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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.

Classic novels for the reader who’s been scared of them since High School

Did you cringe in fear every time your English teacher said "This semester we'll be reading....", and then proceeded to trot out some classic novel that sounded like a lot of work?
Take it from us, you are not alone!  Reading is rarely fun when it’s being forced upon you. That’s why so many of us are so resistant and resentful about some of the actually great books we've been assigned to read.

However now we're older, and wiser, it might just be time to take a second look at some of those books again... you just might enjoy them!
Payton has put together a list of common classroom classics that are definitely worth a second glance.

1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger:

I approached this book with trepidation, believing that it would be full of dense sentences I would hardly be able to understand , but with less than two-hundred pages, I felt like I had no excuse to not dip my toe into the classic genre with this book. All of my worries turned out to be irrelevant as this quickly became one of my favourite stories of all time; the stream-of-consciousness writing style Salinger adopts sucked me into Holden's psyche. If you're interested in stories that don't sensationalise mental illness, and elaborate on the issues young adults go through, this book is timeless, relatable, and easy to read.

2. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde:

The language of this novel is slightly less modern than that of The Catcher in the Rye, but the story is so twisted and gothic that I found it to be just as encapsulating. Plus – it's another short one with less than three-hundred pages!

 

 

3. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut:

I just read this for my university literature class , and even researching and writing a series of mini-essays and a major two-thousand word essay hasn't negated from my love for this book. It is very easy to read, fast-paced, and the story itself is thought-provoking and sadly relevant in today 's political climate, where people all around the world become casualties in conflicts they cannot escape.

4. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams:

Yes, yes, this is a play – I'm still new to the classic genre, too, okay? And I want to keep the running theme of books that are easy to read – we're still just dipping in our toes! This story is charming, sad, and incredibly aggravating as we see Blanche DuBois struggle with internal and external conflicts and pray that she finds self esteem, inner strength, and happiness.

5. A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen:

This is another play, and like “A Streetcar Named Desire” it deals with a female protagonist who struggles to be independent and respected in a male-dominated world. Both of these stories highlight how far our Western society has progressed in the past century, while also reminding us of what our fore-mothers had to live through and encouraging us to continue fighting for our rights and freedom.

I hope you enjoy these stories. Classic books don't have to be scary – or boring! ~ Payton

Team Eastland’s Latest Reads

Our Eastland team tell us all about some of their latest reads in this week's Spotlight on QBD!
There's romance, thrills, horror... and Harry Potter!

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a thriller unlike any other. The Swedish novel is full of unexpected twists and turns which are only magnified by the beautiful complexity of its main characters; the charming truth crusader, Mikael Blomkvist, and the mysterious, stoic Lisbeth Salander.
Through this unlikely pair’s investigation, Stieg Larsson’s spellbinding text sheds a powerful light on the so often diminished sexual crimes against women in Sweden, and society’s attempt to sweep it under the rug.
Whether you are a lover of crime fiction or just looking for something different, this book is a must read. - Katrina

 

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus(Trans. Justin O'Brien):

When you see that someone has the last line of a book tattooed on his forearm, you can be reasonably assured he has some investment in it... Having read it three times, and having vowed to read it next in its original language, I can honestly say The Myth of Sisyphus has made a profound difference in my life; it has contributed considerably to the human being I am today. It has made me more myself. Through a form that can only be described as lyrical-prose, Camus considers the question: in the face of the absurd condition we find in living, why live? Why not die? The condition of the Absurd is fundamental to this question, as is how we respond to it. For Camus, the Absurd can be summed up as our compulsion to demand meaning from a universe that lacks the capacity to adequately provide this kind of meaning. Our only option is to live in the tension between these opposing conditions of our existence. He explores this Absurd Heroism in a number of ways, but finishes on the book's eponymous Sisyphus, an ancient Greek king who was punished by the gods for his arrogance by being compelled to push a boulder up a mountain for all eternity, only to have it roll back down every time he reaches the top. The last line: 'It is necessary to imagine Sisyphus happy' places the dynamic of this tension in our imaginations, not so much in our sense of reason specifically. And while this is a book of ideas, it is also beautiful to the point of poetry. - Jeremy

The Greatest Gift by Rachael Johns:

Harper thinks her life is where she wants it to be. Great job, great marriage, great friends! She believes that her husband Samuel and her, are happy with their decision to not have children, but an interview on her popular radio program, about infertility struggles, sets her on an altruistic path to help Claire & Jasper become parents.

Claire & Jasper are a young married couple, running a successful Hot Air Ballooning company with family. The one thing missing in their otherwise perfect life is a child. Can Harper, unknown to them prior to her interviewing them, be the answer to their dreams?
An emotional roller-coaster ensues for all parties involved, as well thought out life plans change and relationships are tested and re-established.

The Greatest Gift is a contemporary tale of modern baby-making, full of joy and heartache. Johns' move from writing rural romance to modern women's fiction has been successful. As much as I still enjoy all her “chook lit”, I eagerly await her next foray in the pool of contemporary modern women's fiction. Well worth a read, but have the tissue box handy! - Susan

Pet Sematary by Stephen King:

What would you do if you lost everything that was dear to you? How far would you go to get it back?

These are the questions that King's horror classic Pet Sematary tries to answer. When Louis Creed and his young family move from the windy city of Chicago to small town Maine, they weren't expecting the series of unfortunate events that would unfold. From the moment a dying man stumbles into Louis' clinic, his life begins to spiral. Nightmares, ancient Native American burial grounds, and every parent's worst fear all send Louis down a path he can never hope to recover from.

While certainly not King's scariest novel (that award goes to Salem's Lot or The Shining), Pet Sematary adds an element of reality that cranks the creep factor up to 11. Brilliantly written in King's classic style, the story of Louis, Gage, and Church the cat is one to remember. I definitely recommend that you check it out, but maybe read it with the lights on. – Sean

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp:

Follow the lives of four students as each one struggles with survival and loss, stemming from the terrors that strike Opportunity High. While reading this novel I was overcome with the need to know what happened next- I couldn't put it down! I was drawn into the chaos, as I hoped for each character to find safety and escape the situation that is an unfortunate reality for many students in America. Marieke Nijkamp's writing was triggered by true events, that see shootings becoming a recurrence in the lives of many teens. Leading to a well thought-out plot, rendering the reader heartbroken by just how urgent the situation is, allowing us to become invested in the characters' survival. - Ruby

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (illustrated edition) by J.K. Rowling:

We all know Harry Potter. We went to school with him and learned magic with him, but now we get to see him in a new light. The illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a beautiful take on JK Rowling’s wizarding world. Jim Kay has managed to capture true magic in his pictures, truly bringing us to Hogwarts to experience magical creatures and ghosts alike. - Ella

 

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Each week a different store goes under our Spotlight.
Keep an eye out for your local team!

Now Read This! Books loved by our Erina Team…

Relax with a great book this weekend!

Our Erina Fair team have put together a list of must-read books for every book lover:

The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan:

Cormac Reilly is about to reopen the case that took him twenty years to forget. The stunning debut novel from your new favourite crime writer.

'The Ruin is a terrific debut and a rare gem: a compelling crime thriller that delivers depth as well as twists, with every page clearly written from the heart' Sara Foster, author of The Hidden Hours.

Responding to a call that took him to a decrepit country house, young Garda Cormac Reilly found two silent, neglected children – 15 year old Maude and 5 year old Jack. Their mother lay dead upstairs. Since then Cormac's had twenty high flying years working as a detective in Dublin, and he's come back to Galway for reasons of his own. As he struggles to navigate the politics of a new police station, Maude and Jack return to haunt him. What ties a recent suicide to that death from so long ago? And who among his new colleagues can Cormac really trust?  This unsettling crime debut draws us deep into the dark heart of Ireland and asks who will protect you when the authorities can't or won't. If you love Jane Harper or Charlie Donlea you will be a fan of The Ruin. – Amanda

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan:

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is hysterically funny! The outrageously wealthy families come together for a wedding in Singapore and Nicholas invites his girlfriend Rachel to come. Unbeknownst to her he is the heir to his family fortune and Rachel gets the shock of her life. So much for spending a lovely quiet summer enjoying picnics in the countryside! It's more private planes, lavish entertaining and plenty of females staring daggers at her (including Nicholas' mother). This book has been largely undiscovered for 5 years and is now being released as a movie with an all Asian cast. You must read it before you see it. You will love it and it has 2 more books in the series!! - Allison

 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris:

A love story set in the most harrowing circumstances and is based on a true story. Ludwig (Lale) Sokdov, becomes the tattooist of Auschwitz. There he meets the woman who stole his heart. Through love and determination they conquer the adversities they face. A must read for lovers of historical fiction – Shirley

 

 

The Novice by Taran Matharu:

The Novice is the first in a series of great fantastic young adult fantasy novels. Set in a world full of demons, humans, orcs, elves and dwarves there is considerable tension between races. The whole series is full of action, thrill and political commentary. Brilliant matters of race and class are disguised in demonic detail. They make you think deeply about your own world while transporting you to their world and keeping you on the edge of your seat. – Madi

 

Anthologies by R H Sin:

R.H.Sin's anthologies encapsulate love, heart break, grief and empowerment. With simplistic form and raw emotion, he is able to relate to practically everyone. Each of his collections, most notably the Whiskey, Words and a Shovel series and a Beautiful Composition of Broken, provide something new every time you read them. Highly recommended for fans of Rupi Kaur, Lang Leav and Amanda Lovelace. - Caitlin

 

 

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail honeyman:

Eleanor Oliphant is an interesting character that follows her daily routine. She goes to work at the same time, wears the same clothes, and drinks the same drinks. One day her work computer stops working, and when the IT guy becomes her friend, she remembers more about her life than she wants to and refuses to believe it. Will she ever accept what happened? - Erin

 

 

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken:

Alexandra Bracken's dystopian trilogy, The Darkest Minds is set in a world where teenagers are dying from a mysterious disease and only the strongest survive, emerging with new found powers. This novel is captivating from the start with twists and turns at every chapter. You explore the power of friendship and the explicit nature of teenagers. If you have loved series such as, Gone by Michael Grant, The Maze Runner by James Dashner or Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo you will fall in love with this – Holly

 

Artemis by Andy Weir:

It's the 2080's, Artemis is the first and only city on the moon – Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Life on the moon is tough and Jazz must do what she can to get ahead. Andy Weir has done an outstanding job creating a realistic environment that doesn't seem very far away from where we are now. A must read for all sci-fi buffs! - Ezra

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Every week we feature a new store on our blog! Keep an eye out for your local QBD team.

Spotlight on Tweed Heads

Our Tweed Heads team love a good read! Chekc out what they've been wrapping their hands around lately:

Caraval by Stephanie Garber:

Eons ago, when I finished reading the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, I thought nothing could ever compare... until I picked up Caraval. Every bit as enchanting, with an added splash of romance; the magic, mystery and adventure leaps off of the page in such vivid detail that you almost feel you're there, participating in the week long travelling show that never visits the same location twice. Run by the elusive Legend, Caraval is a twisted, elaborate performance that will have you gaping in wonder, tug at your heart and leave you breathless in anticipation with every turn of the page. - Karen

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris:

Never before have I read such a captivating and profound story. This tale of the Tattooist of Auschwitz is such an extraordinary story of how inner strength, endurance and the will to survive can conquer the darkest and deepest well of inhumanity. Heather Morris has managed to convey this true story with such a unique depth into what Lale and Gita witnessed and endured, and the love that developed between them in such a horrendous environment. The atrocities committed against these people where all were punished with an equal lack of mercy, leaves the reader with a deep sense of the cruel and insidious nature of a very dark time in our history. Written so vividly, this story had me spell bound as I navigated the lives of the prisoners and their struggles. It is difficult to fathom the true extent of the horrors that the survivors of the Holocaust had to endure. Morris has crafted an astoundingly unforgettable story of strength, hope, love and endurance. - Sheridan

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan:

Beautifully written in a noir thriller style, Jennifer Egan’s 5th novel Manhattan Beach is a engrossing read. Set against the waterfront of Brooklyn spanning from the Great Depression through to the War years. The stories of 12 year old Irish Anna Kerrigan as she grows to womanhood, her father Eddie and His ‘employer’ Dexter Styles interweave. Quintessential daddy’s girl Anna searches for answers after he disappears. Drawing her and the reader into a world of organised crime where we witness the changing identities of women and men, and the relationships of father and daughter, and the flawed men that become good men. - Raychel

Game, Set, Cash by Brad Hutchins:

An extraordinary account of one mans journey across the globe to discover the unknown world of tennis trading. Mr Hutchins retells the tales of he and his buddies late night to early morning shenanigans in more countries than one can dream of. He allows his audience to gain a visual aspect of destinations he finds himself in and gives insight on some of the most recognised sportsman in history. Whether or not you are a fan of tennis I assure you; you will enjoy this insightful, often-hilarious memoir of this cheeky, mischievous man's journey. It will leave you wanting to find that dream job that will provide you with the opportunity to jet set across this planet we call home to unravel the many diverse ways of living. - Ashley

Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli:

Being a teenager is hard. Feeling like you have a secret that you can’t tell anyone is harder. Combine the two and you might understand how Simon feels. Simon is gay, and he’s trying to understand and define his own identity while also navigating his family, his friends, and his new-found email crush. The way in which this book is written is so truthful that you can’t help but fall in love with every character presented. Becky Albertalli’s exploration of the relationships with those around you and your relationship with yourself is so true to the high school experience that any teenager would be able to find an aspect of themselves within the characters. Challenge yourself to read the book before the film (Love, Simon) is released in March; I promise you will not be disappointed. - Bridie

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green:

Written in his usual quirky style Green once again successfully climbs inside the teenage mind in his long awaited return to writing. Revolving around character Aza Turtles All The Way Down is a story about friendship, a conman on the run, first love, and the crippling weight of mental illness. Heart warming yet equally heart wrenching fans won’t be disappointed. Once you pick up Turtles you won’t put it back down! - Emma