An explanation (for the absence of reviews of late) and a new review: The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

The cover of my next novel, due out March 1st 2020. Set in Scotland in the early 1700s, it’s based on a true story.

I’ve been a bit remiss with my book reviews of late – but not, thank goodness, my reading (I have devoured so many books – fiction and non-fiction – they are my solace, joy and inspiration). Nevertheless, reviewing has taken a back seat as the last two months have seen me immersed in my own writing (a novel due for release in 2021) and editing my next novel, The Darkest Shore (which I will blog about soon) and which is being released March 1st 2020 in Aus/NZ. As a consequence, I have a number of simply wonderful books I’ve been bursting to review, but have had to wait until I’ve had a bit of breathing space – oh, and my computer. You see, on top of everything else, my computer decided to go ballistic. It had a bit of help though. I decided I was going to store my documents on iCloud. Actually, I was persuaded by my husband who said I should have backup beyond a time machine (apologies to Dr Who) just in case someone breaks into my house and steals my computer. Fair enough, I thought, and bought iClould space and voila! My files not only disappeared, but those remaining became scattered into different hundreds of folders etc. A “geek” (his name for himself) called James was my saviour and, after saying he’s never seen anything like it, spent five days trying to rebuild my computer back to the way it was. Turns out, iCloud has eaten some of my files and we don’t think I’ll ever get them back :(. Overall, I have what I need, so I am trying to think positively and tell myself I Marie Kondoed my computer… let go of what didn’t spark joy. Problem is, I don’t yet really know what I have “let go” of and dread finding out lest it doesn’t spark joy so much as rage or despair… Anyhow, onto more interesting things… like books.

I honestly, I have been so spoiled with my reading of late, there are just so many fantastical books out there, I wasn’t sure where to start until I remembered The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. It was recommended to me by my beloved reading buddy and while I was enchanted with the title, little did I know I would swiftly fall under the spell of the story as well.

Set during the Depression in the US and based on a true story, this about a group of disparate women living in the mountains of Kentucky who, for various reasons, decide to create a mobile “horseback” library in the small town of Bailyville.

The story opens by introducing the reader to the recently wed, British immigrant, Alice Wright. Wed to the handsome and very desirable and wealthy, Bennett Van Cleeve, Alice believes she is escaping the prison of her home in England and embarking on a grand adventure with the man of her dreams. Sadly, the reality is far from what she hoped and soon she finds herself in the company of other women who, for reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds, are also searching for something and someone beyond what their lives have offered. There’s sassy and independent Margery, shy young Izzy, the widow, Kathleen and Sophia, an educated black woman tasked with caring for her crippled brother who, due to prejudice, decides to only work in the library in the evenings, becoming, effectively, the library’s administrator and bringing order to potential chaos.

Known as the WPA packhorse librarians, of course, there are objections among certain townsfolk, not only about women mounting horses daily to take books, magazines and comics out to those who either live remotely or are unable to come to the library, but also about the fact they’re peddling stories. Stories are powerful, unpredictable and potentially dangerous. As the books and magazines and the tales contained within start to not only unite the readers, but also teach them about life beyond their mountains and about possibilities, the township begins to stir. In this sense, the book is about the way in which stories can literally transform lives – and not just those of the packhorse librarians – and for the better.

Brave, bold and kind, the librarians endure personal hardship and professional criticism, but it’s their work and their love of it that binds them together. The lives of the locals are also brought into stark relief; their poverty, their struggles, but also their joy in the tales the women bring them and how they come to slowly regard themselves and each other in a different light. But not everyone can tolerate what the packhorse librarians are doing, the way it’s empowering certain people and, before too long, there are moves afoot to prevent the women not only delivering their tales, but the changes they stimulate. But when tragedy strikes, no-one could have foreseen the lengths those opposed to the library and the independent women at its heart were prepared to go…

Beautifully written, this tale is stirring, heart-felt and inspiring. It reminds you of the power of good stories, the importance of friendship and above all, how decent people united in a great cause can bring about justice and positive change. Messages we all need to remember; lessons we need to heed. A wonderful read.

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Meet My Character: Blog Hop

This is an unusual blog for me as I don’t often write about my books (a situation that will change as I am upgrading/changing my website soon – watch this space!) but the notion came via a lovely invitation from the wonderful writer, Josephine Pennicott, author of the fabulous Poet’s Cottage and Currawong Manor as well as award-wining crime novels. This is a “meet my character blog”, where I answer questions about a character from one of my books or a work in progress. I have chosen to discuss the lead character in my latest novel, The Brewer’s Tale which is published by MIRA, Harlequin. I really hope you enjoy learning a little more about her – thank you for the opportunity, Josephine!

My latest novel

My latest novel


1.) What is the name of your character?

When the reader first meets her, she’s called Anneke Sheldrake but due to circumstance, she undergoes a slight name change, taking her mother’s family’s name and hoping it gives her some anonymity and autonomy as well as the ability to put the past behind her.

2.) Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

She is most definitely a fictional person but her life-story is grounded in historical research and fact. Some women had incredibly tough and poignant lives and Anneke’s, with all its trials and tribulations, reflects that.

3.) When and where is the story set?

It’s set in early Fifteenth Century England, commencing in the fictional town of Elmham Lenn (on the east coast of England and loosely modelled on Bishop’s Lynn (now King’s Lynn) and Cromer) before moving to Dover, then Southwark. In order to be authentic, I not only read many, many books, articles, spoke to brewers and distillers and poured over old maps, my old life as a cartographer came in handy after allbut in the final stages of editing, travelled to the United Kingdom. At one stage, I wandered along the Thames, walking in my characters’ footsteps. I stood on the banks of the river, in Southwark, in approximately the place Anneke ends up living, which is in a dwelling called “The Swanne”. Lo and behold, when I turned my back upon the river to see what was built there now, what did I see but this…

The modern day "The Swan", Bankside,  Soithwark

    A modern day pub called “The Swan”. I confess, I welled up and then went had a drink (or two) to celebrate! How amazing is that – not that I was drinking –  but the serendipity of it all?





4.) What should we know about him/her?

Medieval beer barrels

After her father drowns at sea, and Anneke and her young siblings are left orphans, she is forced to make a living in order to keep her family together, so turns to what once made her mother’s family in The Netherlands prosperous, brewing ale. This not only drives her into competition with nearby producers but more significantly, the local priory who dominate the market and do not like others impinging on their trade. Beyond being an excellent and ethical brewer, Anneke is loyal, brave, smart and lovely – inside and out. But she finds being a female brewer tarnishes her reputation and exposes herself and those she loves to terrible danger.


5.) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

The main conflict comes in the form of people and organisations with power – familial, social, financial, class, political, those who don’t like seeing a single, talented and lovely woman succeed – so the people representing these forces come in various shapes, sexes and sizes, from family relations to bailiffs, ale-conners, sheriffs, and the church.

There is much that “messes up” her life, and in this regard, despite so much happening, it reflects what women of that era endured. But there is always hope and love and friendship  as well.


6.) What is the personal goal of the character?

To be ethical and successful; to be loyal in love and life, to care for those for whom she is responsible and to not let injustice, in any guise, win.Different kinds of beers


7.) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

It’s called The Brewer’s Tale. It was its working title (drawing inspiration from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales – it even features the Wife of Bath as a character)  and that never changed. You can read more about it at Harlequin’s website (which also features a video with me discussing this and my next novel)  or just Google the title.


8.) When can we expect the book to be published or when was it published?

It was published by MIRA, Harlequin October this year!

Cheers and thank you!
Beer Mo



Now it is my turn to nominate another author to introduce you to their character. It is with great pleasure, that I would like to introduce you to Sheryl Gwyther.

Sheryl Gwyther_image1Sheryl is a children’s author and artist who has written many books, such as the wonderful Secrets of Eromanga, as well as Secrets of Eromanga

plays and short stories and is actively involved in the writing community and very generous with her time and support. I know she is juggling many writing balls at the moment, so I’m looking forward to discovering which of her characters she decides to let us meet.


Over to you, Sheryl!

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Acceptance Speech Norma K. Hemming Award

The Norma K Hemming Award was announced on June 11th in Melbourne, at the Continuum conference.

Sara Douglass was a joint winner for her book The Devil’s Diadem. For health reasons, i was unable to be there to receive it on her behalf, but I did write the acceptance speech which I know would have been beautifully read by fellow author and friend, Jason Nahrung.

I thought I would share the speech with you – it is only short. Here it is:

It is difficult to accept an award on behalf of a beloved friend who has died, suffice to say, you try to imagine how they would feel and what they would say and that’s what I will try and do now.

Firstly, however, I want to thank Jason Nahrung, my dear friend and fellow writer for being so kind as to accept this award on my behalf for Sara.

Secondly, I know Sara would want me to extend warm congratulations to the joint winner, Anita Bell – it’s lovely to share this recognition with you, Anita.

As for winning the Norma K Hemming Award for Devil’s Diadem, Sara’s last novel, it’s a great tribute and Sara would have been humbled by it but also, I think, grateful that the judges and this community understood what she did with the tale and, in particular, the character of Maeb.

The citation says that Maeb, the main protagonist, was “…an ordinary woman (who) lives extraordinarily, questioning and evolving her place in history, in patriarchy, and in an unfurling horror.”

This could have been written about Sara. Those of you who knew her would agree with me that she was simultaneously an ordinary and extraordinary woman. She was a trailblazer for us speculative fiction writers, a great but quiet supporter of the national and international community of writers, readers and fans, and someone who, while writing this book, suffered the unfurling horror of cancer.

What many of you won’t know is the pain, blood, sweat, and tears that Sara poured into this novel – something her original dedication noted. I was privileged to share this dreadful yet wonderful time with Sara. She loved this book with a passion – it was her escape, her salve.  Towards the end of writing and throughout the editing, when she knew unequivocally she was dying, Sara allowed her emotions, her fear, her dread, her confusion and grief to transfer into the story – into Maeb.

Yet, for all that, it’s not a bleak novel; on the contrary, it’s beautiful, otherworldly and haunting – like Sara really. Read Devil’s Diadem, and you will find Sara Warneke and Sara Douglass on every page, in every line and every word.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the honour you have bestowed upon her, thank you for remembering her. As she walks the falloway paths, I hope we’ll all continue to do so.

That was it. But I would like to add something here:

My heartfelt thanks to Jason, the organisers of Continuum and the judges of the award – and to all of you who love her works as much as I do.

Karen x

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Illumination news

I’ve decided I’m not very good at putting up info about my books. I must get better at it. I also have to update my website – and I will. After Illumination comes out. See, that’s my problem. At the moment, my year is divided into two halves: BI and AI – Before Illumination and Artificial Intelligence… not really 🙂 I do mean, After Illumination. The idea being that once the final book in the Curse of the Bond Riders series is out there, I can fix/reinvent/update my website. And I will… I’ve said it twice now, three times and it’s a charm I cannot break 🙂

In the meantime, I do have some news and the cover to share with you.

So, here’s the cover. Tallow’s face is finally revealed and Serenissima is there wreathed in mist and unctuous moonlight. I really love the cover. From the jade greens of Tallow, to the golds of Votive to the sapphire hues and silvers of Illumination. It’s the series captured in jewels and metals.

News wise, I’ve just signed the contract with Bolinda to have Illumination turned into an audio book. That means that all of the series will now be made made into audio books which is really very thrilling and I can’t wait to listen to them – the idea that someone will read the books, bring them to life aurally, is just lovely. It’s like the first time you see your book’s cover and what an artist and graphic designer have done to your tale, how they’ve visually translated your ideas into a different medium. It’s very dazzling and exciting. I can’t wait to hear how Bolinda translate the series either.

The print version of the book is due for release JULY 1st. I put that in capitals because I am getting asked a great deal about this (thank you) and I wanted it to stand out. It should be in all good book stores from that day forward, and it  it’s not, it doesn’t mean your bookstore is bad (necessarily, but… bad bookstore!:)), but that you have to ask them to order it in! Please do that if it’s not.

My last bit of news for this post is to put a link to an interview I did with the lovely Kathryn Linge as part of the spec-fic “snapshots” that they do with well-known authors every two years. I was chuffed to be asked and Kathryn’s questions were fabulous. So if you want some info from behind the scenes, so to speak, about the writing of my books and what research I do, and more, then follow this link!

Other than that, I have no other news for now. I am writing a new book and in time, I will blog about that too! Take care,

Karen 🙂

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Being interviewed by Peter Thompson

On Saturday, I had the privilege of being interviewed by Peter Thompson of ABC’s Talking Heads. It happened as part of the Noosa Long Weekend, which is basically a 10 day celebration of culture and the arts. Much to my delight, I was invited this year – in my role as a columnist and author. But, imagine my surprise when I discovered I was to be interviewed for one and half hours by Peter! I was overwhelmed and more than a little nervous.

I had the good fortune to run into Peter, and his lovely partner, Jane in, so appropriately, a bookshop the night before the interview. We sat down together, Jane, my hubby, Stephen, Peter and I and chatted and laughed and shared stories. Peter revelaed that one of the reasons he agreed to interview me was because I once went to the same high school that his daughter now attends: Hornsby Girls High School in Sydney (actually, I was Head Prefect – an honour that, I have subsequently found out, I share with the fantastic crime writer, Katherine Howell and Masterchef winner in 2009, Julie Goodwin! What an alma mater! It was and still is a terrific school). So, I have yet another reason to be thankful to my old school!

Anyhow, catching up with Peter and Jane like that was a great way to break the ice and the one topic that wasn’t mentioned was ‘the interview’. Though, when I did raise it just before we parted, Peter revealed that he liked to let the chat flow organically…. I gulped and smiled and said, ‘what a good idea!’ Thinking, ‘oh dear, I don’t think he means what I do when I say ‘organically’ (messy, natural, as it comes – which, like my eggs, means covered in chicken shit! LOL!). At the back of my mind, I was concerned that the audience, who were paying good money to come and see me, would not be bored or wishing they’d gone to the ‘other’ session (which, frankly, I was very interested in myself!).

I should have had more faith in Peter.

I already ‘knew’ him from his show and understood that he was both warm and charismatic but, it’s testimony to a good interviewer that they bring out the best (and worst) in their subject – that they willingly position themselves as a conduit through which the interviewee exposes themselves.  It requires a complete loss of ego and a readiness to take a back seat – something some interviewers refuse to do as they make every interview about THEM. Not Peter. Smooth yet someone with a great story of his own to tell and brimming with wit and intellect, he nonetheless allowed me to shine.

I sat there, for the entire hour and half (which felt like five minutes) and responded to Peter’s generous and insightful questions, his humour, and intelligent probing about my upbringing, the fact I was sexually abused for years, my stint in the army, my struggles as a single-parent, my love for my partner and children and found myself revealing things I never expected to (and also some I wish I now had, especially after watching Where Are You From? on SBS last night and the Ben Mendelsohn story. I am a direct descendant of Felix Mendlessohn the composer… REALLY! We are Mendlessohns….at least, that’s OUR family story but that’s for another blog!) Yet, I never felt what I was revealing was inappropriate nor, it seemed did the audience.

Those who had come to listen and be part of my conversation with Peter (for that’s what is was, like a catch up with an old friend), were so warm and engaged and just so easy to ‘talk’ to and with. They listened and asked great questions and were so responsive and kind – I can’t thank them enough either.

We discussed my work, my writing, my passion for social justice (though we didn’t call it that),  how I use my ‘voice’ though my words, to draw attention to social issues and challenge people to move out of their comfort zones.

Unfortunately, I know it’s worked when I get a lashing from the public, as I did recently over my Masterchef and twitter column (see,

which has seen me denigrated in the Twitterverse and other fora (as well as supported).

It’s testimony to Peter’s style that, when he asked me about the cancer and I broke down on stage (something I never expected or anticipated), that he gently continued, with such compassion and patience as I collected myself and was handed a wad of tissues (thank you!). It enabled me to talk about my journey, but also my friend Sara’s and our shared, strong belief in talking about these things, on the negative effects of the positive thinking movement and how Sara’s blog on the silence of the dying (see “> or my reference to it in an earlier blog) has given voice to those who do not have one. How, amidst her own pain and grief, she has started such an important conversation.

The time ended on such a warm note – of which I was only really aware when the lovely members of the audience approached me – many wanting to hug me and be held. The feedback was humbling. It was overhwleming in the loveliest of ways.

I want to thank Noosa Long Weekend Festival organisers for inviting me, the staff the the Arts Theatre for looking after me and being so supportive and, most of all, I want to thank Peter, for steering our conversation through gentle and rough waters with boldness, expertise and generosity – and above all for being so kind with me and my story.

What an honour!

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Welcome to my new website and blog!

At last, after months of planning and preparation and a good deal of patience (with me), my new website with blog and Twitter feed is alive! Thank you to everyone who kept asking “where’s your website?” for bearing with me – especially the designer and host – Media Box and the wonderful Oliver Purser. I haven’t worked with someone so professional and yet so relaxed for a very long time. He has done a magnificent job and tried to accommodate my every wish – but would also guide me back from the realms of digital fantasy when needed. Oliver also has a great team working with him and Jules specifically needs a mention. Having read Tallow and spoken with me a few times, Jules grasped the vision I had for my website and, I think captured it perfectly – aided by the generosity of my publisher, Random House, who gave us permission to use the images from my latest novel, Tallow.

So, here I am at the beginning of 2010 with a new website, my health starting to get back on track after cancer (I will write about that in another blog shortly), my column appearing in the Courier Mail, doing radio and newspaper interviews again, writing book 2 of The Curse of the Bond Riders, Votive (stay tune for news regarding that as well!) and having a break from my academic life until I am given the all-clear by the doctor’s. After the horrors of last year, I really hope and intend for this one to be a vast improvement. I hope it is for all of you as well.

Karen Brooks in Florence with family

Travels with a broad

So welcome to my website – I sincerely hope you visit it and my blog regularly and that you tell others about it as well. I look forward to our conversations!

Warmest wishes,


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