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BOOK LOVE: Beloved by Toni Morrison

An incredible book. Set in 1873, an African-American mother, Sethe, has killed her daughter rather than allow her to be returned to slavery. Now, the house – 124 Bluestone Road, Cincinnati – is haunted, ‘full of a baby’s venom’. Paul D, one of the former slaves who worked with Sethe, comes and tries to help the family move forward, but in doing so he forces out the ghost of Beloved, who returns to the house as a young woman with baby-like features. Beloved ousts Paul D from the house, and Sethe becomes a slave again, this time trying to do the impossible – to achieve forgiveness from the girl she sacrificed, because, in her own words, she was ‘trying to put my babies somewhere they would be safe.’

On reading this book I felt sickened and strange – but moreover that I was reading something extremely important. Toni Morrison put it like this:

There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence or better still on the banks of the Mississippi. And because such a place doesn’t exist . . . the book had to.

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BOOK LOVE: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.

We lived in the gaps between the stories.

Set some time in the future, the main character, Offred, has been designated a Handmaid, and her function is to endure mating rituals in order to bear a child for the couple she belongs too.  The Gilead society is cruel and swift to exact punishment on those who disobey its rules. But Offred remembers a life before this, where she had a husband and daughter. Unable to forget the freedom she has known, she makes dangerous choices, and is slowly drawn towards disaster.

This book is right at the top of my all-time favourites, and just writing about it makes me want to go and find it again. I haven’t read it for years, but I can still hear those names called out in the darkness at the end of the first chapter, the brave reassertion of identity under a monstrously repressive regime. Atwood’s writing is mesmerising, and the dystopian world that she has built, where women have no rights and have become classified according to their purpose in relation to men, is both terrifying and heartbreaking. I could contemplate many of the sentences in this book for hours. I was so disappointed when I saw the film – but I think it’s just because there’s no way to translate Atwood’s writing, you need to read this story in its purest form.

 

 

 

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BOOK LOVE: The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy

Once, Rich and Sandy were environmental activists, part of a world-famous blockade in Tasmania to save the wilderness. Now, twenty-five years later, they have both settled into the uncomfortable compromises of middle age — although they’ve gone about it in very different ways. The only thing they have in common these days is their fifteen-year-old daughter, Sophie.

When Rich decides to take Sophie, whom he hardly knows, on a trek into the Tasmanian wilderness, his overconfidence and her growing disillusion with him set off a chain of events that no one could have predicted. Instead of respect, Rich finds antagonism in his relationship with Sophie; and in the vast landscape he once felt an affinity with, he encounters nothing but disorientation and fear.

Ultimately, all three characters will learn that if they are to survive, each must traverse not only the secret territories that lie between them but also those within themselves.

I haven’t read any of Cate’s renowned short stories, but I will be looking for them now. This book is a masterpiece of character study combined with beautiful, lyrical writing. I don’t think I’ve read a better depiction of a teenager’s tumultuous relationship with her parents, and the internal struggles of middle age. While I love a page-turner, there is no rushing this read – Cate makes sure you immerse yourself in each sentence, and it’s no surprise it was shortlisted for numerous accolades, and won the People’s Choice Award in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards back in 2010.

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Shallow Breath

NEW AUSTRALIAN EDITION

COMING JULY 2017

How far would you go to save someone you love?

Two years ago, Desi Priest made a horrific mistake and destroyed her family.

Now, she is coming home to make amends: to her daughter Maya, who’s nurturing her own dangerous plan; to her brother Jackson, who blames himself; and to her close friend Pete, who has spent years shielding her from a devastating truth.

But as Desi returns to her beloved house by the ocean, there is a stranger waiting for her. Someone who needs her help. Someone whose arrival will reveal a chain of secrets hidden for over twenty years.

And one by one the family will be forced to confront the possibility that they have somehow got things terribly, tragically wrong …

Set across five continents, Shallow Breath is a compelling novel of dashed dreams and second chances. But most of all it is a story about love, and what it really means to be free.

‘Gripping, touching, and close to my heart. I was hooked from start to finish.’

Favel Parrett

Australian ISBN: 978-1925533248

E-book ISBN: 978-1925533255

Available in Australia and New Zealand from this website, and in all good bookstores, including Booktopia, Dymocks and independent retailers.

Shallow Breath by Sara Foster

INTERNATIONAL READERS:

You can find the Kindle international edition of Shallow Breath on all Amazon stores outside Australia (ASIN: BOOCEXVEEW)

If you are overseas and you would like to purchase a print edition, please send a message of enquiry using the Contact form.

Book Group Questions

1. The shoutline of the book is ‘How far would you go to save someone you love?’. How did this resonate for you within the novel?

2. What does the pearl necklace symbolise?

3. Why do you think the author chose to put in one chapter towards the end of the book from Connor’s perspective, when most of the information is found elsewhere or could easily have been added?

4. Discuss Luke’s character and his role within the story.

5. Who was your favourite character? Which characters did you feel the most sympathetic towards, and why?

6. How did you feel about the decisions the characters made towards the end of the book? Are their actions justified? Is it ever okay to do something wrong if it makes something right?

7. ‘The thing that makes you is the thing that breaks you.’ What do you think of Pete’s comment, and how does it apply to the story?

8. Did you like the introduction of a new ‘voice’ in each part? Why do you think the author did this?

9. At the beginning of each part there is a short, italicised section from an unidentified perspective. How do you think these short pieces contribute to the novel? What effect would it have on the story if they were removed?

10. What did you think of the ending? What feelings does this book leave you with?

Reviews

‘Shallow Breath invites breathless anticipation, building towards a shocking climax. It is a really satisfying read.’ www.aussiereviews.com

‘…the steady unveiling of all that lies below the surface is suspenseful, complicated and deeply mired in oceanic metaphors … Foster is a gifted writer who has much to teach us in amongst this intriguing family saga.’ This Charming Mum blog, March 2013

‘a thrilling novel about love and freedom’ Green Lifestyle magazine, Feb/March 2013

‘compelling, emotional and graphic’ 5/5 stars Book Muster Down Under, February 2013

‘Shallow Breath is a beautifully written novel that quite easily draws you in to this somewhat broken family and the fragile relationships that are struggling to knit themselves back together … It further cements Sara Foster as a writer with a real talent for suspense and pacing and the ability to flesh out her novels with characters that are so real you can imagine yourself living next door to them.’ 1Girl2ManyBooks, February 2013

‘… with Western Australian author Sara Foster’s skilled pen, there is a vitality and urgency to the pace of Shallow Breath than catapults the reader right into the heart of the action.’ Australian Women’s Weekly, January 2013

‘set quite uniquely against a fascinating and intelligent backdrop of Australian wildlife and it’s struggle for survival in the modern world’ Australian Women’s Weekly, January 2013

‘…beautifully researched and written with enormous passion … the perfect holiday companion for those wanting to lose themselves in a good story.’ Writing WA review in the West Australian, January 2013

‘The narrative burden shifts between characters, all of whom have winning strengths and credible frailties, and the action emanates from these qualities with effortless suspense and dramatic power…’ Sydney Morning Herald PICK OF THE WEEK, December 2012

‘well-crafted psychological suspense’ Saturday Age PICK OF THE WEEK, December 2012

‘Shallow Breath is a fast-paced read which interweaves drama, intrigue, loss and the fate animals can face at the hands of humans. The author’s clever use of psychological suspense played out in this book reeled me in and delivered the animal conservation message with a powerful punch.’ Port Macquarie News, January 2013

‘SHALLOW BREATH is a modern Australian saga, written by an author who knows how to breathe life into characters. The story reaches through the pages pulling you into its watery depths and when it is over the characters will stay with you as if you’ve connected deeply with new friends.’ An Adventure in Reading, December 2012

‘An engaging novel that is sure to haunt you, this is an absorbing read. Dive into Shallow Breath – you won’t regret it.’ Book’d Out, December 2012

‘…an absorbing novel about the loneliness of secrets and how love yearns to be free of them.’ Canberra Times, December 2012

‘a double whammy of suspense coupled with some nicely nuanced characters…’ Geelong Advertiser, December 2012

‘Foster has such a knack for intrigue and is so engaging with her storytelling…,and this, her third novel – set in her adopted WA – is sharper and more mysterious than ever.’ The West Australian, December 2012

‘another taut, suspenseful read bursting with family secrets and hope…Shallow Breath is one of those books you want to dive into and not come back out of until it’s finished.’ Monique Mulligan, Write Note Reviews

‘a love letter to the ocean’, Bookseller and Publisher, October 2012

‘Gripping, touching and close to my heart. I was hooked from start to finish.’ Favel Parrett

For author interviews and general media, click here

About

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ME

I live in Perth, Western Australia, with my husband and two young daughters.

Before I was a writer I worked as a book editor, at first in-house at HarperCollins UK and then freelance. I’ve edited and proofread well over 100 books, fiction and non-fiction, including novels by Paullina Simons, Kathryn Fox and Liane Moriarty.

My favourite authors include Maggie O’Farrell, Toni Morrison, Nicci French, Sara Gruen, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Wendy James, Kate Morton, Liane Moriarty and Jodi Picoult.

My favourite books include The Secret River by Kate Grenville, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton, and After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell. The list goes on and on.

My favourite poetry collection is The Self-Completing Tree by Dorothy Livesay.

I was one of the original editors of the Kids’ Night In book series, which has been raising money for War Child since 2003.

I’m very lucky to belong to a writers’ group that includes Amanda Curtin, Natasha Lester, Annabel Smith, Yvette Walker, Dawn Barker and Emma Chapman.

I’m a huge fan of dystopian fiction, and I’m studying the genre for my PhD at Curtin University. My favourites include The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, and Pure by Julianna Baggott.

As a kid, in addition to devouring Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton books,  I loved the Sue Barton nurse stories and Gerald Durrell’s animal adventures. Later on I read everything written by the Brontes, and devoured the dark thrillers of Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike.

I was born and raised in England, but I’ve always had family connections to Australia, and we visited the east coast a few times during my childhood. My introduction to Australian literature was reading All the Rivers Run by Nancy Cato, and after that I wanted to be Delie Gordon for quite a while. In 1999 I made sure I got to stand at the wheel of the Philadelphia paddle steamer  when we visited the Murray River region.

My first pop concert, aged 12, was a Stock Aitken and Waterman event featuring my first love Jason Donovan. I was on a high for weeks afterwards. Little did I know that twenty years later I would end up editing his autobiography.

I love marine animals, and in the past (before children!) I have been a keen scuba diver. I’ve played with baby sea lions, penguins and marine iguanas in the Galapagos and scuba dived with Galapagos reef sharks and hammerhead sharks. I’ve glided with manta rays in Coral Bay (WA) and the Similan Islands in Thailand, encountered huge potato cod and graceful minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef, and swum with the mighty whale sharks of Ningaloo. I have experienced the absolute joy of being surrounded by wild dolphins in New Zealand and WA waters, and had the very special experience of a dolphin ‘buzzing’ me while I was pregnant (using concentrated echolocation to ‘see’ the baby).

In 2011 I went to Japan while researching Shallow Breath, and visited Taiji, the town famous for its horrific dolphin drives. I was only there for two days, and I didn’t have to witness the brutal hunt up close, although I watched the banger boats drive the dolphins in from a distance. However, I did encounter the dolphins in captivity in the sea pens, being broken and starved while trained for human entertainment. Those images will stay with me forever.

I met my husband Matt when I was nineteen. We both love to travel, and we tend to pick places where we can pursue our passions for animal encounters and the natural world. Our highlights include four months in South-East Asia, including chartering a tiny vessel to Komodo Island and staying amongst the dragons. We got engaged on an island full of monkeys in Halong Bay, Vietnam, and  for our honeymoon we visited Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, the Galapagos Islands, and travelled into the heart of the Manu Biosphere of the Amazon to see everything from capybaras to caimans. Now our two girls are getting older, we are excited about planning our next adventures.