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.

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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)

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!

Retrospective: The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling 2012

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The Casual Vacancy, First edition worldwide cover, Author J. K. Rowling, Publisher Little Brown and Company, Publication date 27 September 2012, Pages 503. The illustration denotes a square and cross marked on a voting ballot paper.

Who read The Casual Vacancy by famed British author J K Rowling?  I certainly did!  It was her first post-Harry Potter novel and caused quite a stir.  I worked in library services at the time so I helped shelve this hardback hundreds of times.  Fortunately the cover was so bright (and the original publication rather big) it was always easy to locate for prospective readers.  Actually the book did not stay shelved for long, there were so many on the waiting list clambering to read it.

The Casual Vacancy was written under Rowling’s real name prior to publication of her Cormoran Strike detective series written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.  Don’t ask me why, it didn’t fool anyone.  I do remember penning a scathing review of Lethal White the fourth book in that series.

Anyway…

In 2015, The Casual Vacancy was made into a British TV three-part miniseries.  Directed by Jonny Campbell, scripted by Sarah Phelps, and starred Michael Gambon, Julia McKenzie, Emelia Fox, and others I recognised from sit-coms, but unfortunately never got to see.  Actually this production may not have reached Australian television screens.  By all accounts, viewers were outraged by the changed ending, giving rise to the old saying ‘the book is always better’.

Now, without further ado, I present—

my original book review (previously published on a now-defunct book readers website) hopefully without spoilers—

The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling 2012
Reviewed by Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2013

Quote “It was a brilliant piece of marketing strategy to publish this J K Rowling book prior to her (subsequently more popular) detective novel ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’.  What better way to heighten interest and arouse social consciousness than her very first post-Potter novel.  A long-awaited book, The Casual Vacancy is liked and loathed in equal measure but disliked more for the content than the writing – even though we’ve probably read similar books and met people similar to those in Pagford.  I think the pace is well-crafted, the voice and sense-of-place are beautifully brought to life, tinged with the graveness of a modern-day Dickens.

“The characters are an inglorious burst of humanity, almost, but not quite, edging towards insanity.  Indeed, most of the characters appear average but through various twists and turns the families in Pagford and the Fields are slowly stripped of their protective veneers and laid bare, exposing their ugliness beneath.  Nothing is sacred and all manner of collective disorders appear from young and old alike as their every move is documented, every word faithfully recorded.  We see the truths and witness the unveiling of secrets, motivated by revenge via website hacking.

“As we know from the blurb, the book kicks in with the death of Barry Fairbrother who arrives at the golf club for dinner with his wife on their wedding anniversary and keels over in the carpark.  By all accounts, he’s a nice man and liked by many people considering he was a local Councillor on Pagford’s wheeling-dealing Parish Council.  His demise leaves a casual vacancy on the Council board and the fight over his seat begins.  The reader learns there’s a war going on between the communities of Pagford and Yarvil over maintenance of the Fields, a decrepit housing estate, and the closure of a methadone clinic.  Not much political correctness goes on in council chambers.

“There you have it, henceforth The Casual Vacancy seethes with social snobbery, underage excess, racism, drug addiction and the ever-present spectres of greed, selfishness, ignorance and cruelty.  But, hey, don’t let that put you off.  This story hooked me like a continually unfolding TV saga or radio play.  I’d put it down and then have to pick it up just to see what happens to Krystal Weedon and her dissipated mother Terri, or Howard Mollison and his new café, or the ill-fated relationship of Gavin Hughes and Kay Bawden.

“Social worker Kay is new to Pagford and not a big player but she’s hardworking, misguided and gullible and the one I wanted to shout at, tell her to grab her daughter and get out of town fast.  The others, like Simon Price, are set up to be despised with appalling behaviour behind closed doors.  Occasionally I grew tired of the angry men and the gossiping wives and found that the sabotaging teenagers had more diverse demeanours, although young Sukhvinder Jawanda is heart-rending.  Was the ending so predictable?  As this inharmonious story draws to a close, I know it’s all still happening in real life.

“What more can I say?  The Casual Vacancy is an adult novel and anyone who’s been around the block a few times will related to its adult themes.  Whether or not the right people read it and change their social attitudes is another thing.  Sure it’s a tad depressing but I’ll give J K Rowling full marks for moving on from Hogwarts and writing something completely different.”  Unquote.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2019


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Joanne Kathleen Rowling CH, OBE, HonFRSE, FRCPE, FRSL, better known by her pen name J. K. Rowling, is a British author, film producer, television producer, screenwriter and philanthropist. She was born 31 July 1965 in Yate, United Kingdom, and at the time of posting has written over 30 books of different genres. https://www.jkrowling.com/

‘Dead Man Switch’ Mystery by Tara Moss

My recent reading had been on the gloomy side so I was looking forward to a rollicking read—the first thing I noticed in ‘Dead Man Switch’ was the initial lack of thrills and spills although they do make an appearance in the final chapters.

Tara Moss hints that protagonist Billie Walker, private inquiry agent, has a wild past but she seems a bit too reined-in for someone with such a pedigree, her father was a former policeman turned PI and she inherited his business.  Even the business relationship between Billie and her ex-soldier assistant Samuel Baker seems flat, more diligence than derring-do, and similarly from starchy DI Hank Cooper from Central Police.

Regardless, I launched into ‘Dead Man Switch’ with high hopes and discovered Tara Moss has written a great book for the novice crime reader.  Loaded with adjectives and story recapping, this mystery novel is a nice entry point for those graduating from cosy crime into something slightly more improper.

Fashion Women 1940 Clothes Coat Fur Wrap

There are a lot of people draping themselves around the 1940s Sydney scene.  There’s a knack to letting characters unfold, and piling them all in the front of the book slowed the action for me.  First up we meet stoic lift operator John Wilson and then Mrs Lettie Brown of Brown & Co Fine Furs visiting Billie’s agency asking for help to find her missing son Adin.  Business is slow, money is tight, Billie takes the case.

Somebody is spying on Billie from afar, while chunks of author research are on show; the stolen generations via quiet Shyla; WWII atrocities; the fur trade; Sydney nightclubs; Billie’s mother Baroness Ella von Hooft and her lady’s maid Alma representing a dying aristocracy—all jostling in a narrative where deployment of the five senses wouldn’t go amiss, and neither would more showing less telling.

Is Billie glamorous?  I did not conjure her, as did a Greek café owner, looking like US film star Ava Gardner (above).

Fashion Women 1940 Two Trench CoatsBillie is indirectly responsible for four deaths, although she herself does hang by a thread in one dire situation.  She breaks the law, a rather humorous chapter involving her zany mother, and she bribes men with an Australian shilling.  It’s hard to believe that when they were phased out in 1966 a shilling was worth 10 cents.  But in 1940s, one shilling could buy a loaf of bread and a pint of milk so that’s breakfast sorted.

The Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains makes an appearance (below) with a corny filmscript car chase.  Was this due to the writing, editing or my longing for a more unpredictable encounter?  Billie is allowed to make mistakes to further the plot but one of them was transparent and I was disappointed in her naivety.  Oh well, it is crime fiction after all.

With a view to a series, this first book is a light read with tasty clothes and much eyebrow-raising and head tilting.  I sincerely hope Book 2 ups-the-ante.  In the meantime, you will learn what to do with Fighting Red, the meaning of ‘dead man switch’ and discover what happens to young Adin Brown.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Fashion Women Dead Man Switch Tara Moss 2019 NOTE This debut Billie Walker Mystery may also be titled ‘The War Widow’ due to Billie’s photojournalist husband missing, presumed dead.

VISIT AUTHOR TARA MOSS FOR A FEAST OF BOOKS AND BACKGROUND TO HER LIFE https://taramoss.com/

Among her other books Tara Moss has also written
Makedde Vanderwall
1. Fetish (1999)
2. Split (2002)
3. Covet (2004)
4. Hit (2006)
5. Siren (2009)
6. The Assassin (2012)

Hydro Majestic Hotel Blue Mountains NSW 02
HYDRO EXPRESS DAY TRAIN The NSW Rail Museum and Hydro Majestic Hotel have partnered to create a unique scenic day trip featuring vintage train travel and afternoon High Tea at the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia. Upon arrival at Medlow Bath Station, you will be guided on a short walk to the beautifully restored Hydro Majestic Hotel and the Wintergarden Room where High Tea will be served on three-tiered silver stands and consist of petite pastries, finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones served with homemade jam and fresh clotted cream, accompanied by freshly brewed specialty teas and coffees. An optional complimentary history tour of the Hydro Majestic Hotel will take place following your High Tea sitting. Two dates Saturday 23rd or Sunday 24th November 2019 https://www.hydromajestic.com.au/events/hydro-express

Review ‘The Dreamers’ by Karen Thompson Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a clipped journalistic writing style, there are heroes, references to new life, new love and parental devotion striving against all odds yet feeling strangely hollow and disjointed.  For me, 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.  Or create mass panic similar to Corona Virus.

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/

Review ‘Wintering’ by Krissy Kneen

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This slow burning story crept up on me.  I guess you know by now that I don’t write conventional book reviews.  For starters I’m not going to give you a synopsis.  Let’s jump right in, shall we?

The sadness and bewilderment Jessica suffers when her partner Matthew goes missing in the wilds of Tasmania gradually expands until she snaps.  The atmosphere changes into an eerie, gothic-like tale of deception and fear.  There are disturbing bits, there are gruesome bits and there are strong sex scenes, Krissy Kneen’s trademark.

Jessica lives in a flimsy wooden cottage at the edge of a seawall not far from the township of Southport.  As I read on, I was unsure of William, the man who offers to help her, and doubly unsure of the coven of local women who offer strange advice and an even stranger solution.  In the end I wanted Jessica to fight back and she did, the result is worth more than the price of admission to the spooky glow-worm caves.

Jenolan Caves NSW 10

At the time Matthew goes missing, Jessica, a scientist, is just finishing her PhD on glow-worms and works as a tour guide at the local cave complex, helping the tiny creatures to prosper.  Winter Cave is her favourite and Winter Cave coldness, the surrounding dense forest, and feral smells pervade this book.  Disturbingly, she is a good shot and needs to carry a gun to feel safe.

The character portrayals are well suited to their remote Tasmanian coastal surroundings, in particular old Marijam of Cockle Creek and her outlook on what appears to be a strange isolated life.  She goes fishing for her seafood and compares commercial fishermen to the demise of small traders “Pick on a little bookstore, put a big mega-store across the road.  Discounts on all the prices till the little fella dies, then corner the market” which she read about on the internet.

Jenolan Caves NSW 03

I queried some of the ‘things’ in the story and I was dissatisfied, or perhaps had my credulity stretched, with what transpires at the end.  Like most animal-lovers, I sincerely hope the thylacine Tasmanian Tiger still exists.  I also wondered if Jessica knew those caves as well as she thought.
My pet peeves are:
(1) More showing, less telling.
(2) Proof-reading misses, e.g. license interchanged with licence, rear-view mirror becomes rear-vision mirror.  I’d go for Aussie spelling every time.
(3) Parts of the story felt like a filmscript not a literary description.  There is a difference.

Tasmanian Tigers in Hobart Zoo
The last Tasmanian Tigers in Hobart Zoo, believed extinct by 1930s.

Krissy Kneen’s story reflects the time and effort she put into it, the sense of place is strong and at times overpowering.  As a child, my parents and I visited the Jenolan Caves in New South Wales, Australia, and I have been claustrophobic ever since.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


NOTE Photographs depict general scenes and caves in Australia and Tasmania and are not related to places mentioned in the book.  If you want an in-depth analysis I suggest reading ‘Not a Tiger at All: A Review of Krissy Kneen’s “Wintering”’ by Madeleine Laing of The Lifted Brow.

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

Review ‘Too Much Lip’ by Melissa Lucashenko

The incessant fights in the Salter family are too real, their plight is real, every word is real and that’s what damaged me the most.  I took long walks due to the serious and unrelenting nature of the content.  Loaded with the troubles of the Salter family, cruel sarcasm, too much drink, too many smokes, I was getting worn down right along with them.  It took me a month to read this book in fits and starts but I’m glad I did.

Abrasive characters are well portrayed which makes them doubly annoying, they need to be accepted warts and all, like ‘mouthy’ Kerry Salter and her unlikable brother Ken who argue every minute of the day.  I’m sure I’d have put Ken in hospital at about Chapter Three.

Maybe take the pressure off young Donny.

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Bad things are happening, but as long as Kerry’s Harley Softail is safe.

Early on, Bundjalung woman Kerry has returned to her home town of Durrongo, and grieves the loss of her girlfriend Allie, her Pop and her stolen blue backpack.  She does a B&E, part retribution, part spirit world, and the universe turns a notch.  Fair move, but repercussions come later.  Then there’s romance in the form of her hot eye-candy boyfriend Steve Abarco who’s the flagship for level-headed, rock-solid men.

Kerry’s tarot card-reading mother Pretty Mary celebrates a birthday and those volatile chapters are my favourites.  At the party is another brother, gay Black Superman, maybe long-dead sister Donna, plus assorted Aunts (called Mary) Uncles and children who gust through the pages like eucalyptus smoke.  But forget about opening old family wounds, I’d say a lump the size of police headquarters sits in the pit of their stomachs, continually irritating their every move.

The battle against a new prison, to be built on sacred ground where Salter ancestors are laid to rest, ramps up with a land rights campaign.  Enter cops like Senior Sergeant Trevor Nunne and money-hungry Mayor Jim Buckley.  Ken’s flamboyant gesture on a piece of Buckley’s property was not appreciated and leads to disastrous retaliation.

You will have noticed that I am not giving too much away.

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Two Aboriginal kingplates I photographed in a display cabinet at Ipswich Art Galley, Queensland.

Writing style-wise, I did wondered why Kerry wasn’t written in first person.  Some events are seeded in advance while others appear to be inserted later to up-the-ante.  Every so often the voice changes, doubt creeps in, there’s a lull.  Or a change in atmosphere with The Doctor.  Occasionally things become omnipotent and POVs jump in and out of people’s heads but that can be overlooked for scary brave writing.

If you are not Australian, you WILL become lost in the slang and cultural references.

Try anyway.

Read this rude, gutsy book if you ARE offended by swearing, truisms close to the bone, and the struggles of Indigenous people.  As Ken says in Chapter 15 ‘How to invade other people’s countries and murder ‘em, and call it civilisation’.

It’s a strong insight into the modern world and an ancient culture, one which doesn’t need skyscrapers because Country is a place of belonging and a way of believing.

Good onya, Melissa, for audaciously holding your nerve*

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


* REFERENCE : Sydney Morning Herald interview insights into the writing of ‘Too Much Lip’
https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/melissa-lucashenko-too-much-lip-was-a-frightening-book-to-write-20180724-h1326h.html

AUTHOR PROFILE : Melissa Lucashenko is an acclaimed Aboriginal writer of Goorie and European heritage.  Since 1997 Melissa has been widely published as an award-winning novelist, essayist and short story writer.

AUTHOR WEBSITE : https://www.melissa-lucashenko.com/

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Ian Fleming ‘From Russia With Love’ Book Review

It was the sixties.  I thought I was very grown up reading ‘From Russia With Love’.  By today’s standards, the erotic scenes between James Bond and Tatiana Romanova may seem tame but the spine-tingling glamour of Bond’s world has endured for decades.

‘From Russia With Love’.  This is the fifth James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming.  It was my first 007 book and remains my favourite although it now seems top-heavy with scene-setting.  Also, my advice is to temporarily disregard the 1950s patriarchal society.

I read my father’s old hardback edition.  I still own it.  The dustcover has an illustration showing a gun and a rose, and an author’s note from Ian Fleming dated March 1956.  Published by Jonathan Cape, 13s.6d. net, a Book Club issue with no printed date.  It is certainly elderly but not a first edition.

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On the flyleaf inside ‘From Russia With Love’ there is a detailed description of the revolver used on the front cover of the book. Four pages in, there is an author’s note confirming many of the scenes are real.

Espionage.  Between British and Russian intelligence agencies spying was at its peak when this novel was written.  According to Ian Fleming, locations and Intelligence chiefs are based on real people.  SMERSH (a great name which spawned similar fictitious spy names) is a Soviet assassination organisation which has declared James Bond an enemy of the Soviet State and issued a ‘death warrant’ for his immediate execution.

To trap Bond.  The plan was to infiltrate British MI6 by using young Russian spy Tatiana Romanova who pretends to defect from her position, saying she has fallen in love with Bond from a photograph.  As an added bonus, if he delivers her safely to the West, Tatiana will give him a Spektor decoder (another great name) much prized by the fellows at MI6.  Of course, things don’t go that smoothly and if you are a follower of suave secret agent James Bond you will know what action is in store, and what happens to the beautiful girl.

Detailed plots and counterplots.  The central theme is the Cold War, a real situation between East and West and one which readers would have been well aware of at the time.  Also, there is sexism, racism and a whole lot of things which are not socially acceptable today but, hey, that was the era.

James Bond 007 Original 1964 Movie Poster
James Bond 007 Movie Poster 1964

A train trip on the Orient Express.  The journey from Istanbul to Paris is high drama and copied many times by other writers and movie producers.  Also, I think it was the first story to have a Q gadget.

Character development.  James Bond is developed more in this book, yet Fleming was undecided about continuing the series and left the ending wide open.  Will Bond survive?  And as cliff-hangers go, it is a beauty.  The impact may be slightly dulled as we view it from the all-knowing twenty-first century, however, the lure of a good spy novel never dies.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

James Bond 007 Author Ian Fleming
Author Ian Fleming

On Goodreads? My link https://www.goodreads.com/gretchenbernetward

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

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

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

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

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

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

I noticed these gaffes—

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

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

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

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

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

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 

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Re-reading Old Stuff

It was a nice surprise to discover an older piece of writing I’d forgotten, particularly when it still holds up.

My overview of Fiona McIntosh’s historical fiction “Tapestry” was penned for Top 40 Book Club Reads 2015, a regular Brisbane City Council Library Service booklet written and compiled by unacknowledged library staff.

The book—billed as timeslip fiction—has a layered plot and it was hard to write a 100 word description without sounding too stilted.  McIntosh chose settings in two countries, Australia and Britain, in two different eras of history.  I particularly liked the second half in 1715 within the Tower of London.

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Synopsis by Gretchen Bernet-Ward

After visiting the Tower of London to research her book, McIntosh had “An unforgettable day and I attribute much of the story’s atmosphere to that marvellous afternoon and evening in the Tower of London with the Dannatts when the tale of Lady Nithsdale and my own Tapestry came alive in my imagination.”

Author Fiona McIntosh has written quite a stack of books set in many parts of the world, and in different genres: Non-Fiction, Historical Romantic-Adventure, Timeslip, Fantasy – Adult, Fantasy – Children, and Crime.

Check your local library catalogue in person or online.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


In order of appearance, the Brisbane Libraries Top 40 book club recommendations for 2015—I have not read Poe Ballantine’s chilling tale “Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere” and I may never read it—See how many titles you’ve read!

The Visionist;  Moriarty;  Tapestry;  The Bone Clocks;  California; Z – Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald;  The Mandarin Code;  Merciless Gods;  Upstairs at the Party;  Friendship;  Birdsong;  Heat and Light;  Time and Time Again;  What Was Promised;  The Austen Project;  The Paying Guests;  The Exile – An Outlander Graphic Novel;  Lost and Found;  Amnesia;  Cop Town;  Mr Mac and Me;  Nora Webster;  The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden;  Inspector McLean – Dead Men’s Bones;  The Soul of Discretion;  We Were Liars;  Stone Mattress – Nine Tales;  Family Secrets;  South of Darkness;  The Claimant;  This House of Grief;  She Left Me the Gun;  Mona Lisa – A Life Discovered;  The Silver Moon;  Revolution;  Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere;  What Days Are For;  Mistress;  Warning – The Story of Cyclone Tracy;  The Birth of Korean Cool.

Louise Candlish ‘Our House’ Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


About the Author:

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

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

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

Three Things #6

Blabbing about three topics based on READING LOOKING THINKING.  This time a poetry collection, real live butterflies and overrating books.  One post in three parts, a neat idea started by blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley of Book Jotter.  Jump in! 😃 GBW.


BRUCE DAWE – POET

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Dawe

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READING:  The dust-jacket image of a wooden paling fence on Bruce Dawe’s outstanding 1969 poetry collection ‘Beyond the Subdivisions’ will be familiar to anyone who lived in Australia in the middle decades of the 20th century.  Timber mills must have worked overtime because everyone had a six-foot fence enclosing three sides of their quarter acre suburban block of land.  A subdivision was formed by building identical weatherboard or brick veneer homes.  Now called a housing estate or residential development but probably just as uniform.

Cravensville by Bruce Dawe

‘Run-of-the-mill’, you well might call this town
—A place where many go, but few remain,
Where you’d be mad to want to settle down,
Off the main road, too far from bus or train,
Neither backblocks enough to suit the likes
Of most of us, nor moderately supplied
With urban comforts, good for mystery hikes,
But not the place to take the happy bride.

Population : 750, the guide-books say . . .
After a week or two the hills close in,
And what you came to find here moves away
(If it was ever here . . .)
‘So what’s your sin?’
The barman says, with a wink, and the blowfly drone
Of justification starts, for him alone.

Bruce Dawe Poet Photo and QuotationThis slim grey poetry book with orange lining was purchased for one dollar at UQ Alumni Book Fair 2019.  The original 1969 price sticker on the front reads $1.95 which is confirmed on the inside flyleaf.  In fifty years it had never been opened.

Back to the paling fence—as a child, I remember thinking the fence was insurmountable.  Tall and ominous, it forbade me from seeing what was on the other side.  As I grew older, I tried to climb the cross struts (usually only on one side of the fence) and couldn’t get a toe-hold.  Splinters searing through my fingers, I fell back to ground.  However, this didn’t stop me.  Growing taller and bolder, one day I wrenched myself up and peeked over the top of the fence to see what our elderly nextdoor neighbour’s backyard looked like.  Pretty ordinary as I recall.  By this time, her children had moved away, the pets had passed away and I was way more interested in pop singers.

What has this got to do with Bruce Dawe, Australian poet extraordinaire?  Nothing really, except I love his gritty poetry about what goes on beyond those wooden fences.  Such insight, such lyrical, satirical prose.  His words may appear nostalgic, yet not, because human nature never really changes.  GBW.


BRIBIE ISLAND BUTTERFLY HOUSE

https://www.bribieislandbutterflyhouse.org/

LOOKING:  The Bribie Island Butterfly House, north of Brisbane, is a community organisation run by volunteers.  It is an incredibly tranquil experience to walk into a huge enclosure filled with beautiful flowers and thousands of butterflies.  There is not a sound.  Around a corner are small bubblers yet nothing detracts from the calm, delicate atmosphere.  I was lucky to visit on a sunny day because apparently this makes the butterflies more active—but as my photographs below will demonstrate, it was hard to get a still image.

Six blurry shots of a Lesser Wanderer butterfly, fluttering its wings so fast and furious I gave up trying to focus.  It was enjoying the nectar from the daisy-like flower and nothing was going to distract it.  I thought perhaps it would stop for a quick rest but it didn’t.  That flower must have been delicious!

As I was reading the information brochure, a Swamp Tiger butterfly landed on it.  They like light, bright colours and often landed on the visitors sunhats.  The spotted Monarch butterfly on the right was newly hatched and getting its bearings.

The next photo I took was of two butterflies mating . . . sorry, folks, but this post is only a trailer.  I have heaps more to tell you so please visit my full report with photos on Bribie Island Butterfly House Visit.  GBW.


OVERRATING BOOKS

Dangers Of Hyping Books
https://madamewriterblog.com/2019/05/27/dangers-of-hyping-books/

Discussion: To Read Or Not To Read Reviews
https://thoughtsstainedwithink.com/2019/01/28/discussion-to-read-or-not-to-read-reviews/

The Most Nonsensical Terms Used In Book Blurbs
https://litreactor.com/columns/the-most-nonsensical-terms-used-in-book-blurbs

THINKING:  First, I would like to thank Madame Writer and Thoughts Stained With Ink and Peter Derk of LitReactor for voicing several bookish Thoughts on subjects which I have mused over but never put into Words.  They raised some valid questions, none I can satisfactorily answer but I would like to respond—

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We all know book publicity takes many forms.  It’s a big leap from when William Shakespeare saw his posters printed off a hand-blocked press.  Currently we have literary journals, author talks, Facebook, dedicated websites, bloggers, online bookshops, the list goes on, all reviewing with a positive spin.  More on that further down.

I follow trusted book reviewers (you know who you are!) and receive publishers e-newsletters.  I don’t read backcover book blurb unless my mind is filled with a healthy dose of scepticism.  I don’t read a book review unless it’s from my independent sources or I am already halfway through the story.  Likewise I won’t read book hype, particularly on social media, until I’ve formed my own opinion.  When I finish a book, I read blurb, reviews and hype just to see if I agree with everyone.  Not always, but that’s the beauty of personal opinion.

Then there’s snappily worded book bolstering, raking through the coals of already formed opinions, to generate a spark in book sales and sway the undecided reader.  I don’t review most of the books I read but after reading I make a mental note of the merits of each one.  And the Choose-Your-Own process works for me.  I’ve read some great books which I originally knew nothing about.  Stubborn, yes, belief in book hype, no.

IMG_20190527_1655338Which brings me to the reviewers, particularly those who receive an ARC in return for an honest review.  Are their reviews strictly honest?  Do they leave out the bits they don’t like? Fudge the wording?  I’ve yet to read a scathing review for a publisher’s complimentary copy.  Someone out there must have written an unhappy book review, one where it genuinely states ‘This book is rubbish’ and not because they don’t like the genre.

Fear holds us back; fear of no longer receiving free copies; fear of being pilloried by other readers; fear of ridicule from fans; fear of not sounding smart enough; fear of being the kid in the classroom who stands out for all the wrong reasons.  We shouldn’t have any fear about expressing ourselves honestly but we do.  Be nice, be fair but does that mean be honest?  Rather than admit they don’t like a book, reviewers have been known NOT to write a review.  Almost misinformation for both reader and author.

I’m under no allusion that my Three Things #6 will make waves in the blogging community yet I still put myself out there, turning my Thoughts into Words, and trying not to be fearful of the result.  GBW.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Jimmy Barnes Working Class Rock Star Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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Jimmy Barnes ‘My Criminal Record’ collectors edition in vinyl

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

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

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

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

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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

Jimmy Barnes 02
https://www.jimmybarnes.com/news/tour-announcement-jimmy-barnes-is-shutting-down-your-town/

Review ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ by Maria Donovan

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

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

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

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

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.

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…

Being of a nosey disposition myself, I empathise with Michael’s underlying emotions and the need for resolution.  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.  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.