The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton

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THE SECRET KEEPER by Kate Morton

I first stumbled upon Kate Morton in the book pages of the Sydney Morning Herald.  The article was about Australia’s most sought after writer at the moment – and how I probably hadn’t heard of her.  It was right.  I hadn’t heard of her.

At the time, THE SECRET KEEPER was about to be released, and I figured I owed it to myself to get a copy, I owed it to Australia!  That was the first time I read The Secret Keeper.

Now three years later, I am reading it again.

The Blurb Copy

During a picnic at her family’s farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson witnesses a shocking crime, a crime that challenges everything she knows about her adored mother, Dorothy. Now, fifty years later, Laurel and her sisters are meeting at the farm to celebrate Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this is her last chance to discover the truth about that long-ago day, Laurel searches for answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.

As Laurel refuses to let her mother pass without sharing her secret of what really happened on that day, the reader is transported back to London during World War II when Dorothy, Laurels mother was a young woman.  The tale is adventurous and thrilling, but I feel like I cannot really put too much here without spoiling the whole thing.  All I will say is that the ending is gut wrenching!

This book has one of the most well written literary openings of any book I have read, comparable to the hot air balloon scene from Ian McEwan’s ENDURING LOVE.

From there it reads like a historical drama-slash- family mystery investigation-slash-war romance.  I hate to use the cliche, but it really does have it all.  At the heart of Morton’s stories are hidden family secrets set against vast sweeping sagas.  A genre she has single-handedly revived in such a way as to make it her own.

The emerging writer, writing, readingThe first time I read this book, it completely consumed me.  I powered through the novel at a crazy pace.  The second time around, knowing what I know about the ending, I’m seeing a completely different story.

The second reading is incredibly interesting.  I’m looking back at every thread of the story, knowing they are all leading together.  It’s really beautifully written.

The Secret Keeper is an easy (addictive) read, a book you can quickly pick up and put down.  It’s hard to compare it to other writing, as it so unique.  It reminds me of so many stories and novels I have read, but at the same time, has a unique voice I haven’t heard before.

KATE MORTON

THE SECRET KEEPER was published in 2012 by Allen & Unwin in Australia.  It is Morton’s fourth novel.  It’s a big book, at nearly 600 pages, but you don’t feel the story going slowly in any way.  It’s just heavy in your arms, late at night as you find you won’t put it down.

Reading this book as an Emerging Writer, I often felt a little sick. It’s the kind of book that is soooo good, you know you could never write.  Reading this book on a bad day could be detrimental to your writing practice.  On a good day it could bring hope that Australian lady writers from Queensland are making it big right around the world.  It could go either way.

When THE SECRET KEEPER was released in 2012 it was very well received.  I remember seeing whole stands in bookstores devoted to the fourth Morton installment (not that her books are related in any way).  The marketing behind The Secret Keeper was huge, and for good reason.  Publishers knew they had a winning book and they wanted to share the love.

Kate Morton has been working hard for a long time.  When people say, it takes 10 years to become an overnight success, they are talking about writers like Morton.  “It’s been a long, hard struggle to get to this point” SMH  Kate Morton now earns Million dollar advances for her books.  But it wasn’t always the case.

Kate Morton originally wanted to become an actress.  Instead, she earned herself first-class honors for her English Literature degree at the University of Queensland, during which time she wrote two full-length manuscripts (which are unpublished).  Mortons first book was rejected by publishers, as was her second.

The third book, that would become the 2006 novel The Shifting Fog (The House at Riverton), was set aside after she had her first child, and it was during this time that her agent received an offer for the half published piece.  She finished it in a month and the book was a success.  Since then she has released a novel approximately every two and a half years.

good fiction books to read, good books, book blogs, books, book reviews, book review blogs, good fiction books, kate morton, the lake house, the lake house reviewAs an Emerging Writer, Kate Morton’s work has not only taught me about plotting, character development and tone, her career has reminded me to keep pursuing a writing career, even when it feels impossible.  As long as I am getting improving with every effort, then I am not wasting my time.

THE LAKE HOUSE was released in October 2015. It is Kate Morton’s Fifth novel – I am leaving my office now to go and buy it – Goodbye.

This House of Grief, Helen Garner

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THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF by Helen Garner.  True Australian Crime.  Recommended for 18 and over.  (Not recommended for pregnant women.)

helen garner review, this house of grief review, reviews, meghan brewster reviews, book reviews, australian writers reviewed, Australian literature review, aussie writers, book review, book reviews, book review blogsThis House of Grief is the story of a murder trial.  The book is a detailed observation of the trial of a father accused of drowning his three sons on Father’s Day.  The high-profile trial that took place in Melbourne followed the accused Robert Farquharson of drowning his three sons by driving their car into a dam and then fleeing the scene.

After a six-year break in publishing Helen Garnder is back.  I purchased my copy of THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF at the Sydney Writers Festival, after Helen Garner gave an incredible address at the Recital Hall.  It’s signed.  And I love it.

The book covers almost seven years in which the court case became HELEN GARNER‘s obsession.  She was in the courtroom every day of Farquharson’s trial and subsequent retrial, along with countless journalists and the families of both the accused and his former wife.

Garner not only documents the presentation of the evidence and the intimacy of proceedings but allows her own perception and experience to colour the telling.  Her observations are so accurate it is exciting.  Intimate and mundane, addictive and gripping.

Her ability to read people and dissect their mannerisms, body language and presence makes this book stunning.  She is an observer of the purest form, seeking out both sides of the argument, wanted to extract the truth.

THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF was published in 2014 by TEXT PUBLISHING and is Garner’s fifth work of non-fiction.

I finished the whole book in just a week, crying in public and taking it into the bathroom with me because I simply couldn’t put it down.  A week to read, quite quick really.  The question that hangs over the entire telling is the most complicated of all, did he do it?

As an emerging writer, I think the first thing you need to know about Helen Garner is that she does not have a website, she isn’t on Facebook or Instagram and she doesn’t appear to use Twitter.   She does not engage in social media at all, and yet her work and her following speak for themselves.

Sitting in the Angel Place recital hall, to a full crowd of intrigued and excited fans, Helen Gardner was an incredible force.  Her words held us all, as we leant forward, craning for more.

She is an incredible writer.  Her description and observations of people leave me in awe, with beautiful metaphors such as…

…as Morrissey took Farquharson by the hand drew him into the bombed-out rubble of the story, aiming a hose at every smoking point of doubt, my heart softened again towards the awkward, unhappy figure on the stand.

When This House os Grief was released it was shortlisted for seven writing awards in Australia, winning the Ned Kelly Awards for Crime writing for Best True Crime.

Helen Garner’s work has taught me appreciate clarity, brevity and truth.

KILL YOUR DARLINGS review of Helen Garner’s This House of Grief.

Helen Garner PODCAST from the 2015 Sydney Writers Festival, How We Write About Darkness.

Bird of Chaos, Susie Mander

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how to write a book, how to write a story, writing a novel, australian authors, young authors, female writer, female writer australian, Susie ManderBIRD OF CHAOS by Susie Mander

I was lucky enough to be given an advanced copy of Bird of Chaos from the author herself.

As a friend of Susie Mander, I was familiar with the story that was coming my way.

We had spoken on and off about Verne during the entire writing process.

The back cover blurb.

The final Tempest rides on the power of a storm. It blasts the cold of winter and burns like the summer sun. It spares no one.

Verne Golding the Third is heir to the Tibutan throne and destined to stop the Tempest. But Tibuta is fractured by civil war and Verne’s family is divided by ambition and cruelty—and she, unlike them, is ungifted. Her allies urge her to take power to unify the nation and protect it against evil, but only a Talent can rule Tibuta. Verne must overcome her impediment and find a way to rise above prejudice and her own self-doubt to take on the challenge.

The only thing standing in her way is her mother.

The story and what it is about and what kind of happens in it.  Including my opinion, parts that I liked and skipped over all that stuff.

Did I keep reading it all the way till the end?

Quotes from the book, that were good bad, funny of incredibly moving.

Was lucky enough to INTERVIEW SUSIE MANDER right after Bird of Chaos had just been released and she had given birth to her first child.

BIRD OF CHAOS was published in 2014 by Crooked Keep, Australia.

Bird of Chaos is Susie Mander’s first novel.

It is 420 of pages long and while it should only be about 11 hours of reading time, but it took me about three months as my kindle was broken and my computer kept hitting me in the face at night.  Got a paper back copy and read it again in a week.

What I learnt from this book.  

Reading this book as an Emerging writer makes for an incredibly inspiring story.

A study in world building – Reading the book as an emerging writer, what can you learn and study.  What are some inspirational parts of the book.

Was self-published through Crooked Keep Publishing.

Add to female writer –

Add to all the reviews –

 

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

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THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train has been on my reading list since it was published in January of this year.  The book has been likened to GONE GIRL, and was discussed with great enthusiasm at the Emerging Writers Festival in May.  Everyone seems to be talking about it.  So did this humble little fiction from the UK live up to the hype?

It’s complicated.

good fiction books to read, good books, book blogs, books, book reviews, book review blogs, good fiction books, girl on a train, the girl on the train, paula hawkins, thriller booksMeet Rachel.  Rachel is struggling to cope with the end of her marriage, stuck in the monotony of her life and consumed with thoughts and plans about alcohol.  To fill time on her daily commute, Rachel has become caught up in the lives of a seemingly ideal couple, who’s house and backyard she can see from the train.  Each day she passes the house and projects onto them the ideal life that is out of her reach.

Then one day she witnesses something that shocks her.  As the secret eats away at her, she is desperate to tell somebody what she witnessed.  She decides to act, setting off a chain of events that alter the course of many lives.

The complexity of the plotting is a gem.  The Girl on the Train is told through multiple first person narration.

In many ways, the telling is quite sophisticated.  This book is a wonderful lesson for any Emerging Writer, who may be over explaining their work.  Paula Hawkins trusts her readers to figure a lot out on their own.  It wasn’t so much a twist at the end as a slow revealing of the truth.  As time slips back and forth between 2012 and 2013, characters and events  slowly reveal themselves, as the reader pieces the plot together.

The reader remains engaged as they have to actively figure out the story.  In doing so, I realised how many assumptions I made about many characters in the absence of facts.  It’s an interesting experiment in the things we make up about someone; the ways in which someone’s outward appearance directly influences our impression of their inward life. Continue reading

The Lake House, Kate Morton

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THE LAKE HOUSE by Kate Morton

I’m a big Kate Morton fan.  It’s not just because I love her books, but because I enjoy how candid she is about her life as a writer.  Morton has always been honest about the challenges she faced initially getting published.  In interviews, she has shared her rejections, her moments of doubt and financial struggles, and times when she was working as a waitress at weddings.  SMH

All this honesty, juxtaposed with commercial and critical acclaim make Kate Morton a wonderful writer for emerging writers to follow and learn from.

Her latest release THE LAKE HOUSE follows on from her success as a time-slipping family-drama mystery writer.  I will try not to give anything away.  The blurb copy reads like this… A missing child.  June 1933, and the Edevane family’s country house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much-anticipated Midsummer Eve party.

Alice Edevane, sixteen years old and a budding writer, is especially excited. Not only has she worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she’s also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn’t. But by the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night skies, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great that they leave Loeanneth forever. Continue reading

Rush Oh, Shirley Barrett

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RUSH OH! by Shirley Barrett

In the place where I grew up, Rush Oh! needs no advertising campaign.  Here it has received a great deal of traditional Eden gossip and word of mouth advertising.  Everyone has heard about the book about our whalers.

I am from the Eden, the town in which RUSH OH! is set.  Well, I went to high school in the whaling town of Eden, I watched the Whale Festival Parade meander down Imlay Street year after year.  I walked up the hill to the Whale Museum for science lessons.  I touched the bones of Old Tom on display in the museum and scratched whale oil from the carpet where it drips lethargically from whale bones bolted to the ceiling.

I knew this story.  I knew it well. Continue reading

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

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THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion

By the time I came to read THE ROSIE PROJECT, its reputation was monumental.  I knew it was a romantic comedy.  I had already heard the premise of the novel.  I knew lots of people loved it.  I felt like I had already read it.  I wondered if knowing so much about the novel would ruin it all, but really, I have to say it didn’t.  I loved it.

reviews, meghan brewster reviews, book reviews, australian writers reviewed, Australian literature review, aussie writers, book review, the rosie projectIn terms of reviews, there isn’t much left to say about THE ROSIE PROJECT, and I certainly feel like I am coming to the book very late.  But I still wanted to read it.  It’s famous and Australian and had a great reputation.

In case, on the off chance you have heard nothing about The Rosie Project, here is a little blurb.  Don Tillman is an Australian scientist who has set his mind to finding a wife.  With few friends and a terrible dating record, Don sets about formatting a wife questionnaire to find a most suitable wife.  He’s a little special when it comes to engaging with others, and if you were ever a teacher like me you will be thinking Aspergers before the end of the first paragraph.

His plans are set off course when he meets Rosie, who doesn’t fit many of Tillman’s criteria, but find her way into his life regardless.  As a genetic scientist, Don is in a position to help Rosie look for her genetic father.

Things go well and then things go badly.  It’s obvious from their first date that these two will get together, but the journey there really is worth the read. Continue reading

Amazing Babes, Eliza Sarlos & Grace Lee

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AMAZING BABES by Eliza Sarlos and Grace Lee.  This is the book that inspired a traveling writers singing spectacular!

Amazing babes, amazing babes book, emerging writer, emerging writers, reviews, australian books, aussie book reviews I first heard about Amazing Babes at the EMERGING WRITERS FESTIVAL.  At the festival, it was in song form, but I got the drift of it.

So it’s a beautiful book.  It’s well made, lovely to look at and easy to read.

Amazing Babes is a celebration of innovative, brave and world-changing women.  When I first read this book I felt a little tingle run down my spine.  It’s a really inspiring book, for grown-ups as much as little people.

AMAZING BABES was published in 2013 by Scribe in Australia.  It’s a collaboration between writer and illustrator which started as a one of a kind book, written by Eliza Sarlos for her son Arthur.  It was a birthday present for Arthur.  Eliza asked longtime friend Grace Lee to help bring the words to life and the result is gorgeous portraits that introduce new readers to the lives of these strong, powerful and world changing women.

I actually have a copy of this in my library and we have a house without children.  Friends and family love reading it when it’s laying around on the coffee table.

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The Strays, Emily Bitto

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THE STRAYS, by Emily Bitto

I have to confess, I knew nothing about this novel before it won The Stella Prize.  Emily Bitto’s The Strays tells the story of young friends Lily and Eva.  Lily is an only child, born to ‘regular’ parents struggling through the economic depression.  She is embarrassed by her parents and the simplicity of their life.

Eva is the middle child in a gang of young girls, born to successful artistic parents who reject conservatism and are able to afford duck for dinner.  Eva’s father is a modernist painter, her mother a chic intellectual with old money. They live in a large home which is slowly transformed into collective studio’s.

The story is told from the perspective of Lily, and from this position we witness Eva’s life as an outsider.  Over the years, their friendship develops from young girls to maturing teenagers and finally adults.

The unlikely bond between these central characters has resonated with readers, Bitto said. “It’s not really been written about that much: that intensity of friendship between girls in childhood. When you look at literature as a whole, those kind of relationships often get sidelined in favour of romance.”

Lily comes to nuzzle her way into this vibrant art commune (with the indirect support of her mother) taking on the role of silent observer.

the strays, emily bitto, Books, ebooks, books online, book, gift ideas, buy books online, free ebooks, ebooks online, emerging writer, emerging writers, reviews, australian books, aussie book reviewsRight from the beginning there is a promise of destruction.  A fire is alluded to from the first chapter, but it becomes clear as you read that someone more subtle and destructive has taken hold in the house.

There is a beautiful moment when the central characters mature at different speeds, and Lily looks back on their friendship seeing it all again for the first time.  It’s obvious they were moving apart.

I loved the art world depicted in The Strays.  I almost feel like I am insulting the book by trying to write about it.  The characters are quirky and real, the house is magical and the garden is enchanting.  So often writers tell stories of writers, poets or playwrights (perhaps writing what they know) and this is a refreshing change from the literary world.   It reminded me to paint a little more.

The novel is loosely based on the Heide school of painters.  Known as the Heide Circle, the real life group of painters lived just outside Melbourne.  These artists were well known for their intertwined personal and professional lives.

“I was particularly drawn to 1930s and 1940s Australia because of the stark divide between the mainstream values of the time and the lifestyle and values of the avant-garde art world.” Bitto  THE GUARDIAN.  

When Lily finally returns to the house as an older woman, everything is smaller, less magical more grounded and normal.

I read somewhere that this novel was compared to Ian McEwan’s Atonement, which is one of my favourite books of all time.  It’s a great comparison.  The tone and style of the story telling is very similar.  But it is the role that a child plays in the long-term outcome for the family that is the obvious connection.  The responsibility placed on children so young is explored in both novels, both with disastrous and long term consequences for the whole family.

To me, there was a familiar flavor to Kate Morton’s writing; with the large magical house of the family and the stories and mysteries it held.  and the past slipping back to effect the present.  Read like a slow simmering mystery.

The beauty of this book for me was the depiction of childhood and female friendship.  That bond between the girls was so perfectly represented without being dumbed down or dismissed as irrelevant.  It was the story.  And certainly caused me to look back on my friendships at that age with more gravity and nostalgia.

EMILY BITTO

THE STRAYS was published in 2014 by Affirm Press in Australia, and is EMILY BITTO‘s debut novel.  Emily Bitto has a masters in literary studies and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Melbourne.  Her PhD examined the role of the artist in contemporary literature.  While studying, she found the persistence of the myth of the male genius.

And won the 2015 STELLA PRIZE which as well as bestowing a life changing career boost for the writer also includes a $50 000 cash prize.  Says she will use the money to buy time to work on her second novel.

The Strays took me no time at all to read.  It was captivating without being heavy or exhausting.  I found it to be one of those books I stayed up reading late into the night.

Reading the book as an emerging writer, what can you learn and study – Elements of story, perspective, time and place that an Emerging writer should think about.  First person perspective is nice as an outsider, like the audience.  Also a wonderful study in writing memory.

In an article by The Guardian is stated that the novel went through 10 FULL REDRAFTS before being published by Affirm Press

Everything I learned from EMILY BITTO was I think to be gentler with my prose, and plot.  That the tail will unravel at its own pace I do not need to be so forceful in moving things along.

She also reminded me of how interesting Artists can be, but how hard they are to hang around with for a long time.

Interestingly while writing she also works full time in a wine bar she opened in Carlton.  Love it.

Here is a much better review of this work from the GUARDIAN – Enjoy.

Australian Women Writers Challenge

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This is probably me being very ambitious, but I’m going to join a reading challenge seven months too late.  The AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS’ CHALLENGE is part of a worldwide movement to raise awareness of Australian Writing by women.

The Challenge is primarily intended to challenge subconscious stereotypes that govern our choice of books to read.  With that in mind, I just agreed to read and review 20 books by Australian Women by the end of 2015.

Ok.  If you’d like to join in the challenge, SIGN UP here.  I better get cracking.

I wonder how this will go?

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