Book reviews, What I've been reading

Inspiration, Regret and a Snarky Cat

An interviewer asked me the other day what inspired me to write Lucy & Dee, The Silk Road. The “author” answer comes from my childhood reading history. Of all the wonderful books I read as a child, my favourites were the classic fantasy adventure stories by authors like C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Mary Norton, P. L. Travers and E.Nesbitt. I wanted to write books as magical and transportive as they did. So, from the age of eight, I was making little books—literally folding pieces of paper into a book-like shape. From there, I wrote facsimiles of Borrower’s stories and other fantasy adventures.

My happy place in Brisbane, the Botanical Gardens. I have a favourite Morton Bay fig tree I sit beneath and think deep thoughts.

The more personal answers come from my family. Fast forward a couple of decades and I had children of my own. I told them my stories and my son always begged me to write them down. I’d start, and even finish, manuscripts and leave them languishing in my laptop. Someday, I thought. Someday I’ll have time to get these published so my children can hold them in their hands.

A few more decades passed, and it was my mother’s death in the spring of 2021 that finally pushed me to finish The Silk Road. My parents were huge readers and encouraged us to read and write. They would have been thrilled to hold a book I’d written in their hands. I was so angry with myself for always thinking ‘oh, I’ll have time later.’

If you’re inspired to write a book, make the time now!

What I’ve been Reading

I love it when I find a new series and each title draws me inexorably to the next!

A snarky, magical cat, Gobbelino, one half of a Private Investigator partnership, narrates the Gobbelino London series. Scruffy, loner Callum (he’s deeply attached to a disreputable trench coat) makes up the other half of the duo. Witty dialogue, hints at their past lives that make you want to know more, and the deep commitment and respect they have for each other fill the books. Their characters develop in satisfactory ways and each title reveals more about their fascinating backstories.

Each book centres on solving an unusual magical mystery from neutralizing a homicidal grimoire (A Scourge of Pleasantries), defeating an infestation of zombies (A Contagion of Zombies), rounding up a gang trafficking in powdered unicorn horn (Complications of Unicorns) and preventing the end of humanity (A Melee of Mages). As they careen from one scrape to another with the help of an eclectic and fascinating collection of secondary characters they manage to save the day. If you need to smile, to laugh, to get invested in some characters you are really going to care about, then please give this series and this author a read. You won’t regret it and the world will seem just a bit more optimistic afterwards too. I am impatiently awaiting the next book in the series.


Beach views and Book Review

It’s wonderful to be back in Australia after a two-year hiatus (thank you, Covid). This is my time to relax, recharge and work on the sequel to The Silk Road. We’ve spent two weeks in Sydney and visited beaches (Coogee Beach, this was just after the volcano erupted in Tonga and the waves were massive as far south as this), museum, art galleries, and more delicious cafés and restaurants than I can mention. Which doesn’t sound like I’ve been working much, but one must sneak up on the muse. But now I’m back in Brisbane and it’s time to get to work.

Coogee Beach, NSW. This was just after the volcano erupted in Tonga and the waves were massive as far south as this.

While here I finished a book titled The Bookseller’s Secret, by Michelle Gable a dual-protagonist story featuring a fictionalized account of Nancy Mitford’s war-time experience in a London bookshop and a modern-day novelist with writer’s block (Katie).

I’m a big fan of Nancy Mitford and I’ve read at least four of her books, so the premise of the book intrigued me. Nancy was the oldest of the famed (and infamous) aristocratic and beautiful Mitford sisters and a successful novelist and biographer. But during her time in the bookshop, she had recently had three failed novels and now had a severe case of writer’s block. During the war, she decided to write a memoir and this (now missing and Katie’s new obsession) memoir is the crux of the ‘secret’. Nancy formed a salon during the war with several social and literary elites including her long-time friend, mentor and competitor, Evelyn Waugh. It is her friends who encourage and needle her into writing said memoir.

I found the writing average at best. The dialogue often felt forced and the character Katie self-absorbed and unreasonably pushy. However, the depiction of Nancy’s time during the war years, her penury, her desperate need to write, and the onset of her long-term love affair with ‘the Colonel’ was fascinating. More Nancy and less Katie would have made it a better book. The writer acknowledges this went from first draft to published in one year during Covid, so there’s that.

One of the best things about it was a tiny point: the owner of the modern-day bookshop curated libraries for individuals. A four-year-old girl was receiving a curated library for her birthday (albeit a shelf in her bedroom with room to grow). My four-year-old self would have loved to have such a library!

Other novels featuring the Mitford sisters I recommend reading, or listening to, are The Mitford Murders books by Jessica Fellowes.

Nancy Mitford’s most popular books are:

The Pursuit of Happiness (novel)

Love in a Cold Climate (novel)

Don’t Tell Alfred (novel)

Madame de Pompadour (biography)

The Sun King (biography)

Frederick the Great (biography)


Giving Thanks

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada today and this year we’re giving thanks with a completely vegetarian meal, the first time I’ve tried this! Since no one was interested in pumpkin pie this year, I adapted a recipe for Vanilla Bean cake for our dessert. The recipe called for salted caramel sauce, which I love, but it felt to rich and heavy for the end of our meal. So I made a lemon glaze instead.

Lemon glaze brightens up a rich vanilla bean cake

Bookish News

Last week Lucy & Dee The Silk Road went up on NetGalley for advance readers to read and review. It’s a free service and for a limited time, you can download a complimentary copy of the book.

Just click on the widget and it will take you straight there.

It’s getting close to the holiday season and we’re all being advised to order our gift book early because…supply chain issues. If you’re looking for some good ideas, LitHub has this selection of the best reviewed books of the week.

I love epistolary novels, narratives composed solely or mainly of letters. Two particular favourites have been The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and Gone With the Windsors, by Laurie Graham. Sarah Rahman talks about how she fell in love with epistolary novels in this article and gives some wonderful examples and recommendations.

What I’m Reading Now

A delightful fall read for getting you into the Halloween spirit! This fast read is a magical fantasy about witches and wine and it doesn’t get much better than that! Romance, suspense and vengeance, oh my!

Bookshelves of Early printed books at the Long Room, TCD.

History, Then and Now

The most important lesson of my life has been that books matter. My parents were both book lovers and by the age of four, I had learned how to read. I remember going to the public library every week, library card clutched in my hand, anxious to take out more books.

It was a crushing blow when I came to the end of the books the library had in their juvenile section!

However, that was also when I learned the value of what today I call my comfort books. Books I re-read when I need a certain lift or I’m in a particular mood. When I was young, the books I came back to time and time again were books that would take me to other worlds, other places, the Narnia books, the Borrower books, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Diamond in the Window. Other popular series were the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. I always loved a good mystery and adventure.

I still love adventure, fantasy, history, mystery, and reinvention stories. I love finding a new series and blowing right through it!

What were your favourite books as a child? Do you still read those types of books as an adult?

Bookish News

In every blog post I’ll include this little section on interesting snippets I’ve found around the web that are helpful to readers and writers. This week, we have a piece on how to write an author bio for a press kit, the 4 best apps for keeping track of the books you own and supply chain issues plaguing the publishing industry.

Impress the Press!

Your author bio is your best opportunity to show that you are the best person to have written the book. The media and reviewers all need to know the excellent credentials behind your non-fiction book or novel. Because of the specific audience, your author bio for a press kit differs from the one you use on your book jacket and sales page. You can read all about it here

Your Home Library App

Having a virtual library of the books you own or have read can be a lifesaver at the library or when you’re browsing in the bookstore. Here are four apps (Android and iOS) to help you keep track of what you own, would like to own, and would like to read.

Holiday gift-giving just became more complicated…

Books are a popular gift item, particularly the latest best-sellers. This year, it might be challenging to find the books you want because of the supply chain issues plaguing the publishing industry. The price of lumber has soared and with it the price of paper. Print book shortages are looming. See what the fuss is about here:

What I’m Reading Now

The Bombay Prince, by Sujata Massey is Book 3 in the Perveen Mistry series

This is a series that takes me away from the every day and teaches me something new. It’s set in 1920’s India and features Perveen Mistry, the first female solicitor in Bombay. If you like colourful history and compelling characters coupled with a fast-paced mystery, this book is for you.

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