Sunday, 4 December 2016

Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.

This month the starting book is Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.
Are you game?

Revolutionary Road is one of those books that has been residing on my TBR pile for too long now.
I enjoy Yates' writing style but his tales of disappointing marriages and discontent can make me feel impatient rather than sympathetic. I have to be in the right frame of mind to tackle one.

Another book that has resided for far too long on my TBR pile is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

Satire is another genre that I have to be in the right frame of mind to tackle.
So despite my love of Russian literature, M&M has languished waiting for that illusive right frame of mind.

It's only natural that a satire based on the Stalin era should bring to mind George Orwell's famous satire on the Russian Revolution and the cult of personality that developed during the time of Stalin, Animal Farm.

Animal Farm was one of those school texts that I probably would never have read if it hadn't been a prescribed text. I'm so glad our English teachers challenged us with books like this. My love of Russian history and literature stems from this moment.

Which leads me nicely to my favourite Russian novel (so far) Boris Pasternak's, Doctor Zhivago.

Doctor Zhivago is one of my mother's favourite movies, and although there are points of difference between the movie and the book, they are both equally good. The snowy, icy images from the movie only helped to enhance my reading experience.

Another book with some amazing snow references is Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow by Peter Hoeg.

Scandi crime is not my usual genre, but I've read this book a couple of times now with more pleasure than seems right some how!

Reading outside my favourite genre's often yields unexpected pleasures - I probably should do it more often!
A recent unexpected gem, outside my usual genres, was His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnett.

A psychological thriller, disguised as true crime, disguised as historical fiction, disguised as a psychological study of small town life and what makes a murderer, His Bloody Project proved to be thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, and is one of my favourite reads of 2016.

However, my number #1 favourite read of 2016 is Madeleine Thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

There are still four more weeks left in 2016, so another book may come along a topple Do Not Say We Have Nothing from it's perch, but given that this is my busiest work month of the year, I doubt that I will have time to read more than a few easy comfort reads and junior fiction titles.

If you love historical fiction, or enjoy books set in China (& Canada) that encompass multi-generational storylines, classical music, etymology, mathematics, translation, calligraphy, the nature of free-will versus fate and memory, then this could be the book for you!

My #6degrees feels very well travelled this month - from North America, to Russia, Denmark, Scotland and China. 

Our January starting book takes us to Sweden, with Stieg Larsson's, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Where did you end up?

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

That's a Wrap

#AusReadingMonth has once again come to an end.

Another fabulous month of highlighting Australian books and Australian authors.

Thank you to the many who left comments on the master post and on twitter and a special thank you to those who took the time to read and review the Australian books lurking on their TBR piles.

I love being reminded how wonderful Australian writing can be and I love reading stories that reflect the world I know and live in.

Next year I may consider doing an abbreviated version of AusReadingMonth as I find it hard to maintain my momentum for the entire month...and this is a pretty low-key event already!

I'm also aware that I haven't assessed or spent any time planning this event for a couple of years now. I have added an alert notice to my calendar for Sept 2017 to hopefully rectify this.

If you would like to share any of your thoughts or ideas about what you'd like to see happen in AusReadingMonth next year please let me know in the comments below.
Perhaps we could have discussion topics or mini-challenges? Or someone might like to host a week? Maybe free and easy reading and reviewing at your own leisure is best after all?
I'm all ears!

I have left the linky open for a few more days so any late reviews can be added.

Monday, 28 November 2016

The Prodigal Son by Sulari Gentill

Thank you Sulari Gentill. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

At the beginning of November I visited Gentill's website to check when book 8 in her Rowland Sinclair Mystery series would be published, I was delighted to discover this little message on her blog instead....

Book VIII in the Rowland Sinclair Mysteries has been scheduled for release in September 2017. That's a while away. I do love that readers care enough about my books to complain that it's too long a while.

Of course publishing schedules are for the most part out of a writer's control so there is nothing I can do to bring Rowly VIII onto bookshelves any sooner, but the heartfelt lament of some of Rowland Sinclair's most ardent fans did make me want to write something to tide them over till the book proper came out. 
My intention intially was to write a short story, a prequel to the series which looked at the time when Rowland first returned to Sydney and met his louche entourage. It was to be not much more than a vignette, a glimpse of my characters in 1928 before the markets crashed. Of course Rowland had different ideas, and my short story became a novella. Writing it made me want to paint so it became an illustrated novella.

Thanks to a few other reading commitments, it has taken me longer than I planned to get stuck into this little gem.

The Prodigal Son was a quick, easy read and it helped to satisfy my curiosity about how Rowly, Edna, Clyde and Milton met. Naturally there was a little mystery and a little criminal activity which colluded to bring our four loveable characters together for the first time.

Most of the chapters are graced by the presence of one of Gentill's own illustrations. I enjoyed seeing how she pictures Rowly and his friends. They add a touch of elegance and specialness to this project.

Being a novella, the story is not as meaty or as in-depth as one of the regular Rowly books. It really has been designed to be enjoyed by existing fans of the series. Some of the quirks, the habits and the little in-jokes that have developed over the previous seven books are explained or revealed in The Prodigal Son.

It's a little like sitting down one summery evening with a good friend and a glass of wine and suddenly discovering as you chat, a little backstory about your friend that you never knew before. A little vignette that makes you nod your head and say 'ah-ha!'

Your free e-copy of The Prodigal Son can be downloaded here.

#1 A Few Right Thinking Men
#2 A Decline in Prophets
#3 Miles Off Course
#4 Paving the New Road
#5 Gentlemen Formerly Dressed
#6 A Murder Unmentioned
#7 Give the Devil His Due
Prequel - The Prodigal Son (e-book only)
#8 - due Sept 2017 -


Friday, 25 November 2016

Harriet Clare #6 Christmas Fair by Louise Park

Louise Park is an amazingly prolific Australian children's author who writes under several pseudonyms, including H. I. Larry (Zac Power books), Mac Park (Boy Vs Beasts books) and Poppy Rose (Bella Dancerella series).

The Harriet Clare series of books are written under her own name. Harriet Clare Secret Notebook #5 Mystery Dare was published a couple of months ago and Secret Notebook #6 Christmas Fair came out this month.

My six year old niece adores these books.

Their mix of fun fonts, activities and easy to read story lines are perfect for her. Harriet, just like my niece, is a bit of a tomboy who is sporty, but loves craft and dancing. I also suspect she relates to another red-head with unruly hair!

Christmas Fair is full of the delights and anticipation of an Australian summer - the count down to finish the school year and the big end of year concert, the putting up of the Christmas tree and the obligatory photo with Santa at the shopping centre.

Written in diary format, Harriet takes us on the highs and lows of getting ready for the festive season and summer holidays. Social dilemma's cause her a few hiccups along the way though, and Harriet asks for our help in the form of little boxes with 'what else could I have done?' or 'what would you have done?'

Harriet includes her recipe for Christmas Decoration Dough, so you can make your own tree decorations. She leaves you spaces to draw your own Christmas tree next to hers and she has great ideas on how to decorate your own Christmas cards. Harriet also shows you how to make your own snow globe.

Marlene Monterrubio's illustrations are decorative, expressive and add to the sense of fun.

The Harriet Clare series is perfect for the emerging reader who is just gaining some book confidence and feels ready to spread her wings a little. She has her own website here for more fun activities and information.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee

Karen Foxlee has a way about her.

Her words weave magic. She draws you in, she makes you believe, she makes you feel brave.

A Most Magical Girl follows an ordinary, everyday Victorian girl, who, rather like Harry Potter, suddenly finds herself in a magical world. Her role is to fulfil the prophecy as the 'youngest and most able member of the Great and Benevolent Magical Society' to assume the role of 'Valiant Defender of Good Magic'.

The sinister Mr Angel has other ideas, of course!

Annabel is rather annoying to start with.
Privileged, pampered and totally unprepared for her new life, she spends a lot of the first section bemoaning these changes. Annabel is the epitome of the reluctant hero.

However, as the danger escalates, and Mr Angel's darklings turn London murky and foggy, Annabel finds that bravery and resilience are required. With a good heart and a clear head (and a couple of faithful companions), it turns out that Annabel is capable of great and daring things indeed!

To be honest, I didn't love A Most Magical Girl as much as Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy, but Ophelia was pretty special, and pretty hard to top.
However, AMMG is a lovely, magical ride, with lots of action (especially in the second half of the book). Foxlee's characters are memorable and believable. And Annabel's journey towards courage is inspiring.

Highly recommended for mature 10+ readers.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Ruby Red Shoes Goes to London by Kate Knapp

I have come to love this gorgeous little series of early readers.

Ruby Red Shoes Goes to London is full of love and kindness and tenderness.
Quiet humour also infuses the story which keeps it from being sickly sweet. Instead we have a book that delights and charms and thrills the hearts of all its readers - young and old.

In London, Ruby and her grandmother, visit family for Christmas.

We meet, aunts and cousins (and the Queen!) and we sadly learn a little more about why Ruby lives with her Babushka Galushka.

Ruby explores London and spends time playing with her cousins, before the time comes all too quickly to return home.

The Ruby Red Shoes series rejoices in family and home. All the books embrace a zen-like approach to life. Ruby and her grandmother appreciate being in the moment. They remember to feel grateful for all that they have and take time to be at peace.

Knapp's illustrations add to the overall feeling of cosiness and gentleness. Lots of interesting and funny details can be spotted on each page. Her attention to creating a complete package that appeals at every level makes the wait for each book worth while.

Ruby Red Shoes Goes to London

I hope there's more to come.

Monday, 21 November 2016

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia by Bill Gammage

The extraordinary thing about Bill Gammage's award winning book, The Biggest Estate on Earth, is how obvious what he is saying really is when you look at the records - the letters, the journals, the paintings and sketches of early colonial times in Australia.

How on earth did we not see this before?

In every early convict painting, in every journal and in every letter back home, it's there - the park like nature of Australia, the carpets of grass and lightly wooded areas. Some parts thickly clothed in forest with rivers with fordable places as if 'they had been intended for such a purpose.'

Elizabeth Macarthur in 1795 wrote about the area near modern-day Parramatta,
The greater part of the country is like an English Park, and the trees give to it the appearance of a wilderness, or shrubbery commonly attached to the houses of people of fortune, filled with a variety of native plants, placed in a wild, irregular manner.
A few early settlers made the connection between the Aborigines use of fire and these open park-like areas, but they never considered that the Aborigines used fire like Europeans used fences - as a way to create specific spaces for food cultivation, feed for animals, to preserve water and for safety and travel.

Cover image - Joesph Lycett Aborigines using Fire to Hunt Kangaroos c1820 - National Library of Australia

Before Melbourne was Melbourne, D'Urville visited the area in 1826 and wrote,
The open terrain is delightfully undulating. Here there are fine stands of trees easy to penetrate, elsewhere vast grass-covered clearings, with well-defined paths are linked one with the other by other tracks so regular and well defined that it is hard to conceive how these could have happened without the help of man.
Australia would have been one wild, uninhabitable place without the careful land management system employed by the Aboriginals. A place that would not have been appealing to Europeans looking for an easy way to rid their own country of surplus peoples!

Captain Cook noted in 1770, that the country was,
diversified with woods, lawns and marshes; the woods are free from undergrowth of every kind and the trees are at such a distance from one another that the whole country or at least a great part of it might be cultivated without being obliged to cut down a single tree.
Sydney Parkinson A View of Endeavour River 1770

Gammage relentlessly and persistently drums this message home until even the most reluctant non-believer must see what is so evident in all the paintings and writings from this time. His extensive use of primary sources almost feels overwhelming in sections, as quote after quote is used to support his premise.
If a comprehensive variety of sources and repetition can prove a point, then Gammage should consider his point proved!

In his Introduction, Gammage states,
They first managed country for plants. They knew which grew where, and which they must tend or transplant. Then they managed the animals. Knowing which plants animals prefer let them burn to associate the sweetest feed, the best shelter, the safest scrub. they established a circuit of such places, activating the next as the last was exhausted or its animals fled. In this way they could predict where animals would be. they travelled to known resources, and made them not merely sustainable, but abundant, convenient and predictable.

Joseph Lycett View of the Heads 1821 Art Gallery of NSW

The Aborigines farmed Australia - every inch of it - for hundreds and hundreds of years - very successfully. It's just that their idea of farming was very different from the European model. Their relationship with the land was also very different. They were eco-warriors even before the term had been invented. They worked with (not against) the natural elements of their environment. They revered them, incorporated them into their religious beliefs and the Dreaming. Country was not to be exploited for human purpose, instead it was something to be shared and nurtured and respected so that it would provide sustenance for all.

Gammage makes extensive use of early paintings to highlight his point. Modern photographs of the same areas show that with the loss of knowledge about how the Aborigines managed the land, it has gone back to wild, dense forest susceptible to intense, unpredictable firestorms.

Eugene von Guerard Mr Clark's Station, Deep Creek, near Keilor 1867

Many of these early paintings and artists have been criticized in more recent times for their European style. It was said that they applied European standards and saw with European eyes. They didn't accurately represent the Australian environment, making it look too much like an English park, instead of the wild bush we know so well now.

Gammage argues that these artists did use foreshortening techniques and sometimes confused the shadows of clouds for distant land, but that the park-like nature of their paintings not only reflected what was there, but was backed up by what they wrote about in their diaries and letters. The loss of whole areas of kangaroo grassland and yam paddocks means that none of us now appreciate how green and verdant areas of Australia once were.

Eugene von Guerard Tower Hill 1855

The more familiar Federation colours and textures of the Streeton's, McCubbin's and Heysen's merely reflected the change of environment since European settlement (loss of top soil, the impact of cloven animals on the native grasses, the planting of European crops).
Combined with the gradual loss of knowledge as the Aborigines sickened and died with European diseases, the undergrowth built up and became messy and wild.

European culture viewed the indigenous way of life as inferior to their own. The newcomers never thought it necessary to ask permission, let alone seek advice on how to manage the country that was their new home.

In his appendix, Gammage addresses his critics and some of the problems brought up by his theory.

For me, I felt the logic and reasonableness of his argument. I was convinced by the considerable number of primary sources and their pertinence. The before and after images of Australian landscapes gave the final persuasive touch.

I'm so glad I finally finished this book (it has taken me three #AusReadingMonth's to do so). The ideas are tantalising and exciting. They gives us hope and understanding for a more productive and respectful way forward.

The pain created by our shared history can only be healed by time.
A new knowledge must eventually replace the lost, but it will only happen when we finally acknowledge the depth and importance of the old ways and the obvious and disastrous disconnect it caused for Australia's first peoples when it was taken from them.

Books like this help to pave the way forward.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

A is For Australia by Frane Lessac

In the past few years we have seen a rise in the number of children's picture books aimed at the Australiana market.

Two of my favourites are A is for Australia: A Factastic Tour and Australia: A Three Dimensional Expanding Country Guide.

Frane Lessac has captured the colours and textures of Australia in her beautiful book that features the usual and expected sites to see like Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu, Bondi Beach and Uluru. 

However, she also takes us to many lesser known places. 

Places like Iron Pot Lighthouse, Exmouth, Valley of the Giants, Rottnest Island and the Walls of Jerusalem National Park.

Lessac visits places with great tongue-twisting names such as Oodnadatta, Jindabyne, Yallingup and Qui Qui. She provides interesting, bite-sized facts for each place - facts that bring in history, traditions and origins. She covers the oldest, newest, tallest, smallest, biggest facts and figures as well. Indigenous, environmental and cultural elements are discussed.

Her landscape gouache paintings are bright and colourful with a focus on the distinctive features unique to each environment.

A is For Australia is a wonderful gift for overseas travellers when weight is not an issue (it's only available as a hardcover book at the moment.)

When weight is an issue, the perfect gift for overseas travellers is Australia: A Three Dimensional Expanding Country Guide.

Measuring about 10cm x 11cm, this expanding, concertina style guide to Australia is light weight and easy to tuck into an already full backpack or suitcase!

Illustrated by Charlotte Trounce, the folded pages slip easily into their firm protective case. 

She covers the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Parliament House, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Twelve Apostles, Port Arthur, Daintree Rainforest, St Peter's Cathedral, Wave Rock, Uluru, the Ghan, Kakadu National Park and the Great Barrier Reef.

When expanded, sections of each page pop-out all along the front and back. 
Each section gives a brief description explaining the significance and history of the icon concerned.

I love the simple, clean colours and lines used by Trounce and the retro feel sits well with the concertina design.

Australiana with a bit of class; not a cultural cringe in sight!

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Sick Stockrider by Adam Lindsay Gordon

First published in 1870, The Sick Stockrider was one on the classic poems referenced in Australian Classics by Jane Gleeson-White.

During #AusReadingMonth I hope to revisit a couple of these classic Australian bush ballads. I had never heard of The Sick Stockrider before, so I was very curious to see what the fuss was all about.

It was made into a silent movie way back in 1913 and is one of the few movies from this time to survive intact.

It's themes of mateship and laconic acceptance are dear to the heart of many Australians.

Gordon was born in the Azores in 1833, but came from old Scottish stock. His family soon moved back to England where Gordon finished his schooling. During his teen years he began to run a little wild (spending too much time and money at the pub and the racetrack apparently), so his father packed him off to Australia with various letters of introduction.

The 'remittance man' populated many of our early colonial areas - places like Australia, America, Canada and India were popular choices for the English to pack off their wayward sons and daughters. A regular payment from home sustained these black sheep in the hope that they would stay away!

Judith Wright's poem Remittance Man (1946) was one I studied at school and remember fondly. She explored the bittersweet nature of being a remittance man. Now that I've triggered the memories it may have to be my next #AusReadingMonth poem!

But now - back to Gordon.

His imminent departure/expulsion caused him to pen a poem to his sister which began,

Across the trackless seas I go, 
No matter when or where, 
And few my future lot will know, 
And fewer still will care. 
My hopes are gone, 
my time is spent, 
I little heed their loss, 
And if l cannot feel content, 
I cannot feel remorse.

When he arrived in Adelaide, he chose not to use any of his father's letters of introduction; instead Gordon found himself a job with the mounted police for a couple of years before heading bush to become a horse breaker and steeple chaser. A poetic adventurer!

He married Margaret Park in 1862. Three years later he was elected to the South Australian parliament. However, none of these careers really stuck. His boundless energy and fearlessness didn't know where or how to settle.

He moved his family to Ballarat to start a new business venture, but suffered a serious head injury after falling from a horse.

The death of his only daughter as a baby, as he was recovering from this injury, seemed to affect him deeply. They sold up and moved to Brighton. Despite the danger and risk to his health, Gordon kept returning to horse racing and steeple chasing. Early in 1870, he had another serious fall which aggravated his existing injuries.

Sadly, a few months later, thanks to money problems and legal disappointments, Gordon committed suicide near Brighton Beach.

Photo courtesy of VirtualSteve from Wikipedia

It turns out that Gordon also penned a once famous verse (part of his poem, Ye Wearie Wayfarer) that found it's way into generations of Australian autograph books - including my own!

My Pop was my very first 'autograph'. He was famous in our family for his ability to recite very long poems that he learnt in his childhood, so it was no big surprise that his autograph of choice was in verse:

Life is mostly froth and bubble 
Two things stand like stone: 
KINDNESS in another's trouble, 
COURAGE in your own

Gordon was once considered to be our National Poet - with his underdog, devil-may-care attitude he epitomised the good-natured larrikin that was becoming the iconic Australian character of the time.

In 1932 a statue of Gordon was erected in Melbourne (above). It stands in Gordon Square, Spring St. A bust of Gordon was also unveiled in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey in 1934.

The Sick Stockrider - Charlie Hammond (1870-1953)
Image courtesy of The State Library of Victoria.

HOLD hard, Ned ! Lift me down once more, and lay me in the shade.
Old man, you've had your work cut out to guide
Both horses, and to hold me in the saddle when I sway'd,
All through the hot, slow, sleepy, silent ride.

The dawn at 'Moorabinda' was a mist rack dull and dense,
The sunrise was a sullen, sluggish lamp ;
I was dozing in the gateway of Arbuthnot's bound'ry fence,
I was dreaming on the Limestone cattle camp.
We crossed the creek at Carricksford, and sharply through the haze,
And suddenly the sun shot flaming forth ;
To southward lay 'Katâwa,' with the sandpeaks all ablaze,
And the flush'd fields of Glen Lomond lay to north.
Now westward winds the bridle path that leads to Lindisfarm,
And yonder looms the double-headed Bluff ;
From the far side of the first hill, when the skies are clear and calm,
You can see Sylvester's woolshed fair enough.
Five miles we used to call it from our homestead to the place
Where the big tree spans the roadway like an arch ;
'Twas here we ran the dingo down that gave us such a chase
Eight years ago—or was it nine ?—last March.

'Twas merry in the glowing morn, among the gleaming grass,
To wander as we've wandered many a mile,
And blow the cool tobacco cloud, and watch the white wreaths pass,
Sitting loosely in the saddle all the while.
'Twas merry 'mid the blackwoods, when we spied the station roofs,
To wheel the wild scrub cattle at the yard,
With a running fire of stockwhips and a fiery run of hoofs ;
Oh ! the hardest day was never then too hard !

Aye ! we had a glorious gallop after 'Starlight' and his gang,
When they bolted from Sylvester's on the flat ;
How the sun-dried reed-beds crackled, how the flint-strewn ranges rang
To the strokes of 'Mountaineer' and 'Acrobat'.
Hard behind them in the timber, harder still across the heath,
Close beside them through the tea-tree scrub we dash'd ;
And the golden-tinted fern leaves, how they rustled underneath !
And the honeysuckle osiers, how they crash'd !

We led the hunt throughout, Ned, on the chestnut and the grey,
And the troopers were three hundred yards behind,
While we emptied our six-shooters on the bushrangers at bay,
In the creek with stunted box-tree for a blind !
There you grappled with the leader, man to man and horse to horse,
And you roll'd together when the chestnut rear'd ;
He blazed away and missed you in that shallow water-course—
A narrow shave—his powder singed your beard !
In these hours when life is ebbing, how those days when life was young
Come back to us ; how clearly I recall
Even the yarns Jack Hall invented, and the songs Jem Roper sung ;
And where are now Jem Roper and Jack Hall ?

Aye ! nearly all our comrades of the old colonial school,
Our ancient boon companions, Ned, are gone ;
Hard livers for the most part, somewhat reckless as a rule,
It seems that you and I are left alone.

There was Hughes, who got in trouble through that business with the cards,
It matters little what became of him ;
But a steer ripp'd up MacPherson in the Cooraminta yards,
And Sullivan was drown'd at Sink-or-swim.

And Mostyn—poor Frank Mostyn—died at last a fearful wreck,
In 'the horrors', at the Upper Wandinong ;
And Carisbrooke, the rider, at the Horsefall broke his neck,
Faith ! the wonder was he saved his neck so long !
Ah ! those days and nights we squandered at the Logans' in the glen—
The Logans, man and wife, have long been dead.
Elsie's tallest girl seems taller than your little Elsie then ;
And Ethel is a woman grown and wed.

I've had my share of pastime, and I've done my share of toil,
And life is short—the longest life a span ;
I care not now to tarry for the corn or for the oil,
Or for the wine that maketh glad the heart of man.
For good undone and gifts misspent and resolutions vain,
'Tis somewhat late to trouble. This I know—
I should live the same life over, if I had to live again ;
And the chances are I go where most men go.

The deep blue skies wax dusky, and the tall green trees grow dim,
The sward beneath me seems to heave and fall ;
And sickly, smoky shadows through the sleepy sunlight swim,
And on the very sun's face weave their pall.
Let me slumber in the hollow where the wattle blossoms wave,
With never stone or rail to fence my bed ; 
Should the sturdy station children pull the bush flowers on my grave,
I may chance to hear them romping overhead.

The Sick Stockrider by Frank Mahony 1896
Image courtesy of Art Gallery of NSW.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Brona's Salon

Brona's Salon is a new meme which aims to gather a group of like-minded bookish people 'under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.'

I will provide a few prompts to inspire our conversation.
However please feel free to discuss your current read or join in the conversation in any way that you see fit.
Amusement, refinement and knowledge will surely follow!

What are you currently reading?

In honour of #AusReadingMonth I will highlight my latest Aussie read.

A group of visitors to the Salzburg Festival, brought together by chance, decides to mark time by telling tales. 
Their fantasies, legends, tragedies, jokes and parodies come together as The Salzburg Tales.

Dazzling in their richness and vitality, the tales are grounded in Christina Stead's belief that 'the story is magical . what is best about the short story [is] it is real life for everyone; and everyone can tell one'. 

Originally published eighty years ago, these are thoroughly modern stories that invite comparison with Boccaccio's Decameron and Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

The Salzburg Tales are published here with a new introduction by Margaret Harris, Challis Professor of English Literature Emerita at the University of Sydney, and literary executor for Christina Stead.

Christina Stead (1902 - 1983) was Australian born and wrote a number of her novels and short stories set in Australia, but she lived most of her life overseas and just as many of her books are set elsewhere. My current read is one of those.

Stead spent most her childhood in Watsons Bay with a houseful of half-siblings and a domineering father. Her unhappy childhood was fictionalised in probably her most well-known novel The Man Who Loved Children. Sadly she never won any major literary award, and it has been said that she only returned to Australia in 1974, after the death of her husband, because she had been denied an award due to not being Australian enough.

On her return, she was awarded the inaugural Patrick White Literary Award, which awards established writers for their body of work.

She died on the 31st March, 1983 in Balmain (where I now live) which has now made me curiously even more curious about this very curious woman.

How did you find out about this book?

Why are you reading it now? 

I 'discovered' this book thanks to Lisa @ANZLitLovers LitBlog who is hosting a Christina Stead Week on her blog. I decided this was too good an opportunity to miss out on during #AusReadingMonth and since I had never read any of Stead's books before, I decided to start at the very beginning.

First impressions? 

I struggled at the start.
The writing seemed very dense and almost impenetrable.
But I was attempting to start this book late at night when I was really tired already.
I knew nothing about it (I don't read Introductions in case they contain spoilers) so I was going in completely cold.
After two nights I was beginning to think this book was not for me.

But I was determined not to fail!

Saturday morning saw me with coffee and pencil in hand, fresh faced and wide awake, ready to get stuck in.

With careful reading and judicious underlining, I found my way in.

My immediate surprise was that this is not really a short story collection.
It's a novel told as stories within a story, just like The Canterbury Tales (which I attempted to read at too young an age). This is Stead's homage to Chaucer and Boccaccio.

The narrators share a common place - The Salzburg Festival (which Stead attended in 1930) but it's too soon to see what other links or common themes might exist.

Which character do you relate to so far?

All the characters/narrators are introduced in the second chapter.
Some get two pages of description whilst others barely get two paragraphs.
So far, I'm curious to hear about what The Viennese Conductor, The School Teacher and the Danish Woman will have to say in their stories.

Are you happy to continue?

I'm intrigued to see how well the various stories will link up or flow together.
It feels like an ambitious effort for a debut author.

Where do you think the story will go? 

I'm not sure if all the stories will somehow relate back the the Salzburg Festival or whether each narrator will provide the impetus for the next story to continue instead.

I am once again curious to tackle The Canterbury Tales.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Billie B Brown The Soccer Star by Sally Rippin

Sally Rippin's fabulous early reader series for young girls, Billie B Brown, has been a huge success with 5-7 yr olds from day one, so I'm a little shamefaced to admit, that it has taken me over six years to actually read one!

In some ways I didn't need to - Billie B sold herself. Word of mouth in the local kindergartens was all that was required. The cute covers, catchy titles and slim size did the rest.

But I now have a six year old, soccer playing niece who has just discovered the joy of reading by herself. It's so exciting listening to her sound out words and make sense of the jumble of words in front of her.

Billie B Brown: The Soccer Star was an easy choice for her recent birthday.

In three easy chapters, Rippin introduces Billie and her best friend, Jack (who has now been granted his own spin-off series, simply called Hey Jack). With large font and fun illustrations by Aki Fukuoka, the beginning reader experiences success and satisfaction from start to finish.

In The Soccer Star we learn what the B stands for in Billie's name and what her favourite sandwich is.

We feel cross and sad and all muddled up, along with Billie, when Jack is invited to play soccer at lunch time, but she is told by the other boys that "girls can't play soccer."

However nothing keeps a spunky can-do girl down for long!

Billie comes up with a great solution to the playground gender problem, and with Jack's help, pulls off a fabulous, fist-pumping girl-power ending!

There are 19 more books in the series to keep the most eager early reader happy for hours!

1 The Soccer Star (2009)

2 The Bad Butterfly (2009)

3 The Midnight Feast (2009)

4 The Second-Best Friend (2010)

5 The Beautiful Haircut (2010)

6 The Extra-Special Helper (2010)

7 The Perfect Present (2010)

8 The Secret Message (2011)

9 The Big Sister (2011)

10 The Birthday Mix-Up (2011)

11 The Little Lie (2011)

12 The Best Project (2011)

13 The Spotty Holiday (2011)

14 The Cutest Pet Ever (2012)

15 The Pocket Money Blues (2012)

16 The Copycat Kid (2012)

17 The Deep End (2012)

18 The Night Fright (2012)

19 The Bully Buster (2012)

20 The Missing Tooth (2012)


Sunday, 13 November 2016

My Aussie TBR Pile

We're almost half way through #AusReadingMonth
How are you going with your reading plans so far?

I finished my Australian classic read (Swords and Crowns and Rings) much faster than I thought I would, so I plan to catch up on some of the unfinished Aussie non-fiction lying by my bed, making me feel guilty, before tackling my Christina Stead book, The Salzburg Tales for Lisa's #ChristinaSteadWeek starting on the 14th.

In the meantime, I thought it was time to compile a list of all the unread books by Australian authors, vying for my attention, by my bed, in my cupboard and on my book shelves.

If I can remember how or why each particular book found it's way onto my TBR pile, I'll include it in brackets. Everything else will have been the result of a fortuitious browse through a bookshop!

I figure this list will either scare me out of acquiring any more books -
or inspire me to get reading - 

Children's Books 

The Bad Guys Episode 4 by Aaron Blabey
Don't Call Me Bear by Aaron Blabey
Pig the Elf by Aaron Blabey
Ruby Red Shoes Goes to London by Kate Knapp
Harriet Clare Christmas Fair and Mystery Dare by Louise Park
EJ Spy School The Test by Susannah McFarlane
Billie B Brown The Soccer Star by Sally Rippin
Molly and Mae by Danny Parker
Blue Sky Yellow Kite by Janet A Holmes
(all presents for nieces and nephews that I will peruse & review carefully before gifting)
Wormwood Mire by Judith Rossell


The Dyehouse by Mena Calthorpe (ARC)
Sisters by Ada Cambridge (author recommended by Heavenali)
Coonaroo by Katharine Susannah Pritchard
The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley
Maurice Guest by Henry Handel Richardson
My Love Must Wait by Ernestine Hill
The Timeless Land by Eleanor Dark
The Salzburg Tales by Christina Stead

Adult Books

The Story of Danny Dunn by Bryce Courtenay (another book set in Balmain)
The Rose Grower by Michelle de Kretser (found in a market stall in the Blue Mountains)
The Turning by Tim Winton
What was Left by Eleanor Limprecht
Home by Larissa Behrendt

The Tivington Nott, Landscape of Farewell and Autumn Laing by Alex Miller (I loved Coal Creek so much, I've gradually been acquiring Miller's backlist)

The White Earth by Andrew McGahan

The Anatomy of Wings and The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee (I adored Foxlee's junior fiction book, Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy so much, I've tracked down her adult backlist)

It's Raining in Mango and The Slow Natives by Thea Astley
Omega Park by Amy Barker
Watershed by Fabienne Bayer-Charlton
The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom
Till Apples Grow on an Orange Tree by Cassandra Pybus
The First Book of Samuel by Ursula Dubosarsky 
The Danger Game by Kalinda Ashton

The Body in the Clouds by Ashley Hay (after falling in love with Hay's writing in The Railwayman's Wife, I tracked down some of her backlist - fiction and non-fiction)

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (ARC)
Cabin Fever by Elizabeth Jolley
Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany
The Swan Book by Alexis Wright
Give the Devil his Due by Sulari Gentill
The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty (ARC)
The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty


Aunts Up the Cross by Robin Dalton

The Great Barrier Reef: History, Science, Heritage by James Bowen and Margarita Bowen
A Reef in Time by J E N Veron (last #AusReadingMonth I finally read The Reef by Iain McCalman - it was fascinating and frightening in equal measure and made me track down some of his bibliography)

From the Edge by Mark McKenna (heard an interview on the radio that intrigued me enough to buy the book)

Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner
The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage
On Listening by Martin Flanagan

Resilience by Anne Deveson (purchased after the sudden death of a close friend in 2003, but only ever dipped into)

The Change: Women, Aging and the Menopause by Germaine Greer (yep! it's that time of life for me)

Tete-a-Tete: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir& Jean-Paul Sartre by Hazel Rowley
Not Drowning, Reading by Andrew Relph
The House on the Hill: A Memoir by Susan Duncan (ARC)
Journey from Venice by Ruth Cracknell
Island Home by Tim Winton
Reading By Moonlight by Brenda Walker
Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler
Notebooks by Betty Churcher
Modern Love by Lesley Harding & Kendrah Morgan
Welcome to Your New Life by Anna Goldsworthy
Dancing With Strangers, Tiger's Eye and Agamemnon's Eye by Inga Clendinnen
Only in New York by Lily Brett
The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes
1788 by Watkin Tench
Time Without Clocks by Joan Lindsay
True North by Brenda Niall
The Bush and A Single Tree by Don Watson
Gum by Ashley Hay
Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood (ARC)
The Best Australian Essays 2016 edited by Geordie Williamson

Which one should I read next?

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Swords and Crowns and Rings by Ruth Park

Ruth Park (1917 - 2010) won the 1977 Miles Franklin Award with her penultimate adult novel, Swords and Crowns and Rings.

Until it was republished under the Text Classics umbrella in 2012, I had never even heard of it, let alone read any reviews about it.

I've been wondering how this was possible?

I read and loved some of Park's children's books when I was young - Callie's Castle, Playing Beatie Bow and When the Wind Changed. In 1986/7 I adored the TV series based on her books Harp in the South and Poor Man's Orange and subsequently read both books. But I never knew she had won Australia's primary literary award.

The Miles Franklin Award aims to celebrate a novel each year that 'is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.'

Swords and Rings and Crowns is all of this.

There is nothing experimental or challenging about the format or structure of the book. It is straight forward historical fiction with a coming of age element and some romance. But it is beautifully realised.

Park's writing is evocative and authentic. She brings the hardships and the details of Depression era NSW to life so vividly that you can feel the hunger, the cold and the fear along with her characters. However, the bleakness of the times was compensated for by the warmth and grace of her central characters.

Jackie, the dwarf, his mother, Peggy, and stepfather, Jerry are a loving, strong unit. They tackle life with practical good sense, kindness and a togetherness that is enviable. Jackie's dwarfism was never allowed to be a disability although it obviously played a large role in shaping his character. His parents taught him resilience and that being a good man had nothing to do with size but everything to do with who you are on the inside. Their mission in life was to make Jackie's 'soul grow.'

They gave him books on mythology that featured whole worlds of 'clever and heroic dwarfs'. When he was young, Jackie believed that the nearby hills housed a whole race of people like him because 'the mines in the hills (were where) the dwarfs dig gold and makes swords and crowns and rings.' This sense of mythology and belonging served him well as time went by. It became the solid foundation that was never rocked by the trials of adult life.

Jackie was also blessed throughout his life with the unconditional love of two young women. Cushie, the girl next door and Maida, the cruelly treated step-cousin.

Clearly, Jackie's personal growth and sense of self was heavily informed by Park's own growing interest in Zen Buddhism at this time in her life. He was able to live for the moment and accept 'the fate that seemed to be his.'

Although I studied the events and effects of the Depression at school, it was still shocking to be reminded about the harsh conditions of this time. In the hands of Park, who had an intimate knowledge of the poverty and joblessness during the 30's, the scenes of Jackie and Jerry wandering the countryside looking for work, are heart wrenching in their authenticity. They brought to mind the gritty, dirty realism of Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and Emile Zola's descriptions of grinding poverty in Germinal.

The Sydney scenes were particularly meaningful to me. Cushie's grandmother lived in Balmain (my home for the past 8 years) 'in a house she would not leave, though the district was running down and becoming industrial.'

Cushie's first experiences of living in Sydney were familiar as she came to terms with the old narrow, winding streets for the first time.
So she began to learn a little of the city that lay, like a lump of irregular, time-worn stone, on the palm of a huge hand that was the blue-fingered Harbour. It was a city she had not even guessed....The warmth and squalor of the unknown town appealed to her strangely; she felt almost happy sometimes.
Sydney can have that affect on you!

The ending was predictable, although Park kept it from us for as long as possible. I would have liked to see Jackie and Cushie together, working to bring her grandmother's behest to help the poor, to fruition.

But I guess that's what imagination is for.


Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Bad Guys #3 The Furball Strikes Back by Aaron Blabey

To my mind, Aaron Blabey can do no wrong!

His series of early readers featuring four of literature's bad guys trying to make good is consistently funny, smart and unexpected.

In Episode 3 The Furball Strikes Back, we find our four +1 bad guys coming face-to-face with the baddest, most evil of all creatures - Dr Rupert Marmalade, the guinea pig!

Mr Wolf, Shark, Piranha and Snake have now been joined by Legs, the Tarantula. There is growing dissension in the ranks about whether or not being good guys is really working for them.

Mr Wolf's constant cry of "It's time to be heroes!" is rubbing some of them the wrong way.

Falling into the evil clutches of the grandiose and rather mad Dr Marmalade only creates more friction amongst our lovable heroes.

In the background, though, there is another dark and mysterious character jumping about - will this illusive figure be a force for good or evil?

And how will our Bad Guys foil the dastardly plans of Dr Marmalade?

Episode 1 The Bad Guys
Episode 2 Mission Unpluckable
Episode 3 The Furball Strikes Back
Episode 4 Apocalypse Meow

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Top Ten Tuesday

The Broke and the Bookish host a weekly meme called Top Ten Tuesday.

This week features our ever increasing TBR piles.

In honour of #AusReadingMonth my Top Ten Recently Acquired Books will all be Australian books.


The Best Australian Essays 2016 edited by Georgie Williamson

This book walked onto my TBR pile only a few short hours ago.


The Salzburg Tales by Christina Stead

The very first published book by Stead full of her short stories, which I plan to read for Stead Reading Week @ANZ LitLovers Litblog.


Time Without Clocks by Joan Lindsay

Her 1962 autobiography that I picked up on the weekend when I went second-hand bookshop trawling.
Why did I never make the connection before?
Her brother-in-law was Norman Lindsay!


Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany

Also discovered during my second-hand bookshop expedition - the advantages of working in a bookshop is that I know which older books are now out of print. When I spot one in a second-hand shop, I know to snap them up.
It also has a great flexi cover that feels great to hold.


True North by Brenda Niall

I've been wanting to read one of Niall's biographies for ages.
This one about the Durack sisters came my way last week.


Cabin Fever by Elizabeth Jolley

This one has been sitting on my TBR shelf for a while now, but I realised that I had a lot of non-fiction on this list and wanted to even it out with some more fiction.


Gum by Ashley Hay

After falling in love with The Railwayman's Wife a couple of years, I hunted down some of Hay's backlist books. This one dedicated to one of my favourite trees was a no-brainer.


Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood

Australian Women Writer's feature heavily on my TBR pile.
I hope to start this one very soon.


The Swan Book by Alexis Wright

An award winning novel that I really must read soon.


Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner

They have recently made a movie about the incredible events surrounding the death of Joe Cinque.
Helen Garner's controversial book focused on victim's rights even as she failed to explain the perpetrator's motivations.