened to destroy them. I also thought the author’s depiction of early twentieth century Paris was evocative, and I enjoyed being behind the scenes of the Clermont Patisserie.

An easy, simply plotted story with a satisfyingly sweet conclusion, The Confectioner’s Tale is a novel with general appeal.

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Review: Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

 

Title: Church of Marvels

Author: Leslie Parry

Published: Hachette Australia May 2015

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Status: Read from May 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Church of Marvels is an atmospheric and haunting tale set in New York during the late 1800’s that unfolds from the perspectives of four compelling characters, whose lives eventually converge.

Leaving behind her twin sister, Isabelle Church fled to Manhattan in the wake of the Coney Island fire that killed her mother and destroyed the Church of Marvels, the carny show in which Isabelle starred. No one knows why she left, where she is, or what secrets she keeps.

“I haven’t been able to speak since I was seventeen years old. Some people believed that because of this I’d be able to keep a secret. They believed I could hear all manners of tales and confessions and repeat nothing. Perhaps they believe that if I cannot speak, I cannot listen or remember or even think for myself – that I am, in essence, invisible. That I will stay silent forever. I’m afraid they are mistaken.”

With her mother dead, and her twin sister gone, only Odile Church remains at Coney Island, the spinning girl on the Wheel of Death. When a letter from her sister finally arrives she heads to Manhattan, determined to find her.

“At first glance the twins looked alike – they were both freckled and hazel eyed, with thick blonde hair and the snub nose of a second-rate chorus girl. But that was where the similarities ended, Unlike Belle, with her lithe and pliant acrobat’s body, Odile had a permanent crook in her neck and a slight curve to her spine.”

Sylvan Threadgill is nineteen, abandoned as a young child, he makes his living as a night-soiler, and boxes for a few extra pennies. One night he finds a baby girl half drowned in the effluent and rescues her.

“Under their breaths they called him Dogboy. He’d been puzzled over and picked apart all of his life – the skin of a Gypsy, the hair of a Negro, the build of a German, the nose of a Jew. he didn’t belong to anyone. They started at him with a kind of terrified wonder, as though he was a curiosity in a dime museum. One of his eyes was brown, so dark it nearly swallowed the pupil, and the other pale, aqueous blue.”

When Alphie Leonetti, once a ‘penny rembrandt’, is first introduced she is waiting for her husband, Anthony, to rescue her from the notorious Blackwell’s Asylum in the East River, the last thing she remembers is an argument with her disapproving mother in law. Desperate to escape she befriends a mute inmate with startling skills.

“Alphie curled up and covered her face with her hair, then cried her voice away. She couldn’t bear it; she’d come so far from her days a s a girl on the street, a bony runaway with shoes made from paper, waiting there on the corner with her paint stand and jars. And here she was, through some cruel reversal, sent back to the anonymous hive, trapped in a room full of women who were not missed and not wanted, who would wear the same dress every day until it disintegrated on their hungry frames-a dress she too wore, formless and smelling of some previous disease…”

With evocative phrasing Parry creates memorable characters and vivid settings, from the seedy shores of Coney Island to the dark, narrow streets of inner Manhattan, and the bleak horror of the asylum marooned in the middle of the East River.

A novel that demands attention, the lyrical prose of Church of Marvels tells a complex, suspenseful mystery that sometimes appears scattered, but is eventually brought to a stunning resolution.

“We can be a weary, cynical lot – we grow old and see only what suits us, and what is marvelous can often pass us by. A kitchen knife. A bulb of glass. A human body. That something so common should be so surprising – why, we forget it. We take it for granted. We assume that our sight is reliable, that our deeds are straightforward, that our words have one meaning. But life is uncommon and strange; it is full of intricacies and odd, confounding turns.”

 

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Review: Gallipoli Street by Mary-Anne O’Connor

Today is ANZAC Day in Australia, a time to remember and honour those who have served in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations in defense of Australia and New Zealand. The date, April 25th, specifically  references the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915, a doomed campaign that nevertheless birthed the legend of the ANZAC spirit.

My daughter has been accorded the honour of leading today’s ANZAC march in my country town, on the 100th anniversary of the landings, bearing the Australian flag. My oldest son will wear his grandfather’s service medals as he and his brother march with their cub troop. We will remember them. Lest we forget.

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Title: Gallipoli Street

Author: Mary-Anne O’Connor

Published: MIRA: Harlequin AU March 2015

Status: Read from April 23 to 24, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A sweeping saga of romance, friendship, family and war, Gallipoli Street is Mary-Anne O’Connor’s debut novel.

Its 1913 and the declaration of war is about to shatter the rural idyll of Beecroft, home to the close knit O’Shay, Murphy and Dwyer families, who will discover their fates are intertwined by tragedy and love.

The romance of Gallipoli Street begins with the passionate love story between childhood friends, Veronica O’Shay and Jack Murphy. It is an epic tale that sees the couple overcome a scheming femme fatale, the perils of their service in the Great War, and Jack’s struggle to reconcile his experiences on his return home.
Twenty years later their son finds love in a New Guinea field hospital ward with orphaned nurse Theresa, but their relationship is shattered when shocking secrets from her past are exposed.

The story takes us from the trenches of Gallipoli, to the deserts of Egypt, from the muddy battlefield of The Somme, to the dense jungle of the Kokoda Trail. No matter the period or arena, war proves to be a universally horrifying and heartbreaking experience which the author relates with truth and compassion.

An appealing and poignant tale, O’Connor has drawn inspiration for both the story of Gallipoli Street and its characters from the lives of her maternal grandparents lending it authenticity and heart.

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Review: A Time of Secrets by Deborah Burrows

 

Title: A Time of Secrets

Author: Deborah Burrows

Published: Pan Macmillan March 2015

Status: Read from March 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A Time of Secrets is Deborah Burrows’ third wonderful novel blending Australia’s wartime history with mystery and romance.

While Burrows previous novels take place in Perth, A Time of Secrets is set in Melbourne in 1943. Australian Women’s Army sergeant Stella Aldridge is out shopping with her roommate and colleague, Dolly, when she overhears a whispered conversation in Malay between a group of Australian soldiers. Concerned with the implications she alerts her boss at the APLO, The Australian Pacific Liason Office, only to be drawn into a covert investigation headed by her superior officer, Lieutenant Nick Ross.

As Stella and her colleagues work to uncover the identity of the traitor sabotaging the Australian war effort they have to negotiate the politics of the APLO. I enjoyed the intrigue of the storyline and learning a little more about the war effort. In this, as in both of Burrows previous novels, A Stranger in My Street and Taking a Chance, Burrows’ brings to life the experiences and contribution of women during wartime in Australia.

A minor subplot focuses on Stella’s roommate Dolly, and the secrets she is keeping both from her fiance and Stella, while a second involves an axe wielding murderer stalking women in Melbourne. The theme of domestic violence is prominent in the novel. as is violence on the home front in general.

There is romance for Stella with the enigmatic soldier Staff Sergeant Eric Lund. A special operative, his life is at risk if the rumours of a traitor imbedded within the APLO are true. Stella’s attraction to Lund is complicated by his capability for violence, her first husband who was killed in action physically abused her, and she is wary. A sort of love triangle also develops as Ross, an unapologetic ladies man, makes his interest in Stella clear.

Burrow’s is a talented storyteller who brings wartime Australia to life. Offering an interesting mystery combined with strong characterisation and a well crafted plot, A Time of Secrets is an engaging historical fiction novel.

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Review: Razorhurst by Justine Larbalaestier

 

Title: Razorhurst

Author: Justine Larbalaestier

Published: Soho Teen March 2015

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Status: Read from March 07 to 9, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Justine Larbalaestier’s Razorhurst is gritty, intriguing novel blending history and the paranormal to create an interesting and exciting story with crossover appeal for both young adult and adult audiences.

It’s 1932 and the tentative truce between Sydney’s rival underworld gangs, headed by Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson, is on the verge of collapse when Gloriana’s right hand man, Jimmy Palmer is murdered in his bed.
For Dymphna, Gloria’s ‘best girl’ and Jimmy’s girlfriend, Jimmy’s death is a problem. Was he murdered by Mr Davidson in a calculated move against Glory, or was he killed because Glory learned of his and Dymphna’s plans to oust her?
Climbing into the Surrey Hills dosshouse housing Gloriana’s men in search of food, street urchin Kelpie is shocked to find Dymphna standing over the body of her murdered lover.
Both are forced to flee as the police close in, with Dymphna insisting Kelpie remains with her for protection, but safety is hard to come by on the streets of ‘Razorhurst’.

Razorhurst is told from the alternating perspectives of Kelpie and Dymphna, interspersed with brief omniscient vignettes. Both girls are feisty, brave, and smart, but most importantly they are survivors.
Kelpie is an appealing character. When her mother died in childbirth, she was taken in by ‘Old Ma’ who raised her as best she could. Upon Old Ma’s death, desperate to escape the Welfare, Kelpie took to the streets, surviving with the occasional kindness of local hard man, Snowy, and the ghosts that she can both see and hear that haunt the streets.
Dymphna was born to privilege but tragedy left her orphaned twice and she was forced to find a way to survive. As Glory’s ‘best girl’, she has earned status among the underworld, but she wants more. She too can see and hear ghosts but hiding her ability has become second nature.

Larbalaestier’s gangland characters are inspired by infamous Sydney identities (most notably Tilly Divine and Kate Leigh), and the author’s research into the ‘razor’ gangs of Sydney, so named because straight edge razors were the weapon of choice during the 1930’s.
I loved the historical elements that evoke inner city Sydney during the period. Grounded firmly in fact, the setting is fascinating and vividly drawn, from the slum of Frog Hollow to the seedy streets of Surry ‘Sorrow’ Hills lined with bordello’s, opium dens and gambling houses.

Unfolding over the course of a single day the pacing of the novel is well managed, the action is non stop as Dymphna and Kelpie scramble to survive. There are explicit, though not gratuitous, references to violence and the occasional use of language. A touch of humour and romance tempers the ever present sense of menace and danger.

Entertaining, thrilling and original, Razorhurst is a great read I’d widely recommend and I’m really hoping Larbalestier has plans for a sequel.

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International Women’s Day: Cranky Ladies of History by Tehani Wessley (Ed.)

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In honour of International Womens Day 2015, I am pleased to introduce Cranky Ladies of History, an anthology launched today from Fablecroft Publishing.

Title: Cranky Ladies of History

Author: Tehani Wessley (Editor)

Published: Fablecroft Publishing March 2015

Status: Read from March 07 to 08, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtsey the publisher)

My Thoughts:

Cranky Ladies of History is an anthology conceived and developed by Tehani Wessley of Fablecroft Publishing and author, Tansy Rayner Roberts. Crowdfunded through Pozible during Womens History Month in 2014, the concept attracted many supporters eager to be a part of project.

Twenty two authors have contributed to Cranky Ladies of History, including award winner’s Thoraiya Dyer, Juliet Marillier, Jane Yolen and Garth Nix.

Each short story in Cranky Ladies of History features a real female historical figure. I’m not familiar enough with history to separate fact from fiction in these pieces but these strong, often fierce women are those who challenged society’s rules and ideas about how women should behave, though not always in heroic or noble ways. While Garth Nix honours Lady Godiva in ‘The Company of Women’, ‘Look How Cold My Hands Are’ by Deborah Biancotti features Countess Bathory, an insane serial killer.

The women featured include an Ancient Egyptian ruler (‘Neter Nefer’ by Amanda Pillar), a Chinese Empress (‘Charmed Life’ by Joyce Chng), a British women’s rights campaigner (“Mary, Mary” by Kirstyn McDermott) and an Australia doctor (‘Due Care And Attention’ by Sylvia Kelso. Some of the protagonists represent well known figures such as Queen Elizabeth 1 (‘Glorious’ by Faith Mudge) while others feature woman whose lives have all but been forgotten, such as the Icelandic Viking warrior, Hallgerðr Höskuldsdóttir (‘For So Great A Misdeed’ by Lisa L. Hannett)

An entertaining and interesting anthology, Cranky Ladies of History is an important collection of fiction that gives voice to an extraordinary selection of women from a broad range of backgrounds, era’s and cultures. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

 

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