Review ‘The Dreamers’ by Karen Thompson Walker

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The pretty embossed bookcover hides a dark and disturbing story and I would not recommend it to immature readers, or people I know with sleep disorders.

I think the apocalyptic nature of the book could have a tendency to induce fear and possibly depression in anyone sensitive to a crisis situation with unstoppable consequences.

If I was watching this as a disaster movie about a virus starting in a school dormitory, causing people to fall asleep and may never wake up, I bet most of the theatre-goers around me would be shallow breathing, wondering if it were true.

Lesser books have been known to cause restless sleep, or bad dreams.

Of course, the virulent virus comes from the fertile imagination of Karen Thompson Walker who said in a BWF 2019 panel discussion “Why we dream is unknown” although she puts forward some interesting theories in this story.

‘The Dreamers’ could just as easily die from any airborne disease and here lies the crux of the matter.

The author does an excellent job in researching and creating botched medical care, civil unrest, mass panic, and then bringing it right back down to the most helpless, two young girls and their kittens, alone in an old house.

In a clipped journalistic writing style, there are heroes, references to new life, new love and parental devotion striving against all odds yet feeling strangely hollow and disjointed.  The ending is unresolved.

This type of plotting is not my preferred reading, however, I respect the level of apprehension Karen Thompson Walker has created even while I think ‘The Dreamers’ could unsettle vulnerable readers.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

AUTHOR PROFILE—Karen Thompson Walker was born and raised in San Diego, California, where her first book ‘The Age of Miracles’ is set.  She studied English and creative writing at UCLA, where she wrote for the UCLA Daily Bruin.  An assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon, she lives in Portland with her husband, the novelist Casey Walker, and their two daughters.
http://karenthompsonwalker.com/

Book Perfect – Virago

Virago is an international publisher of books by women for all readers, everywhere.  Established in 1973, their mission has been to champion women’s voices and bring them to the widest possible readership around the world.  They found me!  From fiction and politics to history and classic children’s stories, their writers continue to win acclaim, break new ground and enrich the lives of readers.  That’s me!  Read on…

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My Goodreads Book Review

Superb anthology of the last forty years of Virago Modern Classics with a gorgeous bookcover illustration. Great for readers who appreciate women writers and also for students studying literature. Each contemporary author writes a sincere and thoughtful introduction from their own perspective as a reader. They cover the classics, from fiction and comedy to famous diaries and autobiographies. For example, Margaret Drabble discusses Jane Austen ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and further on Jilly Cooper talks about E. M. Delafield ‘The Diary of a Provincial Lady’. Although I’ve not read ‘Strangers on a Train’ by Patricia Highsmith, I think Claire Messud has convinced me to read it. At the end of Amanda Craig’s introduction on Rebecca West ‘The Fountain Overflows’ she says ‘The novel is one of those rare books that leaves the reader feeling happier and more hopeful than before.” And that’s exactly what this Virago Modern Classics makes me feel https://www.goodreads.com/gretchenbernetward

Virago Publisher of Women Writers

Virago celebrated their fortieth anniversary of Virago Modern Classics, Virago Press published the book I so eagerly purchased ‘Writers as Readers’, an anthology of forty introductions from the last four decades…books that deserve once again to be read and loved.  Virago also reintroduced the iconic green spines across their whole booklist.

Virago has a huge booklist, I’m sure you’ve read several of their titles, and rather than me listing every book available, you can visit their beautiful website:
https://www.virago.co.uk/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Rebecca Johnson Workshop with Juliet Nearly A Vet

First, some info on Juliet Nearly A Vet children’s series before I launch into my one and a half hour experience hosted by Book Links and Write Links at their centre for children’s literature.


JULIET NEARLY A VET
series by REBECCA JOHNSON

Juliet wants to be a vet when she grows up, but when she decides she needs to start practicing, her wonderful misadventures begin.  With gorgeous illustrations by local illustrator Kyla May.

“Hi! I’m Juliet. I’m ten years old. And I’m nearly a vet!  We’re off on a school camp to the rainforest. Chelsea, Maisy and I are excited about all the different animals we might spot on our nature walks and torchlight treks. Chelsea is NOT excited about the creepy crawlies we might find! I’ve brought my vet-kit along just in case we find any animals in need of help . . .”

Ages 6 – 9 years old
Book info click here


VET CADETS
series by REBECCA JOHNSON

A wonderful series about three smart, funny, animal-loving girls solving mysteries and causing chaos at their country boarding school.

“Abbey, Hannah and Talika are new recruits at Willowvale boarding school’s Vet Cadets program. Mrs Parry, their science teacher, has given each of the girls a chick to raise and train, but not everyone is happy about it!  When a game of horseback hide-and-seek turns into a matter of life and death, rules are broken and the friends’ courage sorely tested. This time, a solution might be out of the Vet Cadets’ hands . . .”

Ages 9 – 11 years old
Book info click here


AUTHOR PROFILE

Rebecca Johnson is an award-winning Australian author and primary-school science teacher who has written more than 100 children’s books.  Her works include the Steve Parish Story Book collection, Juliet Nearly A Vet series, Vet Cadet series, Insect series, and Steve Parish Reptiles & Amphibians Story Book range.

Author info https://rebeccajohnson.com.au/
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaJohnsonAuthor/


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ONE AND A HALF HOUR WORKSHOP

Rebecca Johnson spoke about how she became a published author and what inspired her stories.  Her two current series are based on her own childhood experiences, both as a young vet ‘assistant’ and then as a horse-riding teenage animal detective.

Her writing style has allowed her to find the balance between working part-time and writing.  She talked about the importance of verbal pitching in the early part of a writer’s career; know your story and speak passionately about it.

Rebecca was open and honest in all she discussed, particularly the challenges of marketing your first book once it has been published.  On the subject of payment, royalties and earning a decent income, Rebecca felt a book series worked better.

I jotted down a number of points; from having an agent, to evolving your books as your reading audience grows.  Interestingly, in this age of the internet, Rebecca hasn’t physically met Kyla May, her book illustrator.

A fascinating aspect from Rebecca’s talk is her use of a book tie-in and children’s conventions based on her Juliet Nearly A Vet books.  She ordered 1,000 vet kits child-size with working stethoscopes and white lab coats—spectacular to say the least.  And children obviously have a wonderful time learning about animals and caring for their toy pets!


CONCLUSION

My main takeaway from this workshop was “Write what you know, do the hard yards, continually promote your books” as well as attending events, libraries, Book Week.  I applaud Rebecca Johnson for the detail and length of her workshop, and the fact that she happily answered every question.

POSTSCRIPT

A friend of mine, children’s writer Artelle Lenthall, challenged me to nominate 7 of my favourite bookcovers and post one every day for 7 days on Facebook.  I have chosen 7 of my favourite bookcovers from Juliet Nearly A Vet series and will post them at 7.00pm each evening.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Fear of Joining Goodreads

Yes, fear that I will become addicted.  Fear that I will push myself to read a gazillion books a year so I can frantically, faithfully rate and review them.  Fear that I will get hooked on groups, authors, discussions, surveys and polls—or even worse, a bestseller—and thus lose my individuality.

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What if I was swamped by a wave of literary-ness which swept away my identity and I became a book character, never able to reach the shores of reality,  adrift in a choppy sea of font and words, desperately swimming towards the final chapter so I could beach myself on that last blessed page?

It didn’t happen.

I know this because I have finally joined the ranks of Goodreads readers.

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Why did I join?  Because I was caught, hook, line and sinker by a single author and her book ‘The Rose and The Thorn’.

In August 2019, I posted my very first Goodreads review on Indrani Ganguly’s historical novel (also here on my blog) and the Hallelujah choir sang.  That was it!

I think I shelved about twenty books in one hit.  Then about thirty, then more, and before I knew it I was writing reviews; albeit after I sussed out their (ssshh, whisper here) rather archaic system.

Without fear, without favour!  I am part of Goodreads for better or worse!

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So far I have followed a couple of authors I enjoy, and a couple of groups which seem relevant to my reading tastes.  I encompass miscellany, similar to my blog, so I am open to your book reading suggestions.

Take a peek, you may find the same book we both have read . . . but will our rating or review be the same?

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/101014600-gretchen-bernet-ward

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Brisbane Writers Festival Notes Part 2

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The Beginning – dust haze – view from South Bank footbridge, looking across the river towards Brisbane City.

This morning dawned an apocalyptic orange, heavy with outback smoke and dust.  Gone was the bright blue of springtime.  As I neared the city, gusty winds swirled around, making it difficult to know whether earth particles were coming in or being blown away.  Blinking dry eyes, I photographed the pallid light which struggled to illuminate the city skyline.

I was pretty annoyed at the weather’s bad timing.  With thousands of people, both local and international, converging on South Bank for the Brisbane Writers Festival, it made outdoor conditions uncomfortable.  I spared a thought for the farmers and those suffering terribly as bushfires rage across Queensland. We need our wet season now!

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View of Brisbane City from council bus window, the morning light seemed lifeless, glazed in outback dust as the 2019 drought worsens.

I was trying not to hurry.  I could taste the dust as it rasped in and out of my lungs.  Nerves and excitement made me shallow breathe, this was the first morning event at Brisbane Writers Festival.  After a quick swig from my water bottle, I headed towards State Library.   “Slow down”, I chided.  “Take a photo of the whales”.

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Life-size adult Humpback Whales and calf in the walkway of Queensland Museum, Brisbane, with complex underwater songs. The Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) occurs in all oceans of the world. Herds migrate along the Queensland coast between winter breeding and summer feeding grounds. This species was given complete protection by the International Whaling Commission in the southern and northern hemispheres. Today, the eastern Australian Humpback Whales show signs of strong recovery from commercial whaling. “Save The Whales”

After my paper ticket was beeped, I entered the Queensland Writers Centre rooms, oh, the joy of filtered air.  I settled into a well-designed (and comfortable) white upholstered chair ready for “Writing Futures”.  Placed in front of me was a bowl of sweets to fortify and information to read.  Two people were already standing beside a whiteboard.  One was the QWC spokesperson and the other was UK author Jasper Fforde.  He was about to give us a three-hour almost non-stop workshop based on his “narrative dare” principle.  Pens, paper and iPads were certainly worked overtime!

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I tiptoed past the Zen garden so as not to wake the sleeping rocks or disturb the gravel waves.

On arrival next day, a more pleasant day, I turned the corner and there was the solid, colourful comfort of Angel’s Place, a 7.5metre high dome structure which features a print of an original artwork created by artist Gordon Hookey.  Angel’s Palace is a multi-disciplinary collaboration that represents the voice of Indigenous Australia and celebrates Aboriginal storytelling and literature in a powerful experience for audiences.

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Angel’s Place on Maiwar Green outside the Gallery of Modern Art where special performances of Carpentaria were held throughout the Brisbane Writers Festival from panel discussions to secrets of the land.
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Angel’s Place, Brisbane Writers Festival, where ancient stories are told about Carpentaria. Here lives the spirit nest of the ancient serpent, a creature larger than storm clouds, who came down from the stars. On top of the snake’s spirit nest lies Angel’s Palace, the home of Angel Day. Look closely…

While I was photographing Angel’s Place, I heard a cultured Englishman’s voice behind me, asking a question about the dome.  I recognised that voice!  Sure enough, when I swung around I saw author Jasper Fforde walking past, heading towards Gallery of Modern Art with others on the “Dream Worlds” panel.  A fanfic moment rushed over me.  Before I knew it I was following the VIP group.  Walk, click, click, walk and they disappeared inside.  The audience was ushered in shortly afterwards and we took our seats in Cinema B for some serious (and silly) stuff on sleep and dreams.

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The weather had cleared and it was much finer on the second day of Brisbane Writers Festival. The arrow points to UK author Jasper Fforde followed by “Dream Worlds” panel moderator Sarah L’Estrange of ABC Radio National which broadcast the event.
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“Dream Worlds” panel discussion (left to right) moderator Sarah L’Estrange, guest authors USA Karen Thompson Walker, UK Jasper Fforde, Australia Krissy Kneen. And I purchased each of their books.

Official link to ABC Radio National audio recording https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/the-book-show/dreams-bwf/11506864

Had lunch at home prior to returning for “Early Riser: An Evening Conversation” with Jasper Fforde and hosted by John Birmingham in The Edge auditorium, State Library of Queensland.  Tough words, Jasper doesn’t swear but John does, and there were jibes, a bite to their conversation.  Jasper talked about the creation of his current book and John advised him not to give away any spoilers.

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Author Jasper Fforde and author/moderator John Birmingham at Brisbane Writers Festival 2019. I always had a good view of the proceedings and noted that the majority of attendees were women. Do women read more, are women more aware of literary diversity?

Below is what the queue looked like while I was waiting for Jasper Fforde’s autograph.  And I stood with an old work colleague I met quite by accident.  Jasper kindly signed my copy of “Early Riser”, stamped it This book has been declare SKILLZERO Protocol Approved”—an author/reader joke—and tucked a postcard inside.  I asked him what his favourite pet would be, Dodo or Quarkbeast, and he said Quarkbeast (from “The Last Dragonslayer” series) so the family was happy.

You may have noticed that I do not describe the full content of each event.  This is personal preference, I don’t want to divulge things which may be copyright.

The organisation and facilities for this experience are first-class and everything ran smoothly.  As a past volunteer at other literary occasions, I appreciated the knowledge and friendliness of the current volunteers.  Their fluorescent aqua t-shirts stood out!

Another day draws to a close.  I looked forward to tomorrow and perusing more free activities, strolling around the abundant bookshop, then chatting at author “Book Club” with drinks and nibbles, sitting on cushions in the sunshine on the River Deck at State Library.  It’s not difficult to appreciate the luxury of it all.

Ciao for now!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Review ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ by Maria Donovan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Real clue? Fake clue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY:

Maria Donovan Book Launch

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

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

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

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

Three Things #5

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One post with three acts READING LOOKING THINKING based on the format started by innovative blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley of Book Jotter.  

Her invitation to participate offers a change from THINKING to DOING if that suits your purpose but my TBR is backing up and I need to list seven of the books I desperately WANT TO READ—which, er, goes over the Three Things limit.  I just want to blab about these great books 😃 GBW.


These two books are side-by-side because they involve food and drink.

Todd Alexander

has written a humorous memoir of his escape to the country.  I did hear him at an author talk but he didn’t divulge the full story.  ‘Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga’ is sometimes sad, sometimes gruesome but I’m hoping it’s an uplifting story of the joys of living on the land.
http://www.toddalexander.com.au/

Maria Donovan

set her novel ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ against the backdrop of real events in 2012, a time in Michael’s life when everything is turned upside down.  Cricket, football and the seaside are woven through the story as he strives to make sense of the changes involving death, suspicious neighbours and a school bully.
https://mariadonovan.com/


This is a mixed bag of goodies sharing the same photographic background.

Sally Piper

has golden wattle on her bookcover (I’m allergic to pollen) but the inside of ‘The Geography of Friendship’ greatly appeals to me.  The blurb reads ‘We can’t ever go back, but some journeys require walking the same path again’.  I won this novel at UQP behind-the-scenes publishing event.
http://www.sallypiper.com/

David Malouf

is an Australian icon.  I couldn’t begin to details his many and varied works here but his poetry is brilliant.  The ‘An Open Book’ flyleaf reads ‘Malouf reminds us of the ways poetry, music and creativity enrich our lives . . . about the dynamics of what escapes and what remains’.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Malouf

Simon Cleary

lives in my city of Brisbane.  He has written two novels about war and its devastation.  ‘The War Artist’ . . . ‘tackles the legacy of the Afghanistan war and the crippling psychological damage of PTSD’ and follows the shattered life of Brigadier James Phelan when he returns to Australia.
http://www.simoncleary.com/

Katherine Battersby

writes the most adorable children’s picture books.  I have been a fan of Squish Rabbit since his first appearance and assisted Katherine at one of her library book launches.  Forty children were expected and 140 turned up!  ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’ is my favourite so far; profound and endearing.
https://katherinebattersby.com/


I love bold bookcovers which alone tell a tiny bit of the story.

Hank Green

was recommended to me by a librarian with hair dyed pink, orange and green.  A reader of quirky books like me (although my hairstyle is more conservative) she advised that this book is a bit different.  And, yes, he’s the brother of John.

I have to say I have no idea what is in store for me with ‘An Absolutely Remarkable Thing’ so I will just leave you with the quote ‘In Hank Green’s sweeping, cinematic debut novel, a young woman becomes an overnight celebrity when her YouTube video goes viral . . . but there’s something bigger and stranger going on’.
https://www.hankgreen.com/


printable-times-new-roman-alphabet-stencilRight, that’s it, the seven books I’m going to read—not counting those on my ereader—now comes the wait until I post my book reviews.
Ciao for now!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Rattling the Book Club Cage ‘The Noise of Time’

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

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

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

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


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

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


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

Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2019

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

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

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The Winners

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

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

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

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

This could be your book one day!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Three Things #4

A snapshot of what’s happening in my reading world.  Three books!  Three genres!  Three reviews!  My theme was originally started by Book Jotter under the title ‘Reading Looking Thinking’ but I’m only doing the Reading part for this installment.

POTENT ROMANTIC COMEDY

OUR TINY, USELESS HEARTS novel by Toni Jordan
https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/our-tiny-useless-hearts

QuoteI couldn’t stop staring at babies and toddlers in the street: their impossibly tiny nails, pores around their noses, the way each hair on their head existed not as an individual but as part of a silken wave.” Janice, Page 125.

Toni Jordan’s new book ‘The Fragments’ has hit the shelves and in preparation I’ve just read her novel ‘Our Tiny, Useless Hearts’ which I think is a clever rom-com story.  Jordan has the knack of writing intelligent gems of heartfelt dialogue from the mouths of sincere characters then setting them in a ludicrous situation.  Well, Caroline’s house isn’t ludicrous, it’s more a trendy vehicle for British-style upstairs, downstairs naughtiness and relevant sex scenes.  The main players are two couples with shaky marriages (think clothes shredding) and the rest have grit in their relationships.  Protagonist Janice (with microbiologist syndrome) is meant to be the sensible one but she has just as many hang-ups as those around her.  Amid the embarrassing yet hilarious turmoil, Janice’s divorced husband Alec turns up.  The tension escalates even higher, a bad case of ‘Who is going to explode into a million pieces first?’.  I was entertained by this book of forthright and dysfunctional people who drew me into their lives.  GBW.
Rating star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03

MINUTIA OF VILLAGE LIFE

THE BOOKSHOP novel by Penelope Fitzgerald
https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780007373833/the-bookshop/

Quote “Browsing is part of the tradition of a bookshop,” Florence told Christine. “You must let them stand and turn things over.” Florence, Chapter 5.

What a sombre little story this is.  I try not to read reviews or publicity first so I was quite impressed when I saw that English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald wrote ‘The Bookshop’ in 1978 when in her sixties.  That’s a lot of life experience, and later a Booker prize.  Fitzgerald had worked for the BBC, taught in schools and ran a bookshop.  I felt the struggles of Florence Green, fictional proprietor of the East Suffolk small town bookshop, were genuine.  Her droll experiences with young helper Christine Gipping appear to be first-hand.  In comparison, I found Mr Brundish, Milo North and the rapper (poltergeist) written along classical lines to add drama.  Village life is parochial and Florence battles with Mrs Gamart and her far-reaching resentment against resurrecting Old House as a bookshop.  Editor Hermione Lee says that Fitzgerald had a ‘tragic sense of life’ and I agree.  But her finesse with dialogue, letter-writing and the unspoken has launched countless tropes.  By all means prepare, this book has more thorns than roses.  GBW.
Rating star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03

INTER-DIMENSIONAL TRAVEL

THE CHRONICLES OF ST MARY’S series by Jodi Taylor
https://www.simonandschuster.ca/series/The-Chronicles-of-St-Marys

Quote “My speciality is Ancient Civilisations with a bit of medieval and Tudor stuff chucked in for luck.  As far as I was concerned, 1851 was practically yesterday.” Maxwell, Book 5.

The term preferred by Dr Bairstow, Director of the Institute of Historical Research at St Mary’s Priory, is ‘contemporary time’.  Jodi Taylor, author of ‘The Chronicles of St Mary’s’ series, writes about a humorous herd of chaos-prone historians who investigate major historical events.  They are led by intrepid historian Madeleine Maxwell (aka Max) Chief Operations Officer.  After costume fittings, the historians travel in pods with armed guards to places like Ancient Egypt, Mount Vesuvius, Great Fire of London, etc, to observe and take notes while Time Police loom threateningly.  Best read in chronological order but Dramatis Thingummy explains characters and each gripping story unfolds, threefold sometimes, as another disaster hits the team.  Historians die; Dr Tim Peterson gets bubonic plague; at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Bard himself catches alight.  There are currently 22 books, in long and short format.  If, like me, you have ever daydreamed of visiting an historic moment in olden times, these books are for you.  GBW.
Rating star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Snoopy Woodstock Bookstack Cartoon

 

One post with three acts READING, LOOKING, THINKING, an idea started by Book Jotter, innovative blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley.  Her invitation to participate offers a slight change from Thinking to Doing if that suits your purpose.  I can love, like or loathe in three short bursts!  GBW.

Top 10 Cool Quirky Authors with a Difference

When I discover an author with a quirky style, a neo-noir writing streak, I rejoice in their words.  It’s a delight to get away from mundane formats, tired classics and generic phrases so overworked in today’s writing scene.

I can remember when ‘dust motes’ were all the rage, not mere dust, it had to be motes floating in the sunlight.  Goodness knows why, padding perhaps.  I think it’s beneficial for both writer and reader to veer off in another direction occasionally.  Leave those tropes behind!

For bookish readers, I will list some of the absurdist fiction writers who have given me a literary lift and added a bit of sparkle to my jaded memory banks.  These 10 books impressed me with their originality and unique take on adult life, some with remarkable page layouts.

Numbered but NOT rated in order of preference:


Kelly Link Bookcover 04

1    Get In Trouble by Kelly Link

Quote “Richly imagined, intellectually teasing: these are not so much small fictions as windows on to entire worlds. A brilliant, giddying read” said Sarah Waters and I definitely agree.


Zane Lovitt The Midnight Promise

2    The Midnight Promise by Zane Lovitt

John Dorn is a private investigator solving human puzzles.  Complex and beautifully observed characters lead John towards his moment of truth as he strives to keep his promise.


An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen

3    An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen

Speculative erotica showing the best and worst of human nature through Liv as she ages alongside high technology innovation.  The transition to a state beyond age, to transcend the corporeal…


Jasper Fforde The Ayre Affair

4    The Eyre Affair Series by Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next, a fearless woman who traverses a parallel universe inside books.  Created with breathtaking ingenuity, her literary world is more believable than most peregrinations.


A Visit From The Goon Squad

5    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Self-destruction with music in the background.  Intimate lives of several characters who reconnect again and again trying to escape the past, delay the future and defy their fate.


Don't Tell Mum I Work On Oil Rigs

6    Don’t Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs…She Thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whorehouse by Paul Carter

Gritty, masculine and rather shocking true story of working on oil rigs in the ocean.  Horrible, humorous happenings written down in easily digestible form so that you can’t stop reading.


Atomic City by Sally Breen

7    Atomic City by Sally Breen

A stylised contemporary story set on the glittering Gold Coast, Queensland.  Chameleon Jade gets a new identity and with her grifting partner she dares to swindle the Casino swindlers. 


The Godson by Robert G Barrett

8    Les Norton Series by Robert G. Barrett

Les Norton, a red-headed country lad, works in the big city, fights men, wows women, loves the beach, is either an Aussie icon or a yobbo but each adventure guarantees a twist.


The Lucky Galah Bookcover

9    The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen

Lucky, a galah in a remote coastal town, receives transmissions from a satellite dish beaming messages between Apollo 11 and Houston, Texas, which co-mingle with the community psyche.


Dead Writers in Rehab by Paul B Davies

10    Dead Writers in Rehab by Paul Bassett Davies

Foster James is supposedly in rehab but he’s probably dead.  A dystopian must-read, loaded with satire, dark humour, sexual tension and famous writers like Coleridge and Hemingway.


I think my Top 10 list will suffice . . . oops, I just have to add ‘A Dirty Job’ by Christopher Moore and ‘Insomniac City: New York, Oliver Sachs and Me’ by Bill Hayes and ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders and ‘Human Croquet’ by Kate Atkinson.  I love any book by Terry Pratchett and DBC Pierre and there are further ingenious authors I could name (and so could you!) but I will stop here.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Reading Hour – One Lousy Hour!

How pathetic!  We have 24 glorious hours in a day and only one is chosen!  And it’s not even held simultaneously around the country!  Have you read your one hour today?

Australian Reading Hour Bookshop Logo

This year Australian Reading Hour falls on Thursday 20 September 2018 and the nominal time in the evening is 6pm to 7pm.  But individual reading and group reads will be happening all day to avoid important sporting fixtures, special events and venue opening hours, and to accommodate the different time zones in Australia.

Fair enough, however, it’s still one lousy hour!  What is the Australian Reading Hour committee thinking?  There are 8760 hours in one year, so use some more of them.

If more hours aren’t forthcoming next year, why not (1) disrupt your sporting fixtures (2) put the special event on hold (3) pause during venue opening hours (4) delay that visit to the gym and (5) forget a few things to stop and READ for ONE lousy hour!

Meanwhile, find a really quiet, cosy place and settle down alone.  Betcha read for longer than an hour!

Or gather a group together at school, work, bookshops like Avid Reader, the library, the park or get the family together in your own home and read, read, read for one lousy hour.

One hour isn’t going to kill you, the world won’t crumble around you – but you and the adults and children of Australia will visit another place through the pages of a book.  For one lousy hour…

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Books Book Shelf 18

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Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linked to my other post https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2018/09/16/your-reading-hour-countdown/

What is Dads Read?

Dads Reading Be Their Legend 02

This post will bore anyone without children in their lives.

Dads Read recognises that fathers reading to their children strengthens literacy, models positive reading behaviour and builds children’s self-esteem around reading, especially for boys.

Dads Read is an early childhood literacy initiative, developed by State Library of Queensland in 2010 and launched statewide in 2012 as part of the National Year of Reading, to promote family literacy.  The program continues to expand and is now being delivered throughout Queensland and South Australia and plans are underway in Tasmania.

You can host your own event with their resources.  I’ve seen this program in action with a dedicated group.  Children choose a book, a slice of pizza and sit with their fathers to read.

Discrimination doesn’t apply, the Dads Read message is based on the simple but true premise that reading 10 minutes a day to your children is not only quick but also essential.

Dads Read aims to:
  • Raise awareness of the important role fathers play in their children’s development.
  • Inform fathers of the importance and benefits of reading to children from their early years, even before they start school.
  • Promote reading as a family.
  • Encourage fathers to read to their children and promote the value of reading.
  • Provide fathers with the tools to give them the confidence to read with their children.

My father was my reading mentor, instilling interest in books, and Dads Read program follows research which highlights the importance of dads reading to their children during their early developmental years.  As little as 10 minutes a day improves children’s literacy levels and stimulates creative and critical thinking.

‘Investment in early childhood is the most powerful investment a country can make’.
World Health Organization, 2007.

The Dads Read program has helped:
  • Address a real and significant issue which is at the core of our wellbeing as individuals, families, employers and communities: the need to be literate.
  • Support literacy development and help to develop the skills of Australia’s future workforce by building everyday skills for sustainable communities.
  • Build literacy levels among our younger generation while promoting family literacy and boosting the ability of reading in adults.
  • Connect families and communities in a cost effective and invaluable way.

Visit the SLQ website for some great book ideas and age-appropriate reading:
http://dadsread.org.au/reading-to-your-child/must-reads/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Men Reading Books 36
Grandfathers can read too…

Book Tag: Shelfie by Shelfie #1

This fun tag was brought to my attention by productive book blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley of BookJotter fame.  Originally created by Beth of Bibliobeth the idea is to share a picture (aka ‘shelfie’) of your favourite bookshelf and then answer ten questions related to the titles displayed.

Visit Beth’s blog to see more info, the logo and tag and view posts by participating bloggers.  Then launch your own unique Q&A Shelfie by Shelfie.

I think many readers will find these titles unfamiliar…

IMG_20180901_131746
Part of Gretchen’s book shelves.

1.  Is there any reason for this shelf being organised the way it is or is it purely random?

Short answer is ‘subliminally shelved’.  Long answer is there are many bookshelves in our home and until I decided to participate in Shelfie by Shelfie I didn’t realise that most of my books are grouped.  Either when they arrived or over a period of time, I’m not sure.  There are clumps like non-fiction, poetry, humour, crime, fantasy and (not all shown) Australian content.

2.  Tell us a story about one of the books on this shelf that is special to you, i.e. how you got it / a memory associated with it, etc.

Hard to pick just one.  I know some of the authors (or received uncorrected bound proofs to review prior to publication) but my all-time special one would have to be ‘My Beachcombing Days: Ninety Sea Sonnets’ by Brisbane poet John Blight.  His daughter, a family friend, gave it to me as a birthday gift in the same year as disastrous flooding hit the city.  The flood waters also coincided with me securing a glam job in a travel agency which had 12 inches of river mud throughout the ground floor office.

3.  Which book from this shelf would you ditch if you were forced to and why?

No contest!  It would be Tom Keneally’s ‘Shame and the Captives’ a semi-factual diatribe about World War II prisoners-of-war from Italy and Japan who are held in a compound in Gawell, New South Wales, but allowed to work on a local farm.  It does have its altruistic moments but there’s bloodshed aplenty and the ‘uncertainty and chaos’ never worked for me.

4.  Which book from this shelf would you save in an emergency and why?

‘Withering-by-Sea’ written by children’s author and illustrator Judith Rossell.  Young heroine Stella Montgomery is the epitome of someone I would have loved to have known when I was a child.  I did read a lot of British kids books!  Set in Victorian England, the story is both adventurous and creepy.  Apart from dressing up as a mature-age Stella Montgomery for library Book Week, two years ago I had my copy of the book signed by Judith Rossell when I attended her writers workshop in historic Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne.

5.  Which book has been on this shelf for the longest time?

Hmm, that would be a toss-up between Nobel Prize for Literature winner Patrick White ‘The Cockatoos’ and Miles Franklin ‘My Brilliant Career’ both yellowing reprints dated 1974 and 1979 respectively.  I guess Mr White wins.

6.  Which book is the newest addition to this shelf?

Another toss of the coin.  ‘Truly Tan Hoodwinked!’ (Book 5) kids chapter book written by Jen Storer, and ‘Care of Australian Wildlife: For Gardeners, Landholders and Wildlife Carers’ by Erna Walraven, a 2004 revised edition but in mint condition and recently purchased in a second-hand bookshop.  The most adorable teeny tiny Koala baby is on the front cover.  The Koala wins by a nose.

7.  Which book from this shelf are you most excited to read (or re-read if this is a favourites shelf?)

I have a ‘thing’ for DBC Pierre, expat Aussie writer, and admire his off-kilter books.  I own two of his novels (the rest were loans) and love ‘Breakfast with the Borgias’ which I willingly re-read; and I’m usually not a re-reader.  Perhaps the fact that one of the characters is named Gretchen has something to do with it.

8.  If there is an object on this shelf apart from books, tell us the story behind it.

There is a small cardboard cut-out figure of Lisa Simpson from TV series The Simpsons which probably came with a McDonalds meal deal.  Lisa is holding an armload of books and in the show she is the lone advocate of literacy and learning.  I always like to think she influenced a generation of TV viewers to read.  And that she’s happy on this shelf.

9.  What does this shelf tell us about you as a reader?

It doesn’t tell you that I borrow hugely from my local library; or that I read too many e-books; nor that my current audio book is, ironically, ‘The Book Case’ by Dave Shelton narrated by Colleen Prendergast.  It does shout that I’m an Australian reader.

I read most genres and most writers regardless of nationality (translated helps!) but I keep coming back to Australian authors.  In an online book forum, I recall an American reader saying he only read American books because he understood them.  He didn’t mean the language, he meant emotional ties, recognition, connection.  That’s what I get from Australian books, nevertheless, I do think we have to step outside our comfort zone.

10.  Choose other bloggers to tag or choose a free question you make up yourself.

A free question I can make up sounds good.  NOTE I do not activate Comments, you will have to answer it in your own Shelfie by Shelfie blog post.

BONUS QUESTION:  Do you discuss the books you read in a face-to-face situation, online book reviews, or clutch your latest read to your chest saying ‘my precious, my precious’?

Happy reading, blog stars!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


For modern Australian book reviews I can recommend blogger and bookseller Simon McDonald https://writtenbysime.com/ while this list contains notably mature Australian authors:
Thea Astley
Bruce Beaver
Geoffrey Blainey
Martin Boyd
Christopher Brennan
David Campbell
Peter Carey
Marcus Clarke
James Clavell
Bryce Courtenay
Geoffrey Dutton
Len Evans
John Farrow
R.D. FitzGerald
Miles Franklin
Joseph Furphy
Helen Garner
Germaine Greer
Kate Grenville
Charles Harpur
Alexander Harris
Shirley Hazzard
Xavier Herbert
Dorothy Hewett
A.D. Hope
Janette Turner Hospital
Robert Hughes
Joseph Jacobs
Colin Johnson
Elizabeth Jolley
Henry Kendall
Thomas Keneally
Jill Ker Conway
Henry Kingsley
C.J. Koch
Leonie Judith Kramer
John Dunmore Lang
Ray Lawler
Henry Lawson
Norman Lindsay
Ern Malley
David Malouf
Furnley Maurice
James Phillip McAuley
Hugh McCrae
Colleen McCullough
Les Murray
Oodgeroo Noonuccal
Bernard Patrick O’Dowd
Vance Palmer
Eric Partridge
Hal Porter
Peter Porter
Katherine Susannah Prichard
Henry Handel Richardson
Steele Rudd
Nevil Shute
Peter Singer
Kenneth Slessor
Christina Stead
Alfred George Stephens
Douglas Stewart
Kylie Tennant
P.L. Travers
Ethel Turner
Arthur William Upfield
Morris West
Patrick White
David Williamson
Tim Winton
Judith Wright
Markus Zusak

Audio Books Read by UK Actors

Fabulous stage and screen actors reading gloriously fun books.  I listened to eight beautifully narrated sound clips by Kate Winslet, Hugh Laurie, Richard Ayoade, Miriam Margolyes, Stephen Fry, Andrew Scott, Chris O’Dowd––and I’ve just drooled over Dan Stevens short reading of Roald Dahl’s famous ‘Boy’.  What a selection!

Reviewed by Rachel Smalter Hall for Book Riot way back in 2013 who gushed:

“Rioters, I’m so excited. I just can’t hide it. I’ve been holding my breath to share this with you for weeks! The new upswing in audiobook publishing has sent lots of publishers to their backlist to record beloved classics, and one of my favorite projects in this vein is from Penguin Audio, who just released several Roald Dahl audiobooks in July and will release several more this September.  The series features some of the UK’s best known screen and stage actors. Here are sound clips from eight of the narrations that have got me squealing like a thirteen-year-old at a slumber party.”

I SAY IT’LL MAKE YOUR EARS HAPPY––SMILES GUARANTEED

TAP ON EACH INDIVIDUAL TEASER WHICH I HAVE CAREFULLY SELECTED FOR YOU FROM A LOVINGLY CURATED ROALD DAHL SOUNDCLOUD PLAYLIST

Roald Dahl Audio Book 04

 

Kate Winslet reads excerpt ‘Matilda’
https://soundcloud.com/penguin-audio/matilda-by-roald-dahl-read-by

 

Roald Dahl Audio Book 03

 

Richard Ayoade reads excerpt ‘The Twits’
https://soundcloud.com/penguin-audio/the-twits-by-roald-dahl-read

 

Roald Dahl Audio Book 05

 

Chris O’Dowd reads excerpt ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’
https://soundcloud.com/penguin-audio/fantastic-mr-fox-by-roald-dahl

 

Roald Dahl Audio Book 06

 

Dan Stevens reads excerpt ‘Boy’
https://soundcloud.com/penguin-audio/boy-by-roald-dahl-read-by-dan

 

Roald Dahl Audio Book 02

 

Stephen Fry reads excerpt ‘The Enormous Crocodile’
https://soundcloud.com/penguin-audio/the-enormous-crocodile-by

 

Roald Dahl Audio Book 01

 

Hugh Laurie reads excerpt ‘The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me’
https://soundcloud.com/penguin-audio/the-giraffe-and-the-pelly-and

 

Roald Dahl Audio Book 08

 

Miriam Margolyes reads excerpt ‘Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts’
https://soundcloud.com/penguin-audio/revolting-rhymes-dirty-beasts

 

Roald Dahl Audio Book 07

 

Andrew Scott reads excerpt ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar’
https://soundcloud.com/penguin-audio/the-wonderful-story-of-henry

 

I found their voices soothing, hypnotic and hilariously infectious.
What more can be said except ENJOY!
 Gretchen Bernet-Ward 

I do reviews not advertisements but––Thanks to Penguin Books Ltd and Book Riot who say “Sign up for our newsletter to have the best of Book Riot delivered straight to your inbox every two weeks.  No spam.  We promise.  To keep up with Book Riot on a daily basis, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, , subscribe to the Book Riot podcast in iTunes or via RSS.  So much bookish goodness––all day, every day.”

‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ by Elizabeth Strout

Mother Daughter
Mother and Daughter

Hmm . . . a puzzling book.  Good, then it dissolves into vignettes.

It is a book which sometimes comes back to me in flashes.  I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it.

Lucy has an extended stay in hospital.  I found the mother-daughter part of the story made me think.  We all relate to our own personal experiences and I definitely got twinges when I related my mother’s attitude to Lucy’s mother – although my relationship was different.  I didn’t like her father, troubled but not nice.

Much of Lucy’s early family life came out in tiny bits here and there.  The trickle affect showed the reader the cruel hardship of her earlier life. Is that why Lucy was estranged?  Why was she locked in the old car?

It was interesting how Lucy loved her kind doctor, she got no real love or compassion from her father or her husband.  The author Sarah Payne was a great character, I wish she had been fleshed out a bit more.  I liked her comment after that cutting PTSD remark “…And anyone who uses their training to put someone down that way – well, that person is just a big old piece of crap.”

After Lucy came out of hospital, the story took on the quality of snapshots as though author Elizabeth Strout saw or heard something and jotted it down then couldn’t quite flesh it out but wanted to use it anyway.  There are very human insights but we don’t even know what Lucy wrote in her books.

Lucy’s relationship with her grown-up daughters was rather superficial but I liked the unnerving chapter about her brother, and also when she is bothered by the fact that friend Jeremy may have been the dying AIDS patient she saw in hospital.

The marble statue of Ugolino and His Sons by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux in the Metropolitan Museum of Art fascinated Lucy but I couldn’t understand why.  It’s graphic but to me just shows the agony of imprisonment.

Overall, I guess I’d give this book three out of five stars because I’m not poetic enough to read between the lines!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Ugolino and Sons Statue NYC
Ugolino and His Sons