azhure: (me phoenix)

beastgarden

The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany.


 

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


I’m a longtime fan of Kate Forsyth (I vividly remember stalking the bookstore shelves waiting for each Witches of Eileanan book to be released), and particularly loved her last two books, The Wild Girl and Bitter Greens, and was thus extremely happy to be asked to read and review The Beast’s Garden.

I will admit up front, I went into this book with a small sense of trepidation.  I had very high hopes, based on how good The Wild Girl and Bitter Greens were, but I did wonder about the premise of The Beast’s Garden– namely, combining a version of the fairytale Beauty and the Beast (specifically, The Singing, Springing Lark) and Nazi Germany during World War II.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t sure that Forsyth could pull off such a story, I wondered if anyone could pull it off.

And now that I’ve read the book, the question: did Forsyth manage to pull it off?  The answer is a resounding hell yes.

It should be noted that this book isn’t going to be for every reader.  There are scenes set in a concentration camp, and while Forsyth doesn’t linger overlong on any of the atrocities, neither does she shield the reader from the true horrors of of WWII and the Holocaust.  If any of this is a trigger for you, this isn’t going to be the book for you.  But please, if you haven’t done so, go and read all of Forsyth’s other books.  They’re more than worth it.

In the role of “Beauty” we have Ava, a German girl who is training as a singer.  In looks, Ava takes after her dead Spanish mother, while her two sisters are blue-eyed and blonde-haired, fitting the Aryan ideal.  Ava and her family are not safe beneath Nazi rule.  Ava’s own darker colouring puts her at potential risk of being declaimed as having Romani blood, and one of her sisters has a daughter who is possibly learning disabled.  More, Ava’s family are close to a Jewish family, the Feidlers.  After Ava’s mother died, Ava was practically raised by Mrs Feidler, and regards Rudi Feidler (an out gay man) as a brother.  Ava and Rudi are both musicians, and both attend illicit jazz clubs together.  To protect all of her blood and found family, Ava marries a Nazi officer, Leo von Lowenstein.

Leo, naturally is the “Beast” of the tale, and it is the romance between Leo and Ava which drives much of the novel.  At first, Ava fears Leo, only knowing him as a Nazi officer.  As she gets to know him, and see beneath the public mask he wears, she discovers that he is a lot more than he first appeared.  Like her, he is fighting against Hitler’s rule, and is part of an underground resistance movement.

The story follows Leo and Ava as they both navigate Nazi Germany and the various plots to disrupt Nazi rule and attempt to assassinate Hitler.  We also get to follow Rudi after he is arrested for “subversive activities” and deported to the concentration camp, Buchenwald.  Yet another story thread is shown via Rudi’s sister Jutta, who evades arrest and lives in hiding from the Nazis.

On the surface, it is hard to see much hope in any story set in WWII Germany.  Forsyth doesn’t shy from any of the horrors: we get to see the Jewish people suffering both in the camps and in hiding, as well as the German people starving as their country begins to bend and break beneath the weight of Nazi rule and the war.  But in the darkness, there is light.  Even while deathly afraid, Ava finds ways to fight.  And in Buchenwald, Rudi plays illicit music, saves others where he can (and is saved in turn) and even finds love.

Forsyth skilfully weaves in many historical figures and events into the narrative, giving a real weight to a book that, in less talented hands, could easily have become little more than a fluffy romance between the Brave German Girl and Nazi With a Heart of Gold, or something extremely problematic.  If you’re worried about either of these issues, let me put your worries to rest right here.

With The Beast’s Garden, Forsyth cements herself as one of the most talented authors writing historical fiction (with a good dash of fairytale retelling) in Australia today.

Mirrored from Stephanie Gunn.

azhure: (me phoenix)

Avery - cover image

The people of Kaya die in pairs. When one lover dies, the other does too. So it has been for thousands of years – until Ava.

For although her bondmate, Avery, has been murdered and Ava’s soul has been torn in two, she is the only one who has ever been strong enough to cling to life. Vowing revenge upon the barbarian queen of Pirenti, Ava’s plan is interrupted when she is instead captured by the deadly prince of her enemies.

Prince Ambrose has been brought up to kill and hate. But when he takes charge of a strangely captivating Kayan prisoner and is forced to survive with her on a dangerous island, he must reconsider all he holds true . . .

In a violent country like Pirenti, where emotion is scorned as a weakness, can he find the strength to fight for the person he loves . . . even when she’s his vengeful enemy?

Avery is a sweeping, romantic fantasy novel about loss and identity, and finding the courage to love against all odds.


 

NOTE: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This review is presented both as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015 and as part of the Avery blog tour.  You can find the previous blog tour stop at Words Read and Written and the next blog tour stop at A Word Shaker.


 

Avery is the first book in a new Young Adult series by Australian author Charlotte McConaghy, The Chronicles of Kaya.

When Ava’s bond-mate Avery is killed, Ava naturally expects to die as well.  But Ava does not die.  She fades, grows numb, loses her sense of taste, but she does not die.  Rejected by her family and friends, she sets on the only course she can: revenge against the Queen of Pirenti, murderer of Avery.  Pirenti is a barbaric country where travelling as a woman is too dangerous, and so she disguises herself as a boy and takes her dead lover’s name, Avery.

In Pirenti, love is seen as weakness and power comes from violence.  The princes of Pirenti are Ambrose and Thorne.  Thorne is married to the fragile and strange Roselyn, a woman for whom he can express his love for only as violence.  When Ava’s path crosses Ambrose’s, and eventually Thorne and Roselyn, everything must change for them all.

This is a book that I would have adored as a teenager.  The hook–lovers bonded for life–would have grabbed me and not let go.  I can easily see this book and series being a gateway for many younger readers into fantasy, especially those who have mostly read only mainstream YA.

As an adult, and especially as one who has read a lot of fantasy (aimed both at YA and adult audiences), I was initially wary of many of the tropes McConaghy uses in the book.  The bonding between lovers veers very close to love at first sight, and the fact that Kayans have colour changing eyes seemed yet another recycling of old tropes.

However, as I read on, I found that McConaghy was pushing past many of these tropes.  The colour-changing eyes was used to good effect, and the bonding was shown to be something that didn’t necessarily have to be instantaneous.  More refreshing is that Ava herself is never a weak character–she doubts herself at times, but she’s never a damsel in distress.

Some readers will likely find the parts of the story which focus on violence against women (especially Roselyn) confronting, and may wish to avoid the book on that basis.  However, as with the other plot threads, I felt that McConaghy explored this with respect (and with an actual cultural reason for the said violence in Pirenti).  I actually found Roselyn to be one of the most fascinating characters in the book, and I hope that her story is further explored in the future.

All in all, this was a satisfying read for myself as an adult reader who has consumed a great deal of fantasy, and I could see it easily being an almost obsessive read for many a younger reader.  Highly recommended.


Celebrity_photographers_sydney_glamour_nudes_art_photography_SeductiveCharlotte McConaghy grew up with her nose in a book. Her first novel, Arrival, was published at age seventeen, followed by Descentwhen she was twenty.
She soon started her first adult fantasy novel, Avery, the prologue of which came to her in a very vivid dream. Avery launched The Chronicles of Kaya series, and is followed by Thorne – Book Two and Isadora, the third and final in the trilogy. She then published Fury, and Melancholy, the first and second books in a dystopian sci-fi series called The Cure.
Charlotte currently lives in Sydney, and has a Masters in Screenwriting at the Australian Film, Television & Radio School.

 

Mirrored from Stephanie Gunn.

azhure: (me phoenix)

aww-badge-2015-200x300

I’ve participated in the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge for the last three years.  It has been one of the most rewarding challenges I’ve joined, and I encourage anyone who’s interested to sign up as well.

For 2015, I’m participating at the Franklin level again – reading at least 10 books, reviewing at least 6.

Mirrored from Stephanie Gunn.

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