Love of Country: The Power of Bones

I really have to thank Jennie for sharing her feelings on today’s book, Keelan Mailman’s autobiography The Power of Bones, (Allen and Unwin). It sounds very much as though this book had Jennie seriously reflecting on many issues that are still, to this day, faced by Aboriginal Australians, brought to bear in many ways by Australians (collectively and individually). Nothing brings these challenges to life quite like a real-life story of strength and perseverance.

Thanks Jennie, I look forward to reading this book myself…

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The Power of Bones is Keelan Mailman’s autobiography, a memoir that managed to evoke pretty much every emotion in me as I read it. Now 48 years old, Keelan writes as she speaks, in a broad Australian accent (as I read it), leaving the letter ‘g’ off many words. It takes you straight into her land and her life.

The Power of BonesKeelan’s life has been an extraordinary one. The fourth child of a family of seven, for the first seven years of her life she was raised by her single mother, Betty.

The family lived on the outskirts of a town named Augathella, approximately 750 km West North East of Brisbane, Queensland, with a population of 400. They were the only indigenous family in the area and Keelan and her siblings were subjected to much taunting and racial abuse. It’s clear that this abuse has had a lasting effect on Keelan, especially as she recalls one particular occasion when the mother of a child from school, designated to drive Keelan to an important athletic meeting, refuses to take her. At the time Keelan was twelve years old and an avid runner, and she has never forgotten this missed opportunity.

From the beginning, land, traditional language (or lingo), Indigenous culture and knowledge of bush tucker were an integral part of her life. Her mother, Betty, stressed the importance of the knowledge of the Elders being passed on to each generation. This became a life long passion and commitment for Keelan, who has since spent long periods of time speaking to Elders, learning about Dreamtime, finding beautiful ancient Aboriginal art work in secret caves on Bidjara land – Keelan’s mob.

Keelan remembers a happy childhood where she was accepted as who she was – a tomboy. Forget dresses, dolls and tutus, Keelan loved the slugs, slingshots and marbles. She loved her sport, running and football and hated shoes! Hard work was part of growing up too. Betty worked two jobs and as a result, the children were in charge of household and garden duties. In this community, normally once a child reaches Grade 5 or 6, they are removed from school to work at home and take care of their younger siblings. Keelan recalls proudly that she made it halfway through Year 8 before having the leave school.

Life was fairly ideal for the family until Betty met Elimore and they move in together. Elimore brought alcohol into Betty’s life and unfortunately, from this point on, alcohol dominated her household. The dichotomy between the proud, loving, attentive and caring mother that Keelan spoke so adoringly of, and the mother who spent a lot of her time in a drunken stupor, is obvious and Betty’s new behaviour is extremely destructive to the whole family. From this point the children basically taking care of everything, they have to move into a rented house in town where the racist taunts get worse. Up until this point, the Mailman children had always happily accepted hand-me-down clothes from neighbours but now that they lived in town, they often ran into the previous owners of the clothes. As you can imagine, this meant that the bullying increased and Keelan found no solace in her mother, for obvious reasons.

From the age of eight, Keelan was repeatedly sexually abused by an uncle. He threatened to hurt both her and her family unless she kept his secret and, as a result, the abuse continued for four years. When she was twelve, Keelan finally found the courage to stand up to this man, telling him angrily to leave her alone and to never touch the younger girls in the family. Although the uncle tried again on a couple of occasions, Keelan stood her ground and eventually he left the girls alone.

When Betty was 38 years old, she began experiencing a series of strokes related to her alcoholism. It was at this point that Keelan was required to leave school and care for her mother and younger siblings, the youngest fathered by Elimore. Within months, Elimore left the family.

During this time, spending so much time with Betty, Keelan heard more stories of the days past, of the land of the Bidjara mob, recalling family holidays out at the old Yumba homestead where the Elders used to gather. The Lost City was in this area, a Spiritual place of the Bidjars, where old Aboriginal cave drawings could be found and the spirits of Elders past dwelled. Keelan’s passion for country and Bidjara history and land, the history of her people, was fuelled to a bonfire during this time.

Keelan had her first child, a son named Allan, at the age of 16 and found herself caring for her mother, her siblings and her own child. Fortunately, others stepped up – her elder sister, who is married, an aunt, and an uncle all pitch in. Keelan stresses that this is the way of the blackfella – family look out for family and this is strongly reiterated throughout the book. It is obviously a fact that Keelan is immensely proud of.

Another theme running throughout The Power of Bones is Keelan’s passionate hatred for alcohol and what it had done to her people. She never drinks herself, and has raised her children with a knowledge of the damage she has seen alcohol do. There is a palpable anger against the immense damage alcohol is doing to many young people in the indigenous community, as she experienced both as she was growing up and still today.

Throughout all of the childhood and teenage challenges Keelan faced, there is a constant – her love for country. In her own words she says; “I am this country and it is me.” Within this love is a committed goal to learn from the Elders, ensuring that all they know does not die with them. The protection of sacred Bidjara sites is also part of Keelan’s passion. Thus, when at the age of 30, Keelan is offered the job of managing Mt Tabor, 190,000 hectares of Bidjara country and cattle station, she jumps at the chance – on this station is the ancient indigenous cultural site called Lost City and her beloved homestead Yumba, where she, her mother and siblings spent so many camping holidays.

This is, quite obviously, a huge job. Wiring fences, checking on cattle, putting out feed and ensuring that no site of Bidjara importance is interfered with by pipes or electrical poles. There are several outlying Bidjara sites that she also manages. Of course the community doubts that an indigenous woman can do this work! But, if I learnt anything from reading Keelan’s story, I learnt that she is fearless and a fighter. These cultural sites could not be in better hands.

The Power Of Bones taught me a lot. We hear about Indigenous communities being ravaged by “the drink”, and through Keelan’s eyes I saw the reality and pain it brings her people. I am ashamed to say that Keelan has taught me that White Australia still struggles with the societal position of the Indigenous people. This saddens me greatly, and through personal experience, I know that it’s true.

Keelan also taught me about the power of family and the extreme respect of the Elders in the Indigenous world. What a leaf we could take out of their book!

The love of country means sustainability, living off the land and protection of the sacred past. How beautiful and extraordinary that the Indigenous world is so rich with this!

Keelan Mailman is an incredible woman doing incredible work. She has grown within her important job and achieves several “firsts” for not only an Aborigine, but an Aboriginal woman. I felt pride with each achievement and shed tears during several episodes.

I highly recommend The Power of Bones to anyone who is interested in learning more about Indigenous Australia. To anyone who wants to read the story of a woman who refused to let anything define her or defeat her. To anyone who is prepared to face the fact that perhaps white Australians have a long way to go before they too venerate the country that is our home.

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Find out more about The Power of Bones, by Keelan Mailman’s here…

Writers Writing Writers: Slush Pile

I always find books about authors really interesting, it’s a little bit like a dream within a dream – an author created by an author. Slush Pile by Ian Shadwell (Puncher and Wattmann Fiction) is a perfect example of just this phenomena. Kathy Petkoff went on this ride through the world of writing, publishing and plagiarism. Here’s her thoughts on Slush Pile

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Michael Ardenne is a very successful intellectual writer, just ask him.  His one and only published novel (it is not a book and most definitely not a text), ‘Ephesus’, is, in his opinion, very intellectual and inspiring…

Slush PileFourteen years ago Michael Ardenne dazzled the world with Ephesus, a brilliant debut that won him the respect of his peers, plenty of easy sex and the coveted Booker Prize.  Since then, there’s been nothing but false starts and dead ends.  He can’t even finish a short story. 

With debt collectors at the door, the cellar empty and the mortgage on the line, it’s crunch time.  His wife, Tanya, issues an ultimatum: get a job or get a divorce.  Forced into assessing his literary agent’s slush pile to help make ends meet, Michael discovers a dark gem.  He rewrites it as his own.  His publisher loves it.  Fame beckons and his literary standing soars… until the real author appears. 

But sadly, ‘Ephesus’ is all Michael has ever managed to write.  It has been 14 years since it’s publication and not a scrap of decent writing has he produced since.  The internet provides him with outlets, plenty of distractions, that allow him not to write.  His dedication to ‘managing’ his own Wikipedia page, his love of researching wine and his need for ‘release’ through soft porn sites makes it hard for any reader of Slush Pile to love this character.

Michael owes money to everyone.  His friends, the bank, the local grocery store, he can’t even convince his friends to shout him a round of beer at the RSL trivia night.

Shadwell does the most beautiful job of creating a dirty character.  The way he creates Michael makes sure that you feel his laziness, his sense of self importance and how really to Michael, no one else matters.  He is the great Michael Ardenne, Booker Prize winner, Michael Ardenne.

“And the winner of the 1995 Booker Prize was…”

Something in Michael propelled him from his chair.  Arms raised in triumph, his feet hopped a little victory dance.

“Me.  The answer is me, Michael Ardenne.”

Alongside Michael is his hard-edged wife, Tanya.  She is a workaholic and has finally had enough.  For the most of the book you see Tanya through Michael’s eyes.  It would seem that she is there primarily to prop him up, to make him feel good about himself, but Michael also sees her as closed and unadoring.  But, Shadwell cleverly allows the readers glimpses into who Tanya really is.

She looked at him incredulously.  Then burst into uncontrollable sobs.

“I really, really thought you would want to write a love story about us like you wrote Ephesus for that other girl”

Out of desperation, in an attempt stop himself from losing everything, Michael gets a job working for his next-door neighbour installing roof insulation under the governments Pink Bat Scheme.  Complaining and moaning the whole time he works, he offers his great and sage-like advice on writing to a co-workers.

As well as this manual labour, Michael finds himself a gig with his literary agent helping to sift through his ‘slush pile’. Very much to his surprise, he finds one manuscript in the pile that grabs his attention. It is brilliant.  It is chilling.  It is plagiarised and rewritten for Michael’s chance to become great again.

Of course, as one might expect, things such a plagarism rarely go unnoticed, and when then the real author seeks out credit for what is rightfully his, trouble comes Michael’s way.

This is Shadwell’s first novel.  For me his character building is fantastic, he’s written a despicable protagonist who I didn’t like at all, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed his novel, it was a great book.  It opened all kinds of questions for me – how long from when you held a role can you still call yourself by that title?  How long can we really maintain the look and feel of youthful irresponsibility and not look completely idiotic?

Slush Pile is a great read.  It will get under your skin and encourage you to ask all kinds of questions.  I’d highly recommend it.

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Find out more about Slush Pile by Ian Shadwell here…

 

Gifted Liar? Rachael’s Gift

I had a chat to Narelle Connell about this novel before she wrote her review, and I think it’s fair to say she was quite conflicted. She told me that this book had really challenged her, presenting some really interesting questions regarding truth, trust, childhood and parenthood. We always have to believe our kid, don’t we? Her review today sums up the conundrum that Rachael’s Gift presents to the reader, a conundrum that you’ll keep turning over in your head long after you’ve put this book down. Here’s Narelle’s thoughts…

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 What would you do if you suspected your child was a gifted liar?

Rachael's GiftThis is the premise of Rachael’s Gift, the debut novel by Alexandra Cameron (Pan MacMillan). Rachael is fourteen years old, beautiful and a talented artist creating work well beyond her years. Her mother, Camille, is focused on securing her daughter a place at a prestigious Parisian art school so as to nurture and develop her gift. But, her carefully planned future is thrown into a tailspin when Rachael accuses one of her teachers of sexual misconduct.

Camille is horrified and leaps to the defense of her daughter.  However, questions within the school community, especially those regarding the whereabouts of a rival student’s painting, call the reliability of Racheal’s testimony into question. Unlike her mother, Rachael’s father, Wolfe is far more wary. He has his own questions about what the truth might be and, in turn, what his daughter may be capable of.

 

“She inhaled sharply and then reached out, touching my arm.

“Wolfey”, she said, her voice softer. “Honey, please. Please. There’s something else….” 

I looked away. Another bloody excuse. I was not budging. Not this time. I shook her hand off me. “I’m scared there’s something wrong with her, Cam, and I’m sick of dicking around.’ 

She shook her head in disbelief. ‘You’re going to ruin her. Don’t you realise? I can’t let you do it.’ 

Her chest heaved and then some kind of realisation dawned in her face. ‘Oh my god, you don’t love her. You wouldn’t do this if you did.’ 

It felt as if my veins were bursting. ‘Of course I love her’, I shouted. ‘Its because I love her!’ 

‘This is not love.’ 

I stabbed my finger in her face. ‘You love her too much.’ 

Her expression transformed, a light went on in her eyes and her breath evened out. ‘You’re a fucking traitor’, she hissed. ‘I won’t let you do that to her’ 

We’ll see about that, I thought as I walked away from her. ” 

 

The novel alternates narration from Camille and Wolfe, as they navigate their way to finding the truth of Rachael’s story. From the surf beaches of Australia to French art galleries steeped in history, Rachael’s Gift unfolds into a compelling story of the webs we all weave ourselves into and how our past can impact on our present no matter how far we think we’ve left it behind.

I found the storytelling a little clunky in the beginning; it took me a little while to settle into moving between the two very different voices of Camille and Wolfe. Interestingly, while the story revolves around Rachael I found myself particularly drawn to Camille’s voice, I watched her story deepen as she confronted her past and Rachael’s future. Inhabiting a world where her aunts and grandparents have Degas adorning the walls of their Parisian homes, she watches with a mixture of pride and trepidation as Rachael embraces long-lost family wholeheartedly in a ruthless bid to achieve her goals.

Towards the end I was racing to the denouement, watching the threads come together and worlds collide. Now that I’ve finish the book, it’s a novel I’m itching for others to read so I can chat about it with them. An excellent book club pick and one to share with friends who love a story they can sink their teeth into and contemplate long after finishing.

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Find out more about Rachael’s Gift, by Alexandra Cameron here…

 

Super Hero Free Afternoon: Gone Girl

As I was sitting through the previews at the movies on Sunday, I caught myself flinching and looking to my left when some Hollywood super star or another dropped the F-bomb. It was then I realised – there’s only grown-ups here with me today, and I’m pretty sure they can handle a swear word or two…

What a shock when it registered just how long it had been since I had gone to a movie with other adults, and not my kids. I sighed a contented sigh at the prospect of (1) seeing a film that did not have one single super hero in it; (2) seeing a film which was unlikely to involve any explosions and; (3) not needing to worry about what the person sitting next to me was hearing, seeing, or thinking.

tbyl reviewersIn short, despite the sometimes grubby content matter of the film, Gone Girl, it was always going to be a great day at the movies. The fact that a bunch of TBYL Reviewers and I had managed to get out of the house together made it all the sweeter.

I’d been looking forward to seeing Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, in the way that one normally does with a film based on a book they’ve enjoyed – with equal parts excitement and trepidation. The general assumption that ‘the movie is never as good as the book’ holds true in many instances, and many a good reading experience has been tarnished by a shoddy film adaption. Despite this, I had seen the trailer and my first impressions had been that the look of the film seemed pretty spot on, and the casting was right on the money. I thought it would be worth a watch.

gone girl

I’m not a huge Ben Affleck fan, I find him just a little bit boring (sorry!), but I really think that he was a perfect fit for Nick Dunne. Rosamund Pike is an interesting actor, with a most definite ‘dark horse’ aspect to her acting, so again I thought her pretty right as Amy Dunne.

As it happens Rosamund played Amy more in the realm of ‘mad as a cut snake’ than just simply dark, and created a truly deplorable character, quite clearly capable of anything. And I mean anything. The most violent and disturbing scenes of this film all centre around her, perpetrated as a means for her to see her way clear of the gigantic mess she finds herself in.

Affleck, as Nick played dull, disengaged husband to a tee. He was convincingly emotionally awkward, making the whole ‘most probably a wife-killer’ part of this story believable. This, of course, is very important to the story, we need to believe that Nick is not a nice guy.

Now, this of course is where I ponder on the great metaphysical conundrum of book-to-film adaptions. What would this film have been like if I hadn’t read the book?  Would the movie have been more suspenseful, if I’d not known the twist? Would I have guessed what was coming? Would I have been as gripped by this pretty detailed, fairly dialogue-driven story, if I was not, as a reader, waiting to see how the story would unfold on screen? My sister (and TBYL Reviewer) Tam was sitting with me, and she’d not read the book. I asked her after the movie what she thought, and she assured me that her head was still spinning. She didn’t see the Second Act coming at all, and the story did not at all end up where, at the the beginning of the film, she thought it would be.

She found it suspenseful, frightening and above all, pretty gripping. In her opinion, the reasonably long playing time of this film (about 2 and half hours) went really quickly, it didn’t drag at any point.


Personally, I felt the same way – Gone Girl held my attention from start to finish (as had the novel). Perhaps some of the chill, the suspense was taken out of it for me, knowing which way the wind was going to turn but I don’t think that’s a major problem at all, it was still a pretty wild ride.

Gone Girl is not for the faint of heart, and at times gets quite nasty. It’s necessary to the story so I didn’t have any issue with it, and it’s by far not the most disturbing film I’ve seen. Nonetheless, if you don’t like blood or swearing, perhaps give this movie a miss. Otherwise, I would definitely recommend this movie, especially to lovers of crime and suspense. It’s a well put together story, well acted (mostly) and leaves you wondering, what next?

Gone Girl is in cinemas now.

If you’re interested, you’ll find my review of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, here…

 

Don’t Get Too Cocky: You Should Have Known

Sometimes those who purport to be an exhibitor of the gold standard in a field or an oracle on a topic, end up being blinded by their own expertise, to the true facts around them. As TBYL Reviewer, Tam found out while reading You Should Have Known, by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Allen and Unwin), those who think they know best, often don’t, they’re just as in the dark as the rest of us…

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Grace Sachs is a happily married woman living in New York with her husband, a popular paediatric oncologist. Together they have a young son, Henry.

you should have knownGrace runs a successful therapy clinic and is about to release her first book titled ‘You Should Have Known’ aimed at women, full of tough talk on how women should be making the right decisions when it comes to finding their partner for life, and the common traps that women fall for. She is cocky, self-assured and completely convinced by her theory. Despite this, early in the novel, as she sits for an interview to promote her new, hard-line way of thinking (or is that judging?), I got the sense that perhaps Grace was about to learn her very own lesson about judgement – both how to make good ones and how to avoid making rash ones.

Early in the piece I was wondering, is Grace about to find herself in the unfortunate position of not really knowing who she has been married to for so many years? Did she miss the signs from her husband? Signs that she has been telling women to look for? It’s true, even the smartest of women can fall for the wrong man, they too can miss the tell-tale signs that not is all it seems to be.

When a young mother from Henry’s school is found murdered it would seem that Grace is more connected to crime than she is initially aware. Her husband is missing, she is questioned by the police and Grace is beginning to feel that perhaps her reputation as a therapist and an author are all in jeopardy.

The twist of this novel, the predicament that Grace finds herself in should have made for a really gripping read, but personally, I found this novel a bit too detailed. I felt that I had to spend too much time sifting through the back-story and conversations and I was finding it hard to hold onto the story. I wasn’t feeling the suspense that should come with a psychological thriller as I was being distracted by too many details.

There were so many threads off the main story and this made the story complex, and intriguing to a point, but overall I have my suspicions that it just made the novel a bit longer than it needed to be.

In saying that, I did enjoy the story. It was twisty, and its slow-reveal built a tension for the reader. Grace was a strong female lead and the narrative delivered a powerful message that even the smartest person can still be wearing blinkers when it comes to the one they love. It’s warning, any one of us could be seeing only part of the story.

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Find out more about You Should Have Know, by Jean Hanff Korelitz here…

Mysteries in The City of Jasmine

It sounds very much like Carolyn was completely transported by this exciting, exotic adventure. Here’s what she thought of The City of Jasmine by Deanne Raybourn (Harlequin)…

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It’s the 1920s, Europe still hurts from the Great War, but despite this people are embracing life during this golden era. Interestingly, Deanne Raybourne’s The City of Jasmine is not just another story set during this fascinating era, one in which many authors indulge us with elaborate costumes, glitzy parties and sophistication normally associated with this glorious time. Rather, Raybourn’s story is quite different. It is set in Damascus, a city at the crossroads of history. A place often in the today’s news as a city of unrest and violence; Raybourn’s Damascus is rich, exotic and ancient.

city of jasmineThe heroine of the story is Mrs Evangeline Starke (Evie), a young widow who has risen to fame by becoming an aviatrix flying her way across the seven seas of the ancient world. Accompanied by her eccentric Aunt Dove, they collect countless stories and admirers throughout their journey. Their adventures change course somewhat when Evie receives an anonymous letter, an envelope with nothing in it but a recently taken photograph of her late husband. Evie believes her husband to have perished with the sinking of a passenger ship five years earlier, but this recent photograph would seem to suggest otherwise. Evie, never one to shy away from adventure, steers her Aunt and her journey towards the country she believes this photograph was taken – Damascus.

It is once Evie arrives in the City of Jasmine that the story really came alive for me. Raybourn describes the alleyways and the markets of Damascus in such vibrant detail that I, as a reader, was taken back in time to this ancient city, with all it’s captivating scenery, it’s intriguing characters and enticing aromas.

Once in Damascus Evie meets a group of archaeologists who are overseeing a dig taking place in the Badiyat ash-Sham, the great Syrian Desert. Knowing her late husband’s obsession with this part of the world and his fascination with priceless historical artefacts, Evie insists on accompanying them back to the dig in order to try to uncover the mystery of the photograph. Upon arriving at the dig, Evie’s former world of glamour, sponsorships and parties abruptly changes to one of danger, thievery and murder.

Love and passion are also central to this story with Evie dealing with the deception from her past.

 

“’If you wish it,’ he replied as coolly as if she’d asked him to pass the nuts,’” Gabriel quoted softly. ’For would keep no girl in the Neverland against her will.’” He looked directly at me then, his eyes piercing in the soft lantern light of the tent.

I swallowed hard. “I don’t think I remember the rest.”

Gabriel’s eyes held mine. “Yes, you do. Peter takes Wendy home. And he tells her to leave a window open for him. Because he always comes back in the end.”

 

This book is great fun to read, with adventure at every turn of a page. I loved each of the characters, including the baddies! I would love to see this book turned into a film; I imagine it to be like Indiana Jones with a female as the lead. This wild ride is full of mystery and aerodynamic stunts, all occurring during a time of political unrest in Syria. At the same time, Raybourn manages to capture the stillness of the Syrian Desert at night – oh how I wanted to emerge from a tent in the middle of the night and gaze up at the millions of stars, even if it was after a day of turmoil and angst!

I recommend that you look out for this book and lose yourself in a story of intrigue, danger and love. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will keep my eye out for future Deanna Raybourn novels.

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 You can find out more about Deanne Raybourne’s The City of Jasmine here.

Copycat: All Day and A Night

Without really meaning to I challenged TBYL Reviewer Adam Jenkin to read a little bit differently this month. Although crime isn’t usually his genre of choice, it would seem that he got pretty sucked into his recent read, All Day and A Night by Alafair Burke (Allen and Unwin). Here’s what he made of this gritty mystery…

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Anthony Amaro is a convicted serial killer, behind bars serving life without parole. His signature move of breaking the arms and legs of his victims placed him beautifully for the murder of five women in the Utica area and one in nearby New York City itself. Five of the working girls were found in the same park. He even boasted about it to a cellmate. His guilt seemed unquestionable. Or so they all thought.

All day and a nightWhen Helen Brunswick, a New York psychologist, from Utica is murdered in her office 18 years later, using the same MO as Anthony Amaro, just as a letter turns up at the District Attorney’s office outlining elements of the Amaro case that remained hidden from the public and protesting Amaro’s innocence, suddenly two and two no longer add up to four.

Enter Ellie Hatcher and JJ Rogan, pulled in as a set of fresh eyes to look at a case that at every corner seems to point towards a copycat and a leak in the department; and Carrie Blank, a successful and very sought-after lawyer at a prestigious law firm, who just happens to be the sister of one of Amaro’s victims.

Carrie quits her prestigious post to join Amaro’s newly assembled defence team, telling herself her reasons are more noble than simple curiosity about what happened to the badly misled Donna Blank, victim number four. Carrie’s interest in the events in Utica are brought to a peak when the evidence surrounding Donna’s last movements don’t match up with her own memories.

Ellie and JJ roll in to Utica to tie up a few loose ends, and find more than they can tie up alone. Helen Brunswick’s earlier clientele from the old neighbourhood, the local senior police officer and his aspiring politician son and a more than enthusiastic defence lawyer seem to continually jump up in their path until what started out as a simple case of “one killer, six victims” is now nowhere near that simple.

Going through the saga behind the characters of Ellie and Carrie, the insights they both have of different sides of the case present two unique perspectives, each searching for their own truth. Even though their tales are told as opposing battles, the search for what really happened to all the victims is really attention grabbing, it had me hooked. My loyalties for characters and ideas of what occurred tended to sway from one to the other, so that I was kept in the story so thoroughly that even once I had worked out who did what, I was still hanging on every page to find out how, why, where and when.

The detective-trailing murder-mystery is not usually a genre I follow, as the plot lines either tend to be too vague, right up until the final few chapters or so see-through that what the writer thinks are plot twists you can see coming a mile away. All Day And A Night did neither of these things. Feel free to ignore the comment on the cover about the female characters’ private and public battle for acceptance, as I did. I noticed the tagline once I’d read about half the book and really couldn’t see how the story had very much to do with that. Ellie was a head-strong tomboy and Carrie the intelligent and still-grieving sister, but neither character’s storyline dragged anywhere near internal feminine battles with trauma. I was pretty satisfied though with its focus on the crime, the clues and the work being done by Ellie and Carrie.

In short, I loved it because it was neither a catch the real killer or a genius behind the scenes madman relative story, putting enough twists and turns into an old fashioned whodunit (or whodunwhat…) to keep you perched on both Ellie and Carries shoulders for the whole ride.

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You can find out more about All Day and A Night by Alafair Burke here…

 

 

Living Proof: It Will Get Better

I don’t know about you, but TBYL Reviewer Carolyn has certainly sparked my interest with this review…

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Stella Gibney’s memoir, It Will Get Better (Allen and Unwin) is the story of a woman who has suffered more trauma and upheaval in her life than most, certainly more than many of characters I’ve read about. Through her lifelong habit of journaling, Stella Gibney has been able to come through the toughest of times and arrive at new beginnings with a positivity that I admired to the end.

It will get betterThe book starts when six year old Stella experiences the worst kind of trauma imaginable. A very naïve little girl suddenly has her innocence ripped away from her and this sets her on a course where she feels vulnerable and forever in a position of never being able to say no, especially to men. As a young girl, she witnesses terrible physical and emotional abuse from her alcoholic father towards her mother, as well as a series of strange encounters with her grandfather.

Gibney takes us through her life, detailing tumultuous teen years, marriage and motherhood, all occurring against the backdrop of frequent moves around New Zealand and Australia. She endures a lot yet remains upbeat about her life, all the way through the book.

“Although journaling didn’t change what was going on around me, it did highlight areas of my life that I needed to change, and if I was being completely honest with myself, then I would often see the ugly side of my behaviour that I needed to address.”

I was drawn to this book knowing that Gibney kept journals and used these to form the novel. I was a little surprised to see that she hasn’t used as many direct excerpts from her diaries as I thought she might. I wasn’t disappointed; when she does use actual diary entries they are honest and well written, but I did find myself wishing for more diary entries rather than the condensed version that this book is. I myself have been an avid journal-keeper over the years and just recently read the journals from my last two years of high school. This story really made me wonder how my story would come across if I were to condense all the emotions and events that happened to me over twenty years, from my journals? Personally I think this would be a very hard task, and to do so must take great skill. Because I found It Will Get Better a very easy read, I believe that Gibney has done this well.

Stella Gibney is the older sister to the well known actress Rebecca Gibney of “Packed to the Rafters” fame. Stella never talks too much about her sister’s success and only refers to her as a wonderful friend and support. She has two other sisters and a mother, all of whom are very supportive and even though this family experienced tough conditions when they were young, they remain a strong unit.

Most of the men in her life have been detrimental to her self-esteem yet she has given birth to three boys. Being a mother empowers her to be their friend and a role model and she shares with us in this book, the importance of teaching her boys to express themselves through writing rather than using violence and fear tactics. She includes letters and a song written by her sons and they express their love and respect for their Mum and her ability to overcome so much. It’s lovely to read.

It Will Get Better is a raw and honest account of a working class girl growing up in the 1960s and 70s in New Zealand. I admire the strength of Stella Gibney to stay so positive after so many confronting events, and her confidence to share these through her first novel. This book is quick to get into and does not take long to read. If you enjoy a memoir then I suggest you give this a go, it starts off with a bang, grabs you and then shows you how life can get better.

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You can find out more about Stella Gibney’s memoir, It Will Get Better here…

Meeting Ceridwen Dovey

Last month, the TBYL Book Club enjoyed a shared read of Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin), and from those I chatted with, it seemed that this book really got us all thinking.

I reviewed the book, a collection of short stories told from the perspective of the souls of animals killed in human conflicts (you can read the review here), but I was also lucky enough to be able to ask the collection’s author Ceridwen a number of questions. Her answers shed some light on what I found to be a really moving, curious read…

Ceridwen_Dovey_author photoI’m going to start with a really obvious question, only because I’m personally really curious about the answer – what made you think of, and choose, to write a book from the perspective of the souls of dead animals? It’s such a unique concept, I’d love to know what brought you to it.
When I first thought of using animal narrators to look at human conflicts from a slightly offbeat perspective, I realised I’d have to be very careful not to fall into the trap of sentimentalising the animal voices. It’s really hard to write an animal voice that doesn’t end up being cutesy or mawkish – maybe because we’re so used to animal characters in children’s literature and film – and also that doesn’t anthropomorphise the animal to the extent that all the strangeness of the creature and the way it experiences the world is lost. So two of the tactics I came up with to avoid this were to have the animal souls writing from beyond the grave, telling us about their deaths, to give the tales a bit of a Gothic edge, and the other was to have them channeling the voice of a human author who wrote about animals in the last century, so that each animal narrator sounded different.

You work lots of authors and poets into your stories; Henry Lawson, Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Robert Browning, Sylvia Plath, and more. Are these particularly favourites of yours, or did their histories just sit nicely with the time and place of the animal’s stories?
It depended on the story – because each story weaves together an animal voice, an author who wrote about animals, and a conflict, I let the research lead me to some authors, while with others the authors led me to the animal or to the conflict. All of the authors who are mentioned in the book used animal characters in their fiction in some way or another, and the ones I knew I wanted to use as inspiration were Virginia Woolf (who wrote a biography of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning from the perspective of her dog, Flush, in the 1930s) and Franz Kafka, because so many of his short fictions feature animals, and the way he uses them in his writing is the opposite of sentimental: his animal stories are often macabre and disturbing.

Do you have a particular favourite of the ten stories?
The elephant story (set in 1980s Mozambique during the civil war) one was the most difficult to write because it’s the one that is probably the saddest, with no humour or playfulness to temper the sadness, and it was written in a sort of tribute to my sister, so I’d say either that one or the tortoise story (where a Russian tortoise ends up being shot out around the moon by the Soviet Space Program during the Cold War) because it was so much fun to write.

You treated the theme of death and conflict with a skilfully soft touch. At no point did I feature guilted, lectured or horrified, just moved, which in turn caused me to reflect (not recoil). Was this a deliberate technique? Could you tell us a little bit more about how you approached what could have been a heavy topic, with such a deft hand?
Thank you for saying this! Yes, it was deliberate, and it was something I knew was crucial for the book not to be off-putting because of the serious themes. I’m by no means an animal rights activist (I’m not even a vegetarian), so the book wasn’t really coming from a place of activism but was instead a way for me to push my own imagination to the limits and see if I could pull it off. I wanted to see if perhaps readers might be jolted into feeling something different by looking at these human conflicts through animal eyes, just to see them afresh and feel something authentic instead of the compassion fatigue so many of us suffer from in modern times.

Similarly, many of the stories had a very distinct style – I particularly enjoyed the Beatnik mussels of ’Somewhere Along the Line the Pearl Would be Handed to Me’ – how did you decide on the style you would choose? Was it difficult to work up an authentic storytelling style for each story?
It was just really fun. I’d sort of lost my way with my fiction writing when I started working on the stories that became this book, and this was the project that reminded me why I love writing and why I absolutely need it in my life, even if I’m writing for nobody but me. It was all just an experiment, really, and I just went with crazy ideas (like a talking mussel who speaks in the style of Jack Kerouac and dies in Pearl Harbor) without questioning whether they were good crazy or bad crazy! Again, the human authors led me to the style of each story, often – and in many of the stories I use words, phrases, paragraphs that the author him/herself used in fiction or journal writings, so their style and words are literally embedded in the animal narratives.


only the animalsWhat’s the feedback been like to your book so far?
It has been very kind so far. I’m trying not to read reviews this time around – even the good ones can kind of mess with your head – but my parents and husband tell me that reviewers have been very generous, and of course my friends and family tell me they like the book but they have to?

What do you hope readers take away from this collection?
I hope that readers come away from the collection re-inspired to explore authors they might not have read – to go to some of the original texts mentioned in the book, and keep exploring the idea of animals in fiction from all these varied perspectives.

What’s next for you?
Next up is a novel set in Sydney about an elderly man who gets involved in the dying with dignity movement. And I’m also trying my hand at speculative fiction.
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I really enjoyed chatting with Ceridwen Dovey, and can’t wait to see what she produces next. If you’d like to find out more about Only the Animals, please visit Penguin here…

Grit and Determination in Crimson Dawn

I think it’s fair to say that Tam Jenkin has become our official Rural Romance expert, she’s read so much Chook Lit now I’m surprised she’s not clucking. She loves it of course, hence her specialisation, and today’s book was no exception. Here’s what Tam thought of Crimson Dawn by Fleur McDonald (Allen and Unwin)…

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Laura Murphy will need to call on all her grit and determination to retain her beloved farm… But will her fierce self reliance close her off to the possibility of love?

crimson dawnSince inheriting Nambina, the property that’s been in her family for generations, Laura Murphy has worked wonders. Rather than just focus on farming she has set up a successful school teaching women the basics of managing a property – from fencing and mustering to handling the financial side of the business.

But the notoriously self-reliant Laura is lonely and still scarred by a tragedy from her past. She’s also grappling with the hostility of her nearest neighbour and former best friend, Meghan Hunter. The fact that Laura’s ex-boyfriend Josh is Meghan’s brother only makes things worse.

When a solicitor contacts Laura saying his clients may have a claim over Nambina, her entire world is turned upside down, and she has to call on all her determination to hold on to the property she’s worked so hard to build. In the process she realises she must reach out to friends and loved ones or risk losing everything.

Crimson Dawn is Fleur McDonald’s fifth novel and once again it reflects her own experiences of living in remote Australian farming area. McDonald’s writing paints a picturesque scene of the Australian outback, and of what it is like to grow up rural and how challenging it can be working on the land.

Laura is a young woman who has had a wonderful upbringing on Nambina, being raised by her dad and grandfather. On the day that her grandfather announces that he is signing over the farm to Laura, all her dreams have come true. Still, in her heart of hearts she is scared that she will not be able to take care of the property – it’s such a huge undertaking on her own. Laura’s father, step-mother and two half sisters all now reside in Adelaide, and she has just discovered that she is pregnant.  Despite these substantial challenges, she is determined that she will succeed.

What she didn’t know was that more than her fair share of heartbreak awaits her.

After her grandfather dies she is left feeling very alone. To make matters worse she breaks up with her boyfriend, falls out with her best friend (her ex-boyfriend’s sister) and subsequently shut herself off in order not to get hurt again.

Laura throws herself into the task of turning the farm into a school, teaching other young girls about farming and managing property. The school is going well until she receives threats from her ex-best friend and a letter from a lawyer advising that someone has reason to believe that they can claim ownership of Nambina. Can Laura keep the farm? Will the help of her family and the handsome vet, Tim be enough? Will she open her heart to Tim, even if it means risking getting hurt again?

I’ll admit that it took me a little while to get into this book. It took a little longer than I like to get to crux of the story, however, I am glad that I persevered as once the story picked up it was full of twists and turns and kept me turning the pages! Laura is a courageous, strong, sometimes pigheaded, but determined leading lady.

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You can find out more about Crimson Dawn by Fleur McDonald here…