Bookshops across Australia are throwing a party and we are invited! Love Your Bookshop Day is a chance to celebrate what makes your local bookshop great. Whether it’s for their amazing staff, their carefully curated range or specialisation or a must-see events program, visit your favourite bookshop on 10 August 2019 and share the love.

My top five reasons to love bookshops

  1. Where forgotten stories are breathed life
  2. Where new creations are shared and futures inspired (okay that’s two)
  3. A place you can enjoy being alone and simultaneously among a community of like-minded people (even better in bookstores with armchairs and/or cafe)
  4. Lucky dip books in brown paper packages at Harry Hartog, Woden (brown paper packages AND books… sigh)
  5. A repository of thousands of portals to thousands of worlds

My top five bookstores to date

  1. Waterstone’s Piccadilly, London: seriously, FIVE floors and a wine bar to sit back and digest all the inspiration
  2. Booktique Merimbula, NSW: water’s edge over aqua blue Merimbula inlet + coffee and cake + books (+ loads of loved ones locally AND they stock my work, so extra points)
  3. Australian National Gallery Bookshop: my love of art combined with my love of books + unique and gorgeous gifts (sometimes just for myself)
  4. Berkelouw’s Book Barn, Berrima NSW: it even feels medieval, and its huge, and there’s coffee, and books with carved covers and bronze latches…)
  5. Harry Hartog, Woden, ACT: for putting old leather arm chairs and an overflowing second-hand section in the centre of a shopping mall, aaaahhh (and thanks for stocking my books, too!)

Tag #loveyourbookshopday and #LYBD19 and share why your bookshop is special using the hashtag #whyIlovemybookshop

Michelle Moran is one of my favourite historical fiction authors!

Cleopatra’s Daughter goes down as my absolute fave of Michelle’s, so this one just had to be shared! This book takes you right into a very natural, convincing ancient Rome (yes Rome, not Egypt for this part of the daughter’s story) and an insightful look at the real people behind names we’ve all heard – and some we may not have.

I thoroughly enjoyed the complex and contradictory relationships of this jigsaw family of half-siblings and enemy’s children. And I may have to admit to maybe falling in love just a little bit with he-who-wont-be-named-until-the-end!

I don’t think I put it down for one whole day, and the ending was sooo worth it!

Find more of Michelle Moran’s work at her website.

Happy to share another reader review, this time from Olga Walker, a PhD candidate and herself a historical fiction/non-fiction writer. Big thanks, Olga!

Based on rigorous research, author Victoria Collins has written a book that encapsulates a story about women in Rome 114BC. The main characters in this historical fiction novel are the priestesses of Vesta. Collins takes the reader on a journey through the lives of these women in the lead-up to an event which will be life-changing for them.

As a reader I loved this novel and that Collins does not shy away from the harsh realities of life for women at that time.

Of note is Collins’s Foreword where she highlights that the story of the Vestal Virgins,

can only be told in fragments, because fragments are all we find, and fragments are all we remember. (Collins, 2018: Foreword, p. 5).

The novel is structured in nine chapters, consisting of short and long passages and includes reference to research by scholars of Roman history which Collins has entitled, ‘Fragments’. These fragments of history act as interventions and help contextualise the incompleteness of the story that remains about the Vestal Virgins. More importantly, they highlight how fragmented the nature of history writing can be. Collins is a great writer and her use of language complements this notion of fragmented history writing when it occasionally sits outside the story, for example,

Ever killed anything but kittens before, junior? (Collins, p. 9).

The notion of fragments has been used to form the structure of the novel and is sustained within a dimension of connectedness to nature’s elements of Fire, Earth, Water, and Air as the reader follows the actions of the main characters, Secunda and Amelia. Collins’s approach keeps the story focused and the reader engaged as she builds a picture of what might have been daily rituals in the lives of the Priestesses of Vesta.

In her research of the history of the Vestal Virgins Collins visited the location in search of a sense of connection to the area where the story takes place. This has enabled her to give the reader vivid descriptions of the temple where we can visualise the interactions of the priestesses with the powerful elite of Rome, the people whom the Vestal Virgins serve, and how they bring together the principal elements of nature to their sacred hearth. Collins writes in a final note to the reader that,

it was a time when the sacred included connection to the earth, air, wind and fire. (Collins, p. 256).

The significance of a work like Fire and Sacrifice is that in telling a story about women’s history that has almost been lost, it also raises the issues of politics, power, class, and gender equality in relation to how women were chosen for the role of a Vestal Virgin.

Collins has an awareness of the fragmented nature of researching and writing history and her work is a good example of how this can be used to write a story set in the past. The direct linking of the creative writing in the novel to the research done by scholars provides a platform where history and historical fiction can work together. When stories are written with a perception of the incompleteness of what is remembered and how history has been written in the past, the reader benefits by being left to draw their own conclusions on the author’s stance when writing a story such as Fire and Sacrifice.

As a reader I loved this novel and that Collins does not shy away from the harsh realities of life for women at that time. Maybe more could have been written about the families from whence these vestal virgins came, but there is enough in the novel about the division between master/mistress and slave and the politics of the day to satisfy the reader. Nor, does she romanticise the position that the Vestal Virgins held in Rome at that time.

This is Collins’s first historical novel and I hope it won’t be her last. Her other work includes Fast Effective News Writing for Nonprofits, and I believe she is working on a contemporary fictional novel. It is for the reader to decide, but I recommend that a journey through Fire and Sacrifice be taken.

Delighted to be included in the Historical Novel Society Australasia’s reviews and the May 2019 edition of their print magazine, Historical Novels Review. It’s an honour to have been chosen for reading, and a bit of a personal goal, so if I can have a little moment: ‘woohoo!’.

Big thanks to the Society’s reviewer J Lynn Else for her comments.

“The author does a great job bringing the setting and political atmosphere to life. Exploring the inner workings of the vestal virgins is a delight.”

I always value feedback from readers and reviewers: it’s forever interesting to see how different people react to the story and the storytelling style! Always a rife creative decision whether to write using the ancient historical phrasing, or provide a modernisation to try make the time period feel more accessible to readers. I went with the latter and had loads of fun playing around with pushing the boundaries on dialogue in historical fiction. Would love to hear what others thought of that!

Please share your views, I’d love to hear them.

Historical fiction lovers can check out the Historical Novel Society on Facebook here.

Very excited to work with the fab ladies at Biddy Tarot, appearing on their blog this month. Writing this was a fun and fascinating journey into the goddess Vesta as well as Minerva and Venus: three gals with helluva punch!

Rider Waite Queen of Swords

As personifications of female archetypes, the Tarot Queens can be much like the goddesses. Relating a Tarot Queen to a goddess with the same traits can be a very effective way to deepen your understanding of these cards.

Get to know these multi-faceted goddesses, and you can uncover insights and connections with the Tarot Queens in easy and exciting ways.

As earthly beings of the minor arcana, I look upon a Tarot Queen as a priestess of the chosen goddess; one who walks with the goddess in her everyday mortal work (just like you can!).

Rider Waite Queen of Cups

Read the full blog for

Queen of Swords (Minerva, goddess of wisdom and war – not particularly in touch with her emotions but gets the job done!)

Queen of Cups (Venus, goddess of love and beauty – unashamedly feminine and in-touch with her feelings and desires but totally in control of them!)

Queen of Pentacles (Vesta, goddess of the hearth fire – an ultimate Earth Mother, pragmatist and provider)

Queen of Wands (the hotter side of Vesta, goddess of the hearth fire – magnetic, passionate and charismatic).

Not since Indiana and Poirot have I got so much enjoyment from historical mystery set in this time period. I have discovered Lady Hardcastle and Armstrong a little late, after their 2016 release but I am as excited at the new reader’s adventure as if the series were released yesterday.

These are exceptionally well developed characters with strong voice, wit and personality plus clever hints at a detailed backstory that convincingly makes them who they are, as well as promising many more adventures to be revealed in their past and future. The range of secondary characters were as clearly defined, entertaining bunch as in any Agatha Christie, and the mystery plot detailed and convincing enough for a great fun read.

If any of my own readers get as much enjoyment from strong female protagonists in close friendships as I have from this book, I would be a very satisfied author. I’m going online now to buy more in the series and sign up for alerts from Kinsey!

There are 5 books so far in the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries series. Check out Kinsey here on Goodreads.

Just had to share this reader review by fellow historical fiction writer Sherry Christie, posted to Goodreads and Amazon. Glad you loved it, Sherry!

Overall, FIRE AND SACRIFICE is amazing. I believe it’s Collins’s debut novel. More, more! 

Victoria Collins’s FIRE AND SACRIFICE starts off at a breathless pace with the frantic slavegirl Secunda being dragged across Rome by her owner’s two sons, who intend to throw her off the Tarpeian Rock for an offense she denies. By chance they cross paths with a Vestal Virgin, who by law can pardon a condemned criminal on the spot. Secunda is instantly dazzled by the Vestal, Aemilia, who orders her release. 

The girl flees from her disgruntled accusers in a wonderful passage of helter-skelter terror: “I ran like a wild thing, flapping and flailing like a hen before the axe. I ran to the Tarpeian Rock, on the hill above the forum. I don’t know why. I threw up there. I ran from the rock to the Temple of Jupiter, looming behind me big as a god. I ran round behind it, away from its glare, back along the massive foundation stones and down the escarpment, through the bush like wildfire, leaping over logs and onto rocks, jumping hollows and charging through shrubs, sliding crawling falling all the way down to the road.”

Later Secunda sneaks to the House of the Vestals, where to her immense delight she is taken in and given a position as cook to Aemilia and the five other Vestals. Her facial disfigurement, dating from a fall into the kitchen fire as a toddler, doesn’t matter to these kindly women. Recruited in girlhood to tend the eternal flame of the goddess Vesta until their retirement at the end of 30 years, the Vestals’ devotion is regarded by superstitious Romans as an essential factor in retaining the favor of the gods. Alas, when the survivors of a terrible military defeat struggle back to the city, official fingers point to the Vestals’ somehow having failed in their duty of chastity and fidelity. The ending is one that will stick with you for some time.

Collins writes lyrical descriptions (“It was the gods’ hour. That hour before dawn when the moon has made its arc and the sky is deep turquoise as the light slowly warms . . . . Gods and spirits are better heard, and sneak most easily through as we sleep”), interspersed with startlingly unrefined dialogue (“The Arab huh? Really? Shit,” says the Pontifex Maximus). The abrasiveness of modern vernacular, coupled with Collins’s device of stitching in relevant excerpts from real historians, forces the reader into the reality of what’s happening. It’s a daring approach for an author to take, but it works.

I did note that oranges, pumpkins, and butter wouldn’t have been in Secunda’s pantry around 114 BC. And one or two terms were baffling (“Terentia was ropable: at the girls and at the gods,” and somebody “faffing about,” which I think we Yanks call “piddling around”). [hmm interesting note, Sherri – I did check these in my research but let’s check again. I suspect ‘faffing’ is an Aussie term? VC]

Overall, FIRE AND SACRIFICE is amazing. I believe it’s Collins’s debut novel. More, more!

For Sherry Christie’s own work including Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula’s Rome and Villa of the Mysteries: A Novella of Nero and the God Dionysus  check out her website www.roma-amor.com.

Just finished Patrick White’s The Aunt’s story and just had to share! This is what Nobel Prize winning writing looks like, and oh my!

Some of my wonderful readers have shared with me their favourite passages from my own Fire and Sacrifice, that they re-read for the joy of the expression, and I am so incredibly flattered and thrilled to know some passages have had that effect.

I would never put myself in the same list as Patrick White, but in reading this book I have most certainly re-read and copied down in awe many of his passages that I might learn how the magic works!

“Many unfinished situations complicated the surface of the dining room, or lay folded, passive, and half recognized amongst the table napkins.”

Book review

(Also on my Goodreads page): The Aunt’s Story is going to stay with me for some time. Not just because of the haunting ending that makes me want to revisit and reread several sections, but also for the stunning literary presentations of intimate relationships and Theodora’s intensely private world. I like her!

I will admit to struggling with some sections, in particular where there’s a lot of un-translated French dialogue. This is one of those books that is a success for its character journey and literary genius, not for exciting plot. Really, little happens and you will need to concentrate.

That said, Patrick White seems to have a rare ability to see under the surfaces of daily interactions and get straight, painfully, to the heart of deeper motivations, agendas and psychological needs – from the way we navigate fleeting interactions, to manifestations of ongoing personal pain. And he does it often with such swift beauty I found myself re-reading in wonder (and then noting down!) many of his phrases. This is what the writing of a Nobel Prize winner looks like.

“You are an odious and repulsive glutton, Alyosha Sergei.” But her words were worn by much use and had a certain shabby tenderness.

I just signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019, committing to reading and reviewing a minimum of six books this year by fellow Aussie women.

Please join in! It’s free, and takes just a minute online.

You can set your reading goal at as few as four books or as many as you wish.

Author Elizabeth Lhuede decided to take action in 2012 when recent survey data at the time showed that male authors more likely to have their books reviewed in influential newspapers, magazines and literary journals than female authors, and the issue applied to the USA, Europe and Australia.

From the AWW website: Throughout 2013 over 1,800 reviews were written about books written by Australian women writers. Over two hundred reviewers wrote at least one review for the Challenge in 2013, including seventeen men. Over seven hundred authors had their work reviewed by Challenge participants. The AWW challenge continued in 2014 and, by year’s end, nearly 1600 reviews had been linked to the challenge. In 2015 we were nominated for The Convenors’ Award for Excellence in the Aurealis Awards. In July we moved to this self-hosted site and now have a searchable database, partly funded by sponsorship money from Bookworld. The challenge has continued in 2016 and 2017, consolidating AWW’s place in Australia’s online literary landscape.

My wish list to kick off:

The Blue Cat
The Trauma Cleaner
Cosmo Cosmolino