‘The Broken Shore’ – Peter Temple (Book Review)

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I love a book with short chapters and lots of dialogue so Peter Temple has definitely done us both a favour with ‘The Broken Shore’. His protagonist Cashin, a Melbourne homicide detective, is living and working in a rural town that still holds firm to a racial divide and clings tightly to a ‘cops and robbers’ mentality. After the death of a long-standing social figure, the town is thrown into a chaotic and bloody aftermath with convalescing Cashin seemingly at the helm.

There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing and like most crime dramas everyone seems suspect, if not just a little odd. Particularly intriguing are the parallels Temple draws between Cashin rebuilding his family property, the mending of his personal relationships, and his recovery from a work related motor accident. This is a man certainly trying to put together the pieces in more ways than one.

The first 100 or so pages, although well written, seem to just bumble along, but by halfway, pace escalates and the reader is exposed to some very shady dealings indeed. For one who hasn’t read a lot of crime fiction, ‘The Broken Shore’ was a great hook-in: easy style, good crafting and genuine unpredictability. An enjoyable read.

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‘Persuasion’ – Jane Austen (Book Review)

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                It was not long after reading ‘Sense and Sensibility’ that ‘Persuasion’ graced my perusal. By far the most compact of Austen’s books, the novel tells the story of Anne, a veritable Cinderella with a grossly superficial family who believe her to be of little importance and zero advantage to their pompous selves. Anne’s father, Sir Walter, loves himself so much I’m surprised he can manage articulate conversation with other humans, and his favoured daughter Elizabeth isn’t much better. We also have Anne’s sister Mary, a moody hypochondriac who lacks empathy toward others of her species and is severely deficit of any maternal instinct.

                Anne has to deal with this moronic lot as she is forced to move house, travel to a distant seaside, meet new and old acquaintances, and care for the sick and small, finding love and appreciation en route. An array of characters abound, my particular favourite being Mrs Smith, a friend of Anne’s who not only suffered every hardship that could befall an Austen character, but managed to maintain gaiety and grace in the face of adversity. She stood out from the pages as a beacon of amiability and hope during Anne’s own personal trials, and I loved everything that woman represented.

                Our author loves a happy ending, and this one rounded off beautifully with Anne finding her true self, her loving husband and her own place in the world at last. A well-paced, feel-good read.

‘Letter to George Clooney’ – Book Review

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            I’m not sure why I shy from short stories. Perhaps I fear that ‘short’ denotes a lack of depth needed to invest in characters, plots and themes.

           ‘Letter to George Clooney’ totally debunks any such fear: Adelaide’s writing is fabulous. She hitches the reader right up into the booster seat and races off on a literary rollercoaster, pausing only to give hints as to what bought you there in the first place. This collection has an obvious descent in tone, opening with the laugh-out-loud problems of personal ads in ‘If you see something, say something’ (I think the phrase ‘tent sex’ was the one that got me). ‘Virgin Bones’ is a unique take on the duties of a squatting homeless family, and ‘Writing [in] the New Millennium’ is a comical, light-hearted account of a creative conference that any writer, emerging or otherwise can relate to.

            Anyone who’s ever dealt with bureaucratic red tape will smirk along with ‘The Pirate Map’, while ‘Airlock’ begins the books’ emotional slope, describing the unfortunate reality of supervised visits within troubled families.

            The titular story is undeniably harrowing. The letter details an account of primal savagery in an uncomfortable and distressing narrative. It’s not for the faint hearted, yet is one of those courageous stories that can leave the reader with a sense of personal perspective, if not utter hopelessness at the state of a war-ravaged nation.

            Ultimately, I came away from this collection feeling encouraged. How can a story/stories give a reader so much hope? Extract the anxiety in ones chest? Bring a sense of joy and remind us to ‘keep the fun’? Then again, why else do we read?

Dante’s ‘Inferno’ – Book Review

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          Dante’s ‘Inferno’. The first part of his legendary three-part poetry saga ‘The Divine Comedy’, is an epic collection of similes interspersed with a plethora of historical figures and geographical references. If not for the accompanying notes, this reader would have been lost and confused. Even now, like the days of high school and algebra tests, I am quite sure that the background information given in the commentary has been all but forgotten post perusal.

         In short, it’s huge. Dante and his guardian Virgil guide the reader from the Dark Forest down through the 9 circles and multiple valleys of hell, encountering historical persons who’ve sinned politically or carnally, against God, family or society in general. Each of these damned souls holds their unique place and punishment on the dramatic journey; they pause only to respond to Dante’s relentless and morbid curiosity and Virgil’s obliging persuasions in getting the enquiries satisfied.  The picture painted by Dante and the eternally condemned is dark, gothic and often disturbing. Hell is pretty rough, and Satan even more so, though not as fearsome as this reader expected.

         Religiously motivated and most certainly of it’s time and location, ‘Inferno’ still ages well and serves as a vehicle for Dante’s opinion on living a life of purity and devotion to God and virtue.

A Summer’s Day – 10/1/14

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Hello chums!

It’s a beautiful day in Melbourne, more specifically in Aspendale (which is towards, but not as dodgy as, Kananook…)

Above is the view from my balcony. Sand, sea, wheelie bin – what more could a girl want?

A fab week it’s been. I am still on holidays, one of the many perks of working in a school, and I have two weeks left to read, write, drink coffee, and ponder life’s meaning. Two days ago I found out that I have been given a place in the Graduate Diploma of Arts and Writing through OUA. I am SUPER excited about this. Also nervous, scared, jubilant, exhilarated and terrified (don’t you love adjectives?). I’ve talked myself out of undertaking further study for so long that, now it’s actually happening, I feel most of my nervous energy and perpetual ‘what if’s’ are starting to run dry. 

Don’t get me wrong, anxiety is one of the threads in my ‘me’ tapestry. Will I remember how to correctly structure an essay? What about references? Citations? Research? Power failures? Internet issues? Phone queues at Telstra? Y2K? A broken hand? Every possible disaster is running through my head trying to push me off balance into a stormy ocean of regret and self-doubt. But, I only have one life (as you do, by the way.) We are mere blips on the radar. Tiny specks between the beginning and end of the universe, depending on which philosophy or religion you follow. But ultimately, ‘chase your dreams’ is what they drill into you at school. So, forth we shall go friends. Into the dark and perilous forest of tomorrow to come out amidst a meadow of spring flowers that will be more glorious than ever we imagined. 

Ok, that was fluffy but you get my drift 😉

‘Wolfskin’ – Juliet Marillier (Book Review)

‘Wolfskin’ is a semi-historical fantasy novel set in a time of Norse gods, raging battles, land disputes and debauchery. Self-deprecating Eyvind passionately devotes himself to the god Thor, in keeping with his familial and tribal traditions. Eyvind reluctantly journey’s far from home, to a distant land called Whaleback in which he meets Nessa, the strong female figure and priestess who connects spiritually with earth and ancestry. A misguided villain and friend to Eyvind, Somerled, grows powerful,  almost to monumental proportions, and all but wipes out an ancient people while manipulating an entire army into blind obedience and brutality.

What follows is an adventure of bloody proportions, the most violent of Marilliers books I have read to date. Some of the war rationale and sacrificial ceremonies are frustrating to the reader, but thus are the threads which weave the history of earth and her inhabitants.

A point that left me puzzled was the prophecy regarding Somerled’s brother Ulf, recited only once toward the beginning of the story. The reader is given this information but it is scarcely explored and not repeated throughout the remaining 400+ pages. Even at its supposed fulfilment, J.M. does not repeat it for the reader and skims past it casually. Was this intentional? Downplayed to show its complete untruth? Or was the reader expected to have remembered these verses and pondered them throughout the winding tale? I am still unclear.

I enjoyed ‘Wolfskin’, as I always enjoy Marilliers prose. And being the first of hers written from a predominantly male perspective, it intrigued me. It was quite long, with thick, descriptive paragraphs which could span over a 60-page chapter and at times, I may not have given every word its due respect. But overall, this story of love and war wove folklore, magic, strength and loyalty, and it was enough to leave me satisfied and thirsty for the next book. 

‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ – Agatha Christie (Review)

This was my first Agatha Christie story and, being completely in the dark as to any details, inhaled ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ like a breath of fresh, slightly cocoa scented air. This little gem was a swift read, not only because it was utterly enthralling but the writing is comforting, stylish and uncomplicated.

M. Poirot, our hero among men, romanced me with his idiosyncrasies and sexy moustaches (how does he grow not one, but two of those things?). I was amused by this gentleman and followed him keenly as the narrator documented key players, events and locations regarding the crime in question. The lip-biting mystery developed well and the reader had ample opportunity to evaluate and set up alliances accordingly.
As with any whodunit I was convinced several times that I’d figured it out and thus sat smugly in my own self-satisfied pride. However, the climax snuck up and left me feeling duped, almost begrudgingly so. I swear, I did suspect the murderer at one point but dismissed the idea as improbable!

It was a lovely little read, full of suspense, wit and tight writing. Poirot is a unique man who can charm readers while keeping them at arm’s length in fascination and awe. A new love affair has begun and I can’t wait to munch on more of Christie’s sensational offerings.
SIDE NOTE: I have no idea how to play Mah Jong, therefore had to stifle giggles each time I read ‘East Wind passed’.

‘The Night Guest’ – Fiona McFarlane (review)

I am still feeling disturbed. 

‘The Night Guest’ is a haunting novel. It depicts the frailty of those who lose the ability to maintain independence, and the psychological manipulation that can be injected into such a fragile situation. 

Ruth lives alone following the death of her husband. She is content in her solitude, enjoying the peace of the seaside location and finding comfort in small routines from which her decision making ability is largely based. Enter Frida, sent by the government to assist Ruth with cleaning, shopping and chores which require some physical mobility. Frida seems a larger-than-life character who brings joy, companionship, and motherly concern to Ruth’s retired life. 

However, like Kathy Bates in ‘Misery’ the situation soon plants uncomfortable niggles for the reader, not least a sense that Ruth is being slowly removed and conditioned against the outside world and external parties. Financial undertones in conversation, appeals to sympathy, and the pretense of a life downtrodden paint the unfortunate picture that is seen often enough in news headlines and current affair programs: an abuse of power leaving an aging person in financial and emotional ruin

From the beginning, Ruth describes a tiger which lurks within her house, bringing with it the smells, sounds and humidity of a jungle from her childhood. This tiger becomes the property of Frida – ‘Frida’s Tiger’ – and is slaughtered in an epic, yet unseen battle which leaves Ruth eternally grateful for her carer’s presence and heroic gesture. This is representative of all Frida comes to mean to Ruth. An increase in dependence is not only seen by the reader, but evokes feelings of anger, injustice, sadness.

Fiona McFarlane’s novel is tightly written, gripping, and consistent in progression. She has chosen a difficult subject and carries it forth with chilling ‘believability’. Reading this, I wanted nothing more than to save Ruth from the clutches of Frida, to remind her of the truth, to protect her from vile psychological influence. Any story with an unreliable narrator presents questions that may never be answered, and ‘The Night Guest’ certainly fulfilled that for me.

‘A Town Like Alice’ – Nevil Shute (Review)

‘A Town Like Alice’ is constructed with the most unpretentious writing I have ever encountered. It is simple, readable, and completely engrossing. Using a strong female lead and a rugged Aussie rancher, Shute bonds this pair of foreigners in tense and tragic circumstances, to be united once more in a barren land unfamiliar to the heroine, Jean.

Nevil paints a fascinating and honest picture of the Australian outback and the attitudes that mark our racial and economic history. When the two characters become romantically inclined, swiftness certainly left me sceptic. But due to the remaining length of story, the author allows himself time to develop and nurture this relationship into believability.

Reading this, I had a sense of continually waiting for an epic catastrophe, as is so usual in modern fiction. When this didn’t arrive, I felt pleased, both for Jean and Harman and for myself, perhaps due to the emotional drainage experienced in the first half.

I’d reread, I’d recommend, I’d purchase and I do admire.

Five stars.