Welcome back to Behind the Pen. Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to one of my favourite book reviewers, Amanda Barrett from Mrs B’s Book Reviews. Given the focus of her writing, this edition of Behind the Pen promises to be very bookish indeed!
When and why did you start your blog? Had you been reviewing on a different platform (such as Goodreads) before that?
In June of 2016 I decided to establish my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. It was a natural progression, as I was reviewing actively on Goodreads and the now defunct site Bookstr. I had been reviewing on these sites since 2012, while I was a stay at home mum as a way to keep my mind busy! Last year, after the encouragement of a number of supportive Australian authors, I decided to centralise my reviews in the one prime location and my blog was born!
What do you do when you finish reading a book? Do you write up your review before settling into a new book?
Before my book reviewing days I would immediately pick up my next book to read, leaving no time for a breather! In fact, when I was nearing the end of a book, I would be planning what my next read would be from my sagging bookshelves. Now I’m a busy reviewer things have changed. Once I have finished reading a book, I reflect on my response to the book via a journal. These notes help to inform my review. I try not to start a new book until I have completed the review process.
Approximately how many books do you read each week?
This varies, during school holidays I can be known to easily get through a book a day, as I have more time on my hands. I am a fast and voracious reader! Generally, if I am balancing my work as a teacher and school for my boys, it’s three books a week.
Do you review every single book you read?
No, as it is a lengthy process to read, review and post all the books I read, especially if I am getting through one a day! I also have a personal policy, whereby if I don’t enjoy a book by an author, I consider it poor form to publicise a bad review. At the end of the day, a writer has put their blood, sweat and tears into writing their book and my response may be a reflection on myself, rather than the author. Occasionally, books that I haven’t enjoyed may only get catalogued on my Goodreads account, rather than receive a full blown review on my blog.
Do you have a particular reviewing process? For example, do you take notes while reading or use sticky notes to mark places you want to remember within a book? Or do you just think about it all at the end?
During my reviewing process I do not make notes or use sticky notes, as I find this interrupts the flow of my reading session. I like to simply enjoy the book I am reading and give it a chance to speak to me at the end. As soon as I am finished reading a review book, I take my reading journal out and make notes on my gut response to the book. I also make notes on the key aspects of the review, for example, the setting, characters, narrative structure, what I loved about the book and what areas needed further improvement. From time to time, I also compare my review with other reviewer’s responses, by checking out reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and blogs I follow.
What authors and types of books do you love the most?
I am very passionate about Australian women’s fiction and as a result, there are many Australian female authors that I love. Participating in the Australian Women Writers Challenge this year for the first time has been a great experience for me. It has opened a world to reading books from a whole host of genres, from contemporary fiction, historical fiction, rural romance, crime/thrillers, to young adult and children’s books. I have a specific love for Australian gothic fiction with dual timelines. Anna Romer is my favourite author in this genre. I also love the work of Kate Morton, Josephine Pennicott and Kimberley Freeman.
Are there any genres you really don’t enjoy at all?
Fantasy and science fiction. I find these genres hard going, as the books from these genres often require you to suspend a level of disbelief in their storylines. I personally struggle to do this. I will freely admit to not having read Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit!
Do you have an all-time favourite book? Why is this book so significant to you?
The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons is my all-time favourite book and I also own a precious signed copy. I read The Bronze Horseman in 2008 and it has never left my side since! It is a book that I believe provides the most devastating picture of war, sacrifice, pure survival, bravery and the strength of family bonds. It features an enduring love story that exists between the main characters, Tatiana and Alexander. The Bronze Horseman ignited my love for historical fiction novels centered around World War II and my specific interest in novels set in Russia.
What is your favourite childhood book?
I loved Enid Blyton as a child. The first book I read all by myself was the Folk of the Faraway Tree. I adored my mother’s collection of Malory Towers and Famous Five books, also by Enid Blyton.
What is your favourite character of all time from a novel and why?
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. As an impressionable fifteen year old girl, who was developing a burgeoning love for classic literature, Elizabeth seemed to speak to me. Many years and re-reads of Pride and Prejudice later, I still love the Darcy/Elizabeth love story, but it is the admiration I have for Elizabeth that has stood the test of time. I greatly admire all of Elizabeth’s qualities, her loyalty, love for her family, her stoicism, sharp wit and her fearless nature as a woman living in the Regency period.
What is your favourite scene from a novel and why?
Again, this would have to come from my precious copy of The Bronze Horseman, by Paullina Simons. It is a scene early on in the piece, when our leads first meet or rather Tatiana sees a soldier, Alexander, staring at her from across the street. It is summer in Russia and Tatiana is dressed in a beautiful floral dress, while eating an icecream. Tatiana is waiting for a bus and doesn’t seem to have a care in the world, despite war having just been declared in Russia, a war that has seen her say goodbye to her beloved brother. This chance meeting between Tatiana and Alexander will change their lives forever. It is the most beautiful and tender scene, depicting love at first sight. Here is a taster:
“Tatiana stared back at him for just a moment, and in the moment of looking into his face, something moved inside her; moved she would liked to say imperceptibly, but that wasn’t quite the case. It was as if her heart starting pumping blood through all four chambers at once, pouring it into her lungs and flooding it through her body. She blinked and felt her breath become shorter. The soldier was melting into the pavement under the pale yellow sun”.
And there we have it, the first stirrings of an unforgettable love story, in the face of war.
What book is currently on your bedside table?
Bridget Crack by Rachel Leary. Bridget Crack is an historical fiction novel, set in Van Diemen’s Land, in the 1800’s. Since I visited Tasmania in 2010, I devour anything that is set in this beautiful part of Australia. An historical novel written by an Australian female writer holds even greater appeal. It has also been recommended to me, so I’m really looking forward to delving into the pages of this book.
What is the best book you have read this year?
Wow, that’s a hard question! I am going to award the best book of the year (so far) to a novel that recently gave me the biggest book hangover. I absolutely loved The Midsummer Garden, by debut Australian novelist Kirsty Manning. The Midsummer Garden is a book that perfectly links two timeframes (2014 and 1400’s) with two stunning locations (Tasmania and France). It is a passionate story, full of botanical references, culinary pursuits, a stunning French chateau, love, personal fulfilment and so much more. The Midsummer Garden is a rich and immersive novel that I recommend highly.
Let’s talk about book to movie/TV series adaptations. Best one in your opinion? And what has been the worst?
The best, Jane Eyre. I loved the 2011 movie version, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. This adaptation seemed to capture the true essence of the book and the casting was perfect. I felt the love and tension deeply between the leads. Mia Wasikowska encapsulated the image I had in my mind of Jane. This film adaptation was also very faithful to the classic novel that I have loved since my introduction to this book in high school.
The worst, for casting reasons is One Shot, the movie version of the popular Lee Child book of the same title. Tom Cruise was a terrible choice to play the lead, the enigmatic Jack Reacher. Tom Cruise’s build and physical appearance is nothing like the well built, over 6ft description of Jack Reacher from the bestselling novels. This ill fitting casting choice of a popular lead character served to ruin my enjoyment of the film adaptation.
Can you tell us something about yourself that not many people would know?
Most Sunday mornings, I get up 3am to set up my own market stall, where I sell over 1000 second hand books. My market stall is the closest I could get to owning my own bookstore! It is a great way to earn some extra cash for all the books I buy and share my love of reading with my customers. Despite the early start in all weathers, I look forward to each market.
If you could trade places for a week with any other person, living or dead, real or fiction, who would it be and why?
I have a keen and longstanding interest in Tudor history, after visiting a number of castles and the Tower of London while touring Europe in 2009. Ever since my trip, I have been fascinated by the Tudor queens, in particular Anne Boleyn. If I was brave enough, I would like to trade places with Anne, but well before she was beheaded by her husband, King Henry VIII! It has always puzzled me why Anne was accused witchcraft, adultery and incest. To trade places with her would hopefully shed some truth to the rumours that have circulated about this famous figure for centuries.
I know you read your fair share of crime and psychological thrillers. What crime would you like to get away with and how would you go about it?
I love French art, so the perfect crime for me would be a way to break into the Louvre and steal my favourite painting, Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix. Posing as a museum worker, I would infiltrate the museum undetected. Then I would get the painting moved to the restoration room and find a way to smuggle it out of the museum, after hours. This crime is inspired partially by the theft of the Mona Lisa. I’m not sure after that how I would get it transported back to Australia. I might just have to live undercover in a French château instead!
Thank you so much Amanda for sharing your book love with us here at Behind the Pen today. If you love books, enjoy reading book reviews, or just want to find a good book to read, you should head over to Mrs B’s Book Reviews. I’m a subscriber so every new review from Amanda hits my inbox. Amanda and I share similar book tastes, so if you enjoy reading and following my blog, you should enjoy Mrs B’s Book Reviews too!