Saturday, December 31, 2011


The real estate industry is the target of this novel by Brendan Gullifer. Gullifer uses his short stint working in real estate to expose many of the processes used to persuade a homeowner to to choose a particular agent to sell their house. The setting for this satirical expose is a real estate agency selling properties in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. The story is revealed through the eyes of Will, a newcomer to the industry, who is teamed with a former car dealer, Harry Osborne, to learn the ropes. The behind the scenes machinations to close a deal as well as the degeneration of character and lives of key figures in the agency are revealed as the plot revolving around corruption and revenge unfolds.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Di Morrissey - twenty years of writing

In November 2011 Jennifer Byrne interviewed Di Morrissey in the program, Jennifer Byrne Presents. Di Morrissey has become one of Australia's most popular authors recently publishing her nineteenth book. Most of her books are set in Australia with the location being as important as the characters and the plot for the enjoyment of the story.

The first Di Morrissey novel that I read was Tears of the Moon originally published in 1995. On a visit to Broome this book was constantly mentioned by tour guides for its ability to capture the essence of the times of the pearling industry in Broome so when we returned home I had to read it and was immediately transported back to the 1890s in that remote part of Australia. The story is told via Lily Barton's quest in the 1990s to understand the history of her family - an added layer of interest. It was also an enjoyable book to read. I also enjoyed Kimberley Sun which is the sequel to Tears of the Moon.

Since then I have travelled around Australia and overseas through the settings in Di Morrissey books.  The Reef is set on a Great Barrier Reef island and portrays the conflicts between the need to protect the marine  environment and the economy generated by the tourist industy, both important to existence of this beautiful part of Queensland. Further south, New South Wales near Byron Bay is the setting for The Valley, another exploration for understanding family history secrets. Moving overseas The Islands is mainly set in Hawaii in the 1970s when an Australian tries to adapt to life in a foreign environment after marrying an American naval officer.

I look forward to reading her latest book when the reservation list for the book at the library subsides.

Unearthing London: the ancient world of the metropolis

Excavations that take place from time to time in London help to reveal the history of the area on which London now stands. Simon Webb is particularly interested in the use of the land prior to the arrival of the Romans and the building of the city of Londinium. He also examines how certain sites have continuously been used as religious sites throughout the ages.

For thousands of years the area around London consisted of many rivers flowing through marshland into the Thames with the land primarily used for religious purposes. The first section of the book largely looks at how pre-Roman people used the land in and around London, particularly how they honoured their dead. Chapters include an examination of the rivers and hills as part of the ritual landscape, religious views of pre-Roman peoples, plus an examination of gods and goddesses and the practice of severing heads from bodies. With the arrival of the Romans many of the pre-existing gods in Britain merged with the Roman gods and were often worshipped at the same shrines. Webb also investigates the similarity between the Saxon gods and those of pre-Roman Britain.

The final chapter provides a series of walks through London where reminders of earlier life in the city still remain. For those who watch Time Team this book provides additional information relating to some of the excavations undertaken in the program. Unfortunately there is too much repetition in the book  which for me affected its readability.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The happiest refugee: a memoir

A list of popular non-fiction books borrowed from the library during 2011 would have to include The happiest refugee by Ahn Do. When he was two Ahn's family left Vietnam on a small overcrowded boat, survived two encounters with pirate boats before arriving in Malayasia and then travelled to Australia. This account of why a Vietnamese family needed to leave their country and their struggles to make a new life in their adopted country is a story of determination and survival. The importance of family, including extended family, is evident throughout the book particularly Ahn's relationship with his mother who brings up three children as a single parent and his reconciliation with his father who left the family when suffering depression relating to events in Vietnam. The book also includes many amusing accounts of how Ahn, the eldest in the family, attempted to earn money to help the family's finances as well as the story of how Ahn became an actor and a comedian. Reading this book there are events that make you cry coupled with many sections that make you laugh out lound. Overall there is a feeling of optimism, hope plus a determination to have a go.  I am glad that I finally had the opportunity to read this book.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The forgotten affairs of youth

Number eight in the Isabel Dalhousie novel series by Alexander McCall Smith. When Isabel is contacted by an Australian philosopher who is trying to locate information about her parents who lived in Edinburgh Isabel decides to help. This action, of course, brings about much soul searching as to whether the truth should be told at all cost or whether sometimes the truth may cause only unhappiness to one of the parties involved. As editor of the Review of Applied Ethics Isabel also has to decide how to deal with Professor Lettuce whose actions continue to be anything but ethical. I enjoyed reading this novel with its observations on how people may think and act on small and large actions in their lives. As with all Alexander McCall Smith books the story is told with gentle humour as we come to know and understand the regular characters in the series.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A conspiracy of friends

This is the third Corduroy Mansions novel by Alexander McCall Smith providing more stories about the inhabitants of Pimlico, especially those associated with the apartments of Corduroy Mansions. The series of stories throughout the book involve an investigation of friendship and how the characters respond to challenges in relationships. When William French visits friends in the country his dog, Freddie de la Hay, disappears and his loyalty to old friends is tested when his friend's wife confides her love for William. Barbara Ragg redefines her relationship with Hugo and continues her dispute with  Rupert Porter and his wife as they continue their quest to acquire Barbara's apartment. Caroline has a new flatmate. Oedipus Snark MP member of the Liberal Democrats receives a promotion while Terence Moongrove acquires a new car, both events providing additional worries for Berthea Snark.

These amusing, sometimes quirky, stories as well as entertaining the reader often portray attitudes and perceptions prevalent in society today.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bertie plays the blues

The seventh book in the 44 Scotland Street series. Alexander McCall Smith continues to recount the events in the lives of his now familiar characters - Bertie and his family, Domenica, Angus Lordie and Antonia, Mathew and Elspeth as well as Pat who works in the gallery and Big Lou, the owner of the local cafe.

In this volume six and a half year old Bertie decides to apply for adoption to escape the strict regime laid out for him by his mother, his father also rebels and joins the masons, Domenica and Angus finally decide on a wedding date, Mathew and Elspeth come to grips with being the parents of triplets while Pat and Big Lou explore options to form new relationships.

Edinburgh is the setting for this collection of character studies touched with humour and portraying a selection of inner city life and attitudes.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mini Shopaholic

This is the sixth title in Sophie Kinsella's shopaholic series. Becky Brandon is a 29 year old mother with a two year old daughter, Minnie. Becky loves shopping but when the Global Financial Crises hits London even Becky realises that she needs to restrict her purchases - not an easy task. Becky, Minnie and Luke are living with Becky's parents until they take possession of their new home - which should be soon. Being a parent can also be a challenge especially as Minnie is proving to be a  determined young lady whose favourite word is Mine so Becky and Luke decide to enlist someprofessional  guidance in bringing up their daughter. Becky also decides to organise a surprise birthday party with all the bells and whistles for her husband - on a budget of course. Needless to say many complications arise on all these fronts resulting in an amusing tale of mayhem until all is resolved.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Oranges are not the only fruit

In November The Age newspaper reviewed a memoir, Why be happy when you could be normal?  by Jeanette Winterson where she describes her life living with her adopted family. It was not a conventional upbringing as her mother's life revolved around the activities of a zealous church and its missions and abhorrence of all that is not holy. Jeanette is also actively involved in the church until she leaves home at  sixteen. Many years later she became a successful author writing, among other novels, Oranges are not the only fruit.

In the introduction to the book she writes, "Is Oranges an autobiographical novel? Not at all and yes of course." There are definitely parallels between the Jeanette in the novel and experiences of the author. Jeanette in the novel has always been different and has difficulty fitting in at school largely due to her religious environment as she actively participates in the church services and other activities, including preaching, and is destined to be a missionary. However at sixteen she is forced to leave home after forming a relationship with another woman, definitely an unholy practice in the eyes of the congregation and particularly her mother. Jeanette's story is interwoven with other parables of people who are different being forced to leave home yet still having a thread leading them back.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A moveable feast

From 1957 and 1960 the American author, Ernest Hemingway, recorded his memories of living in Paris between 1921 and 1925 published as A moveable feast. In one of the later chapters of the book  Hemingway describes a conversion with the bar chef at the Ritz bar where he is asked to describe the writer Scott Fitzgerald. He answers, " I am going to write something about him in a book that I will write about the early days in Paris. ... I will put him in exactly as I remember him the first time that I met him." Scot Fitgerald had recently completed The Great Gatsby when Hemingway met him. He also writes about other authors  that he met in Paris during this time including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis and also mentions artists such as Pablo Picasso.

The book in part describes the life of a young writer with a wife and child living in and enjoying life in Paris with little money as Hemingway works at the craft of writing, initially as a journalist but then as a writer of short stories and eventually a novel. The book is also about Paris and its cafe culture and other cultural pursuits in the 1920s.

The title of the book comes from a conversation that Hemingway had with a friend in 1950 - "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast".

In 2011 the film, Midnight in Paris, captures much of the lifestyle and atmosphere of Paris in this period as writer, Gil Pender, explores the streets of Paris at night and at midnight is transported back to the Paris of the 1920s where he meets the writers, artists and musicians enjoying the many bars, cafes and salons around Montmatre. The film was reviewed in At the Movies

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

Although the actual wedding between Grace Makutsi and Phuti Radiphuti does not occur until the final chapter much planning for the wedding is required before the event can take place. While this is occurring the services of the detectives at the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency continue to be in demand. Who has been causing injury to the cattle of Mr Moeti? Is Charlie really the father of twins? And has Mma Ramotswe's little white van come back to life? This is the twelfth book is the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith and continues the tradition of the previous titles taking the reader into the life of Mma Ramotswe and her family and friends living in Botswana.

In September 2011 ABC television showed an episode of Compass consisting of a Geraldine Doogue  interview with Alexander McCall Smith. The episode can be viewed or downloaded plus a transcript of the interview can be found at

 In October 2011 Alexander McCall Smith was guest of the program, Jennifer Byrne presents -

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lola's secret

Members of her family have made plans to holiday away from the family motel in the Clare Valley, South Australia, but 84 year old Lola Quinlan decides to spend a quiet Christmas at the motel alone. At least that is what she tells the family. Lola practices her newly acquired computer skills to advertise a special holiday package at the motel. Eight people reply to the ad and part of the book looks at the lives of these people. The rest of the book revolves around Lola's relationships with her family and friends, especially her two grand-daughters Bett and Cassie and their young families.

Lola's secret is a sequel to The Alphabet Sisters first published in 2004. The Alphabet Sisters are Anna, Bett and Carrie Quinlan who, when very young, form a singing group managed by their grandmother, Lola Quinlan. When the girls have a an argument resulting in them not talking to each other for three years their grandmother insists that they all come home to help her celebrate her eightieth birthday. What she does not tell them is her plan to bring the girls together again.

In both books Monica McInerney presents a study of often complex family relationships involving sadness as well as joyous times with Lola Quinlan as the catalyst or motivator for family and community events.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The secrets of the notebook

When Eve Haas was sixteen her father showed her a special family notebook. The cover had a royal insignia and inside was an inscription signed by Prince August of Prussia. Eve was told that Prince August was her great great grandfather who had married Emilie Gottschalk, the daughter of a Jewish tailor. She was told no other information except that she was not to investigate this story, however one day the notebook would belong to her.

Many years later Eve and her husband decided that they needed to know the story of the notebook and in particular to learn of the lives of three generations of women Emilie, Charlotte and Anna. It was the time of the Cold War so investigations had to be made in East Berlin, a dangerous place for German Jews now living in Britain to enter. This book outlines Eve's story as she searches for the truth about her family and why all mention of Prince August and his family had been hidden for generations. In her search she discovers stories of political intrigue and struggle for power within the Hollenstedt family.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Henrietta Augusta Dugdale: an activist 1827-1918

Susan Priestley has written a well researched book on the life of Henrietta Dugdale, a pioneer member of the women's suffrage movement in Victoria and generally a campaigner for women's rights. Born in London in 1827 she came to Australia with her first husband, Junius Augustus Davies, in the early 1850s. No record of the death of her husband has been located but it is assumed that he died in 1852. In  March 1853 Henrietta married William Dugdale, they had three sons and  lived and farmed in Queenscliff for many years.  From 1869 Henrietta began writing letters to the papers, initially anonymously, on women's issues. By 1870 the marriage had dissolved and Henrietta moved to Camberwell from where, until 1887, she continued her campaigning on women's issues including the formation of suffrage societies. Her sons had moved to New Zealand with their father and when her husband died in 1903 Henrietta married Frederick Johnson. After Johnson's death in 1913 she moved to Point Lonsdale where she died in 1918.

As well as describing the life of Henrietta and her family the book provides a picture of  life in the developing colony in the nineteenth century as well as issues affecting women that were important towards the end of that century and early twentieth century. The politics of the suffrage movements are also examined.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The mystery of a hansom cab

Published in 1886 The mystery of a hansom cab written by Fergus Hume became a best seller in Australia and Britain and also gained a following in other countries. The plot revolves around the death of a passenger in a hansom cab while being driven through the streets of Melbourne. Brian Fitzgerald is originally arrested for the murder of Oliver Whyte but investigations initiated by Madge, his fiancee, and Calton, his lawyer prove his innocence. Why, however, does Fitzgerald refuse to tell the full story to clear his name? Who did kill Whyte and what information was in the papers stolen from the pocket of the victim? Set in Melbourne in the 1880s the book provides a picture of life in the city in the latter part of the nineteenth century as well as being a good crime novel.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Stork raving mad

In the latest Meg Langslove book by Donna Andrews Meg is eight and a half months pregnant and is coping with a house full of drama students and other assorted guests who have taken refuge in her home when the heating at the local college failed. One of the students has written a play which is in rehearsal when two staff from the college arrive to say that the play will not be allowed to be performed. A short time later one of the staff members is murdered. Meg therefore has to contend with the police investigation, her mother who has come to decorate the nursery and other family members and friends who just appear to add to the chaos. By the end of the book the murder is caught and Meg is off to hospital to give birth to twins. Readers have to wait until the next book in the series in order to discover whether the babies are boys or girls or a mixed pair.

You'll be sorry when I'm dead

Writer, Marieke Hardy, presents a series of observations based on often extreme life experiences and passions. Themes include past relationships and friendships, a range of sexual activities plus addictions to alcohol and musicians. At times people appearing in the book are given the opportunity to comment on what has been written. The demise of the Fitzroy Football Club - a family passion - a friend's battle with cancer, sessions to encourage letter writing, an obsession with Bob Ellis (including naming her dog after him), life as a child actor and writing for telelvision form the basis for some of the chapters. Marike writes for a number of publications and many of the chapters are based on material previously published.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Flash and Bones

The scene for this latest book by Kathy Reichs is a NASCAR racetrack. When a body is located in the rubbish tip next to the racetrack Dr Temperance Brennan is called in to help identify the body. A young man working at the racetrack fears that the body might be his sister who disappeared with her boyfriend twelve years earlier. Later the brother is found crushed under a car on which he was working. While investigating this cold case it becomes obvious that there was a cover-up and that the new murder is connected. But which of the agencies investigating the disappearance of the couple can be trusted and why is Tempe's life in danger? Another gripping read interspersed with information about NASCAR racing.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Stieg Larsson legacy

In 2004 Stieg Larsson gave his Swedish publisher three volumes of what has become known as The Millennium Trilogy -Men who Hate Women published outside Sweden as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Stirred the Hornet's Nest. Later that year, before the final editing of the books, Stieg Larsson had a heart attack and died.

The books have become bestsellers world wide and the stories have been transferred to films. Events that have occurred since the author's death, particularly the dispute between Larsson's family and Eva Gabrielsson, his partner of thirty years, have raised additional interest in the media. As Stieg and Eva did not marry and he did not leave a will Eva is not entitled to any of the money from his estate unless the Larsson family give her part of it. There is also discussion over the draft of a fourth book which is currently held by Gabrielsson.

Many articles and books have been written about Stieg Larsson. Three titles that I found in the library recently are Stieg and Me: Memories of Life with Stieg Larsson by Eva Gabrielsson (2011), The Man Who Left Too Soon: the Biography of Stieg Larsson by Barry Forshaw (2010) and Secrets of the Tattooed Girl: The Unauthorised Guide to theStieg Larsson Trilogy by Dan Burnstein, Arne de Keijzer and John-Henri Holmberg (2011).

Eva Gabrielsson writes not only of her life with Stieg Larsson but also provides details of his early life living with his grandparents until he was nine, the strained relationship with his parents and brother, the causes that drove Stieg including politics (especially his crusade against the rise of the Neo-Nazis in Sweden) and  support of feminist issues, his journalist career including his magazine, Expo, and the writing of the trilogy. She also discusses the events that have occurred since Larsson's death, especially Sweden's laws regarding de facto relationships. She provides an interesting insight into the life and passions of the author.

In The Man Who Left Too Soon, Forshaw looks primarily at the writing of the books. He describes the groups to which Larsson belonged at various times and the use of the experience gained from these groups in the plot of the trilogy. He is particularly interested in Larsson's interest in reading crime fiction and discusses the influence of and reference to other writers and characters in the books. A major section of the book is a plot analysis of each volume. The final chapters look at other Scandinavian crime writers and responses of crime writers to the work of Stieg Larsson.

The Unauthorised Guide to the Stieg Larsson Trilogy is a collection of articles by a variety of writers on Stieg Larsson and the three books. Topics include the author, why the books have made such an impact on the public, the editing and translation of the novels, Larsson's interest in science fiction and crime novels, Nordic Noir, the characters - especially Salander, how the book portrays Sweden, feminism and the mystery of the fourth book. An interesting collection of articles for those who want to further investigate issues raised in the novels.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dead and Kicking

This is the third in a series of books written by Geoff McGeachin about Australian photographer and spy, Alby Murdoch. In Vietnam to shoot stills for a movie he takes a photo of friends which includes, in the background, an image of a man in a cyclo. This photo sets off a series of events resulting in the death of a colleague and attempted murder of Murdoch and his two friends in the photograph as they attempt to locate the man in the photograph who everyone believed had died thirty years previously. Who is trying to kill them and why? The action packed plot takes Murdoch to Hong Kong, Thailand, back to Vietnam, Macau and finally to Canberra and the Northern Territory until Murdoch, with the aid of assorted friends who rescue him along the way, is able to resolve what is happening. This entertaining tale told with humour is well worth reading.

Drawing on archaeology

Bringing history to life is the subtitle of this book of archaeological illustrations by Victor Ambrus. The artist's original claim to fame was as an illustrator of children's books being awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal  in 1965 and 1975. Since 1994 Victor Ambrus has been the illustrator on the Time Team television program where his role is to pictorially interpret the finds and times explored in each program in order to show how people lived. The book contains a collection of his reconstruction drawings and sketches for programs recorded between 2001 and 2005.

In the book's introduction Mick Aston discusses the importance of the show using an illustrator to portray the daily life of the people who lived at the sites being evacuated - "In these days of computers and graphics packages, some have questioned the role of the traditional artist working with pencil, paper and watercolours.  ... Even the most sophisticated computer graphic illustrations cannot capture the feeling and detail that Victor puts into his pictures."

This collection of illustrations helps document thousands of years of British history from prehistoric times to World War II.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sarah Thornhill

This book is the sequel to Kate Grenville's novel, The Secret River, about William Thornhill and his family establishing a settlement on the Hawkesbury River in the early 1800s. This book is a continuation of the story told from the the viewpoint of  Sarah Thornhill, William's daughter. Born and bred in New South Wales the independent Sarah sets out to establish her own life but discovers that untold family secrets can impact on the lives of future generations.

As in The Secret River much of the story revolves around the relationships between the settlers and the Aboriginal people living in the area and as in The Secret River a variety of reactions are shown to the tensions that develop. In Sarah Thornhill this thread is expanded to include the attitudes towards Sarah's niece whose father was Sarah's brother, Will, who married a Maori when he was sealing in New Zealand.

Once again this is a beautifully written work of fiction set in New South Wales from the 1830s. The reader, as well becoming involved in Sarah's story, is encouraged to consider the many challenges faced and decisions made by Australian pioneers. Many of the challenges in regard to race relations continue today.

Go to The Lieutenant and The Secret River for my post on the earlier books in this series.

Kate Grenville's website contains summaries and detailed additional information about her books.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Northanger Abbey

Recently we visited the exhibition at the Jane Austen Center in Bath which provides information about Jane Austens's visits to Bath at the end of the 1790s and again in the early 1800s when she lived in the city for several years and also about the two books that she set in Bath, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Back in Australia I decided to reread Northanger Abbey, a book that I had studied at school in the mid 1960s. This was Jane Austen's first novel but although it was sold to a publisher in 1803 it was not published until after the author's death. It is the story of seventeen year old Catherine Morland who accompanies Mr and Mrs Allen, friends of her parents, to Bath in order that Mr Allen can receive treatment for gout. Bath was very different from the quiet village in which Catherine lived and she was soon introduced to the social life available in the city as well as making new acquaintances including the Thorpes and the Tilneys. During her time from home Catherine learns about friendship, real and imagined, as well as the importance of  accepting the realities of life rather than entertaining the romance and horrors as decribed in the gothic novels that she enjoyed so much such as Mrs Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho.

Jane Austen's books have been analysed in great detail and Northanger Abbey is no exception. Janine Barchas in Mapping Northanger Abbey, published in the Review of English Studies in 2008, discusses some of the historical elements the author included in the book. The article concentrates on the theme of mistaken identity when John Thorpe and General Tilney believe that Catherine will inherit the fortune of the Allen Estate. Ralph Allen was a wealthy Bath landowner in the 1700s but when the novel is set it is uncertain who the new owners of the estate are except that they are members of the Allen family living in the country. Barchas argues that the inhabitants of Bath would know the Allen story and appreciate the misunderstanding made by characters in the book.

Jane Austen's descriptions make it possible to trace the locations where some of the events in the novel take place and when in Bath we visited some of the sites frequented by the characters. As a major tourist location from the 1700s many maps of Bath as well as guidebooks were published and as copies were found among books owned by the Austen family the author was probably familiar with them. Barchas discusses how Jane Austen may have based the descriptions of Blaise Castle on a Bath garden folly called Sham Castle. She also refers to the possibility of the author choosing the surname of a well known mapmaker of Bath for the character who promised to show Catherine one site but takes her to another location. This idea is expanded further in another article by Janine Barchas, The real Bluebeard of Bath,  published in Persuasions in 2010. While Thorpe promised to take Catherine to Blaise Castle north of Bath there are ruins of a Gothic castle - Fairleigh Hungerford Castle  - nine miles south of Bath. Bacchus suggests that Jane Austen may have used the abbey near the castle as the basis for her descriptions of Northanger Abbey and stories of Fairleigh Hungerford Castle for Catherine's imaginings of what may have occurred there.

As a seventeen I enjoyed reading Northanger Abbey but I enjoyed the book more this time around, especially appreciating the humour throughout the book. I look forward to rereading the other works of Jane Austen.

Monday, September 12, 2011


In Sideshow: dumbing down democracy  former politician, Lindsay Tanner, argues that politics in Australia has been reduced to politicians aiming to look as if they are doing something whilst being careful not offend anybody. He contends that this is the result of the interaction between the media coverage and political actions.

In the late 1960s those of us studying Australian political science at ANU were asked to consider whether the media could be seen as the third arm of political decision making along with the parliament and the courts. In 2011 it can definitely be argued that media coverage shapes the way politicians make decisions and also present those decisions to the public.

Tanner provides examples from his own experience as well as from the literature written on this topic to illustrate his points. Political decisions are often made or altered in reaction to opinion polls or to the views of interest groups whose views are expressed in the media whenever a topic is raised. Political announcements are often shaped by the media and presented quickly to ensure that it looks as if the government is doing something, when often they are not, in order to diffuse a situation. The television program, The Hollow Men, Tanner suggests, provided graphic coverage as to how this works.

Media prefer to publish stories that have images, rather than reports of facts. The media also tends to prefer to publish headlines and grabs of information using parts of quotes, often taken out of context, that dramatise a story or give it a particular slant. Tanner argues that at press conferences journalists have a set of predetermined questions aimed to collect a response to go in the almost written article. This is the age of celebrity and political leaders are expected to be celebrities and to entertain. Politicians also play the media game when they want a view expressed to further a cause.  

Tanner discusses the 'dumbing down' of the media as they try to maintain their circulation or audience. He argues that television news and public affairs programs on commercial TV have become entertainment with little or no serious news content. Even 'serious' newspapers are looking more to entertain than to provide detailed political reports and news stories.

The book provides an interesting insight into the state of political processes and the media from the viewpoint of someone who has existed in and sometimes worked the system.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cold Comfort Farm

First published in 1932, Stella Gibbons has created a cast of largely morbid characters inhabiting a family property in Sussex, Cold Comfort Farm. The book was written as a parody of rural novels popular at the time. Nineteen year old Flora Poste lives in the city but when her parents die from the Spanish flu and leave her with little money she contacts relatives to locate a new home. The only invitation received is from her cousins at Cold Comfort Farm. Flora survives this culture shock by deciding to change the lives of the people she meets in this country environment. References are made to a wrong done to her family previously but this is never explained. Neither do we learn what Aunt Ada Doom saw in the woodshed when she was young. The book is populated with amusing characters and events. It is best read in one sitting.

Smokin' seventeen

A continuation of the crazy escapades of Stephanie Plum and friends by Janet Evanovich. When the Vincent Plum Bail Bonds office is being rebuilt bodies are found in shallow graves on the site followed by the discovery of other bodies at other locations. What is the link between these deaths and why are some of the bodies labelled, 'For Stephanie'? Before the finish of the book three people are trying to kill Stephanie and Grandma Bella has put 'the eye' on her. Meanwhile her relationship with Morelli and Ranger continues while her mother tries matchmaking between Stephanie and a former high school football star. Throw in a dancing bear plus bail absconders that need to be returned to the court system and you have another typical Stemphanie plum adventure.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Moomin's Little Book of Colours

Tove Jansson wrote and illustrated the Moomintroll books between 1945 and 1970. The characters and stories in books such as Finn Family Moomintroll, Comet in Moominland and Moominsummer Madness have become favourites of several generations of children throughout the world.

Recently a series of board books featuring the Moomin characters have been made for very young children - Moomin's little book of words, colours, numbers and opposites. A boxed set of small board books designed to introduce children to the Moomin characters - Meet Moomintroll, Moomimpappa, Snorkmaiden and Moominmama - is also available. It is good to see the revival of these characters in this format which hopfully will introduce another generation of children when they are older to the world of Moomins.

Several volumes of the cartoon strips about the Moomins that originally appeared in Finnish-Swedish newspapers in the late 1940s are also available (in English) in some bookshops including Readers Feast.

Naked Heat

For a number of years Sunday evening television entertainment provided by Channel 7 in Melbourne has been Bones followed by Castle.

Don't get me started about television stations who promote a new series, eg Bones, show a few episodes then return to reruns before replacing the series with another program. The remaining programs in the new series can be viewed on the Internet so they do exist. I guess that Channel 7 may agree to show them to their viewing public.

Anyway, back to Castle. Richard Castle is an author who gains permission to follow the daily activities of Detective Kate Beckett  and her team in the murder squad as source material for a new series of books that he is writing. His main character, Nikki Heat, is to be based on Detective Beckett. An improbable situation but an entertaining television program. A spin-off from the program is the publication of a series of Nikki Heat books purported to be written by Richard Castle. Heat Wave, the first book, made the best seller lists in the USA. It was shortly followed by Naked Heat with Heat Rises recently published.

In Naked Heat, Jameson Rook is a journalist who has written a magazine article based on his time following Detective Nikki Heat and her team as they go about their work solving murders. They meet again when Rook is waiting for them at the scene of a murder, the victim being the gossip columnist about whom his next  article will be written. Together Jameson and Nikki work together to identify the murderer, not an easy task as few people liked the murder victim. This is an entertaining story with plenty of action to keep you wanting to read further. The parallels between the characters and plot in the book and the television series are also interesting to observe.

Fans of the television series will certainly enjoy this book but it can also be enjoyed as a stand-alone detective story. A film of the first Nikki Heat book will be out soon.

Further information about the Casle books can be found at or at

Friday, June 24, 2011

Odd one out

In this short story by Monica McInerney Sylvie feels that she is the odd one out in her artistic family but a holiday in Melbourne helps her to reaccess her life and relationship with family members and also eventually allows her to find love.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Bride's Farewell

Written for young teenagers by Meg Rosoff, The Bride's Farewell is the story of Pell and her family. On the day that she is to marry Pell decides to leave home on her horse Jack but is followed by her young brother, Bean who insists on going with her. The book follows their journey as Pell, an extremely resourceful young lady with a gift for judging and looking after horses tries to establish a new life. Set in south west England in the nineteenth century the effects of the industrial revolution on the lives of people form a backdrop to the story. During the book Pell discovers how her actions to gain independence affected not only her life but the life of the other members of her family.

Views from younger readers about this book can be found at

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mia Culpa

Mia Freedman's most recent book is subtitled confessions from the water cooler of life. As a social commentator Mia writes about everyday issues in modern life that affect the lives of many people, particularly younger women. Communication in the age of digital technology, relationships, attitudinal differences between men and women, living with children, perceptions of being cool and when one stopped being so and fashion trends are some of the topics canvassed in this book.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mama Mia - a memoir of mistakes, magazines and motherhood

The subtitle sums up the contents of this memoir by Mia Freedman. At 19 Mia worked at Cleo, initially on a work experience try-out before officially joining the staff as a beauty writer. At 24 she was editor of the Australian edition of Cosmopolitan (Cosmo Magazine). In 2003 she became Editor-in Chief of the magazines, Cosmopolitan, Cleo and Dolly. Mia provides vivid descriptions of the stress as well as the glamour experienced when working for such publications, especially the long hours, the need to play the role depicted by the magazine and trying to keep ahead of the opposition as well as predicting what the public want to read.Marian Keyes in her novel, Sushi for beginners, paints a similar picture of the women's glossy magazine industry. Mia also worked in television with appearance on the Today show and when she resigned from her editing role was offered an executive position at Channel 9 - a career move that was short-lived. Mia then turned her attention to the Internet including her successful website She also writes a column for the Sunday Age and has written the books, The New Black (2005) and Mia Culpa (2011)

This book however is also about relationships, good and bad, special friendships and her family. Juggling motherhood with full time work is one of the themes of the book. The grief of a miscarriage is discussed as well as other people's attitudes to pregnant women. Mia writes of her mistakes and fears as well as her successes in this account of how she has developed a life where she can enjoy her work and also enjoy being a mother. As Mia would agree, having an understanding husband, family and friends definitely helps. An interesting account of the life so far of a fascinating and determined woman aiming to publicise the real concerns of women. One of the changes that she introduced at Cosmopolitan was not publishing diets in the magazine and portraying women with a variety of body shapes and nationalities in the publication. This is a belief that she continues to promote including being appointed chair of the National Advisory Group on Body Image.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Faraday girls

The complexities of family relationships are examined in this novel by Monica McInerney. The five Faraday girls live with their father, Leo, in Hobart. Tessa, their mother, died when the girls were young but her memory is kept alive in stories told by Leo plus family traditions continued in her memory. Family dynamics change when the youngest sister, Clementine, has a daughter, Maggie, who is consequently brought up by the five sisters and their father.  When Maggie is five her Aunt Sadie takes her on holiday to Melbourne and then decides to disappear from the family taking Maggie with her. Discovered by Leo and Clementine in New South Wales, Maggie is returned safely to her home but her aunt severs all family connections. Maggie is told that her aunt has chosen to join a hippie colony.

Years later, in New York, Maggie is visited by her grandfather who wants her to change her decision about not attending a family gathering in Ireland. He asks Maggie to read the diaries kept by her grandmother to try and determine the initial reason that caused Sadie to leave the family as Sadie was the only family member to have previously read the diaries. Maggie agrees and on that holiday visit discovers many of the family secrets that had long been hidden and the fragility of family bonds. She also discovers herself and how she wants to live her life as an individual, not as one segment of a family.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Heart of Stars

Book three of the Rhiannon Rides series by Kate Forsyth. There are two main plot threads in this book - Isabeau and Cloudshadow's quest back through time via the Heart of Stars to rescue Donncan and Thunderlily who had been captured as part of a plan to raise Brann the Raven from the dead plus the attempts by Rhiaanon and her friends to rescue Olwynne, Owein and Roden kidnapped by Lord Malvern to be used as sacrifices to also raise the dead. This story of intrigue, revenge, guilt, regret and love evolves as the characters attempt to defeat the evil that is trying to destroy Eileanan and its rulers.A satisfying conclusion to a an exciting fantasy trilogy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Family baggage

The television detective program, Willoughby, is the theme for a tour of part of Devon and Cornwall by a group of Australians. Harriet Turner agrees to be a leader with Lara of the group of Willoughby fans at short notice when her brother is unable to travel to England to lead the tour. When Lara fails to meet the group at the airport Harriet is left in charge and needs to take a crash course in the events portrayed in the television series as well as looking after a group of elderly guests of Turner Tours and the star of the programs, Patrick Shawcross.

As well as following the challenges of managing the tour group the book, by Monica McInerney, delves into family relationships complicated by secrets that have been hidden for too long.

The Shining City

Book two in the series Rhiannon's ride by Kate Forsyth. Arriving at the Shining City Rhiannon is taken to the Sorrowgate Tower where she is to await trial for the death of Connor, a trusted member of the Righ's guard. Meanwhile Lewen and the other apprentice witches attend classes at the Tower of the Two Moons.

All is not well in the Shining City. Rhiannon is visited in her cell by a ghost wanting her to help raise the dead, Olwynne and a number of other witches experience sinister dreams and the death of a senior witch diminishes the spell binding a threat to the kingdom. Two of the Righ's children, Owein and Olwynne, are fellow students with and friends of Lewen but when Olwynne realises that Lewen loves Rhiannon she uses a love spell to secure his love. Although Rhiannon's support base in the city grows the forces working against her ensure that she does not receive a fair trail. During the Mid Summer celebrations the Righ's son is to wed Bronwen primarily to secure the stability of peace between the many groups previously at war, however when the Righ is killed and his children and Nina's son Roden disappear it is obvious that evil forces abound. Isabeau the Keybearer sets out to destroy one source of evil while Rhiannon and her winged horse, Blackthorn set out to rescue Owein, Olwnne and Roden.

The intrigue within the city walls constitutes much of the first half of the book but once the actual trial takes place the action of the story moves up a pace leaving the reader wanting to read the conclusion of Rhiannon's Ride in book three.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Tower of Ravens

This book by Australian author Kate Forsyth is the first volume in the series Rhiannon's Ride. Some years ago a friend introduced me to the Garth Nix's Old Kingdom trilogy which I enjoyed and recently a library patron recommended, when we were discussing fantasy, the books of Kate Forsyth.

One Horn's daughter is unlike the other satryicorns. Her father was human and she had not grown horns, important distinguishing features for satryicorns. She knows that she needs to escape the herd if she is to live so she captures a winging horse and manages to flee the mountains to a new life. This is just the beginning of the adventure as she joins a caravan of witches and apprentice witches as they head to the Tower of Two Moons. During the journey a decision is made to travel via a shorter route via the remnants of the Tower of Ravens, a dangerous area haunted by the dead and the nearby castle lauded over by the Laird Malvern MacFerris and his sister-in-law lady Evaline. With Lewen's help Rhiannon manages to survive the journey and discovers that she too has special powers, not only over horses but the ability to use stronger magic.

I look forward to reading the other two books in this series and also the books in the earlier series - the Witches of Eileanan.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Upside down inside out

When Eva Kennedy has the chance to visit her friend Lainey in Australia she does not realise how much this holiday will change her life. Eva exchanged studies at Art School and singing with a cover band  to work in her Uncle's Dublin delicatessen. Before leaving for Australia her uncle told of his plans to retire and that he wanted her to take over the business. She could think about it on her holidays. Joseph Wheeler, a successful London designer and businessman, is also in Australia to attend a conference followed by a holiday. His life is also dramatically changed by his Australian adventure.

Lainey decides to boost her friend's self esteem by creating a new identity for her when they attend a party but the story grows and Eva is left wondering if people accept her because of who she is or because of who people think she is. When Joe is mistaken as a backpacker he also lets the story run.As the relationship between Eva and Joe develops, when and how should the truth be disclosed.

Monica McInerney has written an amusing story of love and honesty and the need for discovering the what a person realy wants to do with their life.

The look is separate from but connected to two other books by Monica McInerney - A taste for it when the Eva and Joe visit the Lorikeet Winery and Spin the bottle (Greetings from somewhere else) where the story of Lainey, Adam, Eva and Joe continues.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A taste for it

Chef, Maura Carmody, spends a month in Ireland promoting Australian wine and Australian food. The trials and tribulations of the trip are recounted in this romantic comedy, Monica McInerney's first book. An enjoyable read.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Shelly Beach Writers' Group

Gina finds herself at Shelly Beach on a six month stint as house/dog sitter for Adrian Fraser who is overseas. Her husband has left her for his younger personal assistant, the family company is being dissolved and the publication of her first novel was cancelled when the publishing company ran into difficulties. Without money and without a job Gina sees the stay at Shelly Beach as an opportunity to restart her life. Her contract with Adrian only involved looking after the house and the dog, or so she thought. Within a short time Gina becomes actively involved in the life of the small community and with the people living there.

In an interview Australian author, June Loves, describes her book not as 'chick lit' but 'hen lit'. A number of other books have been written on similar themes but the protagonist is often a woman in her late twenties or early thirties not a woman in her early fifties as in this book. A number of issues are pertinent to many Baby Boomers including relationships with adult children and the advent of grandchildren.

One of Gina's tasks is to convene the Shelly Beach Writers' Club and the themes talked about in the classes (the use of flashbacks or build up of sexual tension for example) can be found replicated in the book. Throughout the book Gina expresses her thoughts about events to the Dog who becomes a major character as does the Bossy Child who lives next door and constantly provides advice as to how to survive in Shelly Beach. I enjoyed this amusing account of the life of a sea-changer in a small community and I would not be surprised to see a sequel in the future.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lionel Logue: the King's mentor

Norman C Hutchinson has researched articles from newspapers in Australia and England for references to the life of Lionel Logue, the Australian who helped King George VI make speeches without stuttering. The book primarily concentrates on Logue's life in Australia before he and his wife settled in England.This short book reads as a list of events in Logue's life and also includes, in the second half, some of the texts used by Logue in his stage performances.

For those who have seen the film, The King's Speech and read the book of the same title by Mark Logue,- - this book provides additional information adding to the story of Lionel Logue.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Greetings from somewhere else

The book, by Monica McInerney, was published with the title, Spin the bottle, in the UK and as Greetings from somewhere else in the USA, just to confuse readers.

Lainey Byrne is an events manager used to organising people including her family and friends. When her Aunt May dies leaving the family a bed and breakfast establishment in Ireland the family is thrilled until they realise that a family member from Australia must live at the house in Ireland for 12 months before the building can be sold. Lainey is the designated family member to leave her job and boyfriend, Adam, in order for the family to claim their inheritance.

In Ireland she meets Rohan an old school friend who had been injured when when playing Spin the Bottle when they were teenagers. Rohan assists her in her new endeavours. Lainey must not only re-establish the run down business left to her by her aunt but also resolve her feelings regarding Rohan and Adam. Her Irish friends, Eva and Joseph, also help her but as she faces new challenges Lainey begins to understand herself better and during her excile gradually learns that other people also need to have the opportunity to make decisions.

The King's speech

Written by Mark Logue, the grandson of Lionel  Logue, and Peter Conradi this book tells the story of the relationship between Lionel Logue and King George VI as Logue assisted the king with overcoming his speech impediment. It is also provides an account of the British monarchy from the 1920s to the early 1950s.

The 20th century introduced the age of communication by radio and public figures were expected to be able to make public speeches as required. As the second son of a king Albert did not expect to be king himself but he still had to represent his family at official functions - not an easy task for someone with a stammer. It was not until he met an Australian, Lionel Logue, that his ability to talk improved. When his brother abdicated and Albert became King George, Logue was always there to help him prepare for the many major speeches that he was required to make, checking the speeches for phrases that may cause problems substituting more suitable words or phrases in their place and generally encouraging the king.

The recent film, The King's Speech, outlines the story until the coronation. The book contains additional information, particularly for the period of World War II. The account provided in this book has been prepared from Logue's diaries and scrapbooks and describes the close relationship that developed between Logue and the King and Queen and also the close relationship between Logue and his wife, Myrtle.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

At home with the Templetons

Monica McInerney is an Australian author married to an Irishman and the setting for her books often involve those two countries. The action in this novel initially occurs outside Castlemaine in Victoria before characters move to other countries including England. In this family drama the Templeton family move to Victoria from England to claim a family home that they name Tempeton Hall and open regularly to the public. But who the Templetons really are and why they suddenly appeared in Australia is gradually revealed via the interaction of family members and also with their relationship with neighbour, Nina Donovan, and her son Tom. This really is a book about relationships within families as well as the relationship between Gracie Templeton and Tom Donovan.

Readers who enjoy the stories of Maeve Binchey and Di Morrissey will enjoy this book. I certainly plan to read more books by Monica McInerney.

Swan for the money

You would think that organising a local community rose show would not create too many dramas. However this is not the case in Caerphilly, especially when Meg's many family members become involved. Dognapping, destruction of plants, murder and attempted murder plus cattle rustling, not to mention the peculiarities of the local wildlife, are just a few of the diversions encountered before the naming of the winner of the Black Swan trophy can be announced. Swan for the money is the eleventh in this series of amusing crime books by Donna Andrews.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Perry Como: a biography and complete career record

One of the music icons from the 1940s and 1950s until the 1970s and 1980s was Perry Como. Born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania in May 1912, the son of Italian immigrants, Perry worked as a barber until the opportunity arose in 1933 for him to join a band as a singer. In the 1930s he worked with the Freddy Carlone Band and later with the Ted Weems orchestra.During the 1930s and 1940s performances of the bands were often broadcast on radio and also made recordings. In 1943 Perry began broadcasting his own radio show from New York, began recording records as a solo vocalist and signed a film contract. His career as an entertainer was established.

Malcolm Macfarlane and Ken Crossland provide an account of the career of Perry Como in the first part of the book followed by appendices listing the many recordings made between 1936 and 1994, a listing of his television appearances and shows plus a time-line of his life from his birth in 1912 until his death in 2001.

Perry Como had a successful radio career but he was one of the few radio performers who successfully transferred to television. Perry had a series of television shows from 1948 until 1967 and then until 1986 recorded occasional programs, often shown around Christmas. His last two programs were recorded in 1993 and 1994.When his recording and television career began to slow down Perry began to do concerts in the United States plus tours to the UK and Japan.

Between 1936 and 1987 Perry recorded more than 700 songs and from 1945 to1970 sold more than 100 million records.His success was largely due to his ability to be able to keep his own style yet also adapt to the changing trends in music.His popular television programs also helped his record sales. Many of the records were hits not only in the United States but also in the UK, Australia and Japan. In the 1970s and 1980s many of his songs continued to be successful in the UK and Australia though not particularly successful in his home country.

This book provides not just a record of the public life of Perry Como but also provides details about the music industry, particularly recording, radio and television, from the 1930s until the 1980s.

Having been an avid watcher of the Perry Como Show in the early days of Australian television and my first LPs being albums by Perry Como, I enjoyed this account of the life of the barber who became a singer.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Peter Pan's First XI

The subtitle is the extraordinary story of J. M. Barrie's Cricket Team and the story of the Allahakbarries is a major theme of the book with authors, playwrights and journalists meeting at irregular intervals under the captaincy of Barrie to play cricket for the enjoyment of the game. The names of fellow cricketers reads as a literary who's who from the latter part of the Victorian era to the 1920s - Arthur Conan Doyle, P G Wodehouse, E W Hornung, E V Lucas and in the final game, A A Milne to name a few. Kevin Telfer intertwines the story of the Allahakbarries with the accounts of the professional lives of the participants and also attitudes to cricket during this period. The main protagonist is, of course, Barrie and the author shows how Barrie's love of games, particularly cricket, influenced his writing. The book provides a study of more relaxed attitudes to life in the Edwardian era contrasted to changes in attitudes caused by the devastation of the First World War. The novel, The Children's Book, by A S Byatt covers a similar theme.

On many levels, Peter Pan's First XI is an interesting book for its insight into cricket, literature and social history at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however the style of writing is often ponderous and I found the constant repetition of some pieces of information throughout the book distracting.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The ghost at the wedding

Shirley Walker has based this book on the true story of the experiences of her husband's family in Australia. The family originally came from the Isle of Skye. After the clearances in the mid nineteenth century the family emigrated to Australia when they had been forced out of their homes.

The book recounts the story of Jessie whose family had settled near the Clarence River. She was born at the end of the nineteenth century so her story largely deals with the impact of two world wars upon the family. Jessie's brothers and the man she was to marry served during World War I. The experience of the soldiers overseas is interwoven with the struggles of the family at home waiting to hear if their loved ones would return. Eddie, later called Ted, did return to marry Jessie but he was a damaged man and never recovered from his war time experiences. His two brothers and Jessie's brother, Joe, died overseas. Jessie's first two sons and a brother born around the same time were named after their fallen uncles. Twenty years later these boys were also off to war. A moving story about the effects of war on three generations of one family.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Kimberley: Australia's last great wilderness

In 2007 I was lucky enough to spend two weeks exploring Broome and Cape Leveque as well as Kununurra, Lake Argyle and Purnululu National Park (the Bungle Bungles) - a magnificent part of Australia. 

This large pictorial book by Victoria Laurie examines the flora and fauna and landscape of this special part of Australia. Those who have been lucky enough to spend time in the Kimberley, by reading this book, will enjoy recalling the incredible colours, dramatic scenery and diverse wildlife previously experienced and have a better understanding of the environment they were able to visit  while those not fortunate enough to have visited the region will want to do so.

Judi Dench and furthermore

Actor, Judi Dench, was born in England in December 1934. This book provides her chronological account of her career recalling the many productions in which she has been involved and the people with whom she has worked.

In more recent years Judi Dench has won fame as an actor in films including Her Majesty, Mrs Brown, Shakespeare in Love and and as M in the more recent James Bond films. She has also appeared in many television plays and series including A Fine Romance, As Time Goes By and Cranford. But most of her professional life has been spent performing on the stage with theatre companies such as The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Old Vic Company and The National Theatre Company.

The book provides a who's who in British theatre as well as insights into the challenges of staging productions. Photographs from productions in which Dame Judi Dench has performed illustrate the book. There is also a chronology of the parts that she has played in the theatre, television and film plus a list of awards she has won. An interesting account of an incredible career from 1957 until 2010 when the book was written.