Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Book Review & Give Away | Southern Ruby | Belinda Alexandra


In Southern Ruby, Belinda Alexandra wraps her storytelling magic around New Orleans, giving us two narratives, one in the present and one in the past.

Opening in current day Australia, we are introduced to Amanda who, after losing her Nan with whom she has lived since she was just a toddler, finds a letter and discovers that she has other family - New Orleans.

Determined to solve the mystery surrounding her parents and their death which her Nan refused to speak about with her, Amanda makes arrangements to visit New Orleans to see if she can reconnect with her remaining relatives and discover her roots.

Moving into the past, we have Ruby who, with Amanda’s arrival, is compelled to reveal the wrenching secrets of her glamorous (if somewhat illustrious) past - her loves and losses, the hardships her family faced and the racial discord surrounding 1950’s New Orleans.

Of genteel upbringing, Ruby and her perpetually ill mother sank to new lows when her uncle refused them further financial assistance forcing Ruby to find ways to keep a roof over their head and food in their stomachs. In doing so, she found herself living in the scandalous world of burlesque and falling in love with a jazz musician. It wasn't long, however, before Ruby came to realise that the comfortable and lovingly assembled world she had created for herself had begun to close in on her.

I’m not sure if perhaps in a previous life I was a resident of NOLA but, in this life, this particular city has always held a certain allure for me. I thoroughly enjoy learning about its history but, even more so, I love the way that some authors make the place come alive with all its mystery, vibrancy, seductive beauty and pagan heritage.

In this latest by Belinda, the past (and death) are never far away in a city that, whilst the sounds of jazz continually permeate its aged streets, is as beautiful as it is dangerous.

Blending fact into fiction, Belinda has created a rich setting both pre- and post-Katrina which is vivid and real, adding to the mystery as well as the colour of the Big Easy and, for me, the greatest weight was held in Ruby’s story in which issues of class, cultural identity as well as the sociological and political conditions of the deep South at that time, give a broad scope of its complex history and put a human face to the everyday people of "The City That Care Forgot".

Her scene-settings drip with atmosphere and her characterisations are colourful. The additional layers of intrigue surrounding the reasons for Amanda’s parents’ car accident as well as Ruby's own story add depth and complexity to the plot, while her descriptions of the food will soon see you wanting to rush and find your place at one of the characters’ tables!

From the elegance of the Garden District to the dark and sultry ambience of the French Quarter, the vibrancy of the Vieux Carre and the poverty of the Lower Ninth Ward, Belinda offers a well-traversed perspective to the charismatic Crescent City.

She is a passionate and confident storyteller and her writing is like an artist’s dream as she skilfully illustrates the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of one of America’ most culturally rich and diverse cities.

Highlighting the city’s charms and vices and, putting her own distinctive stamp on it, she brings us a story about loss, survival, hope and the desires of acceptance and belonging. Highly recommended.

I would like to thank the publisher, HarperCollins for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

Belinda Alexandra has been published to wide acclaim in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland, Poland, Norway and Russia.

She is the daughter of a Russian mother and an Australian father and has been an intrepid traveller since her youth.

Her love of other cultures is matched by her passion for her home country, Australia, where she is a volunteer rescuer and carer for the NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES).

You can learn more about Belinda either at her website or in the interview I held with her recently.

About the Book

Forbidden love. Family secrets. A twist of fate. The stunning new generational saga from Belinda Alexandra, bestselling author of Tuscan Rose and White Gardenia.

In New Orleans - the city of genteel old houses and ancient oak trees covered in Spanish moss, of seductive night life, of Creole culture, voodoo and jazz - two women separated by time and tragedy will find each other at last.

Amanda, orphaned as a child and suffering the loss of her beloved grandmother, has left Sydney in search of a family she never knew.

Ruby, constrained by the expectations of society and class, is carrying a lifetime of secrets.

Amanda's arrival sparks revelations long buried: a double life, a forbidden love, and a loss that cannot be forgotten.

Southern Ruby is a sweeping story of love, passion, family and honour. Alternating in time between the 1950s and the eve of Hurricane Katrina, it is also a tribute to a city heady with mystery, music, and superstition, which has borne the tumults of race and class and the fury of nature, but has never given up hope.

ISBN: 9780732296445
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pub Date: 22 August 2016
Page Extent: 576
RRP: $32.99
Giveaway


I'm offering ONE lucky reader the chance to win a brand new paperback copy of Southern Ruby.

In order to enter, all you need to do is leave a comment below.

The giveaway closes at midnight (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on Friday, 30th September and one winner will be selected at random (using random.org) and announced here on the blog within 48 hours.

Please note that due to high international postage costs, this giveaway is open to Australian residents ONLY and you will be required to email me at marcia@bookmusterdownunder.com.au in order to provide your name and street address.

Disclaimer: I reserve the right to re-draw if the winner doesn't contact me within 24 hours of them being notified.

Best of Luck!!!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Book Review | Rebellious Daughters | Edited by Maria Katsonis & Lee Kofman


In this anthology, Maria Katsonis and Lee Kofman (rebellious daughters themselves) effectively offer us intimate essays by prominent female Australian writers divulging their personal experiences with rebellion.

Often we think of authors as people who haven’t really done the same things as us “normal people” or lived lives like we do – we almost put them on a pedestal, thinking that they’re these perfect beings who’ve had wonderful lives, never stopping for a minute to think that they’re humans, just like us!

Well, this wonderful anthology puts to bed that belief and gives us some food for thought with seventeen memoir-type reminiscences written by various authors who, with wisdom and the benefit of hindsight, offer us personal insight into their rebellious attitudes towards their mothers, fathers and cultures on a variety of themes such as cultural boundaries, divorce, education, fitting in, jealousy, sexuality, individuality and self-discovery, amongst others.

Whilst one story in particular resonated with me the most, I enjoyed all of these nostalgia-induced recollections of womanly defiance because there are anecdotes from every story that made me ponder my own teenage transgressions.

Open, honest, oft times apologetic, sometimes heartbreaking and frequently humorous, these are the stories that helped shape the writers we know today but are also something to remember when the conflicts and paradoxes of motherhood (and fatherhood) smack us in the face!

With stories as diverse as their voices, readers will undoubtedly be inspired (or shocked) because there is a piece of us rebellious daughters in every one of them.

I wish to thank Ventura Press for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Editors

Maria Katsonis enjoyed a traditional Greek childhood, living on top of a milk bar and sharing a bedroom with her yiayia.

She was a good Greek girl throughout high school until university when she discovered her rebellious side and abandoned nine-tenths of an economics degree for a career in the theatre. She managed theatre companies such as Anthill and Arena Theatre Company and then became an independent arts management consultant and theatre producer, touring shows to Asia, Europe, and South America.

After a decade in the arts, Maria decided it was time for a career change and became a bureaucrat, joining the Victorian Public Service where she is a senior executive. She is also a public policy lecturer at the Melbourne School of Government.

Her debut memoir, The Good Greek Girl, was published in 2014. 

Lee Kofman is a Russian-born Israeli-Australian author of five books, writing teacher and mentor based in Melbourne. She has published three fiction books in Hebrew, but since 2002 has been writing exclusively in English. Lee has also published numerous short stories, short creative non-fiction and poetry in Australia, Scotland, UK, Israel, USA and Canada.

Five of her poems were selected for a performance by professional actors at Lord Ivy Gallery on 25th August 2009. Her writing has won various awards, including the Australian Council grant and the Varuna Eric Dark Flagship Fellowship.

Lee is involved in the Australian literary community in many other ways too and also regularly speaks in public about her writing all around Australia.

Her most recent memoir, The Dangerous Bride, was published in 2014.

About the Book

Good daughters hold their tongues, obey their elders and let their families determine their destiny. Rebellious daughters are just the opposite.

In Rebellious Daughters, some of Australia’s most talented female writers share intimate stories of defiance and independence as they find their place in the world.

Powerful and poignant, these true tales explore everything from getting into trouble in seedy nightclubs to lifelong family conflicts and marrying too young. Every story is a unique retelling that celebrates the rebellious daughter within us all.

Not every woman is a mother, grandmother, aunty or sister – but all women are daughters.

ISBN: 9781925183528
Pub date: 01/08/2016
Pages: 325
RRP: AU$32.99

What's Your Story? | Aussie Author Round-Up | Belinda Alexandra


It’s a great honour to welcome well-known Australian author Belinda Alexandra to my blog today to celebrate the release of her seventh novel, Southern Ruby, which was published on the 22nd August.

Belinda writes great historical and historical/contemporary fiction novels set in exotic locations such as Paris, Shanghai, Barcelona, Florence and Moscow. Her books have been published around the world including in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, Brazil, Poland and Norway, as well as Australia.

She loves nothing more than immersing herself in page-turning stories of passion and intrigue, especially ones that take her deep into other cultures and times – and these are exactly the kinds of stories she likes to write!

The daughter of a Russian mother and an Australian father, Belinda has been an intrepid traveller since her youth. Her love of other cultures is matched by her passion for her home country, Australia, where she is a volunteer rescuer and carer for the NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES).

As an animal lover, Belinda is also a patron of the World League for the Protection of Animals, Australia.

Everybody has a story, so please feel free to pull up a stump and hear Belinda's.

Before I continue though, I'd just like to thank HarperCollins for making this interview possible.

Belinda, it's fabulous to finally be able to host you here on the blog.

Thank you, so much! I’m looking forward to talking about writing with you and your readers!

Why don't we kick off with you sharing a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author.

I was a born writer. I was always writing stories as a child and was in constant trouble at school for day dreaming. As I grew older and started  travelling, I used to write really, really long and detailed emails and letters to my friends and family. But writing as a career seemed like a far-fetched dream until I went to University in California where my fellow students and professors encouraged me to go for my dream. When I returned to Australia, I started writing seriously. But I was no overnight success! Everything … and I mean EVERYTHING … I wrote was rejected until I finally succeeded with White Gardenia. That journey from rejection to success took about ten years.

I recently finished reading Southern Ruby but for those who haven’t, could you please tell us what it’s all about?

Southern Ruby is a tale of forbidden love set in New Orleans. The story moves from the 1950s to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It is the story of Vivienne de Villeray – Ruby - whose aristocratic French Creole family has whittled away its fortune on lavish living and now Ruby must support her ailing mother and one remaining loyal and aging maid. Because women in Ruby’s position in society are discouraged from working, she must support her loved ones by creating a double-life.

Switch now to 2004 and Ruby’s adult granddaughter, Amanda, has been living with her maternal grandmother – Nan -  in Australia since she was two years old following the horrific accident that left both her parents dead. Amanda has no idea that her Grandma Ruby even exists until the death of Nan leads to the discovery of a letter from Grandma Ruby sent on the occasion of  Amanda’s 21st birthday. She now realises that she has family in New Orleans and travels there to discover the truth about her father, Ruby’s son, who Nan has refused to tell her anything about. 

Amanda finds a vibrant city of contrasts. There’s jazz, burlesque, ghost stories and shocking burial rites. But nothing is as astonishing as mysterious Grandma Ruby and the tale she reveals to Amanda during candlelit nights in the grand old Lalande mansion. A story that will change everything Amanda has believed about herself.

What made you base this latest novel against the backdrop of New Orleans?

When I was a student at the University of California, I made a trip to New Orleans with some friends during summer break and fell in love with this steamy hot, quirky and fascinating Southern city. I became enamoured of the grand decadence of the historic Garden district, as well as its spookiness, and also of the cultural mixes so prevalent in the famous French Quarter.

With Southern Ruby, I wanted to bring the city and its elements to life. It’s the birthplace of jazz which came into being in the numerous brothels of Storyville but it’s also a very Catholic city. Its mix of cultural influences - French, Spanish, Caribbean, American, Canadian, African, Italian, Irish, German – has made it a tolerant and diverse city but it is also the 4th most dangerous city in America for crime. 

Southern Ruby is incredibly atmospheric with vivid descriptions of the lifestyle, sights and sounds of New Orleans (a place I’ve always had an unexplainable personal affinity with). Did you spend a lot of time there soaking up your senses?

I made a research trip to New Orleans with my husband, Mauro, in 2014 to soak up the atmosphere and observe those details that would bring the story to life. We absolutely loved it, and I think my passion for New Orleans comes across in the story. My husband and I were there for Halloween, which is the second biggest festival in the city after Mardi Gras. The decorations are very elaborate and I swear some of the skeletons propped in the gardens Uptown were real!

If you listen to the residents of the Garden District or the French Quarter, you could become convinced that there isn’t a corner of those neighbourhoods that does not harbour some unearthly visitor in one guise or another.

The home I wanted to base my story in was to be a Queen Anne Victorian mansion. Given the city’s fascination with ghosts, most bed and breakfasts in New Orleans offer their resident phantoms as an enticement to stay with them. My husband, Mauro, is not a fan of the supernatural, so I had to do a lot of research to find a house that met my requirements but that didn’t claim to be haunted.

I found a beautiful one on St Charles Avenue with period antiques and opposite the street car stop. But when we arrived and were given a detailed history of the house by the hostess, it turned out that it had been built by a mortician! Death is never very far away in New Orleans. That’s an important motif in the story. 

The character of Ruby really came alive for me and I loved her but could you tell us about her in your own words?

Vivienne de Villeray ‘Ruby’ is the youngest member of an aristocratic French Creole family that has lost its fortune on lavish living. But rather than languish in genteel poverty, she decides to take charge of her life. In order to work she has to invent a double life. Her alter ego allows her to have experiences that would otherwise be closed to her, but it also gets her into a lot of trouble.

Was there anything you found particularly challenging in writing Southern Ruby?

I wanted to make sure that I wrote a story about the South that was original and didn’t sound like a cliché. I didn’t want to write another ‘Gone with the Wind’.

When you begin a new novel, do you already know how it’s going to end? Or do your stories unfold organically as you write?

I start out with the intention of writing and following a detailed plan, but then the story and characters take over for themselves. Luckily for me, I always know the ending of my story before I know the beginning so it gives my stories a sense of narrative drive, that the story is heading somewhere, rather than just meandering along. I may rewrite my beginnings and middles many different ways, but my endings usually remain fixed. It’s a rather unusual way to go about things, but it seems to work.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Be a nice person in real life but don’t be a ‘nice’ writer. Make your readers as uncomfortable as you can and keep them that way so they keep turning the pages. Don’t let them rest or get any sleep. Then make it all worthwhile by giving them a truly satisfying ending that they’ll remember long after the book is closed.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Be passionate about writing and keep improving. Keep pushing yourself to make each piece of writing better than the last. I still do that. For each book I try to push myself to improve my writing and storytelling in some way. That way you never become complacent or get bored.

If I think I’m a writer, how would I know for sure?

If you wake up with a story playing in your head, you are a writer for sure!

So now that we have the official part of the interview out of the way and, before we close, I thought we’d have a bit of fun!

What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer it?

Q:  If I wasn’t a writer, what would you be doing?
A: I have no idea!

Wine or Cocktail?
Cocktail

Do you have a favourite motivational phrase?

Notice the magic and miracles that appear every day.

When you’re not writing, what are your favourite ways to relax?

I love dancing, playing the piano and catching up with friends. But my most favourite thing in the world is to play with my cats!

If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?

Charles Dickens. I never get tired of his novels and read ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ at least once a year! But of course, if I had a book club I would ask its members what they would like to read too!

Give us three good to know facts about you – be as creative as you want!

I remember the names of pets better than I do the names of their owners.

I was a very mischievous child, and sometimes my inner child still gets the better of me.

I’m most attracted to people who are kind, have a good sense of humour and a really unusual hobby.


Belinda, it’s been such a treat having you here today and I look forward to reading more of your novels.

If you would like to read an excerpt from Southern Ruby, HarperCollins have kindly provided a link to the first three chapters here.



Monday, 19 September 2016

Book Review | The Fence | Meredith Jaffé


In this sharply witty and astute debut, Meredith Jaffé, well-known book critic and former editor of The Hoopla, gives new meaning to the terms “suburban bliss” and “neighbours from hell” in a novel that’s sure to have everybody talking!

We’re firstly introduced to Gwen Hill who has lived in this North Shore suburb of Sydney all her adult life. When she loses her best friend and confidante, Babs, to cancer and the house next door is sold, she holds all sorts of fears for the future.

Enter Frankie Desmarchelliers-Boyd, she of the high-flying career with a house husband, four children and two dogs, who has moved to the lush and leafy suburb in a bid to save her marriage. Frankie is determined to keep her children and animals contained (perhaps her husband too) and nosy neighbours excluded and the fact that Gwen’s beautiful Crab Apple Trees encroach on her property quickly begins to breed contempt.

It’s an unfortunate situation that they soon find themselves in and what ensues is a battle of the generations where the older is grieving for what has been lost and the younger is determined to live life and raise her children her way.

Written in third person, from the perspectives of Gwen and Frankie and interspersed with Gwen’s newspaper column which adds some gardening flavor (with a hint of what is to come in the story), along with snippets of Eric’s and Brandon’s points of view, it’s this style of writing that has allowed Meredith to explore the motivations and frustrations of her realistic, complex and perfectly imperfect characters, thereby holding and increasing the tension throughout the story.

Whilst on the subject of characters, Meredith’s are universally recognisable and their observations of and experiences with one another will have the reader either taking sides or attempting to sit on the fence with an outsider’s perspective. Difficult as it was for me to just sit on the fence, I soon found myself empathising and sympathising more so with Gwen than Frankie, who I had a hard time warming up to because I found her to be acerbic and obnoxious.

In saying that though, don’t let my perceptions colour your impressions as there’s a lot more to Meredith’s characters and their stories than what I’m letting on and, in spite of my difficulties with Frankie’s character, it wasn’t long before I found myself vacillating in my allegiances between the two women.

The variety of themes explored in The Fence is also vast and there is definitely something for everyone with Meredith touching on grief, generational differences, mother-daughter relationships, identity and stereo-types, fidelity, dementia and aging, the complexities of modern marriage, parenting, as well as the ever-debatable nature versus nurture argument.

Delivering gems of barbed humour that don’t overshadow her poignant insight, Meredith Jaffé has written an absorbing, entertaining and utterly believable story that brims with the assurance of an important new voice in contemporary fiction and I can’t wait to see where she takes us to next.

Highly recommended and one for the Book Clubs!

I wish to thank Pan MacMillan for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

Meredith Jaffé became a writer via the scenic route. As a schoolgirl she wrote stories and poetry almost exclusively on the topic of horses (her poem The Brumbies was published in the annual school magazine!) When not writing about or riding horses, she channelled her energies into drama classes earning bit parts in the annual school plays. In Year 12, Meredith scored one of the two leading roles in the school’s production of Pride and Prejudice. Playing the part of Darcy remains the pinnacle of her acting career.
 
Meandering off to university, she majored in English Literature and Sociology and upon graduating she announced that she was going to be a writer. Her parents told her not to be silly and to get a real job, which she did. For 9 years, she worked in an insurance company and later became quite successful as a recruiter, possibly because it allowed her to collect other people’s life stories.
 
Facing the impending birth of her third child, she decided it was time to write or die wondering. Her early writing caught the eyes of one of the founders of the online women’s magazine The Hoopla and Meredith joined the magazine when it launched in July 2011. In March the following year, Meredith stepped into the role of Editor, Books and enjoyed three blissful years reviewing books and interviewing writers before the magazine closed its doors in March 2015.
 
Along the way, she was a member of the expert panel that selects the longlist for the Australian Book Industry Awards and chaired panels, presented workshops and interviewed fellow writers for various literary festivals. She volunteers at The Footpath Library where she is the Ambassador Program Coordinator enlisting writers to share the joy of reading with homeless people. She also runs their national EPIC! writing competition for school children.

For more on Meredith and her debut novel, see my Q & A here.

About the Book

"I promise you one thing, young lady. Building a fence is not going to keep the world out and won't keep your children in. Life's not that simple."

Gwen Hill has lived on Green Valley Avenue all her adult life. Here she brought her babies home, nurtured her garden and shared life's ups and downs with her best friend and neighbour, Babs. So when Babs dies and the house next door is sold, Gwen wonders how the new family will fit settle into the quiet life of this cosy community.

Francesca Desmarchelliers has high hopes for the house on Green Valley Avenue. More than just a new home, it's a clean slate for Frankie, who has moved her brood from Sydney's inner city to the leafy north shore street in a bid to save her marriage and keep her rambunctious family together.

To maintain her privacy and corral her wandering children, Frankie proposes a fence between their properties, destroying Gwen's lovingly cultivated front garden.

To Gwen, this as an act of war.

Soon the neighbours are in an escalating battle that becomes about more than just council approvals, and boundaries aren't the only things at stake.”

ISBN: 9781743540152
Pub date: 30/08/2016
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Pages: 368
RRP: AU$32.99

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Announcement | Winners | Wild One Blog Tour

                                               Image Designed by Qeaql-studio - Freepik.com



Congratulations

Mary Preston

and

Veronica


You have been selected as the winners. Please could you contact me at marcia@bookmusterdownunder.com.au with your postal address details.

A big thank you to the sponsors of the prize, Allen & Unwin.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Blog Tour | Guest Post | Kim Kelly


I'm extremely pleased to welcome Aussie Author Kim Kelly to the blog today to speak about the history in her latest novel, Jewel Sea which will be available for purchase in all fine bookstores tomorrow, 17 September.

Kim is the author of four novels (Black Diamonds, This Red Earth, The Blue Mile and Paper Daisies) and one novella (Wild Chicory) about Australia, its heritage and its people that are loved by readers all over the world.

Her stories shine a bright light on forgotten corners of our past and the tales of ordinary people living through extraordinary times. A striking characteristic of Kim’s writing is her ability to lead readers gently and lyrically into difficult terrain, exploring themes of bigotry, class conflict, disadvantage and violence in our shared history, which still plague the world today.

Kim is an editor and literary consultant by trade so stories fill her everyday – and most nights too.

Love is the fuel that fires her intellectual engine. In fact she takes love so seriously she once donated a kidney to her husband to prove it, and also to save his life.

Originally from Sydney, Kim now lives in Millthorpe, a tiny gold-rush village in the wide, rolling hills of central western New South Wales, where the ghosts are mostly friendly and her grown sons come home regularly to graze.

Kim, thank you so much for providing this post and a big thank you to The Author People for inviting me to take part in this Blog Tour.

Before we continue to Kim's post though, I'd like to give a shout-out to two other blogs - the one before me and the one after me - on this tour.

Please do stop by at With Love for Books where Suze Lavender interviewed Kim on the 15th September as well as wrote a lovely review and, Writer's Bloc who will be interviewing Kim as well as giving away 2 copies of Jewel Sea and providing an excerpt from the novel.

For a full list of blog tour participants, please visit Kim's website here.

Enjoy and happy hopping!
_________________________________________________________

One rainy day nearly two years ago, I was trawling around Goodreads looking for something to take me away when I stumbled across a book called Koombana Days, by historian Annie Boyd. I’m not sure what it was about the book – perhaps the sepia glimpse of long-ago shipboard workers on the cover, or some spell in the sound of the name Koombana as it ran through my mind – but I was immediately drawn to it.

When I read the book blurb and learned that the Koombana was a luxury steamship lost in a cyclone off the coast of Western Australia in 1912 – never to be found – a whole load of bells and whistles went off in my head. This was Australia’s most significant civilian maritime disaster, Australia’s own scaled-down Titanic tragedy, and I’d never heard of it? How could that be? I’m such an Australian history nerd, but this one was a complete mystery to me – and therefore absolutely tantalising. I barely knew a thing about Western Australia, either, especially not during the Edwardian period, but I knew I would write a story about this ship. I was clicking ‘buy now’ on Booktopia a few seconds later.


Before the book arrived, though, I found Annie Boyd’s extensive research collection online and dived into it straightaway. Within a few hours, I discovered the fabulous legend that had grown around the disaster: that a cursed pearl had been aboard the ship and some believed it had been responsible for her disappearance.

Now, why on earth would a pearl, cursed or otherwise, want to sink a ship full of innocent passengers? I asked myself, and right there, with that wonder, my reimagining of the history and the mystery of this story began to take shape – a very pearl-shaped shape!

I’d only had the vaguest inkling of how important the pearling industry had been to Western Australia, but had no idea of just how vast the wealth of the pearl barons had been. Together with the beef industry and the mining of gold and precious gems, the people of the Nor’-West, as it was called, were some of the wealthiest people on earth. So wealthy that the SS Koombana had been built especially for them, to ferry them from their summer retreats in Perth and back up along the coast when the pearling season began each autumn.

It was in the March of 1912, with the air heavy and humid as summer lingered well into autumn, that this sumptuous ship full of first class folk was struck by that vicious cyclone. In fact, the ship was so stacked with money, it didn’t even offer a steerage ticket. Second class was as low as you could go, and that was pretty luxurious, too.

Contrasted with all this opulence, were the pearl divers, wharf labourers and the Indigenous people who’d been dispossessed of their lands – some of whom were waging war on the frontiers of the Kimberley and Pilbara. Such a bundle of contrasts everywhere I looked: this amazing ship would dock into harbour towns comprised of little more than tin sheds. How on earth was I going to reconstruct a ship that had vanished and a coastline full of towns that had long since had their original buildings blown away? 

The challenge was awesome. Jewel Sea was an odyssey of research for me – a story that has taken me to places I never dreamed I’d go. A tale of greed and vengeance, love and redemption. I hope you enjoy the journey.

About the Book

The whole of the harbour was touched with gold – the tops of the quiet waves, warehouse roofs, the bulging folds of sails at rest, the tips of seagull wings – giving him one sweeping glimpse of beauty just as he was leaving, a vision of things as they ought always to be just as they were not…

March, 1912. A sultry Indian summer hangs over the west coast of Australia and aboard the luxury steamship SS Koombana, three tales entwine.

Irene Everley longs to leave her first-class fishbowl existence, secretly penning a gossip column as her life spirals out of control into soulless liaisons and alcohol, the long shadow of a tragedy clouding her view.

James Sinclair, an investor on his way to Broome is not the man he says he is but can he be trusted?

Abraham Davis, a wealthy dealer whose scandalous divorce is being dragged through the press, prepares to take the gamble of his life: to purchase an infamous, stolen pearl along the journey north.

Perfectly round, perfectly pink, this pearl comes with a curse and with a warning – destroying all who keep it from returning to the sea.

In the tradition of Steinbeck’s The Pearl, and the fabulous tales of Ion Idriess, comes a new twist on a fable of old. Based on the real-life tragedy of the SS Koombana, lost in a cyclone, never to be found, Jewel Sea is a gripping story of fatal desire, a tangled web of theft and greed, and of kindred spirits searching for courage, for a chance of love and redemption – and for a chance to truly live.

If you would like further information on Kim and her book, please visit the following links:

Thursday, 15 September 2016

What's Your Story? | Aussie Author Round-Up | Meredith Jaffé


It's really such an honour to welcome well-known book critic and former literary editor of The Hoopla, Meredith Jaffé to my blog today to celebrate the recent release of her debut novel, The Fence, which was published on 30 August.

Meredith became a writer via the scenic route. As a schoolgirl she wrote stories and poetry almost exclusively on the topic of horses (her poem The Brumbies was published in the annual school magazine!). When not writing about or riding horses, she channeled her energies into drama classes earning bit parts in the annual school plays. In Year 12, she scored one of the two leading roles in the school's production of Pride and Prejudice. Playing the part of Darcy remains the pinnacle of her acting career!

Meandering off to university, Meredith majored in English Literature and Sociology and upon graduating she announced that she was going to be a writer. Her parents told her not to be silly and to get a real job, which she did. For 9 years, she worked at an insurance company and later became quite successful as a recruiter, possibly because it allowed her to collect other people’s life stories.

Facing the impending birth of her third child, she decided it was time to write or die wondering. Her early writing caught the eyes of one of the founders of the online women’s magazine The Hoopla and Meredith joined the magazine when it launched in July 2011. In March the following year, Meredith stepped into the role of Editor, Books and enjoyed three blissful years reviewing books and interviewing writers before the magazine closed its doors in March 2015.

Along the way, she was a member of the expert panel that selects the longlist for the Australian Book Industry Awards and chaired panels, presented workshops and interviewed fellow writers for various literary festivals. She volunteers at The Footpath Library where she is the Ambassador Program Coordinator enlisting writers to share the joy of reading with homeless people. She also runs their national EPIC! writing competition for school children.

Everybody has a story, so please feel free to pull up a stump and hear Meredith's.

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Pan Macmillan, for making this interview possible.

Meredith, it’s really great to have you here, so welcome.

Marcia, it’s so nice of you to have me. I’ve been riding already this morning and it’s the perfect time to sit down for a chat and a cuppa.

Please share a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author.

When I started interviewing authors for The Hoopla, one of the things that surprised me was how many women had made the same decision as me. Write a book or die wondering. Even though babies are incredibly time consuming, it seems to be a common catalyst for saying, ‘right, it’s now or never.’ Mind you, because I did have four children at home at the time, including a new born, that novel took me six and a half years to write! The Fence, written last year, was contracted before I had written a word. So that novel was written in one month. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

I recently finished reading The Fence but for those who haven't yet gotten their hands on a copy, would you mind telling us about it?

The Fence centres around a quiet suburban neighbourhood. Gwen Hill has lived there all her married life and when her neighbour Babs dies, she worries who will move in next door. Francesca, with her house husband and four kids, sees a move to the leafy suburbs as a cure for her unstable marriage. When she wants to build a fence, Francesca is outraged that Gwen has very different ideas about containing children and protecting boundaries. Fighting over building a fence brings out the worst in both of them. The relationship sours to such an extent that even after the fence is built, the battle between these two women is far from over.

I’m just a little intrigued at the subject matter you chose – what made you want to write about neighbourly squabbles? Could it possibly stem from first-hand experience or is it a way of illuminating some of the challenges in human social relationships?

When we lived in Sydney, we had new neighbours move in next door. They wanted a fence where one had never existed before. It astounded me how emotionally charged the issue became. And that got me wondering why. What better way to answer the question than to explore the issue via a novel.

I didn’t particularly like Frankie (from my own personal observations of her character) but could you tell us how you felt writing her? I’m sure there must have been times you just wanted to strangle her!

Poor Frankie. I’m very mean to her and she does some really stupid and shocking things. However, I think anyone who is juggling full time work and a young family can find themselves under immense emotional pressure. Stress does not always bring out the best in us. A lot of Frankie’s issues are because she feels out of control so her way of coping with that is to try and control everyone and everything. Of course, that just makes the situation worse.

Considering that Gwen is a keen gardener, you’ve included information regarding gardening, so what kind of research did you need to do? Or are you just a natural green-thumb with a penchant for gardening and plants?

I wish I was a green thumb, but sadly I am not. I read mountains of gardening magazines and dipped into gardening books. Now we live on a farm, we have a massive garden. I’m really hoping some of this newly acquired knowledge sticks!

How did you feel when you submitted the final draft of your book baby to the publishers, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before it would wing its way into readers’ hands?

Anxious. By the time I handed in the manuscript, I’d  already read it ten, twenty or more times. It held no surprises and even though I had four lovely first readers, would my publisher like it too? Then, of course, there is the whole editing process. So much more work goes into getting every tiny detail right. So it has felt like ages until publication day. Now I get to be anxious all over again as I hope readers love it.

Was there anything you found particularly challenging in writing The Fence?

Nothing extraordinary. Just the usual writing issues around pacing and holding the tension in balance. But I started writing The Fence with a very clear structure and voice in mind so it really flew onto the page.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Finish it. Creating perfect sentences, paragraphs and chapters comes with the editing not the first draft.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t wait for the muse. She is a fickle wench who turns up in her own sweet time and never when you desperately need her. You must plod on regardless.

Where to next?

I’ve just finished the first draft of novel number three. So I am about to plunge into editing mode with that and I have some lovely events where I hope to meet many readers and hear their fence stories.

Now that we have the official interview out of the way and, before we close, I thought we’d have a bit of fun!

What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer it?

Oh golly. I don’t have a clue. Maybe we can make up a fantasy question, such as, how does it feel to have Cate Blanchet buy the film rights to The Fence? I don’t even know if Cate has a production company but she is marvelous. 

Pizza or Pasta?

Well it was homemade pizzas last night, so I guess I’ll have to go with pizza.

Do you have a favourite motivational phrase?

Umm, there’s a cold glass of champagne at the finish line?

If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?

I like books that raise passions and create a conversation. I’m thinking of Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin or Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. For pure reading pleasure, right now it would be the new Suzanne Rindell, Three-Martini Lunch, because her first novel, The Other Typist was simply wonderful.

Give us three good to know facts about you – be as creative as you want!

I love Scrabble and play online every day with a group of friends. I regularly lose. Note to self, don’t play Scrabble with word nerds!

I am not frightened of snakes but that doesn’t mean I have any urge to hold one.

I am terrified of sailing boats and once avoided a corporate team bonding day aboard the tall ships for that very reason. My boss was very unimpressed but you know what? There was no way I was taking my life in my hands by being on something that could tip over at any minute and end up drowning.

Meredith, it’s been a real treat having you here today and I wish you all the best of luck with the release of your debut which I have no doubt will be well received. Before you go though, would you mind sharing with us an excerpt from The Fence?

"If Babs were here, she’d laugh at Gwen hovering in the front garden waiting for the new neighbours to arrive. Gwen can almost hear her saying, ‘Look at you, Gwennie, raking up the leaves from beneath the plane trees, pretending you’re busy.’
   ‘That’s not entirely fair,’ Gwen replies in her head, surveying the soft mounds of leaves heaped under several of the trees along Green Valley Avenue. ‘I do this every year.’
  They used to burn the leaves but the council never lets you do such things anymore. ‘No, now we live in the nanny state,’ Gwen mutters to herself. No besser block incinerators, no smoking piles sending up their woody aroma. Mind you, even before the council’s interference, Gwen had changed her tune on the issue of burning leaves. Leaves are valuable organic matter better suited to mulching and keeping the soil warm in winter.
  Gwen hears the crunch of tyres on the road before she sees the white four-wheel drive heave into the driveway of 18 Green Valley Avenue. She continues raking the leaves whilst sending out waves of disapproval beneath the shadows of her widebrimmed hat. The large European model car has a ‘Baby on Board’ sign suctioned to a side window and a stick family in the bottom left corner of the rear window. It provides advance warning that the dad plays a guitar, that the mother is a perky sort with a mobile phone glued to her ear and a laptop in her hand, and the children are a superhero, a ballerina and a gymnast. The baby appears to have angel wings and a halo. Nauseating, Gwen thinks, raking so hard that she bends a tine on her favourite rake. Squinting, she sees what appears to be two sheep. Sheep? ‘Well I hope you’re satisfied, Babs Mody,’ Gwen accidentally says aloud, almost hearing Babs’ low chuckle in reply.
   Gwen hasn’t met the new neighbours. When the open for inspections were on, she was at the studio in Chatswood doing her gardening talkback show. She’s had to rely on Eric’s somewhat ambiguous descriptions and, being Eric, he tended to confuse the details of which couple were which. Scurrying along to the next tree, Gwen reflects on her conversations with Eric but no matter how she sifts and sieves the information, she is adamant he never mentioned children – and so many!
   The woman, she of the mobile phone and laptop, has brown hair tied up in a high ponytail. She’s wearing those oversized sunglasses in fashion these days. Her skirt flares around her boots and a long cardigan flaps over the whole ensemble. It is an unfortunate look on a woman barely scraping five foot four. The proportions emphasise that she is a shorty, or as Eric likes to call them, ‘a duck’s arse’.
   The kids are released one by one. First comes a little boy with blond hair past his shoulders so it is only the snowman t-shirt that makes Gwen certain he is a he. Next comes a little girl identical in looks and dress. The pair scamper straight into the garden, trampling the native violets under the camellias as they go.
  The father holds a fat toddler with remarkable ginger hair wearing the same outfit as her siblings but Gwen is more interested in how the man is dressed. Pretending to rake some leaves from under the buddleja in the front border, she sneaks closer, bending to peer through its branches.
    He wears black jeans and a bulky fisherman’s jumper with a pea coat over the top. It’s Rosedale not Russia, thinks Gwen. But it’s the hat that annoys her most. More of a giant tea-cosy than a hat. A beanie, she supposes, but not the kind that a real fisherman might wear to protect himself from the bitter winds of the Black Sea, no, this beanie sort of sags at the back. When Jonno was in his teens he used to like that Bob Marley who wore a not dissimilar beanie over his dreadlocks. On a handsome black man like Bob Marley, a baggie beanie looked stylish, but on a weedy white man, it looks pretentious."
          'Extracted from The Fence by Meredith Jaffé, published by Macmillan Australia and
           out now'

About the Book


"I promise you one thing, young lady. Building a fence is not going to keep the world out and won't keep your children in. Life's not that simple."

Gwen Hill adores Green Valley Avenue. Here she has built friendships, raised her children and nurtured a thriving garden. So when the house next door is sold, Gwen wonders how the new family will settle into this cosy community.

Francesca Desmarchelliers has high hopes for the house on Green Valley Avenue. More than a new home, it's a clean slate for Frankie, who has moved her brood in a bid to save her marriage.

To maintain her privacy and corral her wandering children, Frankie proposes a fence between the properties, destroying Gwen's picture-perfect front yard.

To Gwen, this is an act of war.

Soon the neighbours are in an escalating battle about more than just council approvals, where boundaries aren't the only things at stake.

ISBN: 9781743540152
Pub date: 30/08/2016
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Pages: 368
RRP: AU$32.99

The Fence is available from all good bookstores now! Or grab a copy at one of the following links:

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Book Review | The Grazier's Wife | Barbara Hannay


A legacy is at risk in this appealing new novel from Barbara Hannay featuring a lost letter and family secrets.

When Alice Miller arrives in the small town of Burralea in the Atherton Tablelands to make a new start after her grandmother’s death, she’s looking forward to opening her antique restoration business and the last thing she’s expecting is to be swept up into another family’s upheaval, when Jackie Drummond asks her to refurbish an old family heirloom in time for her husband, Hugh’s, 65th birthday party.

There’s nothing better than stories with secrets (well, in my opinion that is!) and Barbara Hannay’s novels have that in spades. I’ve read a number of her books now but none of them have quite captured me as much as The Grazier’s Wife did. 

The blurb alludes to a “sweeping, emotional saga” and you can believe me when I say that it’s exactly what the reader is going to get! I was so emotionally involved in these characters lives (yes - every. single.one. of. them.) that I didn’t want this story to end and I especially related to Alice and Seth’s story – her valid angst at the reasons she has for not getting involved with him and his heartbreaking, almost acceptance, of the fact that there’s nothing he can do for her unless she wants to help herself.

When you read a Barbara Hannay novel, you just know that you’re going to get the best of two worlds – one set in the present day with a rural Australian background and the other set historically on a different continent and this one is no different.

Journeying from 1946 Singapore to present day Australia, the novel is written in two timelines interspersed with a third in the form of Stella’s journal entries. All three narratives are interesting and very well-developed but, for me, the real strength of this novel lies in Barbara’s incredible ability to make the past come alive through Stella’s journal and I found myself trapped in a time-slip that took me to the heartbreaking story of Stella, Tom and Magnus.

As always, Barbara does a great job of making her readers feel connected to her characters. Her descriptions of time and place also excel and she smoothly shifts between each timeline never losing her reader in the maze.

So, if you’re anything like me and enjoy a great story filled with flowing writing, warmth, endearing characters and secrets that echo through the generations, then this one is for you.

A story about family, forgiveness, healing the past and hoping for the future, this one comes highly recommended.

I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with an eGalley proof of this novel for review.

About the Author

A former English teacher, Barbara Hannay is a city-bred girl with a yen for country life.

Many of her forty-plus books are set in rural and outback Australia and have been enjoyed by readers around the world.

She has won the RITA, awarded by Romance Writers of America, and has twice won the Romantic Book of the Year award in Australia.

In her own version of life imitating art, Barbara and her husband currently live on a misty hillside in beautiful Far North Queensland where they keep heritage pigs and chickens and an untidy but productive garden.

About the Book

For three generations of Australian women, becoming a grazier's wife has meant very different things.

For Stella in 1946, it was a compromise in the aftermath of a terrible war.

For Jackie in the 1970s, it was a Cinderella fairytale with an outback prince.

While for Alice in 2015, it is the promise of a bright new future.

Decades earlier, Stella was desperate to right a huge injustice, but now a long-held family secret threatens to tear the Drummond family of Ruthven Downs apart. On the eve of a special birthday reunion, with half the district invited, the past and the present collide, passions are unleashed and the shocking truth comes spilling out.

From glamorous pre-war Singapore to a vast cattle property in Queensland's Far North, this sweeping, emotional saga tests the beliefs and hopes of three strong women as they learn how to hold on to loved ones and when to let go.

Published: August 2016
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
ISBN: 9780143797180
RRP: AU$32.99

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Blog Tour & Giveaway | Wild One | Jessica Whitman


It's with great pleasure that I welcome to the Blog today, Jessica Whitman, author of the recently released Wild One.

In order to write these novels, Jessica teamed up with the face of Ralph Lauren, world-famous polo player Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Figueras, to bring to life a romantic trilogy set in the glamorous world of international polo.

'Nacho' Figueras is the captain and co-owner of the award-winning Black Watch polo team. The ‘David Beckham of polo’, he has featured on Oprah, 60 Minutes and Gossip Girl, and was voted the second most handsome man in the world by Vanity Fair. Nacho lives in America and Argentina with his wife and their four children.

Before I leave you to enjoy the rest of this post though, I have just a few words to say.

Blog Tours take a lot of planning and book bloggers, who like everyone else lead mostly normal lives with full-time jobs and families to care for, voluntarily give up their personal time to bring you information about new books, authors and opportunities to enter giveaways.

For these reasons, it's always appreciated when readers like you take the time to visit our blogs and provide your support for what we do. It would therefore be fantastic if you could visit the stop before me, Firebird Feathers and the one after me, Talking Books Blog and show that support.

And, because my not so faithful Calendar forgot to remind me about my spot on the tour (and I'm now 3 days late in posting), I'll add the link to Sam Still Reading's post (which went live on 10 September) here.

Remember that publishers, authors and reviewers all have a role to play in bringing something of value to you - that wonderful world of reading!

Here's a full list of all the stops on the tour:


A huge thank you to Jessica for providing this post and Allen and Unwin for hosting the tour and giveaway.
_________________________________________________________

Here is my deepest, darkest secret, dear friends – until embarking on the Polo Season series I had never actually ridden a horse.

I know. Believe me, I know. It’s ridiculous. I signed up to three books about polo and horses and the glories of riding – before ever embarking on my first lesson (something I have since corrected with a surprising amount of pleasure).

But before you dismiss me completely for the impostor I just admitted myself to be – just know that even though I have never actually ridden, I was not unfamiliar with horses. I had actually spent hours and hours with horses. I grew up around horses and, in fact, I am around horses all the frigging time. 

Because, you see, when my daughter was four years old, she was having some trouble separating from me at pre-school. And when I say trouble, I mean that I was actually forced to sit in the hallway outside her classroom door for the entire day – day after day -  or she simply wouldn’t be able to attend school. And so I did. Because, after all, I could still write, even sitting on the hallway floor, and because one does what one must for one’s kid.

But just because I did it, didn’t mean that I wasn’t constantly thinking of ways to not do it. And one day, while driving up the hill to my house, I passed a beautiful farm with a hand painted sign advertising “Riding Lessons”.  My daughter, like many little girls, was absolutely horse crazy. And I was excited to think that, just maybe, I had hit upon the perfect equine bribe.

The first time I saw my daughter on a horse, I wept. For many reasons, (which I will not get into right now) my daughter deeply struggled with her confidence, and though I knew she loved horses in theory, I had no idea what she would do when she was actually presented with one.  But it turned out to be one of those heart-stopping moments when you see someone find the thing that they were simply meant to do.  She climbed up on that little white pony, and sat tall in the saddle and grinned like her most secret wish had just come true.  It was that obvious that she was finally where she was meant to be. 

So when my agent called to pitch me the idea about working with Nacho on the polo series, I did not hesitate. I know horses.  And I love horses. And I will be eternally grateful for the little pony that finally gave my daughter her confidence back, and got me off that miniature chair outside her pre-school door.

About the Book

In the irresistible tradition of Jilly Cooper, Wild One is the second addictively readable novel in the glamorous, scandalous, romance-filled Polo Season series.

When Katherine 'Kat' Parker wrote and directed a blockbuster movie she became Hollywood's 'It Girl' overnight - until with one flop she wasn't. Now Kat is back living in Florida trying to find the inspiration to write what she hopes will be her comeback screenplay.

Despite being an exceptionally talented polo player, Sebastian Del Campo has never shared his famous family's intense passion for the sport. He has, however, excelled at other polo-related activities - like partying hard and having liaisons with beautiful women.

When Sebastian meets Kat he finds her down-to-earth attitude refreshing. Keen to get to know her better, he regales Kat with stories of his trailblazing grandmother, Victoria, who was a pioneering polo player.

Kat's imagination is fired by Victoria's story and she realises she'd make a great subject for a screenplay. Seb agrees and the pair head to Hollywood to seek out funding for a film that could make or break both their careers - and their growing feelings for each other . . .

Wild One is a fun, sexy and entertaining novel about taking a risk to follow your passions in life - and love.

Category: Popular fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Imprint: Arena
Pub Date: September 2016
Page Extent: 320
RRP: $29.99

Wild One is available for purchase at the following links:


You can discover more about Allen and Unwin through social media and their blog which can be found at these links:


Giveaway

As part of this tour, my host, Allen and Unwin, has generously provided two copies of Wild One to give away. In order to enter all you need to do is leave a comment below.

Kindly note that this giveaway is open to Australian residents ONLY and you will be required to email me at marcia@bookmusterdownunder.com.au in order to provide your name and street address.

The giveaway closes at midnight (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on Friday, 16 September and winners will be contacted via email on Saturday, 17 September.

Two winners will be selected at random and announced here on the Blog (which feeds through to both my Facebook Page and Twitter handle).

Disclaimer: I reserve the right to re-draw if the winners do not contact me within 24 hours of them being notified.