Book Review ‘Sweet Jimmy’ by Bryan Brown

Background orchids image © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021 and photographed at The Tropic Gardener of Brisbane https://thetropicgardener.com.au/

I was absorbed and entertained all the way through this book.  Pared down storytelling, laced with moral ambiguity, shouting Australian crime noir.  Does author Bryan Brown know these blokes, hear good stories down the pub, or possess a very robust imagination?

Love his unabashed style ‘Clinton buys himself a pepper pie and a chocolate milk’.

Australians need no introduction to Bryan Brown, an actor of many characters in many movies around the world yet he remains true to his homeland (see ABC1 TV series ‘Old School’) and this new book of short stories highlight his considerable talent as an author.

It is refreshing to read a book of short stories which speaks to my generation of Australians: relationships, morals, turn-of-phrase, scenery, all genuine and if you can’t keep up that’s your problem – work on it.

Even if short stories are not your thing, be surprised at how well these work in such a compact way.

‘Sweet Jimmy’

Professor Leong asks why Frank missed his last counselling appointment.  ‘It gets in the way of my revenge,’ says straight-forward Frank. My favourite!

These men love their families yet, like Frank, they show questionable behaviour to avenge them.

The bookcover image, a Phalaenopsis orchid, ties-in with a story where both sides of the law are involved.

Alert – Sexist comment ahead…

From a woman’s perspective I thought Typical Males but I think from a male’s point of view the characters could be genuine mates in a bad place.  Not their fault, they scheme, they seek revenge.  They plot their way through sad, unjust or criminal situations which end with a tenebrous finale.

Also, there is one story I consider to be a Stephen King homage.

This compilation encapsulates the essence of crime fiction. Reminiscent of Peter Corris’ Cliff Hardy series, Bryan Brown plays it low-key but maybe one of his laconic blokes will soon score their own book. 

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Book Review ‘Apples Never Fall’ Liane Moriarty

Photograph © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

Years ago, I wrote on the office whiteboard “Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is going to be huge.”  And it was. Now comes Apples Never Fall, another exceptional addition to the Moriarty canon, an enthralling novel of thought-provoking misdirection, a blueprint of interior family life, a drama so emotionally complex that I thought it was either a memoir, or years of studying suburban families.

In this case it’s the Delaney family with their tennis fixation, the obsessive training and competition of tennis, and its aftermath soaking into decades of their family relationships.

I followed the sudden arrival of stranger Savannah Pagonis, a cooking wiz, into the unsuspecting Delaney household, and discovered how Joy and Stan Delaney handle this peculiar arrangement while coping with retirement and the dysfunctional lives of four Delaney children now adults.

When matriarch Joy mysteriously disappears, the overarching plot hinges on “Joy, dead or alive?” and is set in present time with flashbacks. Husband Stan and deceptive Savannah are under suspicion, and here clues are planted, the trail of breadcrumbs laid for the observant reader.

Sprinkled throughout the story are friends, neighbours and comic relief from police duo DC Christina Khoury and PC Ethan Lim who struggle with their missing person investigation.

In the case of Savannah and the Delaney siblings Amy, Troy, Logan and Brooke, as youngsters they never seemed to trot off to school. Perhaps an alert teacher could have helped. However, I am sure readers will recognise their fraternal traits as grown-ups.  Character-wise I think son Logan is great, followed by unfathomable dad Stan.

Seventy-one domestic drama chapters unfold in all their glory; chapter 52 is cataclysmic, chapter 53 almost poetry.  At times the plot framework showed, the screenwriting element intruded, and I did not particularly like the odd use of “Troy’s father” or “Amy’s mother” instead of their names but these are minor points; the dialogue pulsates and glows.

Liane Moriarty writes breathtaking dialogue and suspenseful moments leaving no stone unturned on this rocky domestic landscape.

“Apples Never Fall”

The sense of place is strong and even though there is a lot going on, Moriarty has written an intimate narrative of social and relationship enlightenment which got me recalling my own younger life, the missed cues and insights the older me now recognises.

As the innermost workings of the Delaney family are laid bare, Moriarty’s writing transcends game, set and match, particularly relating to Joy and motherhood.  Wow, I could read out pages of Joy and defy any woman to say she hasn’t felt the same at some point in her life.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Rating “Apples Never Fall”

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Shape poetry source unknown

Quick Stories #9 Cheers Dears

Café Noir et Blanc, Joinville-le-Pont 1948, taken by Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) a noted French photographer who had a poetic approach to Paris street photography and later became a pioneer of photojournalism.

Ten Days Ten Short Stories

One a day for ten days. I write when I can, do the best I can, and I am willing to put my work out there! My thoughts are Don’t Be Embarrassed, Don’t Make Excuses, Don’t Stop Writing.

Recently I completed a 10-week term on Fridays with U3A Brisbane Creative Writing Group on Zoom and enjoyed the prompts, feedback and general literary discussions.  The writers in the group are quite diverse in style and writing content.

The wordcount limit is 500 words and while I found their prompts were ‘forcing’ me to come up with something different each week, I really enjoyed doing it. I was quickly learning how to keep them short and sweet.  Edit, edit, edit.

My characters are good, bad and ugly and the majority of the time I had no idea where they came from!

I say write for yourself first and don’t be precious about your words.  For better or worse, here are mine—the prompt (above) is a black and white photograph.

Cheers Dears

There had been bitter discussions over the guest list regarding Roderick’s brother Ivan, the odd sheep of the family, and whether or not he should be invited to our afternoon wedding.

I thought Ivan, while not fully conversant with wedding etiquette, well, any etiquette really, was an all right sort of fellow who could knock back a sherry with the best of us.

Roderick joked that he was the only person who had ever seen Ivan take a bath; one bath.  Ivan was perpetually in transit to and from distant coal mines.  No perks, just Black Lung, high risk, low pay.  Whereas Roderick had chosen banking, and naturally I was pleased with his substantial wages.

Over family luncheon, Roderick tabled the No-vote and Ivan replied “I’ll find a way.”  Mother had stifled a nervous giggle; I remained silent.

Ivan’s occupation had not dimmed his wits and I personally think that’s why Roderick’s family shunned him.  He could be too sharp with his tongue and cut too close to the bone.  Roderick said he spoiled things.  Strangely enough Ivan never aimed an acerbic comment in my direction.   

Our big day arrived and the ceremony was only slightly marred by Roderick inexplicably going red in the face and choking during the vows.

Afterwards, our wedding photographer suggested something casual.  Something along the lines of newlyweds imbibing a fortifying drink.  The cosy bar where we first met was chosen for its location halfway between the church and reception rooms.

Stephen, the best man, hurried us through the narrow streets as shoppers stopped to smile or offer a cheeky comment.

I sensed somebody was following us but I couldn’t pinpoint anyone when I looked back.  “Nerves,” I thought, squeezing Roderick’s damp hand.  “Guests to greet, boring speeches, cake to cut.”

My bridesmaid Ethel is a teetotaller and declined to accompany us.  Wisely as it turned out.  The gritty pavement ruined the soles of my satin shoes and the hem of my gown.  I knew Mother would be distressed, aggravating her heart condition.

On the way into the bar, I snagged my bridal veil on something, the door handle perhaps, and Roderick untangled it with a tut-tut of exasperation.

We ordered our drinks, and one for the photographer. While Stephen chatted up the barmaid, the photographer positioned himself further down the counter, clicking away.

“Oops,” I said during a playful attempt to give Roderick a sip of my drink.  Liquid dribbled onto his hand-made silk cravat.

He tut-tutted again, grumbling “Don’t want to look like Ivan on my wedding day.”

I raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow.  “Our wedding day, husband dearest.”  Under my breath I muttered “Here’s to Ivan…”

During our bridal waltz, news came that Ivan had been killed when a tunnel collapsed on the early shift. A week later, our agitated photographer said “No charge”.  Roderick was distraught. Ivan looms in every photograph in our wedding album.

——© Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021——

“Generally, emerging writers don’t write every day; some writers don’t stretch themselves; some writers don’t share their work; some writers fear feedback; just do it!” Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Quick Stories #8 Something Lost Something Found

Ten Days Ten Short Stories

One a day for ten days. I write when I can, do the best I can, and I am willing to put my work out there! My thoughts are Don’t Be Embarrassed, Don’t Make Excuses, Don’t Stop Writing.

Recently I completed a 10-week term on Fridays with U3A Brisbane Creative Writing Group on Zoom and enjoyed the prompts, feedback and general literary discussions.  The writers in the group are quite diverse in style and writing content.

The wordcount limit is 500 words and while I found their prompts were ‘forcing’ me to come up with something different each week, I really enjoyed doing it.  I was quickly learning how to keep them short and sweet.  Edit, edit, edit.

My characters are good, bad and ugly and the majority of the time I had no idea where they came from!

I say write for yourself first and don’t be precious about your words.  For better or worse, here are mine—the prompt was Something lost something found.

Something Lost Something Found

When I lost someone precious, I discovered something unique. Inside. I found a hidden strength; strength I never knew existed within my core being.  Compassion, knowledge, insights into human nature, a powerful understanding of the love, the joys, the sorrow of being alive.  I look beyond the grieving widow, the crying child, the unhappy workers, and I see what is really going on beneath the surface.  I’ve been there, experienced the hurt which shows on the faces of struggling men and women.  Yet humanity so often hides behind a mask of stoic resignation, and this is accepted.  When humanity rises up and protests at the injustices, it is not accepted.  Because it causes disruption; it causes people to think, compare, feel uncomfortable.  Next time you lose something, think about another person who has nothing left. Their despair at seeing everything destroyed in horrific circumstances; knowing they will never see another, never be the same again; family, home, job, life.  I have had that happen to me.  It is painful, it scars your heart, your soul for eternity.  I carry on but it will always be with me, that’s why I see it in others.  My hope is that one day when you too connect with that something within, you grow stronger in the knowledge of humankind.  Thus, when a person masks their heartache and begins to stumble, you understand, you can reach out.  After loss, empathy is found.  Use it wisely, young one. 

——© Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021——

“Generally, emerging writers don’t write every day; some writers don’t stretch themselves; some writers don’t share their work; some writers fear feedback; just do it!” Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Quick Stories #5 Reconcile or Reject?

Highrise apartments with tennis courts at Cerulean, Main Beach Gold Coast Australia, an apartment project designed with the owner-occupier in mind. Image supplied by Cerulean Main Beach. Information https://www.therealestateconversation.com.au/news/2018/07/16/owner-occupancy-the-rise-apartment-design-changes/1531702806

Ten Days Ten Short Stories

One a day for ten days. I write when I can, do the best I can, and I am willing to put my work out there! My thoughts are Don’t Be Embarrassed, Don’t Make Excuses, Don’t Stop Writing.

Recently I completed a 10-week term on Fridays with U3A Brisbane Creative Writing Group on Zoom and enjoyed the prompts, feedback and general literary discussions.  The writers in the group are quite diverse in style and writing content.

The wordcount limit is 500 words and while I found their prompts were ‘forcing’ me to come up with something different each week, I really enjoyed doing it.  I was quickly learning how to keep them short and sweet.  Edit, edit, edit.

My characters are good, bad and ugly and the majority of the time I had no idea where they came from!

I say write for yourself first and don’t be precious about your words.  For better or worse, here are mine—the prompt was Fork in the road.

Reconcile or Reject?

“Julian Wentworth is a pain,” thought Karri. 

She actually heard him say that he was the best looking bloke in the building.  The junior girls in the office loved him and admitted to having his business card pinned to their bedroom walls alongside Duran Duran posters.

They thought he was hunky, his hair so stylish, his suits so well-tailored.

“And he never has smelly breath.”

When Penelope whispered this in the tearoom, everyone squealed “Ooh, how do you know?” and she blushed scarlet.

To prevent her stuttering reply, Karri jumped in. “He’s so up himself I don’t think he knows it’s daylight.”

Blank looks turned on her, followed by the cold shoulder.

Karri swigged the remains of her Nescafe and returned to her desk.  She had a secret.  Julian Wentworth had been asking her out.

Nobody on staff knew Julian had initially invited her for an after-work drink on Friday.  Karri shuddered when she thought what could have happened but didn’t.

She sensed his neediness.  Julian was only keen on one thing; cajoling his way inside her apartment on Riverside Drive. 

Grateful for the building’s strong security, Karri muttered “He won’t get his hands on my assets.”  She certainly didn’t want his fingers running over Grandma’s porcelain figurines.

The other office secretaries believed Karri was so lucky teamed with Julian.  He was the principal of the rental section of Frederickson Real Estate, the avaricious bastards she worked for, and he was always hunting for prestigious rental properties. Obviously he wanted to scrutinise her prime real estate, her inheritance.

When she bumped into Julian outside her local bakery on Thursday, he had insisted on walking her home until she snapped “Get real”.

At work on Friday, she told him to “Go jump”, and later to “Get lost” regarding Saturday night dinner.  He was not easily dissuaded and had suggested tennis on Sunday afternoon.

Surprise, surprise, the tennis courts were close to Karri’s apartment.  She enjoyed social tennis and had accepted.  Now she looked glumly at her canvas tennis shoes.  Julian would own an ergonomic pair, teamed with ultra-white shorts, and a tight top with a crisp collar and sporty logo.

She laughed, picturing him posing in front of the mirror then arriving late.

He was at the main gate on time but they couldn’t reserve a court.  The tennis centre had just closed ranks for an Under 12s tournament.

Ungraciously Karri did not offer her home for coffee so they walked to the nearest café.  She noticed envious glances from female customers and sat down hugging the tennis rackets.

Her gaze snagged on an attractive bloke in tennis gear sitting in the corner.

He sipped from a teacup, covertly watching Julian at the serving counter.  Distractedly he put the cup down on top of his cheesecake.

“Oh, hell,” Karri thought as Julian fumbled with the payment, jaws clenched.

Her mind clicked; she could see it was decision time. “Which road is it going to be?  Reconcile or reject?”  

Julian turned quickly and walked straight over to Mr Cheesecake.

“Anthony, old friend, how are you?”

Anthony pushed back his chair and rose to embrace Julian.

“Oh, Jules, I’ve missed you so much,” he beamed. “How did you find me?”

Julian looked across at Karri.  “That lovely lady lives nearby.”

They hugged again, and an elderly man at the next table dabbed his eyes with a serviette.

Another look from Julian conveyed an apology and Karri realised he must have discovered Anthony had moved into her apartment block.

She waved away his life of subterfuge.

Three’s a crowd; she could sacrifice a coffee. Anyway, her tennis shoes pinched.

“See you Monday, Jules.”

——© Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021——

“Generally, emerging writers don’t write every day; some writers don’t stretch themselves; some writers don’t share their work; some writers fear feedback; just do it!” Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Quick Stories #4 Buzzing

Hillside residence in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia (source unknown)

Ten Days Ten Short Stories

One a day for ten days. I write when I can, do the best I can, and I am willing to put my work out there! My thoughts are Don’t Be Embarrassed, Don’t Make Excuses, Don’t Stop Writing.

Recently I completed a 10-week term on Fridays with U3A Brisbane Creative Writing Group on Zoom and enjoyed the prompts, feedback and general literary discussions.  The writers in the group are quite diverse in style and writing content.

The wordcount limit is 500 words and while I found their prompts were ‘forcing’ me to come up with something different each week, I really enjoyed doing it.  I was quickly learning how to keep them short and sweet.  Edit, edit, edit.

My characters are good, bad and ugly and the majority of the time I had no idea where they came from!

I say write for yourself first and don’t be precious about your words.  For better or worse, here are mine—the prompt words (courtesy of AWC Furious Fiction) were to include an attic or basement, an insect, earth, wind, fire and water

Buzzing

“It’s in the attic,” she said, a note of desperation clinging to her words.

“Brisbane houses don’t usually have attics.”  I pictured her old home, the corrugated iron roof shimmering like fire in the afternoon sun.

“You know, that bit in the rafters with the twirly vent.”

“Why don’t you ring a pest controller?” I said, jaw tightening.

A gusting sigh.  “I did.  They can’t visit until Thursday and I’ll be driven mad before then.”

I imagined her tugging at her hair, bunching a fistful.

“Okay, I’ll come over.”  Firmness was needed.  “But I’m hosting a workshop tonight.”

“That’s great, David.”  The chirp was back in her voice.

I cleared my throat.  “How big is this wasp thing anyway?”

“I can’t tell.”  A pouting tone with a double meaning.

Her woman-child habit irritated me into bravado. “A squirt of insect spray should take care of it.”

“What if it doesn’t die?”  Her voice dropped a notch.  “What if it has wasp babies?”

“Jeez, Lettie, I’ll be over in twenty minutes.”

She bolted down the pathway to greet me and stopped suddenly.  A puff of wind raised dust around her bare feet as she pressed a finger to her lips in a hush gesture.

I could hear it.  An intermittent buzz, like the starter of a fluorescent tube on the blink.

“Might be electrical, we’ll have to be careful.” Deflection from a bloke afraid of bugs.

We walked down the uncarpeted hallway to her austere kitchen.  Set into the ceiling above our heads was a square manhole cover.  The sound of buzzing intensified.   

“Please be careful,” she whispered, pointing to a ladder.

“Why don’t you go first?” I half-teased.

Something changed, her body stiffened.  I saw emotions cross her face until she settled on anger.  “You always disappoint me!”

Before I could placate her, before I could berate myself yet again for being a miserable letdown, Lettie had dragged the ladder into place and climbed towards the hatch.  She opened it with a violent shove and the air crackled.    

Her slim body was half-way through the opening when I yelled “Wait, I’ll do it!”

I heard a girlish squeak, and my own voice shrilled “What?”

“Your turn, David.”  She descended, face aglow. 

The buzz from a thousand imaginary bees drilled into my skull.  I wondered what I would find; what I would do if I did find something.

I raised my boot to the first rung, the ladder seemed too small, the opening too high.

Once my head and shoulders breached the cavity, I heard water dripping somewhere in the gloom.  Ah, I saw a blinking light on a damaged possum deterrent.  Seconds later I heard a whooshing sound.  I lifted my arm but before I could move, two chains bearing a large silver blade swung down towards me.

The buzzing stopped.

——© Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021——

“Generally, emerging writers don’t write every day; some writers don’t stretch themselves; some writers don’t share their work; some writers fear feedback; just do it!” Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Review ‘The Emporium of Imagination’ Tabitha Bird

Image © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

A tale of love, loss, grief and healing wrapped in magical realism and suitable for a wide range of readers.  Families in this story have lost loved ones and are either handling their grief, not handling it, or ignoring it.  They carry suppressed fears, squashed desires, and unfulfilled dreams but The Emporium of Imagination is here to help.  And help it does, in the strangest of ways.  I know the town of Boonah (and the camel farm) and felt an affinity as the story unfolded but apart from Story Tree café and Blumbergville Clock in High Street, similarities ended there.

A man, a cat and a key arrive with The Emporium and set up shop in the main street of Boonah, offering special ‘phones’, strange notes on scraps of paper and the ability to hear human grief in all its stages.  Although this may sound gloomy, at worst depressing, the characters keep things moving, offering the reader many POVs and scenarios ranging from timidity to teen humour, guilt to anger, regret, and worse case scenarios like replaying the death of a loved one.  The narrative often has dreamlike suspension of disbelief but the heartache is real.  

The iconic clock mentioned in the book is named after the original Blumbergville settlement in Boonah and is made out of old farming and industrial equipment. In 2014, Boonah artist Christopher Trotter created the clock with Boonah clock-maker David Bland designed to mark the town’s rural heritage.

The Emporium’s former custodian, Earlatidge Hubert Umbray, gives way to a new curator who decides not to answer the special ‘phone’ but believes the townspeople of Boonah deserve hope ‘I can’t take that away from them’ although cynical me wonders if it would give false hope?  Surely a nicely worded pep talk about getting on with your life and following those cherished dreams would work?  However, the story is more restrained than that and gently imparts the whys and wherefores of coping with grief. 

I felt the inside of The Emporium was a bit Disney-movie.  While I tried to put my own emotions into a character, the practicable side of me could not relate to uncertain concepts.  Would a final ‘phone call’ to the recently deceased help the person in mourning, or would it tip them over the brink?  Items include Ladybird lollipops (nobody pays for goods); special connections to memorabilia; a notebook which turns up in the oddest places for select clientele; and a subtle cat with an unsubtle name.

In the last pages of the book I found the experiences of author Tabitha Bird just as moving as the characters in the book (poor dear Enoch) but that’s just me.  There is an end page headed The Owner’s Guide To Grieving in keeping with The Emporium’s roving notebook, offering the opportunity to write in ‘A quiet space to simply be’. I read a new library book so abstained from writing on the page—I bet someone does.

Now I’m off to bake Bedtime Muffins from Isaac’s (Enoch’s dad) recipe!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Grantham Gatton Helidon Road vintage shop © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2019

Review ‘You Yet Shall Die’ by Jennifer Barraclough

You Yet Shall Die by Jennifer Barraclough 02

Hidden at the heart of the Harper family, veiled in secrets, is a mystery waiting to be solved.  A skilfully plotted novel with intriguing characters, crime, cats and a brother and sister unaware of what they will expose when they start peeling back the layers.

Set in south-east England around 2005, Hilda Harper tramps across the North Kent marshland on a summer’s evening.  She is mulling over an unusual meeting she had earlier in the day.  A woman named Nicky had knocked at her door and revealed some astounding news.  This unexpected visit impels Hilda to explore the truth about her family’s past.

How well did she know her father?  What was the cause of her mother’s death?  Is Nicky really who she says? 

You Yet Shall Die by Jennifer Barraclough 01

The story is told through the three main characters, Hilda, Dunstan and Nicky, each with their own chapters and different points of view.  Hilda and her younger brother, Dunstan, approach their deceased parents anomalous behaviour in varied ways.  The plot revolves around their strict, controlling father Dr Nicolas Harper and their religious mother Violet who suffered from a cardiac disorder.

Dunstan believes his father could do no wrong but Hilda couldn’t wait to leave home and start rescuing abandoned cats and kittens.  Dunstan says “My sister Hilda is, to put it kindly, rather eccentric.”  I agree, but she is a great character.  I think Dunstan has way more hang-ups to overcome, courtesy of his disenchanted upbringing.

Touching on mental issues, domestic bullying and unsettled memories, there comes a time when the scales dip towards a desperate action.  Poor Dunstan goes off the rails.  A cliff-hanger tempted me to untap my bookmark and keep reading into the night.  I followed the clever twists and turns until I arrived at two startling discoveries.  One more shocking than the other.

Family secrets can be destructive, changing the course of lives.IMG_20200417_133141

For me, the sense-of-place is strong and characters are easily envisaged.  Nicky is quite lively yet generally I felt a genteel vibe and imagine the setting would work equally well further back in time.  I liked the medical details, and Hilda’s love of cats; her rescue of tiny Magic echoes author Jennifer Barraclough’s support for animal welfare.

The book title is taken from “The Yew Tree” poem by Valerie Dohren, but I will close with a quote from Hilda “I need a walk to clear my troubled mind, so after lunch I put on my oilskins and gumboots and set off over the desolate marshland towards the Thames.  It is a cool and misty day with a light rain falling and there are no other people about, just a few sheep and gypsy ponies.”  A perfect remedy.

Top marks for “You Yet Shall Die” an absorbing crime and mystery story without the gory bits.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Cat Black and White 04AUTHOR PROFILE

Formerly a medical doctor in England, Jennifer Barraclough now lives in New Zealand and writes novelsnon-fiction books and a blog.  Jennifer is a cat owner and Magic has a cameo in her latest book You Yet Shall Die a novel in the “domestic noir” genre, set in the North Kent marshes near her childhood home.

After moving to her husband’s native New Zealand in 2000, Jennifer studied natural healing, and ran a Bach flower practice for ten years.  Writing is her main occupation now but her other interests include animal welfare activities, choral singing, and visiting the local beaches and cafés.

Jennifer’s new novel You Yet Shall Die and all her book publications like Wellbeing of Writers can be found at Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk   Smashwords.com  and other online retailers.


Cat Black and White 03

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
My thanks to the author for a complimentary copy of this book.  I appreciate the opportunity to read and review “You Yet Shall Die”
—GBW.


Cat Drawing Guttenburg Project

FOR LOVERS OF CATS AND ILLUSTRATIONS – GUTENBERG CAT FILE
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/35450/35450-h/35450-h.htm
The Project Gutenberg eBook ofOur Cats and All About Them” by Harrison Weir (1892) a well researched and remarkable volume.  Full Title: “Our Cats and All About Them.  Their Varieties, Habits, and Management; and for Show, the Standard of Excellence and Beauty; Described and Pictured”.

Email – Aunt Jenny’s Doll

Hello M,

Attached are photos of Aunt Jenny’s doll.

I inherited Jenny’s doll.

There’s a special clause in Jenny’s will regarding said doll.

The doll must go to me.

But carrying no explanation.

Jenny’s doll is at least 60 years old.

Our cousin JR mailed the doll to me.

In pink tissue paper in a cardboard box.

I don’t remember the doll.

I don’t remember her name.

A happy childhood anecdote linked to this doll?

JR does not know details.

Just that Jenny always wanted me to have the doll.

JR does not know the doll’s name.

Her temporary name is Margaret.

The name of my childhood friend.

Gretchen and Margaret mean the same thing.

We both wore bows in our hair.

All our aunts are gone now.

Would anyone in the family know the story?

Did I spend my toddler years with this doll?

She must have been as tall as me then.

But not cool for a teenager.

Poor doll, re-wrapped in pink tissue paper.

Wearing a boring flannelette nightie.

What shall I do with her now she’s mine?

Love Gretchen


Email to My Cousin © Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Friday 3rd April 2020

‘Ebb’ Poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Birdbath IMG_20200123_125042 (12)
‘Ebb’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine USA, on 22 February 1892.  Edna’s poetry and playwright collections include The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver (Flying Cloud Press 1922) winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Renascence and Other Poems (Harper 1917)

Edna St Vincent Millay Poet 02

Edna won a scholarship to Vassar College and became famous during her lifetime for her poetry with its passionate, formal lyrics, her flame-red hair, outspoken political views and unconventional lifestyle.  She died on 18 October, 1950, in Austerlitz, New York.

Poets https://poets.org/poem/ebb
Poetry Foundation https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/55993/renascence

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Review ‘The Elsinore Vanish’ by Joanna Baker Book Two

Joanna Baker The Elsinore Vanish Bookcover 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.

Joanna Baker Australian Author Dappled Light Through Leaves 02
Sunshine dappled leaves

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.

Beechworth Shire Town Hall Victoria
Beechworth Town Hall

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.

Beechworth MayDayHills Mental Asylum Victoria 01
Mayday Hills Asylum

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!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE

Joanna Baker Australian Author 2019Joanna 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.

Her current mysteries are The Slipping Place, Devastation Road and The Elsinore Vanish with Evermore coming soon.  And I would like to thank Joanna Baker for my review copy. GBW.

Review ‘Devastation Road’ by Joanna Baker Book One

Joanna Baker Devastation Road Bookcover 2019

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.

Yackandandah Bakery Victoria
Yackandandah Bakery

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.

Yackandandah Creek Victoria
Yackandandah Creek

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.

Joanna Baker Yackandandah Motor Garage
Yackandandah Motor Garage

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.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward    


AUTHOR PROFILE

Joanna Baker Australian Author 2019

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.

Her current mysteries are The Slipping Place, Devastation Road and The Elsinore Vanish with Evermore coming soon.  And I would like to thank Joanna Baker for my review copy. GBW.

Review of Mocco Wollert’s Life in Darwin, Northern Territory

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The book title is a typical Darwin expression with good connotations, and Mocco says she is an optimist, she lives on hope and in hope.  Originally from Germany, she worked hard with what she had, overcame obstacles and adapted to Australian life with her Aussie-born daughters Susan and Kim and beloved husband Niclas.

The other love in her life is Darwin, 1950s Darwin, at the Top End of Northern Territory.  No supermarkets, no fancy restaurants, definitely no air-conditioning, miles and miles of dirt roads, and at that time populated by about 8,000 people.  Tough, rough and ready people at that.

The strength of a woman when put to the test reverberates powerfully through Mocco Wollert’s narrative.  From good, bad and ugly circumstances, Mocco’s words shine.  She comes across as forthright in her opinions, honest, funny, emotional, grumpy yet ultimately loveable.  She certainly faced challenging circumstances, some which made me wince and some which would have seen me walk away, but not Mocco!

The chapters of Mocco’s book are grouped under headings, for example ‘Beginning the Adventure’, ‘Career Change’ (actually a couple of career changes) ‘Health Matters’ and ‘Decision Time’ all of which prepared me for her decade of thought-provoking reading.

Understandably there are heart-rending moments like depression in ‘A Night of Gin’ and the 1974 Cyclone Tracy devastation.

I remember sitting under our ceiling fan watching the ABCTV news on Boxing Day, 26th December, as black and white film footage showed our nation the flattened landscape which was once Darwin.  On a lighter note, it was rebuilt and continues to thrive, as did Mocco.  Small moments often stick and I enjoyed Mocco’s recollection of wigs and frizz hair-related matters in ‘Hairdressers’ where men were taboo.

Under the subheading ‘Sport’ on page 211, I think this paragraph typifies the tenacity of Darwinites and perhaps a large area of northern Australia.  “In spite of the heat and humidity, people played sport.  Golf was Niclas’ passion and he became quite a good golfer with a handicap of 16.  Watching today’s golf tournaments on television, I marvel at the green fairways and manicured greens.  There was none of this in Darwin.  The fairways were rough and, in the dry season, as dusty as a (cattle) station in drought.  The ‘greens’ were sandy plains without a blade of grass.”

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There are 47 photographs throughout the book, vivid examples of the era, and a pictorial of Darwin homelife which includes Mocco in weather so scorching she wore a bikini to hang washing on the Hills Hoist.  And there is a great little story behind the snapshot of her small daughter meeting Queen Elizabeth II.  Not telling, you’ll have to read the book!

‘Bloody Bastard Beautiful’ is Mocco Wollert’s tribute to Darwin, an intimate recollection of a more rugged time in 20th century Australia, told openly and honestly, and ultimately life-affirming.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE

IMG_20191122_183655Born in Germany but a true-blue Darwinite by 1960, Mocco Wollert is now a recognised poet and author who lives in Brisbane, Australia.

Mocco has nine poetry books published as well as winning prizes for poems published in newspapers and anthologies.

Her Darwin memoir ‘Bloody Bastard Beautiful’ was first published by Historical Society of Northern Territory and later by Boolarong Press 2017.

For information on today’s Northern Territory, visit https://www.australia.com/en/places/northern-territory.html

Review ‘In My Father’s House’ by Indrani Ganguly

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When I first picked up Indrani Ganguly’s memoir-style book, I dipped into a couple of stories.  It soon became apparent the pages contained a thoughtful mixture of poetry, artwork, travellers’ tales, photographs and fiction stories in a layout designed to gently lead the reader though Indrani’s world.

Chapters are grouped under different headings, the kind of book which anyone can read and everyone will find something that touches them.

The content captivated me with a mix of fact, fantasy and deep emotions initially triggered by Indrani’s return visit to her father’s house and her old room which had been left untouched since she moved out.  This is where her thoughts begin to unfold, first with artwork and poems then a retrospective short story about her family titled ‘Menagerie Manor’.

Jewellery Gold 04As luck would have it, being a fan of crime novels, the first short story I read was ‘A Candle for Bob Carter’ in which plain-clothed Chief Inspector Bob Carter is on jewel-guarding duty at a swanky fancy dress Christmas party during a hot Australian summer.  ‘We’ll turn the air-conditioning up dear,” says Leila as the sound system booms the obligatory yet incongruous ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’.  Such a fun twist at the end.

Indian Goddess Maa Durga Devi 03Under the tribute heading Women Worldwide, I read in awe as determined elderly ladies went ‘Walking in the Land of the Gods’.  Later I laughed out loud after reading ‘Durga Down Under’ a rather irreverent look at Durga, the Supreme Hindu Mother Goddess.  The accompanying poems resonated with me, particularly ‘A Woman’s Solitude’ a brief respite before a hectic day.  Under the title Travel Tales, Indrani writes with clarity and insight, transporting me to spectacular locations around the world.  My favourite is Shimla in the Himalayas which also has a lovely photo of Indrani and her daughter Gitanjali on rugged little ponies.

In this deceptively compact hardback volume there is a lot to read and think about.  ‘In My Father’s House’ is more than a treasury of family memories, Indrani’s words entertained and enlightened me.  She is in tune with diverse levels of society and human nature as well as comfortable within herself and her writing.

IMG_20190805_153244In her foreword, Indrani says ‘I continue to look both backwards and forwards for ideas and inspiration’.  I have already read and blogged her historical novel ‘The Rose and The Thorn’ and look forward to more literary adventures.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE

IMG_20191122_183130Indrani Ganguly was born into a Bengali family in Lucknow and now lives in Brisbane with her husband, son and daughter.  She travels extensively around Australia, India and other countries.

She studied English Honours in Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, has a masters in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a PhD on the impact of British occupation on revolution and reform in Burdwan, now in West Bengal.

‘In My Father’s House’ was published 2015 by Unique Publications Delhi, and her novel ‘The Rose and The Thorn’ was published 2019 by Boolarong Press Brisbane.
Indrani’s website: https://indraniganguly139.wordpress.com/blog/