Review ‘Death in Daylesford’ by Kerry Greenwood

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

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

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

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Snapshot from DECO Watermark Publishing Ltd and John Sands Greeting Cards

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

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

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

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

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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

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

Book Review ‘Trust’ by Chris Hammer

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

—Review—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

“Smartphones on and life-cancelling earbuds in”

From Trust Martin Scarsden crime series
by Chris Hammer 2020

Review ‘Troubled Blood’ by Robert Galbraith

“Troubled Blood” is based on old school detective work and hours of hard slog.  An expertly presented narrative of a cold case investigation, seen through the eyes of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, private detectives with their own agency.  The dynamic duo interview a diverse range of suspects while battling family upheaval and relationship problems in their private lives.  World-building is not needed when London is the backdrop and the book is based on excellent characters, their actions and personalities.

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Fifth book in the Cormoran Strike series © Image Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2020

Author Robert Galbraith’s fifth crime novel in the Strike series is a distinctive portrayal of family, close friends, co-workers and suspects in the mysterious disappearance of Margot Bamborough, a doctor who vanished in 1974, leaving behind her daughter Anna who now wants answers.  Every lead, every word, every movement, every coffee is documented (I am sure some readers will skip) and sections in an out-of-print book and archived police reports are analysed and compared.  Yet serial killer Dennis Creed remains tight-lipped.

A body was never found but press reports and layers of dross from obsessed former police officer Bill Talbot are explored.  Talbot penned reports in shorthand, astrological diagrams, horoscope and zodiac signs and unusual drawings which, by the way, were illustrated by J K Rowling.  A killer could be on the loose, but nabbing them now seems impossible.  Robin is the fact-finder and Strike leads the interviews, of which there are many, until he is called away to visit his sick aunt.  Galbraith has been kind enough to subtly recap events at intervals so I could refresh my mental Who’s Who.

The setting starts in December at Christmas time (I read this novel in 2020 festive season) and apart from facing inept matchmaking and a sleazy co-worker, gift shopping is fraught with uncertainty for Strike and Robin.  As a wiser world comes out of Covid-19, it is unsettling to read about the pre-pandemic holiday season and Strike’s bad case of ‘flu.  His prosthetic leg is not often mentioned; he avoids emotions and text messages; and loses brownie points from me when he increases cigarette smoking.  Not sexy, not sensible, give up smoking, Strike! 

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Christmas cherries and chook page holder © Image Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2020

Aside from the niggling aspect of a ready-made screenplay, dialogue is what I loved most about “Troubled Blood”.  Dylan Thomas wrote a play for voices and this book compares in that the bulk of it is revealed through speech.  Although sprinkled with the obligatory f-word, thankfully catchphrases and recurrent behaviours are out, and a kind of interview intimacy is used throughout the book.  It is like sitting next to Robin and Strike as they conduct café interviews in venues like Fortnum & Mason and Hampton Court Palace.   

British to the core, this story of 927 (real) pages brilliantly achieves the traditional crime ensemble with a modern set-up.  I enjoyed both the solid content and the easy visualisation.  Definitely a multi-layered plot with lots of upsetting domestic drama and soul searching which, in many ways, are things a reader has experienced and can relate to.  That aside, I found ye olde English chapter excerpts from “The Faerie Queene” by Edmund Spenser (c1590) to be charmingly relevant yet tricky to decipher.

A lengthy book merits a long review, and “Troubled Blood” is what I call a heavy weight novel in more ways than one.  I think this Galbraith/Rowling offering is much better than the last instalment in the series, and it was a pleasure to read a well-bound typo-free hardback.  Perseverance is needed with the word-bombing when reading late at night, but all in all a great book for an internet-free holiday, just set aside a solid chunk of reading time.  

Gretchen Bernet-Ward



This review is dedicated to blogger friend and Strike fan, May of Brizzy Mays Books and Bruschetta
“Predominately Books But Other Stuff Too”

A big shout out to literary friend Book Jotter, Paula Bardell-Hedley, for reblogging my review on her #150 post:
https://bookjotter.com/2020/12/19/winding-up-the-week-150/

J.M. Peace Aussie Cop Crime Writer

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Book 1—Review ‘A Time to Run’
by J M Peace

Sammi Willis is a police officer, written by a genuine police officer, so I figured the action would be authentic and the plot would be an absorbing and gripping read.  It is all that and more!  Told in real time, I counted the logbook minutes and followed police procedure to find out where Sammi had gone.  She left a suburban pub alone at night and accepted a lift back to her girlfriend’s house but never arrived.  The tension is controlled until gradually the stress levels rise and events ramp up: Sammi hasn’t contacted her partner or family and misses her work shift.  It doesn’t take much to realise that something is very wrong.

Meanwhile, the reader has access to the other side of the story––Sammi’s ordeal.  It is hard to describe what she goes through without taking some of the element of fear away for potential readers.  Sammi is made powerless in the hands of a brutal man who has killed before.  She knows she must fight cleverly to save her life, but without proper clothing, food or knowledge of her bushland location, she faces an uphill battle to survive.  Every painful step Sammi takes, every thought and emotion is totally believable. She goes through bouts of logic and hallucination while the armed madman follows her progress on his trail bike.

Waiting back at Angel’s Crossing, Sammi’s partner Gavin and her friend Candy are distraught and not coping well, but Criminal Investigation Branch reinforcements arrive in the form of go-getter Janine Postlewaite.  That’s all I am going to say, except read this book and appreciate excellent Australian crime writing.  There are two books which follow this one, I have read “The Twisted Knot” and will soon read “An Unwatched Minute”.  J. M. Peace highlights just how good, and how different, Aussie writers are at setting the scene with strong characters and electrifying content.  I was hooked from beginning to end. 

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Book 2—Review ‘The Twisted Knot’
by J M Peace

Written by a real police officer, gritty and unashamedly Australian, this story has twists and turns I did not see coming.  The big question is ‘Who committed what crime?” and at first I thought I knew, but the plot had a surprise in store.  A police procedural with no gimmicks, no generic dialogue but plenty of believable characters and a nasty bundle of suspects.  Constable Samantha (Sammi) Willis of Angel’s Crossing police station is in the thick of the action, handling vengeful townsfolk when paedophile rumours surface, while privately juggling her shaky marriage.

Sammi is also recovering from a near death experience with a maniac who killed for fun (see “A Time to Run” the first Sammi book by J. M. Peace) but she is ably supported by her colleagues, particularly by-the-book Bob.  Gradually she gets back into routine and Sammi leaves the front desk to attend a call-out.  It turns into a gruesome find in a farmhouse shed.  The identity and cause of death is in doubt and Terry Cousens, a Plain Clothes Constable, takes the lead rein, eager for a quick promotion.

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Fortunately Sammi knows the rural town and handles proceedings well, but Terry does not.  He also has an interesting run-in with Jeremy from Forensics. The police detective work is substantial, and the daily routine of a police station is well portrayed.  Nothing hit-and-miss, everything is methodical and eventually the clues and forensic samples compile a clear picture of what happened.  Or do they?  The reader gets snippets, sometimes from wives and mothers, and sometimes from an unknown narrator but I found it hard to pick a culprit.

Naturally, in this type of crime novel there are disturbing scenes, paedophilia and swearing.  However, I think that J. M. Peace has hit the right note.  It would be great to see her get more international recognition. I think she has the potential to grow a following like Garry Disher. With Hirsch in rural South Australia, there could be someone like Sammi in rural Queensland with the bonus of Peace’s insider knowledge.  I’ve read “A Time to Run” and I’m keen to read “An Unwatched Minute” a recent book.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

An Unwatched Minute Bookcover J M Peace

Book 3—‘An Unwatched Minute’
by J M Peace

My review is yet to come, but here are excerpts taken from the J. M. Peace author website:

‘An Unwatched Minute’ goes behind the scenes of a small police station in the picturesque town of Tannin Bay.

When Constable Krista Danaher is transferred to the picturesque town of Tannin Bay she hopes it may help her gain much needed confidence in her new profession. She’s pleased when Senior Constable Malachi ‘Mort’ Morten takes her under his wing, both professionally and personally. But within days, a man has died in the watch house whilst in her care, triggering an intensive police investigation. It becomes apparent that not everyone is telling the truth and the gap between what happened and what the investigation can prove widens. The family of the dead man do whatever they can to make sure someone is held accountable. The police response will have far-reaching consequences on the small police station and the people who work there.

An Unwatched Minute’ is a gripping and realistic thriller, which shines a light on the grey spot where truth and justice meet.


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Author Info

An avid reader and writer from an early age, J. M. Peace wanted to be a writer. So she studied journalism figuring this would be a way of turning a passion into a job. Her career as a print journalist failed after a single year… so she took a complete change of direction and became a police officer. Over the past twenty years, she has served throughout south-east Queensland in a variety of different capacities, including Intelligence and CIB.

An award-winning author, Jay lives on the Sunshine Coast (Queensland) with her partner, wrangling her two cheeky children, a badly behaved dog and an anti-social cockatiel… You can connect with Jay on Facebook at JM Peace Author, Twitter at @jmpeaceauthor, Goodreads at JM Peace, and her blog ‘Cops and Novels’.

NOTE:A Time To Run’ was published by Pan Macmillan Australia on July 2015. The sequel ‘The Twisted Knot’ was released on July 2016. ‘A Time To Run’ was translated into German as ‘Die Hatz’ and Spanish as ‘La Cacería’.  Standalone novel An Unwatched Minute’ was released on Amazon/Kindle on May 2019.

The Thickness of Real Books

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Which is the Thickest Book of All? © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2020
Okay, let’s not get into the smell and feel of real books because I am only concentrating on the thickness of real books.
I thought the great hulking bulkiness of the doorstop blockbuster novel was long gone – not so when it comes to Robert Galbraith (worst kept pseudonym ever!) and her Cormoran Strike private detective series.
You know the one, the war veteran who lost half his leg, and his assistant like Robin in Batman, that’s it Robin, she’s really the most interesting character in these crime novels.
But I digress.
What I really want to say is that I find big heavy books daunting, not because they are big and heavy but because they had better have a really clever plot, plenty of drama, lots of tension, rip-roaring action and a nice twisty ending.
I want my money’s worth!
Which, in this case, isn’t relevant because I borrowed the big bruiser from the library – long live libraries – but I certainly hope this fifth installment lives up to its hype and dimensions.

 

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Which is the Best Book of All? © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2020
My loan copy of “Troubled Blood” is fresh and unsullied as you can see in my first angle shot.  When I look at the bold spine in my second shot, it doesn’t seem nearly as daunting.  Bonus: inside I discovered the author’s hand-drawn illustrations.
Don’t worry, I am not writing a three-part posting on the joys and disappointments of reading J K Rowling’s (oops, Robert Galbraith’s) latest literary endeavour.
Book 4 ‘Lethal White’ has 647 pages but at 927 pages, ‘Troubled Blood’ is not the longest book I’ve ever read.
I just hope it is one of the best.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


SYNOPSIS

“Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough, who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974. As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .”

Star Fish 02Hachette “A breathtaking, labyrinthine epic, ‘Troubled Blood’ is the fifth Strike and Robin novel and the most gripping and satisfying yet.”
https://www.hachette.com.au/robert-galbraith/troubled-blood

I guess if you can say “labyrinthine” you’ll have no worries reading this book. GBW.

Review ‘Honeybee’ by Craig Silvey

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Every so often I would close this book and take a deep breath.  The out-of-control actions are breathtaking and I felt sad and infuriated at the same time.  Sam ‘Honeybee’ Watson is powerless as he is pushed and pulled repeatedly through horrible events in his young life.  Author Craig Silvey does not sugar-coat the mental and physical abuse.  He writes an accurate portrayal of how alcohol, drugs and crime destroy a family, and the twisted use of power by certain members of that family.

Sam’s view of the world is distorted by cruel and thoughtless people, mainly his mother and her boyfriend Steve, until traumatic circumstances bring him to meet old bloke Vic and nurse Peter, both offering him a glimpse of a kinder world.  On the periphery, he meets and makes his first friend Aggie who shows him a regular homelife.  Later he is offered assistance by a detective but Sam shuts down regarding his domestic situation and goes his own way with disastrous results.

IMG_20201021_182820Fourteen year old Sam likes dogs and wearing feminine clothing, and thanks to Vic he is good at motorcycle maintenance.  There are emotional moments concerning all three; dogs, sequins and motorcycles.  However, I did seesaw between whether or not I liked Sam because he certainly did some wrong things.  Even allowing for his youth and gender confusion, he fits the words of the Paul Kelly song ‘I’ve done all the dumb things’ only partly excusable by his fertile imagination, impulsive nature and inherent lack of trust.

The story has a good blend of past and present so the reader can see how things spiral out of control.  Early on, Sam becomes an adept thief because there is never food in the house so he steals groceries and watches videos of cooking goddess (no, not Nigella) the late Julia Child, turning into an impressive cook himself.  He constantly seeks approval of his culinary dishes.

I was not shocked by Sam’s experiences but they could be too confronting for younger readers.  This novel is very different from Silvey's ‘Jasper Jones’ and I think a sturdier sense of place, a more tangible atmosphere could have been applied instead of skimming through the streets.  Set in Western Australia, there are ‘movie moments’ and clipped generic dialogue, but I found the insertion of Americanisms kept to a minimum.  I suspect when Sam dials the wrong emergency number it is a poke at millennials who don't know the correct Australian phone number.

Draw-a-Bee 01Favourite sentence because it is so corny I sat there and nodded, but my heart was breaking, because I knew I could never tell Aggie the truth about myself.’  However, Craig Silvey has firmly and skillfully documented Sam’s predicament, a blend of teenage unease, identity crisis and gender anxiety.  Read at the right age, at the right time, it could prove to be an enlightening book.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”.


Craig Silvey Honeybee Australian Author 02Craig Silvey (born 1982) is an Australian novelist and musician living in Fremantle.  Silvey grew up on an orchard in Dwellingup, a small town in timber and fruit-growing lands in south-west Western Australia.  He wrote his first book ‘Rhubarb’ when he was nineteen and it was published in 2004.  Silvey has received many accolades for his books and twice been named one of the Best Young Australian Novelists by The Sydney Morning Herald, and has been shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award.

Since his wildly successful novel ‘Jasper Jones’, Silvey has published the novella ‘The Amber Amulet’, which he adapted into a stage play the following year, and has scripted ‘The Prospector’, a contemporary western film directed by Rachel Perkins.  His latest book ‘Honeybee’ was published in 2020.  Silvey also sings and plays the electric ukulele in an indie/pop/rock band called ‘The Nancy Sikes’.

‘The Finisher’ by Peter Lovesey

THIS IS A GRAND STORY of old-school police procedural proportions, a murder mystery which employs the same dedication and precision as the runners in training for the Bath Half Marathon.  The build-up is firm and steady, the plot delivers survival tactics, and every likely and unlikely event is taken into consideration.

MOST OF THE GROUNDING for this solid piece of deduction has to do with Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond of Bath’s Criminal Investigations Department.  I can’t say Diamond is all that loveable, and he gets himself into trouble on the odd occasion, but he’s a great character to drape a story around.

DIAMOND HAS A GIRLFRIEND Paloma and when they are together I get a midsomer murder ‘Shakespeare and Hathaway’ vibe.  Diamond is aided and abetted by two sensible police officers, Keith Halliwell and Ingeborg Smith, and annoyed by Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore. Like any good whodunnit, there’s a crusty forensic pathologist Dr Sealy and a number of important characters woven into the story.

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Do you think you could run this marathon? https://bathhalf.co.uk/race-info/

I AM NOT BIG on writing synopses because I figure that a potential reader can get any amount of reviews online which offer insights into this ingenious plot.  Suffice to say that the Bath Half Marathon is an absolutely huge running event held in UK and literally thousands of people from all walks of life compete each year for charity.  On this occasion, a murder takes place and Diamond has to find the body before he can make an arrest. Actually there are two murders but this is where it gets tricky…

AUTHOR PETER LOVESEY has given the reader several suspects to choose from and they are all plausible.  Some of the characters include Spiro and Murat part of the modern-day slave trade, Maeve Kelly primary school teacher, sleazy Tony Pinto, and wife of Russian oligarch Olga Ivanova, taking part in the Bath Half Marathon for wildly different reasons. 

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I HAD A MASSIVE claustrophobia attack: the hills where the race is run has hundreds of old tunnels and underground quarries.  I haven’t felt that bad since I read ‘The Chalk Pit’ a Ruth Galloway mystery by Elly Griffiths.  Cruelly, Lovesey did not spare my nerves.

THE BOOK TITLE is apt in various ways, and apart from showcasing beautiful Bath, there are techie things like micro-chipped runners and aerial drones.  However, Lovesey does say that the route he mapped out is not the one followed by real runners.  He has never run the marathon but as an author and sports writer he cleverly captures the mood and excitement of the event.

Nothing like running a hot bath after running the Bath Half Marathon.

I MAY NOT SAY ‘Where are my running shoes?’ but with at least seventeen other novels in the Peter Diamond series, I am going to start my own reading marathon.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE

Poetry Clipart 08Peter (Harmer) Lovesey (born 1936), also known by his pen name Peter Lear, is a British writer of historical and contemporary detective novels and short stories. His best-known series characters are Sergeant Daniel Cribb, a Victorian-era police detective based in London, and Peter Diamond, a modern-day police detective in Bath.

Peter Lovesey lives near Chichester UK and was a teacher/lecturer before he turned to full-time writing.  In 2020 he celebrates 50 years as an author and ironically in 1970 his first prize-winning novel was ‘Wobble to Death’ where a bizarre six-day endurance race takes place in 1880s London.  His son Phil Lovesey also writes crime novels.

Jasper Fforde ‘The Constant Rabbit’ Book Review

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Most readers will grasp the fact that this book is not going to be about Bugs Bunny.  Jasper Fforde’s unique trademark of invective wit and critical observation cover politics, racism, sexism, bureaucracy and libraries.  Actually the library in the village of Much Hemlock has reverted to the old card system but is still afloat despite very tight restrictions.  Some reviewers say this book is a departure from Fforde’s usual style but I disagree.  Jasper Fforde has always been out-there, although his unique writing charm has become more prominent since Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett left the room.

The main protagonists are village newcomer Constance Rabbit and long-time residents Peter Knox and his daughter Pippa.  Despite cultural differences, they meet in the library and become friends.  And the book title?  I thought it had something to do with “The Constant Gardener” by John le Carré but in a Zoom interview via Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, Mr Fforde himself said that it refers to people rabbiting on, e.g. constantly talking – so there you go.

Rabbits rarely lie,” said Pippa.  “They take their greatest pride in preserving most strongly the parts of them that aren’t us”. Thus rabbits walk tall but do lean towards the tonal qualities of Beatrix Potter so it’s a shock when UKARP United Kingdom Anti-Rabbit Party rears its ugly head, ready to enforce rehoming of rabbits to a Mega Warren in Wales.  Things don’t look good for Connie but she’s not going to hop away.  Can sharing her difficulties with her neighbour cause romance to blossom over a lettuce salad?  But wait, average bloke Peter hides a dark secret.

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Jasper Fforde reads a portion of his new book The Constant Rabbit during Zoom interview via Avid Reader Bookshop, West End, Brisbane, Australia in July 2020 https://avidreader.com.au/products/the-constant-rabbit-1

As the byline reads “It’ll take a rabbit to teach a human humanity…” and for any reader with an open mind that’s what this book achieves.  Situations run parallel to today’s world like a surreal split in the time-continuum, engaging satire and brazen behaviour with apprehension and alarm.  It doesn’t take much effort to transpose our current social and political climate over the chapters.  It rapidly becomes clear that the intertextual remarks are meaningful and at times confronting.

Like the home-created experiments that lived and breathed in Thursday Next (in earlier Fforde books Pickwick the Dodo was made from a kit) Connie’s large family had not been the only animals caught up in the 1965 Spontaneous Anthropomorphising Event.  Six weasels, five guinea pigs, three foxes, a Dalmatian, a badger, nine bees and a caterpillar suffered disorders.  What happened to them is succinctly explained. 

Chapter “Searching in vain & Shopping in town” Connie talks about her acting career and lets slip a few movie names. There’s even a dig at the Playboy Bunny era.  I could have done with more illustrations as per previous books but real product brand names and clever wordplay are liberally sprinkled throughout the story; and organisations like TwoLegsGood, Rabxit, and RabCoT exist alongside old-school references, a mixture of “jolly good chap” and 2020 tactile sensibility.

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Part illustration taken from frontispiece drawn by Bill Mudron of Portland, Oregon USA (and my cast-iron rabbit)  https://www.billmudron.com/

What I like about Fforde’s writing style is the wry humour, he tells it like it is – with a twist.  The smarmy Senior Group Leader, Mr Torquil Ffoxe does not escape being lampooned for about forty permutations of the double ff in his name when “All, without exception, were pronounced Fox” so is that a dig at Fforde’s own moniker or reader misinterpretation?

In my opinion, this book is vaguely similar to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” but does not match because in “The Constant Rabbit” Fforde has significantly placed every name, action and event to create an edgy kind of intimacy, an uncomfortably familiar stab of recognition for readers.  With Manor Farm you feel things won’t turn out right; in Much Hemlock you want things to turn out right.  Best of all, Connie Rabbit has joined the illustrious list of strong female characters Jasper Fforde has written over the length of his literary career.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


IMG_20190907_185124Author Profile:

Jasper Fforde has been writing in the Comedy/Fantasy genre since 2001 when his novel “The Eyre Affair” debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list. Since then he has published 14 more books (which include a YA trilogy) with several becoming bestsellers, and counts his sales in millions. “The Constant Rabbit” is his 15th novel.

Jasper Fforde previously worked in the film industry, and now lives and writes in Wales UK. His oeuvre consists of series and standalones and his recent novel “Early Riser” is a thriller set in a world in which humans have always hibernated; his latest book “The Constant Rabbit” about anthropomorphised rabbits becoming the underclass in a post-Brexit Britain was published 2020.

Check out Dan Simpson’s blog Writer’s Routine for Jasper Fforde audio interview.
All you ever wanted to know
http://www.jasperfforde.com/

Review ‘The Brisbane Line’ by J P Powell

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This is a book I had to read.  The name is derived from “an alleged 1942 WWII government plan to abandon Northern Australia in the event of a Japanese invasion”—there is nothing alleged about it.  My father was a young soldier in WWII based in Melbourne when his division received the command to form The Brisbane Line.  It made such an impression on him that later, when he was married, he relocated the family to Brisbane where I currently live.

I dearly wish I could discuss this novel with my late father but I do remember him reminiscing about the off-duty times and leave in tropical Far North Queensland where hi-jinks often lead to a soldier’s death.   I am sure there was tension, corruption and murder among the thousands of American troops stationed in Brisbane, but on the other hand I know families of young women who married GI Joe’s and went to live in US never to return.

Enigmatic protagonist, Rose, has a boyfriend who is a prisoner-of-war and she says “It’s men who cause the trouble in the first place.  It’s just another hypocrisy.”

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Suitable for crime readers and historians, this well-researched yet fictionalised novel is based on a real person and his original paperwork.  It is more interesting than a text book and follows Sergeant Joe Washington, a US Military Police officer and amateur photographer who joins local police in battling crime and black market corruption.  Joe also has grave suspicions of a murder cover-up.

The humid atmosphere is laced with grunge and irritability offset by guys and gals dancing the night away at the Trocadero Dance Hall.  Well-known landmarks and people make an appearance, for example notorious cop Frank Bischof, author Thea Astley and General Douglas MacArthur, an American who in WWII commanded the Southwest Pacific region. 

The book is gritty and at times the inequality upset my 21st century sensibilities but it is based on true events.  Powell has recreated a vibrant town which embraced a huge influx of cashed-up strangers in uniform and the repercussions this had on Brisbane society, some of which still lingers today.

In “The Art of War” Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote “All warfare is based on deception” and “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle” so I think Judy Powell’s book shows there was no battle—but plenty of deception closer to home.  

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Author Profile

Briobooks
http://briobooks.com.au/authors/jppowell
YouTube Avid Reader Books interview
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbE0v3Yhkx0

Brisbane Line JP Powell Author Photo 2020 (5)Judy Powell is an archaeologist and historian with a passion for bringing the past to life.  She has worked as a high school teacher, an academic, a National Parks officer, a museum administrator and has excavated in Jordan, Cyprus and Greece as well as leading historical archaeology projects in Australia.  Powell, who lives outside Brisbane, was awarded a QANZAC Fellowship by the State Library of Queensland to pursue research into, and writing of, a series of crime novels set in Brisbane during World War II.

Book Review ‘Shepherd’ by Catherine Jinks

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On my first reading attempt

I wasn’t ready for this book.  I wanted to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Catherine Jinks other books but it didn’t work for me right from the start.  The setting was vivid but the raw, brutish behaviour and sheer masculinity of the story overwhelmed me.  Does that make me a sexist, a bigot, a wimp when it comes to macho bravado?  I don’t know.  I turned the pages with trepidation, not interest.  Maybe the colonial frontier loneliness affected me and I didn’t want to go on.

On my second reading

the story felt less crushing.  I concentrated on young English convict Tom Clay, a former poacher transported in chains to Australia, and now a shepherd.  I willed him to be okay, to learn and survive intact.  His country assignment in New South Wales works well, he didn’t steal from landowner Mr Barrett so he was never flogged and he works hard.  Through his eyes, I saw the strangeness of a harsh new land, the vast differences, and the cruel pitiless men he is forced to live and work with guarding sheep against theft and wild dogs.

Tom has a jaundiced eye

when it comes to things like Australian native wildlife and his comment on first seeing kangaroos is less than flattering.  I was disappointed with the header on the bookcover which reads “The wolf is not the only hunter”.  There are no wolves in Australia, there are dingoes (wild dogs) and that should have been apparent.

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Sheep stealing, jumbuck, billabong, Waltzing Matilda, poet Banjo Paterson

The conditions are harsh

and Tom’s fight for life against his arch nemesis Dan Carver is harsher still.  These chapters are tightly written.  The knock down drag ‘em out battles are horrific, the ghastly metal trap, the shootings, the human and animal deaths… but Tom dearly loves his sheep dogs.

I am not a fan

of an undefined location nor overused nonlinear narrative.  Tom’s past comes out in this way.  Flashback to eight year old Tom at his mother’s funeral, his former life almost as bad as his current one.  He learns “No matter what a convict’s situation might be, he’ll never persuade a trooper that he’s telling the truth.”  Flashback to when Tom first met convict Rowdy Cavanagh, a con man who joked, laughed and teased his way to success until he was caught “A single misstep and it ruined me life.”

The age rating

for this tense, chilling, thrilling story eludes me, but it is a tale I did not fully enjoy.  I do respect it wholeheartedly for the screenplay fear and fascination it instilled in me regarding the rough and thoroughly inhumane life early convicts were forced to endure.

A sequel?

Tom’s situation could lead to listening and learning from the Indigenous custodians of this ancient land, and perhaps encourage a new phase in his life.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Author info

Catherine Jinks ‘Shepherd’ interview on Paperchain Bookstore blog.

Catherine Jinks  (Australia b.1963) is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction.  In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.

Catherine Jinks Author Photograph 02Catherine Jinks, author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney.

She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television.  Catherine gets ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films.  She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.

Review ‘The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag’ by Alan Bradley

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This Alan Bradley story is deserving of 10 stars.  The irony, the wit and the revealing portrayal of 1950s English village life, is both hilarious and horrible.  Events are seen through the eyes of young Flavia de Luce, an implausibly precocious 11 year old girl who lives with her family in genteel decline.

Young Flavia’s encounters turn into forensic investigations and she has an inherent love of chemistry, brewing dangerous concoctions in her late grandfather’s lab.

The village of Bishop’s Lacey appears to be close-knit, yet even gossipy Mrs Mullet didn’t seem to know who or what killed young Robin Ingleby at Gibbet Hill.  The story really kicks off when well-known BBC puppeteer and bully Rupert Porson gives his last performance.  The scene-setting is brilliantly done and I felt immersed in the story from the beginning right through to the end.

Perhaps not a book for younger readers because they may get tired of the mid-20th century writing style.  Mature readers who like a quirky character will enjoy this tale.  I have never encountered the likes of Flavia de Luce, a strange mixture of Wednesday Addams and Bones.

But she certainly knows how to snoop or turn on the charm when necessary.

Generally the main players are conventional but it’s what I expected, having been raised on a diet of British books, magazines and television series.  Their dialogue and the descriptions of village society in post-war Britain were familiar to me – at least fictionally – and it’s clever how the tension and Flavia’s ‘fluctuations’ from girl to grown-up and back again is established.

Question: Apart from the shock value, what is the significance of Jack’s puppet face?  And I don’t mean who it represents.

‘The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag’ is book 2 in the current 10 book Flavia de Luce mystery series, and takes its title from Sir Walter Raleigh.  With my thanks to Goodreads friend and writer Chris Hall for recommending this delightfully different book.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Poetry Clipart 13Author profile

Alan Bradley is a mystery writer known for his Flavia de Luce series featuring this pre-teen sleuth with a passion for chemistry.  The series began with the acclaimed ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’.  See more books in the series at Penguin Random House.  Bradley is also a New York Times bestselling author of many short stories, children’s stories, newspaper columns, and the memoir ‘The Shoebox Bible’.  More about Alan Bradley

Inspector Carlyle ‘The Circus’ by James Craig

Not so much a circus as a train.  Or a circus on a train.  Not a speeding train, not the Orient Express, not even a suburban train.  This book is a fully loaded interstate train heading inexorably towards a broken bridge over a river.  Along the way, passengers are jostled around, some jump out the doors, most get drunk in the dining carriage, several are angry and the rest are bemused.

Inspector John Carlyle is the most bemused of them all

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This series has an arresting array of bookcovers

I love a criminal book, you can comment hard!

Somewhere along a distant track I had stopped reading James Craig’s Inspector Carlyle series and this fourth book refreshed my memory.  It contains such a high level of macho rubbish, female exploitation and smarmy politics that it is well past the read-by date.

It is astounding that the book doesn’t run off the rails with the ludicrous amount of murders

If Inspector Carlyle didn’t have off-sider Joe Szyszkowski and other sensible police personnel to back him up, he would still be floundering for answers at the end of the ill-fated journey.  Maybe he’s on the wrong train?  He gets cranky and often causes ‘accidents’ to himself and others due to his own dullness.  Yes, he gets bashed up but never thinks his nemesis and ugly thug Trevor Miller knows where he lives – operative words ‘never thinks’.  Miller is now the Prime Minister’s security adviser and totally out of control.

Unreliable Narrator 03

When it comes to using high-end brand names, from beer to clothes, watches to furniture and a plethora of cafés, this story takes the cake.  Or biscuit if you are Carlyle who pays more attention to topping up his blood sugar levels and imbibing strong coffee than policing.  The ending will have you spluttering in your coffee, it is beyond contrived.

 

Published in 2013, the political issues and phone tapping scandal is old.  The dialogue is old, most characters give a neutral “Hm” when asked to respond.  There are too many hands placed on arms, too many raised eyebrows; and the plentiful white males POV often switches to an omnipotent narrator.

For me, the best character is the City of London

Without alcohol the stratagem would flounder, trim the sexual abuse and the chapters would be less, without repeat paragraphs like Carlyle whining about the declining standards of UK newspapers this book would be blessedly shorter.  And without packing in umpteen suspects from the Prime Minister to residents of greater London, this whole book would not have dragged on and could have been more effective.

Good grief, there are over 9 more books…

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Pen Paper Clipart Boy Holding PencilPublisher synopsis

https://www.hachette.com.au/james-craig/the-circus

“When the body of journalist Duncan Brown is found in the back of a rubbish truck, Inspector John Carlyle is thrown into the middle of a scandal that threatens to expose the corrupt links between the police, the political establishment and the hugely powerful Zenger media group.

Hunting down Brown’s killer, Carlyle finds himself going head-to-head with his nemesis, Trevor Miller.  A former police officer turned security adviser to the Prime Minister, Miller has dirty money in his pockets and other people’s blood on his hands.  Untouchable until now, he is prepared to kill again to protect his position – having failed once already to dispose of Carlyle he is not prepared to slip up again.”

Review ‘A Very Unusual Pursuit’ by Catherine Jinks

Book review

Birdie McAdam is a bogler’s assistant, a stout defender of Alfred Bunce and his unusual profession.  The ‘unusual’ relates to luring and eradicating child-eating bogles by using Birdie as bait.  Her songs sometimes quaver when a foul bogle monster leaves its lair but she holds firm.  A spear and split second timing is needed and old Alfred is the man for the job.

Before reading Catherine Jinks adult novel ‘Shepherd’ I read her children’s trilogy City of Orphans.  These stories captured my interest from the first page and held it to the last.  Following the adventures of young orphan Birdie McAdam, a lively, focused girl with a beautiful singing voice, I soon blended into the damp, grimy streets of 1870s London.

After the messy demise of a chimney bogle in a fancy parlour, the story kicks up a notch with overlapping events; Fagan-like Sarah Pickles with her young thieves and no scruples; well-to-do Miss Eames with an interest in mythology and rehabilitating young Birdie; and evil Dr Morton, a man with a heart as ugly as a bogle.  And, of course, the markets and docklands of London.

I love the levels of intrigue, grim deeds, and disagreeable behaviour which surround Birdie and Alfred.
As true protagonists, they rise to every challenge.
Birdie has entertaining friends, although she wouldn’t admit that to rascals Ned or Jem.
These lads get to shine in books two and three.
Characters are clearly and consistently written.
Together they overcome hardship and show concern for each other.
There is great strength of purpose when adversity strikes.

The fast-moving chapters are vividly written and although I am not the target audience, each time the tension rose I held my breath.  This plot builds and moves forward with fortitude, the second book in sight.  All three books are well worth reading, and while the mood may get darker and the bogles may get messier, the sequence of events lead to a very satisfying conclusion.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward 

My postscript

Poetry Clipart 08Bookcovers, like those beauties above, hold a certain fascination for me.  Way back I did a blog post about it.  In this instance, the publication of different titles and different artwork in overseas countries let me down.  They are nothing like the bookcovers shown here, their titles don’t capture the atmosphere of the era nor do the illustrations recreate how the bogles are described.  Gotta love marketing.  GBW.


About the author

Catherine Jinks, Australia (b.1963)  http://catherinejinks.com/

Catherine is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction.  In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.

Catherine Jinks Author Photograph 02Catherine Jinks was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney.  She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television.  She gets her ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films.

The author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, Catherine writes whenever she gets a spare moment, and could write for eight hours straight if she had the chance.  She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.

Series

City of Orphans trilogy

  1.  A Very Unusual Pursuit (2013)
    or  How to Catch a Bogle
  2.  A Very Peculiar Plague (2013)
    or A Plague of Bogles
  3.  A Very Singular Guild (2013)
    or The Last Bogler

Pagan Chronicles

  1. Pagan’s Crusade (1994)
  2. Pagan in Exile (2004)
  3. Pagan’s Vows (2004)
  4. Pagan’s Scribe (2005)
  5. Pagan’s Daughter (2006)

Allie’s Ghost Hunters

  1. Eglantine (2002) – very quirky story.
  2. Eustace (2003)
  3. Eloise (2005)
  4. Elysium (2007)

Genius

  1. Evil Genius (2005)
  2. Genius Squad (2008)
  3. The Genius Wars (2010)

Favourite School Story – Helen Hollick on Ruby Ferguson’s Jill Series

After reading two of Debbie Young’s Sophie Sayers mystery novels out of order, I decided to savour the series and start from the beginning with ‘Best Murder in Show’.  Debbie also writes St Brides, a British girls’ boarding school series for grown-ups, and in that vein she has interviewed award-winning historical and fantasy novelist Helen Hollick about her favourite childhood books.

Please read on…. Gretchen Bernet-Ward

The fourth in my occasional series of interviews with author friends who love school stories

First in my own series of school stories for grown-ups

When I launched my St Bride’s series set in a British girls’ boarding school, I asked some author friends which school stories they’d most enjoyed when they were growing up and invited them to share their enthusiasm on my blog. So far I’ve run posts by Jean Gill talking about Anne of Green Gables, Helena Halme on Pippi Longstocking, and Clare Flynn on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – all very different books set in different countries: Canada, Sweden and Scotland.

Now at last it’s time for my home country to get a look in, as historical novelist Helen Hollick explains her passion for a classic English series: the Riding School stories by Ruby Ferguson.

Helen Hollick writes:

First in my own series…

View original post 1,502 more words

Dr Claire Weekes ‘Self-Help For Your Nerves’ Cracking the Anxiety Code

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Face, Accept, Float, Let time pass.

In other words, face your reactions, accept them, do not fight them, float with your feelings, and gradually let time pass.  If you are having a panic attack, your body throws up danger signals while your mind goes into worse case scenario.  I know, I’ve been there.  Dr Claire Weekes advice is simple and it worked for me.

My older family members also recall being helped by Dr Claire Weekes’ publications, including my mother who purchased one of her books in early 1970s.  My mother often used to quote a paragraph here or there for the benefit of others with ‘nervous tension’.  Gradually the name ‘Dr Claire Weekes’ became synonymous with staying calm (not controlling or fighting the anxiety) and floating through it.

Dr Claire Weekes Self Help For Your Nerves Book

My aunt took Valium (Diazepam) to control her panic attacks, masking the cause, and no guidance was offered to help her understand what was happening to her body.  Stress, palpitations, pins and needles, shortness of breath, fear of collapse.  She read ‘Self-Help For Your Nerves’ and was able to recognise what was happening and float through it without medication.

This may not work for everyone, especially if there are other symptoms involved.

Dr Claire Weekes wrote five books during her lifetime

  1.     Self Help for Your Nerves (1962)
  2.     Peace from Nervous Suffering (1972)
  3.     Simple Effective Treatment of Agoraphobia (1976)
  4.     More Help for Your Nerves (1984)
  5.     The Latest Help for Your Nerves (1989)

Now a book has been written about her life

‘The Woman Who Cracked the Anxiety Code: The Extraordinary Life of Dr Claire Weekes’
Judith Hoare author (2019) non-fiction, Melbourne Scribe Publications.

This book is the first to tell that story, and to tell Weekes’ own remarkable tale, of how a mistaken diagnosis of tuberculosis led to heart palpitations, beginning her fascinating journey to a practical treatment for anxiety that put power back in the hands of the individual.”  https://scribepublications.com.au/books-authors/books/the-woman-who-cracked-the-anxiety-code

Dr Claire Weekes Book by Judith Hoare

A book review and a quotation offering insight…

MY COMMENT After pointing out the non-scientific nature of Dr Claire Weekes work, and skirting round the fact that she was up against privileged white males who ignored women’s problems (like my mother) Professor of Psychology at University of Melbourne, Nick Haslam writes the following:

“Ages of Anxiety” by Nick Haslam
QUOTE “…Weekes deserves our recognition not for making grand discoveries about the nature of anxiety.  She deserves it for recognising the vast but often hidden suffering caused by “nerves”, for developing an accessible method for reducing it on a grand scale at a time when most treatment was one-to-one and ineffective, and for having the energy and determination to promote that method around the world.

“It is impossible to quantify the human suffering that Weekes’s work has alleviated, but major awards and honours are routinely given for scientific discoveries that have surely had far less benefit.  Contributions of this kind — high in influence but low in prestige, because ‘popular’ — are often overlooked.  In this fine book, Judith Hoare has rescued the legacy of a great Australian from that fate.”
https://insidestory.org.au/ages-of-anxiety/

“The Claire Weekes Approach to Anxiety” by Calm Clinic
QUOTE “Dr Claire Weekes, an Australian psychiatrist who lived between 1903 and 1990, had some revolutionary ideas about anxiety that are still noted today for being ahead of their time.  The books she wrote on the nature of anxiety, which also included the details of the simple exercises she used to treat both her patients’ anxiety and her own, are still sold today”.
https://www.calmclinic.com/treatmentclaire-weekes

Poetry Clipart 13This blog post started off as a way to express my family’s gratitude for the work of Dr Claire Weekes and it may have ended up seeming like a product endorsement.  Let me state that I am only commenting and not endorsing the books, the benefits or the quotations.  YOU HAVE TO MAKE UP YOUR OWN MIND AND SEEK HELP IF YOU NEED IT.  LIKEWISE, OFFER HELP IF YOU SEE ANOTHER PERSON SUFFERING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Good health and happiness!

Review ‘You Yet Shall Die’ by Jennifer Barraclough

You Yet Shall Die by Jennifer Barraclough 02

Hidden at the heart of the Harper family, veiled in secrets, is a mystery waiting to be solved.  A skilfully plotted novel with intriguing characters, crime, cats and a brother and sister unaware of what they will expose when they start peeling back the layers.

Set in south-east England around 2005, Hilda Harper tramps across the North Kent marshland on a summer’s evening.  She is mulling over an unusual meeting she had earlier in the day.  A woman named Nicky had knocked at her door and revealed some astounding news.  This unexpected visit impels Hilda to explore the truth about her family’s past.

How well did she know her father?  What was the cause of her mother’s death?  Is Nicky really who she says? 

You Yet Shall Die by Jennifer Barraclough 01

The story is told through the three main characters, Hilda, Dunstan and Nicky, each with their own chapters and different points of view.  Hilda and her younger brother, Dunstan, approach their deceased parents anomalous behaviour in varied ways.  The plot revolves around their strict, controlling father Dr Nicolas Harper and their religious mother Violet who suffered from a cardiac disorder.

Dunstan believes his father could do no wrong but Hilda couldn’t wait to leave home and start rescuing abandoned cats and kittens.  Dunstan says “My sister Hilda is, to put it kindly, rather eccentric.”  I agree, but she is a great character.  I think Dunstan has way more hang-ups to overcome, courtesy of his disenchanted upbringing.

Touching on mental issues, domestic bullying and unsettled memories, there comes a time when the scales dip towards a desperate action.  Poor Dunstan goes off the rails.  A cliff-hanger tempted me to untap my bookmark and keep reading into the night.  I followed the clever twists and turns until I arrived at two startling discoveries.  One more shocking than the other.

Family secrets can be destructive, changing the course of lives.IMG_20200417_133141

For me, the sense-of-place is strong and characters are easily envisaged.  Nicky is quite lively yet generally I felt a genteel vibe and imagine the setting would work equally well further back in time.  I liked the medical details, and Hilda’s love of cats; her rescue of tiny Magic echoes author Jennifer Barraclough’s support for animal welfare.

The book title is taken from “The Yew Tree” poem by Valerie Dohren, but I will close with a quote from Hilda “I need a walk to clear my troubled mind, so after lunch I put on my oilskins and gumboots and set off over the desolate marshland towards the Thames.  It is a cool and misty day with a light rain falling and there are no other people about, just a few sheep and gypsy ponies.”  A perfect remedy.

Top marks for “You Yet Shall Die” an absorbing crime and mystery story without the gory bits.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Cat Black and White 04AUTHOR PROFILE

Formerly a medical doctor in England, Jennifer Barraclough now lives in New Zealand and writes novelsnon-fiction books and a blog.  Jennifer is a cat owner and Magic has a cameo in her latest book You Yet Shall Die a novel in the “domestic noir” genre, set in the North Kent marshes near her childhood home.

After moving to her husband’s native New Zealand in 2000, Jennifer studied natural healing, and ran a Bach flower practice for ten years.  Writing is her main occupation now but her other interests include animal welfare activities, choral singing, and visiting the local beaches and cafés.

Jennifer’s new novel You Yet Shall Die and all her book publications like Wellbeing of Writers can be found at Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk   Smashwords.com  and other online retailers.


Cat Black and White 03

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
My thanks to the author for a complimentary copy of this book.  I appreciate the opportunity to read and review “You Yet Shall Die”
—GBW.


Cat Drawing Guttenburg Project

FOR LOVERS OF CATS AND ILLUSTRATIONS – GUTENBERG CAT FILE
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/35450/35450-h/35450-h.htm
The Project Gutenberg eBook ofOur Cats and All About Them” by Harrison Weir (1892) a well researched and remarkable volume.  Full Title: “Our Cats and All About Them.  Their Varieties, Habits, and Management; and for Show, the Standard of Excellence and Beauty; Described and Pictured”.

Review ‘One Moonlit Night’ by Caradog Prichard for Wales #dewithon20

Wales rhys-kentish-1EzRAiWmf2A-unsplash
Rhys Kentish image is similar to Black Lake mentioned throughout the book. In the final chapter “It’s strange that they call it the Black Lake cos I can see the sky in it. Blue Lake would be a better name…”

A young narrator recounts the village life of Bethesda in Wales where he is growing up with his ailing Mam, best friends Huw and Moi, and an assortment of idiosyncratic people.  Set during the first World War and translated from the original Welsh, I found this classic novel hypnotic, one happenstance rolling into the next with lyrical prose and stunning imagery.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
A calm Llyn Idwal, Snowdonia, North Wales, UK

Photo (above) by Rhys Kentish on Unsplash

The boy’s awareness of adult behaviour is both naïve and heart-wrenching, as well as unsettling for a reader like me.  He has several graphic encounters, from death to mental illness, told without prejudice or judgement, and his stream-of-consciousness narrative remains strong.  One thing the boy is absolutely certain of—he will not work in the slate quarry.

Looking back as an adult, I recall feeling distanced from what was really going on.  This boy is in the thick of things and Prichard captures his thoughts so beautifully for adult readers.  Some chapters brought tears to my eyes.  In chapter 4, my favourite paragraphs are when the boy awakens after a picnic.  He feels the desolation of being left behind and desperately tries to find his way home.  I remember that type of heart-thumping experience!

A great description ‘It was raining stair rods in the morning and I was sitting in school with wet feet cos my shoes leaked’ and in search of dry socks, he discovers a dead body.  The quest to find out what happened is revealed in chatter between the boy and Huw.  Further into the book, disaster strikes with three significantly life-changing farewells.

Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Often a bad experience is offset by a good one; a kind gesture (usually a slice of bread) parish humour, the choir, a football match, and rollicking outdoor adventures with school friends which paint a beautiful picture of his part of Wales.

It’s never defined but I think author Caradog Prichard is reliving his early life, factual elements blending with history and mystery.  These days it would probably be described drily as ‘social commentary’.

Modern writers would do well to study this slim volume.  Roaming in the grown-up world of teachers, priests, policemen and illness, the boy is observant but has no power of his own and that simplicity transcends time and place.  He is the epitome of first-person POV, surrounded by subtext which packs a thoughtfully aimed punch.

From a man who knew what he was writing about, ‘One Moonlit Night’ (‘Un Nos Ola Leuad’) is a fine example of storytelling.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Bethesda Wales UK 03
The village of Bethesda, North Wales, UK

Welsh FlagI participated in Wales Readathon and #dewithon20 group reading of this novel.
My thanks to Paula Bardell-Hedley for her super efforts in creating this event 1st to 31st March 2020.
https://bookjotter.com/2020/03/01/wales-readathon-2020/

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AUTHOR PROFILE

PRICHARD, CARADOG (1904-1980) journalist, novelist and poet from Wales UK.
I can recommend the author biography by Menna Baines on National Library of Wales website.  Apart from a detailed look at Prichard, it contains photos of the author at home with his dog.
Menna Baines documented his life’s work, and at one point says ‘He published a collection of short stories, Y Genod yn ein Bywyd (‘The Girls in Our Life’ 1964); being heavily autobiographical, they cast some interesting light on his life but have little literary value.’ Ouch!

Review ‘Silver’ by Chris Hammer

Chris Hammer Bookcover Silver

Former journalist Martin Scarsden had vowed never to return to Port Silver so I was not too sure about his inauspicious homecoming nor his strained relationship with girlfriend Mandalay (Mandy) Blonde.  She has inherited an old house on a clifftop, while Martin seems distant from everything happening around him, plagued by unsettling flashbacks from his unsettled past.  And long-ago deaths in his family.

As the plot twists and turns with great characters and best-ever location, I was there strolling along the Port Silver shoreline; eating fish and chips; watching the waves break on Hummingbird Beach; driving the coastal road with Martin Scarsden as he tries to solve the stabbing death of his childhood friend Jasper Speight.  Unfortunately Jasper died in Mandy’s apartment and she is being held for his murder so Martin works on clearing her name using the only clue, a blood-stained postcard.

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Over nine days, Martin’s exploits unfold and move inexorable towards their goal, every question important to building the story and solving the first murder mystery.  Yes, not one but two mysteries, and I like the way Chris Hammer does not describe so much as lets slip small details until they add up to a whole.

Mandy’s creepy old Hartigan house on the clifftop is suitably introduced in Disney ‘Goonies’ fashion.

Characters formed before my eyes—all with big question marks hovering over their heads.  The mellow reunion with Martin’s Uncle Vern; the glowing backpackers Topaz and Royce; real estate agent Jasper’s mother Denise; Jay-Jay Hayes surfie greenie conservationist of Hummingbird Beach; sleazy bigwig developer Tyson St Clair; oddball Swami Hawananda; and dishonest cop Johnson Pear to name a handful.

Despite youthful recollections and emotional hurdles, Martin keeps working on the murder case, annoying the police and local land developers with questions and questionable behaviour.  He gets hauled in occasionally for interrogation and was appointed a scruffy solicitor Nick Poulos to handle his case.  Then comes a tragic mass murder … or ritual suicide?

At this stage, I am undecided if I am meant to have sympathy for Martin or not.  He certainly makes mistakes and isn’t good boyfriend material.  But he’s an inquisitive bloke, and a good journo who pursues the secondary crime of the multiple deaths.  The scoop of the decade!  By chapter 24, he’s in his element, following up leads, discovering clues, writing copy, advising Terri, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, topping it off by having dinner with media buddies just like old times.  Hmm.

An overarching question: what happened to his mother and sisters?  I think it’s stretching it to say Martin did not have an inkling about what happened all those years ago.  School mates, friends, even his alcoholic father could have babbled.  As to the possible perpetrators, I was spoilt for choice.  The only one I could happily cross off the list was Liam, the nappy-filling baby son of Mandy.

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I love Aleksander J. Potočnik’s map of Port Silver.  The setting is similar to Byron Bay and my photographs, taken on an overcast day, show the iconic Cape Byron Lighthouse.

The lighthouse sits on a rocky headland, Australia’s most easterly point.  That’s what  I pictured in my mind while reading.  The beaches, lighthouse, Nob Hill, coastal views, inland sugarcane fields and menacing land development which are strongly portrayed by the author.  Landmarks like the ‘fictitious’ old Cheese Factory give off furtiveness vibes.

Heading towards Martin’s hard won resolution, author Chris Hammer deserves top marks for not changing certain Australian words which some readers may not understand but will eventually figure out.  I think it’s time to stop neutering, let readers learn, laugh and speak our colloquial sayings.

Grab this book and be swept away by the tidal undertow of crime and mystery—well worth it.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE:

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Chris Hammer was a journalist for more than thirty years, dividing his career between covering Australian federal politics and international affairs.  He holds a BA degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University and a Master’s degree in international relations from Australian National University.

Chris has written an award-winning non-fiction book ‘The River’ followed by crime fiction ‘Scrublands’ published 2018 and shortlisted for Best Debut Fiction at the Indie Book Awards.  Chris lives in Canberra with his wife and two children.
Website https://chrishammerauthor.com/  Recommended ‘The Coast’ a journey along Australia’s eastern shores by Chris Hammer https://www.mup.com.au/books/the-coast-paperback-softback

Review ‘Red Joan’ by Jennie Rooney

It took a while to get my head around Joan Stanley’s rationale.  Growing up, I had heard about the Official Secrets Act and censored letters from my father who was in the second world war, but never about spies selling secrets: I gleaned by inference that espionage was problematic for all sides.  Red Joan knew how to keep her lips zipped.

I really enjoyed this story and I put another book on hold to finished it.  Before and after the 70th anniversary of VE-Day, there was a rash of fact and fiction war books from the UK and this is one of them.

The bombings are what I found missing in Jennie Rooney’s tale, the destruction and the precautions every citizen had to take every day to survive.  Joan Stanley appears to live a charmed life in this regard, and not much of the physical devastation seems to touch her.

Of course, this story is character-driven, an emotional account of the Cold War, an internal struggle between what is right and wrong and justifying one’s decisions, rather than air-raids and bombed out buildings.

After a sheltered schooling, Joan attends Cambridge University where she meets flamboyant student Sonya; and Joan is easily swayed by Sonya’s handsome cousin Leo Galich.  Slowly Joan is groomed to become a spy and eventually steals top secret documents.  While her resolute decision to help the war effort unfolds beautifully and logically (to Joan at least) I couldn’t help thinking “Surely she isn’t that naive?”  But she is, and this propels the story.

That, and romance.  This is where cousin Leo comes in.  What can I say about earnest socialist Leo?  He is easy to picture—any handsome, charismatic, idealistic Uni student would fit his mould.  I can excuse Joan’s love-struck crush on Leo but not her belief in her new friend Sonya, a powerful influence.

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Fur coat 1940s in New Zealand Fashion Museum http://www.nzfashionmuseum.org.nz/f/fur-jacket-with-squared-shoulders/

I thought Joan’s shared fur coat was a nice touch, it was the tenuous connection, the innocent thread throughout the story but it spoke volumes about their personalities.

Joan Stanley (loosely based on real spy Melita Norwood) specialises in theoretical physics and when she gets a job in a metals research facility, the touch-and-go desire with Professor Max Davis is well done, I could see that happening.  The cast of males are oblivious to Joan’s duplicity, and receptionist Karen is pretty much ignored.  For a laugh I pictured Karen afterwards as a retired MI5 operative.

As I said, I like this book and would recommend it, not for an in-depth look at the war effort but as a glimpse into the human side, the male/female relationships and the story behind the atomic bomb construction.  Just enough details; the lab, scientific information, the protocols.

Destructive and fascinating at the same time.

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NOT relevant to Joan but just as fictitious – American actor Steve McQueen (1930-1980) on a motorcycle used in war movie ‘The Great Escape’.

Jennie Rooney’s modern day interrogators, Ms Hart and Mr Adams, were created a bit like Scully and Mulder from the X-Files, lots of meaningful glances at Joan, but they served their purpose well.

In the end, in my opinion, the unravelling of the story was pretty low-key.  Sir William Mitchell was out of the game, so that left Leo and Sonya’s questionable career moves.  Poor Joan, there seemed no end to her emotional turmoil before and after discovery.

Lately I’ve read a couple of books with weak transitions, but I thought the past and present were well written in Rooney’s story.  She did a good job with Joan’s son Nick Stanley QC, a real fly-in-the-ointment (or our own subconscious thoughts?) and he had a Hollywood style moment at the end.

I like to pick out my favourite lines in a story and I quote:

There is a pause.
“Anyway”, Joan says, “I’d have thought the Soviets would be developing their own weapons?”
“They are.  But it’s taking too long.  They’re starting from a disadvantage.”
Leo sighs and reaches once more across the table.
“Please, Jo-jo.  Don’t you see?  You’re in a unique position here to change the history of the world.”

When VE-Day dawns on 8th May 2020 it will be 75 years since the end of the war in Europe so I guess there will be more books forthcoming.

Of course, we read in hindsight and that can be a wonderfully misleading thing.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE:

Pen Paper Clipart Boy Holding PencilJennie Rooney was born in Liverpool in 1980.  She read History at the University of Cambridge and taught English in France before moving to London to work as a solicitor.  She lives in West London, and also writes and teaches History and English.  The fictitious story of Joan Stanley, the KGB’s longest-serving British spy, is her third novel.  It was adapted for the 2018 film ‘Red Joan’ directed by Trevor Nunn, starring Dame Judi Dench as aged Joan and Sophie Cookson as young Joan.

INTERVIEW:  Read Jennie Rooney’s discussion with RadioTimes about ‘Red Joan’ her book that inspired the movie and why she made changes https://www.radiotimes.com/news/film/2019-08-28/red-joan-author-on-why-she-changed-the-true-story-for-judi-dench-movie-im-not-a-biographer/

Review ‘Peace’ by Garry Disher

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Hypnotic, laconic writing from Garry Disher.  Another superb story featuring lone country Constable Paul Hirschhausen.  In his 4WD police Toyota, Hirsch patrols hundreds of kilometres through a vast dusty landscape around the small town of Tiverton in South Australia.

The plot weaves in and out of his long days on duty encountering misdemeanours ranging from wayward teenagers to rural theft and murder where nothing is as it seems.

The first killings are shocking (not telling who or what but it’s emotional) and expertly told through the eyes of Hirsch and his inner monologue.  I love this single POV approach.  The next murders involve a family, and two young girls disappear.  In steps sensible Sergeant Brandl of Redruth HQ as well as Sydney’s Organised Crime Squad senior sergeant Roesch and Homicide Squad senior constable Hansen, two insensitive characters, and things get very tricky indeed.

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The hot dry rural atmosphere seeps into every chapter, and unforced dialogue runs throughout the story.  The town’s characteristics and characters are spot-on, for example annoying citizen Martin Gwynne, and recluse Craig Washburn who lives in a caravan near a dried-up creek bed.  And who is spray-painting graffiti on an historical woolshed?

There’s a bit of romance with girlfriend Wendy Street although I do find her background role passive and uncomfortably supportive of Hirsch without any commitment on his part.  I would like to see her become more prominent in future books in the series.

On a positive note, ‘Peace’ does cover community matters and domestic welfare, all part of Hirsch’s extensive remit.

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I enjoyed the touches of wry humour and Christmas festivities including Hirsch’s role as Santa.  The book title comes from “In the end he found three generic snowscapes with the single word Peace inside.  That’s all a cop wants at Christmas, he thought.”  If only he could be warned of what’s to come…

Certain people seem to think Hirsch bungles everything he touches.  Well, he does bungle a couple of things and gets hauled in to explain, but when it comes to detective work he has a keen eye.  Hirsch knows that nothing is random, everything means something.

See if you can untangle the threads before he does, bearing in mind that you are reading in a nice comfortable chair.

So far, my favourite read for new year 2020!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE:
Garry Disher Australian Crime Author 03Garry Disher was born in Burra, South Australia, in 1949 and he’s the author of over fifty books, from crime fiction and children’s literature to non-fiction text books and handbooks.

Disher graduated with a Masters degree in Australian History at Monash University and was awarded a creative writing fellowship to Stanford University in California.  He later taught creative writing before becoming a full-time writer, winning numerous awards both in Australia and overseas.

Garry Disher  https://garrydisher.com/
List of books  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/d/garry-disher/

TRIVIA:  Redruth Gaol exists in Burra, South Australia, but author Garry Disher could possibly have named Tiverton after a homestead on the Yunta Creek or the town of Riverton in South Australia.

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