‘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.

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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)

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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.  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/

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jimmy Barnes 08

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.

Jimmy Barnes 01
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 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.

Review ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’ by Katherine Battersby

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The New York Times says ‘Hopelessly cute…’ and they are right.

Squish is just a small rabbit, but he dreams big.

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Two friends read their favourite book ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’.

Squish dreams of many things including having a pet.

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Squish Rabbit is a lively little character.

Squish makes a long list—a puppy would be perfect.

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Squish Rabbit makes a list of many things.

Squish’s best friend Twitch helps him along the way.

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Squish Rabbit’s best friend Twitch helps make an ‘almost’ pet.

Squish thinks important thoughts about friendship and his future pet.

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Squish Rabbit has two other adventures you can read.

Squish waits and waits to meet his new pet—who is more wonderful than he ever dreamed.


REVIEW:  There is an art to creating good children’s books and with her clear illustrations and succinct text, Katherine Battersby has shaped a beautiful story.  ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’ is a picture book which combines thoughtfulness, fun and friendship with an eggciting ending.

COMMENT:  I saw this third Squish Rabbit book at a UQP publishing event prior to its release and had to buy it.  I am familiar with Katherine Battersby’s work and have met her professionally when she journeyed from Canada to Queensland.  Happy reading!  🐨 🍁

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Category: Children’s Picture Book, Children’s + Young Adult
Release Date: 3 April 2019
Pages: 32
Publisher: The University Of Queensland Press
ISBN: 978 0 7022 6046 9
Teacher Notes: http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/store/images/Hi-RES/teachersnotes/1501/4157.pdf
Online: https://www.readings.com.au/products/26387171/squish-rabbits-pet

Printed with a squishy cover perfect for little hands!

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Just gift-wrapped Squish for a new baby, never too young for books!

Three Things #5

Bookshelf for ABC Radio 04

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

Dylan Thomas ‘Under Milk Wood’ Wales Readathon 2019

#dewithon19 logo

I found myself drawn to ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Dylan Thomas after accepting an open invitation from Book Jotter to participate in Wales Readathon by reading a book or two from any Welsh writer during March.

Because I wanted to read a physical book, my search had its ups and down until I visited my local library.  Ah, libraries, magical places!

Wales Readathon Dewithon (1)

I now have in my possession (for a limited time) an updated paperback edition of ‘Under Milk Wood’ published 2000 and based on the definitive 1995 edition.  The original was first published in Great Britain in 1954.  The cover art above is taken from ‘Abstract With Woman’s Head’ an oil painting by Evan Walters.  The paperback has been well-read, with yellowing pages, and the print is small.  Initially glancing through it, I thought it had longer introductions and more explanatory notes than the play length!

First, the book blurb to get you started—

Synopsis is taken directly from the back of the book, written when people read longer paragraphs:

“In 1951, two years before his death at the age of thirty-nine, Dylan Thomas wrote of his plan to complete a radio play, ‘an impression for voices, an entertainment out of the darkness, of the town I live in, and to write it simply and warmly and comically with lots of movement and varieties of moods, so that, at many levels . . . you come to know the town as an inhabitant of it’.

The work was Under Milk Wood – an orchestration of voices, sights and sounds that conjure up the dreams and waking hours of an imagined Welsh seaside village within the cycle of one day.  Thomas’s flawed villagers reveal a world of delight, gossip and regret, of varied and vivid humanity; a world that his classic ‘play for voices’ celebrates as ‘this place of love’.”

And, I might add, a snapshot of history, a way of life changed forever.  The VOICE OF A GUIDE-BOOK on page 19 hints at Llareggub being a backwater.  In Dylan Thomas’ time the part where Mog Edwards boasts that he will take Myfanwy Price away to his Emporium on the hill ‘where the change hums on wires’ was already a dying era.  But Thomas shows us that basic personalities never really change.

Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 05

Now some background information—

Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953) is a poetry icon, he even has his own day on 14th May.  No doubt ‘Under Milk Wood’ has been analysed within an inch of its life, so it will be difficult to choose a path not already well-trodden.  For starters, I am not going to tell you Dylan Thomas’ life story – his granddaughter Hannah handles that beautifully.

I will say that Dylan Thomas finished polishing his play for voices ‘Under Milk Wood’ in 1953 and performed it in New York.  It went on to become a BBC radio drama, stage plays, films and produced in several other formats in Wales and around the world.  Australian pianist and composer Tony Gould‘s 1997 ‘Under Milk Wood’ adaptation (written for narrator and chamber orchestra) was performed by actor John Stanton and the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra.

Several Australian versions followed, including a one-woman production of the text performed at the Sidetrack Theatre in Sydney, New South Wales.  Actress Zoe Norton Lodge performed all 64 characters in the play – and I like to think at least one was based on her father, a proud Welshman.

And finally my book review—

Got a coffee handy?  I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this classic.

Spoken by an omniscient narrator, the opening paragraph of ‘Under Milk Wood’ gave me chills.  If you’ve got the time, I’d like you to read it.

[Silence]
FIRST VOICE [Very softly]

‘To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters-and-rabbits wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black crowblack, fishingboat bobbing sea.  The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds.  And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.’

He goes on to describe the people and the animals, the town and household items until we arrive at ‘ . . . the big seas of their dreams.  From where you are, you can hear their dreams.’  Then we learn about Captain Cat, the retired blind sea captain.

FIRST DROWNED
Remember me, Captain?
CAPTAIN CAT
You’re Dancing Williams!
FIRST DROWNED
I lost my step in Nantucket.

And just like that, you know you’re in for a rollicking time!

Make no mistake, it contains dark adult concepts.  Fear, foibles and funny thoughts are exposed, things which the villagers would prefer hidden from view.  At the same time, it doesn’t matter because whatever country or town you live in, I think Dylan Thomas’ characters are universal and show us that love, lust, greed, spite and skullduggery can lurk inside every home.  The odd behaviour of Lord Cut-Glass and his clocks, Mr Pugh’s poisonous ideas, Mrs Dai Bread One and Two; the good, bad and temperamental folk are laid bare in the most lyrical of terms but at the same time asking us to accept and forgive.

As for individual characteristics, I consider Nogood Boyo has the right idea.  He goes out in a dinghy, ships the oars and drifts in the bay, lying in the hull among the tangled fishing lines.  NOGOOD BOYO [Softly, lazily] ‘I don’t know who’s up there (on Llareggub Hill) and I don’t care.’  Page 29.  But inquisitive readers do.  On page 55 Reverend Eli Jenkins muses about his deceased father Esau who fell sleep in a corn field and had his leg scythed off.  Reverend Eli thinks ‘Poor Dad, to die of drink and agriculture.’

Listicle 06Rhymes are chanted and there are various words unknown to me so I appreciated the Textual Notes at the back of the book.  The editors, Messrs Walford Davies and Ralph Maud, took exception to BBC copywriters dropping commas, changing spelling or capitalising/italicising words which were not in Thomas’ original manuscript.  So ‘take that BBC!’ from pages 81 to 104 they have been painstakingly corrected.

But, I say (holding up my pointer finger like a school teacher), while Mr Thomas was said to be an excellent speller, I think I spy with my little eye, a possible hiccup on page 37 and I quote ‘ . . . the drugged, bedraggled hens at the back door whimper and snivel for the lickerish bog-black tea.’  Could that word be ‘licorice’?  No, this man rocks poetic license and knows exactly what he’s doing.

Just for the record, I’m not entering the ‘Under Milk Wood’ book title debate.  The name of the fictional fishing village of Llareggub, where the entire dawn-to-dusk scene takes place, appears to be Welsh but if you read it backwards, it says something quite different.

There are several evocative paragraphs I could elaborate on with great relish, however, since I did not study Dylan Thomas at school, this blog post could be in danger of turning into a starstruck student essay.  I will close with one of the milder pieces:

Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 06

‘From Beynon Butchers in Coronation Street, the smell of fried liver sidles out with onions on its breath.  And listen!  In the dark breakfast-room behind the shop, Mr and Mrs Beynon, waited upon by their treasure, enjoy, between bites, their every-morning hullabaloo, and Mrs Beynon slips the gristly bits under the tasselled tablecloth to her fat cat.’ Page 27.

An excerpt from the final paragraph reads:  ‘The thin night darkens.  A breeze from the creased water sighs the streets close under Milk waking Wood.  The Wood, whose every tree-foot’s cloven in the black glad sight of the hunters of lovers . . . the suddenly wind-shaken wood springs awake for the second dark time this one Spring Day.’  That makes my mind reel – in a good way.

Grab a copy and read it out aloud—Rated Five Daffodils!

Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08

Diolch yn fawr, mwynhewch ddarllen!  Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Dewithon Logo Daffs


Twitter #dewithon19

Wales Readathon https://bookjotter.com/category/wales-readathon/

DHQ: Dewithon 2019 https://bookjotter.com/2018/03/26/dhq-dewithon19/

Suggested http://readingwales.org.uk/en/

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

Review ‘Heart of the Grass Tree’ by Molly Murn

Simon McDonald is a Sydney-based reader, writer and senior bookseller at Potts Point Bookshop.  I always enjoy his book reviews.  Simon writes perceptive, eloquent and up-to-the-minute appraisals which have helped me discover some great stories and I look forward to reading this book.  GBW.

Molly Murn is a South Australian author and poet.  She holds a Bachelor of Dance, a Masters of Creative Arts, and is currently a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at Flinders University.  ‘Heart of the Grass Tree’ is Molly’s first novel.  https://mollymurn.com

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Simon McDonald

9780143792499With Heart of the Grass Tree, Molly Murn cements herself as not only one of Australia’s most exciting up-and-coming novelists, but a brilliant novelist of Australia.

In the South Australian author’s debut, multiple generations of a family ensconced in secrets and embroiled in personal turmoil converge on Kangaroo Island to farewell Nell, an Indigenous elder, mother and grandmother. The narrative flits between their stories, which occur in distinct time periods — the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries — and their unifying factor is Kangaroo Island, which makes the island, and its distinct landscape and indigenous population, the Ngarrindjeri people, the true protagonist of this extraordinary novel.

Lyricism empowers this tale of settlement on Kangaroo Island. Its prose is gorgeous, every page jewelled by Murn’s lyrical parlance, antithetical to the brutality of its conquest by the first settlers. Her rendering of the island’s natural beauty and it’s violent, oppressive history is…

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.