Jasper Fforde ‘The Great Troll War’ Book Review

The literary equivalent of a supernova, sheer plotting brilliance, mind blown!

The Trolls are looking hungry and humans are on the menu. In besieged Cornwall, unhealthy scenarios are playing out and Jennifer Strange, Court Mystician to the Kingdom of Snodd, does not like it one bit.

Jennifer is always cool under pressure and prepares to take action, indeed it is her destiny. She is joined by her best friend Tiger, the sword Exhorbitus, a VW Beetle with links to her past, and a Quarkbeast. Meanwhile megolomaniac Mighty Shandar is a sorcerer out to conquer the world and needs another Quarkbeast to do it.

Jennifer hopes the Button Trench will hold back the ravenous hordes and that Mighty Shandar will back off. He ain’t gettin’ her Quarkbeast that’s for sure.

The Last Dragonslayer novels by Jasper Fforde missing the last book!

Unfortunately even regular characters Lady Mawgon and sorceress Once Magnificent Boo are floundering to find ways to thwart the ever-expanding evil. Drooling Trolls are multiplying daily and Mighty Shandar’s over-inflated ego expands by the minute.

In the mix are—Royal Princess Shazine Snodd in a commoner’s body whom glamour boy Sir Matt Grifflon is keen to marry; Mighty Shandar’s obsequious assistant Miss D’Argento; the two delightful reconnaissance dragons Feldspar and Colin (I learned how dragons make flames) plus integral quirky characters throughout. The likes of Kevin Zip and Full Price add to the story and you will probably recognise their personalities whether or not you have read the other books. But as the ubiquitous footnotes hint, read the other books!

Just as The Big Bang Theory song says “Maths, science, history, unravelling the mystery…” this book has it all, from subtle throwbacks, movie references, intertextuality, the Chrysler Building, to a very different type of submarine Bellerophon. I was surprised by an unexpected, unnamed Special Guest appearance—breaking the fourth wall—I would love to say who and why but in respect to spoilers I will abstain.

Over the years, author Jasper Fforde’s signature wit has given his readers a slightly skewed look at locations in Wales but this time it’s Penzance where Bergerac TV actor John Nettles has become an icon, venerated with a bronze statue in the town square. Jennifer ponders her life as she strolls through beautiful Morrab Gardens.

+Jasper Fforde will be in North Cornwall for the Book Festival 24-25 September 2022+

I think Royal pomp and circumstance take a bit of a pounding in this Dragonslayer plot, so the unscheduled appearance of Molly the Troll is a zany twist. As Jennifer says “I can’t think of much that isn’t weird about all this.” The wizard Great Zambini says “Bigger and bolder than anything you can imagine” and he’s right. Jennifer knows a reconnoitre is needed so she and the dragons set off on a dangerous mission with devastating results and further repercussions.

Great quotes emerge from The Great Troll War.

For instance the soulless sorcerer Mighty Shandar outlines his evil plan “A conscience is as much a barrier to knowledge as biology is to eternal life.”

But he doesn’t hear these words:

“Shandar knows that while utter ruthlessness is a useful skill for taking power,” said Mother Zenobia, head of the Sisters of the Lobster Orphanage, “it’s overrated when it comes to keeping power… it’s amazing how quickly subjects tire of their tyrant once the mass murder begins.”

The Great Troll War by Jasper Fforde
Last Dragonslayer Series

The Great Troll War is the ingenious fourth and final book in The Last Dragonslayer series promoted at young adult readers but I believe it sits nicely in that unique niche reserved for novels devoured by all age groups. Those interested in a retro-present-day twist on believability, tweaking the norm and perhaps even glimpsing into the future while grounded in the everyday.

Find out the truth about the orphanage and Jennifer’s absentee parents, what role buttons play, and how not to recruit warriors. Oh, yes, stay away from creepy Hollow Men. I loved the chunks of humour and lightbulb moments as strategies are worked out amid the ever-present whiff of disaster and universal annihilation.

At the heart of The Great Troll War Jasper Fforde has written a relatable fantasy sci-fi story about the power of friendship and trust, with strong messages on clear-thinking and using available knowledge to work out the best, most logical and kindest way to end a war before it starts.

Jennifer certainly has a tough job.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

———————————

The Last Dragonslayer synopsis for the series below:

Dragon image not on bookcover © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

The Last Dragonslayer (2010)
In which we meet Jennifer Strange, learn about Kazam and a Dragon is despatched but not without magnificent events that lead on to a Big Magic.

The Song of the Quarkbeast (2011)
The King wants to control magic and use it for his own ends, but Jennifer and Kazam will not let that happen, and we learn what may happen if Quarkbeasts collide.

The Eye of Zoltar (2013)
Jennifer goes on what is emphatically not a quest in the Cambrian Empire. She finds the mysterious Eye of Zoltar and also learns a thing or two about Jeopardy Tourism.

The Great Troll War (2021)
A ramshackle band of humans hold out against the Troll invaders led by Jennifer Strange. An evil mastermind is plotting a dastardly plan, and all seems hopeless. Or is it?

Special Features section on the website has details about each book, places to order it, and a host of extra information. None of Jasper Fforde’s books have a chapter 13. You can read more on his website: FAQ

Addendum: I often recommend Jasper Fforde’s books (one reviewed for Reading Wales #dewithon) and have always admired his inventive out-there writing style. Try the series Thursday Next or Nursery Crimes, or one of his stand-alone novels like The Constant Rabbit. GBW.

Reading Wales ‘Black Valley’ by Charlotte Williams #Dewithon22

Second book in the Jessica Mayhew series © setting Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

Welsh author Charlotte Williams created a gripping, atmospheric crime novel of high emotion and psychological fear. Written in 2014 ‘Black Valley’ is the second book in the Dr Jessica Mayhew series, a literary symphony of tension, dark imaginings and worst possible scenarios.

A phobia I have was triggered and at times I almost stopped reading. However, I was Reading For Wales and I felt I owed it to the author and the character, psychotherapist Jessica Mayhew, to see it through to the bitter end.

Jess consults with a new patient Elinor Powell, an artist who seems fragile but in fact is quite annoyed at her twin sister Isobel, angry at her famous mother’s sudden and suspicious death, and quite demanding of Jess’s time.

Soon after the consultation, Jess’s best friend, straight-talking Mari, gives her an invitation to attend a private art viewing at the Cardiff art museum. Unwittingly Jess meets Elinor and her circle of friends from the Welsh arts scene. Particular focus is on the emergence of reclusive ex-miner Welsh Valley’s artist Hefin Morris who is touted by art dealer Blake Thomas and handsome art critic Professor Jacob Dresler as ‘the most exciting painter working in Britain today.‘ Jess queries their promotional hype.

The Hefin Morris artwork has strong depictions of the aftermath of destruction at the closure of the mines. A recurring theme echoes through the book ‘The crumbling of the infrastructure, the moral and spiritual vacuum created in the wake of that implosion, a landscape that bore silent witness to the ravages of coalmining – the heritage of the Rhondda. The abandoned landscape becomes a character in its own right’.

Dolbadarn Castle, Caernarfon 1798 by J M W Turner https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolbadarn_Castle_(Turner)

Jess is a newly separated single parent struggling with her estranged husband, and two daughters who live with her, but nevertheless she hits it off with Jacob Dresler. They hook up and become a couple, going out together and then away for the weekend to Twr Tal, Tall Tower, in the valley of Cwm Du, Black Valley. Atmosphere plus! But that’s when events go badly wrong and there is a death. Who is responsible for the tragedy? Jess has niggling fears that her new friends are not who they seem.

Against her better judgement, one thing quickly leads to another and Jess becomes a therapist-turned-detective. She calls DS Lauren Bonetti for guidance as she is slowly drawn into Elinor’s twin-dynamic world of manipulation. Circumstances spiral out of control while tension escalates and Jess is put in a very dangerous situation.

I was still not sure who was good and who was bad and what would be revealed as the story advanced to the final chapters. There is a section where the action is a bit contrived and I wondered if Jess would do such a silly thing considering her work ethics, but events quickly moved forward.

The ending appears inconclusive—but wait, there’s more. And it is certainly chilling how closure is drawn contrary to reader expectation. ‘Black Valley’ would suite a crime club or reading group interested in discussing trust and relationship issues.

I was saddened to read that author Charlotte Williams died of cancer prior to this book being published. It is a tribute to her writing talent. In my opinion, it sets the marker high for good quality crime novels and exposes the shallow scripting currently prevalent.

GBW22

Interestingly a second ‘Black Valley’ edition has the same bookcover as my copy and publishers Pan Macmillan have the date 2018 with Jessica Mayhew’s client as Pandora Powell not Elinor.

Throughout my copy of the book, Jacob Dresler is just called Dresler but there is a chapter inconsistency where he is only referred to as Jacob. Perhaps the book has been re-edited and re-released. Whatever: I thoroughly enjoyed this gripping narrative!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

My thanks to Book Jotter, Paula Bardell-Hedley, for instigating #Dewithon22.
This is the fourth year I have participated and each time I have read eye-opening, unforgettable books set in Wales. Actually I have a couple more to read before the end of the month. Will I make it?

FYI: The House on the Cliff is the first book in the proposed Jessica Mayhew series if you are considering reading either for #Dewithon22.

https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2022/03/07/reading-wales-dewithon22-has-arrived/

Happy reading – darllen hapus 🙂
https://bookjotter.com/2022/03/01/reading-wales-2022/

Reading Wales ‘Turning Points in Welsh History’ Bromfield and Madoc-Jones #Dewithon22

University of Wales Press, Cardiff (Published 2004) University of Wales Press celebrating 100 years of publishing 1922 to 2022

What a rip-roaring, no holds barred non-fiction account of living, working and being Welsh from 1485 to 1914. Questions like “Should Henry VII be a Welsh Hero?” and interesting historical facts I did not know like “The Rebecca Riots”. This comes under the heading “Were the Welsh people Troublemakers in the 19th Century?” but I think they had good cause to rebel.

Another section explains why William Morgan’s translation of the Bible into Welsh in 1588 was a turning-point for bilingual Wales, keeping their language alive.

Stuart Bromfield, Euryn Madoc-Jones and University of Wales Press have compiled this historical overview for school use. Five hundred years over 175 pages with notes for students and teachers. Illustrations, paintings, drawings and photographs create an excellent visual guide to the standard of living for both rich and poor.

Royal taxes, crime and punishment, and the struggles of ordinary people to make a living and put food on the table are not glossed over. During the winter months, women gathered to knit woollen stockings. According to Thomas Pennant (1777) there was a good market for them.

Amid the turmoil Mrs Rose Crawshay, who lived in Cyfarthfa Castle with 72 rooms and umpteen servants, helped the poor with soup kitchens and free libraries and encouraged women to read.

I bow in respect to the forgotten women “hauliers” who hauled materials from the pit face, removed coal from stone, and used large axes to break up iron stone at the surface of the mine. And I am very grateful that I never had the laborious job of five year-old “trappers” who opened and closed the pit doors all day. I hope food and a hug awaited them at the end of each gruelling day.

The industrious slate quarries, coal mines, copper and iron industries are mentioned in grim detail; such dirty, dangerous work and ultimately the rich got richer while the workers died of cholera, malnutrition and lung disease. Then the mining industries collapsed: people and landscapes bore witness to the ravages created by two centuries of coalmining.

Every country has a sad past, but the Welsh rose above it. Fellowship was strong, art and leisure time increased, choirs created “The Land of Song” and rugby players excelled. Education, religion, literature, music and the inevitable politics flourished.

Of course, citizens have their own view of their country which may differ but this book satisfied my curiosity. It has made me more aware of the Welsh families who travelled across the seas to Australia in search of a new life. Ipswich City, not far up the highway from Brisbane City, has strong Welsh ties—but that’s for another day.

Excerpt from UWP website
by
Natalie Williams
Director, University of Wales Press

“We are publishing two celebratory titles to mark our first 100 years; The History of Wales in 12 Poems by M Wynn Thomas and Dychmygu Iaith by Mererid Hopwood; re-sharing the first articles of the Press’ journals, as well as hosting a very special Centenary event in the Senedd, and events at the Hay Festival and Eisteddfod Genedlaethol during the summer.

“Our Centenary year 2022 will also see a very special announcement – the launch of a brand new imprint to serve a trade (non-fiction) readership. The imprint will offer fascinating and engaging stories, aimed at a global trade audience, with our distinct Welsh perspective and flavour. Our first books publish this year, with news and updates in the coming months until the formal launch in the Autumn.”

_________________

I think their History of the Press is well worth reading. And, of course, University of Wales Press has hundreds of books you can buy and read during #Dewithon22.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

My thanks to Book Jotter, Paula Bardell-Hedley, for instigating #Dewithon22. This is the fourth year I have participated and each time I have read eye-opening, unforgettable books set in Wales. Actually I have a couple more to read this month!

Reading Wales ‘The Owl Service’ by Alan Garner #Dewithon22

The Owl Service by Alan Garner was a totally unexpected read for me. For a start the title does not refer to a Harry Potter-style owl delivery service. First published in 1967, I read the 2017 50th Anniversary Edition and had to adjust my thinking.

Reading Wales 2022 #dewithon22

Winner of the Carnegie Medal and The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Alan Garner’s story is set during summertime in an old house in a picturesque Welsh valley. There is a wonderful introduction by Philip Pullman and The Observer writes ‘Remarkable… a rare imaginative feast, and the taste it leaves is haunting’. Susan Cooper adds ‘The power and range of Alan Garner’s astounding talent has grown with every book he’s written’.

Okay, let’s get the owl service bit out of the way. It refers to a dinner service (plates) long hidden in the attic above young Alison’s bedroom where she is convalescing from a tummy bug. From the moment she sees them, she is besotted with the curious floral owl pattern and begins to copy them onto paper, cutting and folding them into tiny owls, little realising her actions will unleash events that affect several lives. Thus the atmosphere gets a little bit odd as ancient mythological forces seem to stir in the Welsh countryside.

Teenagers, Alison and her stepbrother Roger, and local lad Gwyn feel the vibes but only the caretaker Huw Halfbacon seems to understand it. The youngsters devise ways to get hold of all the owl plates because Gwyn’s mother Nancy, the cook, is horrified at their discovery and warns the children off. Too late, of course, and gradually they become not only secretive but snippy-snappy with each other and resentful of arrangements they have no control over, mainly their parents. Adult dad Clive seems to be the only calm one.

Added to the owl mystery is the local legend of a man who takes another man’s wife Blodeuwedd, a woman made from flowers. Retribution involves a rock and a spear which supposedly speared straight through the rock killing the man.

After a swim in the river, Roger discovers this rock with the hole: the Stone of Gronw. He’s an amateur photographer (think rolls of B&W film and F-stops) and muses over the paradox as he lines up trees on the horizon. This significance (and others!) was lost on me. What were the odd sounds like scratching, the motor bike, villagers mumbling or even Huw’s strange pronouncements?

Amazing artwork is found hidden in the billiard room of a dairy shed conversion. Behind the pebble-dash wall is a vision of womanly loveliness or perhaps evil? The trio are uneasy. Is it payback for that bygone grievance? Is floral Nature emerging to take revenge? The most puzzling question is what roles do the paper owls play and why are they vanishing? These vignettes do not bode well and I was floundering for a rationale, trying to conjure an explanation. Is it that the clues are merely to mislead the reader? (Here I pause thoughtfully to study the subtext, slowly untangling it)

I enjoyed the snippets of daily life, e.g. Gwyn pulls up lettuces for dinner, the teenagers visit a nearby shop—a front room in a cottage—and the casual way they talk about pocket money and cigarettes. Gwyn tells Alison he’s getting ‘out of this place’ and she says ‘I thought it meant a lot to you’ and Gwyn replies ‘It does. But you can’t eat a feeling.’

PAGE 122 THE OWL SERVICE BY ALAN GARNER

As tension mounts within the families, Gwyn likes Alison and he fights with his mother who wants to leave. I kept wondering where things were heading. The way is not clear-cut. At times I found the writing style difficult to get into and emotionally overwrought. Alison is the mercurial girl and Roger the snobbish boy; cruel things are said, especially to Gwyn and eventually he cracks under pressure. Huw watches on… this is where things get fast and furious and brilliantly captures the angst, the rain, the mountains, the desperate urge to escape.

The awe-inspiring Welsh setting, and the subtle way author Alan Garner has subverted the norm, is intriguing. Garner actually stayed in the valley where he based his story, using ‘an expression of the myth’ the legend of mythical woman Blodeuwedd and he carried out extensive research—even the owl plates are real, designed by Christopher Dresser sometime between 1862 and 1904.

The characters are fleshed out by their dialogue alone (not Welsh) and everyone plays their part—perhaps leaning towards a stage play ensemble. Indeed The Owl Service was made into a Granada Television series of the same name in 1969, and was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 2000. (Wikipedia facts behind the book)

Another Welsh fantasy novel of the 1960s written by Susan Cooper Over Sea, Under Stone indicates that Young Adult fiction in general began to thrive in this decade as books were being published and marketed expressly at teenagers.

I would suggest The Owl Service rating as mild fantasy with a psychological twist. It is certainly a literary milestone, although I did wonder if millennial teenagers were reading it. In my opinion, this story is more suited to those who have lived through the no-internet era. Enjoyable, yes, but far removed from the type of graphic and immersive YA fantasy novels published today.

My thanks to Book Jotter, Paula Bardell-Hedley, for instigating #Dewithon22. This is the fourth year I have participated and each time I have read eye-opening, unforgettable books set in Wales.

Actually I have a couple more to read this month!

https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2022/03/07/reading-wales-dewithon22-has-arrived/

Happy reading – darllen hapus 😀

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Ethel Turner Wrote More Than Seven Little Australians

King Anne by Ethel Turner was published in 1921 and my great aunt gifted this novel to her sister, my paternal grandmother, at Christmastime in 1922 after she had first read it. Many years passed by and when Grandma thought the time was right she passed King Anne on to me.

Unfortunately at that time I was not the least bit interested.

British-born Australian author Ethel Turner (1870-1958) was a novelist and children’s literature writer. She wrote over 30 books and collections of short stories and verse, mostly centred around girls and for girls. King Anne was Turner’s thirty-sixth published work.

Perhaps because I didn’t quite get into her first novel, the epic family saga Seven Little Australians (1894) of which NSW State Library holds the original hand-written manuscript, I therefore gave pseudo-royal King Anne’s weighty tome (as it seemed to me at the time) a wide detour.

The bookcover faded and King Anne languished for many, many years on the family bookshelves, sandwiched between ancient copies of Kidnapped, Pilgrims Progress and Wind in the Willows, and enduring several moves until by some quirk of fate I reached for it today February 2022 when my great aunt and grandmother would have read it one hundred years ago. (Shivers)

I have no memory of the storyline. Now I WILL have to read it!

First I shall create a pictorial and some background information—

The book has foxing and is not in good condition but you can see the etiquette of the time. Written in brackets underneath ETHEL TURNER is the abbreviation Mrs coupled with her husband’s name thus Mrs H. R. Curlewis. Herbert Raine Curlewis was a judge.

The frontispiece and three illustration plates are beautifully rendered, showing family life at the time. They are miniature works of art in their own right, sometimes removed and framed by the book owner. The far right image was adapted and embossed on the front cover of King Anne.

The artist has not been acknowledged and from online booksellers information you can take your pick. Possibly Harold Copping, and it seems A.J. Johnson‘s small-format illustrations were later replaced by full page works from J. Macfarlane. Each had illustrated books for Ethel Turner.

Inside the back leaves of King Anne (you leaf through a book because the pages are called leaves) under the heading Charming Stories by Isabel M Peacocke – another author of similar genre – there is a rather ambiguous book review of My Friend Phil (1915) from a Queensland Times reviewer which reads “… without doubt the best since Ethel Turner took the reading world by storm with her ‘Seven Little Australians’…” poor Isabel M Peacocke.

The difference between the size and weight of these two books was misleading until held in my hands. Natasha Pulley’s The Kingdoms is a slimmer volume with a lighter bookcover and thinner pages compared to Ethel Turner’s bulky King Anne with its fabric-over-cardboard bookcover, cotton stitching and stiff parchment-like pages. The modern publication is 200g heavier.

Australian author Ethel Turner booklist:

Seven Little Australians (1894)
The Family at Misrule (1895)
Story of a Baby (1895)
Little Larrikin (1896)
Miss Bobbie (1897)
Camp at Wandining (1898)
Gum Leaves (1900)
Three Little Maids (1900)
Wonder Child (1901)
Little Mother Meg (1902)
Raft in the Bush (1902)
Betty & Co (1903)
Mothers Little Girl (1904)
White Roofed Tree (1905)
In the Mist of the Mountains (1906)
Walking to School (1907)
Stolen Voyage (1907)
Happy Hearts (1908)
That Girl (1908)
Birthday Book (1909)
Fugitives from Fortune (1909)
Fair Ines (1910)
An Orge up to Date (1911)
Apple of Happiness (1911)
Fifteen & Fair (1911)
Ports & Happy Havens (1911)
Tiny House (1911)
Secret of the Sea (1913)
Flower O’ the Pine (1914)
The Cub (1915)
John of Daunt (1916)
Captain Cub (1917)
St Tom & The Dragon (1918)
Brigid & the Cub (1919)
Laughing Water (1920)
**King Anne (1921)
Jennifer, J. (1922)
Sunshine Family (1923)
(with Jean Curlewis her daughter)
Nicola Silva (1924)
Ungardeners (1925)
Funny (1926)
Judy & Punch (1928)
**King Anne is Number 36 on this list and according to the list in my book (photo above) this was her 21st novel.

Ethel Turner’s literary works have been largely forgotten but she, and a handful of other women writers, paved the way for Australian books for Australian children. My grandparents were educated with, and read, British books, so I admire Ethel Turner’s achievements. The following websites make interesting reading – GBW.

Tea With Ethel Turner by author blogger Rowena (link below) is exceptionally well written and researched. On my own research, so far I have found scant reference to King Anne.

https://teawithethelturner.com/category/seven-little-australians/

https://biblio.com.au/king-anne-by-turner-ethel/work/1139377

https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/turner-ethel-mary-8885

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/t/ethel-turner/

https://australianwomenwriters.com/

Important Addendum: Australian Women Writers Challenge The Early Years is concentrating on past Australian women writers of all genres who were published then faded away. AWW have restructured their blog to highlight the writing of earlier Australian women; works published 50+ years ago. If you happen to find and read a forgotten gem, AWW would be interested in your book review.

I will be posting my King Anne review in due course. In the meantime, perhaps YOU might find another first edition little-known Ethel Turner on your bookshelf?

Classics deserve to be read again!

 Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Ethel Turner’s first home ‘Woodlands’ NSW as it was in 1892. Ethel is pictured on the right side of the verandah, her older sister and fellow author Lillian is on the left. The gentleman on the horse is unnamed, possibly Herbert Curlewis. The residence has been added to and greatly altered over many years. Picture: Mrs Phillipa Poole

‘Woodlands’ (circa 1884) information and photographs compiled by Alison Cheung, writer and real estate reporter.

‘Avenel’ (circa 1906) compiled and posted by David Carment Lost Mosman from various sources with his photographs and others courtesy of Mosman Library.

Book Review ‘Sweet Jimmy’ by Bryan Brown

Background orchids image © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021 and photographed at The Tropic Gardener of Brisbane https://thetropicgardener.com.au/

I was absorbed and entertained all the way through this book.  Pared down storytelling, laced with moral ambiguity, shouting Australian crime noir.  Does author Bryan Brown know these blokes, hear good stories down the pub, or possess a very robust imagination?

Love his unabashed style ‘Clinton buys himself a pepper pie and a chocolate milk’.

Australians need no introduction to Bryan Brown, an actor of many characters in many movies around the world yet he remains true to his homeland (see ABC1 TV series ‘Old School’) and this new book of short stories highlight his considerable talent as an author.

It is refreshing to read a book of short stories which speaks to my generation of Australians: relationships, morals, turn-of-phrase, scenery, all genuine and if you can’t keep up that’s your problem – work on it.

Even if short stories are not your thing, be surprised at how well these work in such a compact way.

‘Sweet Jimmy’

Professor Leong asks why Frank missed his last counselling appointment.  ‘It gets in the way of my revenge,’ says straight-forward Frank. My favourite!

These men love their families yet, like Frank, they show questionable behaviour to avenge them.

The bookcover image, a Phalaenopsis orchid, ties-in with a story where both sides of the law are involved.

Alert – Sexist comment ahead…

From a woman’s perspective I thought Typical Males but I think from a male’s point of view the characters could be genuine mates in a bad place.  Not their fault, they scheme, they seek revenge.  They plot their way through sad, unjust or criminal situations which end with a tenebrous finale.

Also, there is one story I consider to be a Stephen King homage.

This compilation encapsulates the essence of crime fiction. Reminiscent of Peter Corris’ Cliff Hardy series, Bryan Brown plays it low-key but maybe one of his laconic blokes will soon score their own book. 

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

New Zealand Mystery ‘Cardamine’ by Jennifer Barraclough

The year is 2019, and backpacking tourist Kate explores the sights of Auckland in New Zealand’s North Island, sampling food and wine pre-Covid, unaware she will become involved in a mysterious incident. It all starts on a vineyard wine-tasting tour when Kate meets Vivian Anderson, an eccentric and wealthy older man who talks in great swathes of dialogue.  When calamity strikes, causing Kate to miss her flight back home to UK, Vivian suggests a stopover in his country residence ‘Cardamine’.   

Kate appears naïve but weighs up the pros and cons and accepts Vivian’s offer of accommodation which certainly makes her holiday more enjoyable.  However, not everyone is happy with this open-ended arrangement. Outspoken housekeeper Elly thinks her boss Vivian is yet again being taken advantage of by a woman, namely Kate.

Also, Elly doesn’t have a good word to say about Vivian’s ‘mail order’ wife Tatyana who suddenly vanished, leaving everything behind. The big question is ‘Where did she go?’  When exploring the house and grounds, Kate sees an abandoned pond at the bottom of the garden which strikes her as being rather peculiar.

Thirty year-old Kate texts and writes on-again off-again emails to her boyfriend Orlando who would like her to come home.  Kate is undecided on this, having developed a crush on Silvio who works in the local Red Lotus café.  She seems to fall on her feet meeting nice people like the café owner Lawan who fills her up on food and local information. 

It’s all glorious beaches and swimming with Silvio, driving an Aston Martin and playing a baby grand piano, but Kate does appreciate Vivian’s hospitality. At one stage she overhauls the kitchen cupboards and makes him wholesome meals instead of the usual pre-packaged deliveries, thus cooking becomes her daily task.

Vivian enjoys Kate’s company and talks like an endearing encyclopaedia, causing her to suspect he may be on the autism spectrum. He obviously misses his wife Tatyana. Kate grows inquisitive and decides to investigate Tatyana’s disappearance. Events heat up and nasty things happen which lead the impulsive Kate into a messy and dangerous situation.

‘Cardamine’ is suitable for a general audience, but for me the overall tension could have been stronger, particularly with the themes of xenophobia, drug references and immigration fraud. In parts of the story, telling is used instead of showing (e.g. pohutukawa tree?) and I think greater use of the five senses would not have gone amiss—then along comes a glowing chapter like Kate’s first hot southern climate Christmas. Worth reading!

An intriguing combination of travelogue and cosy mystery, author Jennifer Barraclough has created an excellent cast of characters with a neat plot twist and unexpected ending. GBW

With more to explore, perhaps there is a possibility of further NZ adventures for Kate.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

BACKGROUND https://jenniferbarraclough.com/2021/11/03/writing-as-an-englishwoman-in-new-zealand/

Quote “Most novels contain elements of autobiography and the setting for this one was informed by my own memories of visiting New Zealand for the first time, discovering the beautiful beaches and countryside, the enticing vineyards and coffee shops. Several North Island locations – Waiheke, Browns Bay, Riverhead Forest, Muriwai – are featured in the book.”

My thanks to author Jennifer Barraclough for a review copy of ‘Cardamine’.

WEBSITE AND BLOG https://www.jenniferbarraclough.com

‘CARDAMINE’ is available in either paperback or Kindle formats from your local Amazon website.

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE https://www.amazon.com/Jennifer-Barraclough/e/B001HPXGZI

PREVIOUSLY REVIEWED ‘You Yet Shall Die’ https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2020/04/19/review-you-yet-shall-die-by-jennifer-barraclough/

Book Review ‘Apples Never Fall’ Liane Moriarty

Photograph © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

Years ago, I wrote on the office whiteboard “Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is going to be huge.”  And it was. Now comes Apples Never Fall, another exceptional addition to the Moriarty canon, an enthralling novel of thought-provoking misdirection, a blueprint of interior family life, a drama so emotionally complex that I thought it was either a memoir, or years of studying suburban families.

In this case it’s the Delaney family with their tennis fixation, the obsessive training and competition of tennis, and its aftermath soaking into decades of their family relationships.

I followed the sudden arrival of stranger Savannah Pagonis, a cooking wiz, into the unsuspecting Delaney household, and discovered how Joy and Stan Delaney handle this peculiar arrangement while coping with retirement and the dysfunctional lives of four Delaney children now adults.

When matriarch Joy mysteriously disappears, the overarching plot hinges on “Joy, dead or alive?” and is set in present time with flashbacks. Husband Stan and deceptive Savannah are under suspicion, and here clues are planted, the trail of breadcrumbs laid for the observant reader.

Sprinkled throughout the story are friends, neighbours and comic relief from police duo DC Christina Khoury and PC Ethan Lim who struggle with their missing person investigation.

In the case of Savannah and the Delaney siblings Amy, Troy, Logan and Brooke, as youngsters they never seemed to trot off to school. Perhaps an alert teacher could have helped. However, I am sure readers will recognise their fraternal traits as grown-ups.  Character-wise I think son Logan is great, followed by unfathomable dad Stan.

Seventy-one domestic drama chapters unfold in all their glory; chapter 52 is cataclysmic, chapter 53 almost poetry.  At times the plot framework showed, the screenwriting element intruded, and I did not particularly like the odd use of “Troy’s father” or “Amy’s mother” instead of their names but these are minor points; the dialogue pulsates and glows.

Liane Moriarty writes breathtaking dialogue and suspenseful moments leaving no stone unturned on this rocky domestic landscape.

“Apples Never Fall”

The sense of place is strong and even though there is a lot going on, Moriarty has written an intimate narrative of social and relationship enlightenment which got me recalling my own younger life, the missed cues and insights the older me now recognises.

As the innermost workings of the Delaney family are laid bare, Moriarty’s writing transcends game, set and match, particularly relating to Joy and motherhood.  Wow, I could read out pages of Joy and defy any woman to say she hasn’t felt the same at some point in her life.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Rating “Apples Never Fall”

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Shape poetry source unknown

Book Review ‘The Others’ Mark Brandi

Image © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

A boy gets a diary for his 11th birthday, to help with his writing practice. What begins as an innocent account of a child’s daily life quickly becomes for the reader something much darker.

We see the world through the eyes of a child, written with masterful naivety by Mark Brandi that few authors manage to capture. The boy tells us about his daily routine, his schoolwork, the farm work he and his father do, and the names of his favourite sheep. He tells us about his father’s ‘gold tooth’ – the way he knows his father’s smile is genuine, and how he misses seeing it more because the rain hasn’t come. He tells us how he’s learnt ‘being taught something’ is different to ‘being taught a lesson’. Through our story-teller, we begin to cotton on that life on the farm is anything but normal. Our main character has only ever known this world; we know better.

The stick against the tree trunk © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

The story is written in a way that drags you in and pulls you along, unwillingly at times as the brutality of nature is so vividly portrayed (and sketched) by our young protagonist. His father, stern and scarce with his affection, runs through the narrative with an enigmatic, threatening presence – the reader gets to see more than our protagonist does, which adds to the tension. We understand; his son does not.

The cast is light-on. The father and son are central, we have some animal characters, and four people mostly alluded too – his mother, and three Others. The beauty of The Others is that we don’t need anyone else; the sense of Tasmanian isolation and the terror that comes with it really makes the story.

Images © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

As plots go, there isn’t the traditional rollercoaster ride of some thrillers. Instead, there is a slow rolling on of dread which grows with each secret our protagonist keeps from his father – a note, voices heard in the dead of night, a strange noise in the trees – that finally comes to a traumatic head in the final chapters. The resolution is swift, underwhelming; it leaves more questions than it answers. We puzzle together the last terrible clues and are left with a sense that life could never be the same again.

© Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

Only one thing let the book down for me – the voice of our protagonist changed. In the final act he goes from using the childish descriptions of a boy to a very deliberate ‘lyrical’ style of the author. Descriptions took priority and it felt jarringly unnatural from our protagonist to be spouting self-reflective prose. However, for the most part, the ‘voice’ of our main character stayed the same, without ever compromising on storytelling.

The most interesting thing for me was that names were never used. Our main character’s name – Jacob – was never said by his father; only once in a letter, on basically the last page. His father’s name was never given at all. The only character named in full was Jacob’s mother. It was a surprise for me that a story could flow so well without ever really giving itself away – we never quite find out all the details. The mystery is left open for our interpretation, and in the end, that’s the scariest part of all.

I would give The Others 4/5 stars because nothing is perfect but this gets pretty dang close.

Gretchen Bernet-Wardin collaboration with Dot Bernet.

________________________________

AUTHOR PROFILE

Mark Brandi’s bestselling novel, Wimmera, won the coveted British Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger, and was named Best Debut at the 2018 Australian Indie Book Awards. It was also shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards Literary Fiction Book of the Year, and the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year. His second novel, The Rip, was published to critical acclaim by Hachette Australia in March 2019. Mark published The Others in 2021.

Mark had shorter works appear in The Guardian, The Age, the Big Issue, and in journals both here and overseas. His writing is also sometimes heard on ABC Radio National.

Mark graduated with a criminal justice degree and worked extensively in the justice system, before changing direction and deciding to write. Originally from Italy, he grew up in rural Victoria, and now lives in Melbourne and is creating his next work of fiction.

PRAISE FOR THE OTHERS

“Spare yet emotionally sumptuous… laced with page-turning suspense, and a creeping sense of dread that turns into something excruciatingly claustrophobic as it builds to its heart-pounding crescendo”

SIMON MCDONALD, POTTS POINT BOOKSHOP AND WORDPRESS BLOGGER

Review ‘The Emporium of Imagination’ Tabitha Bird

Image © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

A tale of love, loss, grief and healing wrapped in magical realism and suitable for a wide range of readers.  Families in this story have lost loved ones and are either handling their grief, not handling it, or ignoring it.  They carry suppressed fears, squashed desires, and unfulfilled dreams but The Emporium of Imagination is here to help.  And help it does, in the strangest of ways.  I know the town of Boonah (and the camel farm) and felt an affinity as the story unfolded but apart from Story Tree café and Blumbergville Clock in High Street, similarities ended there.

A man, a cat and a key arrive with The Emporium and set up shop in the main street of Boonah, offering special ‘phones’, strange notes on scraps of paper and the ability to hear human grief in all its stages.  Although this may sound gloomy, at worst depressing, the characters keep things moving, offering the reader many POVs and scenarios ranging from timidity to teen humour, guilt to anger, regret, and worse case scenarios like replaying the death of a loved one.  The narrative often has dreamlike suspension of disbelief but the heartache is real.  

The iconic clock mentioned in the book is named after the original Blumbergville settlement in Boonah and is made out of old farming and industrial equipment. In 2014, Boonah artist Christopher Trotter created the clock with Boonah clock-maker David Bland designed to mark the town’s rural heritage.

The Emporium’s former custodian, Earlatidge Hubert Umbray, gives way to a new curator who decides not to answer the special ‘phone’ but believes the townspeople of Boonah deserve hope ‘I can’t take that away from them’ although cynical me wonders if it would give false hope?  Surely a nicely worded pep talk about getting on with your life and following those cherished dreams would work?  However, the story is more restrained than that and gently imparts the whys and wherefores of coping with grief. 

I felt the inside of The Emporium was a bit Disney-movie.  While I tried to put my own emotions into a character, the practicable side of me could not relate to uncertain concepts.  Would a final ‘phone call’ to the recently deceased help the person in mourning, or would it tip them over the brink?  Items include Ladybird lollipops (nobody pays for goods); special connections to memorabilia; a notebook which turns up in the oddest places for select clientele; and a subtle cat with an unsubtle name.

In the last pages of the book I found the experiences of author Tabitha Bird just as moving as the characters in the book (poor dear Enoch) but that’s just me.  There is an end page headed The Owner’s Guide To Grieving in keeping with The Emporium’s roving notebook, offering the opportunity to write in ‘A quiet space to simply be’. I read a new library book so abstained from writing on the page—I bet someone does.

Now I’m off to bake Bedtime Muffins from Isaac’s (Enoch’s dad) recipe!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Grantham Gatton Helidon Road vintage shop © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2019

The Oldest Foods on Earth

The Oldest Foods On Earth cookbook photo © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

‘The Oldest Foods on Earth’ introduction by author John Newton who asks ‘What do I mean by Australian native produce?’

Quote “Indigenous foods we have always eaten, e.g. oysters, crabs, rock crayfish and all the fish that swim around us… and varieties of duck and quail… but outside the familiar are an estimated 6,000 edible plants including 2,400 fruiting trees in south-east Queensland alone, and 2,000 truffles or subterranean mushrooms.  Of those, 6,000 non-Indigenous Australians currently use less than fifty.

“Why should you eat these foods?  Firstly, for their unique flavours, then for their nutrient values… they are among the richest on the planet in the nutrients we need for health.

“This book is a guide on how to source, select and cook with Australian native produce ingredients.” © John Newton 2019

Published by NewSouth Publishing Australia with recipes from chefs such as Peter Gilmore, Maggie Beer and René Redzepi’s sous chef Beau Clugston. ‘The Oldest Foods on Earth’ will convince you that this is one food revolution that really matters.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Indigenous painting ‘Possums and Tall Trees’ an Arabana ILF children’s book by Aunty Kathy Arbon 2018

DID YOU KNOW? Former teacher Suzy Wilson, the owner of Riverbend Books in Bulimba, Brisbane, got the ball rolling in 2004 when she launched the Riverbend Readers Challenge to raise money to boost literacy levels. The Challenge grew, and then teamed up with the Fred Hollows Foundation and the Australian Book Industry to become the Indigenous Literacy Project in 2007. In 2011 it was superseded by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), a national not-for-profit charity focussed on improving literacy levels in very remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Source https://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/

‘Sanditon’ TV Drama Series

Jane Austen’s unfinished heroine, Charlotte Heywood, is invited to Sanditon, a small coastal village undergoing modern changes to become a fashionable seaside resort (with revolutionary sea bathing) and she soon finds herself navigating the high ambitions of its architect Tom Parker, the family affairs of wealthy benefactor Lady Denham, and the secrets of village life. There are, of course, two handsome suitors. But a very important question hangs in the air—will Sanditon be a successful venture?

Sanditon, an eight-part drama from Jane Austen’s last and unfinished novel adapted by Andrew Davies, left fans of the TV series divided by the uncharacteristic ending and the knowledge that there would not be another installment.

Production company Red Planet Pictures is a leading independent UK producer of high-end drama founded by multi-award winning British television writer Tony Jordan in 2006, and run with Belinda Campbell and Alex Jones whose recent productions include Sanditon, a dramatisation which caused much disarray in the Jane Austen fandom.

However, I read these recent quotes

“A second and third series were commissioned as part of a collaboration between PBS and BritBox in May 2021″

“Masterpiece PBS: After fans were left hanging in suspense by the first season’s finale and clamouring for more, the drama will continue to follow the high-spirited and independent heroine, Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) as she returns to the picturesque coastal resort of Sanditon. Charlotte’s journey is one thread of an intricate tapestry of compelling stories full of intrigue, excitement, and romance. Against the backdrop of beautiful vistas, familiar faces return and new inhabitants are introduced—all of whom will be having adventures as joyous and surprising as the seaside town itself.”

https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/a30272999/sanditon-season-2/

So, the stars over Sanditon will continue to shine.

In Australia, the first series is free-to-air on ABCTV iView. I found the story very enjoyable and loved the characters. It has been a long time since I was irate about a surprise ending although I did appreciated the way the two actors handled The Moment. Generally, I felt some liberties were taken with etiquette, the background scenery was sometimes questionable but the costumes were suitably detailed and quite lavish when the need arose.

Love it or loathe it, this is another story which will join the long list of adaptations of Jane Austen’s enduring works.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Sanditon beach cricket and Charlotte goes into bat.

Dragon Love – Julie Kagawa

Dragon © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

“I was a huge bookworm as a kid, and you could usually find me reading something with a dragon on its cover.” – Julie Kagawa.

Talon (Book #1)

“To take her rightful place in the Talon organization, young dragon Ember Hill must prove she can hide her true nature and blend in with humans. Her delight at the prospect of a summer of ‘normal’ teen experiences is short-lived, however, once she discovers that she’s also expected to train for her destined career in Talon. But a chance meeting with a rogue dragon will soon challenge everything Ember has been taught.

“As Ember struggles to accept her future, St. George soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian is tasked with hunting her down. But when faced with Ember’s bravery, confidence and all-too-human desires, Garret begins to question everything the Order has ingrained in him — and what he might be willing to give up to uncover the truth about dragons.”

Source https://www.worldsofjuliekagawa.com/page6.html#msg-box4-t

Author Julie Kagawa is a New York Times, USA TODAY and internationally bestselling author of The Iron Fey, Blood of Eden, The Talon Saga and the Shadow of the Fox series. Born in Sacramento, she has been a bookseller and an animal trainer and enjoys reading, painting, playing in her garden and training in martial arts. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and a plethora of pets.

https://www.worldsofjuliekagawa.com/

This post is for the dragon lovers in my family.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Alun Richards, Tom Jones, Helena Attlee on Wales Readathon #dewithon21

This year there is no set book for Wales Readathon 2021 so I have chosen subjects of Welsh origin which appeal to me, but it seems I have borrowed books with quite substantial content and I may not comfortably finish reading all of them within the month of March. 

BOOK ONE within the ‘Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories’ edited by Alun Richards there are twenty-four famous Welsh authors.

BOOK TWO singer Tom Jones ‘Over the Top and Back: The Autobiography’ is quite a hefty volume and packed full of action.

BOOK THREE ‘The Gardens of Wales’ compiled by garden design historian Helena Attlee, photography by Alex Ramsay, is splendidly presented in true coffee-table style with absorbing information.

You can see I love a good dose of contextual facts and photographs.  

Reviews below—on with the show

PENGUIN BOOK OF WELSH SHORT STORIES
Edited: Alun Richards
First published: 1976
Second edition: August 2011
ISBN: 9780241955468
Number of Pages: 348
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd

There are twenty-four short stories in this slim volume ‘The Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories’ edited by Alun Richards (some have been translated from the original Welsh) and I am going to list every one even though I am only half way through—

THE FASHION PLATE  –  Rhys Davies
THE GOLDEN PONY  –  Glyn Jones
ACTING CAPTAIN –  Alun Lewis
SATURDAY NIGHT  –  Geraint Goodwin
THE LOSS  –  Kate Roberts
THE BRUTE CREATION  –  Gwyn Jones
EXTRAORDINARY LITTLE COUGH  –  Dylan Thomas
A SUCCESSFUL YEAR  –  D. J. Williams
THE TEACHER  –  Gwyn Thomas
THE STRANGE APEMAN  –  E. Tegla Davies
BE THIS HER MEMORIAL  –  Caradoc Evans
THE RETURN  –  Brenda Chamberlain
TWENTY TONS OF COAL  –  B. L. Coombes
THE SQUIRE OF HAVILAH  –  T. Hughes Jones
AN OVERDOSE OF SUN  –  Eigra Lewis Roberts
THE HOUSE IN BUILTH CRESCENT  –  Moira Dearnley
BLIND DATE  –  Jane Edwards
MORFYDD’S CELEBRATION  –  Harri Pritchard Jones
A WRITER CAME TO OUR PLACE  –  John Morgan
A ROMAN SPRING  –  Leslie Norris
BEFORE FOREVER AFTER  –  Ron Berry
HON. SEC. (R.F.C.)  –  Alun Richards
BLACK BARREN  –  Islwyn Ffowc Elis
MEL’S SECRET LOVE  –  Emyr Humphreys

Backcover information reads ‘In twenty-four short stories, written by Welsh men and women, for the most part about Welsh people, we are treated to depictions of valley and mountain, country and town, as well as offered powerful and moving insights into the nature of the people.’

MY REVIEW: The calibre and wisdom of these fiction short stories blows me away, the people of Wales and the understated passion they have for their country shines through in emotive yet precisely documented stories of their era.  I was drawn into their despair and great joy of everyday life, studied and examined but never artificial.  So far the story which touched me the most is ‘The Squire of Havilah’ by T. Hughes Jones.  Behind the tale, behind the words is a great depth of understanding about a man most of us would have met or seen once and dismissed from our mind. Daniel Jones, a 40-year-old bachelor of Rhos-y-grug, is a misjudged man who, in himself, is hopeful of a wealthy future.  After being deceived and flimflammed at a fair into paying for the deeds to twenty acres of rich mineral land in Havilah, supposedly in Mesopotamia (Iraq), Jones dreams the life of a prosperous man as his farmhouse crumbles and his land turns wild around him.  Religion plays a part and Jones cannot visit his tenure because the First World War is raging.  There are other pertinent parts to the story and lessons lurk; perhaps distrust of fairground buskers.  But everyone has something going on deep in the recesses of their mind.  If you cannot help, at least acknowledge their hopes and dreams.
GBW.

OVER THE TOP AND BACK: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Author: Tom Jones
Publisher: Penguin Australia 2015
ISBN: 9780718180690
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Format: Paperback
Pages: 521 includes photographs

MY REVIEW: I will be upfront and say that so far I have not read all the chapters in the life of the inimitable Welsh singer Tom Jones.  But ‘Over the Top and Back’ has me hooked. I love reading about the lives of famous 20th century celebrities from when they came into the world until their later years.  Especially with lots and lots of old photographs like this one.  The ‘aah’ nostalgia moment happens and I remember his songs and where I was, or how old I was, when I saw him on B&W television or tuned the radio and heard his current hit.  Or bought ‘the single’ a small vinyl record. I discovered that Tom Jones adopted the name Tommy Scott for a short time but his real name is Thomas John Woodward.  In his early life, aged twelve, he contracted TB infection, not unusual in industrial Wales during that era.  He recovered after two years and wanted to be either a professional singer or a slate-faced cowboy.  He writes ‘From the kitchen of 44 Laura Street in Pontypridd in the forties, the odds of becoming one appear to be about as long as the odds on becoming the other’.  But as we know he did succeed—and what a ride—I lost track of the many famous people he met and worked with. Before knickers were tossed on stage, his raucous stage presence shone too brightly for the strict censorship laws of the time.  A censor once told him to tone himself down during the rendition of Rolling Stones song ‘Satisfaction’ because it implied sexual satisfaction. ‘Well, isn’t it?’ said Tom.  Can’t wait to read what happens when he tours America.
GBW.

THE GARDENS OF WALES
Author: Helena Attlee
Format: Hardback | 128 pages | Colour photos
Dimensions: 250 x 267 x 17.78mm | 910g
Publication: 2009
ISBN: 9780711228825
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Ltd

MY REVIEW: I have a library copy of ‘The Gardens of Wales’—like Tom Jones autobiography, it is well thumbed—and the picturesque gardens are simply stunning.  There are fine examples of unusual topiary but it’s the flights of fancy created by dedicated visionaries which I find jaw-dropping; whole gardens and parkland over untold acres with water features, profuse flowers, statues, fine lawns, hidden paths, grottoes, ancient trees, and the hard work and dedication by gardening staff.  All set against a backdrop of magnificent heritage listed Welsh homes, er, mansions, maybe castles.  Anyway, they are very grand and I hope I get to return to UK one day and visit them.  For example Wyndcliffe Court, Monmouthshire ‘Warm stone terraces, bulging topiary and a good splash of colour (plus trickling fountain and bowling green) the garden of Wyndcliffe Court bears all the hallmarks of designer H. Avray Tipping’ an artisté who loved the contrast between cultivation and natural landscape.  I admire the classical architecture of the follies, or summerhouses, often a miniature version of a stately home, fashioned for a couple to sit and partake of their view.  This book has become a bit of a rarity, however, Helena Attlee has made a career of studying and writing about spectacular gardens in many countries around the world. Both she and photographer Alex Ramsay live in Wales. Alex Ramsay’s image of the layered Orangery Terrace, Aviary Terrace and Top Terrace at Powis Castle, Montgomeryshire, is a sight to behold.
GBW.

In March 2020 last year, for the shared Wales Readathon, I ordered ‘One Moonlit Night’ by Caradog Prichard which unfortunately arrived late so I posted my review in April. It is a fascinating almost-autobiographical novel and well worth reading. But history is trying to repeat itself and the 2021 deadline is looming fast.

I will finish these books, meanwhile a halved review is better than no review, right.

See you next year, Book Jotter—darllen hapus!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Liz Byron ‘The Only Way Home’ Book Review

A memoir of singularity of purpose and a deep determination to overcome all obstacles.  Liz Byron challenges herself in every way, mentally, physically and spiritually to start afresh by walking the rugged Bicentennial National Trail towards a new, independent life.  The BNT on the Great Dividing Range on the east coast of Australia has some of the most unforgiving landscapes in the world.  Her companions on this journey are two donkeys with the wisdom of ages and Liz’s symbol, the wild watchful wedge-tail eagles.

‘The Only Way Home’ is an intimate memoir with a heartbreaking look into family life, the pain Liz suffers and the repercussions for those involved.  It also captures the freedom of walking through wide-ranging bushland, fording rivers, and making camp with two charming character-filled donkeys Grace and Charley.

Liz had previously done a lot of bushwalking but without encountering such a harsh and challenging environment. Taking the extremes of drought country in their stride, her donkeys are clever and observant, and prove they can be stubborn for good reason.  Humans just have to work out what those reasons are! Liz shows love and respect for her companions, their hardiness and their intuition. Grace and Charley each carried a load, packed and balanced, and it was amusing how they behaved when released to graze.

Interspersed with walking the Queensland section of the BNT, a trail originally intended for horses, Liz writes candidly about her fractured marriage, the love of her children and losing a child, the trauma of her own childhood and soothing meditation. A mixture of grief, courage and sheer willpower drives her forward as she launches herself into a second life in one of the most demanding ways imaginable. 

Admittedly I am not an adept hiker but some of the trials and tribulations Liz encountered would have had me stumbling to the nearest township, flagging down a four-wheel drive and heading back to Brisbane.  At one stage the soles of Liz’s hiking boots came adrift, not to mention needle-thin grass seeds digging into her skin.  Sometimes the track was marked and sometimes it was not; they traversed barren sections, steep topography, waist high grass, slippery rocks and rested at the occasional restorative oasis.

Along the way, Liz kept a journal rather than taking photographs and if she stopped for the night in solid accommodation in lieu of pitching a tent, all she needed was a table and chair to update her journal.  Liz often met farmers, cattlemen, country people, who were informative and willing to help with advice on the terrain ahead, plus an overnight paddock for her two stalwart pals.

Memorable lines from Liz ‘Folks in rural, remote, drought-stricken Queensland understood only too well the interdependent nature of being human.  I, on the other hand, was trying to resolve an inherent dichotomy: seeking my independence as a woman at the same time as being a homeless wanderer heavily reliant on cattle station people’ – Liz is a vegetarian and food was a source of uneasiness, both getting and eating, and fresh produce was always a joy – ‘My commitment to receive help graciously was Step One.’   

Charlie, the archetypal Australian bushman said ‘Don’t be tempted to leave the roadway. The country is the same in every direction. Getting lost around here is a lot easier than getting found.’

‘The Only Way Home’

I liked the way the chapters and timeline were introduced.  Backstory arrives at pertinent intervals with sections of Liz’s life before, during and after she walks the Bicentennial National Trail.  Through Liz’s retelling more shocking revelations emerge, putting her quest in sharper focus.

Just reading, without travelling alone for 2,500 kilometres with two Equus asinus companions, this memoir invoked many emotions in me. From an embattled marriage to conquering those kilometres, Liz shares the insights gained on her path to independence and healing.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


ISBN: 9781925868203
Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 257
Published: 24 Feb 2020
Publisher: Woodslane Pty Limited NSW

In her introduction, Liz Byron says ‘It was 2006, when I had been writing academic material for 20 years, before I decided to try writing my story. I had five lecture pads full of journal notes about the 2,500 kilometre trek I’d recently completed with my two donkeys. This seemed like a good place to start.  And so I did. I wrote on and off for nearly fifteen years before feeling as if I understood myself and my life well enough to explain why I had done the trek.’ My thanks to Liz Byron for a review copy, the book is available on her website here.

LIZ BYRON Q&A INTERVIEW HERE

The Bicentennial National Trail - Australia
The Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) originally known as the National Horse Trail, is one of the longest multi-use, non-motorised, self-reliant trails in the world, stretching 5,330 kilometres from Cooktown, Queensland, through New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory to Healesville, 60 km north-east of Melbourne, Victoria. This trail runs the length of the rugged Great Dividing Range through national parks, private property and alongside wilderness areas. The BNT follows old coach roads, stock routes, brumby tracks, rivers, fire trails and was originally intended for horses.  The Trail would take most of one year to walk.

Review ‘The Animals in That Country’ Laura Jean McKay

Australian native animals not include with book © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

My reading was floundering until this gleaming gem came along!  ‘The Animals in That Country’ is a novel with strange overtones and intense undercurrents.  Certainly a distinctive story with fear, confusion and confronting chapters involving the catastrophic side effects of human zooflu virus and the subsequent fallout for the animal world.

Kind of dystopian, kind of quirky,
this book made me think, it made me cringe,
it fascinated me, it troubled me,
and it will stay in my mind for a long time.

People succumb as the virus spreads across the country, or they try to outrun it, and some eventually arrive at the animal park where alcoholic ranger Jean Bennett works.  Her initial despair permeates these early chapters, both for the animals and her wayward son who causes problems.  Jean is careworn by events and decides to leave the native animal sanctuary with Dingo Sue to find her runaway family.

I may not like the disarray Jean and Dingo Sue get into as the pandemic spreads but it certainly makes riveting reading.  I trekked with them along dusty outback roads via devastated townships to reach the ocean.  They meet rough characters and conmen but Jean believes in Sue’s unerring instincts leading them towards the hypnotic seashore.

With a singular writing style, author Laura Jean McKay tackles a pandemic from a different angle.  The animals and birds are not anthropomorphised in the usual sense, and definitely not suitable for children.  At first Dingo Sue is unintelligible until gradually Jean understands the patterns of mind matching physical dialogue, and ‘speech’ is cleverly enhanced by page layouts.

The subtle yet resilient nurturing instincts of both human and animal infuses the story and this primitive and powerful connection twisted my brain.  I was gripped by the overwhelmed and distraught characters who learned that we are part of nature, dependent upon it for our existence and survival but it can drive us mad.

As I was nearing the final chapters, I heard that author McKay had won the coveted Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2021.  In a statement McKay said she had been writing a draft several years before coronavirus devastated the real world.  Apparently she was unwell with malaria-like symptoms while writing and said this may have accounted for the creeping darkness of the story, the uncertainty and panic is eerily similar.

This novel cries out for an Australian native animal bookcover ‘The clouds have parted, leaving the lit-up ghost of a dingo, a pale and vengeful ancestor on the passenger seat beside me … Her hair shifts.  Body ripples with messages that join like drops of water in the sea.’

Thoughts on ‘The Animals in That Country’

An earthy, supernatural tale, a reminder of Earl Nightingale’s quote ‘Never compete. Create’ and Laura Jean McKay has excelled.

I can highly recommend the audio book read by the author, it boosts the story to yet another level.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

PROFILE
Laura Jean McKay is the author of ‘The Animals in That Country’ (Scribe 2020) and ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ (Black Inc. 2013) shortlisted for three national book awards in Australia.  Dr McKay is a lecturer in creative writing at Massey University NZ, with a PhD from University of Melbourne focusing on literary animal studies.
LINKS
Laura Jean McKay’s bio journal
http://laurajeanmckay.com/
McKay is the ‘animal expert’ presenter on ABC Listen’s ‘Animal Sound Safari’.
https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/animal-sound-safari/
FURTHER READING
Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2021
https://www.wheelercentre.com/projects/victorian-premier-s-literary-awards-2021
Scribe Publications information
https://scribepublications.com.au/books-authors/books/the-animals-in-that-country
The Dingos of Fraser Island Queensland
https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/parks/kgari-fraser/about/fraser-island-dingoes/dingo-ecology

Jerry Seinfeld ‘Is This Anything?’ Book

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The comedy of Jerry Seinfeld is worth its weight in gold © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

Comedy gold—-I have discovered Jerry Seinfeld’s jokes, or tiny stories, are even better when read.  I can fully absorb the nuances leading to a smooth punchline, being taken by surprise, and bursting into laughter.  Fortunately in the comfort of my own home.


IMG_20200617_141756Of course, reading a Jerry Seinfeld book filled from cover to cover with his observational comedy written over five decades is best taken in small doses.


There is nothing truly personal in this book so don’t expect an autobiographical exposé of his life.  The best you are going to get under the heading of About The Author is “Jerry Seinfeld is a stand-up comedian.  He lives in New York City with his family.”

However, his life does subtly unfold throughout the book via his comedy routines, both on and off television.  I can relate to most of his observations.  Admittedly they don’t always mirror my experiences of life, but do cover a large, unavoidable portion of my existence as a human being.

Film Camera Lights Action MovieIt is fascinating to read through the decades from 1970s to 2010s.  Small bits, longer bits like “The Chicks and the Checks”, an ordinary event turned monumental.  And there’s the condensing, the immediacy of his transference, the reveal, the audience reaction he craves on stage. He couldn’t hear me laughing at the six lines of “Earthquake”.

If you’re wondering, the book title “Is This Anything?” is taken from what comedians nervously ask each other about a new bit they have written.

Seinfeld’s stand-up comedy style is a clean, straight-forward, perfectly paced delivery.  Always on the funny side, in his 452 page book plus index, he goes from being a young man to a mature adult with a family. Gradually the content and tone of the jokes change, a kitchen sponge talks, technology invades and “Device Dictatorship” rules but the entertainment is always there.

It is not necessary to have watched his television series “Seinfeld” but as I read, I heard his voice in my head.

I guess maybe that’s a good thing… 

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

It is like being in a time machine with the years being told in very short, very funny stories: great to lift the pandemic blues.
GBW.

Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld

Review ‘Consolation’ by Garry Disher

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When I read a good book by an author whose work I always enjoy, it is hard for me to express my thoughts without going overboard so I tried to apply self-restraint with Garry Disher’s ‘Consolation’ and hope I convey my message.  For the full impact, I suggest you read the first two books but Tiverton’s only police officer Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen conveys his job and lifestyle with great clarity so this story can stand alone.

Constable Hirsch does a huge amount of driving given the vast distances of his country South Australian beat.  He is calm, diplomatic, intelligent, sensitive, and has a lovely woman in his life.  Several threads run throughout the story; Hirsch gets stalked, good characters die, ordinary people are murdered and baddies steal money.  Not as mundane as it sounds.  For starters who are the goodies and who are the baddies?  There is more going on than I first thought.

This story is populated by a fair amount of unstable people, at the very least people with problems.  The Ayliffe family are atop the big-problems tree.  They snake in and out of the plot, stealing from homesteads, frightening farmers, bent on their own personal rampage.  Hirsch moves ever forward, ever thinking, trying to stay one step ahead, or picking up the pieces after another tragic crime has been committed.

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Hirsch knows the land better than the city cops sent to help in their black SUVs with matching attitudes.  A high wind chill factor features throughout, rain turns the roads to mud and cars bog, naturally conditions are not conducive to high speed chases.  Also, someone is nicking knickers from ladies clotheslines, and elaborate extortion schemes are in play with devastating repercussions, each investigated by Hirsch with Redruth police back-up.

There are tough themes: child abuse, parental negligence, childcare system.  The abuse of the elderly, not so much physical but extortion, dishonesty and controlling behaviour.  The harsh reality of criminal behaviour, and its impact on Constable Hirsch’s rural beat, is an immersive experience.  He combats the weather on his early morning foot patrols.  Quote “There was ice everywhere on Thursday morning. Hirsch tramped the streets of Tiverton in the saw-teeth of another frost.”

Author Disher’s rural characters have personality, and naturally not all are good honest citizens so it is gratifying when they are caught.  The master of Hirsch’s POV, Garry Disher is also the master of the neat transition.  Instead of slowing down the action, backstory came when “As Hirsch reconstructed it later…” so important, so human.

An absorbing story with everything unfolding in an almost lyrical flow of actions and emotions, and a series well worth reading.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


“Consolation”
Format: Paperback
Extent: 400pp
Text publication date: 3rd November 2020
ISBN: 9781922330260
AU Price: $32.99
NZ Price: $38.00
Categories: Crime & Thriller, Rural Police, Australian, Fiction
https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/consolation

Happily I only spied one typo on page 368 when “Vikki Bastian, who’d had been on her knees flicking…” GBW.

Author Info:
Garry Disher has published fifty titles across multiple genres. He has won multiple German Crime Prize and Ned Kelly awards, including the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award. To quote from Text Publishing interview “The dryness, the heat, the sense of space and the sparseness of human presence inform every page and drive every action. It is a quintessentially Australian setting for a quintessentially Australian subgenre of crime – it’s been dubbed ‘rural noir’ and Garry Disher is one of its pioneers. In fact, without him, it might not exist at all.  Farming country in the mid-north of South Australia is where Garry Disher grew up, and although he hasn’t lived there for years, the area still holds a special place in his heart…”

Read more:
https://www.textpublishing.com.au/blog/this-place-won-t-let-me-go-the-importance-of-landscape-in-garry-disher-s-crime-fiction

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My book review of CONSOLATION by Garry Disher was posted on Australia Day (as it is currently named) so I was eating a lamington shown in lower left corner © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

Three Australian Flags 2021

Review ‘Death in Daylesford’ by Kerry Greenwood

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GUESTHOUSE BREAKFAST of wholegrain toast, baked beans, beef sausages, tomato sauce and one egg with a cuppa and a good book © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

Supposedly on a short holiday to check out the healing benefits of mineral water for returned soldiers, while staying at Mooltan Guesthouse in the health spa town of Hepburn Springs near Daylesford, Phryne Fisher and Dot Williams bump into nice and not so nice individuals.  A cunning murderer gets to work killing men in broad daylight, while throughout the novel the Temperance Hotel and knitting entwine with a strong sisterhood bond.  

In the adventurous 1920s, fabulous Phryne Fisher is a wealthy, upper-class, down-to-earth lady detective who lives in bayside Melbourne, Australia.  She solves all kinds of crimes with the assistance of her dour maid Dot (also sleuthing companion) and is occasionally helped by the mighty Bert and Cec who are wharfies and stirrers, plus two stalwart policeman, Inspector Jack Robinson and Dot’s suitor Constable Hugh Collins.

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Snapshot from DECO Watermark Publishing Ltd and John Sands Greeting Cards

The Honourable Miss Fisher features in this long-running series of novels, and on TV and cinema screens, whilst recently author Kerry Greenwood has included keen young Tinker and adopted daughters Ruth and Jane who get their fair share of investigative work in “Death in Daylesford” although not in the company of Phryne.  A suspected murder arises for them back in Melbourne while Phryne and Dot roam the countryside.

Kerry Greenwood has nailed the era.  Apart from a doubtful reference to broccoli (was it available then?) and later a toilet roll (in an outside dunny on a country farm no less) she writes with vigour and a lust for life, and has the knack of enhancing a scene with extra intrigue.  Chapters are populated with a variety of characters like luscious barmaid Annie, copper Mick Kelly, handsome Captain Spencer and gun-toting suffragette Miss McKenzie. 

My favourite quote “Alice glowed like a hurricane lamp.  ‘I am so pleased!  Do you think that Violette…’  She left the sentence hanging in the air, like a house brick under the influence of anti-gravity.”  Gems of this type are used sparingly yet with great effect, especially when I knew hanky-panky was afoot.  Miss Phryne Fisher is more risqué than her on-screen counterpart.

Real locations are used in this story and I don’t remember but apparently I visited the mineral springs as a child.  “Death in Daylesford” is the 21st book in the series.  I have read Kerry Greenwood’s contemporary series featuring baker/private eye Corinna Chapman but self-assured Phryne keeps luring me back with her fast driving, rule-flouting and cheeky disregard for social conventions.  Always with her brain ticking over and a winning smile.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Two images from “The World Turns Modern”
Art Deco from National Galley of Australia Collection
Ipswich Art Gallery 2019
My original Art Deco post https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2019/10/24/art-deco-delights-on-display/

In memory of my father who grew up in the same inner city streets of Melbourne.
He would have known what an Hispano-Suiza was… the car Phryne Fisher drives.
GBW 10th January 2021

Book Review ‘Trust’ by Chris Hammer

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“Millie the Money Box” from Westpac Bank in conjunction with Sydney Olympic Games 2000. Used for illustration purposes only. My tie-in with the crime novel “Trust” which involves a bank and lost millions. Millie is not only memorabilia, she once held pocket money in the form of 50cent pieces. I wonder if coins, pocket money and piggy banks will exist in the future? © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2020

—Review—

Martin Scarsden is the central character but in “Trust” he shared the limelight.  His girlfriend Mandalay Blonde’s story was just as valid as Martin’s but I found events lacked drama when it came to poor-girl-makes-good-gets-stuck.  She did get her act together when a group discussion propelled her into action.  Unbeknown to Mandy she would soon face major problems from an old-boy network, creepy co-worker, money laundering and large scale corruption.  Two major questions swirled around Mandy regarding her former fiancé and her place of employment, viz, “What was Tarquin Molloy playing at?” and “Where are Mollisons missing millions?”

Backstory is not the story and I started to lose interest in author Chris Hammer’s exposé on Mandalay and her stressful life.  She arrived in Sydney and quote “She wants to flee, to get back to her son, to protect him.  And yet the past is coming, it’s here, she can’t carry it back to Port Silver; she can’t risk it getting a trace of her boy…”  The ship had sailed on that one.  In previous books, she and Martin were in the media, the talk of the town, easily found by adversary Zelda Forshaw.

Halfway in, I wanted to shake up the action and indirectly Mandy obliged even though she was on an emotional rollercoaster.  She met a dodgy cop in a dingy café in a tunnel under Central Railway station without a companion, without telling anyone where she was going.  I said “Organised crime, Mandy, people were being murdered!”  Thus the script-writing elements showed with Chris Hammer’s talking heads and scene-setting rather than people who moved through their surroundings.  Ancillary characters were great, from the homeless to corporate high-flyers, a computer geek to a retro assassin and, of course, ruthless newspaper men. 

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Anomalies were Australian judge Elizabeth Torbett with Tory politics; Martin, a seasoned journo who relied on technology and a laptop but made novice mistakes; Mandy did not regularly check on son Liam in Port Silver; Martin had coffee with Montifore in Chapter 33 but “Goffing returns with the drinks…” Oops.

“Trust” the perfect title, and Chapter 28 and Chapter 29 alone were worth the price of the book.  Martin visited Justice Clarence O’Toole of the New South Wales Land and Environment Court and asked him a few questions.  The old judge was very ill but talked at length about his membership with The Mess, a private club, and the sudden death of Martin’s mentor and friend.  Afterwards Martin thought about his journalistic career and the slow agonising demise of print newspapers.  I went straight out and bought an edition of The Courier Mail.

Chris Hammer future-proofed his crime novel with coronavirus, and mentioned the pandemic several times, but it flopped for me.  Covid-19 was not over when I read the book.  At this point in time, Sydney still has coronavirus outbreaks and restrictions.  “Wash your hands, wear a mask, keep your distance”.

Martin and Mandy’s ordeal took place over seven days and I would not have enjoyed being in their shoes, but I enjoyed the Australian setting and frontispiece map of Sydney.  There was a wonderful iffy, dicey feel to the plot which at times stretched tropes and credibility, like the ASIO meet-up, or the dance of death, however a clever twist enhanced the story and the ending was unexpected.  On the whole, I liked this third instalment, quote “some huge story, some grand conspiracy” so cheers to more books and great reading in 2021 New Year.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

“Smartphones on and life-cancelling earbuds in”

From Trust Martin Scarsden crime series
by Chris Hammer 2020