Thursday, December 12, 2019

Meet me at Lennons

In October I read Khaki Town by Judy Nunn which was predominantly about the effect of the arrival of American soldiers in Townsville during the Second World War. Meet me at Lennons by Melanie Myers is a novel set in Brisbane during World War II also looking at relationships between the military stationed in that city, both US and Australian, and the general public.

Events are revealed via two time frames: the present - concerning PhD student, Olivia Wells and her attempts to  write a thesis about women in Brisbane during the war, particularly the writer Gloria Graham - and the past - recounting stories of experiences of women during the war years. A focus of the book is the story of the River Girl murder, an event which was glossed over at the time by the press and hidden from the public by the military.

Relationships between some Australian women with  American soldiers, jealousies between some of the Australian soldiers regarding the Americans moving into their city plus the insistence of the American military hierarchy that only they would deal, quietly, with possible crimes committed by American soldiers are some of the themes in the novel. There is, however, also a strong focus on the lives of the Australian women living and working in this new environment created by the war.

It took a while to really become involved with events in this book as, particularly initially, there are many stories about different women and their experiences. Over time the varying threads begin to make sense and I eventually became involved with the story. I suspect that this is a book that should be read when there is plenty of time to really become involved with the story and the characters. The novel certainly provides an overview of life in Brisbane in the early 1940s.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Confessions of a bookseller

This is the second volume about Shaun Bythell's life as a second-hand bookseller in Wigtown, Scotland. It is therefore the sequel to The diary of a bookseller. Shaun Bythell also has a Facebook page, The Booshop, in which he regularly publishes updates of his experiences with customers.

Each chapter covers a month from January 2015 until the end of December. At the commencement of each chapter is a quote from Augustus Muir's book, The intimate thoughts of John Baxter, bookseller (1942) followed by the author's comments on the passage. He then includes daily sections from his diary of sales, the weather, comments made by customers, life in Wigtown plus the activities of his cat, Captain. An important part of a second-hand book shop is the need to access collections of books as possible stock for sale and this takes up much of his time. Increasingly he also (much to his disgust) has to rely on sales of books via online sellers such as Amazon.

The two volumes provide a commentary not only on the state of the book trade but also on life in a small town in Scotland. Wigtown has a variety of bookshops and book festivals and author events are featured during the year. The bookshop is a central part of the community with a number of groups regularly meeting in the building, especially in the room upstairs. This is not, therefore, just an amusing account of the experiences of someone trying to make a living selling second-hand books. It is also a record of living in a small Scottish community in 2015.

The women of the cousins' war

This non-fiction book contains sections by Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin and Michael Jones about three of the women prominent in the Wars of the Roses - the Duchess (Jacquetta of Luxembourg), the Queen ( Elizabeth Woodville) and the King's Mother ( Margaret Beaufort).

In the introduction Phillipa Gregory writes about her love of history plus the writing of historical fiction. She then relies on original documents, plus some site visits and archaeology, to write a short biography of Jacquetta of Luxembourg. David Baldwin then writes about Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of Edward IV while Michael Jones writes about the mother of Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort. The Woodville and Beaufort families figure prominently in the story of the Wars of the Roses.This book provides interesting background to attempting for understand events in English history from 1455-1485.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Bruny

Heather Rose has set this novel in the south of Tasmania. It is November 2021 and the bridge being built between the Tasmanian mainland and Bruny Island is nearing completion. Then early one morning part of the the bridge collapses after a bomb explosion. The premier announces that the bridge will be rebuilt by the beginning of March with the assistance of teams of Chinese workmen brought to Australia to do the work.

Astrid (Ace) Coleman is summoned from New York to return to Hobart to act as an arbitrator between the various parties for and against the building of the bridge. The Coleman family are prominent in Tasmanian politics with her father a former long time member of parliament, her brother the current premier and her sister leader of the opposition. The family situation is further complicated by her mother receiving cancer treatment and her father only speaking in Shakespearean quotes after a stroke.

This novel contains many political themes including foreign investment and interference in another government, the increasing power of China in the region, references to current events in the USA, climate change etc. Ace takes some time discovering what is really going on in Tasmanian and Australian politics and who she can trust. The book also explores family relationships. It is some time into the novel before the reader learns the real reason why Ace has returned to Australia.

Silver

Silver, the new book by Chris Hammer, is the sequel to Scrublands.

When journalist Martin Scarsden returns to Port Silver, the coastal town where he lived as a boy, he did not expect to find the body of his best friend lying in a pool of blood in the apartment. He also did not expect his girlfriend, Mandy Blonde, to be the main suspect.

Martin and his lawyer assist the police with their inquiries but also work to try and find not only who murdered Jasper but what is happened at a settlement on the beach resulting in the deaths of another seven people. Martin has a strict deadline in which to work as his newspaper wants to be the first to break aspects of the story.

This is a story with many twists and turns as the plot is revealed. Martin is also forced to revisit his past and come to terms with previous family relationships and events that occurred as he was growing up. As in Scrublands, the town of Port Silver and the surrounding environment and its community are crucial to the story.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Why you should read children's books

The full title of this short book about reading by Katherine Rundell is Why you should read children's books even though you are so old and wise.

Rundell argues that adults should read read or reread children's books as adults in order 'to enlarge their world'. She discusses the childhood joy of reading books and discovering new worlds, the joy of entering a world of imagination and encountering a love of words, even when they may not be fully understood. She discusses the emergence of books written specifically for children dating back to the fifteenth century, the genre of fairy tales told in many versions, plus how political themes can be found in many early twentieth century children's books.

The author concludes:
Children's books are not a a hiding place, they are a seeking place. Plunge yourself soul-forward into a children's book: see if you can find in them an unexpected alchemy; if they will not un-dig in you something half hidden and half forgotten. Read a children's book to remember what it was to long for impossible and perhaps-not- impossible things. Go to children's fiction to see the world with double eyes: your own, and those of your childhood self. (page 62)
See also Storytime by Jane Sullivan

Owl be home for Christmas

This title is the sixth Meg Langslow book by Donna Andrews with a Christmas theme. Like all the books in this series a bird features in the title.

Meg's grandfather has organised an Owl Fest at the Caerphilly Inn a few days before Christmas. When a severe snow storm hits the area cutting off the ornithologists and other guests from the outside world it looks as if Christmas may need to be spent at the Inn. As usual Meg and her family have to create contingency plans.

Most of the conference attendees join in the spirit of the season except for Dr Frogmore so when he dies at a conference dinner there are many suspects to investigate. Another murder mystery with many twists and turns laced with the antics of a range of entertaining characters, plus a dose of Christmas (and other festivals) cheer.