prue sobers

A royal gift…

I’m pleased to announce, that  Grace is the winner of That Book You Like’s Makeda give-away. Thanks for your entry Grace!

Grace, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading this fantastic novel.

Just email me your details (postal address) to by end Wednesday, 11.04.12 and arrangements will be made! If the prize isn’t claimed, I will redraw on 12.04.12

Thanks to everyone for entering. Remember, if you’d like to buy a copy of Prue Sober’s Makeda, it’s on the TBYL Bookshelfyou’ll find it in store here.

While I’m here, don’t forget we’ve another great give-away running at the moment as well…we’re giving a copy of Putting Alice Back Together, by Carol Marinelli to one lucky reader. Full details on how to enter are here.

Finally, stay tuned tomorrow for my review of The Forgotten Land by Keith Mcardle, my thoughts on this wild time-travelly ride.

Win a copy of Makeda

To see out the month, I’m pleased to be able to offer one reader a copy of Prue Sober’s Makeda. I reviewed this luxurious book a couple of days ago, and you can read the review here.

To go into the running to win a copy of Makeda, all you need to do is:

1. Leave a comment on this post, or

2. Visit our Facebook page and leave a comment,

…and tell us where you’d most like to travel to, regardless of time or place.

I’ll draw one winner at random on Wednesday 4 April 2012. As usual, you’ll have 4 days to claim your prize or I’ll redraw.

If you’d like to find out more about Prue’s work, you should visit her at

Buy your own copy of Makeda, at the TBYL Store!

Join us:   Facebook  and  Twitter
Sign up for TBYL Book Club here…

Who do you think you are?

I’ll admit, at first I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Makeda. A story about the Queen of Sheba? Would it be full of pomp and ceremony, or warfare and bloodshed, of royal protocol or simple fiction?

I’m pleased to say it was none of these, but rather so much more…

“He wanted to applaud her for her cleverness. With peerless skill at court, she had seduced his hidebound courtiers and made them laugh. Now single-handedly, with a feather’s tip, she had soothed his counsellors and brought the rowdy meeting to a seamless head.

…As a public figure, she had not disappointed. The private woman was what intrigued him now.”

Prue Sober’s Makeda is the story of a strong woman, a regal beauty who clearly knows her own mind and the mind of others. She has a firm grasp on the importance of matters of state, and the story itself demonstrates many times over, her skills of negotiation and diplomacy.

Moving beyond royalty, and the main characters of Makeda and Solomon the novel also tells the story of humanity, of the hardships of slavery and of the complexities of nationality and regional ties.

The word that most easily comes to mind when describing Makeda is luxurious – its scenery, its smells, its food:

“All at once, she felt a heady lift and gave herself a warning tap on the shoulder: the atmosphere was intoxicating, the wine, eminently drinkable.

A cold soup of crushed tomatoes and herbs served in shallow cups was followed by veal cooked in butter and sheep’s milk, and a rare dish of whole poached locusts, lightly cooked in a saffron broth. They peeled the shells and ate in companionable silence, watching each other, amused, as the juices ran through their fingers. Over the fatted fowl and venison, they gradually became immersed in conversation.”

And it is not without action, heroism and romance. In short, it is a well rounded, detailed account of an ancient kingdom. I really enjoyed this novel, and I’m sure that the imagery will stay with me for some time.

To find out a little bit more about the book, its characters and its time and place, I had a chat with the author Prue Sobers…


Perhaps an obvious question, but why the Queen of Sheba? What was it about this subject that you were so passionate about?
As a non-fiction author, I fell into writing a novel purely by chance. My husband and I sponsor three young Ethiopian boys through World Vision, and in a letter from one of the boy’s mothers, mention was made of an obelisk field in Aksum, an ancient highland city in Ethiopia. Out of curiosity and wanting to know more of the boys’ homeland, in delving further I discovered two stunning facts: during the fascist occupation of Ethiopia in the 1930s, Mussolini had looted a priceless sacred obelisk from the very same field and had it raised in Rome to celebrate his fifteenth anniversary in power. Through a connection of reports, I then learned that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with some forty million followers, has a story going back centuries about the Queen of Sheba. A tale is told in a medieval text, the Kebra Nagast, or Glory of Kings, not mentioned in the Old Testament account of the monarchs’ meeting, of how King Solomon seduced his palace guest of six months—Makeda, Queen of Ethiopia—who is identified as the Queen of Sheba. Although beyond the scope of my novel, according to the Kebra Nagast, a son was born of the royal union and he became Ethiopia’s first king. Many Ethiopians believe Makeda was a former ruler of Aksum in the tenth century, BCE, and that a royal bloodline existed between King Solomon and Ethiopia’s emperors.

Interestingly, Emperor Haile Selassie claimed lineage to Solomon last century – as had a line of Ethiopian emperors before him. The monarchy ended in 1974 when Haile Selassie lost power. Anyway—that’s where it all started. In the space of a morning, I had jotted down some ideas, and the tale of the legendary monarchs, Solomon and Makeda—relatively unknown in the West—and the theft of the sacred obelisk by Mussolini, became the focus of my research. The obelisk is featured in the sequel.

What do you hope people will enjoy most about your book, ‘Makeda’?
A number of things perhaps: learning something they didn’t know; maybe to escape for a while in the stuff of dreams, in grand scenes and the dazzling otherness of ancient royal life; the story is set in Jerusalem, but the novel also tells of a journey down the Nile by a small Ethiopian tribe, captured as slaves. Linked to Solomon’s early stance in the novel, concepts are explored here that are relevant to today’s world such as prejudice, tolerance and acceptance. The Arab Spring and the refugee debate are two modern issues that come to mind. And another idea which the novel probes is the difference between virtue and truth.

Above all, I want my readers to become immersed in the feelings of my characters; in sensing the attraction and developing passion between the protagonists, to understand ‘the how’ and ‘the why’ they occur. I don’t relate well to book characters whose minds and personalities leave me not caring for them because lazy writing has meant they are not written in deeply enough: ‘He saw her beauty and fell in love; she looked into his eyes and knew she would always love him.’ Why? I want to know. It’s all about the old adage, show me; don’t just tell me! Give me the evidence.

I also wanted to demonstrate something of Solomon’s wisdom, which is pretty light on in religious texts, through portraying his humanity, and his vulnerability and strengths. By the end of the novel, mostly I hope the reader feels they know and understand the man, as did Makeda; maybe even admire or love him a little.

How did you research this novel?
At my desk, I was researching two books at once, Makeda and its sequel—so I studied multiple sources, beginning with the Kebra Nagast and the Old Testament of The Bible which inspired the Makeda/Solomon story, plus a number of historical and archaeological non-fiction texts; and as well I used the State Library and the Internet, of course.

But I knew if I were to treat the novels seriously, I had to research on the ground as well, so travelled to Ethiopia, including Aksum, where Makeda ostensibly ruled in the tenth century, BCE. It was fascinating to visit ancient ruins, some of which claimed connection to the Queen of Sheba, and to be accorded access to wondrous medieval books guarded by priests in rural sanctums. Through a deacon friend, I was also granted an audience with the Nebrud of Aksum, the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in that city, and naturally—I met the Ethiopian people.

How did you find them?
In a word, inspiring! Some 80 per cent of the population are subsistence farmers, many living from harvest to harvest in harsh environments. But they are amazingly resilient. Ethiopians are earnest and spiritual and remain stoic in the face of what fate and climate dish up to them. They grin as they grapple with everyday life. And the youth have a great hunger for learning and improving their lot. The kids want pens, you know, not sweets, when you stop in their towns and villages.

And the landscape? What were your first impressions?
The greenness of the countryside. It was just after the rains, so I guess it shouldn’t have been so surprising, but I hadn’t expected the lushness. Apart from its ancient history, Ethiopia’s highland beauty rivals the best in the world. That means on a tourist level there’s lots to see and do in the mountains, and in a string of highland cities there’s a trove of ancient tombs and cultural relics. There are wonderful religious festivals where priests carry large fringed, gorgeously embroidered umbrellas.

I was entertained in people’s homes in cities, in round roofed huts, or tukuls, in the country, I ate with them, drank their wonderful coffee, talked food, crop growing and water wells, walked to the breathtaking Blue Nile Falls, a source of the Nile, explored mountains and underground mausoleums and learned how to correctly pronounce words. So ‘Betam ameseginalehu, Ethiopia!’ Thank you very much; I had an extraordinary time.

In the past, your focus has been on non-fiction . . . how did you find the transition from non-fiction to fictional work?
Mmm, that’s a great question! Exciting, absorbing, frustrating, challenging; looking back, a steep learning curve and unexpectedly fraught with more drafts than I care to remember. One of the most significant things non-fiction taught me was the importance of thorough research, and although this approach helped my novel writing, at the same time I had to curb a propensity for detail—to find shorter, sharper ways to make a point; to learn to leave stuff out, like extraneous paragraphs or clauses, and so allow the reader’s imagination to make connections. Importantly, I learned to leave the text alone for a while, then revisit it with fresh eyes. When you do that, words, phrases or scenes that were formerly special, even imperative to you and which may have weighed the writing down, become easier to cull; time away allows you to be ruthless and a better critic of your work.

When you’ve got a minute—what do you like to read?
A book I might hear or read about; something I might see here on That Book You Like, Mandi! An eclectic mix of genres, really. My recent leisure reading, such as it is, has focussed on novels, probably because there’s so much to read for research and fiction offers escape. But there’s a double reward because you can check what other novelists are doing and perhaps learn from them. Different authors have given me light-bulb moments in this way.

For example?
John Fowles of The French Lieutenant’s Woman fame: apart from offering three different possible endings to that novel, he presented an alternative ending to his novel, The Magus a decade after it was first published. I thought that was a marvellous idea: that fiction can be twisted and bent and perhaps turned in the opposite direction simply on a writer’s whim and then republished for new enjoyment. What confidence that reflected; what wonderful audacity. Other writer’s who have broadened my scope—Margaret Atwood, Chin-Ning Chu, Hilary Mantel—all for different reasons.

Whom do you admire as a writer?
Mantel, Atwood, as mentioned. I like Lionel Shriver.

All women?
Currently, it seems. I enjoyed early Grisham, some George Orwell, although I find him bleak at times. I hated 1984. I admire Alexander Pope, the sixteenth century poet. He translated Homer’s Iliad from the Greek. Have you ever read any of Homer’s verbatim translation? It’s not an easy read. But we owe our appreciation of Homer to the likes of Pope and perhaps other translators. Pope was a genius. He turned the words into English poetry of great eloquence and beauty.

What next for Prue Sobers?
Right now I’m trying to balance the requirements of online social networking to promote Makeda and Ethiopia with getting on with my sequel. Blogging, Facebook and Twitter saps a lot of time and energy; it’s not easy to do all when there’s so much introspection needed for plotting a novel and constructing dialogue. But hey, I’m in there, giving it my best shot!


I’m pleased to be able to offer one reader a copy of Prue’s Makeda this month.

All you need to do is:

1. Leave a comment on this post, or

2. Visit our Facebook page and leave a comment,

…and tell us where you’d most like to travel to, regardless of time or place.

I’ll draw one winner at random on Wednesday 4 April 2012. As usual, you’ll have 4 days to claim your prize or I’ll redraw.

If you’d like to find out more about Prue’s work, you should visit her at

Buy your own copy of Makeda, at the TBYL Store!

Join us:   Facebook  and  Twitter
Sign up for TBYL Book Club here…

Taking stock of my reading pile

Of late, I have been very, very lucky, to have been given the chance to read a whole bunch of new novels, some of them even a bit earlier than the general public (I love a pre-release). It’s a bit of dream come true for me, I’ll admit, and I often find myself looking wistfully at my varied and growing reading pile.

I thought you might be interested in a little sneak peak at what I’m reading at the moment…


Firstly, there’s Makeda, by Prue Sobers. This is technically on my ‘have read’ pile now as I’ve actually just finished this luscious novel and its story of the beautiful and spirited Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. I was also lucky enough to have a chance to chat to Prue herself, to find out a little more about this meticulously constructed adventure. I’m looking forward to posting my review and author-interview this coming week. You can pick up your own copy of Makeda here…

Next, is my re-read of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. I stayed up far too late the other night reading this moving, humorous, and nostalgic novel.

As you know, from my review last week, it’s one my absolute favourites, and this read-through has been nothing less the fantastic.

We’re about to start our chat about this book over at the TBYL Book Club, this coming Monday.

The book I’ve been reading this weekend is a saucy little book called Putting Alice Back Together, by Carol Marinelli. It’s just been released this month by Mira and it’s quite compelling. Alice is a challenging character, not always likeable, but always identifiable.  This is a story of coping, of romance, and about what it is to ask the Universe to just cut you a break. I’m really enjoying it, and am looking forward to chatting with Carol next week. If this book sounds like your cup of tea, you might like to enter this great competition being run now by Harlequin.

Next on the list is Jodi Picoult’s newest novel, Lone Wolf (Allen and Unwin). Believe it or not, this will be my first Picoult read, and I’m looking forward to it. This novel sounds intriguing, and pretty dark: “Edward Warren, twenty-four, has been living in Thailand for five years, a prodigal son who left his family after an irreparable fight with his father, Luke. But he gets a frantic phone call: his dad lies comatose, gravely injured in the same accident that has also injured his younger sister Cara.” From what I know of Picoult, this novel sounds like it will be to her usual form, and I can’t wait to take a look.

A book that I started to read last month, but had to put down to skip to a couple of other titles, is The Forgotten Land, by Keith Mcardle.

I really must get back to this, because I was having a ball. It’s all kinds of action, military, sci-fi and time-travel to boot.

I can’t wait to get back to find out what happens to Sergeant Steve Golburn and his patrol in this other worldly adventure.

One of the most recent books that I’ve received is Mary Bennet, by Jennifer Paynter (Penguin). I don’t know a lot about this book yet, except to say that it’s a retelling of the classic Pride and Prejudice: “Mary Bennet has been long overshadowed by the beauty and charm of her older sisters, Jane and Elizabeth, and by the forwardness and cheek of her younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia. From her post in the wings of the Bennet family, Mary now watches as Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy – and Mr Wickham – glide into her sisters’ lives. While she can view these three gentlemen quite dispassionately (and, as it turns out, accurately), can she be equally clear-sighted when she finally falls in love herself?” I’m thinking this might make a good book club book…

Lastly, is a brand new book for the reading pile, one that I picked up from the post office this morning. It’s Kyo Maclear’s A Thousand Tiny Truths (Pan Macmillan) and I’m bracing myself for a troubling but ultimately hopeful tale.

It would seem that this story has a bit of everything, adultery, questions of race and heritage, and an investigation into what it is to be cared for, and to care for others.  Due to be released in April, I’ll be reviewing this shortly.


As you can see, it’s a big reading pile, and a stunning one. Is it any wonder that I take a little look at it each time I walk by? Maybe this’ll give you a few reading ideas? And if all else fails, don’t forget next month’s TBYL Book Club book, Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany – I’d love for you to join us. You can pick up a copy here if you want to join in (I hope you do!)

What are you reading at the moment? Any of these tickle your fancy?

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Sign up for TBYL Book Club here…


An early birthday present, winner

I’m pleased to announce, that Alli is the winner of That Book You Like’s January give-away. Alli, I hope you enjoy your early birthday present! I’m reading Makeda (by Prue Sobers) right now, so I’d love to hear what you think of it!

Just email me your details (postal address) to by end Saturday, 04.02.12 and arrangements will be made! If the prize isn’t claimed, I will redraw on 05.02.12

Thanks to everyone for entering, and don’t forget to join up to the TBYL Book Club. If you sign up before midnight tonight, you’ll go into the running to win a copy of February’s read Room by Emma Donoghue.

January give-away: Happy Birthday to me!

I love birthdays – every year is a bonus, a blessing, a challenge. I have made a promise to myself to celebrate each birthday with great vigour! As such, I’ve enjoyed my wonderful presents, I’m going out for lunch with my boys, I’m going to have a few barbecues with friends and I’m going to eat cake. Lots of cake. With ice-cream.

I didn’t want you guys to miss out on the fun, so I thought I’d mark the day with a give-away. This month, you have a chance to win a copy of one of the books that I’m reading at the moment; Makeda, by Prue Sobers.

“He wanted to applaud her for her cleverness. With peerless skill at court, she had seduced his hidebound courtiers and made them laugh. Now single-handedly, with a feather’s tip, she has soothed his counsellors and brought the rowdy meeting to a seamless head.

As a public figure, she had not disappointed. The private woman was what intrigued him now.”

With Makeda, you’ll take an Ethiopian adventure, travelling with the beautiful and spirited Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. It has romance, intrigue, and royalty – what more could you possibly want?

To go into the running to win, all you have to do is:

1. Leave a comment on this post, or

2. Visit That Book You Like‘s Facebook page

…and tell us what you’re planning to do for your birthday this year.

The winner of this month’s competition (selected at random) will receive a free copy of Makeda.

Entries close Monday, 30 January 2011. The winner will have four days to claim their prize, or a redraw will be held.

Join us: Facebook and Twitter
Sign up for TBYL Book Club here…

Skipping and jumping through my reading pile

I love the Summer break, if for no other reason than that is allows for a little extra reading time. There is nothing quite as nice as sitting in my reading chair, air-conditioner on, kids otherwise occupied, getting neck-deep in one fictional adventure or another.

Interestingly, this holiday’s reading has taken shape a little differently than usual. Somewhat uncharacteristically for me, this extra time to read over the break has seen me skipping and jumping from one book to another, dipping in and out of a number of different novels in turn. This might sound infuriating to some, but in some strange way it seems to be working for me at the moment – the books are so different from each other, meaning that I can pick the particular story that fits my mood, and then swap to something more serious/adventurous/humorous when I feel like it.

And so, I thought I’d give you a quick run down on the books I’m flicking between…

My main book at the moment is Defender of the Faith, by Chris Allen. I’ve talked about this one before, here and I’m now making some real head-way into the exciting novel.

Very soon, I’ll be having a bit of a catch up with the author of this action-packed thriller, and I’ll let you in on the behind-the-scenes of this book. I’ll follow this closely with my review and another chance to win a copy for yourself. If you’re curious to check out this book, you can actually get a copy of the first twelve chapters of the novel for FREE! Check it out here.

The next title is a re-read, and it’s a particularly important one for me because it’s the TBYL Book Club’s book for January. I’m re-visiting Sonya Hartnett’s Of a Boy, and putting together some ideas for our discussion about the book at the end of the month…questions and talking-points that should get some good conversations going. I’ve talked to a few people who’ve just finished this novella, and they seem to have been quite moved by this rattler of a book. You can join the TBYL Book Club here, and buy the book here.

The next couple of books are, for me, something quite different (again). They’re two youth fiction novels, one of which I’ve been able to share with my eleven-year old son.

Firstly, is Glow, by Amy Kathleen Ryan (Pan MacMillan). A dystopian tale of space travel, romance and survival, this story for older teens seems to have been well constructed, nicely told, and set well to establish an engaging, ongoing series.

I’ve almost finished this book (it’s a quick read) so I’ll review it early next week.

Next is Andrew Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes – Fire Storm (Pan MacMillan). The forth in the Young Sherlock series, this novel is suitable for 11+ year olds and so, rather than have it sit ideal until I had a chance to read it, I had my son Evan read it first.

He seemed pretty impressed, read it pretty veraciously and has now gone a bit crazy for all things Sherlock. I’m looking forward to reading this, I’d expect it wont take me too long to get through and it’s nicely timed given the revival of Sherlock on big screen and small.

On a more serious note, the book that I’m reading for my (off line) book club at the moment is horribly haunting. The group has agreed to read We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver for our next catch-up and it’s hard going. There is a lot of talk at the moment about this disturbing story, due to the release of it’s film version.

A mother’s story, telling what it is to face absolute and undeniable shame and horror in your own child, this book has been ominous from the outset, and I’ve no doubt it’s only going to get tougher.

Lastly, I’ve a most luscious-looking novel in the reading pile, taunting me to start reading it. I’m resisting until I get through Of a Boy, but then it’ll be time to delve into Makeda, by Prue Sobers.

This story promises to take me on an Ethiopian adventure, travelling with the beautiful and spirited Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. Romance, intrigue, and royalty, it has it all.

Keep an eye out, I’ve a couple of signed copies to give away later this month!

It’s quite a list I know, and my head is spinning a little bit. But it’s spinning in the nicest possible way, as I skip from war-torn Africa, to suburban Sydney to the depths of outer space, I’m enjoying the narratives, the diary-entries, and the dramatisation of these compelling adventures. What better way to spend a Summer?!

I hope you’re having a chance to have a bit of read, and don’t forget, it’s not too late to sign up for this month’s TBYL Book Club…we’d love for you to join in!

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