Review ‘The Man in the Water’ by David Burton

David Burton has written an outstanding story about a tenacious young man determined to solve a mystery.  In a tightly woven and highly readable plot he keeps the pressure up, and keeps it real.  Shaun sees a man’s body floating in the local lake and when he returns with Constable Charlie Thompson the body has gone.  The story kicks off from there and Shaun begins to investigate the mysterious death.  He uncovers far more than he ever imagined.  And he has a good imagination!

Set in a gritty, rundown Queensland coal mining town, the atmosphere is hot, dry and pulsating with undercurrents from personal relationships through to shonky mining regulations.  My assumptions were overturned, clues were flipped and hopes were dashed.  From angry picket lines headed by volatile Peter Grant, head of the mine workers union, to various forms of small town mindset, Shaun’s investigations pull him deeper and deeper into a world of unanswered questions.

Coal Mining Coal TruckThe subtext throughout the story is “Who believes Shaun actually saw the man in the water?”.  Not many people, it seems.  Even his mother Linda struggles to accept the situation, although a family death may be clouding her reasoning.  Shaun does appear to have a kind of obsessional limerence.

Fortunately Shaun has a keen ally in his long-time friend Will, a larrikin with a charming manner.  They both believe the drowned man was murdered and someone has masterminded a cover-up.  They negotiate their way through a minefield of possibilities, taking risks, and discovering the mental and physical challenges faced by coal workers and their families.  Only once did I suspend disbelief when Shaun infiltrates a building.  I imagine the place would have been riddled with CCTV cameras but it’s a pivotal moment.

In between covert operations, annoying teachers and school classes, Shaun and Will are on the school debating team with Megan Grant.  Shaun adores Megan from afar and he imagines a future of “happy ever afters” together.  Investigations continue in Brisbane with their debating team when a challenge is held in a Harry Potteresque private school perched on a hillside (I recognised it) and they stay overnight in enemy territory.  A gripping spy-like chapter for you to discover.

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I loved the personalities David Burton has created, the characters often did the opposite to what I expected, making them fallible yet understandable.  In certain cases, there’s a fine line between liking and loathing.  There is power in subtlety, and from the frustration of workers about to lose their jobs, to the death of a loved one, nothing is overstated.

David Burton has given Shaun a proactive role with plenty of intrigue.  I have no hesitation in saying “The Man in the Water” is an excellent mystery for young adults and older readers.  I became fully absorbed in the story and was right beside young Shaun trying to unravel the riddle.  The end result is definitely worth it!

Quote from Chapter 32 “From the sky, Shaun’s home town looked like it was surrounded by yawning black holes.  It was epic.  The mines were colossal dark wounds in the earth, the town a sort of defiance among the rubble.  It was a god’s sandpit.  He pressed his face against the window and watched as the earth turned with the plane.  They were coming in to land.”

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE

David Burton Writer and Playwright
David Burton, Author and Playwright

David Burton is an award-winning director, playwright and author.  By the age of 30, he’d written over two dozen professionally produced plays, published a book, and been a core part of some of the most innovative theatrical projects in Australia.

He’s now 32, a Dad, and has written a new YA fiction book “The Man in the Water” which I reviewed.

Visit http://www.daveburton.com.au/

Booktopia https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-man-in-the-water-david-burton/book/9780702262524.html

‘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)

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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

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/

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.

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.

Harley Davidson Black Softail Motorbike 02
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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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

Bad to Worse ‘Good Girl Bad Girl’ by Michael Robotham

I haven’t written a negative book review for a while but I need to express my rebellious thoughts on “Good Girl Bad Girl” by Michael Robotham.  I would have liked to give this seasoned author a pat on the back, but it won’t happen.  He (and dare I say his publisher) goofed up, disappointing me with this latest offering.  As a supporter of the Australian writers scene, it pains me to say I have even compiled a list of unwanted gaffes.  And I’m disillusioned by such a rudimentary storyline, further dragged down by Robotham putting believability ahead of plausibility.

First, I’m not keen on psychologist Cyrus Haven, with his generic nightmares and ridiculous spontaneity when it comes to young Evie Cormac, aka Angel Face.  Plots, eh, you need to drive them forward.  Evie lived a feral existence in a secret room with a dead body outside the door and after rescue she was incarcerated in Langford Hall, Nottingham, a secure children’s home.  Being of indeterminate age, she appears mature yet lapses into teenage obviousness as inexperienced Cyrus soon finds out.  Her dubious, er, gift, is an attempt at originality until Robotham trots out tropes and formulaic predictability.

Maybe hackneyed phrases could be revised in another edition, do a bit of showing instead of continual telling, and jumping in and out of a character’s head doesn’t necessarily strengthen the story or boost the tension.  In “Good Girl Bad Girl” the title hints at naughtiness and a girl dies yet the suspects aren’t new, just the usual line-up.  When it comes to fiction, I don’t think crime scene minutia or yet another clichéd pathologist/priest/politician enhances a plot.

“Good Girl Bad Girl” is a ropey book launched into the world too soon.

I noticed these gaffes—

(1)  Cyrus Haven does not own a mobile phone.  He only has a pager and uses a telephone at the local shop, even DCI Lenny Parvel has to track him down while jogging.  How come when he’s at home looking at DVDs of suspect Craig Farley, he has a bright idea and “I punch out her number.  She doesn’t answer.  It goes to her messages. Beep!”
(2)  When Cyrus goes to an old church to talk to the murdered girl’s mother, he can’t get in the front doors because they are locked but when the priest asks him to leave he exits via the front doors.
(3)  Poor proof-reading, fluctuating spelling like practice/practise, repeat words not edited out.
(4)  Flight risk Evie’s electronic tracker on her ankle must vaporise.
(5)  Evie’s POV couldn’t hear both sides of that phone conversation.
(6)  I guess that Uber driver drove away fast.
(7)  DCI Lenny Parvel is a woman yet “Lenny is signalling me from the road.  Aiden is with him.”
(8)  Cyrus has his hands taped to a vertical wooden stair spindle so how could “Cyrus grabs my arm” when later Evie frees him?
(9)  Reader thinks “Am I missing some kind of joke?”
(10) Reader thinks “Is this an uncorrected proof?”

….. there are more blemishes, I got tired of it but you can easily find them.

A crime reader’s curse but I can also see the mechanics at work, the primary sentences, the leading questions, the verbal punches ready to be pulled, the transparent taunts and retorts used many times before, and I don’t mean just by Robotham.  I include contemporary middle-of-the-road crime writers and television scriptwriters all using the same imagery.  They must yearn for a movie deal.  Unfortunately not even banter escapes the mundane repetition seen in current crime stories.

The arthritic white rabbit is still being pulled out of the narrative hat.  Give it a rest!

I have not read any related book reviews so this is my unbiased honest opinion.  With more polish “Good Girl Bad Girl” could have risen above the ranks of ordinary.  New readers will be supportive, Australian fans will be supportive, but I think it’s a monotonous book and I say that with genuine regret.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 

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Book Backlog and Being ‘Beswitched’

Every reader has book backlog.  If we didn’t, there would be no such thing as the TBR, or stacks of unread ARCs, neither shelves groaning with books nor e-readers crammed with downloads.  My bedside table is piled high with enticing yet unread novels and, well, you get the idea.  You have book backlog, too.

There are so many excellent books in the world that I know I will never catch up—so I’m being choosy and will read what I want, when I want.  And taking the sinful route of skipping pages if it’s not up to scratch.

My reading material may not be literary, it may not be controversial, it may not be popular, it may not be the latest or greatest, however, it will be a book I’m interested in from cover-to-cover.  An occasional blog post is sure to come out of it, no matter how fluffy or deep the content.

‘Okay, okay, enough!’ I hear you cry.  ‘When does time travel come into this?’


Beswitched by Kate Saunders 01“A ripping English boarding-school story with a perceptive heroine and time-travel twist guaranteed to appeal to modern schoolgirls.”—Kirkus Reviews



BESWITCHED BY KATE SAUNDERS
is the kind of story which I would have loved when I was a girl.  Well paced and absorbing, it is eerily accurate of all those Famous Five and Girls Own Annual stories I read yonks ago.  Saunders tight writing style easily pulled me into the dilemma which rather spoilt young schoolgirl Flora Fox finds herself, viz, she gets fobbed off to boarding school and never arrives.

Actually she does arrive, but she’s zapped back in time.  Instead of luxurious Penrice Hall, she arrives at St Winifred’s in pre-war 1935 where all the ‘gels’ are ever-so-British-upper-class, the underwear is scratchy and the food is awful.

As you can imagine this is a personal growth tale, cut through with humorous chronological comparisons, nightmare teachers, ripping seaside hols, scary bonding adventures and a neat twist to the enlightening finale.  Jolly. Good. Fun.

I won’t go into the logistics of time travel but suffice to say the elements meld together well.  Recommended for 8 to 12 year olds, although anybody can read it for a look at life when steely friendships were forged by facing boarding school adversity together.

My kidlit rating soars above five stars!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Kate Saunders Author
Kate Saunders won the Costa Children’s Book Award for ‘Five Children on the Western Front’ published 2014. Photo by Clara Molden. Review https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kate-saunders/beswitched/

Indrani Ganguly ‘The Rose and The Thorn’ Book Review

Author Indrani Ganguly based her historical novel in Lucknow, India, a city renowned as the most refined of the Muslim kingdoms where she, her mother and grandmother were born.  In 1857 the Siege of Lucknow was also the scene of some of the most brutal fighting during the country’s uprisings.

Lucknow India 002

Indrani Ganguly’s novel is an illuminating blend of fact and fiction.  Twins Mukti and Lila Chatterjee—the eponymous rose and thorn compared to a black rose in their garden—are the heart and soul of the story.  Ganguly’s research is comprehensive thanks to an academic background, and her foreword mentions some family memories.  She explains the book is not a personal history of her family, although I think there are insights which add to the charm of the narrative.

Two parallel movements emerged in India in the 19th and 20th centuries, the national movement of Independence and the social reform to uplift the most vulnerable sections of society.  During this time of national and social upheaval, the role of Indian women makes enlightening reading.

India Father and Children 1930sLucknow Rose and Thorn

There are six families in “The Rose and The Thorn”.  The main characters are Jai Chatterjee, history professor, his wife Shanti and their twin daughters Mukti and Lila.  Then follows The Mukherjees, The Alis, The Johnsons, The Banerjees, and The Maharajas.  It is easy to keep track as the years unfold, events develop in clear progression and the tension builds.

Young Mukti innocently reads the signs of civil unrest in a 1922 pamphlet calling for a boycott on foreign clothing, and the event is witnessed by her British friend Elizabeth and father Alan when riding in a tanga (horse-drawn transport).  Protesters burn clothes on a huge bonfire, quickly followed by police aggression.  One of the police inspectors, Anil, is a Chatterjee family member.

India horse-drawn Tanga

India Mahatma GandhiAround this time, non-violent resistance advocate Mahatma Gandhi is arrested and imprisoned for two years for publishing seditious material.

The twins Lila and Mukti grow up, marriages are arranged and their resilient personalities emerge to deal with life; the loss of loved ones, writing for radical newspaper Chandpur Barta, social work at a women’s centre, and an eventful protest march for women’s rights.

As a young woman in 1970s I was woven into the women’s liberation movement but did not realise how long Indian women had faced their own battles.  They were invisible, they survived as long as they had a man, otherwise they were classed as nothing.  From a 21st century stance, I find it difficult to comprehend the household dictates of that time and the shocking treatment of widows.

The character portrayals of the men and women in the story are strong, and they have firm opinions on the subjects of politics and political activism—handsome Rashid Ali spices things up!  His mother Ruksana is also a driving force.  Mosquito-hating Krishna Banerjee and the Maharaja are men not to be underestimated.  Societal revolutions are brewing but the big question is ‘Will Congress win?’  If women had the vote things may have been different.

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I was interested in the chapters dated March 1923 because that was the year my mother was born.  As my mother grew up, I wonder how much she and her Australian contemporaries knew of the Partition turmoil in India?  I knew India was part of the British Commonwealth but certainly didn’t learn about their struggles.  To quote the prologue “There are no martyrs’ monuments or eternal burning flames…” for the ordinary women who led extraordinary lives.

On a lighter note, Chapter 25, March 1923 “The Governor’s Ball” has an outrageous encounter with the Governor’s wife.  And during a family visit to the Taj Mahal, a wandering minstrel strolls by, strumming his ektara (traditional one-stringed musical instrument) singing a saucy song:

There was a rose and a thorn in my life
One was my lover and one was my wife.
Which was which I could not tell
It changed day-by-day and as night fell . . .

. . . I don’t want to give too much away, dear reader, but I will say there is a secret.

Author Ganguly explains that representing the dialogue in English was a challenge.  The two languages used in the book are Hindi and Bengali which have very different grammar syntax.  She overcame this and the result is flowing dialogue containing a smattering of Indian words which enhance the story.

India Food Luchi Eggplant 01The woven cloth khadi, and sweet and savoury food references enticed me to look for translations.  I found a recipe for Mukti’s favourite dish, freshly fried luchi and eggplant.

My curiosity was piqued by the influential roles of India’s royals, the Maharaja and Maharani, in the story.  I read a quote from modern-day Princess Shivranjani of Jodhpur who doesn’t have a problem with only male heirs inheriting but aptly retorts “If you say a boy is everything and a girl is nothing, well, I have a problem with that!”

Indian Goddess Maa Durga Devi 03Powerful Goddess Durga, whose name is spoken several times in the book, also got me researching.  “Durga” in Sanskrit means “invincible” and numerous Mantras are chanted for her throughout the year.

The era of Indian history from 1916 to 1947 is brought alive by Indrani Ganguly through the eyes of Mukti and Lila, and the wise and courageous women who supported them.  While I did not choose a favourite between the rose and the thorn, I enjoyed their journey and learned a lot about the faith and endurance of families in India during those turbulent times.

The epilogue narrator says “I myself travelled many different paths till I joined my father in Delhi but that is another story.”  I look forward to reading it!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward



AUTHOR PROFILE

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Author Indrani Ganguly

Indrani Ganguly was born of Bengali parents in Lucknow, India.  Her parents imbued her with a strong sense of Indian and world history and culture, and a great appreciation of  diversity in all its forms.  Indrani studied English Honours and sociology in India and did her PhD on the impact of British occupation on revolution and reform in West Bengal from the Australian National University.  In 1990, Indrani married an Australian with whom she now lives in Brisbane, Queensland.  They have a son, daughter and grandson.

Published by Boolarong Press
https://www.boolarongpress.com.au/product/the-rose-and-the-thorn/
[NOTE General photographs are for illustration purposes only]

Here is the YouTube link to BBC’s Great Indian Railway Journeys video which documents the history and scenes of Lucknow, and shows the buildings which Indrani Ganguly writes about in her book.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CckjZafH0vI

Louise Candlish ‘Our House’ Book Review

Quote “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he was psychopathically charismatic or anything like that.  He didn’t set out to use his powers for evil.  More likely his powers were no match for the evil he chanced upon.” Chapter 34, Fi’s Story >1:59:07

That quotation from Bram Lawson’s wife Fiona appears to be a fair assessment of her husband’s character but is it accurate?  Bram made one faulty decision which started the ball rolling over and over until it rolled into a brick wall, and the wall started to topple.

The unforced yet headlong pace of this novel has to be read to be understood.  It is full-on right from the opening line: “London, 12.30 p.m. She must be mistaken, but it looks exactly as if someone is moving into her house.”

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Author Louise Candlish has the knack of subverting expectations, making her characters do things I hadn’t anticipated, and making them believable.  Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong in a progression of events at 91 Trinity Avenue in the London suburb of Alder Rise where property values are in the millions.

In this transfixing drama of house fraud and so much more, the main players are Bram and Fiona; their two young sons; would-be homeowners David and Lucy Vaughan; neighbour Merle; Mike and Wendy; the website of crime podcast The Victim.

London Terrace Houses 05

Told by Fiona (Fi) and Bram, their retrospective sides of the story nearly overlap yet never quite converge, building a strong sense of unease.  With foreboding I followed their newly separated, and prickly, domestic rituals with bird’s nest custody arrangements.  I almost shouted at the book a couple of times—I can’t reveal why—as deception and indiscretion insinuated themselves into the story.

Woven through the redolent London background are family moments, some more heart-wrenching than others, before a nasty turn of events and the final dénouement.  While the catastrophic narrative honour goes to Bram, the overarching theme is home ownership and who legally owns the house.  Apparently it is, or was, a possibility that this kind of deed transfer could happen.

“Our House” is the best crime book I’ve read this year, well crafted and written with an ending which sends out shock waves.  If you like incomparable award-winning psychological thrillers, I urge you to read this one.

Five Star Rating Star Fish 02Star Fish 02Star Fish 02Star Fish 02Star Fish 02

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


About the Author:

Louise Candlish UK Author 2019Louise Candlish is the author of eleven previous novels, including “The Sudden Departure of the Frasers”, “The Swimming Pool” and the international bestseller “Since I Don’t Have You”.  Louise studied English at University College London and worked as an advertising copywriter and art book editor before writing fiction.  She lives in South London with her husband and teenage daughter.  “Those People” is her next book.
Author website http://www.louisecandlish.com/

I also recommend author and WordPress reviewer Rachel McLean
https://rachelmclean.com/book-review-our-house-by-louise-candlish-a-gripping-psychological-thriller/

There are perceptive book club questions in a Reader’s Guide at the end of “Our House”.

Jimmy Barnes Working Class Rock Star Book Review

It is said Jimmy Barnes is the heart and soul of Australian rock and roll…if you like his style.  His rasping voice was the sound of the Eighties and everyone knew his song lyrics.  Four decades later and he’s still going strong. 

James Dixon ‘Jimmy’ Barnes (né Swan) was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 28 April 1956 and raised in Elizabeth, South Australia.  His career as the lead vocalist with the rock band Cold Chisel, and later as a solo performer, has made him one of the most popular and best-selling Australian music artists of all time.

From 1973–present, Barnes career has spanned singer-songwriter-musician with vocals, guitar, harmonica and flute and he has received tonnes of music awards (and two Australian Book Industry awards) been inducted twice into the ARIA Hall of Fame and presented with the Order Of Australia medal.

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Underneath the gravelly vocals and rough exterior, Jimmy Barnes struggled with an inferiority complex which manifested itself in alcohol and drug addiction for many years.  The question on everyone’s lips was ‘How did he survive?’  Barnes wrote two autobiographies ‘Working Class Boy’ and ‘Working Class Man’ to answer this question.

I doubt his first book ‘Working Class Boy’ (published 2016) was fully edited.  Raw and basic, it is a litany of hope, fear, addiction and the search for acceptance.  Acceptance from his violent father, his mates and his audience.  He writes about childhood abuse, how he ran amok through the towns of Elizabeth and Adelaide and later the Australian east coast, singing, drinking, finding a dealer, finding a girl and not sleeping for 24 hours or more.  A son, performer David Campbell, is the result of a fling in his teenage years.  Barnes’ second father, the man whose name he adopted, was a mentor of sorts until rock music became the epicentre of his life.

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Jimmy Barnes ‘My Criminal Record’ collectors edition in vinyl

Barnes second book, a sequel titled ‘Working Class Man’ (published 2017) chronicles his thoughts of suicide and his continuous drug-taking and excessive alcohol consumption to the point of tedium.  A horrible thing to say when I think of the mental and physical torment he was trying to escape.  Still, it didn’t stop him singing—albeit clutching a Vodka bottle on stage every night—nor did it stop him gaining more and more success and greater financial stability as his music career took off.  He began to live the life of a rock star.

Then Jimmy Barnes body let him down.  After surgery, he tried to calm down and write his life story.  It’s not a pretty read, examining old memories, but it’s honest.  There are plenty of photographs and name-dropping, and Barnes talks about his wife Jane Mahoney, their children and extended family.  He is now a grandfather and this shocked me the most!

“If you want to write a memoir, you’ve got to be ready to bare your soul” Jimmy Barnes

No rating because of the ‘chicken and egg’ situation, did his fame boost the books or did the books boost his fame?

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Website https://www.jimmybarnes.com/
Biography https://www.jimmybarnes.com/biography/
Books https://www.jimmybarnes.com/books/
Press Interview and Movie Clip  https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/for-hyperactive-jimmy-barnes-new-album-and-tour-is-just-the-beginning-20190528-p51s26.html

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https://www.jimmybarnes.com/news/tour-announcement-jimmy-barnes-is-shutting-down-your-town/

Review ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ by Maria Donovan

The plot twists and turns over many months as I follow the lives of three families jolted sideways after two untimely deaths.

Michael’s friend Janey has lost her dad to cancer and Michael understands this, but the other person who died?  Nextdoor neighbour and dear friend Irma.  Was it a heart condition, an accident or murder?

The safe, cosy world of young Michael and his Nan changes dramatically.  Michael also has to cope with George, a bully, who moves into Irma’s house with his father Shawn prior to her death.

IMG_20190427_151647The sudden loss of Irma is deeply felt by Michael.  As the saying goes he has “an old head on young shoulders” but is confused over what actually happened and gets no help from the adults.  Strong opinions and conflicting advice are tossed his way.

Deep down Michael believes Irma was murdered and is determined to convince Nan and the gatekeepers.  There are complexities to face and he over-reaches in the hope of finding justice.  Anxiety joins his grief, he challenges his homelife and raises old questions.  Why does he live with his grandmother?  Where are his parents?

During a bad night, Michael’s old teddy bear comes down off the shelf for support as he works on his theory of Irma’s demise.  He thinks she may have been poisoned.  The chicken soup in question was homemade by Irma and well loved by Michael, his favourite panacea for cold symptoms.  In fact, he is sniffling when she goes off to make him chicken soup and disaster strikes.

At one stage, Michael suspects his Nan – she’s my favourite character! – and while out walking he dashes away and hides.  Quote “Michael?” calls Nan.  I don’t move.  “Michael”.  “He’s fallen in the bloody moat,” says the man who isn’t Grandad.  “Good job there’s no water in it.”  “Feeder canal,” says Nan.  “This is no time to be right about everything,” he growls.  I’ve never heard anyone tell Nan off like that before. Unquote.

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Real clue? Fake clue?

Author Maria Donovan portrays well-rounded, believable characters and each brings small yet highly significant details to the story.  Bully and his father are thorns in Michael’s side but nothing distracts him from the hunt for clues.  Janey has her own family problems.  To relieve her frustration she gets a box of golf balls and stands in The Middle, a green opposite the houses, and slogs each white ball as hard as she can…

Being of a nosey disposition myself, I empathise with Michael’s underlying emotions and the need for resolution.  Unfortunately this drive consumes him to the point of performing an ill-advised concert song.  Tension escalates and stoic Nan marches towards a showdown.  Maria Donovan’s tightly written finale comes at a penultimate time of year for everyone.

IMG_20190427_152828Skillfully woven through the story are school holidays, the seaside, and events on telly like Wimbledon, Test Cricket and 2012 Paralympics.  Halloween high jinks are followed by a traditional Guy Fawkes bonfire night.  Occasionally the zeitgeist side-tracks Michael’s quest yet adds a kaleidoscope of nostalgia for me.

Michael’s journey isn’t for children although young adult readers would identify with the youthful side.  Part mystery, part coming-of-age, I think adults will enjoy the unique elements of the plot, and appreciate less gore than currently found in mystery novels.

Maria Donovan’s book walks a fine line between innocence and adult behaviour and succeeds in capturing the mood beautifully.  It demands to be read again.  Seek out those clever clues!

My star rating star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY:

Maria Donovan Book Launch

‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ is Maria Donovan’s debut novel and was a finalist for the Dundee International Book Prize.  Apart from this book, Maria has many literary credits to her name including her flash fiction story ‘Chess’ which won the Dorset Award in the Bridport Prize 2015.

Maria is a native of Dorset UK and has strong connections with Wales (also in the book) and Holland.  Her past careers include training as a nurse in the Netherlands, busking with music and fire around Europe and nine years lecturing in Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan, South Wales.

Visit Maria Donovan online www.mariadonovan.com
Twitter https://twitter.com/mariadonovanwri
Facebook http://facebook.com/mariadonovanauthor

I can highly recommend the informative Chicken Soup Murder Q&A with Maria Donovan and Shauna Gilligan.

Review ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’ by Katherine Battersby

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The New York Times says ‘Hopelessly cute…’ and they are right.

Squish is just a small rabbit, but he dreams big.

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Two friends read their favourite book ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’.

Squish dreams of many things including having a pet.

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Squish Rabbit is a lively little character.

Squish makes a long list—a puppy would be perfect.

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Squish Rabbit makes a list of many things.

Squish’s best friend Twitch helps him along the way.

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Squish Rabbit’s best friend Twitch helps make an ‘almost’ pet.

Squish thinks important thoughts about friendship and his future pet.

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Squish Rabbit has two other adventures you can read.

Squish waits and waits to meet his new pet—who is more wonderful than he ever dreamed.


REVIEW:  There is an art to creating good children’s books and with her clear illustrations and succinct text, Katherine Battersby has shaped a beautiful story.  ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’ is a picture book which combines thoughtfulness, fun and friendship with an eggciting ending.

COMMENT:  I saw this third Squish Rabbit book at a UQP publishing event prior to its release and had to buy it.  I am familiar with Katherine Battersby’s work and have met her professionally when she journeyed from Canada to Queensland.  Happy reading!  🐨 🍁

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Category: Children’s Picture Book, Children’s + Young Adult
Release Date: 3 April 2019
Pages: 32
Publisher: The University Of Queensland Press
ISBN: 978 0 7022 6046 9
Teacher Notes: http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/store/images/Hi-RES/teachersnotes/1501/4157.pdf
Online: https://www.readings.com.au/products/26387171/squish-rabbits-pet

Printed with a squishy cover perfect for little hands!

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Just gift-wrapped Squish for a new baby, never too young for books!

Dylan Thomas ‘Under Milk Wood’ Wales Readathon 2019

#dewithon19 logo

I found myself drawn to ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Dylan Thomas after accepting an open invitation from Book Jotter to participate in Wales Readathon by reading a book or two from any Welsh writer during March.

Because I wanted to read a physical book, my search had its ups and down until I visited my local library.  Ah, libraries, magical places!

Wales Readathon Dewithon (1)

I now have in my possession (for a limited time) an updated paperback edition of ‘Under Milk Wood’ published 2000 and based on the definitive 1995 edition.  The original was first published in Great Britain in 1954.  The cover art above is taken from ‘Abstract With Woman’s Head’ an oil painting by Evan Walters.  The paperback has been well-read, with yellowing pages, and the print is small.  Initially glancing through it, I thought it had longer introductions and more explanatory notes than the play length!

First, the book blurb to get you started—

Synopsis is taken directly from the back of the book, written when people read longer paragraphs:

“In 1951, two years before his death at the age of thirty-nine, Dylan Thomas wrote of his plan to complete a radio play, ‘an impression for voices, an entertainment out of the darkness, of the town I live in, and to write it simply and warmly and comically with lots of movement and varieties of moods, so that, at many levels . . . you come to know the town as an inhabitant of it’.

The work was Under Milk Wood – an orchestration of voices, sights and sounds that conjure up the dreams and waking hours of an imagined Welsh seaside village within the cycle of one day.  Thomas’s flawed villagers reveal a world of delight, gossip and regret, of varied and vivid humanity; a world that his classic ‘play for voices’ celebrates as ‘this place of love’.”

And, I might add, a snapshot of history, a way of life changed forever.  The VOICE OF A GUIDE-BOOK on page 19 hints at Llareggub being a backwater.  In Dylan Thomas’ time the part where Mog Edwards boasts that he will take Myfanwy Price away to his Emporium on the hill ‘where the change hums on wires’ was already a dying era.  But Thomas shows us that basic personalities never really change.

Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 05

Now some background information—

Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953) is a poetry icon, he even has his own day on 14th May.  No doubt ‘Under Milk Wood’ has been analysed within an inch of its life, so it will be difficult to choose a path not already well-trodden.  For starters, I am not going to tell you Dylan Thomas’ life story – his granddaughter Hannah handles that beautifully.

I will say that Dylan Thomas finished polishing his play for voices ‘Under Milk Wood’ in 1953 and performed it in New York.  It went on to become a BBC radio drama, stage plays, films and produced in several other formats in Wales and around the world.  Australian pianist and composer Tony Gould‘s 1997 ‘Under Milk Wood’ adaptation (written for narrator and chamber orchestra) was performed by actor John Stanton and the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra.

Several Australian versions followed, including a one-woman production of the text performed at the Sidetrack Theatre in Sydney, New South Wales.  Actress Zoe Norton Lodge performed all 64 characters in the play – and I like to think at least one was based on her father, a proud Welshman.

And finally my book review—

Got a coffee handy?  I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this classic.

Spoken by an omniscient narrator, the opening paragraph of ‘Under Milk Wood’ gave me chills.  If you’ve got the time, I’d like you to read it.

[Silence]
FIRST VOICE [Very softly]

‘To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters-and-rabbits wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black crowblack, fishingboat bobbing sea.  The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds.  And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.’

He goes on to describe the people and the animals, the town and household items until we arrive at ‘ . . . the big seas of their dreams.  From where you are, you can hear their dreams.’  Then we learn about Captain Cat, the retired blind sea captain.

FIRST DROWNED
Remember me, Captain?
CAPTAIN CAT
You’re Dancing Williams!
FIRST DROWNED
I lost my step in Nantucket.

And just like that, you know you’re in for a rollicking time!

Make no mistake, it contains dark adult concepts.  Fear, foibles and funny thoughts are exposed, things which the villagers would prefer hidden from view.  At the same time, it doesn’t matter because whatever country or town you live in, I think Dylan Thomas’ characters are universal and show us that love, lust, greed, spite and skullduggery can lurk inside every home.  The odd behaviour of Lord Cut-Glass and his clocks, Mr Pugh’s poisonous ideas, Mrs Dai Bread One and Two; the good, bad and temperamental folk are laid bare in the most lyrical of terms but at the same time asking us to accept and forgive.

As for individual characteristics, I consider Nogood Boyo has the right idea.  He goes out in a dinghy, ships the oars and drifts in the bay, lying in the hull among the tangled fishing lines.  NOGOOD BOYO [Softly, lazily] ‘I don’t know who’s up there (on Llareggub Hill) and I don’t care.’  Page 29.  But inquisitive readers do.  On page 55 Reverend Eli Jenkins muses about his deceased father Esau who fell sleep in a corn field and had his leg scythed off.  Reverend Eli thinks ‘Poor Dad, to die of drink and agriculture.’

Listicle 06Rhymes are chanted and there are various words unknown to me so I appreciated the Textual Notes at the back of the book.  The editors, Messrs Walford Davies and Ralph Maud, took exception to BBC copywriters dropping commas, changing spelling or capitalising/italicising words which were not in Thomas’ original manuscript.  So ‘take that BBC!’ from pages 81 to 104 they have been painstakingly corrected.

But, I say (holding up my pointer finger like a school teacher), while Mr Thomas was said to be an excellent speller, I think I spy with my little eye, a possible hiccup on page 37 and I quote ‘ . . . the drugged, bedraggled hens at the back door whimper and snivel for the lickerish bog-black tea.’  Could that word be ‘licorice’?  No, this man rocks poetic license and knows exactly what he’s doing.

Just for the record, I’m not entering the ‘Under Milk Wood’ book title debate.  The name of the fictional fishing village of Llareggub, where the entire dawn-to-dusk scene takes place, appears to be Welsh but if you read it backwards, it says something quite different.

There are several evocative paragraphs I could elaborate on with great relish, however, since I did not study Dylan Thomas at school, this blog post could be in danger of turning into a starstruck student essay.  I will close with one of the milder pieces:

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‘From Beynon Butchers in Coronation Street, the smell of fried liver sidles out with onions on its breath.  And listen!  In the dark breakfast-room behind the shop, Mr and Mrs Beynon, waited upon by their treasure, enjoy, between bites, their every-morning hullabaloo, and Mrs Beynon slips the gristly bits under the tasselled tablecloth to her fat cat.’ Page 27.

An excerpt from the final paragraph reads:  ‘The thin night darkens.  A breeze from the creased water sighs the streets close under Milk waking Wood.  The Wood, whose every tree-foot’s cloven in the black glad sight of the hunters of lovers . . . the suddenly wind-shaken wood springs awake for the second dark time this one Spring Day.’  That makes my mind reel – in a good way.

Grab a copy and read it out aloud—Rated Five Daffodils!

Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08

Diolch yn fawr, mwynhewch ddarllen!  Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Dewithon Logo Daffs


Twitter #dewithon19

Wales Readathon https://bookjotter.com/category/wales-readathon/

DHQ: Dewithon 2019 https://bookjotter.com/2018/03/26/dhq-dewithon19/

Suggested http://readingwales.org.uk/en/

Rattling the Book Club Cage ‘The Noise of Time’

Do you ever throw a literary stink bomb into your book club meetings?  Does a particular book annoy you into spewing a non-positive review?

My recent attendance at a book club gathering certainly raised eyebrows (I guess I’m not highbrow) when I panned Julian Barnes 2016 quasi-biography ‘The Noise of Time’ based on Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

I believe book clubs should read a wide variety of books and not just ‘literary stuff’.  Out of 12 people, only two of us spoke up and voiced our critical opinions without fear or favour.

Read my review below and make of it what you will – this is not a discussion post but it is my opinion and I totally respect yours –


Book Review – ‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

Author Julian Barnes fictionalised biography of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich begins in 1930s and is about the man himself, not necessarily about his music which is a disappointment.

Barnes wants to immerse us in the inner world of Shostakovich, therefore most of the story takes place within the previously uncharted waters of the composer’s own mind.  The rest appears to be gleaned from conventional sources.  There’s a lot of telling and not much showing.

Russian Composer Dmitri ShostakovichFirst up, Shostakovich’s opera ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ is denounced, and while there is tension and foreboding throughout the story, there’s no significantly dramatic scenes after this point.  Shostakovich smokes heavily and is understandably nervous.  He has the fear of Soviet Communism hanging over his head all the time (there’s a peculiar phone call from Stalin) and the dread which Shostakovich seems to pile upon himself.  Like the bookcover illustration, he’s a man always looking over his shoulder but this doesn’t necessarily make edifying reading.

Politics aside, Shostakovich later wrote his Fifth and Eighth Symphonies yet Barnes glosses over a lot of this, using a series of vignettes without delving into that emotional side, so there’s minimal mention of his creative process or the effects of his wife’s death on his family.

The interior dialogue does not expose Shostakovich as an eccentric creative, nor do I think it makes him a likeable protagonist.  Barnes portrays his inner world in an obsessive manner (think clocks, bad luck in a leap year, the elevator scene) and I think he comes across as a bullied child.  One who needs encouragement yet gets slapped down at every turn.

British Author Julian BarnesMy favourite paragraph is when Shostakovich is staying in New York and a woman working at the Soviet consulate jumps out of a window and seeks political asylum.  So, every day a man parades up and down outside the Waldorf Astoria with a placard reading “Shostakovich Jump Thru The Window!” but according to Barnes and other writers this gave him great inward shame.

In strides man-about-town composer Nicolas Nabokov who kindles Shostakovich’s shame so that Shostakovich is trapped by his own timidity, unable or unwilling to stand up and be counted, preferring to talk through the medium of music which is later used to punish him.

For me, this partly true reimagining is not very engaging.  I did learn a couple of new things but even allowing for Julian Barnes writing style, this book doesn’t add anything special to my reading list.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Publisher Penguin Books
https://www.penguin.com.au/books/the-noise-of-time-9781784703332
Author Julian Barnes
http://www.julianbarnes.com/
Composer Dmitri Shostakovich
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitri_Shostakovich

Review ‘Heart of the Grass Tree’ by Molly Murn

Simon McDonald is a Sydney-based reader, writer and senior bookseller at Potts Point Bookshop.  I always enjoy his book reviews.  Simon writes perceptive, eloquent and up-to-the-minute appraisals which have helped me discover some great stories and I look forward to reading this book.  GBW.

Molly Murn is a South Australian author and poet.  She holds a Bachelor of Dance, a Masters of Creative Arts, and is currently a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at Flinders University.  ‘Heart of the Grass Tree’ is Molly’s first novel.  https://mollymurn.com

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Simon McDonald

9780143792499With Heart of the Grass Tree, Molly Murn cements herself as not only one of Australia’s most exciting up-and-coming novelists, but a brilliant novelist of Australia.

In the South Australian author’s debut, multiple generations of a family ensconced in secrets and embroiled in personal turmoil converge on Kangaroo Island to farewell Nell, an Indigenous elder, mother and grandmother. The narrative flits between their stories, which occur in distinct time periods — the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries — and their unifying factor is Kangaroo Island, which makes the island, and its distinct landscape and indigenous population, the Ngarrindjeri people, the true protagonist of this extraordinary novel.

Lyricism empowers this tale of settlement on Kangaroo Island. Its prose is gorgeous, every page jewelled by Murn’s lyrical parlance, antithetical to the brutality of its conquest by the first settlers. Her rendering of the island’s natural beauty and it’s violent, oppressive history is…

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Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2019

This year’s winners have been announced at an awards ceremony on 31 January 2019.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards were inaugurated by the Victorian Government in 1985 to honour Australian writing.  The awards are administered by the Wheeler Centre on behalf of the Premier of Victoria.

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The Winners

  • The Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction: No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani (Picador Australia)
  • The Prize for Fiction: The Madonna of the Mountains by Elise Valmorbida (Faber & Faber)
  • The Prize for Drama: The Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver (Currency Press, in association with Griffin Theatre Company)
  • The Prize for Poetry: Tilt by Kate Lilley (Vagabond Press)
  • The Prize for Writing for Young Adults: Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Prize for Indigenous Writing: Taboo by Kim Scott (Picador Australia)
  • The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript: Kokomo by Victoria Hannan
  • People’s Choice Award: Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee (Allen & Unwin)

The winners of the main suite of awards – fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry, writing for young adults, and the biennial Prize for Indigenous Writing – each receive $25,000. The winner of the Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript receives $15,000.

The winners of the seven award categories go on to contest the overall Victorian Prize for Literature, worth an additional $100,000.  This is the single most valuable literary award in the country.

Website https://www.wheelercentre.com/projects/victorian-premier-s-literary-awards-2019
Winner https://www.wheelercentre.com/news/behrouz-boochani-wins-the-2019-victorian-prize-for-literature

This could be your book one day!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Garry Disher ‘Kill Shot’ Book Review

Wyatt is almost spectral as he shifts unseen through a corrupt world, an inscrutable villain doing what he does best––stinging the stingers.

No qualms from Wyatt as he tracks ruthless, avaricious people and their hidden treasures, taking back what is not rightfully theirs and passing it on.

Wyatt was doing specialist break-and-enter jobs when his friend and fixer Sam Kramer contacted him.  Currently incarcerated and relying on prison networks and outside contact from his daughter Phoebe, Kramer gets a message through to Wyatt offering him a lucrative job.  Lucrative yes, easy no.

After some quick research, Wyatt learns his target is corporate financier Jack Tremayne who is being investigated by the Probity Commission and facing jail time for a Ponzi scheme which ripped off innocent people and made him rich.  Tremayne appears likely to abscond with the lot.  Before he escapes the country, Wyatt’s task is to find the assets he’s hidden, a million in cash, shares and bonds.

gun 02The trouble is several other felonious characters are interested in the hidden million, working just as hard as Wyatt to find it.  And we know there will be inescapable violence along the way.

Author Garry Disher is adept at getting inside the morally deficient minds of the criminal fraternity Wyatt encounters, tearing down their respectable facades, releasing their foibles bit by bit until cruel, cunning personalities emerge––those who will fight hard to steal a valuable prize.  And fight even harder when they find out Wyatt is closing in.

There is plenty of action in this thriller and as the tension builds, the main players emerge.  Trophy wife Lynx Tremayne; Will DeLacey the Tremayne lawyer; Mark Impey nervous investor; prison gofer Brad Salter; Kramer’s sleazy son Josh: ex-commando Nick Lazar; none are particularly agreeable.  Apart from the incomparable Wyatt, my other favourite person is Property Crimes DS Greg Muecke who gets in the way of Robbery & Serious Crimes division as he relentlessly follows Wyatt’s trail.  A knowing man but usually one step behind.

merewether beach newcastle nswThe drama starts in Sydney and unfolds around the beachside homes in Newcastle before progressing through to yachting marinas and beyond.  Wyatt has various identities and travels in understated disguises as he tracks his target.  No slang but unashamedly Australian with place names and businesses, author tributes e.g. Corris, Throsby, and an atmosphere so evocative you can smell the eucalyptus and fresh sea air.

Full of plot twists, ‘Kill Shot’ is number 9 of this tightly written series.  The ending is not what I expected which makes the story all the more enthralling and earns my Five-Star rating.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Wyatt Crime Series

Kickback             (1991)
Paydirt                (1992)
Deathdeal           (1993)
Crosskill              (1994)
Port Vila Blues   (1995)
The Fallout         (1997)
Wyatt                   (2010)
The Heat              (2015)
Kill Shot               (2018)

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Title: Kill Shot
Author: Garry Disher
Pages: 320
Publisher: Text Publishing Company
Publish Date: 3-Dec-2018
Country of Publication: Australia
https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/kill-shot-a-wyatt-thriller

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In addition to the Wyatt series, Garry Disher has written a variety of books
https://www.garrydisher.com/