Saturday, January 10, 2015

The means of escape

This collection of short stories was published after the death of the author, Penelope Fitzgerald, in 2000. Penelope Fitzgerald was renowned for writing short, concise, novels. Once again this is a short book containing eight short stories. The stories are set in a variety of countries including, Australia, New Zealand, France and Greece as well as Britain and in different time periods. The stories, dealing with human foibles, uncertainties and missed opportunities, are told with a quiet humour in the observation of the characters and their actions. Reading the stories, I found, however, was not always straightforward and I had to read several of the stories twice, to see what I had missed when reading them the first time, in order to fully appreciate what had happened and why. Like much of the writing of Penelope Fitzgerald the stories /  characters tend to remain with the reader after finishing the book as the author challenges the reader to think about the actions of the characters.

Small but perfectly formed - Observer 29 October 2000

Rough-hewn lives - New York Times 26 November 2000

Little big town

The subtitle of this book, A Photographic journey through Melbourne's Little Streets and Laneways, describes this work by photographer, Jamie Murcia. Murcia has included a collection of photographs of the lanes, cul de sacs plus the 'little' streets that run parallel to the main streets in the Melbourne grid. The majority of the photographs were taken at night and many explore the effect of light in these locations, street art, culture and subculture and parts of the city many of us never see. A different look at Melbourne.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Middle Ages: the illustrated history of the Medieval World

This book, written by Anita Baker and published by Carlton Books in 2014, provides an easy to read introduction to the history of life in the Middle Ages in Europe. The period known as the Middle Ages is generally considered to be from the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 until, in Europe, the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1543 or, in Britain, the death of Richard III in 1485.

The book is divided into six sections - dynasties and empires; daily life; religion; medieval culture; war and conquest plus dawn of a new age. Although it is only 98 pages, this well illustrated book provides an understanding of what it was like to live in Europe at this time allowing the reader to then explore sections in greater depths in other books.

The chapter, daily life in the Middle Ages looks at feudalism, women in the Middle Ages, the Church in daily life, employment, food, science and technology, medicine plus crisis in the fourteenth century (including plague, famine and general discontent).

This would be a good book for those starting to investigate this period in history, those who may have been able to trace their family tree back to this period or those who enjoy fiction set in medieval times.


In 1995, Sabriel, the first book in the Old Kingdom series, was written by the Australian author, Garth Nix. This was followed in 2001 by Lirael and in 2003 by Abhorsen. This trilogy of books take the reader into a wonderful work of fantasy, Charter Magic and Free Magic and the world of Abhorsens. In 2014 the fourth book in the series, Clariel, was published. This book is a prequel to the trilogy and is set 600 years before the story of Sabriel.

Clariel and her family move to Belisaere where she was to attend the Belisaere Select Academy though, in reality, all she wants to do is to return to the forest and live her own life. Soon after their arrival her mother tells Clariel that they are to meet the King who has withdrawn from society and is waiting for his daughter to return and become ruler. In a short time Clariel discovers that all is not well in Belisaere and that Kilp, the leader of the Gold Guild, plans to overthrow the King. At the Academy she meets Kargrin and Ader, powerful Charter Mages who recognise that Clariel has special powers which may help them save the kingdom.

What follows is a fast moving story of magic and intrigue, treachery and power struggles as Clariel strives to discover the extent of her powers, avenge the death of family members, rescue her aunt and return to the life she really wants to live. Those who enjoyed the first three Old Kingdom books will welcome this addition to the collection.

In the author's note, Garth Nix mentions that he is working on sequel to the original three books, continuing the story of Lirael. I suspect that, in the future, we may also learn more of Clariel and her story.

Monday, January 5, 2015

St Kilda Blues

This is Geoffrey McGeachin's third novel in the Charlie Berlin series. The first two, The Diggers Rest Hotel and Blackwattle Creek, won the Australian Crime Writers Association Ned Kelly Award for fiction in 2011 and 2013.

The novel is set in 1967 when Detective Sergeant Charlie Berlin is asked to investigate the disappearance of the young daughter of a property developer. She was the latest of nine girls who had disappeared during the previous six months. Charlie Berlin had started investigating the first three disappearances but had then been removed from Missing Persons to the Fraud department. Accompanied by a former protege, Bob Roberts, he is asked to unofficially investigate the latest disappearance though an official investigation would still  be carried out by another team. There is also tension in the police force as an investigation into police corruption is being undertaken.

In the first part of the book, two parallel stories are told - the investigation of the missing girls as undertaken by Charlie Berlin and the account of the early life of a young English boy who is sent to Australia as a child and his development into a killer. The later chapters concentrate on the investigation.

When interviewing the father of the latest missing girl, Charlie Berlin notices a similarity with a German SS officer he had observed murdering a young woman during the Second World War. This forces Charlie Berlin to investigate and confront demons from his past. The book also investigates loss of a loved one, especially the loss of a daughter.

Another well crafted crime novel, set primarily in Melbourne, has been written by Geoffrey McGeachin.