A balmy Friday night with a nip in the air because it’s still winter, and it seemed everyone wanted to head in the same direction we were going. The bus was late, the traffic was jammed and lunch seemed a long time ago. Worst of all, we were most certainly going to arrive late for the author talk. And what a prestigious author!
The bus finally got us into town (or more accurately the Central Business District) to attend a Brisbane City Council Lord Mayor’s Writers in Residence Series author talk in City Hall.
Ready to race… off the bus, through the ornate vestibule, up in the lift, straight through the door…
And there she was—Ann Cleeves author of Vera and Perez fame. She sat in a relaxed pose on the stage, speaking calmly, eloquently and humorously to the 300-plus audience seated in the ancient Ithaca Room. On such uncomfortable chairs with bad sightlines. But we were enthralled.
The host may have read Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope crime novels but his inept questions did nothing to ruffle her calm and considered replies. Such aplomb! Especially when the floor was opened for general question time. Needless to say she held the audience of besotted readers in the palm of her authorial hand.
It was fascinating to learn how book-Vera came into being, based on real women the author had known, and also the rapport she has with ITV actor Brenda Blethyn aka Vera. Later I discovered Ann was awarded an OBE in the 2022 New Year Honours List “for services to Reading and Libraries.”
When the event drew to a close, people filed out into the foyer, clutching their favourite book for signing or to buy the latest book for a signature on the pristine flyleaf. The book signing queue was jam-packed with readers nattering about their favourite characters.
I purchased two books The Rising Tide and Raven Black (see photos) but the line was too long and too slow for me to consider waiting while my stomach grumbled so loudly.
Across mosaic hand-cut floor tiles, through the huge doors and outside into King George Square where the city was an evening fairyland of lights presenting countless alluring restaurants and eateries. My companion and I compared notes as we ate dinner, having purchased different books from the series. Then it was time to return to the suburbs.
Standout book quote so far, page 40, Joe Ashworth says of the deceased “They didn’t find a note. He was a writer. You’d think he’d want to leave a few words for his friends.”
Two accidental milestones: As of August 2022, the number of my blog posts is 499, one digit off the magic marker of 500. This post will click it over to 500 posts. Ironically, and surprisingly for me, I am also one number off my current Book Reviews tally of 99. This will click over to 100 book reviews when I read and review Ann Cleeves latest novel The Rising Tide and discover what crimes DCI Vera Stanhope has sorted out this time.
The literary equivalent of a supernova, sheer plotting brilliance, mind blown!
The Trolls are looking hungry and humans are on the menu. In besieged Cornwall, unhealthy scenarios are playing out and Jennifer Strange, Court Mystician to the Kingdom of Snodd, does not like it one bit.
Jennifer is always cool under pressure and prepares to take action, indeed it is her destiny. She is joined by her best friend Tiger, the sword Exhorbitus, a VW Beetle with links to her past, and a Quarkbeast. Meanwhile megolomaniac Mighty Shandar is a sorcerer out to conquer the world and needs another Quarkbeast to do it.
Jennifer hopes the Button Trench will hold back the ravenous hordes and that Mighty Shandar will back off. He ain’t gettin’ her Quarkbeast that’s for sure.
Unfortunately even regular characters Lady Mawgon and sorceress Once Magnificent Boo are floundering to find ways to thwart the ever-expanding evil. Drooling Trolls are multiplying daily and Mighty Shandar’s over-inflated ego expands by the minute.
In the mix are—Royal Princess Shazine Snodd in a commoner’s body whom glamour boy Sir Matt Grifflon is keen to marry; Mighty Shandar’s obsequious assistant Miss D’Argento; the two delightful reconnaissance dragons Feldspar and Colin (I learned how dragons make flames) plus integral quirky characters throughout. The likes of Kevin Zip and Full Price add to the story and you will probably recognise their personalities whether or not you have read the other books. But as the ubiquitous footnotes hint, read the other books!
Just as The Big Bang Theory song says “Maths, science, history, unravelling the mystery…” this book has it all, from subtle throwbacks, movie references, intertextuality, the Chrysler Building, to a very different type of submarine Bellerophon. I was surprised by an unexpected, unnamed Special Guest appearance—breaking the fourth wall—I would love to say who and why but in respect to spoilers I will abstain.
Over the years, author Jasper Fforde’s signature wit has given his readers a slightly skewed look at locations in Wales but this time it’s Penzance where Bergerac TV actor John Nettles has become an icon, venerated with a bronze statue in the town square. Jennifer ponders her life as she strolls through beautiful Morrab Gardens.
+Jasper Fforde will be in North Cornwall for the Book Festival 24-25 September 2022+
I think Royal pomp and circumstance take a bit of a pounding in this Dragonslayer plot, so the unscheduled appearance of Molly the Troll is a zany twist. As Jennifer says “I can’t think of much that isn’t weird about all this.” The wizard Great Zambini says “Bigger and bolder than anything you can imagine” and he’s right. Jennifer knows a reconnoitre is needed so she and the dragons set off on a dangerous mission with devastating results and further repercussions.
The Great Troll War is the ingenious fourth and final book in The Last Dragonslayer series promoted at young adult readers but I believe it sits nicely in that unique niche reserved for novels devoured by all age groups. Those interested in a retro-present-day twist on believability, tweaking the norm and perhaps even glimpsing into the future while grounded in the everyday.
Find out the truth about the orphanage and Jennifer’s absentee parents, what role buttons play, and how not to recruit warriors. Oh, yes, stay away from creepy Hollow Men. I loved the chunks of humour and lightbulb moments as strategies are worked out amid the ever-present whiff of disaster and universal annihilation.
At the heart of The Great Troll War Jasper Fforde has written a relatable fantasy sci-fi story about the power of friendship and trust, with strong messages on clear-thinking and using available knowledge to work out the best, most logical and kindest way to end a war before it starts.
Jennifer certainly has a tough job.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
The Last Dragonslayer synopsis for the series below:
The Last Dragonslayer (2010) In which we meet Jennifer Strange, learn about Kazam and a Dragon is despatched but not without magnificent events that lead on to a Big Magic.
The Song of the Quarkbeast (2011) The King wants to control magic and use it for his own ends, but Jennifer and Kazam will not let that happen, and we learn what may happen if Quarkbeasts collide.
The Eye of Zoltar (2013) Jennifer goes on what is emphatically not a quest in the Cambrian Empire. She finds the mysterious Eye of Zoltar and also learns a thing or two about Jeopardy Tourism.
The Great Troll War (2021) A ramshackle band of humans hold out against the Troll invaders led by Jennifer Strange. An evil mastermind is plotting a dastardly plan, and all seems hopeless. Or is it?
Special Features section on the website has details about each book, places to order it, and a host of extra information. None of Jasper Fforde’s books have a chapter 13. You can read more on his website: FAQ
Many people read more than one book at a time and I have been doing this for several years. If one book is slow or doesn’t capture my immediate interest, I switch to another one. Plots and characters never seem to get confused because I usually read different genres.
And I always like to finish a book!
Watch out for a special blog post for my 100th Book Review. This milestone took me by surprise. I have many more reviews on Goodreads but I personalise my blog post reviews.
Have a quick look at Fantastic Fiction, my favourite go-to resource:
Heads up… Brisbane’s longest-running Book Fair is coming soon! The UQ Alumni Book Fair will be spread over four glorious days in April/May 2022 with heaps more than text books.
This annual fundraiser is a much awaited event for Brisbane booklovers. Based at the University of Queensland, St Lucia campus, there is something for every reader and collector.
I’ll be going with a BIG carry bag!
The Book Fair is organised by volunteers who harness their love of books and generously donate their time to help raise funds to support researchers, educators and residential scholarships for UQ students.
Come along to the Book Fair for a huge range of—-
Pre-loved books of every genre for every age group
Occasional photographs, print or piece of memorabilia
Special Family Day for young readers
The Rare Book auction is biennial and next event is 2023
Register now White Gloves talk on rare Australian books at UQ Fryer Library.
The Owl Service by Alan Garner was a totally unexpected read for me. For a start the title does not refer to a Harry Potter-style owl delivery service. First published in 1967, I read the 2017 50th Anniversary Edition and had to adjust my thinking.
Winner of the Carnegie Medal and The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Alan Garner’s story is set during summertime in an old house in a picturesque Welsh valley. There is a wonderful introduction by Philip Pullman and The Observer writes ‘Remarkable… a rare imaginative feast, and the taste it leaves is haunting’.Susan Cooper adds ‘The power and range of Alan Garner’s astounding talent has grown with every book he’s written’.
Okay, let’s get the owl service bit out of the way. It refers to a dinner service (plates) long hidden in the attic above young Alison’s bedroom where she is convalescing from a tummy bug. From the moment she sees them, she is besotted with the curious floral owl pattern and begins to copy them onto paper, cutting and folding them into tiny owls, little realising her actions will unleash events that affect several lives. Thus the atmosphere gets a little bit odd as ancient mythological forces seem to stir in the Welsh countryside.
Teenagers, Alison and her stepbrother Roger, and local lad Gwyn feel the vibes but only the caretaker Huw Halfbacon seems to understand it. The youngsters devise ways to get hold of all the owl plates because Gwyn’s mother Nancy, the cook, is horrified at their discovery and warns the children off. Too late, of course, and gradually they become not only secretive but snippy-snappy with each other and resentful of arrangements they have no control over, mainly their parents. Adult dad Clive seems to be the only calm one.
Added to the owl mystery is the local legend of a man who takes another man’s wife Blodeuwedd, a woman made from flowers. Retribution involves a rock and a spear which supposedly speared straight through the rock killing the man.
After a swim in the river, Roger discovers this rock with the hole: the Stone of Gronw. He’s an amateur photographer (think rolls of B&W film and F-stops) and muses over the paradox as he lines up trees on the horizon. This significance (and others!) was lost on me. What were the odd sounds like scratching, the motor bike, villagers mumbling or even Huw’s strange pronouncements?
Amazing artwork is found hidden in the billiard room of a dairy shed conversion. Behind the pebble-dash wall is a vision of womanly loveliness or perhaps evil? The trio are uneasy. Is it payback for that bygone grievance? Is floral Nature emerging to take revenge? The most puzzling question is what roles do the paper owls play and why are they vanishing? These vignettes do not bode well and I was floundering for a rationale, trying to conjure an explanation. Is it that the clues are merely to mislead the reader? (Here I pause thoughtfully to study the subtext, slowly untangling it)
As tension mounts within the families, Gwyn likes Alison and he fights with his mother who wants to leave. I kept wondering where things were heading. The way is not clear-cut. At times I found the writing style difficult to get into and emotionally overwrought. Alison is the mercurial girl and Roger the snobbish boy; cruel things are said, especially to Gwyn and eventually he cracks under pressure. Huw watches on… this is where things get fast and furious and brilliantly captures the angst, the rain, the mountains, the desperate urge to escape.
The awe-inspiring Welsh setting, and the subtle way author Alan Garner has subverted the norm, is intriguing. Garner actually stayed in the valley where he based his story, using ‘an expression of the myth’ the legend of mythical woman Blodeuwedd and he carried out extensive research—even the owl plates are real, designed by Christopher Dresser sometime between 1862 and 1904.
The characters are fleshed out by their dialogue alone (not Welsh) and everyone plays their part—perhaps leaning towards a stage play ensemble. Indeed The Owl Service was made into a Granada Television series of the same name in 1969, and was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 2000. (Wikipedia facts behind the book)
Another Welsh fantasy novel of the 1960s written by Susan Cooper Over Sea, Under Stone indicates that Young Adult fiction in general began to thrive in this decade as books were being published and marketed expressly at teenagers.
I would suggest The Owl Service rating as mild fantasy with a psychological twist. It is certainly a literary milestone, although I did wonder if millennial teenagers were reading it. In my opinion, this story is more suited to those who have lived through the no-internet era. Enjoyable, yes, but far removed from the type of graphic and immersive YA fantasy novels published today.
This will be my fourth Reading Wales #dewithon and I am excited at the list of Welsh authors and poets which Book Jotter has assembled to tempt our reading taste buds.
Source one book, source ten! Create your own list! See my list! Join in Reading Wales!
Currently I have six books on a waiting list at my local library because it will be easier to collect them rather than hanging around waiting for an interstate or overseas parcel delivery.
I hold Covid-19 responsible and also a catastrophic flood which swept down the Queensland coast, through my city of Brisbane (everything is still soaked) and pounded coastal New South Wales before heading towards Sydney. Notice how I worked in the word ‘Wales’?
A MESSAGE FROM THE CREATOR BOOK JOTTER, PAULA BARDELL-HEDLEY
Welcome to the fourth Reading Wales celebration (aka Dewithon 22), a month-long event beginning on Saint David’s Day, during which book lovers from all parts of the world are encouraged to read, discuss and review literature by and about writers from Wales.
For more in-depth information on this reading jolly, head over toDHQ (Dewithon Headquarters), and to see what’s happening this year, please follow this link. You can also share your thoughts and posts on Twitter by using the hashtags #dewithon22 and/or #walesreadathon22.
visit DHQ Reading Wales Dewithon22 websites below.
click‘On Our Shelves’ to browse Dewithoner’s suggested reading list.
source books relating to Wales from library, bookshop, online.
post a book review and tell everyone!
N.B. Dewithon22 reading includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, in fact anything with a significant link to Wales.
What have I ambitiously chosen and which are available to me?
The Owl Service by Alan Garner was too tempting, so I’ve added it to my list. The Guardian says “…the plot is very gripping and slightly creepy.” AVAILABLE in my local library.READ
Sugar and Slate by Charlotte Williams – past winner of the Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year, an autobiographical story of a Welsh-African mixed-race woman who brings her unique qualities to the story, transforming it into a lively and living account of her life. ON ORDER.
I’m keen to get started 😀 and already made some headway!
My thoughts are that I will eventually read them all—perhaps not all in March—and I am looking forward to having my mind held captive by the literati of Wales. When I put down the books and walk Terra Australis again, my reviews will be either here or Goodreads.
Looking forward to reading about what you are reading!
King Anne by Ethel Turner was published in 1921 and my great aunt gifted this novel to her sister, my paternal grandmother, at Christmastime in 1922 after she had first read it. Many years passed by and when Grandma thought the time was right she passed King Anne on to me.
Unfortunately at that time I was not the least bit interested.
British-born Australian author Ethel Turner (1870-1958) was a novelist and children’s literature writer. She wrote over 30 books and collections of short stories and verse, mostly centred around girls and for girls. King Anne was Turner’s thirty-sixth published work.
Perhaps because I didn’t quite get into her first novel, the epic family saga Seven Little Australians (1894) of which NSW State Library holds the original hand-written manuscript, I therefore gave pseudo-royal King Anne’s weighty tome (as it seemed to me at the time) a wide detour.
The bookcover faded and King Anne languished for many, many years on the family bookshelves, sandwiched between ancient copies of Kidnapped, Pilgrims Progress and Wind in the Willows, and enduring several moves until by some quirk of fate I reached for it today February 2022 when my great aunt and grandmother would have read it one hundred years ago. (Shivers)
I have no memory of the storyline. Now I WILL have to read it!
First I shall create a pictorial and some background information—
The book has foxing and is not in good condition but you can see the etiquette of the time. Written in brackets underneath ETHEL TURNER is the abbreviation Mrs coupled with her husband’s name thus Mrs H. R. Curlewis. Herbert Raine Curlewis was a judge.
The frontispiece and three illustration plates are beautifully rendered, showing family life at the time. They are miniature works of art in their own right, sometimes removed and framed by the book owner. The far right image was adapted and embossed on the front cover of King Anne.
The artist has not been acknowledged and from online booksellers information you can take your pick. Possibly Harold Copping, and it seems A.J. Johnson‘s small-format illustrations were later replaced by full page works from J. Macfarlane. Each had illustrated books for Ethel Turner.
Inside the back leaves of King Anne (you leaf through a book because the pages are called leaves) under the heading Charming Stories by Isabel M Peacocke – another author of similar genre – there is a rather ambiguous book review of My Friend Phil (1915) from a Queensland Times reviewer which reads “… without doubt the best since Ethel Turner took the reading world by storm with her ‘Seven Little Australians’…” poor Isabel M Peacocke.
The difference between the size and weight of these two books was misleading until held in my hands. Natasha Pulley’s The Kingdoms is a slimmer volume with a lighter bookcover and thinner pages compared to Ethel Turner’s bulky King Anne with its fabric-over-cardboard bookcover, cotton stitching and stiff parchment-like pages. The modern publication is 200g heavier.
Australian author Ethel Turner booklist:
Seven Little Australians (1894) The Family at Misrule (1895) Story of a Baby (1895) Little Larrikin (1896) Miss Bobbie (1897) Camp at Wandining (1898) Gum Leaves (1900) Three Little Maids (1900) Wonder Child (1901) Little Mother Meg (1902) Raft in the Bush (1902) Betty & Co (1903) Mothers Little Girl (1904) White Roofed Tree (1905) In the Mist of the Mountains (1906) Walking to School (1907) Stolen Voyage (1907) Happy Hearts (1908) That Girl (1908) Birthday Book (1909) Fugitives from Fortune (1909) Fair Ines (1910)
An Orge up to Date (1911) Apple of Happiness (1911) Fifteen & Fair (1911) Ports & Happy Havens (1911) Tiny House (1911) Secret of the Sea (1913) Flower O’ the Pine (1914) The Cub (1915) John of Daunt (1916) Captain Cub (1917) St Tom & The Dragon (1918) Brigid & the Cub (1919) Laughing Water (1920) **King Anne (1921) Jennifer, J. (1922) Sunshine Family (1923) (with Jean Curlewis her daughter) Nicola Silva (1924) Ungardeners (1925) Funny (1926) Judy & Punch (1928)
**King Anne is Number 36 on this list and according to the list in my book (photo above) this was her 21st novel.
Ethel Turner’s literary works have been largely forgotten but she, and a handful of other women writers, paved the way for Australian books for Australian children. My grandparents were educated with, and read, British books, so I admire Ethel Turner’s achievements. The following websites make interesting reading – GBW.
Tea With Ethel Turner by author blogger Rowena (link below) is exceptionally well written and researched. On my own research, so far I have found scant reference to King Anne.
Important Addendum: Australian Women Writers Challenge The Early Years is concentrating on past Australian women writers of all genres who were published then faded away. AWW have restructured their blog to highlight the writing of earlier Australian women; works published 50+ years ago. If you happen to find and read a forgotten gem, AWW would be interested in your book review.
I will be posting my King Anne review in due course. In the meantime, perhaps YOU might find another first edition little-known Ethel Turner on your bookshelf?
‘The Oldest Foods on Earth’ introduction by author John Newton who asks ‘What do I mean by Australian native produce?’
Quote “Indigenous foods we have always eaten, e.g. oysters, crabs, rock crayfish and all the fish that swim around us… and varieties of duck and quail… but outside the familiar are an estimated 6,000 edible plants including 2,400 fruiting trees in south-east Queensland alone, and 2,000 truffles or subterranean mushrooms. Of those, 6,000 non-Indigenous Australians currently use less than fifty.
“Why should you eat these foods? Firstly, for their unique flavours, then for their nutrient values… they are among the richest on the planet in the nutrients we need for health.
Published by NewSouth Publishing Australia with recipes from chefs such as Peter Gilmore, Maggie Beer and René Redzepi’s sous chef Beau Clugston. ‘The Oldest Foods on Earth’ will convince you that this is one food revolution that really matters.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
DID YOU KNOW? Former teacher Suzy Wilson, the owner of Riverbend Books in Bulimba, Brisbane, got the ball rolling in 2004 when she launched the Riverbend Readers Challenge to raise money to boost literacy levels. The Challenge grew, and then teamed up with the Fred Hollows Foundation and the Australian Book Industry to become the Indigenous Literacy Project in 2007. In 2011 it was superseded by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), a national not-for-profit charity focussed on improving literacy levels in very remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Don’t look too closely, there’s plenty of dust on them thar bookshelves. These books have sentimental value but may be destined for the University of Queensland Alumni Book Fair 2021 at St Lucia Campus, Brisbane— Link https://alumni.uq.edu.au/uq-alumni-book-fair
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
Bookcovers, 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.
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 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.
City of Orphans trilogy
A Very Unusual Pursuit (2013) or How to Catch a Bogle
A Very Peculiar Plague (2013) or A Plague of Bogles
Did not think I would get to number ten on my Three Things list! One post in three parts “Reading Looking Thinking” a clever idea started by Book Jotter blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley for those little things in life. I have posted TT irregularly since June 2018.
‘The Strings of Murder’ by Oscar de Muriel
This lurid Gothic treat took me by surprise!
For starters, I didn’t exactly click with the protagonists Inspector Ian Frey and Inspector Nine-Nails McGray.
Londoner Frey is foppish and fastidious about his clothes, and Scottish McGray is the opposite, a rough tough fellow who believes in the supernatural. McGray has formed Elucidation Of Unsolved Cases Presumably Related To The Odd And Ghostly subdivision within Edinburgh CID. This goes against the grain for scientific Frey who resents being posted to Edinburgh under the pretext of hunting a copycat Jack The Ripper. Animosity and resentment bounces between the two men most of the time, especially when McGray gives Frey an effeminate name.
Frey and McGray investigate the ghastly slaughter of prominent violin players in Edinburgh who used beautiful old violins prior to their death. Clues range from an ancient curse, a Will, madness, and the work of the devil himself. What is that shadowy apparition the townsfolk see at night?
This is the first book in the series (four other books) so I overlooked many of the author’s foibles in relation to the Victorian era, but will mention these:
Characters regardless of status say ‘erm’ before they hesitantly speak.
Characters, particularly Frey, continually raise or arch their eyebrows in surprise.
Characters blush visibly; flush with fury; go red-faced; red with rage, etc.
People are described as fat or thin and most are ‘coarse’ in looks or behaviour.
Female characters are secondary and written as lowly, crazy, slovenly, weird, etc.
The unwarranted inclusion of horses for the Inspectors.
Regardless of the above, I did enjoy the paranormal plot with its clever use of clairvoyance and chemistry. It has some gruesome yet original chapters, with the occasional clue more obvious than others, but it’s written in a way that lead me through the story at a fast pace. I wanted to find out what was going on!
The author Oscar de Muriel was born in Mexico City. He lives in Manchester after moving to UK to complete his PhD in Chemistry. Oscar is a violinist and chemist, and both professions are used to great effect in his Frey and McGray series. GBW.
Of course I am looking at a screen!
Today, two of the main things holding my world together are the internet and my computer screen.
My current thoughts!
Since my forays out into the real world have been curtailed by The Pandemic, my writing has suffered. As mentioned above, a screen has replaced real human contact (except for family) to the extent that my ideas and creative stimulation have been subdued. Yes, I can Zoom and watch as much as I like online—more than ever before—but it’s not enough, it’s not the same as laughing and chatting in a coffee shop with best friends. Okay, yes, I know I’m an introvert who enjoys ‘stay home days’. However, there is a limit. It’s not necessarily tolerance, or intolerance, more a case of suspended animation. Australia has done well facing the COVID-19 challenge, we have done all that was asked of us as a nation. Now, as the country slowly grinds back into action, we are wondering how much has changed, how much will never be the same again. GBW.
◊ Thought Two
I have long believed that everyone should read anything they like and that includes comic books. The more we read, the more we discover what we like to read, and sooner or later we become aware of the good authors and the not-so-good authors. Then it’s not long before we realise there are divisions in the reading world. We falter, we question our choices in literature. The Guardian article (below) says do not let snobbish separatists stop you from enjoying your favourite books. GBW.
It is time to attack my bookberg. Book sorting! Only another book lover will know this task is emotional, dusty work with frequent trips back and forth to the reject box to retrieve a volume you just can’t live without.
I did not factor in the impact of nostalgia. As I sifted and culled, I was overwhelmed by the memories which came flooding back.
Relating to the photograph above, here’s a small sample of the tip of my bookberg:
Those aching muscles as I tried to emulate actress and fitness guru Jane Fonda using her inspiring 1981 ‘Workout Book’. The less said about the front cover the better.
My 1986 major motion picture tie-in ‘Out Of Africa’ by Karen von Blixen was purchased after I saw the movie because I wanted to see how much the movie had altered the book. Well, let’s just say it was movie mush.
‘Finest Moments’ the hilarious 1975 antics of Norman Gunston (Australian TV comedian Garry McDonald) were clever but now make me cringe. Gunston dared to go where no journo had gone before. McDonald was a good scriptwriter but.
I tried and tried to read this 1984 paperback of Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. Even now as I look at its yellowing pages (it cost me $4.50 back then) I don’t think I will ever read it. Most of it has come true, right?
The small yet 383-page book ‘Angels & Fairies’ written 2005 by Iain Zaczek was a surprise. A gift, seemingly unread, it contains works of art from famous British painters in 1800s Victorian era. Such luminous illustrations, if ever there was a misnamed book, it’s this one! Nothing cutesy about it. A serious study for art aficionados.
During re-reading and culling, three things struck me immediately.
The smallness of the paperbacks.
The density of the print.
The amount of information.
I guess smaller books meant cheaper to print, easier to handle.
Because I now need reading glasses, the print looks tiny to me.
Does excessive screen time influence the way we read off screen?
We read less content, larger font and wider spaces today, because of what?
Several of my earlier paperbacks have bios, dedications, illo plates, notes, etc.
Or a pull-out page so you could fill in your details and mail to the publisher to receive the author’s complete booklist.
Fortunately the only thing which hasn’t changed is real bookshops.
They may be fewer in certain countries but they are alive and well where I live.
Getting back to those rejected books, I have cardboard boxes (ah, that smell of cardboard) to pack them in and send off to University of Queensland for their Book Fair.
I was mightily impressed with UQ book wrangling skills, particularly after I visited their Book Auction and saw frantic bidders making the value of old books rise higher and higher until the final bid, the hammer fall, the cry of delight from the successful bidder.
My three-part series of UQ Book Fair visits last year—brilliant photos—
Hypnotic, laconic writing from Garry Disher. Another superb story featuring lone country Constable Paul Hirschhausen. In his 4WD police Toyota, Hirsch patrols hundreds of kilometres through a vast dusty landscape around the small town of Tiverton in South Australia.
The plot weaves in and out of his long days on duty encountering misdemeanours ranging from wayward teenagers to rural theft and murder where nothing is as it seems.
The first killings are shocking (not telling who or what but it’s emotional) and expertly told through the eyes of Hirsch and his inner monologue. I love this single POV approach. The next murders involve a family, and two young girls disappear. In steps sensible Sergeant Brandl of Redruth HQ as well as Sydney’s Organised Crime Squad senior sergeant Roesch and Homicide Squad senior constable Hansen, two insensitive characters, and things get very tricky indeed.
The hot dry rural atmosphere seeps into every chapter, and unforced dialogue runs throughout the story. The town’s characteristics and characters are spot-on, for example annoying citizen Martin Gwynne, and recluse Craig Washburn who lives in a caravan near a dried-up creek bed. And who is spray-painting graffiti on an historical woolshed?
There’s a bit of romance with girlfriend Wendy Street although I do find her background role passive and uncomfortably supportive of Hirsch without any commitment on his part. I would like to see her become more prominent in future books in the series.
On a positive note, ‘Peace’ does cover community matters and domestic welfare, all part of Hirsch’s extensive remit.
I enjoyed the touches of wry humour and Christmas festivities including Hirsch’s role as Santa. The book title comes from “In the end he found three generic snowscapes with the single word Peace inside. That’s all a cop wants at Christmas, he thought.” If only he could be warned of what’s to come…
Certain people seem to think Hirsch bungles everything he touches. Well, he does bungle a couple of things and gets hauled in to explain, but when it comes to detective work he has a keen eye. Hirsch knows that nothing is random, everything means something.
See if you can untangle the threads before he does, bearing in mind that you are reading in a nice comfortable chair.
So far, my favourite read for new year 2020!
AUTHOR PROFILE: Garry Disher was born in Burra, South Australia, in 1949 and he’s the author of over fifty books, from crime fiction and children’s literature to non-fiction text books and handbooks.
Disher graduated with a Masters degree in Australian History at Monash University and was awarded a creative writing fellowship to Stanford University in California. He later taught creative writing before becoming a full-time writer, winning numerous awards both in Australia and overseas.
From UK author Debbie Young’s original Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries comes ‘The Natter of Knitters’, the first book in a new spin-off series set in Wendlebury Barrow. And I’m keen to enter the draw to win a hand-knitted scarf associated with the launch of The Tales from Wendlebury Barrow series—read on for details.
Debbie Young says the title of each new tale will be a collective noun, whether a well-known phrase such as ‘The Pride of Peacocks’ (which I’ve read) or one she has invented to suit her own purposes like ‘The Natter of Knitters’ which I think is very appropriate.
Catalogued as quick reads (novelette or short novella) Debbie comments “The Tales from Wendlebury Barrow series contains intrigue, humour and romance but no murder—just gentle crime and misdemeanours.” I am very interested to see what a gentle crime is!
In ‘The Natter of Knitters’, Sophie Sayers is keen to take part in a secret yarn-bombing campaign. The definition of yarn-bombing is when a group of knitters surprises its local community by covering something in colourful knitted items, such as a statue. In this case, an historic tree.
In walks mysterious new arrival, Ariel Fey. ‘What is she up to?’ I ask myself.
Enter the Prize Draw associated with ‘The Natter of Knitters’ new release. The prize is the scarf Sophie knits in the book, created in four floral shades of blue (forget-me-not, hyacinth, bluebell, cornflower) using a soft warm mix of merino, cashmere and silk. See Debbie’s website for details.
Sign up for Debbie’s newsletter via her website to become a member of her Readers’ Club and you will automatically be entered in the Prize Draw to be held on Friday 14th February 2020.
As a welcome gift, Debbie will send the ebook ‘The Pride of Peacocks’, a short novella she’s written especially for new members of her mailing list.
Debbie has written several titles—and writing more
Quote “I’m putting the finishing touches to ‘Murder Your Darlings’, the sixth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, and I’m writing the second Staffroom at St Bride’s novel ‘Stranger at St Bride’s’. The second tale from Wendlebury Barrow is also bubbling…”
Such a noteworthy crop of cosy crimes with comfortable characters and Cotswold village mysteries to solve. Don’t wait! ‘The Natter of Knitters’ is now available in ebook formats (Kindle, Kobo, Apple, GooglePlay, etc) and also in a cute compact paperback the size of a picture postcard.
Put the kettle on, or brew the beans, then settle back for an enjoyable read.
QUICK GLIMPSE FROM DEBBIE YOUNG:
“As a freelance, I’ve written for Cotswold Life and Country Garden & Smallholding (now Country Smallholding) on subjects such as organic box schemes, poultry keeping and country crafts, and I very much enjoy writing regular columns for the two magazines closest to my home. You can find these articles among my blog posts, tagged Hawkesbury Parish News and Tetbury Advertiser.
“In 2010, I started blogging, and book projects and ambitions started to materialise as if by magic. From 2013, I was commissioning editor of the Authors’ Advice Centre at the Alliance of Independent Authors, before giving it up to write full-time in 2019.”
The prologue is dramatic. A slightly unhinged magician Tim Williams is on stage at the Remember November Charity Cabaret in the local town hall, unaware of what his next trick will unleash. Tim has just finished Year Twelve, ready for a big future, when he dies in front of a roomful of people under decidedly suspicious circumstances.
Matt Tingle and Chess Febey are youthful amateur detectives. Like two high school students hungry for lunch, they embark on a serious yet magical mystery tour to unmask a murderer. The setting is Beechworth, a country town renowned for its tourist attractions rather than murder. The time is contemporary, give or take a decade for the way Chess talks, and her endearing dress sense. Matt is solid and sensible to a point, but he does get into some hazardous situations.
The opening chapter has some seriously ethereal vibes. Matt tries to concentrate on the sunshine dappled leaves as he sits in the manicured gardens of old Langton House. It’s an Open Garden, visitors stroll around the lawns talking in hushed whispers, and Matt sees a boy magician and a tough-looking man which makes him feel uncomfortable. Chess turns up with a mug of coffee and when she explains why she brought them to this place, he snaps.
Chess has accepted an invitation from Jacob Langton, the son of the owners of Langton House, to investigate the murder of his magician friend Tim, and Matt’s not keen on the idea.
The story is a classic locked-room mystery. Tim was poisoned by his own stage prop and nobody can figure out how the poison got there when it was under lock and key. Our dynamic duo investigate inside the hall, talk with colourful locals and Tim’s bereft family, and receive massive interference from a thug who roughs up Chess to warn her off. The story twists and turns with red herrings galore until the final reveal.
This is where I start to get cagey because I don’t know how much to tell you without ruining the plot.
My new favourite is young magician Paz, quite a character, who speaks with a lisp and is seemingly more mature than he looks. The Elsinore Vanish is a card trick (think Hamlet and ghosts) and Paz says ‘Magic is about the impossible. That’s what makes it beautiful’. He definitely knows something but flutters between the book’s pages refusing to be drawn into their investigation.
There are adults around but they loiter just long enough not to be annoying.
Sometimes Matt and Chess are determined, other times they have self-doubt, ultimately they are teenagers mature enough to handle the ramifications of their actions. Almost. Matt is thoughtful and his emotions are strong but he can misread people. Chess is a socially awkward analyst, prone to unusual outbursts. She has a troubled family background (there is a revealing vignette with her father) and although Matt and Chess would deny it, they are good friends.
I enjoy a clever whodunit and was frequently stumped by author Joanna’s clues; mirror reflections anyone? At times I thought there were perhaps a tad too many suspicious individuals because I had to think ‘Who was she again?’ but on the whole they were interrelated.
‘The Elsinore Vanish’ is the second book in Joanna Baker’s Beechworth trilogy set in the picturesque area of rural north-east Victoria. The settings are wonderful, like old Mayday Hills mental asylum, well, the atmosphere anyway, and they are written with such clarity that I typed Beechworth Victoria into my search engine and had a look around the historic town.
Not a crash ’em smash ’em YA story—put your thinking cap on.
Definitely a great book for those who like to think about what they read. There is one small point in the story where the ah-ha moment clicked for me and I enjoyed finding out if I was right. See if you can work it out before the dramatic reveal!
Joanna Baker is an award-winning Australian mystery writer. Her novel Devastation Road won the Sisters-in-Crime Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Novel and was described by The Age newspaper as ‘an outstanding first novel’.
Born in Hobart Tasmania, Joanna was educated at The Friends’ School, the Australian National University and RMIT in Victoria.
Joanna sets her novels in the two places she loves: Tasmania and the high country of north eastern Victoria. She also writes and speaks about murder mysteries – why they are so enduring, and why they are not trivial.