Natasha Lester: Her Mother’s Secret and A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald

Natasha Lester: Her Mother’s Secret and A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald

Natasha Lester is one of the most generous authors in Australia. Her blog is inspiring and informative. It is this generosity, and a love of her travel updates on Facebook as she researches her novels, that inspired me to pick up Her Mother’s Secret – as much as the beautiful cover and intriguing blurb! I scored A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald through a free iBooks promotion via Facebook. I can hardly wait for The Paris Seamstress to come out in March.

Natasha captures the glamour of the 20s – the music, dancing, fashion, cosmetics, and hope of the time. After the first world war, women had had a taste for working outside the home, and they didn’t want to give that up. It was an exciting and liberating period for women. Natasha expertly throws you back in time to experience the ride alongside her beautiful characters.

What I loved most about Her Mother’s Secret and A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald:

  1. In a time when women were just starting to break further into the work force, Leo and Evie are fierce and ambitious. They have career goals as well as romantic desires. They break boundaries and surprise society.
  2. The ‘villainous’ characters exist in the grey. I can’t completely hate them, I have sympathy for them, even though they flaunt their cruelty.
  3. The romances are realistic – the characters are flawed – there are misunderstandings, lies, half-truths, sacrifices and amazing sex.
  4. I love how Leo and Evie each have a bevy of supportive women friends around them.
  5. I loved Alice’s photo shoot, jumping forward to 1930s New York. The tension and the beauty of this scene had me seething with envy. It was delicious to imagine, and Alice’s character really captured that 19-year-old angst and anticipation.
  6. I adored the history – cosmetics, fashion, advertising, ballet, Ziegfeld’s Follies, a speakeasy and obstetrics.
  7. Technically, Natasha is a wonderful storyteller. The novels have the right balance of setting the historical scene and keeping the story moving apace, dialogue and description, career goals and romance. The plots are compelling, and the characters are memorable and inspiring.

There is so much more about these novels that I could say and rave about, but really, you should just go read them for yourselves. Consider yourself forewarned though – they are un-put-down-able.

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Chatsworth house or Lyme park?

Chatsworth house or Lyme park?

If you’re a Pride and Prejudice fan (guilty! Though Persuasion is my favourite Austen) then you’ll likely be familiar with this question. Which makes for a better Pemberley?

Luckily you don’t have to answer it because you can visit both in person like my husband and I did. Or watch either as Pemberley.

In the 1995 BBC TV series, Lyme Park is used as Pemberley, in the famous lake scene semi-recreated here by my handsome hubby.

In the Kiera Knightley version, Chatsworth house features. For Austen fans, Chatsworth house has the added benefit of being visited by Elizabeth Bennet in her tour of Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle.

Both houses and grounds are truly stunning, but with very different histories.

Lyme Park, house and garden was famously home to the Legh family. The house was built in the late 16th century, but Thomas Legh directed substantial renovations to the property in the Regency era. The tour of the house centres on the life of Thomas Legh, an adventurer who traveled through Egypt and wrote about his experiences. On returning home, he became an entrepreneur. The library is also home to the Lyme missal, a 15th century prayer book, touted as the most important printed book the National Trust’s collection.

I loved Lyme Park because we saw a magnificent herd of deer grazing. They also had a second hand bookstore in the basement. There was a lego tour and an opportunity to dress up for families, which was very sweet. My husband and I walked on though. We’ve done P&P dress up before 🙂 I’ll save that for another post. Lyme Park was also less busy than Chatsworth to my delight and relaxation.

Pro tips:

1) Ask the staff lots of questions, they know heaps of history!

2) Wander up to the deer park for a gander.

Chatsworth house was the 16th century home to Bess of Hardwick, the second most important woman in Elizabethan England. The house is still occupied by the Cavendish line (of her second husband). Her fourth and final husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, was tasked with being custodian of Mary Queen of Scots who was kept prisoner at Chatsworth house for a time.

I loved Chatsworth house because it had vast landscaped gardens you could amble through and lose the crowds that gathered in the house. The maze was magnificent and challenging. The house and family have a strong connection with fashion throughout history and there is currently an exhibition throughout the entire house celebrating this relationship. In the chapel, the family wedding dresses, christening gowns and mourning clothes were displayed – it was a deeply moving tribute to life and death through fashion.

Pro tips:

1) We did the garden first thing in the morning, and the house later in the day. The queue for the house was crazy long first thing.

2) Visit nearby Bakewell and The Bakewell Tart Shop (in the footsteps of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan). The Bakewell tart is delicious.

I can’t choose a favourite between them. Can you?

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The Obernewtyn Chronicles

The Obernewtyn Chronicles

Source: Pixabay

I Finished The Obernewtyn Chronicles! Capital F!

Reading one through seven novels over the past few weeks has been an all-consuming epic adventure. Love to my husband for bearing with me. I gave him regular updates on the characters, all the while begging more time to spend with them. Eyes glistening, hugging my kindle.

The first novel was first published in 1987 and the seventh in 2015. I think I read several of the earlier novels around 2003? Maybe? Too long ago to remember more than the barest glimpses, but recent enough to still want to know how the saga ended. So I went to the start and read them all back to back.

It was very rewarding 🙂 Highly recommended.

The series is a post-apocalyptic fantasy by Australian author Isobelle Carmody. It follows the life and adventures of Elspeth Gordie, a heroine possessing powerful mental abilities. The supporting characters are richly developed over the course of the chronicles. The subplots, twists and turns, are as intriguing as they are numerous.

These characters have stayed in my heart at least a decade. I’m sure I will carry them with me always. I suspect I am not alone. Check out the Facebook page and fan website if you are interested.

Jesi x

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Writing again

Writing again

Source: Pixabay

I am so very happy. It is a few weeks into the AWC bootcamp and I am averaging more than 500 words a day. It feels fantastic 🙂

The hardest part is getting started. But setting the word count before I start really helps. There have been a couple of days where I’ve dodged it, but I always catch up the following day. Once I get started I often go a little beyond the target, but not too far so I don’t burn out and have something to pick up again the next day.

The inner critic is screeching it’s head off at me that it’s all rubbish. So, I just keep telling myself that in 4-5 months at this rate, I will have a shitty first draft or zeroth draft – AND THEN I CAN MAKE IT BETTER!

I feel like I need to prove to myself that I can consistently put pen to paper, that I can hash out a plot and characters and a rough draft, figuring it out as I go. Once I’ve got some meat to work with, then I can tenderise it into something edible. I’ve done it before with a Fan Fiction – and I’m now trying to harness that same energy and spirit by writing a YA dystopian. They feel a little cliche and overdone in the market at the moment, saturated is probably the word for it, but I still love them to pieces. So I’m chasing that passion.

In the meantime, I have finished reading the first five books of the Obernewtyn chronicles – reading when I wake up, on the tube, walking to work, over lunch, before bed – my poor husband must be wondering what strange creature he has married that is always reading and writing. Loving this man for being so understanding and encouraging!

Jesi xx

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Name update

Name update


I changed my name!

I was hiding behind a pen name and a curtain of hair. The curtain is still there, blonde as ever, but I’m now going by real name, Jessica.

I had a myriad of reasons for using the pen name. The only one that really matters is that I was afraid. I still am. The internet can be a murky place.

The reason for the name reveal is accountability. A sign to myself, and to you, that this journey I’m on is with my whole self, not a splinter I call by a different name.

The three-month silence? I’ve been busy changing my surname too. Getting married has been a huge and wonderful adventure. It brought out the best in all my family and friends. I have never felt so in love with husband and the people around me. I’m still drunk on the high of that night.

Our celebrant was very romantic and kept a part of the ceremony secret from us. She asked us separately to name three things we loved about each other. We both listed ‘sense of humour’ – he’s not a father yet, but he’s got the Dad jokes sorted and they crack me up every single time. I added his generosity and grounding nature. Mr H. described my honesty and sense of adventure.

This post is me holding true to both those characteristics.

I am seriously excited to be starting the Australian Writer’s Centre 30-day Creative Writing Bootcamp this week. I’ve been reading so much lately. You can check out my Recently Read list here. Loving getting lost in so many different worlds.

I hope you can forgive the last 12 months of being Catherine. I’m excited to now meet you as myself, Jessica. Or Jesi, as my much younger self always insisted. Please say hello!

Jesi xx


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Reading like a writer

I’m trying to read like a writer.

Choosing books that will inspire and educate me. Award winning and well-written, innovative and classic.

However, that only gets me so far. I also have to feed my romance and self improvement addictions. Leaving aside academic papers for the day job and email correspondence for long distance family, friends and wedding planning.

I’m saving audio books for when my eyesight fails, though at this rate, that might be sooner than planned!

Read lately:

  • The left hand of darkness – Ursula Le Guin
    I loved the long shots in this: the icy tundra, the sense of scope between this planet and the wider universe, the history of each. I also loved the intertextuality of it: first person narrative interspersed with historical documents, journals, and what felt like oral accounts of local history and myth. This was such a ground-breaking novel, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1970. Highly recommended.
  • A falcon for a queen – Catherine Gaskin
    This was a bit of fun; a historical romance. Mostly a turn-pager, though it did get a little bogged down in the presentation of the historical research. I think Gaskin was trying to make a point about the difference between two characters, but it dragged a little in these places.

Pace in a novel is something that I look forward to addressing in redrafts. For now I have to focus on getting the words written. But I find it such an interesting concept. I wonder how much of it is subjective.

The Long Shot – is something I need to work on. I think my writing style is very sparse. As much as I step back and look up in real life, I forget to do it when I write.

Currently reading:

  • Far from the madding crowd – Thomas  Hardy
  • Speaking Out – Tara Moss
  • The 7 habits of highly effective people – Stephen Covey

Have you read any of these? Further recommendations based on these?

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Book Recommendation | The Time Traveler’s Wife


What a debut novel by Audrey Niffenegger!

I know I’m late to the game, and many of these recommendations will be, but I’m a strong advocate of seeking out books that mean something to you, and this one has been on my to-read list for a while. When I spotted it in a second hand bookstore, with pages lovingly browned – resistance was completely futile. It didn’t disappoint.

This beautiful love story told from the perspectives of both Henry and Clare resonates deeply. It is harsh in circumstance, but gentle in portrayal, bleeding honest and above all: present. It brims with cultural allusions and references. I guarantee I didn’t get all of them. I loved the quotes of Rainer Maria Rilke and A. S. Byatt’s Possession that were littered throughout.

I read this book largely because I’m interested in time travel in fiction, especially the closed/causal loop variety. I wanted to see it written. It’s so complicated and clever; tightly woven. To keep it interesting you always have to be one step ahead of the reader, feeding them titbits of a future that’s already written. If you haven’t seen the film Predestination, with Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook, I highly recommend it as well. It was built off the back of a short story by Robert A. Heinlein.

This was a case of I-saw-the-movie-years-ago-but-the-book-is-always-better, so I went back to it. I love film, manga, anime, television. I love it when texts interconnect and are translated to new mediums; especially when they add something new. Looking forward to going back to rewatch TTTW film one day, but for now, just sitting and enjoying the masterpiece that was the book. The original thought. The seminal creation.

Find a copy and reviews at Goodreads: here.

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Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth | Book Recommendation

A fairy tale retelling steeped in the history of 17th Century France and Renaissance Venice, where the tale of Rapunzel first began. How utterly beautiful. No wonder Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens was the winner of the American Library Association (ALA) Award for Best Historical Novel.

I just finished reading Bitter Greens and I absolutely adored it. It is a tightly woven historical fiction with delightful moments of magic realism. The voices of the female storytellers were masterfully created. It was fascinating to watch them grow and develop.

Kate Forsyth’s grounding of the story with deeply researched historical figures enriches the prose: from the earliest authors of the fairy tale, Charlotte-Rose de la Force and Giambattista Basile, to the artist Titian and his red-haired muse. I loved finding out about the inspiration for the novel and the true stories behind the fiction as much as I loved the novel itself. 

Please check out Kate Forsyth’s website for more works by her. She blogs and tweets extensively about her writing process and her personal reading list.  This interview on Elisabeth Storrs blog also offers a lot more fascinating insight into the novel.

You can buy Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth here.

My hair still has a way to grow …

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