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.
Author Joanna Baker knows how to start her books with a gripping first chapter. Matt Tingle had fallen asleep in front of Mr Roland’s computer in the office of Craft Gallery and Tea Shoppe, where supposedly he was doing his history assignment, when a noise wakes him . . .
. . . things get very dangerous very quickly.
Next day, in the small rural gold-mining town of Yackandandah, our protagonist Matt is sitting in the Yackandandah Bakery trying to steady his jangling nerves. He has a headache from inhaling toxic fumes during his misadventures the night before. In walks his friend Chess who says ‘Golly Matty. You look awful’. Chess’ dialogue is not always contemporary and it’s tricky to pinpoint an exact decade but it gives the story an enduring feel.
Then to make matters worse for sickly Matt, pretty Tara Roland walks into the bakery, a vision of shiny-haired loveliness. Tara is accompanied by her cousin Wando who gets a bit twitchy with the bakery assistant Debbie Wilson over her necklace and the drama escalates from there.
Egyptology comes into play in the form of an amber necklace named The Eye of Ra
At this stage, Matt and Chess are two teenagers who are unknowingly about to become amateur detectives and embark on solving two local mysteries. One is a cold case, a baffling hit-and-run road accident which turns Chess into the queen of concentration and Matt the emperor of emotions; they bounce ideas off each other . . .
. . . and the second mystery?
This one is more personal. Going for a walk, Matt and Chess find the drowned body of someone they knew well. After the initial shock, they begin to investigate, slowly unravelling the mystery to discover a horrible crime.
In both cases, our intrepid pair find anomalies in the witness stories, items gone missing, half-remembered half-overheard conversations and scraps of notes. They talk to a grieving fiancé and parents, chat to the mechanic at Yackandandah Motor Garage, join an apprehensive gathering at the Yackandandah Christmas Picnic, and Matt witnesses a hair-raising moment with Wando at Burrie Falls, the local swimming hole.
Their trial and error investigations are beautifully woven through the story with real clues and false leads.
At one stage Matt gets badly pummelled by the deceased’s brother Craig for inferring. Matt is limping around putting on a brave face when Chess arrives. ‘You get too carried away by things…you’re too theatrical’ she says, before getting embroiled in her own thoughts and hazardous hypotheses. I had difficulty in picturing them at first; Matt seems solid enough but Chess has family problems, making her seem wise beyond her years.
The settings for this novel do exist, for example the Yackandandah motor garage, bakery, the creek and Falls. I think it’s clever how Devastation Road was named but I am not sure it exists with that name. Here’s the link if you are interested in reading more about north-east Victoria https://www.exploreyackandandah.com.au/
This is the first book in Joanna Baker’s Beechworth Trilogy. I did a bit of swiping back-and-forth to see if I had missed anything vital. Concentration is needed! There is more to this story than meets the eye. The ending is a chilling and substantial psychological twist I bet you won’t see coming.
Joanna Baker is an award-winning Australian mystery writer. 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.
In the tried and true method of storing items of a precious nature, I have used a shoebox to delineate my important Christmas reading. Methinks this bundle of books will take me into the New Year!
IN ORDER OF SHOEBOX CONTENT
I just love the front cover of Mocco’s book. That yellow dress pops! Back cover reads: “Adventurous, lovable and laughable, Mocco captures the heat and vibrancy of Darwin, in the 1950s rugged unruly Northern Territory of Australia.” And “I am on my way to Darwin to find a job. I have no money…”
Another front cover I love! You just know this will be quirky and Elliot’s Stephen Maserov has problems. A onetime teacher, married to fellow teacher Eleanor, he is a second-year lawyer working in imminent danger of being downsized. The back cover reads “I am absolutely terrified of losing a job I absolutely hate.”
Such a tranquil front cover. It reminds me of my own father reading the newspaper every morning. Many will remember my review of Indrani Ganguly’s “The Rose and The Thorn”, well, this is the book which precedes it. Indrani has included her poetry, art work, short stories, photographs of her travels and more.
Another beautiful front cover. Must be viewed in person to appreciate the qualities! You may recall my post about the opening of Queensland State Library’s exhibition “Meet Me At The Paragon” a Greek Cafés retrospective. Toni’s companion book bulges with photos and historic information.
The front cover certainly sets the tone. The back cover reads “A city girl stranded in the middle of the desert. A circus performer with haunted wings. A rebellious fighter with a kangaroo heart. A boy who dreams of holding his home in his heart. A house made of flesh and bone.” Maree writes unexpected stories!
Almost last but never least, “Dewey” with photos inside, and “Miss Read”.My own photograph of these two front covers is larger than the others because—
(A) I worked, lived and breathed libraries for years but never read Vicki Myron’s series about “The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched The World” and
(B)Miss Read, aka school teacher Dora Jessie Saint, had a particular cosy-village style and a huge following in the UK in 1960s when I wasn’t interested in that sort of stuff. A slim little volume chosen because of the title “Village Christmas” far removed from my dry hot Aussie festive season.
The final two books are on my iPad. Written by Joanna Baker they are set in country-town Victoria, Australia. I can whisper that I have already dipped into “Devastation Road” and it’s gripping.
There you have it! Separate reviews will follow—eventually—on my blog as well as Goodreads. Joy to the world!
Who read The Casual Vacancy by famed British author J K Rowling? I certainly did! It was her first post-Harry Potter novel and caused quite a stir. I worked in library services at the time so I helped shelve this hardback hundreds of times. Fortunately the cover was so bright (and the original publication rather big) it was always easy to locate for prospective readers. Actually the book did not stay shelved for long, there were so many on the waiting list clambering to read it.
The Casual Vacancy was written under Rowling’s real name prior to publication of her Cormoran Strike detective series written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Don’t ask me why, it didn’t fool anyone. I do remember penning a scathing review of Lethal White the fourth book in that series.
In 2015, The Casual Vacancy was made into a British TV three-part miniseries. Directed by Jonny Campbell, scripted by Sarah Phelps, and starred Michael Gambon, Julia McKenzie, Emelia Fox, and others I recognised from sit-coms, but unfortunately never got to see. Actually this production may not have reached Australian television screens. By all accounts, viewers were outraged by the changed ending, giving rise to the old saying ‘the book is always better’.
Now, without further ado, I present—
my original book review (previously published on a now-defunct book readers website) hopefully without spoilers—
The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling 2012 Reviewed by Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2013
Quote “It was a brilliant piece of marketing strategy to publish this J K Rowling book prior to her (subsequently more popular) detective novel ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’. What better way to heighten interest and arouse social consciousness than her very first post-Potter novel. A long-awaited book, The Casual Vacancy is liked and loathed in equal measure but disliked more for the content than the writing – even though we’ve probably read similar books and met people similar to those in Pagford. I think the pace is well-crafted, the voice and sense-of-place are beautifully brought to life, tinged with the graveness of a modern-day Dickens.
“The characters are an inglorious burst of humanity, almost, but not quite, edging towards insanity. Indeed, most of the characters appear average but through various twists and turns the families in Pagford and the Fields are slowly stripped of their protective veneers and laid bare, exposing their ugliness beneath. Nothing is sacred and all manner of collective disorders appear from young and old alike as their every move is documented, every word faithfully recorded. We see the truths and witness the unveiling of secrets, motivated by revenge via website hacking.
“As we know from the blurb, the book kicks in with the death of Barry Fairbrother who arrives at the golf club for dinner with his wife on their wedding anniversary and keels over in the carpark. By all accounts, he’s a nice man and liked by many people considering he was a local Councillor on Pagford’s wheeling-dealing Parish Council. His demise leaves a casual vacancy on the Council board and the fight over his seat begins. The reader learns there’s a war going on between the communities of Pagford and Yarvil over maintenance of the Fields, a decrepit housing estate, and the closure of a methadone clinic. Not much political correctness goes on in council chambers.
“There you have it, henceforth The Casual Vacancy seethes with social snobbery, underage excess, racism, drug addiction and the ever-present spectres of greed, selfishness, ignorance and cruelty. But, hey, don’t let that put you off. This story hooked me like a continually unfolding TV saga or radio play. I’d put it down and then have to pick it up just to see what happens to Krystal Weedon and her dissipated mother Terri, or Howard Mollison and his new café, or the ill-fated relationship of Gavin Hughes and Kay Bawden.
“Social worker Kay is new to Pagford and not a big player but she’s hardworking, misguided and gullible and the one I wanted to shout at, tell her to grab her daughter and get out of town fast. The others, like Simon Price, are set up to be despised with appalling behaviour behind closed doors. Occasionally I grew tired of the angry men and the gossiping wives and found that the sabotaging teenagers had more diverse demeanours, although young Sukhvinder Jawanda is heart-rending. Was the ending so predictable? As this inharmonious story draws to a close, I know it’s all still happening in real life.
“What more can I say? The Casual Vacancy is an adult novel and anyone who’s been around the block a few times will related to its adult themes. Whether or not the right people read it and change their social attitudes is another thing. Sure it’s a tad depressing but I’ll give J K Rowling full marks for moving on from Hogwarts and writing something completely different.” Unquote.
In November I attended two important events for any emerging writer – publishing and bookselling. There is a bonus short story at the end of my report.
The first event I attendedwas “Pathways to Publishing” at Brisbane Square Library CBD hosted by Kylie Kaden, Carolyn Martinez and David Bobis. Dr Kate Steele was unable to attend but there was much advice to hear and many questions to ask. No trade secrets here. The photos (below) show the tilted windows behind the speakers platform but not a clear view of the Victoria Bridge and the ferries going up and down the Brisbane River.
One hour flew by. However, I’m too lazy to embrace the promotional rigors of self-publishing. I did learn that persistence pays off. Flipside: if you are traditionally published your publisher takes the weight off but the finished product is up to them, cover design and all. Meanwhile I must try to write a completed manuscript.
Got a load of newly minted books in boxes in your hallway? Congrats, next comes The Bookselling
State Library has many rooms but this room is stunning with a mirrored ceiling and one end open to the balmy night breeze. The permanent wall display cases are crowded with valuable antique tea cups and saucers.
The venue filled up and was buzzing from 5pm-9pm but unfortunately nobody knew there was a Meet & Greet in another section with food and wine, so by the end of the night we were famished.
Early on, a cup of hot coffee had spilled across our table. It soaked a lovely tablecloth which had to be discreetly removed. I scored a beverage-damaged book which I shall enjoy reading even if the aroma of caffeine tingles my tastebuds.
No book sales for our table but it was a night of lively conversation and I handed out several SWWQ membership leaflets.
Your Bonus Reading
Being an exponent of public transport on both occasions I travelled to and from the venues in council buses. Waiting at a city bus stop on a Friday night can be an interesting experience.
I saw the drunk staggering along the pavement and I hoped he and his wildly waving bottle of spirits would keep going. No, he lurched to a stop in front of me. To attract my attention, he bellowed “Hey, hey darlin” and leaned forward. His voice dropped. “I jus wanna say that’s a lovely dress ya wearin.” He let out a cackle and stumbled away, only to stop again. I refused eye contact but I knew he was looking back at me. He shouted in triumph “Bet ya didn’t expect that!” I gave a tiny smile then jumped up and practically ran to my bus.
Guess what?The bus driver was new, took a wrong turn and actually got his whole busload of passengers lost! I didn’t notice until I looked up and had not the foggiest idea where we were. Neither did the bus driver. The bus meandered through the night while we muttered to each other. Thankfully a school teacher-type woman gave him directions on how to get back on route. Good old human navigation.
I’ve no complaints because it was an almost magical Harry Potter experience being somewhere unrecognisable, going down steep streets, swerving around wide corners, passing twinkling cafes and glittering nightclubs. The woman who got us back on track left the bus before me. Eventually I arrived at my stop, none the worse for an unscheduled detour. As I alighted I experienced a twinge of regret for not raising my voice and saying “Thank you” to the woman for her calm control of the situation.
Looking Thinking Reading! Three Things very different this time—Tawny Frogmouths, Blogging Reward plus authors Malcolm Gladwell, Rohan Wilson, Mocco Wollert and Maree Kimberley—mix the sequence, have a sticky-beak. GBW.
On my Home page there was an image of two Tawny Frogmouths which live in my front garden. If you missed it, for your edification I have re-posted my original “Photo Of The Week” image—I change them every Saturday. I think this photo shows the unique adaptability of nature. GBW.
Quote “I think the pleasure of completed work is what makes blogging so popular. You have to believe most bloggers have few if any actual readers. The writers are in it for other reasons. Blogging is like work, but without co-workers thwarting you at every turn. All you get is the pleasure of a completed task.” —Scott Adams “Dilbert”.
Gretchen says: Like many things, e.g. press columns, literary reviews, magazine articles, in the blogging world I am only as good as my latest post. This idea isn’t new, and it’s debatable, but there’s so much coming along all the time that nobody has two seconds to scroll through my back posts – except spammers looking for a way in. Accordingly Scott Adams is right, for me it’s the pleasure of completing a task. Reimbursement? Pfft… that ain’t on my cards, baby. GBW.
Quote “And it occurred to me that there is no such thing as blogging. There is no such thing as a blogger. Blogging is just writing—writing using a particularly efficient type of publishing technology.”—Simon Dumenco “Media Guy”.
Gretchen says: Hmm, “just writing” hey? Each and every blogger is using this individualistic approach to writing. And they “publish” their little hearts out. I think blogging is more artistic than “just writing”. Yet I agree with Dumenco. All writers have their own agenda, and possibly two or three outlets, regardless of the name. I accept the term “blogger” because that efficient “publishing technology” supports me as I tread a path of my own making. GBW.
A change of pace.
Four vastly different books.
A mixed bunch of authors.
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell.
The #1 New York Times and top ten Sunday Times bestseller quote “I love this book … reading it will actually change not just how you see strangers, but how you look at yourself, the news – the world.” So far I have found nothing new but I will persevere in the hope that something startling will be uncovered considering “No one shows us who we are like Malcolm Gladwell.” https://www.gladwellbooks.com/
Daughter of Bad Times by Rohan Wilson.
This dystopian novel comes well recommended. “In its vision of the future, Daughter of Bad Times explores the truth about a growing inhumanity, as profit becomes the priority. Supposedly dead, Rin’s lover Yamaan survives a natural disaster and turns up in an immigration detention facility in Australia, no ordinary facility, it’s a corrupt private prison company built to exploit the flood of environmental refugees.” https://www.allenandunwin.com/authors/w/rohan-wilson
Bloody Bastard Beautiful by Mocco Wollert.
“The frank and hilarious account of an immigrant girl who follows her German lover to Darwin. Adventurous, loveable and laughable, Mocco captures the heat and vibrancy of Darwin and its larrikins, in a decade where the Northern Territory makes its own rules.” Or as Mocco says “I am on my way to Darwin to find a job. I have no money to buy petrol or oil, man, I am desperate.” I met her at GenreCon and she’s quite a lady. https://www.boolarongpress.com.au/our-authors/authors-w/mocco-wollert/
Never the Tracked: And other Stories by Maree Kimberley.
At GenreCon, I signed up for Maree’s newsletter and she gave me this booklet of outstanding short stories with a twist. I will be buying her forthcoming book because I love a bit of surrealism. “Coming in late 2020 from Text Publishing, Dirt Circus League is set in modern-day remote Queensland, a YA genre-bending slice of Australian paranormal fantasy and surrealism.” https://mareekimberley.com.au/
Did I mention that I am a thorough reader? Don’t wait up!
HISTORICAL NOTE—One post in three parts “Reading Looking Thinking” a neat idea started by blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley.
Check outBook Jotterher informative, interesting and totally book-related website!
The pretty embossed bookcover hides a dark and disturbing story and I would not recommend it to immature readers, or people I know with sleep disorders.
I think the apocalyptic nature of the book could have a tendency to induce fear and possibly depression in anyone sensitive to a crisis situation with unstoppable consequences.
If I was watching this as a disaster movie about a virus starting in a school dormitory, causing people to fall asleep and may never wake up, I bet most of the theatre-goers around me would be shallow breathing, wondering if it were true.
Lesser books have been known to cause restless sleep, or bad dreams.
Of course, the virulent virus comes from the fertile imagination of Karen Thompson Walker who said in a BWF 2019 panel discussion “Why we dream is unknown” although she puts forward some interesting theories in this story.
‘The Dreamers’ could just as easily die from any airborne disease and here lies the crux of the matter.
The author does an excellent job in researching and creating botched medical care, civil unrest, mass panic, and then bringing it right back down to the most helpless, two young girls and their kittens, alone in an old house.
In a clipped journalistic writing style, there are heroes, references to new life, new love and parental devotion striving against all odds yet feeling strangely hollow and disjointed. For me, the ending is unresolved.
This type of plotting is not my preferred reading, however, I respect the level of apprehension Karen Thompson Walker has created even while I think ‘The Dreamers’ could unsettle vulnerable readers. Or create mass panic similar to Corona Virus.
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/
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…
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 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/
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.
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.
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.
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*
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
Hi there, a diary entry to say that I am locked into five events over four days at the Brisbane Writers Festival and have attended session ‘Workshop: Writing Futures’ with UK author Jasper Fforde in QWC rooms which I thought ran for one hour, instead it turned out to be three hours. Value for money!
Jasper Fforde’s takeaway tip for writers: Plausibility Not Believability. There ain’t nuthin’ that bloke don’t know about writing parallel worlds and alternate futures.
Luckily I had tucked a muesli bar and bottle of water into my bag which helped stave off hunger as I listened avidly to every enlightening word. Jasper Fforde is humorous, full of helpful advice and open to questions. I was bold enough to asked a question or two about his ‘The Last Dragonslayer’ trilogy—although Spec-Ops and Thursday Next will always be my favourite. During the Festival there will be plenty of time for book signings.
Roll on Saturday and a panel discussion ‘Dream Worlds’ in Cinema B Gallery of Modern Art, being recorded by ABC Radio National, with Australian author Krissy Kneen, American author Karen Thompson Walker and UK author Jasper Fforde. They are followed by ‘Early Riser’ Conversation at The Edge, State Library of Queensland, South Bank, then Sunday ‘Book Club’ chat with Jasper Fforde on SLQ River Deck. There is a closing address on Sunday evening ‘This Way Humanity’ and in the meantime I can avail myself of a Festival freebie or two.
Springtime here, it’s dry and unseasonably hot in Brisbane followed by bushfire smoke and dusty high winds so I’ve had to rework my wardrobe. My bus GoCard is topped up, I have the BWF tickets printed, I am good to go. Hopefully I will post more in-depth snippets next week. In the meantime, type Jasper Fforde into my search bar to view my past posts.
The photograph (below) shows the way I walk to State Library of Queensland, underneath the singing whales in the roof outside the Queensland Museum. Always reminds me of the whale in Douglas Adams ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’.
Every reader has book backlog. If we didn’t, there would be no such thing as the TBR, or stacks of unread ARCs, neither shelves groaning with books nor e-readers crammed with downloads. My bedside table is piled high with enticing yet unread novels and, well, you get the idea. You have book backlog, too.
There areso many excellent books in the world that I know I will never catch up—so I’m being choosy and will read what I want, when I want. And taking the sinful route of skipping pages if it’s not up to scratch.
My readingmaterial may not be literary, it may not be controversial, it may not be popular, it may not be the latest or greatest, however, it will be a book I’m interested in from cover-to-cover. An occasional blog post is sure to come out of it, no matter how fluffy or deep the content.
‘Okay, okay, enough!’ I hear you cry. ‘When does time travel come into this?’
“A ripping English boarding-school story with a perceptive heroine and time-travel twist guaranteed to appeal to modern schoolgirls.”—Kirkus Reviews
BESWITCHED BY KATE SAUNDERS is the kind of story which I would have loved when I was a girl. Well paced and absorbing, it is eerily accurate of all those Famous Five and Girls Own Annual stories I read yonks ago. Saunders tight writing style easily pulled me into the dilemma which rather spoilt young schoolgirl Flora Fox finds herself, viz, she gets fobbed off to boarding school and never arrives.
Actually she does arrive, but she’s zapped back in time. Instead of luxurious Penrice Hall, she arrives at St Winifred’s in pre-war 1935 where all the ‘gels’ are ever-so-British-upper-class, the underwear is scratchy and the food is awful.
As you can imagine this is a personal growth tale, cut through with humorous chronological comparisons, nightmare teachers, ripping seaside hols, scary bonding adventures and a neat twist to the enlightening finale. Jolly. Good. Fun.
I won’t go into the logistics of time travel but suffice to say the elements meld together well. Recommended for 8 to 12 year olds, although anybody can read it for a look at life when steely friendships were forged by facing boarding school adversity together.