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

Review ‘Brisbane’s Greek Cafés: A Million Malted Milks’ by Toni Risson

Toni Risson Greek Cafe Malted Milks Bookcover

From the beautifully tactile bookcover and the glorious old photographs, to the spectacular amount of research and Greek family interviews, Toni Risson has written and created a book which is reader-friendly and as energetic as the boundless service in a 20th century Greek café.

Like a Greek café menu, there’s never a dull moment.  Toni has amassed images of people, posters, menus, waitress fashion, the furniture, big mirrors, the soda fountain, cigarette counter—the mid-century nostalgia is strong for me just looking at the old buildings.  And let’s not forget the food, ah, so much delicious food!  Everything was freshly prepared, and ice-cream, chocolates and chilled fruit drinks were made on the premises in a time before the invention of air-conditioning.

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Open from 8am to 7pm seven days a week, back when few other proprietors could match it, Greek cafés became meeting places and stopping points for a variety of daily events; late breakfast; ladies morning tea; midday meal; shopping break; date before the cinema; cool drink at the end of the day; weekend family gatherings.

Remember this was in the days before coffee chains and fast food outlets.

Visiting as a child, I recall strawberry ice-cream and also eating a banana split with “the lot” including a cherry on top.  I think I got into trouble because I refused to eat my (healthy) banana.  The malted milkshakes were huge to my young eyes, and I can still remember the aroma of warm chocolate emanating from the display cabinet.

I could rattle off the chapter titles and you’d see the important position Greek family cafés held in pre-television society in Brisbane.  But I won’t because there are 35 chapters—some bearing names I know today, Andronicos, Samios, Freeleagus and more.  Every page has a delightful story, a witty quote or snippet of memorabilia.

The type of book which I keep referring to, always finding something extra to read aloud to anyone in the room.

You don’t have to be Greek, or local, to read about the Greek café phenomenon which spread throughout Queensland.  Several towns are mentioned including Bundaberg, Charleville, Dalby, Inglewood, Stanthorpe.  You’ve heard the song “Video Killed The Radio Star”, well, television killed Greek cafés.  In this book, you can find out what happened.

IMG_20190929_172519I was fortunate enough to attend the official launch of “Meet Me at the Paragon” the State Library of Queensland’s retrospective display of all things relating to Greek café culture.

From neon signs to monogrammed crockery, this six-month SLQ exhibition runs until mid-March 2020 and ties in with Toni Risson’s book.

I saw a large amount of the items mentioned in her book, plus rare family photos during a white gloves tour.
Here’s my blog post
https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2019/10/03/meet-me-at-the-paragon-a-greek-cafe-experience-slqgreekcafes/

Finalist in Queensland Literary Awards, “Brisbane’s Greek Cafés: A Million Malted Milks” is a time-capsule, a treasury of ephemera which will remain documented and preserved within its pages. 

This book is a great gift for a foodie friend or entrepreneur.

Suitable for readers interested in nostalgia or café trends.  And family histories, particularly those of inventive and industrious Greek families.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE

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Toni Risson is a storyteller, food writer and cultural historian.  She writes short stories and children’s novels, and her doctorate mapped Australian childhood through the magic of lollies.

In a more ‘grown-up’ vein, Toni curated the State Library of Queensland’s exhibition “Meet Me At The Paragon” which displays the meteoric rise of Greek cafés across Queensland.  She has also written “Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill” 200 pages jam-packed with photographs and stories about iconic Greek cafés in Ipswich, Queensland.

Quotation from Cesare Pavese

Cesare Pavese was an Italian novelist, poet and translator, and an outspoken literary and political critic.

Not well-known outside Italy, Pavese is numbered highly among the important 20th century authors in his home country.

Born in rural Santo Stefano Belbo, he often returned to the area, enjoying the solitude away from his turbulent career and heartbroken love life.  Pavese was not destined to live long, he died just before his 42 birthday.

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Cesare Pavese (1930) rocking his Harry Potter glasses.

✨ Website Biography and Book Review

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/cesare-pavese
https://1streading.wordpress.com/2018/06/24/the-beautiful-summer/

✨ Cesare Pavese Poems

  1. The Cats Will Know
  2. Ancestors
  3. Habits
  4. You Have A Face Of Carved Stone
  5. Death Will Come With Your Eyes
  6. In The Morning You Always Come Backmy favourite
  7. Passion For Solitude from ‘Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930-1950’.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward