Author Interview: Beau & Bett by Kathryn Berla

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Beau & Bett by Kathryn Berla
Released: 25th June 2019
Published by: Amberjack Publishing
Genre: YA Fairytale Retelling
Source: Publisher
Pages: 256
After Beau LeFrancois's mother wrecks Bett Diaz’s luxury SUV, his family faces an impossibly large bill—with no car insurance to help pay it.

To pay off the debt, Beau spends his weekends working at the Diaz Ranch. Beau’s prepared to work, but he’s definitely not prepared for the infamous temper of Bett Diaz, also known as "The Beast" at school. As Beau learns the secrets behind Bett’s tough exterior, he finds himself falling for her . . . until he catches Bett in a lie.

A contemporary twist on a classic fairy tale, Beau and Bett is a timely story of family, friendship, and the power of speaking out and standing up for yourself.
Author Interview with Kathryn Berla

When did you first decide that you wanted to be an author and publish a novel?

I began seriously writing about seven years ago. It started first with a blog which was more just a series of essays that only my friends and family read. After a while, I decided to try my hand at writing a full-length novel. But ever since I was a young girl, I enjoyed expressing myself through the written word.

What makes Beau and Bett unique compared to other re-tellings of Beauty and the Beast?

I think what makes Beau & Bett unique is that it’s a contemporary story with no attempt to infuse it with fantasy or magic in any way. Also, I was influenced more by versions of the original French fairy tale and the amazing 1946 Jean Cocteau film than the Disney version. Because it’s a dark story with dark themes, I wanted to explore those themes and add a counterbalance to the belief some have that the original intent of this fairy tale was to get young girls comfortable with the idea of an arranged marriage. Last but not least, I think the gender reversal separates Beau & Bett from other retellings.

When you're not writing, what are some recent reads you'd recommend lately?

I just checked my Goodreads account and the last five books I’ve given 5 stars to in the past 4 to 5 months are: DISAPEARING EARTH; I’LL GET THERE. IT BETTER BE WORTH THE TRIP (the 5 stars had something to do with its historical significance); THERE YOU ARE (I read this on NetGalley because it’s not out until October; DAISY JONES AND THE SIX (for its pure entertainment value—listened as an audiobook and it made my daily walks go by so much more quickly); and THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (pure genius).

Without giving too much away, is there a favourite moment or quote from the book you'd like to share?

I don’t know if it’s a favourite but I’m fond of it because of my bittersweet feelings about autumn in California:

“In California where I live, sometimes the hottest days are the ones right before the weather turns cold—Indian summer, they call it, although I’m not sure why. This was one of those days: a heat so ferocious you knew it would expend itself by night, giving way to a shiver-inducing darkness; the air so still, it could annihilate any breeze dumb enough to take it on; and the quiet . . . that’s what always got to me, the quiet that made you feel sad for something you were about to lose. That’s the kind of day it was, and it hung heavy like the wet shirt I’d had on when I climbed out of the pool.” 

If there's one piece of advice you'd give to other aspiring authors out there, what would it be?

Since I consider myself first and foremost a reader and second a writer, my advice would be to read as much as you can and never stop. It’s the best school in the world for an aspiring author, in my opinion. Better than an MFA. And it goes without saying, aim high in your reading choices.

Audiobook Review: Beautiful by Juliet Marillier

Monday, 29 July 2019

Beautiful by Juliet Marillier
Released: 2019
Published by: Audible
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Length: 7h 18mins
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Find it on Audible 
With the Nordic fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon as her inspiration, Juliet Marillier weaves a magical story of a young princess' search for her true self.

Hulde is a queen's daughter and lives in a palace. But her life is lonely. Growing up atop the glass mountain, she knows only her violent and autocratic mother and a household of terrified servants. Then a white bear named Rune comes to visit, and Hulde learns what kindness is. But the queen has a plan for Hulde. When she turns 16, she will wed the most beautiful man in all the world. Hulde has never met her intended husband, and her mother refuses to explain the arrangement.

Hulde becomes desperate to find out more, and seeks the help of a magic mirror. Perhaps someone is coming to her rescue. On her wedding day, Hulde's existence is turned upside down. For the first time she leaves the glass mountain behind, setting out to be as brave as the heroines in her beloved storybook. The journey will test Hulde to the limit. Can she overcome her fears and take control of her own life?
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

I'm so glad to have finally ventured into audiobooks, and Beautiful has been a wonderful place to start. This three-part novel is inspired by a Norwegian fairytale, and takes a new turn to become about the unassuming princess who would one day reach out of the confines of her mother's rule and become a Queen of her own.

A fantasy novella such as this was rich in detail and narrated beautifully, which made it easy to listen to. The three sections were each distinct and represented different aspects of Hulde's character development, which was explored in detail throughout. While I did miss the feeling of being able to quickly flip back a page if I feel I missed an important detail, the vivid descriptions of the landscape and adventures which the protagonist encounters on her journey did make this something relaxing to listen to. There is something at once comforting and classic about a novel which has been spun from the strands of a fairytale, and Marillier has injected this story with just the right sense of magic to keep you wanting more as the tale progresses.


Beautiful was my first experience listening to an audiobook, and has definitely made me want to read more from Juliet Marillier!

Review: Greek to Me by Mary Norris - a joyful exploration of Greek language and culture

Friday, 26 July 2019

Greek to Me by Mary Norris
Released: 2nd April 2019
Published by: Text Publishing
Genre: Travel memoir
Source: Publisher
Pages: 240
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Comma Queen returns with a buoyant book about language, love, and the wine-dark sea.

In her New York Times bestseller Between You & Me, Mary Norris delighted readers with her irreverent tales of pencils and punctuation in The New Yorker’s celebrated copy department. In Greek to Me, she delivers another wise and funny paean to the art of self-expression, this time filtered through her greatest passion: all things Greek. Greek to Me is a charming account of Norris’s lifelong love affair with words and her solo adventures in the land of olive trees and ouzo.

Along the way, Norris explains how the alphabet originated in Greece, makes the case for Athena as a feminist icon, goes searching for the fabled Baths of Aphrodite, and reveals the surprising ways Greek helped form English. Filled with Norris’s memorable encounters with Greek words, Greek gods, Greek wine—and more than a few Greek men—Greek to Me is the Comma Queen’s fresh take on Greece and the exotic yet strangely familiar language that so deeply influences our own.
Thank you to Text Publishing for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

The study of any language - Greek, Latin, Hebrew, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Taino - opens the mind, gives you a window onto another culture, and reminds you that there is a larger world out there and different ways of saying things, hearing things, seeing things. It always distresses me to hear someone say, "I'm no good at foreign languages", or demand "English for me, dear." In learning a foreign language, you have to humble yourself, admit your ignorance, be willing to look stupid. We learn a language by making mistakes. 

For those of us who aren't basking in the Mediterranean glow, out there sailing across the glittering Aegean or taking the short trip across to Cyprus - reading Greek to Me definitely comes close to transporting you there. A passion for language, history and the desire to travel to places which form part of my own heritage are what drew me to this book, and Mary Norris wrote in a way which makes this memoir an absolute joy to read!

That all this speculation on shades of gray and blue and green and yellow and silver, with qualities as various as the moods of the sky and the sea, springs from a single ancient compound adjective, γλαυκῶπις, describing a goddess who has our welfare at heart, seems to me proof of the vitality of words, their adaptability and strength and resilience. Good words never die. They keep on growing. 

As a copy editor for the New Yorker, Mary Norris certainly knows her way around words - and it shows. But far from being a lengthy, convoluted treatise on all-things-Greek, her personal anecdotes from her experiences learning both the modern and ancient versions of the language and travelling to its shores are thoroughly entertaining. It did help that I have some grasp of Greek already and was able to recognise some of the words she mentions throughout, but even readers without any previous exposure will pick things up quickly. Something funny which I know has confused a few non-Greek speakers I've come across is how the words for 'yes' (Ναί) and 'no' (όχι) sound the opposite to what you think they'd be in most of Europe, and English too. There are also many connections to be found between Greek and English, such as the Greek word for newspapers (Εφημερίδες) being related to the English "ephemera": things that last but a day.

One night I dreamed that I was handling shards, pieces of ancient poetry with writing on them. The dream came back to me as I passed a church on the way to rehearsal, and I realized that ancient Greek is like the Bible (from Βίβλος): records of the past that preserve the things that humans most need to know.

There is a mini history, mythological, geography or cultural lesson to be found on every line, which both enchant and inspire. From glimpses into The Odyssey and Iliad to describing the effortless beauty of Cyprus, this book offers a brief but holistic view into the rich ties between time and place which have made me even more keen to visit. I also have a few more books added to my list thanks to her recommendations of Lawrence Durrell's Corfu Trilogy and a biography on Patrick Lee Fermor who played a significant role behind the lines in the Cretan resistance during the Second World War.

I knew a lot of Greek, but I wouldn't say I spoke modern Greek or call myself a classicist, either. I was more in love with the language than it was with me. My mind was like a riverbed and had silted up: it had its own archaeological strata from which an occasional find emerged. I had not mastered the language, ancient or modern, but I got glimpses of its genius, its patterns the way it husbanded the alphabet, stretching those twenty-four letters to record everything one could ever want to say. 


Greek to Me is both educational and entertaining, a book which highlights the joys of solo travel and fully immersing yourself into a place saturated with beauty and a vibrant culture. It's given me the opportunity to reflect on my own heritage and learn more about the places my ancestors originate from, where I hope to go on my own Mediterranean journey one day.

My Bookish Top 20 Releasing in 2019 (July - December)

Sunday, 21 July 2019

So far this year has been a great one for discovering some new poetry, non-fiction, and memorable novels by Australian debut authors. I'm still working on getting through the books listed in my first release countdown covering January-June, but there's no denying that 2019 still has a whole heap more promising reads in store! Read on for some of my top picks...


I'm always up for a mind-bending short story collection, and Episodes by Christopher Priest looks to deliver exactly that. A Constant Hum is also a collection of stories, focusing on the aftermath of bushfires and those affected. Other fiction highlights I want to try include YA contemporary The Astrid Notes, and Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth which has been re-released as a movie tie-in. See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill has been described by Helen Garner as "A shattering book: clear-headed and meticulous, driving always at the truth" - and with an endorsement like that you can't miss it. The biggest surprise here though is seeing that John Marsden (author of the YA dystopian 'Tomorrow' series) is coming out with a non-fiction release - The Art of Growing Up which goes over his experiences and advice on writing, education and how we can find happiness in today's world.


Books-about-books are always something I'll put to the top of the list, so Storytime by Jane Sullivan definitely caught my eye. For fans of suspense, JP Delaney brought out quite the impressive and twisted thriller with The Girl Before, and The Perfect Wife promises even more surprises.


Malcolm Gladwell has already established himself as a prolific writer with many works on how to achieve personal and career-driven success such as Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. I'm definitely keen on reading more about sociology, and Talking to Strangers has a really interesting premise which asks questions like "How do we make sense of the unfamiliar? Why are we so bad at judging someone, reading a face, or detecting a lie? Why do we so often fail to 'get' other people?" I've loved all of Alain de Botton's books I've read so far, so it's definitely time to start tucking in to the 'School of Life' series, with this one on An Emotional Education. Not to be out-done by these non-fiction heavyweights, Margaret Atwood is finally coming out with a sequel to The Handmaids Tale - and after a successful run so far with the TV adaptation, here's hoping that The Testaments lives up to the hype! Historical fiction is also a favourite genre of mine, and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett has already received some glowing praise. 


I remember doing a big essay on the French Revolution back in high school which I really enjoyed researching, so a novel like Ribbons of Scarlet which covers that period of time is intriguing (plus it took six authors to write!). Leigh Bardugo is known for her YA fantasy, but this time she's geared her writing for an adult audience with Ninth House. Jojo Moyes writes books that sure do know how to tug at the heartstrings, and The Giver of Stars could be her best yet.


Speaking of historical fiction, here's two more...Delayed Rays of a Star is a fictional account of three prominent female figures in the lead-up to WWII - Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, and Leni Riefenstahl. What I can already tell may be the title that has the biggest impact for me this year will be the ninth and final book in the Matilda Saga by Jackie French, Clancy of the Overflow. It's sad to see my favourite series come to a close, and is certainly the end of an era! 


Sara Shepard gained popularity when 'Pretty Little Liars' was brought to the small screen, but she's been writing plenty since then and is set to turn heads with another YA mystery called Reputation. Young women taking their own spin on 'polite society' in the Victorian era has potential to make for a quick-witted plot in Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen. Finally, Colleen Hoover hasn't quite been able to impress me just yet with something I loved as much as her 'Slammed' series, but Regretting You might be able to change things up - we'll see!

Over to you - what books are you most looking forward to in 2019?

{Extract} The Sunday Story Club: Real life tales of love, loss, trauma and resilience

Saturday, 6 July 2019

My favourite part of this book is that every chapter in The Sunday Story Club brought new insights into people's experiences - reminiscing on past mistakes and struggles, and looking into the deeper questions of who we really are and what's brought us to the present moment. Today I'm sharing an excerpt from one of my favourite chapters in the book called "Being known", starting off as a woman reflects on a chance encounter in Paris which prompts a reflection on her upbringing and how we come to be able to truly express ourselves without judgement.

The Sunday Story Club by Doris Brett & Kerry Cue
Released: 25th June 2019
Published by: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Non fiction/memoirs
Source: Publisher
Pages: 272
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cry. But the salons have given me the opportunity to look back and think about my life . . . I don't talk to anyone about these feelings outside of the salon.'

A book club without books. A key to the stories we all carry within us - wrenching, redemptive, extraordinary, laced with unexpected and hard-won wisdom. These are the stories that women tell each other when they gather for a deep and structured conversation - once a month in a suburban living room - about the things that really matter. They discover that life can be a heartbeat away from chaos; that bad things happen to good people; that good people do outrageous things; that the desire for transformation is enduringly human - painful and yet possible. A mother tells of the heartbreaking loss of control when her daughter develops anorexia. A sister reveals the high psychological cost of being hated by a sibling over the course of her life.

Husbands leave wives; wives take lovers; friendships shatter; finances collapse; children defy parents; wrong choices turn out to be right ones; agency is lost and re-claimed.

Profound, layered and clear-sighted, this collection of real-life stories reveals the emotional untidiness that lies below the shiny surface of modern life and reminds us of the power of real conversation to enlighten, heal and transform.

As a child and teenager, I had been quiet and rule abiding at home. I was never offered emotional or spiritual guidance by my parents. They never asked about my emotional life. I felt loved, but to them parenting meant providing the basics: food, shelter, clothing, schooling. I don’t think they knew how to do anything else. All my parents saw at home was the quiet girl who kept to herself and didn’t cause trouble. Outside the home, however, was a different matter.

I brought myself up, and my primers were Enid Blyton books – The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, The Five Find-Outers and Dog. I devoured her books and her fictional protagonists became my role models. They were brave and adventurous. They went where they weren’t supposed to go. They took risks. They got grubby and tore their clothes. They defied authority. And they weren’t afraid. These were my real role models. I became a rule breaker and a risk taker. I wasn’t quiet. And I didn’t conform. My friends were always in the fringe groups; I could never understand people who kowtowed to the in-group in order to be accepted.

My Paris experience, then, was for the adventurer in me – the part that had responded to the derring-do antics of my childhood literary models. I didn’t tell anyone about what I had done. Not because I was ashamed or embarrassed – I was neither of those – but simply because in my family we didn’t share our experiences, not even with each other. I grew up in a house of secrets.

My mother sailed on the last ship from Poland before the war. She was sixteen years old. The rest of her family had remained in Poland, and all of them were murdered. My father was sent by his family to England to escape the Nazis. The British interned him and sent him to Australia on a ship called the HMT Dunera, which would later become notorious for the mistreatment of the detainees, including the young Jewish refugees who were sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Hay, New South Wales. Like my mother, my father was the only one of his family to escape Europe. He too was the sole survivor of his family. Neither of my parents talked about their war and pre-war experiences in any detail, but my older siblings and I grew up knowing that they both had suffered intense pain and loss and had witnessed almost unbearable cruelty.

I was much younger than my older siblings; I almost felt like an only child. At the dinner table, my brothers and sisters talked. They were older and louder than I was. If I chimed in, I was either ignored or told to be quiet. I became used to being the listener, the observer. Perhaps because of this, I also became the keeper of secrets. When my mother was 42, she unexpectedly fell pregnant. In those days, women of that age didn’t have children – they were considered too old. My mother was deeply embarrassed by her pregnancy. She refused to tell anyone and disguised her condition in loose clothing. She didn’t drive and would walk to her doctor’s appointments in the evening. She wanted someone to walk with her and I filled that role, which was how I came to learn of her condition. I was ten years old and, for nearly seven months, I kept that secret from everyone, including my family and my closest friends. About three weeks before the expected birth date, my mother called the family into the living room and announced that she was pregnant. That was the first they knew of it. Despite their remoteness, my parents had clear favourites among their children. My father loved the firstborn, a girl, because he had lost a sister in the Dachau concentration camp. The next child was a boy – the only son – and he and my mother were close. Then came a sister who was also close to Mum. And finally there was me, and I was a daddy’s girl.

And yet despite these connections, I’m not sure that my parents really knew any of their children. They knew what they looked like, of course, and what they achieved in school and so on, but they didn’t know who they were inside. 

They didn’t know what they thought, felt, feared, loved or hoped for. Emotional issues were never mentioned, let alone discussed. There was a matter-of-factness to everything and no curiosity as to why someone might feel or think one thing or another. We were brought up to adopt that same matter-of-factness, a kind of businesslike approach to life: ‘It happened, it’s over, move on.’ Everything was external and nothing was internal.

I never thought about my life – my inner life, that is – until I was in my sixties and I went to my first salon. My family’s attitude is, of course, the opposite of the salon approach, where we think about our inner lives, explore them, unearth our stories. When I went to my first salon, I was startled by the idea of meditating on the patterns and discoveries of one’s own life. It was as strange to me as if the sun had turned purple. And I loved it. The salon gave me permission to explore myself for the first time in a safe environment. When I told various stories about my life, I got feedback and a different perspective. I was quite stunned by some of the reactions.

There are things I’ve done that seemed very ordinary to me, but to some people they were amazing, brave and even, some said, inspiring. I was astonished when they said that. Hearing those responses helped me to grow and see different parts of myself and recognise the strengths I have. Listening to other people’s stories has also helped me grow. Hearing how they have responded to their own life experiences has helped me to sort out my own issues, given me a different appreciation of how my mind works. 

And it has been fascinating to see how people with different backgrounds, belief systems and philosophies approach the same topic. Sometimes, when you’re listening to other people’s stories about how they have dealt with various obstacles and difficulties in their lives, you think: Wow, that was impressive. And then you realise that you’ve also managed to deal with something like that. You can recognise parts of yourself in other people’s experiences and it allows you to see yourself from a different perspective. It’s a process that brings your strengths to the foreground – it frees you up. And everyone is open about their mistakes. There’s a recognition within the group that we’re all human; we don’t judge each other. I learned more about myself – who I was and who I had been – in the first three salons than I had learned in my whole life.

When I got engaged, my mother said to me, ‘You’re getting married and I don’t even know you.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She wasn’t wistful. She didn’t say it regretfully. It was just a statement of fact. And I responded equally matter-of-factly – she was right; she didn’t know me.

I look back on that moment now and it strikes me that at least she was aware that she didn’t know me. That must mean something. And yet she wasn’t saying it with any emotion or sense of enquiry. It wasn’t intended as an invitation for me to open myself up to her. I think she was simply recognising the fact.

I was telling a friend of mine about this and she said to me: ‘If you had been like that stranger in Paris and handed your mother a photo of yourself, what would it have looked like?’ The question stopped me in my tracks. What would my photo have looked like? And then, as I thought about it, it occurred to me that maybe we’re really all going around like the man in Paris – handing out photos of ourselves that don’t reflect what we look like on the outside, saying, ‘Look, this is me, this is the real me,’ and hoping someone will finally recognise us.

This is an excerpt from The Sunday Story Club by Doris Brett and Kerry Cue, published by Macmillan Australia, RRP $32.99 and is available from all good bookstores. Any 'quoted' sections represent emphasis added by me.