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QBD Recommends: The Pearl Thief by Fiona McIntosh 

 

Most booklovers who have spent any time in an Australian bookstore are probably familiar with the name Fiona McIntosh. One of Australia’s most prolific writers, Fiona has written over thirty books across a wide range of genres, including crime, fantasy, and children’s literature. Arguably though, it is her historical fiction for which she is most well known, and keeps her place as one of Australia’s best-selling authors.

And it is her historical fiction that recently brought the Sussex-born author all the way from her home in South Australia, to Penrith, NSW – to discuss her new novel, QBD’s current Book of the Month, The Pearl Thief.

Having just finished reading The Pearl Thief myself, I can personally tell you: This book is extraordinary! The Pearl Thief is the type of book that will keep you up at night, reading into the early hours of the morning, because you just can’t put the book down! (An experience I haven’t had with a book in years, but with The Pearl Thief, sleep was not an option!)

But what did Fiona McIntosh have to say about her latest novel?

The evening was hosted by Penrith City Library on Thursday, 15th November. Readers of all ages had come out to fill the Library’s Lower Lounge. Around the room, copies of The Pearl Thief were tucked under arms, or kept open on laps, as readers continued to flip through the pages with an insatiable need.

Fiona McIntosh took to the podium, decked out in tribute to the titular pearls. Pearl necklace, pearl bracelet, pearl earrings. Her entire discussion was presented with her unmistakeable, vivacious energy and passion for storytelling.

But let’s start with the most important question. Why should readers read The Pearl Thief?

Fiona McIntosh described this book as “a book of firsts”, admitting that usually, when she writes, she is never aware if her writing is good or not. But when it came to The Pearl Thief, things were different.

“Usually, I just write, and I’ve got no sense of ‘Is this good? Is this bad? Is this ordinary? Is this fabulous?’

“But as I was writing this one, I knew… it was fabulous!”

For the first time, Fiona knew, what she was writing was not only tremendously special, but she was hitting all the right notes. Her storytelling, her setting, her characters, her words – all combining to create magic!

So where did this magic begin? What was the origin of the idea for The Pearl Thief?

When it comes to writing her stories, Fiona attests, she always starts with place. Where is the story set? So when she set out to write what would become The Pearl Thief, she asked herself, “Where would my readers like me to take them next?” The answer: Prague.

This choice of setting then provided the catalyst for the story to follow. Once Fiona had decided on Prague, she began to think about the city’s history, and how the German occupation of Czechoslovakia became a trigger for World War Two.

So, Fiona had her setting, and her timeline. Prague, 1930’s/1940’s. Now she needed a character. She knew immediately that she wanted this character to be a survivor. Enter, Severine Kassel.

“She arrived, and tapped me on the shoulder, and she was complete. It was the first time… that a character had arrived into my life and said ‘Here I am! I’m ready to go!’”

Who is Severine Kassel?

When Severine Kassel arrived as a character in Fiona’s mind, she knew she was a survivor. But what was her story? From her podium at Penrith Library, Fiona described how she knew she wanted this character to be running from something, until something came along in her life, and forced her to turn around.

“And that’s why on the front cover of the book, she’s turning. Because I wanted her to turn around and face all the darkness, and all the pain.”

But what was it that was going to set Severine’s story in motion? Fiona came up with the idea of a glorious, family heirloom of Byzantine pearls. These pearls would then be stolen from Severine, only for her to stumble across them again, twenty years later.

“And when she sees them, having reinvented her life over those twenty years, and glued herself together, all of her pain, and all of her anger is going to be unleased, when she sees these pearls again and decides the only way she can go forward, the only way she can live her life properly, is to go and hunt down the man she holds responsible for all of her pain.”

“That’s what the story became. This is her turning around to say “I’m no longer running from you, I’m coming for you.”

The writing process behind The Pearl Thief

Now Fiona had told us all about the story, and the origins of The Pearl Thief, it was time for her to share some inside tips on the writing process. When it comes to her historical fiction, Fiona lists research and travel as two of the most important ways to create a “bubble of believability around the reader”. When writing a novel like The Pearl Thief, Fiona always travels to the place where her story is set, to walk where her characters will walk.

“I go and find all these places… and then I can weave them into the story with great authenticity… Every place you read about in the story, I’ve been to, and I’ve put my feet there.”

To make sure her travels are well informed, Fiona hires a personal tour guide, and allows them to teach her all about the history, and people of the place she has chosen to set her story. But she never takes notes for her research.

“Everything I do is based on feeling... When I’m researching, I’m never taking notes, I’m just looking, and absorbing, and a bit like osmosis, whatever gets through, sticks, and stays with me. And then the writing is done all on pure emotion.”

Here, Fiona shared her most poignant moment in researching the Prague setting of The Pearl Thief. The moment came when she asked her guide to show her the forests that lay beyond Prague. At this point, Fiona knew, something bad was going to happen to her character here, but she needed to see it for herself. To find this place, and walk in her character’s shoes. To feel what her character would feel. So her guide drove her out, and around the forests, until Fiona asked her to stop. Then, she hopped out of the car, and walked down the wooded lane alone, listening to the sounds of the few birds, and the falling autumn leaves.

“The leaves were falling by the hundred, on top of me. It was like confetti. And I could just hear this flutter. And it was the most beautiful sound, but the most chilling sound. And I began to cry, and I knew I’d found the spot. I thought, ‘this is where it’s going to happen. This is where Severine is going to walk.”

When you read The Pearl Thief, it’s easy to see why this setting brought Fiona to tears. The forests became the scene of Severine’s most traumatic moment. A moment that turns her life upside-down, robbing her of far more than her family pearls. A moment that McIntosh has written to absolute, horrific perfection. This is the moment that will stick with you, long after you’ve read it. This is Fiona McIntosh at her best, and absolutely why you should be reading this incredibly powerful story.

So make sure you head to your nearest QBD store, and pick up a copy of The Pearl Thief today!

~Alyssa, QBD Penrith.

Reviewsday: The Survivors by Kate Furnivall

The Survivors was one of the most complex, gripping historical thrillers I have read. This is the first novel I have read of Kate Furnivall's, and I was thoroughly engrossed from the first page.

Following a story line not common of novels set in the Second World War, The Survivors is not a story of concentration camps or war scenes, but the aftermath of war and the long lasting effects on civilians who have lost everything. The shadow of war lingers heavily over the characters of this novel. Klara and her daughter Alicja suffered through a long and almost deathly journey to get to the Graufeld Displaced Persons Camp after being reunited after the war. After losing Klara's hubsand, Alicja's father during the war, their home was bombed, leaving them with nothing. Far from finding the safety and security they expect at the camp, Klara discovers that a mysterious figure from her past has arrived at the camp, and she fears for both her life and her daughters'.
Who is this man, and what events of her past have led her to fear him so much? And what did Klara do to fear his revenge?

The Survivors shows the depths of a mother's love, and the lengths she will go to in order to protect her child. A story of love and loss, of hope and of despair, it will keep you hooked from the first page. It kept me on the edge of my seat through the intense war scenes, the thrilling journey to freedom, and a fight for survival. The twist at the end had tears streaming down my face, and I wanted to read this book all over again.

I highly recommend The Survivors for fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Love That I Have, and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, or just for any fans of well written and researched historical fiction.

~ Coreena, QBD Morayfield

Reviewsday: Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks

This October indulge in an unforgettable tale of enduring love from master storyteller Nicholas Sparks.

Nicholas Sparks has done it again. A story of love, hope, sacrifice and miracles set in a beautiful part of the world. As a reader you can't help but fall in love with the characters and with Sunset Beach.

Tru Walls travels from Zimbabwe to North Carolina to meet his biological father. It is here on the peaceful, quiet, autumnal shores of Sunset Beach that he meets Hope Anderson. The five days Tru and Hope spend together forever changes the course of their lives.

A story of what-ifs, that will demand you question if you believe in fate and destiny. A moving, heart-warming and simultaneously gut-wrenching story from the master of romance and heartache. I feel the need to tell the world about this book, so that others can experience it's beauty.

~ Rosie, Carousel QBD

Reviewsday: Armada by Ernest Cline

Pew Pew Pew!!!

Hurry reader we must find shelter from the laser fire….

Phew…that was close!

You might be wondering where these lasers are coming from…well perhaps it’s time to read Armada by Ernest Cline to find out! Cline’s second novel after his smash release Ready Player One will have you dodging destruction in this alien-infested sci-fi tale. Follow Zack Lightman as he begins to uncover the unsettling truth behind a government cover-up to protect the world from annihilation at the hands of the Europeans…I mean Europans, who’ve made it their sole purpose to destroy Earth and all its inhabitants.

A story fit for teenagers and young adults Armada pays homage to Cline’s personal favourite pop culture references and sources such as those created by the famous sci-fi directors Stephen Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick. Set your phasers to kill reader and pray to god you aim is better than a Stormtrooper's - this is going to be a fight you won’t soon forget.

~Liam, Carousel QBD

Spotlight on QBD: Penrith, NSW

It has been a wild time for Penrith lately. We've had author visits galore, so many exciting new books and an incredible amount still to arrive! We've been doling out 'Signed By the Author' stickers left, right and centre and it has been great for the team to have a chat to the people behind some excellent books. If you want a signed copy of Chris Hammer's thrilling tale Scrublands or of any of Lynette Noni's phenomenal YA books, definitely come visit us! We still have a few left on our shelves after meeting them.

We've had a few great reads throughout the last couple of weeks, and we're ready to spread the love for them.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco:

You like bleak stories and the stench of death seeping into your soul? Well, you'd better believe The Bone Witch is the book for you. A young girl raises her brother from the dead in a fit of grief, and she must learn to live with the consequences of her dead-sibling-familiar following her around for the rest of her life. Tea is a bone witch. Where others can raise fruit or wealth, she can raise the dead. Ostracised by everyone who fears her power, she must train to control it. Yet controlling it doesn't mean she isn't going to change the world, one necromantic incident at a time. She knows what she is doing, and she's going to follow through. The story flows so easily and you'll find yourself endlessly caught up in her tale. Gotta love a bit of undead fun. -Paige

Paige is looking forward to so many new releases. Top of her inbound list are Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor, The Witch Who Courted Death by Maria Lewis, and Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life by Eric Idle. Between the fantasy and the biographies, she's a keen true crime buff.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman:

This book gave me chills. In a perfect world where humans have conquered hunger, disease, war and death, Sycthes are the only thing standing between eternal life and death. Citra and Rowan are chosen to compete for the title of Scythe or risk losing their own lives.
I originally had no interest in picking up this book but when someone is hounding you to give it a chance then you don’t really have a choice right? (Manager's Note: You're welcome, Kate. I'm glad my months of hassling you paid off. Literal months.) Well, I'm so glad I read it because Neal Shusterman is a genius. He has created a utopia, a world humanity dreams about yet he brings to light just how sad of a world it could be. Everything about this book is just so fascinating and shocking. Scythe hits you hard and leaves no room for you to walk away unaffected. Scythe compels you to consider what a World without mortality could be like whilst creating a “noble” way of culling the population. -Kate

Kate is holding out for Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J Maas. She's the romance reader of the store, and does a darn good job of sharing her knowledge.

Star Wars: Phasma by Delilah S Dawson:

Phasma is an interesting read to get insight into background characters, like Phasma and General Hux, who the audience are not always familiar with on a deeper level. The novel is about Captain Phasma’s past from the perspective of a new introduced character in the beginning, which provides an exciting spin on how the story reads. Readers get a fascinating introduction to how Phasma’s mind works, who she is loyal to, and what her values are. This story is fast-paced, thrilling, and easily pulls the reader into the world. Highly recommended for Phasma fans who love a page-turner! - Reeya

Reeya is great with sci-fi fantasy, and knows more about the fandom-based books than the rest of us put together!

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton:

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to travel to the beautiful islands of Hawaii. While I was there, I visited some of the stunning locations used in the film adaptations of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. This then got me thinking – although I had grown up, watching these films over and over again, I had never taken the time to sit down and read the inspiration behind them. Clearly then, it was time I read Crichton’s classic, captivating thriller!
And I was not disappointed.
Jurassic Park is an incredibly well researched, romp of a story, that will grab you by its teeth - hooking you into its pages, until you have read every last word. When John Hammond invites a group of experts to inspect his creation – a theme park exhibiting real, living, breathing dinosaurs, brought to life by a breakthrough in cloning and genetic engineering – he doesn’t expect that everything will go horribly wrong. However, by creating these creatures, Hammond is about to discover that life cannot be so easily controlled. Life cannot be contained. “Life finds a way!”
Fans of the movie franchise will take particular delight in this book, as it is evident that all five films have taken a great deal of inspiration right out of Michael Crichton’s pages. Readers will recognise many sequences, ideas, and even dialogue, taken from the book, and sprinkled throughout the film’s many sequels. Even this year’s latest instalment, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, can still be seen as paying tribute to the ideas Crichton penned in his novel, twenty-eight years ago.
But, even for readers who have (somehow) never seen the movies, there is still much to be enjoyed! Crichton’s novel is action packed, scientifically fascinating, and full of wonderfully fleshed out characters, who keep the story grounded – even as they attempt to escape the jaws of an eight tonne T-Rex.
So, if you’re looking for an excellent page-turner, look no further. Jurassic Park is a gripping read, that will leave you hungry for more -Alyssa

Alyssa will read just about anything, with the passion and ferocity of a true book-lover.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen:

Purity is an eloquent, overwhelming and incredible novel about self discovery. It follows Pip on her search to find out the truth behind her family history, which interweaves with the stories and lives of those around her in the hopes of forming her own identity. Pip is a young girl struggling with the tough aspects of life, all while trying to figure out who she wants to be. This enlightening and multi-dimensional story divulges a sense of self and illustrates the way everyone around us connects and impacts the way one person understand their story. A 5 Star, must read! - Courtney

Courtney also just finished The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham, so she can't wait for Rosalie's new book The Year of the Farmer. She knows all the best in literary fiction and horror.

Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer:

This is the perfect read for dystopian lovers and I could not give a higher recommendation. Marissa Meyer reimagines everyone's favourite fairy tales in a futuristic world where hover cars and robot sidekicks are the norm. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White are now fierce heroines Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter, who show that there is more to fairy tale princesses than pretty dresses and handsome princes. Cinder is a cyborg, Scarlet is one fiery redhead, Cress is a tech-savvy super spy, and Winter has the biggest heart of gold in whole kingdoms. You'll recognise these stories for the lengendary tales that have been popular for generations, but Meyer brings exciting things like interplanetary travel, hidden heroes, battles against raging plagues, and races of genetically enhanced super soldiers to the table in The Lunar Chronicles. A true page turner and exciting journey throughout every page of this series. I enjoyed it so much that I'm currently writing my Honours thesis on it! - Mackenzie

Mackenzie knows young adult like the back of her hand. Head her way for some of the best titles in YA over the last 10 years.

100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell:

What a book. What a spectacular book. 100 Nasty Women of History is indeed yet another book composing lists of women who did incredible things and have been overshadowed in the history books. This book, however, doesn’t focus on the usual lists of women who did amazing things but instead shows the others, the ones who are even more overlooked than usual. The women who should have been famous and renowned but have instead been forgotten.
Marie Curie may have been spectacular but she was far from the only woman in science and this book illustrates that better than any I’ve ever read before. It’s pages demand attention as they bellow of the scientists, the mathematicians, the adventurers and the explorers. It depicts the lives of poets and actors, activists and rebels, rulers and revolutionaries. There are women who did horrible things for what they believed in,those who were inspirational and others who’s lives were unbelievably hard yet still rose above the masses for their cause.
This is one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read. And also one of the funniest. The author has an incredible sense of humour which had me laughing even as I cried for some tragic ending. She did not hold back in the slightest and gave every piece of her wit and humour to each and every story. This is just one of the qualities that makes it so easy to read but that each woman has only a few pages, if that, for her story certainly helps. It makes it incredibly easy to take in the condensed information of each story, pick up and put down the book and take breaks in-between to more thoroughly google the woman whose life’s recap you just experienced.
I will say though, I wouldn’t recommend it to younger readers just yet. It’s a little R rated at times especially in the language department and it doesn’t shy away from the more horrible lives and ends that many of these women suffered.
In saying all that, to summarise, this was one of the first books I read this year and it is still at the top of my list. It left such a lasting impression on me and I will forever be recommending it to people. I don’t know if I managed to convey just how much I loved it but I really did love it. So, so much and I really hope you will too. - Georgia

Georgia is counting the days till the Illustrated Tales of Beedle the Bard. JK Rowling and Chris Riddell. Who wouldn't be excited for that! She is the best person to talk to for sociology and history.

Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence:

Wheel Of Osheim is the final book in the Red Queen's War trilogy, picking up where Liar's Key left off. But not quite. While Liar's Key ends with our protagonists Jalan and Snorri entering Hel(Hell), Jalan is quickly found half naked falling from the sky, in "women trouble", much like the earlier books. This allows Mark Lawrence to show his pure talent in storytelling as he artfully controls the information you receive, building the story you hope for while making you doubt with twists and turns. Wheel Of Osheim sets a awe-inspiring benchmark for all fantasy writers seeking to write a trilogy for the ages - Josh

Josh is great for both the grimdark fantasy and those kind of obscure titles that will be a guaranteed brilliant read.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde:

Have you ever wondered about what life would be like if you were young and beautiful forever? After reading this you'll appreciate the glorious inevitability of ageing. Promise. Simply put, this story is about an ethereal young man who trades his soul for eternal beauty and youth. With themes exploring the power of vanity and the consequences of living a life without rules, Oscar Wilde also delves into an exploration of the parameters of the incorporeal essence of man. Scary, but oh-my-god great. This book forces contemplation in themes and topics that you inattentively skim over in everyday life.
One word: Powerful. - Sarina

Sarina is the store's science guru, and the go-to person for all things that boggle the mind.

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead:

6 stars out of 5. Yeah.
I know what you're thinking; another vampire book. Or, alternatively, that movie was awful. But do not let these concerns stop you from reading one of my favourite series of all time. In it's defence, it came out the same year as Twilight and is literally a thousand times better. I recently read the entire 6 book series again for what must've been the actual 5 time fully through, and I love it as much as now as I did when I first read them in 2009. Yeah. My love has spanned almost a decade.
When Rose took Princess Lissa Dragomir away from the secure boarding school for vampires they've lived in their entire lives, she knew they'd try and get them back. Two years later, and the Guardians from St Vladimir's have found them to take them back to school. Rose, a half human/half vampire, rejoins her classmates training to protect Lissa while Lissa herself faces royal politics, her growing depression and the strange things that keep happening around her. The bond these girls share will be pushed to the limit when magic, enemies and blood come together.
This book and it's sequels are the type that you can't stop thinking about even when you're finished; you just always want more. It definitely doesn't hurt that Dimitri Belikov, the lead male protagonist, is the fictional character I would bring to life if I could. Seriously, do yourself a favour and get on board; Richelle will not disappoint you. - Karrie

Karrie dabbles with thrillers and paranormal, but can recommend a dozen titles for any fiction genre you could imagine.

As the most "Halloween" store ever it hurts us to say this, but if you're starting to plan your Christmas gifts for others or making a wishlist for yourself you should really check out some of the things we've been reading. Each of us can attest to a few of the books reviewed and there are some gorgeous editions out there. We're always happy to spread great recommendations, and we all live for those moments when a customer recommends something to us. A good book is best shared.