SPEED REVIEW: The Book of Love by Phillipa Fioretti

book of love2At first glance, this book is full of fluff. References to a self-styled queen of fashion, a dashing Russian, and a ‘seductive mystery that will steal your heart,’ put me way off for fear of nonsense and romance.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when I entered a world of rare antiquities (of the bookish kind) a determined heroine, and a missing boyfriend who may well have met with the foulest of play. Set in a Sydney second hand bookshop, and then landing firmly in the bustling streets of Rome, the pace is fast, the humour dry, and the adventure is palpable.

There is no doubting this book is chick lit. But it also has substance, humour and a good old fashioned mystery at its core, which makes it an excellent beach read or gift for a girlfriend.

In Short: Chick Lit with Substance

SPEED REVIEW: The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

the-broken-shoreA clever and compelling Australian crime novel that has all the hallmarks of an award winner. (Gold Dagger) I’d not read Temple before and found his style unique but comfortable, direct, sophisticated and implicit.

Set in a small country town, Homicide Detective Joe Cashen has been removed from his post in the big city of Melbourne to recover after a serious and scarring injury. Surrounded by small town cops, and challenged by corruption, racism and politics, he investigates the death of a wealthy local man.

The plot itself is fast paced, authentically Australian, with grit and an underlying ‘outback’ feel to it. Cashen, is incredibly likeable and understated, with many flaws and foibles. There is something stoic, bordering on heroic, about his presence.

In Short: Grimy and Genuine

SPEED REVIEW: Recipes & Refuge by Chris Nguyen

recipes and refugeIt’s amazing how a smell, taste or texture can evoke a memory.  A moment in time can be recaptured with a familiar spice or melting mouthful.  And what’s become obvious to me (after reading this book) is that food’s place in our identity is a universal thing, shared by all cultures regardless of the cuisine.

This book is different from your normal ‘fusion’ cook-book.  Between the complex and sometimes adventurous dishes, are stories of immigrants and refugees told through food.  It’s unpretentious or political – it’s just families recording their precious recipes.  In sharing their memories and meals, the contributors inspire laughs and awe and some bloody yummy dishes.

(available www.ragandboneman.org)

In Short: For food lovers and world citizens.  Try the Beriani and Koulouraki!

SPEED REVIEW: Vanguard Prime by Steven Lochran

vanguard-prime-book-1Reviewed by guest blogger S.Roberts

Do you have a fan of CHERUB, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl or superheroes in your home? Maybe all of the above? Then make sure to check out this children’s series by a talented (and fairly new) Aussie author.  Authentic and relatable in their language, the books have been described as “Alex Rider joins the X-Men.” They are full of humour, intrigue and excitement. Readers will get a chance to see what being a superhero would really feel like as we follow Sam, an ordinary kid, whose sudden development of mysterious powers finds him drafted into the world’s most famous superhero team.

In short:  FOR RELUCTANT READERS 10+ (and comic loving Dads who help with bedtime reading)

Fit to board: the book blog gets political (again!)

I’m always wary of a blog that starts with ‘As a mother,’ because what normally follows is a diatribe about the amount of refined sugar in children’s cereals, the violence in video games, the importance of keeping a family routine, or the amount of screen time a two-year old should actually have.

But at the risk of sounding slightly hysterical, I’ve got to say it.  As a mother, it’s been a really tough week to watch the news.

But more-over, it’s been a tough week for anyone who has a shred of compassion and sense of moral responsibility. So, as a human, it’s been frustrating, and embarrassing and saddening and enraging to watch the news this week.

My first ‘as a mother’ inspired outburst was when I learned of the 31 year old asylum seeker, who was transported from Nauru to give birth to her baby at Brisbane’s Mater Hospital.  Delivery was by c-section and the baby boy, Farus, was born with respiratory problems and had to be cared for in the neonatal special unit at the hospital.

However just four days after giving birth, the mother Latifa, was discharged and then confined to the Brisbane Immigration Transit accommodation, 20 minutes away.   She was only allowed to visit her baby boy between 10am and 4pm, as per the hospitals visiting hours.  It is claimed that her husband, who is also detained, was not given access to visit his son.

It’s important to note here that the hospital has rebuked the Government’s claims that they were responsible for enforcing the visiting time rules.  The hospital said in a statement:

“Once a Mum is clinically well enough to go home, she is discharged from hospital, but is encouraged to be involved in the baby’s care wherever possible to help establish her bond with her baby.  Mater places no restrictions on women and they can visit their baby anytime where possible.”

But I suppose that Mum, (after having major surgery) is a threat to national security right?

So I swallowed down that news with difficulty, and swore and ranted for a bit about the Government and our apathy and at the fuckedness of it all.

And then I read this and cried…

“A profoundly disabled four-year old Tamil asylum seeker in a Brisbane detention facility will be transferred offshore along with her father, probably to Nauru.” (The Global Mail)

Cared for by her father, apparently the girl cannot talk or walk, and is confined to a wheelchair.   She was separated from her mother and siblings in Sri Lanka as they boarded the boat for Australia. (Her Mum was arrested and later released.)

What is even more shocking is how she became disabled. A victim of a bomb blast in her homeland Sri Lanka, she was struck by shrapnel while in-utero and was badly injured.  So before this kid was even born, she was in immediate and mortal danger.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has reiterated his hard-line stance on the processing of asylum seekers who arrived by boat after July 19 this year.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a child, it doesn’t matter whether you’re pregnant, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a woman, it doesn’t matter if you’re an unaccompanied minor, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a health condition – if you are fit enough to get on a boat, then you can expect you’re fit enough to end up in offshore processing.”

The girl boarded the boat strapped to her father.

Morrison is satisfied that the Nauru detention facility is suitable for disabled children, and says its equipped to handle medical cases like this with appropriate care.

However, according to The Global Mail, a nurse with over 40 years-experience, likened the Centre to a concentration camp, after she worked there for three weeks.  Oh, and that little human rights organisation Amnesty International, reckon the conditions are deplorable.

I’m finding this really hard to write about, and even harder to accept.  But here is what I know to be true.  The medical facilities on Nauru will not be enough.  Will there be a physiotherapist?  A speech therapist?  A child psychologist on hand to care for her?  Will she be given access to the right medicine, and pain management techniques?  Are there ramps for all the doorways?  Is there a toilet/bathroom with a hoist?

Just because she is physically disabled does not necessarily mean she is intellectually disabled.  She may be just like any other four year old on the inside.  She’ll miss her Mum, and be confused, and will need stimulation, communication and education like any other tot her age.

Three years ago, I said goodbye to a very special person who was also severely disabled.  He was adventurous, funny, and brave.  In his short time, he contributed more to his community, his school and his family than most people do in a lifetime.  He couldn’t talk or walk either.

He had access to the very best doctors and specialists.  Received treatment in world-class hospitals, and took medication that sometimes eased his pains and symptoms.  He had a super cool motorised wheelchair, trained respite carers and basic communication technology.  He had good financial resources, a modified and comfortable home, and he also had his mother, father and extended family loving him for every second of every day.  It was still bloody unfair and tough. He had all these things and deserved so much more.  He had all these things and made it to eleven.

So what hope does this poor tike have?  Locked up in a deplorable facility, in a bankrupt country which doesn’t even have a health system for their own people.

But I suppose, why should our taxes pay to prolong the inevitable anyway?

I feel sick…

Yours, in shame

Jade

Postscript:  After writing this piece I sought permission from the Mum of the disabled boy mentioned above.  She endorses this post, and shares in my sadness.

Readers Block

Bless me reader for I have sinned. It’s been one month since my last post. Yes, I have broken the cardinal rule of blogging – a lapse in new content. It’s not my fault though… really. I’m just super busy right now and haven’t had the chance to finish reading a new book.

MinnieBut aren’t you a book addict, I hear you ask. What could you be so busy with to keep you from reading?

In the last month I’ve wrangled a two year old who’s determination and wit are far superior to my own. I’ve weaned her off using a dummy, while she has weaned herself off eating vegetables and cooperating at bath time. So much so, that I have been showering wearing a Minnie Mouse mask just to get her into the water.

I’ve negotiated deals with multi-national technology companies, and hobnobbed with American VIPs in town. I’ve house hunted, anniversary shopped, and given up sugar in my coffee. I’ve been to the theatre and the movies. I’ve said goodbye to carbs and put myself on a strict health regime because I’ve also agreed to be an MC at a wedding and I don’t want to be confused with Kirstie Alley on the mike.

I’ve done my tax, hired a newbie at work, got access to cable TV (read Law & Order and Seinfeld marathons) and made my lunch every day.

Yep, pretty bloody busy.

Truth be told though, I’m no busier now than usual, but it seems like a valid excuse right?

This leads me to a revelation… a confession to make – I have readers block. Which is not exactly conducive with an up-to-date book review blog.

You might know the condition. It’s the one where you lay in bed ready to delve into a novel, and yet two pages in you chuck it on the floor and play with your iPhone instead. Where you read a paragraph twice and still have no recollection of what happened. When your eyes get heavy as soon as you unfold the corner of your book.

And I don’t think it’s what I’m reading. I’ve tried a few, seemingly awesome, books of late and am still having the same internal reaction; “I can’t be bothered.” *shudder*

Even JK couldn’t hold me with her ‘breaking literary news; it’s a pseudonym’ blockbuster The Cuckoo’s Calling. And, Harry Potter to me, is like Fifty Shades of Grey to a middle aged, desperate Divorcee on eHarmony.

Admittedly I have had a cracker of a year with the books I’ve read. The last few have been so amazing, and exhausting and emotional that I suspect I’m just having trouble finding something to live up to those heady expectations. (Reviews of Craig Silvery & Peter Temple to follow soon!)

As a result of this condition, I now have a pile of new books to sustain me up until and during Book pilethe Christmas holidays – with many more on the wish list.

The good news is, I’m getting my reading mojo back. I’m now 150 pages into an awesome thriller which is twisting my brain each night.

It’s been unfamiliar territory this non-reading thing. Hoping that my addled brain has now returned to its former state of book fondness.

Read On

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Light_Between_OceansI wish I had the discipline and dedication to write a novel. (And the skill and the plot ideas would also come in handy.) I think what I admire most about authors, is how they can take a simple concept; life, death, love, war, and then layer it with complexities, nuance and drama.

M.L Stedman’s first novel, The Light Between Oceans, is as good an example of that, as any debut I’ve ever read. And the critics agree, with tons of awards to its name.

Stunning and provocative, the underlying story is basic enough. A returned soldier with survivor’s guilt, a woman aching to know the love of a child, a family’s grief, and the operations of a remote lighthouse. However it is the events that occur, told in beautiful, poetic writing that complicate and give substance to the tale.

Set in 1926, Western Australia, the book is iconically Australian – steeped in our past and coastal culture of the time. I even learned some stuff about maritime history.

Tom is a lighthouse keeper on a remote island, Janus Rock. It’s a blustery and isolated existence for him and wife Isobel, the only inhabitants of the environment. They see other folk just once every six months, and they live a quiet and simple life; filled with love, and the everyday practicalities of running a lighthouse.

One morning, a boat washes up on shore carrying a crying infant, and a dead man.  Years later, the consequences of their actions that day unravel, as the truth about the baby is discovered.

As you consume the pages, it is clear what the likely outcome may be. But it’s still surprising, provocative, and absorbing. It’s unsettling to decide what outcome you actually want. I found myself pensive, hours after putting down a chapter, considering the characters, and what I might do in their position.

The writing style is lovely and engaging. Each character has flaws, but is worthy of your empathy is three dimensional and interesting.

This book broke my heart in many ways. I admit I couldn’t enjoy every moment because reading it was emotional and exhausting. But it’s also immersive, and confronting. A story where the lines between right and wrong become so blurred that they almost look the same.

In short: A stunning debut that asks ‘what would you do?’

Joyland by Stephen King

joyland_property_embedDid you know there’s a secret language spoken amongst Carnival folk. In this instance, let’s call it ‘the talk.’ It’s shorthand for the job at hand, and it defines who belongs in the industry and who doesn’t. For example the ‘Bally’ attracts punters to the carny show by ‘building the tip,’ ‘freezing the tip,’ giving ‘the pitch’ using ‘the jam,’ and delivering ‘the blow off.”

The Ferris Wheel is known as the ‘chump-hoister.’ Junior rides like the spinning tea-cups are’ zamp rides’. In Gypsy circles, fortune telling is ‘Dukkering.’ The ghost train is the ‘dark ride.’ A newcomer to the carny industry is a ‘Forty Miler’ and the reason for operating any carny – ‘GTFM’ (get the fucking money.)

I can’t really explain why I’ve never been on a Ghost train, or horror ride. (Does the Scooby Doo spooky coaster count?) You may have recognised by now, I love a good scare. Getting the chills gives me the thrills and all that, but I’ve just never gotten around to taking a ride at a carnival or show that had skeletons jumping out of corners, and canned screams on audio. Having read Joyland by Stephen King, I will definitely hop on board at the next summer carnival, out of pure curiosity.

Part of the Hard Case Crime series, King has woven a truly engrossing tale. Of course it has all the hallmarks of King best seller, *read creepy supernatural themes* but it also has likeable and believable characters and a coming of age theme that is really really enjoyable to read.

College student, Deven Jones, takes a summer job at Joyland (think mini Disneyland/Gold Coast theme park on a smaller regional scale). He’s in the process of grieving a high school romance, and the carny life is just the distraction he needs.

However, Joyland is haunted by the legacy of a vicious murder, and when ghost stories emerge about the victim revealing herself in the Horror House, Deven is compelled to discover who was responsible.

With a fortune teller hinting what lies in Deven’s future, a relationship with a dying child and mother, and teenage friendships with other summer workers that should last a lifetime, the emotional impact and care-factor for the outcome is overwhelming by the end.

The descriptions of the carnival itself transported me to a summer showground, with sawdust, Dagwood dogs, hot jam doughnuts, and shouting carnies; tanned and leathery from a life outdoors, giving away lucky draw cards and selling hopes of the big prize.
While the book had me at outset with the well-developed mystery and ghost tale, its unfolded more as a story about growing up and aging, and about those who are taken too young. The ending was profoundly moving, convincing and authentic.

 

In Short: Better than any chump hoister; the rubes will be engrossed.

 

Credit: Props to Wayne Keyser and his website and eBook ‘From the Midway’ for the extra information I have presented here on all things carny.  See http://www.goodmagic.com/carny/index.htm to check it out and buy his book. 

Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah (Audio read by Julia Barrie)

kind of cruel9780340980705When a crime novel promises to be a psychological thriller, with twists and plot changes to surprise you, how often are you disappointed?  How often does the killer end up having split personality disorder, or some kind of creepy childhood trauma that led them to seek revenge?  I get a kick out of predicting who the baddie is on screen.  I always try to out-mentalise Simon Baker, and guess which of his suspects the killer is.  But in a book, I want to be left wondering and questioning the motive until the very end.  I hate it when I can guess what the outcome might be.  I hate it when the psychological element is just about one character, and is an easy excuse for the author to wind up the plot.

Kind of Cruel is not that book.  Kind of Cruel is quite possibly the best damn psychological crime thriller I’ve ever encountered.  It has so many layers to its characters, each of them with their own mental demons, and Sophie Hannah has dedicated valuable chapters and word count to develop each of their back stories, quirks and faults which makes them all integral to the plot.

We meet Amber Hewerdine as she tries to talk herself into attending a hypnotherapy appointment.  It is her last resort to curing chronic insomnia, and she’s cynical and mocking before even going inside.  I instantly liked her.  She is self-deprecating, opinionated, with a dry wit that really tickled my fancy.

On the count of three,’ I imagine saying to myself in my best deep hypnotic voice, ‘you will get out of your car, go into that house across the road and pretend to be in a trance for an hour.  You will then write a cheque for seventy quid to a charlatan.  It’ll be ace.

Amber never imagined that the therapy would actually help her sleeplessness.  But she also never imagined speaking the words ‘Kind, cruel, kind of cruel,’ while under hypnosis, and she has no idea why she said them, though they are strangely familiar.

And so begins a cracker of a case, as Amber discovers the words are related to a local murder of young school teacher Katharine Allen, a woman she has never heard of.  With no other leads or suspects, Amber is arrested.

The story moves from the first person of ‘I,’ Amber, and also jumps into the third person to reveal other relevant characters, including Amber’s extended family, and the detectives working the case. All of whom are completely three dimensional and pivotal in their own way.

Amber’s past unravels slowly, and memories of her history surface. The notion of a memory is questioned, and the way in which a memory is retold (often with modifications and analysis to create a ‘story’) is explored thoroughly.

What is original and cool about the structure of the novel, is that each chapter is bookended by the narration of the hypnotherapist – who has a special insight into several of the characters, and her interpretation of events and psychoanalysis of the people involved is fascinating, surprising and tantalising as they gradually emerge.

I enjoyed this book to the last moment, and was left scratching my head and revisiting all I had learned in search for more clues.  There were moments of brutal honesty that left me uncomfortable, but ultimately the motive was unapparent throughout and even after digesting it – I’m still surprised.

In Short:  The thinking crime reader’s crumpet. Just effing read it.

The Secret Fate of Mary Watson by Judy Johnson

secret fateRemember in Primary School, when the theme for the term was Australian History?  You learnt all about Captain Cook, convicts, bushrangers and the gold rush.  If you were like me, you were fascinated by all the morbid details; death by scurvy, being gaoled for stealing bread, and the fact that teachers could dish out corporal punishment – ‘the strap’ was both terrifying and intriguing. The idea of a wooden school desk that opened from the top was tantalising, and the leather boots corsets and petticoats were even a bit princess like.  Did you get an old fashioned sepia photo from a pioneer settlement tourist park?  “No smiling children, no one looked happy in the olden days.”ye-olde

There wasn’t much reference to indigenous history, really.  Many of the ‘natives’ died of the flu (much like the allusive dinosaur) and they carried spears, boomerangs and women weren’t allowed to play the Didge. Oh, and there was the painting lesson where you broke up rocks and mixed them with water to create a new graffiti tool.  And during play-lunch, amateur pyros would try to start fires by rubbing sticks together; delighted and nervous squeals from the girls ensued.

Despite the gaps, I loved Australian history then.  I still do.  And so I loved this book.

The Secret Fate of Mary Watson is a compelling tale. Fiction mixed with historical events, mystery underpinned by actual journal entries from the late 1800s.

In 1879, 19-year old Mary Oxnam fled her family home in Queensland.  She was plain, penniless and alone, but had determination, independence and a feminist wit I didn’t expect to come across for the era.

Mary finds a job as a pianist in a Cooktown brothel, while her intelligence and stealth land her a lucrative, but dangerous, side-job as a spy. Embroiled in smuggling, espionage and a dirty trade for her day job, the tale is gritty and thrilling, and far from you typical history lesson.

All the characters Mary encounters are shady: it’s clear that she’s in danger – no matter who she’s siding with – but she knows it, which makes her both frustratingly risk taking, and remarkably brave.

She marries a brute for convenience and soon moves to Lizard Island; remote and crawling with all sorts of enemies – both natural and human. 

Her time on the island is intense and suspenseful.  Her living conditions are squalid.  Her marriage is quite revolting.  Her emotions are palpable and the rugged desolate environment is described as both threatening and beautiful.

Based on actual journal entries written by our heroine, the author has presented her own interpretation of Mary’s events which are speculative while compelling, heart wrenching and bleak.

An amazing and creative insight into a little known aspect of our history. 

 

In short: typically Australian, bleak and beautiful.