“Imagine Agatha Christie parachuting into the heady world of gay saunas and HIV research, and you’re getting close to this delicious, camp and tightly-plotted murder mystery” – Benjamin Law, Writer and Broadcaster.
Melbourne-based author and academic Dennis Altman is a giant in academia and the gay rights movement. He has written and spoken widely on sexuality, politics, and culture both in Australia and internationally. With over 17 published non-fiction works up his sleeve, this is Dennis’s first foray into crime fiction.
“I grew up reading Agatha Christie and see murder stories as both elaborate games and a very useful genre for satire. I know of no other crime book that takes place in the international AIDS/HIV world, which I know very well” – Dennis Altman.
Synopsis – Death in the Sauna – On the eve of a major international AIDS Conference in London, the Conference chair is found dead in suspicious circumstances. Tracking down how he died reveals layers of deception, rivalry, and danger for those close to him.
Dennis is available for interview— Please contact: Laura Benson, BENSON PR Website: https://bensonpr.com/
Author Bio:Dennis Altman is the son of Jewish refugees, and a writer and academic who first came to attention with the publication of his book Homosexual: Oppression & Liberation in 1972. His book, Global Sex (Chicago U.P, 2001), has been translated into five languages. Recent books include Queer Wars (co-authored with Jonathan Symons), Unrequited Love: Diary of an Accidental Activist, and God Save the Queen: the strange persistence of monarchies.
Altman is a Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at LaTrobe University in Melbourne, Australia. He was President of the AIDS Society of Asia and the Pacific (2001-5) and has been a member of the Governing Council of the International AIDS Society. He was listed by The Bulletin as one of the 100 most influential Australians ever and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2008.
Publication: “Death in the Sauna” by Dennis Altman—
Absolutely love this book! Although I am not a clever reader of literary fiction, Fiona McFarlane got me hooked. It is sometimes a demanding read but so alive and full of richly portrayed characters.
Of course, the South Australian landscape is the main protagonist, tortured and decimated as it is, ruined by European settlers who did not see beauty or learn bush secrets nor had the ability to properly sustain the land; they just saw desert to be conquered. And they did it badly.
September 1883, in the South Australian outback, young Denny is lost in a dust storm but author McFarlane’s tale spins off into other areas as well; the climate, people showing strength and fear, love, intimacy, unthinking cruelty, making good and bad decisions, and those who trek back and forth across the bone-dry landscape on enduring camels. Colonial Australia was raw and rough; every human emotion is detailed here, channelled into finding a lost boy, coercing the reader into moods of discomfort, dreamlike imaginings, and showing the struggles needed to sustain a viable future.
Although I dislike the non-indigenous trees on the bookcover, I could write copious notes on each character in this story. McFarlane brings to mind earlier Australian authors, superlative Patrick White and inimitable Thea Astley. Here, McFarlane’s character of Mrs Joanna Axam reminds me of my great-aunt, a strong and opinionated woman with natural cunning subdued for polite society and an unerring ability to read people’s personalities, often using it against them.
Joanna Axam has a whippet named Bolingbroke which shows her sense of humour. Henry, her deceased husband, left behind a biblical garden, not because he was devout but because he liked the idea. Joanna knows it’s thirsty, a waste of water, but cannot let it die even though their land is barren due to cattle over-farming. I found her chapters quite riveting and she is obsessed with the possum cloak worn by Jimmy, one of Sergeant Foster’s trackers. What a schemer! Did she want it taken from the rightful owner to cover her own disfigurement? Did she understand mob and Country significance of a possum cloak?
Although young frightened Denny is the catalyst, over seven long days, there are many people good, bad and indifferent, trying to find the youngster by using their own particular skills. Two people spring to mind, Karl and Bess, penniless itinerant artists wandering in the desert in search of creative inspiration. They are woven through Denny’s story for better or worse, you decide.
I read this book when I was feeling strong otherwise I may have been overwhelmed by emotion at what Fiona McFarlane has created. As indicated by my first name, I am a descendant of German settlers to South Australia where the story is set. My great-great grandfather was a Lutheran pastor who documented the sad decline of Indigenous populations, caring for them as best he could. His records are in University archives and that’s all I know.
Just like life ‘The Sun Walks Down’ has turmoil then a resolution of sorts.
My small selection of How To Write books from various decades.
Interestingly the most handled judging by its spine is ‘Writing For Pleasure And Profit’ by Michael Legat 1992 (published Robert Hale Ltd London) with a foreword by P D James.
Chapter One says “…the obvious practical necessities for writing are pencil, pen, paper, typewriter, or get a typewriter friend to transcribe your work for you. Or have it professionally typed.” Legat used a word processor and called it a magic machine. Times have changed. Has creativity?
The book ‘Writing Down The Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg generated the most interest when I purchased it at a book fair. School’s out on this approach. In my opinion it depends on the genre.
Of course, all these books are senior citizens now, mainly due to the electronic era and the whole world on our phones. I cannot find my Stephen King ‘On Writing’ and I gave away my hardcopy of Julia Cameron’s perennial ‘The Artists Way’ but she is now live online https://juliacameronlive.com/the-artists-way/ However, I did find ‘See Me Jump: 20 things I’ve learned about writing books for children’ by the inimitable Jen Storer who has hundreds more tips now!
Books, hand-written, keyboard, paper drafts, online, speech-to-text, any format writing is writing and you just have to keep at it.
Books on writing: ‘How to Write History that People Want to Read’ by Ann Curthoys & Ann McGrath ‘The Writer’s Guide’ by Irina Dunn ‘How to be a Successful Housewife Writer’ by Elaine Fantle Shimberg ‘Weasel Words’ by Don Watson ‘Writing for Pleasure and Profit’ by Michael Legat ‘The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club’ by Maeve Binchy ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg ‘The Stage Manager’s Handbook’ by Bert Gruver & Frank Hamilton ‘Why We Write’ edited by Meredith Maran (20 acclaimed authors advice) ‘Picador New Writing’ edited by Helen Daniel and Drusilla Modjeska General inspiration: ‘The Works’ by Pam Ayres ‘See Me Jump’ by Jen Storer ‘Playing Beatie Bow’ by Ruth Park ‘Short Story Favourites’ edited by Walter McVitty ‘The Animals in That Country’ by Laura Jean McKay (shown below, adult concepts, indigenous animals not included with book)
What a great read! A story with non-stop action and well integrated historical facts revolving around a modern duo, Felix and his stepsister Zoe, who are visiting France with their parents. Felix accidently (due to curiosity and a writing stylus) gets Zoe and himself transported back over a thousand years to 315 CE and Arelate (modern-day Arles, France) in ancient Roman Gaul.
Inadvertently Felix and Zoe meet a haughty high status Roman girl Petronia and her wilful dog Furia. At first the characters of Zoe and Petronia seemed abrasive to me but as time went on I found their personalities much more interesting. There are threads of understanding and relating, and for Felix and Zoe to come to terms with their parents new relationship. If they ever get back home!
The busy streets of the city of Arelate with its library, meeting place, and special bathhouse, teems with activity and the sights, sounds, smells, strange food and citizens are well documented by author illustrator Anna Ciddor.
My favourite chapters start from ‘Over The Boat Bridge’ which leads to hard labour and major discomfort on a terrifying leaky boat trip. As if the coarse food and anxiety isn’t enough, Anatolius is an overbearing boat owner. But it’s true what the book blurb says, a rollercoaster adventure. There is high drama on the Druentia river before the trio reach their destination, Avennio.
After a disappointment, there is a long climb to reach the Sacred Spring and Villa Fontanicum. Why is this place their hard-won goal? I guess you’ll have to read the book and follow the map to discover the answers. And find out if they like the food along the way. Felix tastes a variety of strange dishes (and sees how cheese is made) but my favourite dish was Calves’ Brain Pudding. Ugh!
The duo witness street processions (Hermes/Mercury with his snake staff named Caduceus) and see unusual medical treatments. Petronia is keen to take them to a live theatre performance; but the big question here is will Petronia lose her snobby attitude and make friends? Meanwhile Felix must face a worrying situation regarding their time transporting stylus. He needs to problem solve fast to get Zoe and himself back to the future.
As a fan of irreverent TV series ‘Plebs’ for adults, I think Anna Ciddor has written a factual yet rollicking adventure suitable for children/teenager/adult readers. An ancient Roman must-read, an exciting immersive time-slip journey into the past.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ILLUSTRATOR
Anna Ciddor has always been fascinated by the past. It would be her dream come true to step through time! Instead, she immersed herself in research and hunts out the tiniest details so she can bring the past to life in her imagination—and her books. To find out more Visithttps://annaciddor.com/ Booklisthttps://annaciddor.com/books-by-anna-ciddor/
I have decided to accept the Non-Fiction Reader Challenge from Book’d Out and make non-fiction part of my regular reading. I am currently reading ‘Pictorial History of Australia’s Little Cornwall’ by Philip Payton.
Why this particular book? Do I have Cornish connections?
Well, I chose this book because I attend Cheryl Hayden’s U3A classes on Cornish History and all that entails. Cheryl has a passion for Cornishman Tristram Winslade and she studied with author Philip Payton. On the first day, the first thing I recognised were the names of towns and places because Cornish miners came to Australia around 1840s and left their mark on the South Australian landscape.
Miners and their families came to South Australia to take part in the new colony’s great copper boom from 1845 to 1877. These skilled men used their expertise to extract the rich ore which gave Australia world-wide acclaim as the Copper Kingdom. Mining was a grim life for everyone and added to that physical toil was the mental toll of being thousands of miles away from home.
And, no, I don’t have a family connection to Cornwall. But I am fascinated by the strength, courage and determination of those Cornish pioneers who travelled to the other side of the world for work.
The motto of Cornwall is ‘Onan hag Oll’ which in English means ‘One and All’ a sentiment of unity that pervades the Cornish spirit and has defined its character over centuries.
My mantra would have been ‘Damn dirt and dust’. They were religious people so perhaps did not swear. If you’ve read about the Prayerbook Rebellion and King Edward VI part in it back in 1549, they took that pretty seriously.
Book photographs show grim, hardworking Cornishmen above and below ground. Of course, in those days the people being photographed had to keep very, very still otherwise the image blurred. These blokes changed the fortunes of Australia.
QUOTE: The Cornish steam engine was revolutionary when it was introduced into Australia in the mid-19th century, enabling mining of metals at depths not previously possible. This new form of deep, hard rock mining required new skills and technology not then present in Australia. Mining for copper required the skills of miners who knew how to establish mines and systematically work them in a way that gave the best return for the effort and cost required to access the ore body.
Due to my claustrophobia I don’t know how men could go down a shaft and work in tunnels underground. I get palpitations and cold sweats just looking at the B&W photos of mining accomplished hundreds and hundreds of metres—Moonta as deep as 762 metres (2,500 feet)—below the surface in low lighting with little ventilation… sorry, have to stop and take some deep breaths…
Death and infant mortality would have been regular visitors, coupled with irregular supplies of food and clothing necessities. For example, Burra is 164km from the city of Adelaide and two hours travel by car now. Back then it would have taken several days, if not a week, allowing for the weather. What consideration was given to housing, health, education and even entertainment? It seems like it was all work, work, work for mining families. But I bet it wasn’t!
I certainly hope those intrepid miners were well paid with bonus credits because I reckon they deserved every penny they earned and more. In conjunction, the Moonta Mines women on the Yorke Peninsula deserved gold medals for their Cornish Pasties, continual scrubbing of clothes and the ability to produce a home-life as normal as possible under the harsh conditions.
When the mines were closed in 1923 many Cornish families stayed in Australia. By then ‘Little Cornwall’ and its Cornish heritage had achieved legendary status. Festivals and parades were held Kernewek Lowender and Gorsedh Kernow. There are early photographs of Chapels, brass bands and street parades with proud banners. This tradition still exists in South Australia today.
It’s easy to say nothing really remains of the old mines but it does. It’s there in the engine house, the rocks, the mounds and mineral ponds; the names of Cornish descendants and, of course, the original town names like Redruth, Burra, Kapunda and the ‘Copper Triangle’ of Wallaroo, Moonta and Kadina. Today Burra and Moonta are of outstanding national heritage significance as two places in Australia where Cornish mining technology, skills and culture are demonstrated to a high degree.
Mining continues in Australia; minerals are a finite resource yet presently unrecycled copper products are widely used in building construction, electrical grids, electronic products, transportation equipment and home appliances.
One hundred years from closing in 1923 to 2023 today, those Cornish miners had no inkling of the controversy, dilemma and great debate earth mining is causing in Australia right now. Benjamin Franklin said ‘No nation was ever ruined by trade.’ But whose bank account does it fill and at what cost to the environmental future of our country?
Now I am going for a walk, very conscious of what could lie beneath the grassy parkland.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Pictorial History of Australia’s Little Cornwall By Philip Payton Format: Paperback Size: 265 x 218 mm ISBN: 9781743056554 Extent: 96 pages Wakefield Pressis an independent book publishing company based in Adelaide, South Australia.
My Thoughts: A beautiful story of ordinary life and love with extraordinary depth. Author William Trevor invited me into the pages so I could gently and thoughtfully read my way through the summer months in an Irish village named Rathmoye and learn about those who lived there in varying degrees of peace, comfort, toil and hardship. So different from today’s way of living, except our emotions never change, human nature is what it is.
I read this novel for ‘A Year With William Trevor’ Reading Challenge (info below). I could see the countryside, the characters. William Trevor captures the very essence of humanity with ease. His style of writing is deceiving, he makes it look simple but every sentence is meaningful.
Gradually rural mid-century characters show the reader their world, from joy to sorrow, their hidden thoughts amid the daily grind. Making do ‘just because’ the majority of things are hard to come by.
There are the not-so-hidden thoughts from people in the village about the visiting stranger from Castledrummond, Florian Kilderry, and local lass Ellie Dillahan who are the two main characters on a collision course. Among others, we have Miss Connulty with secret desires, wearing mother’s jewellery, wondering if she is jealous of Ellie. There is advice from Sister Ambrose, and old Orpen Wren who wanders about with his hopeful memories and tragic past.
FOUNDLING QUOTE: Ellie “We were always there. The nuns pretended our birthdays, they gave us our names. They knew no more about us than we did ourselves. No, it wasn’t horrible, I didn’t hate it.”
Everyone and everything has a part to play; woven through the story is a decaying estate; dogs, sheep and Ellie delivering farm fresh eggs on a bicycle; sewing a summer dress on the kitchen table. Amid the endless toil of farm life, Ellie’s husband battles his own demons after losing his first wife and child. Most of all, religion and the Irish nuns who cared for and raised Ellie from a baby, the lessons they taught her never forgotten.
‘But she saw Florian…’ Ellie watches him, she is captivated. He stirs her in strange and mysterious ways, slowly drawing her onto forbidden ground. Florian is both accessible and distant. They come from different and difficult backgrounds, they both have the vestiges of abandonment. Not getting too close, searching for something, they don’t really know what that something is—Ellie is smitten but she also has a strong conscience.
Florian Kilderry starts off photographing a funeral with his old Leica camera but later feels that photography would fail him like everything else. We know that he has other plans but he cannot get the lovely Ellie out of his thoughts as he prepares to sell the family estate.
They pass notes in a niche in a stone wall, go walking, talking. In between times, Florian is literally burning everything from inside his family home, it seemed such a waste to me but his memories are bitter-sweet. A charming flashback has Florian and cousin Isabella reading some of his short stories written by hand in an old field journal years before. I wondered if they were really William Trevor’s when he was young?
The ending is powerful and actually crept up on me.It is three-pronged and at first I wondered if I’d interpreted it correctly. Snappy vignettes of speech and thought are used to heighten the denouement.Also a tantalising question is left hanging in the air. Great stuff!
Conclusion: I finished this book and wanted to meet the characters, sit and chat with them in the sunshine. To ask questions and maybe visit the village pub; walk through the fields, splash across streams, eat a farmhouse meal. So much of this tale is real and true but mostly vanished from the universal landscape. Domesticity, societal rules and etiquette, that time immemorial quality of hard, tedious tasks being done by hand, without grumbling, because there was no other way.
For better or worse, close-knit farming communities are changing and moving on from villages like Rathmoye in many ways except for emotions, our deep desire for love and tenderness and a partner to walk beside us.
William Trevor (1928-2016) was an Irish writer who left behind an amazing legacy—dozens of novels, novellas, short stories and plays—for us to enjoy. In 2023, on the occasion of the 95th anniversary of his birth, what better way to celebrate his work than by spending a year reading it?
That’s why I (Kim) have joined forces with Cathy from 746 Books to spend ‘A Year with William Trevor’. Between the two of us, we think we can cover a good chunk of his writing over the course of 12 months—and we’d love you to join in!
We have come up with a proposed reading schedule and we’ll be posting our reviews in the first week of every month between January and December 2023. #williamtrevor2023
Biography William Trevor Ireland (1928 – 2016)
William Trevor was born in County Cork in 1928 and spent his childhood in various provincial Irish towns. He went to Trinity College, Dublin and then to England in 1953. In 1977 William Trevor received an honorary CBE in recognition of his services to literature, and in 1998 he was awarded the prestigious David Cohen British Literature Prize for a lifetime’s achievement in writing. He wrote novels, plays, essays and short stories, appeared in anthologies and won many literary awards.
Postscript: At the time of writing this book review, I did not know that ‘Love and Summer’ was the last NOVEL William Trevor wrote. (My review posted on St Valentine’s Day)
Photography: My book-styling image was hijacked by JoJo who insisted that I use it in my ‘Love and Summer’ review. Apparently all other William Trevor novels had flown off the shelves, so I borrowed a large print edition from my local library. It has an odd front and back cover design as though someone has scribbled postcard graffiti to match an element in the story. Happy reading! ♥ GBW.
“My memories get mixed up with dreams” says Chess Febey, and they are causing emotional turmoil which is affecting her everyday life. When Chess was five her mother, Lena Febey, died in unspoken circumstances and Chess is unsure whether or not she was there at the time. Was it a tragic accident? Could she have caused it? Was her father involved? There’s nothing on the internet and nobody will talk to her about what happened. Least of all her ineffective father, an uncommunicative alcoholic who hides family items and mementoes from Chess’ childhood, including a hand-drawn map of her mother’s titled “Evermore”. Where is this place?
There are a lot of veiled warnings and secrecy, and Chess doesn’t know where to start or what to believe in her search for an honest answer. Until she finally gets a lead. With her best friend and long-suffering companion Matt Tingle they head to the pretty alpine town of Bright in the high country of north-east Victoria; a place so close yet strangely Chess has never visited.
“The road to Mount Beauty started out like all the other roads around Bright, in story-book countryside, with reedy dams, cows, pretty trees and fields of lush grass. But soon we were climbing. The road became steep and winding. On the right there was a wall of rock with ferns and moss and roots, and on the left there was the kind of steep drop that had you imagining what would happen if you went over the edge and wondering if any of the trees would stop you.”
Page 162 ‘Evermore’ by Joanna Baker
Highly focussed, Chess and Matt pick up likely threads and hope to decipher how, and possibly why, Chess’ mother died. She soon finds out that nobody in town will tell them any details of what happened. If they will talk at all. Perhaps her mother Lena, a renowned flirt, was murdered and Chess was implicated as a child? From blank faces to townspeople warning her off, one woman forcibly showed Chess that she wanted to be left alone.
Obscure clues from Chess’ nightmarish dreams grow stronger and float to the surface night after night. She writes them down in the morning and reads them back to Matt. He’s a good foil for her; solid, sensible, the one who picks up on nuances and other people’s behaviour whereas Chess ploughs straight ahead, oblivious to the consequences which give rise to some bad situations.
Their investigations come across May Tran of Out and About Adventure Holidays. May becomes a willing participant in their quest, cycling through scenic countryside, often on cold rainy days. I would have liked more Aussie phrasing but when it comes to May, Matt’s humour and inner monologues are great value.
Chess and Matt become domestic hands at Grindel’s budget tourist hostel which they use as a base during their research, helped by cook Calvin and friend Paz who offers dream interpretations. Personally I am not too sure about the psychology behind the dream clues but they certainly are frequent and disturbing.
Chess and Matt encounter further stubbornness from the local residents, documents are hidden or erased, any contact is terse – especially in the library. And who is following them in the old red Mercedes? One big clue does emerge, although it throws Chess into further torment as to where her mother had actually died. The explosive final chapters reveal all and I was shocked at the moral judgement of everyone Chess encountered in her frantic search for the truth.
I loved the rural landscapes because I have family who lived in the area and I know the small hamlets of Yackandandah and Porepunkah; Wandiligong gets a mention for their tiny library dated 1878 and the new Bright library which is at least 150 years old.
Suitable for YA and adult readers “Evermore” is the third book in the series (below) and I think each book could stand alone although I enjoyed the ongoing progression. Character development is strong and the pacing kept me hooked right to the end. Throughout the story are compelling themes of friendship, determination and the overpowering desire to find out the truth behind an emotional family secret.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
My thanks to author Joanna Baker for a copy of “Evermore”.
Best birthday present ever! And a great read for Halloween! After reading the draft manuscript of Jack Roney’s novel The Ghost Train and The Scarlet Moon on behalf of Carolyn Martinez of Hawkeye Publishing, I rated it highly in my appraisal.
Unfortunately life got in the way and I was unable to follow the progress of the book. The good news is obvious, Hawkeye Publishing accepted it for publication, my family gifted a copy to me, and here it is!
First, I wanted to learn more about the factual event the book is based on and delved into it online. The story relates to a real train crash on the Brisbane to Closeburn line on Monday 5th May 1947, a public holiday for Labour Day, and dubbed the Camp Mountain Train Crash. It proved to be the worst disaster in Queensland’s rail history.
In the prologue, author Jack Roney depicts what happened on that fateful train trip from Brisbane to Closeburn; a special picnic day for families and friends, a journey which ended in tragedy with a catastrophic derailing. Many lives were lost or changed forever.
However, there is one big difference in this story
After the train crash decades later in May 1982, a Labour Day holiday, best mates Toby, Dan and Jimmy join their Grade 7 Samford State School class early in the morning to watch the super blue blood moon lunar eclipse. Afterwards they go exploring in the old Yugar Tunnel, scaring bats and being scared. Someone or something is watching them from the trees. The three boys go into the dark tunnel… bats… fire and smoke… and depart thoroughly spooked.
After the tunnel adventure, the boys cycle to the ghost train site along a road where the train tracks once ran… hear train whistle… steam train engine… Jimmy disappears… of course, young Toby does not know or understand where his friend has actually gone. Dan is very upset. Toby’s life turns into a living nightmare because nobody believes him, and the police are sceptical when he says “Jimmy just vanished”.
Decades later, enter adult Toby, a 2017 jetsetting travel writer returning from a far-flung country. Roney does an excellent job of describing Toby’s extensive research to find Jimmy (which gets more and more desperate) to discover how and why his friend disappeared. He wants to believe his missing pal is still alive. He must be out there! Cue research into time-slip, time travel, portal, wormhole, lunar eclipse, tear in the fabric of space, super blue blood moon (a lunar eclipse coupled with a second full moon in one month) but is a return possible after such a crash?
Previously, without warning, the other friend Dan, now an adult, has gone missing under mysterious circumstances and his wife is distraught. From tax avoidance to suicide, Toby runs through the possible yet unlikely options.
Find out what Toby discovers. The clues are there. There are three time zones set in 1947, 1982 and 2017 for each lunar phenomena. Toby widens his research to make some sense of the disappearances with unexpected help from his landlady Mrs Doherty.
There is strong urban geography throughout, and I am sure teenage readers and speculative fiction fans would happily discuss conflicting emotions and plot nuances. Roney’s tweaks and turnarounds are clever and I went back once to see how the past fitted in with the present. The final twist is unexpected!
Written in four parts with chapter illustrations, The Ghost Train and The Scarlet Moon is a vividly realised adventure story which invokes a strong sense of friendship, keeping an open mind, and never giving up.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Jack Roney is a former detective and author of the crime thriller series The Angels Wept, The Demons Woke and The Shadows Watch. He is a member of the Queensland Writers Centre and Australian Crime Writers Association. His writing is inspired by over 30 years in law enforcement where he gained experience in general policing, criminal investigation, strategic policy, media and communications and also as an operational skills/firearms and police academy instructor. He draws on his experience to bring authenticity and realism to his writing. https://www.jackroney.com.au/#/
“This book is dedicated to the victims of the Camp Mountain train crash, the heroes who came to their aid, and the survivors whose lives were changed forever by the tragic events of 5th May 1947. May you never be forgotten”
I wish to thank English actor, comedian, screenwriter and producer John Cleese for this mind-expanding, succinct and humorous book ‘Creativity’ which has helped me in two ways. First, to celebrate my blog Thoughts Become Words100 Book Reviews milestone and, second, to give me an insight into the creative mind – a mind which we all have, yet use and abuse in many different ways.
Happily, I listened as Mr Cleese read his book to me. It only took an hour.
Also I am going on the assumption that you know John Cleese work because he does refer to it. Do I have to say Monty Python? The new edition is 2020 so he’s in his 80s now.
A truly delightful little book which lives up to its title!
By accident, I listened to the audio version and was so glad I did because one hour just flew by. The inimitable John Cleese, actor, comedian, screenwriter, producer, talked to me about his past, his creativity and how our brain is always working even while we sleep. It is ready to come up with great ideas and answers to questions puzzled over during daylight hours. Hence ‘I’ve got it!’ inspirational moments on waking.
Call it pseudo-science or a clever comedy skit, nuggets of truth gleam through the wise words of Mr Cleese. For example, if you are getting nowhere with your work, put it aside and look at it later, next day, next week. Nothing new but the way he describes and elaborates on the process heightened my awareness in an enjoyable way.
If you listen to this guide on the bus, you may not laugh embarrassingly out loud but you may smile and nod at the sense of it. I can recommend for all ages and talents. GBW.
A small book containing a big story. Matthew Flinders, British navigator and cartographer, sailed to and from Australia between 1795 to 1803 for various reasons including mapping the entire coastline. On these precarious, dangerous and adventurous journeys, Flinders was accompanied by Trim, his black cat with white paws.
Written in conjunction with Flinders biographical tribute, this book “Trim The Cartographer’s Cat” or “The Ship’s Cat Who Helped Flinders Map Australia” shows a new and fascinating insight into the man who was the world’s most accomplished navigator and cartographer.
Matthew Flinders RN was the first to circumnavigate Australia and also instrumental in giving our continent its name. Trim accompanied Flinders through good times and bad, including a shipwreck, and this small volume has exciting chapters on their 19th century nautical experiences.
Trim was a seafaring daredevil, surviving fur-raising adventures. When he wasn’t climbing rigging or cadging food, he caught his own ocean-fresh flying fish suppers.
I like to think Trim’s name relates to a ship being “trim” as in desirable weight distribution for better handling at sea. Certainly he was a neat and ship-shape cat! However, you may find that Trim was named after a character in a 1759 novel by Laurence Sterne.
“My Seafurring Adventures with Matt Flinders” from Trim himself, assisted by Philippa Sandall.
Timeline: The Voyages of Matthew Flinders and Trim.
The book illustrations are wonderful, research is thorough, the format is highly readable. A great read for those who are interested in factual exploration history. I feel as if I got to know Flinders and his life skills. Of course, Trim’s rodent catch-and-clean-up service is another skill altogether! This book has given me more than I learned at school – and is suitable reading for a family or feline friend.
By all accounts, both Flinders and Trim were exceptional characters.
“Not many ships cats have one memorial statue, let alone six. But Trim does, including one outside Euston Station in London.”
Trim The Cartographer’s Cat
Without venturing into the politics of what happened to Matthew Flinders (or Trim, or indeed First Nations People) after he sailed from Terra Australis, I enjoyed reading this publication and will go so far as to say every library should own a copy.
❤ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Book: “Trim The Cartographer’s Cat” Format: Hardback Edition: 1st Pages: 128 ISBN 9781472967220 Imprint: Adlard Coles Illustrated: Beautiful maps, historical artwork, quirky original illustrations Dimensions: 182 x 129 mm Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Booktopia Online
This is the perfect crime novel for an imperfect crime. First-time fiction author Margaret Hickey shows she has a superlative grasp on our vast dry landscape and uncomfortable small town atmosphere.
The story of “Cutters End” excels in the finer details, the misleading conversations and chilling moments. While the hitchhiker plot is not new, the way this one is handled is both clever and gripping, and gives certain Australian police procedurals a run for their money.
A series of events conspire to pull Detective Sergeant Mark Ariti out of long service leave and send him inland to Cutters End as an Acting Inspector to investigate the unexplained death of local man Michael Denby, hopefully to solve this decades-old case. The big question is “Tragic car accident or murder?” And will the result give Ariti a career boost or convince him to leave the force?
Detective Sergeant Mark Ariti wonders “Those courses, a lot of butcher’s paper and PowerPoint. What did it take to become Commissioner, role play?”
To compound matters, DS Ariti is having troubles at home (hhmm) and coincidently was an old school friend of two women, Ingrid and Joanne, the original hitchhikers who are entwined in the cold case. Joanne is now a high-profile celebrity. Also Ariti has Superintendent Conti breathing down his neck asking for updates at every turn.
At the Cutters End police station, Ariti meets Senior Constable Jagdeep Kaur and she shines in her role as the understated country cop. The characters, from pub owners to laconic farmers and the town’s snap-happy crazy man distinguish themselves as Ariti begins collecting old data and uncovering new information.
It is intriguing how author Margaret Hickey has woven and looped the plot so that I found it tricky to discern fact from fiction and who was telling the truth. Clues? There is an interesting side story about Ingrid’s travels and her overseas partner Sander.
Generations have struggled against the inhospitable conditions of inland South Australia, either too hardy or too stubborn to leave. Hot dusty life goes on in Cutters End and, intentionally or not, the townspeople are good at telling only half the story behind Michael Denby and the single vehicle crash.
A stark tree, a lone shoe, several things didn’t add up yet held my interest and kept me concentrating. Then a vital link is discovered, suspects come sharply into focus and it’s game on.
I am really looking forward to reading “Stone Town” Margaret Hickey’s second book in this series.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
It never fails to annoy me when book reviewers find fault with indigenous language or slang in a book. I don’t mean a foreign language, for example an Irish character using a smattering of French, but the local terminology in the country in which the story is placed. For instance, Australian crime novels are often set in small towns or outback locations where descriptive words are used. They, like most informal terms used in common speech, are second nature to the Australian reader. But apparently this throws overseas readers into a tizzy. Well, guess what guys, we have been reading British and American books for many many years and we learned to cope! Embrace the difference! I am sure Mrs Google will help you learn a couple of new words 😀 GBW.
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.
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.
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:
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
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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-Ward—in collaboration with Dot Bernet.
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.
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