allen and unwin

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…

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…

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…

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…

Taking us Back of Beyond

Today’s review from TBYL Reviewer, Stephanie Hunt takes us to the back of beyond

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Former sheep shearer, dingo trapper and horse breaker Hugh Tindall reminisces on his extraordinary life in outback Queensland…

backofbeyondBack of Beyond by Freda Marnie Nicholls (Allen and Unwin) is a great read, one I thoroughly enjoyed. If you have ever had an older member of your family who told great stories, true or not, reading this book will bring back memories of listening to them tell their tales. Part history book, part biography, you don’t have to have a rural background to enjoy Hugh’s story as the history and his insight into the past are fascinating. His experiences give you a great respect for those who persevered in the face of adversity in the early years of agriculture in Australia.

Hugh Tindall has had a rich and interesting life and from the very first chapter I was hooked. Freda Marnie Nicholls has captured his voice perfectly and you feel as though you are sitting listening to Hugh tell his story in person. I am so pleased that Freda has recorded Hugh’s memories as all too often, gems like Hugh don’t have the chance to pass on their stories to a wider audience. Reading Back of Beyond reminded me of listening to my grandfather tell stories about his life growing up in rural Tasmania, doing many of the same things as Hugh.

The descriptions of life in the early 1930s and 40s are fantastic and Hugh’s admiration and love for his mother, a woman who raised six children in very tough conditions, shines through in every word. Later, we hear about shearing and the big strike in 1956 and again we see the admiration and respect Hugh has for rural women, this time his wife. It’s a fascinating first hand recount of the debate and strike over wages, conditions and roles. Hugh’s descriptions of how he learnt to shear as a teen, events that occurred during the strike and the effect the strike had on his family and friends is insightful and non-judgmental. Incidents are recalled matter-of-factly, that’s just how it was.

In the latter part of the book we learn about dingos and sheep and Hugh’s life after retirement, not that old farmers ever really retire!

Back of Beyond is a book that anyone can read and enjoy. Hugh not only recalls his personal experiences in the outback but also gives us a fascinating glimpse of how rural Australia emerged and what life was like for the extraordinary men and women who lived on and developed the land. It’s important for all of us to understand how people like Hugh and his family shaped the Australia we have today.

This book will be top of my list of books to give to my Dad, as I know he would enjoy reading every word.

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You can find out more about Freda Marnie Nicholls’ Back of Beyond here…

A Curiosity: Actors Anonymous

Well, what can I say about James Franco’s Actors Anonymous (Faber)? Should I say, for a writer, he’s a pretty good actor? Should I say, by many accounts, his prose outshines his poetry? Should I say that this book is an absolute curiosity? Is it real, or unreal, or somewhere in-between?

One thing I will say is that James Franco is a strange bunny. And of course, that’s what makes him fascinating and in turn, what makes this book worth reading.

actors anonymousInspired by Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Actors Anonymous is a dark, genre-bending work that mixes memoir and pure invention – an audacious examination of celebrity, acting, and the making of Fiction.

Actors Anonymous is unsettling, funny, and personal – a series of stories told in many forms: a McDonald’s drive-thru operator who spends his shift trying on accents; an ex-child star recalling a massive beachside bacchanal; hospital volunteers putting a camera in the hands of a patient obsessed with horror films; a vampire flick starlet who discovers a cryptic book written by a famous actor gone AWOL, who may have killed his father.

The book contains profound insights into the nature and purpose of acting, as well as deeply moving portraits of aspiring actors who never quite made it.

Franco mercilessly turns his “James Franco” persona inside out while, at the same time, providing fascinating meditations on his art, along with nightmarish tales of excess. “Hollywood has always been a private club,” he writes. “I open the gates. I say welcome. I say, Look inside.”

I’ll be honest, I didn’t always get what this book was doing. I had to skip bits here and there, parts that I found just a bit too awkward. Still, in the same way that books like The Hottest State by actor Ethan Hawke, and Horse’s Neck by Pete Townshend do, Actors Anonymous gives the reader a glimpse of a new side of a person that you know through a completely different medium.  Interestingly, it’s not the sort of glimpse you get from a memoir or a straight autobiography. Rather, it’s a view of the author’s imagination, and as creative people, this view is usually pretty wild.

Actors Anonymous is a very candid look at Hollywood, at acting and at fame. As I mentioned earlier, it’s really difficult to pin down what’s true to life here, and that can be quite disconcerting. At times I felt embarrassed, almost worried that Franco would be taken to task for exposing something ugly – about himself, about his peers, and about his craft. But then, to my relief, something would happen on the page that was so exaggerated that it’d prove that this story could not possibly be real, and I’d relax. A little.

Now, Franco’s not the best writer. His writing isn’t horrible, but it is a little clunky at times, and a bit self-involved. But, for me, the curiosity factor of this book well and truly makes up for that. It’s entertaining, and as long as you can suspend your disbelief for a little while, quite enjoyable.

If you’re a fan of James Franco, have a fascination for celebrity or just enjoy a quick, quirky read, take a look at Actors Anonymous. You can find out more about the book here…

Do you like straight books, or something a little more on the unusual side? 

To Inspire: The Priority List

I wasn’t brave enough to read today’s book, David Menasche’s The Priority List (Allen and Unwin), I thought I might struggle with the subject matter a little, and so I passed it on to TBYL Reviewer Narelle. She’s made me wish I’d read it, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same way too. Here’s her thoughts…

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I picked up David Menasche’s The Priority List and immediately warmed to the premise outlined on the cover: “A teachers final quest to discover life’s greatest lessons.” With an endorsement from Elizabeth Gilbert and the back cover questioning “What truly matters in life?” I had mentally slotted this in somewhere alongside Tuesdays with Morrie and Life’s Golden Ticket, as an uplifting, moving read that would warm my heart. What I read was altogether more intriguing and absorbing than first glance suggested.

the priority listWith two retired school teachers as parents, the teaching world that Menasche inhabits is a familiar one, I’ve seen first-hand a similar dedication and passion for teaching. As Menasche begins his story though, life throws a huge boulder in front of him – a diagnosis of an aggressive brain tumour. It’s his response though, that shows his strength and courage, telling family, friends and beloved students “Don’t worry – I’ve got this.”

Menasche weaves his story back and forth, telling stories of students and his encounters with them alongside a history of his teaching career. His passion for learning and for igniting a similar passion in his students is evident throughout his story. He tells of his excitement of having a classroom and students to call his own at Coral Reef Senior High.

“But as much as I wanted to make a good impression on my coworkers, what mattered to me most were the kids. I couldn’t wait to meet them. “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”, the author and scholar William Arthur Ward wrote. I wanted to be great teacher. The best they’d ever had.” 

David candidly shares the terror of his diagnosis and the at times brutal toll his cancer treatment takes on his body. Throughout his illness, his unwavering passion for teaching and inspiring his students keeps him afloat, and indeed he credits them with giving him the will to continue. As his health deteriorates, he reaches a crushing realization – that he can no longer continues his classroom teaching. His body and eyesight failing, but his determination firm, he begins a new quest – to visit his former students and find out where life has taken them.

And in this modern age, how best to connect with his now scattered flock? Why, through Facebook of course! With a swift response from all over the US, David sets out to meet and learn about the many students he inspired in his classroom. Along the way, he faces physical and personal challenges that will alter his life forever.

Ultimately I found The Priority List many things – inspiring and moving, deeply sad at moments and joy-filled in others. Menasche’s love of teaching, learning, and life shine through, reflected through the testimony of many students that experienced first hand his passion for learning. A quirky mixture of John Keating (Dead Poets Society) with a dash of rebellious Walter White (Breaking Bad), David Menasche’s story is unique, and one that deserves to be shared.

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You can find out more about David Menasche’s The Priority List, here…

Pardon Me for Mentioning

Sometimes it’s time to take a little break from novels. After a  few novels in a row (particularly if they’re a little on the serious side) it’s good to be able to break it up a little with a good compilation/non-fiction/novelty title.

pardon meI read today’s book over the Christmas period last year, while there were lots of demands on my time. I was time-poor and needed something that I could dip in and out of easily. Pardon Me for Mentioning… Unpublished Letters to the Age and The Sydney Morning Herald by Alex Kaplan, Julie Lewis and Catharine Munro (Allen and Unwin) was exactly the compilation in order.

It’s a fascinating collection of Letters to the Editor on topics as varied as gender wars, illustrious Canberra and, umm,  body odor. Some letters are earnest…

“Ulf Ewaldsson from Ericsson must be really happy that global mobile penetration will read 100 per cent by 2016. The headline claims ‘Everyone who want to make a phone call over a mobile can.’ Maybe the starving millions in the horn of Africa will soon be able to simply dial a pizza. Angus McLeod, Cremorne”

Some are funny…

“Each page of my school report was for a different subject and had three headings – effort, progress and comment. I recall my father being distinctly unimpressed when my French teacher place a ‘no’ in front of each heading. Warwick Harty, Maroubra”

 And some just plan absurd…

“If I get good service in a restaurant I usually tip 10 per cent of the bill. If the service is poor, the tip I leave to the waiter is: ‘Don’t overwater your bromliads in winter.’ John Byrne, Randwick.”

All of them hark back to a time (in the not-that-distant past) of papers in print and a community of voices making themselves heard. The most fun of all is that most of the writers of the letters have their tongues placed firmly in their cheeks. Even those letters of a serious nature have delightful smart-arsery about them, one that will have you giggling wryly. They make their point lightly, yet completely clearly.

I really enjoyed this collection and it has make me read the Letters section of the paper differently. I now see it as a community, a set of voice saying their piece, calling others to account, and sometime just trying to entertain the rest of us a little. 

If you’d like to find out more about  Pardon Me for Mentioning… Unpublished Letters to the Age and The Sydney Morning Herald you can visit the Allen and Unwin website here…

Longing: The Next Time You See Me

Reviewer Carolyn really seems to have been taken in by the characters of Holly Goddard Jones’ The Next Time You See Me (Allen and Unwin) and reading her review, I can see why…

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Loneliness and a longing to escape are the emotions which are evoked when I think about Holly Goddard Jones’ captivating first novel The Next Time You See Me.  Set in small town America, this story centres on a mystery that links six very lonely individuals. Its intricacies, revealed as I read, kept me wondering throughout this haunting novel.

the next time you see meSusanna Mitchell is a young mother and the local middle school English teacher.  She leads a very mundane life and feels stuck in place, in the town she grew up in, spending all of her time pleasing others.  In contrast, her sister Ronnie appears to be the exact opposite, leading a carefree life, albeit much to the distaste of the town and in turn making her the topic of frequent gossip.  When Ronnie suddenly disappears, Susanna suddenly realises her state and how stuck she is in her life and she becomes focussed on finding her sister. Everyone in their small town thinks poorly of Ronnie and it seems that only Susanna cares about where she has gone.

Susanna is only in her twenties and has a big challenge ahead of her if she is to solve the mystery.

One of Susanna’s students is Emily Houchens, a thirteen year old who has a wild imagination and is misunderstood by her family and bullied by her peers.  Early in the novel Emily apparently finds the body of a young woman lying in the woods and she becomes excited by this discovery. Emily is thrilled about having a real life secret which appears similar to the literary characters in her English class stories.

The story takes place in October when the beginnings of Winter are setting in, in a town, sodden with secrets and drudgery. That is until a shocking event occurs, one that rarely comes by a place as insignificant as this one.  The main characters are isolated individuals and are suddenly connected to each other and forced to make decisions. Some make good choices and change their lives, others don’t.  The surroundings and the personal struggles endured by each character sets a solemn tone throughout the story but it was what I liked best about it.

The Next Time You See Me kept me guessing until the very end.  I wonder if others who read this, agree or will it be obvious? I truly liked the main characters and sympathised with them through their stories and their solitude.  It is easy to be distracted when it came to speculating the truth of what happened on that fateful night and thinking now, I prefer my own assumptions.

This book may sound quite depressing but the sad mystery with themes of heartache and loss drew me in and kept me interested.  There are times of happiness for some of the characters and it gave me hope that the decent people of this book can leave their lonely existences behind and start afresh with love and companionship.  The strength behind this book is its characters and how carefully Goddard Jones constructed them.  I was left, at the end, thinking about this story for days and still now, the characters are real to me.

“In her Camaro, on the road, with the window down and freezing air blowing in and her left hand making little waves as she raced along, she could be herself, finally.  She would rather be leaving than coming, driving than arriving; she lived better in the in-between than she ever had sitting still.  Which is why she didn’t belong in any photograph. She had looked through the camera’s lens and seen not her family but her own absence, and it had seemed to her for a moment that she was a ghost, that she didn’t really exist and wouldn’t be missed.”

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To find out more about Holly Goddard Jones’ The Next Time You See Me visit the Allen & Unwin website here…