At your next book club meeting, picture me sitting quietly in the corner, taking notes on your preferences. Imagine the next day you get an email from me trying to sell you a new grill—or a book—or accessories for your Glock. That’s the Amazon/Goodreads deal. It’s appalling. But everywhere in the press, you’ll read about the genius of Amazon.
– Michael Herrmann, bookseller.
There’s been plenty of froth and bubble over Amazon’s purchase of the website, Goodreads. Some condemning traditional publishers for a missed opportunity, others saying that as a corporation, it is within the bounds of acceptability for Amazon to purchase a competitor, even if it is just to fulfil the aim of putting them out of business.
Where you sit on this issue may have just as much to do with how avid a fan you are of either Amazon or Goodreads or online forums full stop! But it is worth asking the question, how does it affect, if at all, your enjoyment of books?
Speaking of communities of readers, here’s this week’s truly wonderful selection of books, AND they’re available online or from bricks and mortar bookshops…
Black Roses by Jane Thynne
In 1933, the National Socialists come to power and under their control Germany begins to change. In Berlin, many proudly adopt the uniform of the Brown Shirts, others queue outside foreign embassies desperate to obtain visas that will allow them to escape. Into this state of flux arrives a young Anglo-German aristocrat, Clara Vine.
Clutching a letter of introduction, Clara hopes to land her first film role in Black Roses to be made at the famous UFA studios. The studios are now under the control of the Reich Minister for Propaganda, Herr Doktor Goebbels and through a chance connection, Clara finds herself a reluctant invitee to the Goebbels’ private residence for a cocktail party. Here she meets the stunning Magda Goebbels and many other wives of high ranking Nazi officials.
Magda Goebbels is honorary president of Hilter’s Reich Fashion Bureau and when she enlists the unwilling Clara as a model, British Intelligence seize a unique opportunity to use Clara to spy on the Nazi elite. However, friendship with Magda Goebbels is a delicate balancing act and when she confides her most desperate secret to Clara, there is more than just Clara’s life at stake.
What makes this book really work is that the foundations of the novel are grounded in historical fact. Whilst most readers will be familiar with the overall activities of the Nazi party, what may be new is that Hitler had a plan for the role of women in the new Germany.
From labour camps designed to make them better wives, fashion that celebrated the traditional figure rather than that espoused by glamorous movie stars such as Marlene Dietrich, to financial incentives for women to marry and bear many children. On the even darker side, many women were sterilized for failing to meet criteria of a nationwide breeding program designed to ensure the purity of the Aryan race.
And the secret Magda Goebbels entrusts Clara with is, with the full benefit of historical hindsight, completely shocking. This a complex spy thriller, a love story and an historical novel all rolled into one compelling read.
Author Q&A | Kim Kelly
Red Earth is the second novel from Australian author Kim Kelly.
Wanting to explore the role of civilian Australia during the Second World War, Kelly follows the story of a young couple whose romance is played out against the war and the emergent role women were to play in the war, especially via vehicles such as the Australian Women’s Land Army.
Kim Kelly answered a few quick questions for The Hoopla.
What book(s) are you reading now?
I’ve just opened Jesse Blackadder’s Chasing The Light, a novel which imagines the journeys of the first women to travel to Antarctica, in the 30s; I’m also re-reading Ian Townsend’s exquisite novel Affection, set in Townsville in 1900 during the last occurrence of plague in Australia; and I’ve just ordered Three Crooked Kings by Matthew Condon, for some rip-snorting true crime, Queensland style. Clearly I’m a bit fond of historical tales, especially those which shine a light into neglected or forgotten corners of the past.
Who are your favourite authors or greatest literary influences?
Ordinarily, I’d find that question impossible to answer, because my favourite is usually the one I’m enjoying most now, but recently, when the old First Tuesday Bookclub ran a poll for our favourite Australian novels, I found myself choosing three books I’d read in my teens – Picnic At Hanging Rock, Power Without Glory and The Harp in the South – and I had to laugh with the realisation that these three novels pretty much perfectly represent what I am trying to achieve in my own writing: Lindsay’s mischief, Hardy’s politics and Park’s depth of love – and a glimpse of a time in each I’d not been shown before.
In a nutshell, what’s your new book about?
This Red Earth is the story of Bernie and Gordon, the girl and the boy next door, whose love is torn apart by the events of World War Two. Gordon is a young geologist, fresh out of uni, who becomes very unwillingly caught up in the brutal Japanese invasion of New Britain, and Bernie, who’s very much a city girl, ends up in the outback amid the devastating drought that gripped the country during these war years.
It’s a civilian view of the times, one that shows it’s not only soldiers who are called on to be brave in battle. It’s about grief and resilience, and the triumph of hope over grim realities.
It also explores the appalling way Australia treated certain migrants and refugees during the war, and at the same time how perennially generous fair-minded Australians are to those in need. As much as it’s the love story of Bernie and Gordon, it’s a love letter to my country, with all its contradictions.
I take some of our national clichés and give them a good shake, to try to show the kaleidoscope of one-off originals we really are.
The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait
Fourteen year old Emma lives with her mother Rose, her father Joe and the ghost of her brother Kit. Somewhere out there lives her other brother Jamie but he ran away when Kit died and no one has seen nor heard from him since.
Emma is incredibly overweight and bullied at school but the atmosphere at home is so tense she never mentions how unhappy she is. Rose spends her life cleaning, cooking and arranging the flowers. When Joe is not at work, he escapes to his shed. Kit’s death and Jamie’s disappearance have created the confines within which this broken family now operates.
It turns out Jamie is living in Sheffield, working at a local bookshop and building Lego in his large amounts of spare time. But a chance meeting with his ex girlfriend Alice and her decision to ring Jamie’s parents and tell them where he is that changes everything. Emma wags school to find him, his father still burns with an anger so bright he can’t even bring himself to speak to his remaining son and Rose’s grief is so all-consuming she has no meaningful way to express it.
However, all this emotion, contained for so long, is alive with memories that must be expressed and it is this that makes the tragedy of this family so intimate. In bare prose, Wait shifts from one family member to another, allowing each a chance to share their story.
The pain is there on the page but with a light touch Wait illuminates the grey areas between happiness and despair to create a truly beautiful book.
On My Bedside Table
After both her parents die at sea on the journey to Virginia, a young Irish girl is brought to the home of the ship’s captain. Here she is left in the care of Belle and Mama Mae to learn how to cook and Abinia, as she becomes known, is welcomed into the house and hearts of the family’s slaves.
As she grows to womanhood, she finds herself impossibly torn between accepting the opportunities available to her as a white woman and those bonds that will forever tie her to her adopted family.
In The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grisson has written a thoroughly researched, deeply compassionate satisfying story.
Eva Elliot has lived in the Soho flat bequeathed to her by her granny since she was eighteen. It has served as a fixed point in an otherwise nomadic life and is at odds with her usual pattern of saying goodbye, be it friends, cities or lovers.
After three years with her barrister boyfriend Luke, Eva finds herself fantasising more and more about ending the relationship, dreaming of the visceral thrill as she says adios and faces a future full of possibilities and free of past mistakes. For some reason she can’t bring herself to do it and the situation is further complicated by an accidental new friendship that brings with it a big secret.
The Art of Leaving is a consummate book from Orange prize longlister, Anna Stothard on the price extricated by freedom.
Booktopia’s Bestselling Biographies
There was some debate between The Bookshelf and Booktopia as to whether this week’s Top 5 should be post Easter-binge friendly, or remind us all to give up sugar, drop a few kilos etc. But heck, we decided to go with bestselling biographies instead. Who needs the guilt?
- My James by Ralph Bulger BUY THE BOOK
- Educating Alice by Alice Greenup BUY THE BOOK
- The Vogue Factor by Kirstie Clements BUY THE BOOK
- Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill BUY THE BOOK
- My Wild Ride by Fiona Johnson BUY THE BOOK
The highlight of the coming week will definitely be Thursday night’s launch of the program for the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival under the direction of the new Artistic Director, Jemma Birrell and her team.
In the meantime, there is so much great reading about. Have you been reading anything you want to give a shout? If so, leave a comment in the thread below.
Until next week! Mx
*The Hoopla’s books editor Meredith Jaffe is a book reviewer and blogger. She lives in Sydney with her husband and four children. You can follow her on Twitter: @meredithjaffe.