‘Dead Man Switch’ Mystery by Tara Moss

My recent reading had been on the gloomy side so I was looking forward to a rollicking read—the first thing I noticed in ‘Dead Man Switch’ was the initial lack of thrills and spills although they do make an appearance in the final chapters.

Tara Moss hints that protagonist Billie Walker, private inquiry agent, has a wild past but she seems a bit too reined-in for someone with such a pedigree, her father was a former policeman turned PI and she inherited his business.  Even the business relationship between Billie and her ex-soldier assistant Samuel Baker seems flat, more diligence than derring-do, and similarly from starchy DI Hank Cooper from Central Police.

Regardless, I launched into ‘Dead Man Switch’ with high hopes and discovered Tara Moss has written a great book for the novice crime reader.  Loaded with adjectives and story recapping, this mystery novel is a nice entry point for those graduating from cosy crime into something slightly more improper.

Fashion Women 1940 Clothes Coat Fur Wrap

There are a lot of people draping themselves around the 1940s Sydney scene.  There’s a knack to letting characters unfold, and piling them all in the front of the book slowed the action for me.  First up we meet stoic lift operator John Wilson and then Mrs Lettie Brown of Brown & Co Fine Furs visiting Billie’s agency asking for help to find her missing son Adin.  Business is slow, money is tight, Billie takes the case.

Somebody is spying on Billie from afar, while chunks of author research are on show; the stolen generations via quiet Shyla; WWII atrocities; the fur trade; Sydney nightclubs; Billie’s mother Baroness Ella von Hooft and her lady’s maid Alma representing a dying aristocracy—all jostling in a narrative where deployment of the five senses wouldn’t go amiss, and neither would more showing less telling.

Is Billie glamorous?  I did not conjure her, as did a Greek café owner, looking like US film star Ava Gardner (above).

Fashion Women 1940 Two Trench CoatsBillie is indirectly responsible for four deaths, although she herself does hang by a thread in one dire situation.  She breaks the law, a rather humorous chapter involving her zany mother, and she bribes men with an Australian shilling.  It’s hard to believe that when they were phased out in 1966 a shilling was worth 10 cents.  But in 1940s, one shilling could buy a loaf of bread and a pint of milk so that’s breakfast sorted.

The Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains makes an appearance (below) with a corny filmscript car chase.  Was this due to the writing, editing or my longing for a more unpredictable encounter?  Billie is allowed to make mistakes to further the plot but one of them was transparent and I was disappointed in her naivety.  Oh well, it is crime fiction after all.

With a view to a series, this first book is a light read with tasty clothes and much eyebrow-raising and head tilting.  I sincerely hope Book 2 ups-the-ante.  In the meantime, you will learn what to do with Fighting Red, the meaning of ‘dead man switch’ and discover what happens to young Adin Brown.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Fashion Women Dead Man Switch Tara Moss 2019 NOTE This debut Billie Walker Mystery may also be titled ‘The War Widow’ due to Billie’s photojournalist husband missing, presumed dead.

VISIT AUTHOR TARA MOSS FOR A FEAST OF BOOKS AND BACKGROUND TO HER LIFE https://taramoss.com/

Among her other books Tara Moss has also written
Makedde Vanderwall
1. Fetish (1999)
2. Split (2002)
3. Covet (2004)
4. Hit (2006)
5. Siren (2009)
6. The Assassin (2012)

Hydro Majestic Hotel Blue Mountains NSW 02
HYDRO EXPRESS DAY TRAIN The NSW Rail Museum and Hydro Majestic Hotel have partnered to create a unique scenic day trip featuring vintage train travel and afternoon High Tea at the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia. Upon arrival at Medlow Bath Station, you will be guided on a short walk to the beautifully restored Hydro Majestic Hotel and the Wintergarden Room where High Tea will be served on three-tiered silver stands and consist of petite pastries, finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones served with homemade jam and fresh clotted cream, accompanied by freshly brewed specialty teas and coffees. An optional complimentary history tour of the Hydro Majestic Hotel will take place following your High Tea sitting. Two dates Saturday 23rd or Sunday 24th November 2019 https://www.hydromajestic.com.au/events/hydro-express

My Sisters-in-Crime Membership Card

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I kept the postage stamp but the envelope has been recycled.

How is this for the personal touch!  Sisters-in-Crime mailed a white 9×4 envelope with my address neatly printed on it and a postage stamp stuck in the corner.  The stamp, if you are interested, commemorates 50 years since the moon landing.  Australia had a hand in the Apollo 11 lunar module ‘Eagle’ landing on the moon.

Back to the goodies in the envelope:

A welcome letter from Carmel, Secretary & National Co-convenor.

Diary Dates and information on 26th Scarlet Stiletto Awards.

Leaflet for ‘Murder She Wrote’ Readers and Writers Festival to be held in Tasmania under the title ‘Terror Australis’ .

Bookmark stating all the wonderful things Sisters-in-Crime can offer me.

Info on bookshop discounts, panels, discussions, debates, tours, launches, festivals.

And, of course, my Membership Card!

Every department store in the world wants to give you a plastic card but this is a Crime Card.  Not plastic; written on by hand; the nostalgic beauty of it.

Who or what are the Sisters-in-Crime?  Let me fill you in—

Sisters in Crime Logo 03 2019Sisters-in-Crime is a world-wide organisation but the Australian chapter was launched at the Feminist Book Festival in Melbourne in September 1991, inspired by the American organisation of the same name, which was founded in 1986 by Sara Paretsky (creator of Chicago PI VI Warshawski) and other women crime writers at the Bouchercon crime convention.  Members are authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by their affection for the mystery genre and their support of women who write mysteries.  Chapters currently meet in Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane.  The Melbourne chapter holds very regular events and partners with festivals, libraries and other organisations.

There are annual crime-writing competitions, the Scarlet Stiletto Awards (big prize money) and the Davitt Awards for the best crime books by Australian women published in the previous year.

I missed ‘Murder She Wrote’, the readers and writers Terror Australis Festival in Huon Valley, Tasmania, from 31 October to 5 November 2019.  It was jam-packed with amazing stuff; panel sessions, masterclasses, Hall of Writers, book launches, Murder Mystery Dinner, etc.  Hear my teeth gnashing…

I am currently reading ‘Dead Man Switch’ by Tara Moss and she attended the Festival.  Quote ‘I would kill to be at the Terror Australis Festival, but thankfully I was invited so I won’t need to.’ – Tara Moss, author.

Maybe next year <sigh>

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Review ‘The Dreamers’ by Karen Thompson Walker

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The pretty embossed bookcover hides a dark and disturbing story and I would not recommend it to immature readers, or people I know with sleep disorders.

I think the apocalyptic nature of the book could have a tendency to induce fear and possibly depression in anyone sensitive to a crisis situation with unstoppable consequences.

If I was watching this as a disaster movie about a virus starting in a school dormitory, causing people to fall asleep and may never wake up, I bet most of the theatre-goers around me would be shallow breathing, wondering if it were true.

Lesser books have been known to cause restless sleep, or bad dreams.

Of course, the virulent virus comes from the fertile imagination of Karen Thompson Walker who said in a BWF 2019 panel discussion “Why we dream is unknown” although she puts forward some interesting theories in this story.

‘The Dreamers’ could just as easily die from any airborne disease and here lies the crux of the matter.

The author does an excellent job in researching and creating botched medical care, civil unrest, mass panic, and then bringing it right back down to the most helpless, two young girls and their kittens, alone in an old house.

In a clipped journalistic writing style, there are heroes, references to new life, new love and parental devotion striving against all odds yet feeling strangely hollow and disjointed.  The ending is unresolved.

This type of plotting is not my preferred reading, however, I respect the level of apprehension Karen Thompson Walker has created even while I think ‘The Dreamers’ could unsettle vulnerable readers.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

AUTHOR PROFILE—Karen Thompson Walker was born and raised in San Diego, California, where her first book ‘The Age of Miracles’ is set.  She studied English and creative writing at UCLA, where she wrote for the UCLA Daily Bruin.  An assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon, she lives in Portland with her husband, the novelist Casey Walker, and their two daughters.
http://karenthompsonwalker.com/

Strolling Down by the River

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Came over the hill and the Brisbane River is to the right…

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And a line of waiting cars can be seen to the left…

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The Moggill Ferry is on the opposite bank…

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Here it comes, loaded with cars…

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With a clank, the metal plank is lowered and the cars drive off…

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A warning to boats cruising up the river…

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It is nice to sit on the river bank in the sun.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


BACKGROUND INFORMATION  Moggill Ferry, a tolled vehicular cable ferry, crosses the Brisbane River between Moggill, Brisbane and Riverview, Ipswich, Queensland.  It has weathered several floods since 1920s and had various replacements.  The ferry was motorised in 1940s under joint control of the Ipswich and Brisbane City Councils.  It can carry 20 vehicles (car AU$1.90) GVM vehicle up to 4.5 tonnes (AU$16.30) pedestrians (free) and operates between sunrise and sunset—if you miss the last ferry, you have to take the long way via Ipswich Highway.  Services operate daily, except for Good Friday and Christmas Day.  The journey takes approximately 4 minutes on the vehicle ferry.  I think that depends on the pull of the current.  During the floods of 2011, the ferry cables broke and ferry staff lashed it to the riverbank so it would not get washed away.  It may look like a bygone era but it is well-used and only 19km (12 miles) from the centre of the city. GBW.

Blog 119: In which I somehow find myself walking the Corridors of Power

Fantastic win!  Congratulations to Michael Gerard Bauer on winning the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2019 Young Adult Literature for “The Things That Will Not Stand”.  Read his blog and check out the medals! Gretchen Bernet-Ward.

Michael Gerard Bauer Author

My YA novel The Things That Will Not Stand had its genesis in two thoughts that came to me one day when I was taking one of my regular walks around the neighbourhood.

One was a memory from my Uni of Queensland days of being in the foyer of the Schonell Picture Theatre and hoping that a particular person I knew might come through a set of doors and join me.

Spoiler alert!!!!!!!

She didn’t.

The second thought was about writing a story which took place over just one day.

That was an idea that immediately appealed to me. I knew it would be a challenge but it would also be a gift because it would free me to focus just on the characters and their immediate interactions without having all the rest of their lives to worry too much about.

In the end I used both thoughts and wrote…

View original post 1,096 more words

Review ‘Wintering’ by Krissy Kneen

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This slow burning story crept up on me.  I guess you know by now that I don’t write conventional book reviews.  For starters I’m not going to give you a synopsis.  Let’s jump right in, shall we?

The sadness and bewilderment Jessica suffers when her partner Matthew goes missing in the wilds of Tasmania gradually expands until she snaps.  The atmosphere changes into an eerie, gothic-like tale of deception and fear.  There are disturbing bits, there are gruesome bits and there are strong sex scenes, Krissy Kneen’s trademark.

Jessica lives in a flimsy wooden cottage at the edge of a seawall not far from the township of Southport.  As I read on, I was unsure of William, the man who offers to help her, and doubly unsure of the coven of local women who offer strange advice and an even stranger solution.  In the end I wanted Jessica to fight back and she did, the result is worth more than the price of admission to the spooky glow-worm caves.

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At the time Matthew goes missing, Jessica, a scientist, is just finishing her PhD on glow-worms and works as a tour guide at the local cave complex, helping the tiny creatures to prosper.  Winter Cave is her favourite and Winter Cave coldness, the surrounding dense forest, and feral smells pervade this book.  Disturbingly, she is a good shot and needs to carry a gun to feel safe.

The character portrayals are well suited to their remote Tasmanian coastal surroundings, in particular old Marijam of Cockle Creek and her outlook on what appears to be a strange isolated life.  She goes fishing for her seafood and compares commercial fishermen to the demise of small traders “Pick on a little bookstore, put a big mega-store across the road.  Discounts on all the prices till the little fella dies, then corner the market” which she read about on the internet.

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I queried some of the ‘things’ in the story and I was dissatisfied, or perhaps had my credulity stretched, with what transpires at the end.  Like most animal-lovers, I sincerely hope the thylacine Tasmanian Tiger still exists.  I also wondered if Jessica knew those caves as well as she thought.
My pet peeves are:
(1) More showing, less telling.
(2) Proof-reading misses, e.g. license interchanged with licence, rear-view mirror becomes rear-vision mirror.  I’d go for Aussie spelling every time.
(3) Parts of the story felt like a filmscript not a literary description.  There is a difference.

Tasmanian Tigers in Hobart Zoo
The last Tasmanian Tigers in Hobart Zoo, believed extinct by 1930s.

Krissy Kneen’s story reflects the time and effort she put into it, the sense of place is strong and at times overpowering.  As a child, my parents and I visited the Jenolan Caves in New South Wales, Australia, and I have been claustrophobic ever since.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


NOTE Photographs depict general scenes and caves in Australia and Tasmania and are not related to places mentioned in the book.  If you want an in-depth analysis I suggest reading ‘Not a Tiger at All: A Review of Krissy Kneen’s “Wintering”’ by Madeleine Laing of The Lifted Brow.

Book Perfect – Virago

Virago is an international publisher of books by women for all readers, everywhere.  Established in 1973, their mission has been to champion women’s voices and bring them to the widest possible readership around the world.  They found me!  From fiction and politics to history and classic children’s stories, their writers continue to win acclaim, break new ground and enrich the lives of readers.  That’s me!  Read on…

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My Goodreads Book Review

Superb anthology of the last forty years of Virago Modern Classics with a gorgeous bookcover illustration. Great for readers who appreciate women writers and also for students studying literature. Each contemporary author writes a sincere and thoughtful introduction from their own perspective as a reader. They cover the classics, from fiction and comedy to famous diaries and autobiographies. For example, Margaret Drabble discusses Jane Austen ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and further on Jilly Cooper talks about E. M. Delafield ‘The Diary of a Provincial Lady’. Although I’ve not read ‘Strangers on a Train’ by Patricia Highsmith, I think Claire Messud has convinced me to read it. At the end of Amanda Craig’s introduction on Rebecca West ‘The Fountain Overflows’ she says ‘The novel is one of those rare books that leaves the reader feeling happier and more hopeful than before.” And that’s exactly what this Virago Modern Classics makes me feel https://www.goodreads.com/gretchenbernetward

Virago Publisher of Women Writers

Virago celebrated their fortieth anniversary of Virago Modern Classics, Virago Press published the book I so eagerly purchased ‘Writers as Readers’, an anthology of forty introductions from the last four decades…books that deserve once again to be read and loved.  Virago also reintroduced the iconic green spines across their whole booklist.

Virago has a huge booklist, I’m sure you’ve read several of their titles, and rather than me listing every book available, you can visit their beautiful website:
https://www.virago.co.uk/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Art Deco Delights on Display

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The first photograph shows a Cloche hat (circa 1925) made of rayon, silk organza, sequins and mercerised cotton.  The designer is unknown.  I saw it displayed in the Ipswich Art Gallery exhibition ‘The World Turns Modern’.  It is from the Julian Robinson Collection on loan from National Gallery of Australia.

ART DECO is the predominant decorative art style of the 1920s and 1930s, characterised by precise and boldly delineated geometric shapes and strong colours and used most notably in household objects and in architecture.

Below is my small sample of Art Deco on display.


Ipswich Art Gallery Art Deco Lady with Dogs

The first painting to draw my eye was Christian Waller in her garden with her dogs.
Artist :  Napier Waller (Penshurst, Australia 1893 – Melbourne, Australia 1972)
Title :  ‘Christian Waller with Baldur, Undine and Siren at Fairy Hills 1932’
Materials and technique :  Oil and tempera on canvas mounted on hardboard.
Dimensions :  121.5 h x 205.5 w cm, overall frame 1315 h x 2165 w x 60 d mm (big!)
Purchased :  NGA 1984.

“The frieze-like formality of the painting and its cool, crisp colours underscore the demise of the Waller marriage.”  Such a sad note, and I wonder who got the Airedale terriers?


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Inlaid wood was all the rage and this match box (in book form) took my fancy.  As the information card states, it comprises rose mahogany, yellow wood, rose sheoak, sandpaper and red cedar.  Rare commodities nowadays.


This stunning bronze cast (in relief) features a woman wrangling two horses; I liked the strength, energy and symbolism of this piece.  Jean Broome-Norton’s renaissance woman is not life-size but the plinth gives it height and power.


The modern front doors of award-winning Ipswich Art Gallery, and inside the original building has been restored and extended.  The shipping and travel poster hints at women enjoying greater freedom, the right to vote and travelling unchaperoned.  The image of the independent woman became popular in graphic design for posters and portraiture.


Ipswich Art Gallery IMAGE Hilda Rix Nicholas Une Australienne 1926
This painting appears on gallery advertising posters and epitomises the era.
IMAGE: Hilda Rix Nicholas ‘Une Australienne’ 1926.

Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 2014.
© Bronwyn Wright.


Ipswich Art Gallery Art Deco Red Teapot and Teacups

Unfortunately my photographs of etchings, square teapots and Lalique glassware did not work due to the lighting.  Pictured above is a red Art Deco tea-set of stunning design, quite petite, which may not have been easy to sip from if you were feeling nervous at a polite society soirée.


Left photo :  In a side gallery, I viewed ‘Cover Story: Queensland Arts Council Cover Art and Poster Collection 1981 to 2008’ displaying commissioned work by leading Australian artists and illustrators.  From rough sketches to finished art, it was fascinating to see such big names especially in children’s literature, for example Graeme Base, and my favourite Alison Lester and her 1991 on-tour directory cover.

Right Photo :  Upstairs in the heritage gallery, I just had to take a photo of this wonderful 1895 miner’s brooch which I presume was designed for a man but it is small and delicate.  Made of 15ct gold, it may have been used as a tie pin, and the case is about the size of a snuff box.


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Time for a cuppa at the Post Office Café.  I was impressed how the colour and table setting matched the Art Deco theme without really trying.  The proprietor of the café told us that she was sick of washing the tablecloths and they were being replaced with inlaid lacquered tabletops.  Shame, but the sweet treats were delicious.


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The view outside had interesting angles and contrasts; the Post Office Café courtyard, the umbrella, the modern buildings and above, as if floating, the original Ipswich Post Office clock tower, circa 1890.


If you are interested in the Art Deco exhibition, get in quick, it closes this weekend!

07 Sep 2019 – 27 Oct 2019

“Comprised entirely of works selected from the National Gallery of Australia collection, this exhibition provides superb examples of the diverse expressions of Art Deco.”

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Review ‘Too Much Lip’ by Melissa Lucashenko

The incessant fights in the Salter family are too real, their plight is real, every word is real and that’s what damaged me the most.  I took long walks due to the serious and unrelenting nature of the content.  Loaded with the troubles of the Salter family, cruel sarcasm, too much drink, too many smokes, I was getting worn down right along with them.  It took me a month to read this book in fits and starts but I’m glad I did.

Abrasive characters are well portrayed which makes them doubly annoying, they need to be accepted warts and all, like ‘mouthy’ Kerry Salter and her unlikable brother Ken who argue every minute of the day.  I’m sure I’d have put Ken in hospital at about Chapter Three.

Maybe take the pressure off young Donny.

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Bad things are happening, but as long as Kerry’s Harley Softail is safe.

Early on, Bundjalung woman Kerry has returned to her home town of Durrongo, and grieves the loss of her girlfriend Allie, her Pop and her stolen blue backpack.  She does a B&E, part retribution, part spirit world, and the universe turns a notch.  Fair move, but repercussions come later.  Then there’s romance in the form of her hot eye-candy boyfriend Steve Abarco who’s the flagship for level-headed, rock-solid men.

Kerry’s tarot card-reading mother Pretty Mary celebrates a birthday and those volatile chapters are my favourites.  At the party is another brother, gay Black Superman, maybe long-dead sister Donna, plus assorted Aunts (called Mary) Uncles and children who gust through the pages like eucalyptus smoke.  But forget about opening old family wounds, I’d say a lump the size of police headquarters sits in the pit of their stomachs, continually irritating their every move.

The battle against a new prison, to be built on sacred ground where Salter ancestors are laid to rest, ramps up with a land rights campaign.  Enter cops like Senior Sergeant Trevor Nunne and money-hungry Mayor Jim Buckley.  Ken’s flamboyant gesture on a piece of Buckley’s property was not appreciated and leads to disastrous retaliation.

You will have noticed that I am not giving too much away.

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Two Aboriginal kingplates I photographed in a display cabinet at Ipswich Art Galley, Queensland.

Writing style-wise, I did wondered why Kerry wasn’t written in first person.  Some events are seeded in advance while others appear to be inserted later to up-the-ante.  Every so often the voice changes, doubt creeps in, there’s a lull.  Or a change in atmosphere with The Doctor.  Occasionally things become omnipotent and POVs jump in and out of people’s heads but that can be overlooked for scary brave writing.

If you are not Australian, you WILL become lost in the slang and cultural references.

Try anyway.

Read this rude, gutsy book if you ARE offended by swearing, truisms close to the bone, and the struggles of Indigenous people.  As Ken says in Chapter 15 ‘How to invade other people’s countries and murder ‘em, and call it civilisation’.

It’s a strong insight into the modern world and an ancient culture, one which doesn’t need skyscrapers because Country is a place of belonging and a way of believing.

Good onya, Melissa, for audaciously holding your nerve*

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


* REFERENCE : Sydney Morning Herald interview insights into the writing of ‘Too Much Lip’
https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/melissa-lucashenko-too-much-lip-was-a-frightening-book-to-write-20180724-h1326h.html

AUTHOR PROFILE : Melissa Lucashenko is an acclaimed Aboriginal writer of Goorie and European heritage.  Since 1997 Melissa has been widely published as an award-winning novelist, essayist and short story writer.

AUTHOR WEBSITE : https://www.melissa-lucashenko.com/

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Shopping – Bombeck and Kinsella say…

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“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.” ― Erma Bombeck (February 1927 – April 1996) ― American writer and humourist Erma Bombeck achieved great popularity for her newspaper column which described suburban home life from mid-1960s until late 1990s. She published 15 books, appeared on television shows, and wrote over 4,000 newspaper columns, all featuring her entertaining and eloquent humour. Irma Bombeck wrote before social media, achieving world-wide fame through her books, and in 1970s her columns were read twice-weekly by 30 million readers of the 900 newspapers in US and Canada.  Interestingly her work featured domesticity during the women’s liberation movement. She hid a life-long illness which was disclosed three years prior to her death. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erma_Bombeck

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Brunch at Fourthchild Cafe Ipswich City

Alighted from the train in Ipswich City with friends and decided to have brunch.  We chose Fourchild Cafe Restaurant, 126 Brisbane Street, because it’s handy to the railway station.  The business is family owned and operated and they prepare everything by hand, in-house, with produce sourced from Lockyer Valley farms and local suppliers.

Rather than give you a rundown of our visit, I have posted photographs with a comment or two underneath.  Bon appétit!

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A food blogger would know the latest words for edgy decor but I’d say colourful.
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What it says – a cold drip coffee device with the look of a mad scientist invention.
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A comprehensive ‘Know Your Coffee’ espresso menu which I am going to carry with me always. Not the board, just the photo!
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It was a hot springtime day so settled for a tall iced coffee with whipped cream.
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Corn fritter pancake stack with bacon, poached egg, tomato salsa, scattered with feta. Actually it had two eggs but I gave one away!
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Dessert cabinet love at first sight! Look at the size of the Lemon Meringue Pie and Frangipani Pie (recipe link below)
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Fourthchild Cafe Restaurant is situated in an old building so they’ve gone with the natural antiqueness. This is a view of the roof where the shaft leads up to skylights (not visible on either side) for light and air in all weathers before air-conditioning was invented.

This is Boris the bison, overlooking the bar, keeping a watchful eye on proceedings.

We were in Ipswich to visit ‘The World Turns Modern’ an Art Deco exhibition at Ipswich Art Gallery on loan from the National Gallery collection.  But more on that another time. 

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


People Working Chef Cook Waitress

Fourthchild info http://www.fourthchildcafe.com.au/

Frangipani pie https://www.simplesavings.com.au/blog/108227/3267203/Frangipani-PieMums-special-recipe-and-a-family-favourite

Ipswich info https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipswich,_Queensland

Ian Fleming ‘From Russia With Love’ Book Review

It was the sixties.  I thought I was very grown up reading ‘From Russia With Love’.  By today’s standards, the erotic scenes between James Bond and Tatiana Romanova may seem tame but the spine-tingling glamour of Bond’s world has endured for decades.

‘From Russia With Love’.  This is the fifth James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming.  It was my first 007 book and remains my favourite although it now seems top-heavy with scene-setting.  Also, my advice is to temporarily disregard the 1950s patriarchal society.

I read my father’s old hardback edition.  I still own it.  The dustcover has an illustration showing a gun and a rose, and an author’s note from Ian Fleming dated March 1956.  Published by Jonathan Cape, 13s.6d. net, a Book Club issue with no printed date.  It is certainly elderly but not a first edition.

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On the flyleaf inside ‘From Russia With Love’ there is a detailed description of the revolver used on the front cover of the book. Four pages in, there is an author’s note confirming many of the scenes are real.

Espionage.  Between British and Russian intelligence agencies spying was at its peak when this novel was written.  According to Ian Fleming, locations and Intelligence chiefs are based on real people.  SMERSH (a great name which spawned similar fictitious spy names) is a Soviet assassination organisation which has declared James Bond an enemy of the Soviet State and issued a ‘death warrant’ for his immediate execution.

To trap Bond.  The plan was to infiltrate British MI6 by using young Russian spy Tatiana Romanova who pretends to defect from her position, saying she has fallen in love with Bond from a photograph.  As an added bonus, if he delivers her safely to the West, Tatiana will give him a Spektor decoder (another great name) much prized by the fellows at MI6.  Of course, things don’t go that smoothly and if you are a follower of suave secret agent James Bond you will know what action is in store, and what happens to the beautiful girl.

Detailed plots and counterplots.  The central theme is the Cold War, a real situation between East and West and one which readers would have been well aware of at the time.  Also, there is sexism, racism and a whole lot of things which are not socially acceptable today but, hey, that was the era.

James Bond 007 Original 1964 Movie Poster
James Bond 007 Movie Poster 1964

A train trip on the Orient Express.  The journey from Istanbul to Paris is high drama and copied many times by other writers and movie producers.  Also, I think it was the first story to have a Q gadget.

Character development.  James Bond is developed more in this book, yet Fleming was undecided about continuing the series and left the ending wide open.  Will Bond survive?  And as cliff-hangers go, it is a beauty.  The impact may be slightly dulled as we view it from the all-knowing twenty-first century, however, the lure of a good spy novel never dies.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

James Bond 007 Author Ian Fleming
Author Ian Fleming

On Goodreads? My link https://www.goodreads.com/gretchenbernetward

Rebecca Johnson Workshop with Juliet Nearly A Vet

First, some info on Juliet Nearly A Vet children’s series before I launch into my one and a half hour experience hosted by Book Links and Write Links at their centre for children’s literature.


JULIET NEARLY A VET
series by REBECCA JOHNSON

Juliet wants to be a vet when she grows up, but when she decides she needs to start practicing, her wonderful misadventures begin.  With gorgeous illustrations by local illustrator Kyla May.

“Hi! I’m Juliet. I’m ten years old. And I’m nearly a vet!  We’re off on a school camp to the rainforest. Chelsea, Maisy and I are excited about all the different animals we might spot on our nature walks and torchlight treks. Chelsea is NOT excited about the creepy crawlies we might find! I’ve brought my vet-kit along just in case we find any animals in need of help . . .”

Ages 6 – 9 years old
Book info click here


VET CADETS
series by REBECCA JOHNSON

A wonderful series about three smart, funny, animal-loving girls solving mysteries and causing chaos at their country boarding school.

“Abbey, Hannah and Talika are new recruits at Willowvale boarding school’s Vet Cadets program. Mrs Parry, their science teacher, has given each of the girls a chick to raise and train, but not everyone is happy about it!  When a game of horseback hide-and-seek turns into a matter of life and death, rules are broken and the friends’ courage sorely tested. This time, a solution might be out of the Vet Cadets’ hands . . .”

Ages 9 – 11 years old
Book info click here


AUTHOR PROFILE

Rebecca Johnson is an award-winning Australian author and primary-school science teacher who has written more than 100 children’s books.  Her works include the Steve Parish Story Book collection, Juliet Nearly A Vet series, Vet Cadet series, Insect series, and Steve Parish Reptiles & Amphibians Story Book range.

Author info https://rebeccajohnson.com.au/
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaJohnsonAuthor/


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ONE AND A HALF HOUR WORKSHOP

Rebecca Johnson spoke about how she became a published author and what inspired her stories.  Her two current series are based on her own childhood experiences, both as a young vet ‘assistant’ and then as a horse-riding teenage animal detective.

Her writing style has allowed her to find the balance between working part-time and writing.  She talked about the importance of verbal pitching in the early part of a writer’s career; know your story and speak passionately about it.

Rebecca was open and honest in all she discussed, particularly the challenges of marketing your first book once it has been published.  On the subject of payment, royalties and earning a decent income, Rebecca felt a book series worked better.

I jotted down a number of points; from having an agent, to evolving your books as your reading audience grows.  Interestingly, in this age of the internet, Rebecca hasn’t physically met Kyla May, her book illustrator.

A fascinating aspect from Rebecca’s talk is her use of a book tie-in and children’s conventions based on her Juliet Nearly A Vet books.  She ordered 1,000 vet kits child-size with working stethoscopes and white lab coats—spectacular to say the least.  And children obviously have a wonderful time learning about animals and caring for their toy pets!


CONCLUSION

My main takeaway from this workshop was “Write what you know, do the hard yards, continually promote your books” as well as attending events, libraries, Book Week.  I applaud Rebecca Johnson for the detail and length of her workshop, and the fact that she happily answered every question.

POSTSCRIPT

A friend of mine, children’s writer Artelle Lenthall, challenged me to nominate 7 of my favourite bookcovers and post one every day for 7 days on Facebook.  I have chosen 7 of my favourite bookcovers from Juliet Nearly A Vet series and will post them at 7.00pm each evening.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Meet Me At The Paragon – A Greek Café Experience #slqGreekCafes

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I attended a special viewing of the Greek café phenomenon ‘Meet Me At The Paragon’.  This new exhibition features the history of Greek milk bars in Queensland and their importance within local communities.

When I entered the Heritage Learning Collections Room on Level 4 of State Library of Queensland, I was greeted by a table laden with food, from savoury snacks to desserts like baklava and sugar-powdered shortbread with drinks on the side.  Heaven!

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Evocative neon. Instead of the usual rows of seats, there were café chairs at round tables, such a nice touch. Guests were also given take-home gifts, and in my first photo you can see a fridge magnet, postcard and a traditional small paper bag of mixed lollies.

‘Meet Me At The Paragon’ explores the creation of American-style cafés which helped Greek migrants of the early to mid-1900s to start a new life in such a different land. The Paragon Café in Dalby, Queensland, was a meeting place for all ages to enjoy a malted milkshake or a sweet treat. The State Library of Queensland invited me to experience The Greek Café Phenomenon and learn true stories of the families who owned and operated them.

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This old poster is pretty self-explanatory. When I was small, I remember my mother buying me a small ‘brick’ of Peter’s ice-cream wrapped in white wax paper and sandwiching it between two square wafers. Crunchy and creamy at the same time! I think that Smak ice-cream stick is hilarious; at first I thought it said Smoke because it looks rather like a cigarette.

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Isn’t this incredible! When I was a kid, we owned a small single milkshake mixer with an aluminium cup. We had paper straws so needed to drink fast before the straw started to collapse. The taste was cool, creamy and delicious. This machine can mix times-three!

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My memories of drinking in a milk bar are hazy but I recall tall glasses of foaming milk and strawberry ice-cream.  This photograph of Christie’s café (Brisbane) spanned a whole wall and people took selfies which looked like they were really there #slqGreekCafes

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Here is the informative Curator who guided us around the exhibits.  In this room there is a cute waitress’ pinafore preserved in a glass case.  It appeared to be made of heavy white cotton and in excellent condition considering its age.  I doubt the wearer managed a full day’s work without getting a small stain or two!

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Lollies is an Australian word for sweets. Bulgarian Rock, Peanut Toffee, Turkish Delight, all kinds of confectionery were arrayed in long glass cabinets to dazzled customers as they walked into a Creek café. Can you imagine the delicious aroma! Most cafés used their own ice-cream for their sodas and sundaes.
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This looks like a scientist’s portable lab! These tiny bottles of Blue Ark Essences are housed in a briefcase-style case. The essences were concentrated fruit flavours and used in soda drinks, milkshakes and confectionery.

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This Golden Gate Café had a quaint yet welcoming shopfront.  In the Golden Gate Café in Winton, Australia, a passing sailor left behind a macaw which became the lifelong companion of the proprietor.  Or so the story goes.  Brisbane, Australia, was a base for American servicemen during World War II and signs like this made them feel welcome.

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Aren’t these three dudes handsome!  Unfortunately I did not get the gentlemen’s names nor do I know where their portrait was taken.  I viewed them in the White Gloves document section of the exhibition.  Later I discovered one fellow is the uncle of Chris Zavros.

I met Greek women  who shared their own delightful stories, and I strolled along rows of black and white photographs of beautiful Greek weddings and Greek families at work and play, a long time ago.  The country towns which had Greek cafés ranged throughout Queensland.  It would have been nice to say all the buildings are still standing several generations later—still, it is wonderful to see donated ephemera, to have their legacy remembered today.

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‘Meet Me At The Paragon’ runs for six months and there are more Curator talks planned (see website below) and a Brisbane Greeters walking tour.

Of course, many more items are on display, including monogrammed crockery and audio and video information I enjoyed the memorabilia which fuelled my inner historian.  This exhibition is suitable for everyone!  It would appeal to Greek genealogists, those interested in café culture trends, and anyone who has ever sipped a milkshake.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Brochures resemble café menus on the polished wood table of a banquette where people can sit and reminisce about burgers and banana sundaes.

Find out more from State Library of Queensland
https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/whats-on/meet-me-paragon
and
http://blogs.slq.qld.gov.au/jol/2019/10/02/american-bar-brisbane/

Toni Risson Greek Cafes in Australia Aphrodite Bookcover

Further reading from curator and author Toni Risson
https://tonirisson.wordpress.com/
and
https://greekcafesinbrisbane.wordpress.com/author/tonirisson/

My Tree Orchid with Pink Flowers

Trees are dropping leaves to survive and the ground is like iron.  Just the other morning I watered my Dendrobium orchid and the long buds were tightly closed.  Drought conditions have sent the ants in all directions in search of sustenance but even they were absent.

In the afternoon I returned from lunch with friends and à la voile!  There was my tree orchid in full bloom!

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Springtime is not properly acknowledged in my garden until this orchid flowers.  It is always my September spectacular.

Australian orchids tend to be small, for instance the Cooktown Orchid which is the floral emblem of Queensland, but this species is large and robust.  The dull afternoon light does not do justice to its display.

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A semi deciduous pink-flowering orchid, it is ‘probably’ native to Australia, a Dendrobium Nobile, and in this case has been grown as an epiphyte – tree hugger.  It has been in the family for over forty years and needs basically no care at all.  The blooms have a very faint fragrance.

Why I say ‘probably’ native to Australia is because I always thought it came from the Pacific region.  In fact, originally its forebears came from northern India/southern China where it would have been quite used to extremes in temperature.

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Then I discovered hybrids have been produced.  These can be subdivided into two types, the ‘English’ and ‘Japanese’ type, and later I read this historical document courtesy of The Shambles, a country garden at Montville in south-east Queensland:

Dendrobium nobile  Reliable soft cane epiphytic orchid.  We have many unnamed flower colour varieties from mauve, pink and white range.  A trouble-free orchid flowering in spring.  Introduced to Britain c.1836 by Loddiges’ Nursery.  Requested from Loddiges’ Nursery on 1st February 1849 for Camden Park NSW Australia and obtained from them, brought out from England by Captain P. P. King in that year.  India www.qos.org.au 1A.1885, 13.1900/1,15.Camden Orchid walk, West Garden, near back stairs, Blue trellis garden, Rain forest walk.

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After reading the Wagga Orchid Society PDF (link below) and using a bit of guesstimation, years later my orchid could have been transported from the Riverina region of New South Wales, Australia, on consignment to a Brisbane plant nursery.

I now look at my tree orchid in awe and wonderment – such a lineage.

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The following shot was taken a few days later in much better sunlight.  There was a bee hovering around but it refused to be photographed.

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Gretchen Bernet-Ward

P.S. If you are interested in lovely flowers and picturesque settings in rural countryside, I can recommend a visit to the website and blogspot of The Shambles country garden, Montville, Queensland.

https://montvillegarden.com/
https://montvillegarden.blogspot.com/
https://www.facebook.com/montvillegarden
and further reading
http://waggaorchidsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Dendrobium-nobile-orchid-growing.pdf

The Shambles Monsieur Tillier Rose
The Shambles and ‘Monsieur Tillier Rose’

Fear of Joining Goodreads

Yes, fear that I will become addicted.  Fear that I will push myself to read a gazillion books a year so I can frantically, faithfully rate and review them.  Fear that I will get hooked on groups, authors, discussions, surveys and polls—or even worse, a bestseller—and thus lose my individuality.

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What if I was swamped by a wave of literary-ness which swept away my identity and I became a book character, never able to reach the shores of reality,  adrift in a choppy sea of font and words, desperately swimming towards the final chapter so I could beach myself on that last blessed page?

It didn’t happen.

I know this because I have finally joined the ranks of Goodreads readers.

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Why did I join?  Because I was caught, hook, line and sinker by a single author and her book ‘The Rose and The Thorn’.

In August 2019, I posted my very first Goodreads review on Indrani Ganguly’s historical novel (also here on my blog) and the Hallelujah choir sang.  That was it!

I think I shelved about twenty books in one hit.  Then about thirty, then more, and before I knew it I was writing reviews; albeit after I sussed out their (ssshh, whisper here) rather archaic system.

Without fear, without favour!  I am part of Goodreads for better or worse!

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So far I have followed a couple of authors I enjoy, and a couple of groups which seem relevant to my reading tastes.  I encompass miscellany, similar to my blog, so I am open to your book reading suggestions.

Take a peek, you may find the same book we both have read . . . but will our rating or review be the same?

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/101014600-gretchen-bernet-ward

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Winners Society of Women Writers and Estelle Pinney Short Story Competition 2019

Congratulations to the successful writers listed below.  I am still dazed at my accomplishment, a double dip! The two short stories I submitted have been close to my heart for some time and it is truly wonderful to have them recognised.

The Estelle Pinney Short Story Competition is Australia-wide and I am the only member of Society of Women Writers Queensland to win honours this year.  Such a privilege!


 

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Prizes:

1st Prize:  ‘Baby’ by Jean Flynn (Victoria)

2nd Prize:  ‘Tram 86’ by Melanie Persson (Western Australia)

3rd Prize:  ‘Remnants of Miriam’ by Gretchen Bernet-Ward (Queensland)

Three Highly Commended:

‘One Hundred Year Old Feet’ by Margaret Ogilvie (South Australia)

‘Mero in the Library’ by Gretchen Bernet-Ward (Queensland)

‘Not Everything is Cut & Dry’ by Maree Gallop (New South Wales)

Three Commended:

‘Portraits’ by Megan Hippler (Queensland)

‘The Lies of Love’ by Jo Mularczyk (New South Wales)

‘The Birthday Present’ by Lynne Geary (Victoria)

 

(Award certificates below)


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The competition judge, Lauren Daniels, is director of the Brisbane Writers Workshop.  Lauren is a qualified editor, author, mentor and trainer of professionals, academics, writers and editors.


 

I would like to thank the President and Committee of  Society of Women Writers Queensland Inc and acknowledge author Estelle Pinney for her ongoing encouragement via this competition.  It is a morale boost to have my work recognised and financially rewarded.

In the spirit of giving, I have donated my prize money back to the Society.  It may help a new member, or go towards a workshop at Bribie Island Writers Retreat, or perhaps an event with cake!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 

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Society of Women Writers Qld Inc