Book Review: Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall

Kate and Harriet are best friends who grow up on an isolated cape in the 1880’s where their fathers are the lighthouse keepers. They do everything together and as they grow into young women their lives are disrupted by the arrival of a man, McPhail. A moment in his cabin changes their lives forever.

The author, picked over the bones of a true story and imagined the lives of the girls. From the first line and last lines in the prologue, the reader is propelled head-long toward the climax.

“The sky was clear and blue forever that day.”

“I remember the way Harriet turned, breathless, laughing, a strand of her golden hair caught on her bottom lip. After that, I try not to remember.”

We are dropped into the stunning wilderness of the cape near Jervis Bay, NSW, and into the lives of the families. We are privy to everything about the girl’s friendship, their deep love for each other and the expectation of them as young women in that era. Loyalties are tested and risks taken as we are led to the edge of the cliff and back again.

The writing is beautiful and evocative; the cover stunning. This is a wonderful Australian debut novel by Kate Mildenhall.

Book Review: The Lost Pages by Marija Pericic

Marija Pericic won the Vogel Prize for this stunning debut novel set in Prague in 1908. Pericic reimagines the relationship between literary giants, Max Brod and Franz Kafka.

Knowing little about either novelist, I was quickly drawn into a story full of anguish, tension and human fragility. The author veered away from the known story that Brod was asked by his friend Kafka, on his death bed to destroy all of his unpublished work. Instead, Brod publishes it making sure that posthumously, Kafka is revered and honoured into the future.

What happens though, if history is rewritten? What if Brod, a tortured man with physical disabilities is filled with self-doubt and actually loathes Kafka as his rival? What if Brod falls in love with a girl who loves Kafka? It makes for a compelling read. Does it matter that the work is fiction? It’s an interesting take on historical figures. Events are true but the rest is not.

The writing and development of characters was exquisite as we are taken into Brod’s point of view. His disability is a key theme “The tongues of those who inhabited my world were silent, but their eyes were not. Their eyes spoke, that sea of eyes through which I moved each day. They glanced and looked in secret and averted their gazes, and this looking and not-looking spoke louder than any voice of disgust, curiosity or, worst of all, pity.”

Life in Prague in the early 1900’s is rich with description and mood which changes with the deterioration of Brod’s mind. The twist at the end caught me by surprise leaving me yearning for more.

An afternoon of historical fiction.

L-R Chris Foley, Alison Stuart, Elise McCune, me, Gabrielle Gardner

 

Yesterday, I had the privilege of being on a panel of authors to talk about war and romance historical fiction. The afternoon, hosted by the Historical Novel Society of Australasia was attended by more than twenty people eager to talk and hear about this genre.

Joining me were some illustrious names; Alison Stuart, Elise McCune, and Gabrielle Gardner, all fabulously talented writers. The panel was superbly chaired by Gabrielle Ryan, who herself is an accomplished writer. We discussed our books, our thoughts on genre, how and where romance fits in during wartime; and numerous other topics on and off the panel afterwards, over a cup of tea and a delectable array of sweet delicacies. I chatted about my forthcoming book, A Perfect Stone, set in the backdrop of the Greek Civil War when 38000 children were evacuated on foot over the mountains of Northern Greece.

The whole event was skilfully pulled together by Chris Foley and Alison. It was a wonderful afternoon and for me a terrific experience to talk about my work, thanks to the Historical Novel Society of Australasia.

Looking forward now to being a participant at the Conference in a couple of weeks.

What does your book pile say about you?

pics-of-books
I love to read.

Last year, I read some terrific books including – The Natural Way of Things; All the Light We Cannot See; People of the Book; One True Thing; A Man called Ove; Of a Boy; When There’s Nowhere Else to Run; The Marriage of Opposites; Donna Quixote; La Rose; Where My Heart Used to Beat; View from A Barred Window to name just a handful.

I’ve listed twelve titles randomly and realise that six of them are historical fiction. My list consists of seven Australian authors, six of whom are women. Interestingly, of my list of twelve, nine are by women. Many have won awards and two are self-published.

I do like to read historical fiction.  In fact, I like it so much that I wrote and published my own historical fiction. Now I’m in the middle of writing a second novel set in Northern Greece during the Greek Civil War. I confess I’ve only just recently realised this about myself. I always thought I read widely – perhaps not widely enough across genres. There’s three written with the Second World War as a backdrop;  five set in Australia; one in the US; one in Europe; one in Sweden and one in the Virgin Islands.

Perhaps I like historical fiction because I like history? I’m not a history buff but I do like to learn about historical events through story. I like being transported back in time and place. I guess that’s what draws me. That, and of course, a well written book which is probably written by a woman set in Australia. Is that called unconscious bias? Too bad if it is.

I enjoyed each book in my list of twelve but if I had to name a favourite for last year, it would have to be All the Light We Cannot See – that’s one I’ll read again and again.

As for what I’m reading currently? You guessed it – another historical fiction called Beauty is a Wound set in Indonesia but it is written by a man.

What does your book pile reveal about you ?