Scrublands by Chris Hammer: Book Review

Author : Chris Hammer

Published 2018 ( softcover)

About the author:
Chris Hammer is a seasoned Australian journalist of thirty plus years experience specialising in International Affairs and Politics. His career obviously provided much fuel for this novel.

Twelve months after a mass murder in a rural Australian town journalist, Martin Scarsden, arrives in Riversend to report on any flow on effect that the local priest shooting five locals may have had on the community.

Riversend could be any isolated country town suffering the effects of drought, bushfires, and a dying economy. The only Hotel in town is now Closed for business, a sure sign that the town is on its last legs.

Scarsden, a damaged character, investigates further into the horrific event that occurred on the church steps and becomes involved with other developments. These tragedies bring hordes of journalists to the sleepy town sniffing out a story for the benefit of city people expecting news with their daily breakfast and dinner. I suspect that the author is every bit as cynical and jaded as Martin Scarsden and his description of the media throng is right on the money.

Riversend is a parade of odd characters with secrets. Have they escaped to the quiet of the country to hide secret lives or better enjoy their lives in secret?

This is another novel which casts the harsh Australian landscape as a character in itself. It is one of those rural towns we’ve all driven through. You know those towns you would rather drive right through than stop for a bathroom break ? We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Scrublands is a tightly wound page turner with lots of twists and turns and covers multiple themes. Once again I am fully aware why I never entertained being in the Police Force. I simply have no mystery solving skills.

Read this one in a single sitting too. Oops, don’t think the floors will ever get mopped again.

Tip :

Another one for under the Xmas tree. Make sure you put your name on the gift tag.

Australian Author Challenge : Enemy by Ruth Clare

Ruth Clare’s debut Enemy won the Asher Literary Award, offered biennially to a female author whose work carries an anti-war theme. She was born in Brisbane, Queensland,  and raised in Rockhampton. She earned a degree in biochemistry and journalism at QUT in Brisbane, Queensland. She went on to train as a copywriter and worked in advertising. During this time she had been working on a manuscript. After finishing it in 2014 she found an agent. Her first book was published in 2016.

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With the opening sentence, “I was born into the war still raging inside my father”, the reader immediately gathers that this autobiography is not going to be an easy read.

Doug Callum is an ex Vietnam Veteran, with a wife and three young children, with Ruth being the middle child. He is a totally different person to the young man conscripted to Vietnam and who was involved in the Battle of Coral–Balmoral. This battle (12 May – 6 June 1968) was a series of actions fought between the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) and the North Vietnamese 7th Division and Viet Cong Main Force units, 40 kilometres north-east of Saigon.

Ruth tells her harrowing story as a child growing up in a household of regimentation and strict discipline. She and her siblings are often covered in bruises and Ruth lives constantly on guard in fear of upsetting her father, and feeling unloved and unwanted.

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“I had never been to war, but I knew what it was like to be prepared to face the enemy every day. The difference was, my enemy wasn’t a faceless stranger. My enemy was someone I loved.”

She also tells her story as a young mother with her own children, looking back to take stock of her father’s behaviour, which she later learns has all the hallmarks of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She seeks out and communicates with numerous Vietnam Vets who admit to similar antisocial traits as well as seeking counselling through the Vietnam Veterans Association.

When Ruth’s parents inevitably divorce, we breathe a sigh of relief – though not for long. PTSD is insidious and leaches into other situations with frightening ramifications.

However, Ruth’s story is not all bleak and you can’t but admire her personal strength and resilience, as well as her compassion for her flawed father and other PTSD sufferers. On a more personal level I admire the author’s willingness to learn the details of her Dad’s role in the military, something he rarely discussed, which adds greatly to her understanding of his condition.

Doug Callum died too young of a skin cancer, suspected to have been brought on by sitting in the jungle of Vietnam for days on end with Agent Orange raining overhead.

I also respect Ruth for her compassion for her mother who has her own demons.

Written extremely well, this is another of those books that should be included on High School Reading Lists, not only for its information about the war in Vietnam, but also mental health awareness and domestic violence issues.

Not a “nice” book, but one that would have taken much courage to write.

NOTE: June is PTSD Awareness Month in Australia.

Australian Author Challenge: Finding Me by Elizabeth Mulvey.

True Story:

I have spoken to author, Elizabeth Mulvey, on the telephone over a period of several years, and have watched her transformation in her zest for knowledge. I had no idea that she would develop into an amazingly strong and wise woman with the belief that she could make a difference, and with the focus, attitude, and capability to do exactly that.

Elizabeth Mulvey has a BA in Education and started her working life as a Teacher, is currently an Aromatherapist Practitioner and Reiki Master with interests in Nutrition and Herbal Therapy, as well as a Peak Performance Coach. She is also a published Author having recently released her first book in a Self Help series, Finding Me: Peacemaker. Elizabeth has also created her own line of Essential Oil blends which are available from her website, http://www.elizabethmulvey.com.

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In Finding Me, the Author hopes to fulfil the role of peacemaker, someone who she states, “has the brand of courage and love for mankind to want the best for each and every one of us.” By writing this book Mulvey hopes to prompt people into thinking in such a way that they can find their authentic self, living a meaningful life with gratitude.

First of all, Self Development books are not one of my personal strengths. However, Finding Me is not a big book, containing only six (6) Chapters, and it is written in an easy to understand language without the usual jargon – and no references to either Jung or Freud, thank goodness. You can hear Elizabeth’s “voice” when reading.

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Interestingly, despite my general cynicism the book had my complete attention by the second page with,

The current popularity of life coaches shows a growing acceptance that many of us need help in achieving our life purpose, our dreams, and that we are at a loss at how to achieve this independently. Yet all the life coaches in the world pale in comparison to the internal compass each of us were born with to guide our speci c path; our ‘way’. The key lies within us.”

This is a practical guide to understanding your own values, and how or what shaped those values. It’s with this understanding that changes can be implemented, having gained fresh perspective.

Well worth the read, and high five to another Indie author. I look forward to the next instalment, Liz.

 

* Finding Me is available in paperback and e-pub format from http://www.elizabethmulvey.com.

 

Book Clubs and Potato Peel Pie

Book Review : The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

This was my air travel novel of choice. Bit quirky, not too weighty and with an interesting story line.Just perfect to slip in and out of the handbag when travelling…..

Firstly, this is my favourite quote within the book, which has proved totally correct as two days ago I thought Guernsey was a breed of cow.

That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you on to another book, and another bit there will lead you on to a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

“Guernsey in reality is part of the Channel Islands, in between England and France. From 30 June 1940, during the Second World War, the Channel Islands were occupied by German troops. Before the occupation, 80% of Guernsey children had been evacuated to England to live with relatives or strangers during the war. Some children were never reunited with their families.The occupying German forces deported over 1,000 Guernsey residents to camps in southern Germany, notably to the Lager Lindele (Lindele Camp) near Biberach an der Riß and to Laufen. Guernsey was very heavily fortified during World War II, out of all proportion to the island’s strategic value. German defences and alterations remain visible, particularly to Castle Cornet and around the northern coast of the island. The island was liberated on 9 May 1945, now celebrated as Liberation Day across both Guernsey and Jersey.” –  according to Wikipedia.

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This novel is a collection of fictional letters, notes and telegrams, centred around a popular journalist during WW2, Julia Ashton, who is struggling to write her next book after the War.

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A gentleman from Guernsey writes to Julia as he is now the owner of a book bearing Julia’s inscription. They have a common interest in an Author which commences a series of letters about books which leads to information about Guernsey, and in particular the formation of The Guernsey Literary And Potato Pie Peel Society.

This group was formed during the time of German occupation and Julia has all Society members and other residents of the Island sharing their stories by mail. She travels to Guernsey to glean more and becomes an integral part of the Island’s fabric.

A fast moving novel with some eccentric characters in an interesting landscape ( very much like Doc Martin in Cornwall) I loved this read and completed it in two sittings. Now I’m off to research more about Guernsey, and yes, when the movie is officially released next week I’ll have my hand up.

Yes, it has flaws: Julia’s self importance gets on my nerves, and Kit, the five year old, could do with a spanking, but it is fun. It is the debut novel of a woman, since deceased, in her 70’s. My only regret ? No recipe for Potato Peel Pie!

 

 

A Distant Journey by Di Morrissey.

Back to work and it’s been a total shock to the system. Must have completely unwound over the break as I felt I required some retraining. Plus the heat is relentless: bitumen roads are melting and Flying Foxes (bats) are falling out of trees broiled. I have fresh water out for the wildlife and the word is out that there is a new cafe in town – the variety of patrons is wonderful.

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So starting the year with some light reading, and Book 1 for the Australian Author Challenge – A Distant Journey by Di Morrissey.

Di Morrissey (born 18 March 1943)is one of the most successful novelists of Australia with 25 best-selling novels and five children’s books published.In May 2017 Di was inducted into the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA) Hall of Fame and given the Lloyd O’Neil Award for service to the Australian book industry.

The novel opens in Palm Springs in the 1960’s with Babs, a young woman with a child whom has relocated because of domestic violence issues. The initial 100 pages are dedicated to Babs and her new life, which is really quite odd because she isn’t the protagonist. There are also lots of references to Old Hollywood with lots of name dropping such as Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr. I’m not sure of its relevance at all….

Pressing on, Babs’ niece, Cindy, runs away from home and seeks shelter with her Aunt. Cindy goes off to College with no real idea what she wants to do with her life except get married to her boyfriend. He, on the other hand, has career aspirations and the couple split. Within weeks heartbroken Cindy has met an an older man, an  Australian sheep farmer, and on a whim, as she “wants some adventure”, marries him in Vegas.

They return to Murray’s farm which has been in the family several generations and which is still ruled by the autocratic elder Parnell.

Cindy battles various challenges with the relocation to a rural and remote property as can be expected : loneliness, Mother Nature, a miscarriage, and a father-in-law who dislikes her immensely.

Murray’s mother left the property when he was a young boy so his ties to his father are very strong and he seems incapable of questioning his authority or supporting his own wife. Murray, you are pretty insipid, mate…..

The novel then seems to skip years very quickly. There are children, and then we have children thinking about children and their own lives and careers. These years quickly touch upon droughts, economic growth and the price of wool, Picnic races, friendships, and some news of Babs at last – dying of cancer back in the good old US of A.

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Parnell Senior continues to be a blot on the landscape, and as an octagarian, is every bit as rude as ever. He seems to have poorly invested the family fortune, requiring the sale of assets including the old boys plane.

There is a plane crash during its relocation to the new owner. On the very same day a forty year old skeleton is found on the property, and there is also a suicide. So much happening within two pages, when the reader has had to wade through pages and pages of nothingness to get to the crux of the matter.

Murray at last “mans up”, but poor old Babs is dead.

I think I earned a Purple Heart by finishing this book.

 

 

 

Australian Author Challenge – 2018

For the third year running I have decided to participate in the Australian Author Challenge. This exercise is not about pushing myself to increase the number of books I read, but rather, to focus on writing by Australian Authors.

This Challenge has made me select books from genres I would generally not have considered reading – such as dystopian and YA – as well realise that I had a tendency to read books written by males. These days, thanks to this Challenge, Hannah Kent and Helen Garner are two Australian Authors from whom I am anxiously awaiting their next effort.

Sure, I have always been aware of the books on the Best Seller lists, and for many years these were the books I either purchased, borrowed or was gifted. Mostly, these have been overseas Authors. At this stage of the game I’m neither led by trends, what’s in fashion, nor what’s selling well, and that refers to life in general, not just the books with whom I choose to share a bedroom or a handbag.

These days there is a whole other market out there with the growth of self publishing and independent authors and bookstores.  From these avenues I have been fortunate to read some wonderful stories from varied genres including historical military fiction, travelogues, personal memoirs, and Second World War diaries. They may not have garnered the same publicity, nor made a Best Seller List, and they are never going to be transformed into a Hollywood Blockbuster, but they have been worthwhile and entertaining reads nonetheless. For the 2018 Australian Author Challenge I hope to explore more books from both these areas.

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The Aussie Author Challenge 2018, is now in it’s 9th year and is hosted by Booklover Book Reviews at:

http://bookloverbookreviews.com/reading-challenges/aussie-author-challenge-2018
“Whether you are a patriotic Australian, an aspiring or armchair tourist or simply an international reader wanting to discover some talented new authors and interact with like-minded readers, the Aussie Author Challenge could be for you!”

I have signed up for Kangaroo Level, which means my Challenge is to :

Read and review 12 titles written by Australian Authors of which at least 4 of those authors are female, at least 4 of those authors are male, and at least 4 of those authors are new to you; Fiction or non-fiction, at least 3 genre.

There are also Challenge levels requiring less reading. It would be great if some of the blogging community could also pick up an Aussie book or two. I’de love to hear your thoughts.

Off to the Library tomorrow. Is it odd to be excited?

Legends Of The Fall by Jim Harrison

Yes, agreed, have been reading books and watching far too many DVDs. In my defence, Brisbane’s humidity has been simply woeful with the hottest ever Christmas Day on record, and the temperatures haven’t decreased by much yet. Plus, we are still living on leftovers, including my other Epic Christmas Fail : Cous Cous with Pumpkin(home grown) in Nutmeg, with Bok Choy and Feta Cheese. I enjoyed this dish, but not for seven days in a row.

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Look what I picked up for $1 at the local charity shop? This book is actually made up of three novellas, the last being Legends of the Fall, which is only 81 pages in length.

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Have we all seen the 1990’s movie, starring a young Brad Pitt (before he was tainted by train wreck relationships), and Anthony Hopkins in one of his best ever roles? Legends of the Fall is another of those movies I tend to watch once a year : great story, beautiful scenery, Native Indian folklore, and a good dash of whimsy.

The novella, by James Harrison, published twenty years beforehand, is about three brothers and their father living in the wilderness and plains of Montana in the early 20th century and how their lives are affected by nature, history, war and love. The books time frame spans from World War I through to the Prohibition era, with an epilogue that dates to the next generation.

The writing is concise, breathtakingly beautiful whilst at times being totally brutal. It’s a wonderful story, and one from which the movie has not deviated from all that much, but rather expanded upon.

My copy of the book looks as if it’s been through the wars. Nevertheless, it’s one that I will not be parting with.

And I promise to brush my hair tomorrow and leave the house and sofa, even if it’s before 8 am to beat this wretched heat.

A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute ( or Finch Vs Brown)

When I was younger, thinner and still winning the war against gravity, I had this mad crush on a young Australian actor by the name of Bryan Brown. Six foot plus, cheeky smile, and always in roles which required that laconic Aussie humour. He lived on the wrong side of the tracks – literally – only 10 minutes from my home in southern Sydney, and when he wasn’t wearing a singlet (as in The Thorn Birds) he had his shirt unbuttoned. Give me a break: I was young and stupid-er once.

My youngest gifted me a DVD for Christmas that I had been chasing for over 30 years called A Town Like Alice, made in the early 80’s as a mini series for television. This was the performance that made me fall ( you can read lust should you so choose) for Brown, and fall hard. He played Ringer, Joe Harman, who was crucified by the Japanese in Malaya for stealing some chickens for a group of starving English women and children during World War 2.

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A Town Like Alice was originally a novel written by Neville Shute in the 50’s about a group of women and children taken captive by the Japanese, and marched from one end of the country to another, as there were no dedicated female POW camps. Young Jean Pagent, is responsible for a young babe in arms whose mother is one of many whom have died on this journey. She crosses paths with POW, Joe Harman, and there is some flirting as expected when an Australian bloke hasn’t seen a white woman for six months. Hearing the fate of this group, Joe aids the women by providing black market soaps and medicines. His good luck leaves him with the chicken episode. Jean thinks Joe is dead and Joe thinks Jean is married. The women settle into life in a Malaysian village for the remainder of the war where they plant rice alongside the Malayan women.

End of story, right?

Dead wrong- it’s only just the beginning.

Several years after wars end Jean inherits from a wealthy uncle and returns to Malaya to thank the villagers for their protection by building them a well. Here she learns that Joe has survived his ghastly ordeal which sends her on a convoluted trip to the north of Australia, barren cattle country, looking for Joe. At the same time, Joe has headed to England to look for Jean having discovered she was never married.

This is where the Peter Finch and Virginia McKenna film from the 50’s ends. Big smooch at the reunion in an airport in Far North Queensland. A good flick which holds up well despite being 60 years old, and there is nothing like a bit of old fashioned romance to make the heart flutter, is there?

The miniseries follows the novel more closely. Jean and Joe don’t reconnect until she gets back into her sarong, and then Jean battles to settle into a new country, learning different ways and utilising her personal strengths and entrepreneurial nous to make a good life for herself and Joe.

The film on the DVD is of poor quality, more gritty, and I suspect that they transferred old video footage direct to DVD. At times it seems more dated than the original version.

Peter Finch is probably classically better looking, but I’m still a Bryan Brown girl through and through, and he doesn’t seem to have experienced the same gravity issues.

If you get a chance, read the book. It is an easy read, and it seems a simple read, though it is multi layered and covers so many different themes : healing, discrimination, sexism. I tend to read  A Town Like Alice every two or three years and each time I feel something a little different towards it. Considering it is such a big story it is not a thick book. It is one that is sad, tragic, full of hope and love. Shute can certainly spin a good yarn.

And remember : “Alice is a bonzer town”.

 

 

 

 

Australian Author Challenge 2017 : The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

As a child Eddie Burchill’s mother was evacuated out of London to the countryside during the War. She was placed with three eccentric sisters, the Blythes, where she lived in Milderhurst Castle in Kent.

Fifty years later, Edie’s mother receives a letter from the youngest Blythe, though does not share this with her family, having never previously discussed her childhood in Kent.

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Edie ends up in Kent visiting Milderhurst Castle, slowly discovering a series of secrets about the Blythes, the Castle, and her mother.

This novel is in excess of 600 pages and is borderline depressing. Edie is not happy, her mother is not happy, and the Blythe sisters are certainly not happy. And neither was I.

I just have to reference a quote I found on a Goodreads which sums this book up beautifully, from Jeanette “Astute Crabbist” on 19th December, 2010.

Did you ever go to a Tupperware party where the hostess spent forever demonstrating all the gadgets in a dramatically effervescent voice? And at the end nobody bought anything? And there weren’t even any refreshments being served to make it worth having shown up? And you didn’t like any of the other people who came to the party?
This book is that party—all elaborate demonstration, no sale, no refreshment, and no one I care about.

I am thrilled to have waded through this novel if only to find Jeanette’s review.