The Power Of Words

There are some great Bloggers out there in the Blogosphere who write wonderful reviews about books and movies. Even if what they are actually reviewing isn’t to their personal taste, these Bloggers are always generous in that they acknowledge positive aspects of the film/book. They might also add comments about what they found disconcerting and lacking cohesiveness, but most bloggers are entertaining, educational, and more importantly, balanced. Well, maybe they themselves aren’t balanced, but their views are…..you get the picture, anyway.

Where am I going with this?

Australian Author, Tim Winton, has written the screenplay for one of his recent novels, Breath, which was filmed off the coast of Western Australia, and transposed into a movie starring Aussie actor, and dare I say, good sort, Simon Baker of Mentalist fame. Only recently released I was very keen to see Baker in his board shorts. (Hey, at least I’m honest).

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I also have an interest in the Australian film industry and have been watching its stop-start progress since the mid 70’s. The coastline of Western Australia is also another major attraction. This is a beautiful and wild part of the world, and it’s one of those places that you can just sit and watch the water for hours as it forever changes. It’s beauty is hypnotic, meditative, and sometimes just plain scary.

Tim Winton? Very well regarded. I lack sophistication, my mother-in-law used to tell me, and find him a bit wordy. So many layers to his onions, when I just want to gobble it up whole.

Again I digress…….

I was all set to see this movie over the weekend until I read a review in the local paper. It was vitriolic. Scathing. Like one of those religious tirades from the pulpit. It was so horrible it was like a weight that pressed against my chest. So penny dreadful that I decided against going to the flicks and mopped the floors instead. Yep, that’s how horrendous the movie was made to sound.

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I’ve since read reviews here which are totally the opposite. Bone and Silver said,

It made me want to get surfing lessons. It made me want to ride a dragster bike down a dirt lane without a care in the world. It made me want to rent a beachside shack with a lover, and sit reading beside the fire while it poured with rain outside, then make love under a mosquito net. It made me want to be 15 again. It made me want to smoke a joint and tell tall stories!”

The power of words is just so incredible.

Some my own reviews have been dismissive, though never scathing or vitriolic. I am now totally ashamed of my worst:

“I was extremely disappointed with this read. It reminded me of one of those cheap paperbacks you could buy thirty years ago that was relegated to a box of reading material kept in the outhouse, the kind of reading that was then relegated to the boot of the car in case you were caught short and needed to do a “bushie”. Yes, as Les would say, this book was crap.”

( I can see you nodding in agreement with the mother in law).

Reminded of my mother, if I can’t say something nice I will in future keep my big trap closed.

And Breath?  Maybe when it comes out on DVD.

 

 

Australian Author Challenge : The Rook by Daniel O’Malley.

True Story:

When visiting my daughter in Canberra recently she handed me a book to read for the plane trip home. She had been out for afternoon drinks with friends during my stay, one of whom was burgeoning Australian author, Dan O’Malley.

My daughter did warn me that young Mr O’Malley was a Star Wars nerd which, quite frankly, put the fear of God into me. You see, one of my proudest achievements is never having watched a Star Wars movie. It’s right up there with never having owned any Tupperware.

One of the reviews I read for The Rook stated ,”Part Bourne Identity, part X-Men and with a hefty dose of Monty Python.” I do not have the words to describe my anxiety levels.

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Daniel O’Malley graduated with a Masters degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He then returned to his childhood home, Australia. His first novel, The Rook, was released in 2012 and was a winner of the 2012 Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

The Rook” is basically the story of two Myfanwy Thomases. The first one we never officially meet: she exists by way of a suitcase full of letters that she writes to the second Myfanwy throughout the course of the novel. She was working as a bureaucrat in a highly secret organisation, known as The Checquy Group, before her “demise” and has stumbled upon some information indicating there are traitors within this organisation which specialises in paranormal intelligence.

The second Myfawny wakes up with two black eyes and her memory scrubbed, finding letters in her pockets, which lead to her stepping into the job role as Rook at Chequay.

Some of her work colleagues are unsettling at the best. One is a vampire, another is one person with four separate bodies, and yet another looks into your dreams. Myfawney steps up in her position to resolve issues with slime, mould, and skinless bodies, and to oust the traitors within. It’s that kind of book.

To be honest I struggled with the first few chapters. Totally out of my comfort zone. It didn’t take long to get into the rhythm, however, which was aided by some humour along the way. The banter between our heroine and Shantay lightened the storyline as did the relationship with Ingrid, and conversations with the naked Belgian. Hell, I even got a kick out of the insults traded with Fish Tank boy !

It’s a fast paced book which tells a good story. It may be a tad different, particularly to me, though it is definately entertaining. I hope the daughter lends me the sequel : Stiletto.

Who said you couldn’t teach an old dog new tricks, hey…..

 

 

Here Is Their Spirit – Australian War Memorial : Book Review

I’ve been rereading “Here Is Their Spirit – A History Of The Australian War Memorial” by Michael McKernan which was published to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the official opening.

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Officially opened on Remembrance Day, 11th November, 1941, the concept of the AWM was conceived by WW1 historian, C E W Bean. His vision was for “commemoration and understanding, or more accurately, commemoration through understanding”.

The idea of a museum memorial date backs to 1916, when Bean witnessed the battles in France, though the Australian War Records Section weren’t established until 1917.

An Architectural Design Competition in 1927 did not have a winner though two entrants were asked to work together to fulfil a brief, a brief much reduced due to the Depression.

This book gives a fascinating insight into the trials that went into creating this magnificent building, both political, financial and practical.

It was also wonderful to read how the public embraced the concept and came to the Memorial’s aid enthusiastically when there was a plea for additions to the collection, such as letters, medals, and photographs. One General had to be advised on the quiet that live shells were an inappropriate donation!

Unfortunately, there was a period of disinterest and lack of funding which meant that some priceless objects were either tossed out or stolen.

An interesting read, despite being published nearly thirty years ago with much change instigated since then.

These days the AWM is much valued and considered a national treasure. It has ever changing exhibitions and is constantly being innovative in bringing our past to the forefront. For the centenary anniversary of Gallipoli the projection of 200 iconic wartime photographs on the outside wall of the building each evening was just stunning on so many levels. ( and helped increase the share price for Kleenex I have no doubt).

Disappearing shortly for a few days as a Mother’s job role includes restocking fridges and a pantry. My youngest is on the move so I’m also looking forward to stacking the bookshelves-and not in colour coordinated book spine fashion!

I’ve been promised a Yum Cha which is a great motivational tool. Or is it a bribe?

She’s just up the road from the AWM. Do you think she’ll know if I get lost amongst the cartons one afternoon?

“ Here is their spirit,
In the heart of
The land they loved;
And here we guard
The record which they
Themselves made.”
C E W Bean

 

Australian Author Challenge : The Crying Place by Lia Hills.

Lia Hills is a poet, novelist and translator. Her debut novel, The Beginner’s Guide to Living, was released to critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the Victorian, Queensland and Western Australian Premiers’ Literary Awards and the New Zealand Post Book Awards. It has been translated into several languages. Other works include her award-winning poetry collection the possibility of flight and her translation of Marie Darrieussecq’s acclaimed novel, Tom is Dead. She lives with her family in the hills outside Melbourne.

Let’s be totally upfront. I selected this book purely on the basis of the front cover. Gorgeous colours, aren’t they?

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Saul is a thirty something young man working in Sydney after several years of adventuring in different parts of the world with his childhood friend, Jed. Saul receives a telephone call advising that Jed has committed suicide.

Instead of returning to their birthplace, Tasmania, for the funeral, Saul jumps in his car and drives to Melbourne. It is a long, boring drive, and the quotes from the writings of Australian novelist, Patrick White, tend to make me apprehensive of where this is all heading.

Melbourne has a shared history for Jed and Saul, and in the room in the boarding house where Jed had been staying, Saul finds a photo of a young Aboriginal woman tucked inside a poetry book. None the wiser on why Jed has resorted to such a final solution, Saul continues his road trip through to Adelaide, then shooting north through to Coober Pedy in search of the woman in the photograph.

This is one long drive interspersed with petrol stops, pit stops in country towns for a cold beer, and toilet breaks behind trees.

I was warned by all those literary quotes, wasn’t I?

Then it hit me: Australia is a huge country with long stretches of nothingness, and it is true that road trips in rural areas do become a series of petrol/food/ personal stops where along the way the traveller focuses on the constant change of scenery. By the time Saul arrives in the underground, opal mining town of Coober Pedy, we are thrilled when he meets up with a lass of German extraction. The human interaction picks up the pace of the storyline and all that descriptive prose, which is beautifully done but wordy, eases off.

Together they travel further north to Australia’s Centre, Alice Springs, stopping with an indigineous acquaintance along the way, where he is able to track down the whereabouts of Jed’s friend in the photo.

Saul gets permission from the traditional land owners to enter the Western Desert where he finally meets up with the woman, Nara. After some days living within the community, and living as they do, he finally learns a secret about Jed.

The long, solo drive to Adelaide was hard work, though the rhythm of the book changed for me once we had some human interaction. Life within an aboriginal community was fascinating and I enjoyed an insight into their spirituality. However, I’m a bit amazed after having read so many reviews that many readers said they benefited reading about the living conditions of aboriginals in rural settlements. Doesn’t anybody read a newspaper anymore?

The Crying Hills is more a painting of a series of beautiful yet harsh landscapes than a novel.

The content, with all its grief, does not make it a fun book to read.

And as for the big secret? Enough to kill yourself over? This did not sit well with me either, though I guess suicide is never a comfortable topic.

Whip Bird by Robert Drewe – Book Review.

 

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Hugh Cleary has spent months organising a reunion of all the descendants of Conor Cleary, who immigrated from Ireland in 1854. The reunion is staged at Whipbird, Hugh and wife, Christine’s, vineyard near Ballarat, Victoria, and is a weekend event featuring – surprise! -lots of wine.

The scene is set. Over 1000 descendants from across Australia and overseas converge on the property, mostly wearing Team colours to identify their branch of the family tree. Knowing your kin isn’t compulsory. Lots of Irish relatives with the odd Asian thrown in for good measure -it’s that kind of weekend.

From here the novel is just like any other large family function in Australia, especially Christmas Day at Brizzy May’s Home, with an assortment of family and friends (and alcoholic drinks). Just the run of the mill conversations take place : politics, sport, multiculturalism, environmentalism, who is sleeping with whom, who has had Botox treatments. Nothing out of the norm.

Indeed, the beauty of this novel is that the author excels at “people watching” and his observations do raise more than a fair share of smiles. Middle aged ladies with their bat wings, the fashion trend of wearing shoes without socks, corporate greed within the banking sector, indigenous Australians making good football players, and the gentrification of city pubs. All the stuff you talk about at the office Water cooller really.

There is also a back story which has Conor, who was at the Eureka Stockade in Australia’s colonial days, attending the reunion. You will have to read for yourself the mechanics of this situation.

Two hundred pages in and the constant commentary began to grate. Topical, certainly, but I became weary of the whole exercise. This was my first Robert Drewe novel so I’m not sure if this effort was meant to be sarcastic or clever. Does Drewe like contemporary Australia or is he having a shot?

My interest waned at the Sidney Nolan incident as I felt the author had at that point gone over the top. Up until then, it was all totally believable, and I too felt like I was attending the reunion, camping under the gum trees, surrounded by grape vines, and with a vino in hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Returning by Russell J Perry – Australian Author Challenge 2018

If you’ve even spent any length of time in Queensland, Australia, this book will tease all your senses. From the mango trees, the smell of cane fires burning, to the views across to Hichinbrook Island – goodness, I could even taste the cold ale at The Breakfast Creek Hotel in Brisbane.

The book opens with the death of an elderly gent. Elsewhere, within minutes, a baby boy is born, and we just know there has to be some sort of connection.

We then jump ahead 30 odd years and meet Jacob Shaunessy, a young man in his early thirties, who is dissatisfied with his lot in life. Jacob has vivid dreams, which include exotic landscapes, and an even more exotic young woman. He resigns from his job in the city and heads to Far North Queensland to start a new life and to chase  the source of his dreams.

Jacob becomes involved with the local sugar cane community in which he lives and works. His dreams lead him to the secrets of a previous generation, to mystery, and mayhem in this sleepy little township in the deep north.

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This is an interesting novel in that it does makes you think about the relevance of dreams and the question of reincarnation. The back stories of all the characters are believable and interesting, and it is an easy book to read.

The author has successfully conveyed the essence of North Queensland, right down to the elderly Italian widows dressed all in black for mourning, without being overly wordy. The sudden downpours of rainfall, the heat that makes clothes stick to your body, and even the seemingly laid back policeman pursuing justice, are all very authentic.

Yes, my familiarity with the landscape probably garnered my interest quickly, though it’s the storytelling that maintained it.

Reincarnation? Up for debate. Vivid Dreams? Now those I understand. Every night is like a eight hour movie session in technicolor at my place.

High Five for an other Australian Indie Author!

 

Australian Author Challenge: Our Vietnam Nurses by Annabelle Brayley.

I don’t do illness, or ill people, well. A character flaw and I blame the military patriarch who would yell at his daughters at the first sign of any slight weakness, “Toughen up. Stop being girls”. My father did not get sick until the month he died and I follow in his footsteps. The young things flag at work – I just march through it, soldiering on.

I softened once my own daughters came along and did not have the stomach for children’s illness’. If the six year old vomited, the seven year old had to clean up after her. Poor parenting I know, but I would be kneeling over the toilet bowl in sympathy. I remember having to take the teenager to the Dentist to get the last of her baby teeth pulled. She entered the surgery bravely whilst I fainted on the footpath outside.

Both my daughters have always had a fascination with medical procedures, and are addicted to those ghastly shows on the television that feature an assortment of lumps, bumps and stumps. There was one dinner party where the kids were far too quiet for my liking so I sneaked in to see what mischief they were up too. What did I find? Half a dozen cherubs fascinated by the DVD of my recent Colonoscopy!

So I was surprised when an acquaintance handed me a book and said “ I know that you will just love this!”

Our Vietnam Nurses by Annabelle Brayley, tells fifteen stories about civilian and military nurses, as well as a couple of medics, who all played their part in saving lives and comforting the wounded during this period of history.

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There were several common threads throughout this book:
• None of them had any previous knowledge of Vietnam and it was very much a “think on your feet “ process when they landed in the middle of a war zone.
• All those interviewed saw their efforts as both crucial and rewarding
• All feel as if there lives changed direction from the experience of serving in such a manner

Yes, the book did dish up blood and guts as to be expected, though many of the cases detailed had positive outcomes, with the larrikin spirit of young Australian Soldiers shining through. The constant themes were the camaraderie, strong working relationships and commitment to achieve the very best with the little that they had to help the injured.

This book is primarily personal recollections which added to my interest. It made the history more real.

One hundred and six nursing officers from the Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Sisters ( RAAFNS) we’re deployed to No.4 Hospital at Butterworth Airforce Base in Malaysia to care for military personnel based there and to fly medivacs into Saigon or Vung Tua evacuating wounded Australian soldiers back to Butterworth, and then home. Between 1965 and 1971 thirty two of them were attached to the United States Air Force for 60 day rotations flying missions into Vietnam on a daily basis to evacuate wounded American soldiers.

There were also more than 200 civilian nurses who were members of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation who assisted civilian surgical medical teams across a similar time line, and operating within Vietnam.

And you know what horrified me the most? Not the shattered bodies, infestations of worms, or grenades under hospital beds. Did you know that it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that all RAAF nurses who flew from Butterworth to Vietnam to medivac injured Aussie soldiers, or who were seconded to the USAF, were acknowledged for their contribution?

Another pox on the Australian Government, who currently cannot find $200,000 to send a handful of weary Bomber Command veterans to the opening of the International Bomber Command Centre in England this year. They say they are “ too old”. I would argue that they were “too young” when they did their bit.

Great read. Highly recommended even if amputations aren’t your thing.

You’ll just have to wait till I share my dental experiences……..

 

PS Vietnam Nurse song by Australian, Russell Morris, who has long since lost his hair, but not his voice. (Courtesy of You Tube)

Australian Author Challenge: The Sister’s Song By Louise Allen.

Louise Allan is a debut author from Western Australia. This manuscript was awarded a Varuna residential fellowship in 2014 and shortlisted for the City of Fremantle-TAG Hungerford Award. Louise grew up in Tasmania but has since moved to Perth.She is a former doctor and has a passion for music.

This book begins strongly with the death of Ida and Nora’s father in a fictional, rural township in Tasmania in the 1920’s. Their mother has a nervous breakdown and is institutionalised, and the young sisters move in with their elderly grandmother in town.

The girls have been close all their young lives though the grandmother is particularly encouraging of Nora’s musical talents and encourages her to follow her dream of a career as a vocalist. This helps to widen the gap between the sisters, as does their mother’s eccentric behaviour, and Ida ends up working as a nanny, and their lives become quite separate.

The sisters are reunited when Nora loses her scholarship, and she finds herself resentful and isolated, living in a shack in the wilds of Tasmania with her timber cutter husband and children.

Ida lives a simple life with a good man, though is unable to have a family of her own. She doesn’t understand how Nora can be so miserably unhappy when she appears to have it all.

Stretching across sixty plus years, this novel covers the dreams and very real lives of sisters, close in age, but very different in character. Music is the thread that retains the family bond across the generations.

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The opening chapters of this novel resonated with me as I identified with the loss of a parent at a young age, and having a younger sister who was definately Nora to my Ida.

It was also obvious that the author had a good feel for life in early Tasmania and she portrayed this extremely well. Her descriptions were great without being over wordy – loved this!

The second half of the novel drifted a little for me, and I guess the themes of sisterly ties and motherhood – the pros and cons – became a little too “girlie” for me. Purely a personal issue.

A good read which would make a good movie: you would just have to insert a couple of car chases and some sort of alien, and Bobs your Uncle.

 

 

 

 

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?

Two Book Reviews and a Nod to Spaghetti.

My genetic disposition means that I rarely look back. I inherited my fathers survival skills in that I continually look forward. So 2017 – All over, Red Rover.

My mother’s input into the equation means that I have never set goals nor been ambitious. It has always simply been the case of putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, and moving forward. Therefore, no New Years Resolutions. No list of books to read, no places to visit, nor new things to learn over the coming 365 days.

Thankfully, this morning is cooler and it seems that South East Queensland is finally getting a break from the oppressive heat and humidity that we’ve been experiencing since Christmas. You know the humidity is high when the makeup slides off your face……

So, my reading drought is well and truly over thanks primarily to the weather. Just finished another two books of very different natures.

City of Crows by Chris Womersley had received so many good reports from the blogging community that I downloaded this one from the local library. It is set in 17th Century Paris when France is rife with the Plague, and is a tale of a recently widowed woman who heads to the capital with her one remaining child. They are attacked mid journey and she is left to die whilst her young son is kidnaped, presumably to be sold as a slave. She is aided by an old woman with “powers” and teams up with a gent of questionable history and intent to save her son. There is much about demons, witches, and spirits, and just what a mother would do to save her only child.

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This novel was well written, though I kept dithering whether or not to push myself to finish it. It became a task of conscience and I am blaming myself, the heat, and a subject of absolutely no personal interest. I guess it says something in that I continued to the very end. Let’s just put it down to wrong time of the year for something so dark in nature, though I am led to believe, historically accurate.

My boss, another book hound, often leaves reading material on my desk that she has picked up in a sale. I had put reading The Old Fellow’s War by Edmond Nyst off for several months but so enjoyed it these past few days.

This book was published when Nyst was 80 years of age and he comments that “ all of a sudden I find myself writing about events that I have tried all my life to forget”.

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Nyst was 15 years of age when the Germans marched into Marseilles during World War 2. Born in France he was of Dutch parentage and helped his father ( who was later knighted for his services to humanity) hide Dutch Jews in surrounding villages. The three sons and mother were then sent to separate hiding spots though the author joined the Maquis, which was similar to the Resistance, yet operated within France under the direction of England.

This is another tale of skirmishes and brutality told with sadness as well as some humour, albeit black. It also includes a sorry episode about a small town, by the name of Oradour, which was totally wiped out by the Nazis just a few days after the landing at Normandy.

Nyst ends up enlisted and his military training sends him to army camps in both NSW and Queensland. His descriptions of major railway stations in both Sydney and Brisbane during the 40’s should bring a smile to anyone with any familiarity. He is then sent to Java to assist with the repatriation of the Dutch from the POW Camps.

Finally he returns to France to reconnect with family, though then travels back to Australia where he take up citizenship, starts a family, and is admitted as a barrister at the High Court of both NSW and Qld, and the High Court of Australia.

Ahhhhhhh, a girl does like a happy ending…….

Because we are also catching up on Movies I think it will be Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca tonight for a little bit of the Nazis marching into Marseilles.

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Oh, and Happy National Spaghetti Day on January the 4th.

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