Tag Archives: Melina Marchetta

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil, by Melina Marchetta

tell-the-truthSince Bish Ortley has been sacked from the British police force, he’s withdrawn from everyone and tried to find help in the bottom of a bottle. When an old friend from the office calls to tell him that a school tour bus has been bombed in France, Bish drags himself back up to the surface and drives straight to Calais. His daughter is on that bus.

Bee is fine, but several teens died in the attack, and still more were maimed and wounded. As the investigation moves forward, officials discover that Violette, one of the girls on the bus, is the granddaughter of a terrorist bomber. Her mother is still in jail for building the bomb that killed so many people years ago, and now Violette and a younger boy are missing.

This is the first adult novel by Melina Marchetta, an award-winning young adult author from Australia. Marchetta loves to surprise her readers, as she did when she made a complete turn from her celebrated realistic fiction to epic high fantasy in Finnikin of the Rock. Amazingly, her fantasy trilogy reached the same literary heights as her previous work, and now she has garnered many stars for this adult thriller.

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil deals with the integration—or ghettoization– of Muslim immigrants into western Europe, along with cultural dissonance and lingering xenophobia. Intermarriage causes confusion, as Mr. Ortley’s first name is actually Bashir. Somehow, as a result of the suffering he experienced when his son died and because he straddles the two cultures, everyone trusts Bish. Parents talk to him, prisoners agree to see him, and even the teens tolerate his presence. Although he can never rejoin the police force, he is the only one who can crack this case.

Moving back and forth from England to France, with family stories from Algiers, Egypt, and Australia, the reader begins pulling on the threads of love, sacrifice, and undying vengeance to unravel the mystery. The characters are unforgettable, and the ending is realistically messy. Satisfying and hopeful, but not tidy. This is an intriguing, fascinating, and thoughtful read.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Midnight Dress, by Karen Foxlee

ImageRose wanders from town to town around Australia, pulling up stakes whenever her artist father falls into the bottle once again. As a result, Rose is tough and owns only a few t-shirts and jeans, bobby pins to keep her curly hair flat to her head, and her treasured journal, her book of words. When she begins school in the latest northern town, she doesn’t want to make any close friends, but chatty, exuberant Pearl finds a way into her heart: Pearl, who wants to live in Paris, loves trashy novels, and flirts with the 30-something owner of the used bookstore. It’s Pearl who convinces her to have the reputed witch, Edie Baker, make her dress for the Harvest Parade. When Rose arrives at Edie’s moldering mansion, she finds more than just an elderly seamstress. Edie tells stories of young love and a hidden cottage while she teaches Rose to sew the most beautiful dress she has ever imagined.

As this novel opens, a young woman has disappeared and is considered to be murdered, and Detective Glass has been called in to investigate. Rose’s shoes were found at the cane plant, and Rose has not been seen since the Harvest Parade. This unfolding mystery is woven throughout the book at the beginning of each chapter, with the action of the story and the investigation coming together at the conclusion. These two threads, plus the story of Edie’s family that she relates to Rose each week, are like the dress they create: bits of midnight-blue taffeta from one ancient gown, black mourning lace from another, pattern pieces cut from historical newspapers, all combining to create something deeper than one piece of cloth, than one straight narrative, could be. It is the skillful twining together of the fabrics, of the stories, that creates the magic.

ImagePerhaps we only see the best of the best, but Australia has some amazing authors. Markus Zusak wrote the awe-inspiring The Book Thief, among others, boldly experimenting with having a book narrated by Death. Now it’s a major movie, so that was a leap worth taking. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s cute and sweet. He sat on the floor and ate lunch with the giggling girls in our Printz Club at the ALA convention the year The Book Thief won a Printz honor. ImageMelina Marchetta won loads of awards for her realistic fiction year after year, after which she shocked the book world by turning around and writing some of the most stunning high fantasy I’ve ever read. I am a devoted fan. What is in the water over there? Karen Foxlee’s The Anatomy of Wings was also highly decorated, and The Midnight Dress is lush and dreamy, filled with breathtaking writing that makes the reader go back and read passages again, just for the sound of the words. In the very beginning of the novel, I knew that I was in for pure joy when I read this description of the tide that Rose hears when they first arrive at their new home, the Paradise trailer park:

Rose can hear the ocean: the sudden intake of its breath, as though it has remembered something, something terrible, but finding there is nothing it can do, it breathes out again. (p.3)

I’ll never hear the ocean again without thinking that it’s breathing.

Here is Edie’s description of her mother, Florence, when she was young. Florence’s father was a tailor, and she was an exceptional seamstress.

But Florence, she was different, she knew the mysteries of folding and draping and the pleasant secrets of pin-tucking. [She and her brothers went to the creek, and she was afraid to swim.] When she finally let go of the bank and floated away on the river’s back, it had terrified her but also filled her with awe; the way the world was always leaning someway, draining someway, pulling someway. The tides, the moon rising above the rooftops, the water flowing from the mountains to the sea. (pp. 70-71)

This is not a novel for those who love action stories. Although there is a plot, the value of the story is in the interior journey of the characters. It is a book that revels in the words, in the heat of the rain forest, the secrets of families, and the heartbreak of betrayal. The ending is not as unexpected as I think it was meant to be, but it is satisfying, all the same. It’s a treat for readers who love fine writing. Some particularly offensive profanity, so be aware.

Very highly recommended for teens and adults.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Quintana of Charyn

I finished this third volume of the Lumateran Chronicles about half an hour ago, and I’ve been struggling to figure out what to say, since I can’t just weep all over the computer screen. The manufacturer recommends against that, actually.

If you have not read this high fantasy series by Australian writer Melina Marchetta, run— do not walk— to your nearest library or bookstore and obtain the first volume, Finnikin of the Rock. The second is Froi of the Exiles, and it is just as wonderful. Quintana of Charyn is the third and final volume in one of my favorite series ever—which is why I’m weeping, of course.  If you have already read the first two, I am sorry to say that you will have to wait a month to read Quintana, but don’t worry! It is so worth the wait.

Since anything I say would be a spoiler, I’ll speak in general terms, but if you haven’t read the first two, it may be dangerous to continue beyond this point. When Melina Marchetta, who had won awards for her contemporary realistic fiction, announced that her next book would be high fantasy, the entire litosphere was rocked. Book critics in general have a low view of fantasy; you may notice that it is rarely on any awards list, except for awards specifically for fantasy or science fiction. It is considered fluff and not worthy of serious literary types. The Lumateran Chronicles are very serious literature.

The people of Lumatere have been exiled from their homes since the Day of Weeping a decade ago, when the royal family was assassinated and the residents of the peaceful country were slaughtered. The neighboring kingdom of Charyn, in turn, has been cursed with barrenness, and no children have been born there in almost a generation. This is the story of their suffering and healing, their hatred and forgiveness. Oddly enough, although it is marketed to teens, most of the characters are married, and bearing children is a major theme. Not many teen books explore the marital problems that can be caused by attachment parenting. There are a half-dozen or so major characters and a score or more minor characters, and all of the stories fit together harmoniously. Quintana herself is a bewilderingly complex character, one who will stay with me for a long time. Strangely, Marchetta’s male characters are much easier to love than her strong female characters, who are often maddening—or just mad.

What makes it all work, though, is Marchetta’s incredible writing.  Some of her scenes were so searingly beautiful that I had to flip back a page or two and read them again. The war scenes are cruel and the poverty grueling, but the fierce love between the couples who have endured unimaginable pain shows a deep understanding of human relationships. But it’s not all dark and difficult! There is joy and beauty, as well as humor and teasing.

If you have not read the first two, you are lucky, since you will be able to read them all at once! I had to wait a year or so between each volume, and Marchetta does not provide a little “Previously, on the Lumateran Chronicles” summary, as your weekly TV shows might. She just plunges right in, which is probably a good thing, considering that they already run about 500 pages each. The only series like it is the Queen’s Thief series, by Megan Whalen Turner. I might even like this one better—at least until Turner’s next volume.

Oh, so highly recommended.

Note: I read an advance reader copy of this book, obtained because I begged the wonderful Jill Faherty and Erica Karcher of Baker & Taylor’s Children’s and Teen Services, who also sent CATS lip balm. 🙂  Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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