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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: Impostors by Scott Westerfeld

Master storyteller Scott Westerfeld returns with a brilliant new series set in the world of his bestselling Uglies series.

The first thing that had me hooked with this novel was how refreshing it was to be back in Tally Youngblood’s universe. I somehow skipped over this little fact – which is handily supplied in the blurb, who knew? - due to my uncontainable excitement over the novel's existence. Diving headfirst back into it all these years later was like coming home.

As I’m sure we all know at this point Westerfeld writes some mind-blowing characters, but Frey has knocked everyone else off their pedestal and claimed her rightful place as my favourite. Despite basically being a walking, talking, ticking time bomb, she’s an insanely complex character with an unexpected vulnerability to her that had me firmly in her corner from the first chapter.

Westerfeld’s world building is superbly on point as always and the changes wrought by Tally’s hand in the Uglies series (which I wholeheartedly recommend reading if you haven’t already!) essentially lay the foundation for the plot of Impostors. I won’t say too much because untangling Westerfeld's intricate web is an experience not to be missed, but there are enough heavy smatterings of action, intrigue and good ole plot twists to keep you engrossed until the last page. With a cliff-hanger ending that is so deviously twisted I barely registered how shocked I was because I was so damn impressed, Impostors is not a novel to be missed.

~ Karen, Tweed Heads QBD

 

About the book: 

Frey was raised to take a bullet.

She's the body double for her twin sister Rafia - the precious heir of the first family of Shreve - and her existence is a closely guarded secret. So while Rafi was schooled in poise and diplomacy, Frey was drilled in weapons and combat. Her purpose: to protect her sister from their tyrannical father's many enemies.

When Frey is sent in Rafi's place as collateral in a precarious business deal, she becomes the perfect impostor - as elegant and charming as her sister. But Col Palafox, the son of a rival leader, is getting close enough to spot the killer inside her. As layers of deceit peel away, can Frey become her own person, and risk everything in a rebellion?

Reviewsday: Jane Doe And The Cradle Of All Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan

Can't get enough Harry Potter? Waiting for Wundersmith?  

Never fear, we have found your next great magical read!

Introducing the Jane Doe Chronicles! A cursed child, a magical realm, and an epic quest.

It's all our reading hopes and dreams come true!

 

When a fierce quake strikes the remote island of Bluehaven, and her father disappears, Jane Doe is thrown headfirst into an epic quest to bring him home.

But this ain't no ordinary rescue mission. Her father is lost in a place between worlds; a dangerous labyrinth of shifting rooms, infernal booby traps and secret gateways. And Jane has to find him fast, because someone else is searching for him, too. A man who knows her father's secrets. A man who has an army.

With a pyromaniac named Violet and the enigmatic Hickory by her side, Jane is about to discover that this adventure is even bigger on the inside than it looks ...

 

"I was captivated from page one. There is action, adventure and mystery around every sentence.
Jane started with a possessed, mute father and had to care for him from a young age in a basement of a family who despised, but also feared them. Jane forged a secret forbidden relationship with Violet, the daughter of the family she was staying with. Violet was a risk taker and enjoyed sneaking around helping Jane. Little did she know that this friendship would mean helping save the world in the future.
The pressure is on when Jane discovers that the entire universe is depending on her to save it. Every world and every dimension will die if she does not find the keys and restore the Manor to it's original state. She finds the most unlikely accomplice who can barely be trusted but is her only chance of completing her mission and surviving the ever internally changing Manor which seems to have a life and mind of it's own.
In searching for the cure for the Manor, she discovers the truth about her past and who she really is. Her entire world changes and her future becomes uncertain. She has abilities she doesn't understand and needs to uncover before it's too late. Gripping, adventurous, fantastical, magical and mysterious. Be prepared to be gripped." ~ Taryn, QBD Chadstone 

Reviewsday: Whisper by Lynette Noni

One Word Can Change Your World...

Lynette Noni shines with the first book in a new Young Adult series that I just couldn't put down. I needed to read the whole thing, needed to finish it as quickly as possible. This was also the first book of hers that I have read and I loved it.

Jane has been in Lengard for two and a half years now. A secret government facility that have been testing on her-- the only problem is she won't speak a single word. They don't know her name and call her only Jane Doe and treated as just another inmate. But things aren't always as they seem.

With just one word-- the first she has spoken in almost three years-- Jane learns about just what she is and what she can do. They tell her that she is special and that they can help her to control her powers, but can these people really be trusted?

This book had me on the edge of my seat as I read through it, I needed to know and every twist and turn just kept me even more engaged. This book felt like a few smaller stories weaved into one and done well, so if you're like me and you enjoy a book that doesn't feel like it drags... this is the book for you.

Fall in love with the strong female characters in this book, from Camelot "Cami" Ward-- a girl who has been through so much and still maintains her heart of gold, to Keeda-- the tough girl who you can't help but smile at. To Jane herself as she learns that it's not the past that defines us, and powers aren't what make us strong-- but how we use them.

All in all if you're looking for a new series that will keep you engaged and leave you will all kinds of emotions at the end, Whisper is for you. The only issue... that book number two isn't out yet.

5 stars!

~ Jordanna, QBD Chadstone