Review:The Burnt Country – Joy Rhoades

The Burnt Country

The Woolgrowers Companion #2

Joy Rhoades

Penguin Random House

Bantam

ISBN: 9780143793724

RRP$ 32.99

 

Description:

A scandalous secret. A deadly bushfire. An agonizing choice.

 

Australia 1948. As a young woman single-handedly running Amiens, a sizeable sheep station in New South Wales, Kate Dowd is expected to fail. In fact the local graziers are doing their best to ensure she does.

 

However Kate cannot risk losing Amiens, or give in to her estranged husband Jack’s demands to sell. Because the farm is the only protection she can offer her half-sister Pearl, as the Aborigines Welfare Board calls for her forced adoption.

 

Ostracised by the local community for even acknowledging Pearl, Kate cannot risk another scandal. Which means turning her back on her wartime lover, Luca Canali . . .

 

Then Jack drops a bombshell. He wants a divorce. He’ll protect what’s left of Kate’s reputation, and keep Luca out of it – but at an extortionate price.

 

Soon Kate is putting out fires on all fronts to save her farm, keep her family together and protect the man she loves. Until a catastrophic real fire threatens everything . . .

 

 

My View:

This was not the booked I expected to read!

 

Firstly I did not realise that this was the second in a series until I looked up the book details for my review. But don’t worry this reads perfectly as a stand a one.

 

Second – this is not the rural romance I thought it was going to be. There are relationships – but that is what life is about; the complex nature of our emotional resilience.

 

Thirdly – whilst this is a “historical” fiction the times are not that far away (late 1940s early 50’s). I found the social issues intriguing; women’s’ rights – financial, social, family, legal, work, domestic violence, the war, detention, The Stolen Generation… so so interesting and engaging.

 

This narrative packs a big punch – so many social issues, a tense engaging plot, relationships that felt real, I loved the way women supported each other and help raise each other up. The theme of fire was constant and added a cohesion to the overall plot and an uneasiness that anyone living in a dry, remote countryside will understand.

 

This read was surprising and amazing! I loved it and I hope you do too.

 

And I see a book to film in the future….

 

PS

I enjoyed the bonus recipes supplied at the end of the book.

 

 

 

Review: Bowraville – Dan Box

Bowraville

Dan Box

Penguin Random House Australia

Viking

ISBN: 9780143784395

 

Description:

A true crime story cannot often be believed, at least at the beginning. In Bowraville, all three of the victims were Aboriginal. All three were killed within five months, between 1990 and 1991. The same white man was linked to each, but nobody was convicted.

More than two decades later, homicide detective Gary Jubelin contacted Dan Box, asking him to pursue this serial killing. At that time, few others in the justice system seemed to know – or care – about the murders in Bowraville. Dan spoke to the families of the victims, Colleen Walker-Craig, Evelyn Greenup and Clinton Speedy-Duroux, as well as the lawyers, police officers and even the suspect involved in what had happened. His investigation, as well as the families’ own determined campaigning, forced the authorities to reconsider the killings. This account asks painful questions about what ‘justice’ means and how it is delivered, as well as describing Dan’s own shifting, uncomfortable realisation that he was a reporter who crossed the line.

 

Praise for the Bowraville podcast:

 

‘It is a gripping true crime tale and an essay on racism; a challenge to the lies Australia tells itself about its treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people told through the voices of three Aboriginal families who have been indisputably let down … The podcast has galvanised the public in a way that two decades of print and television reporting on the Bowraville murders have not.’ The Guardian

 

‘A masterful example of crime reporting which forensically details the worst of human nature, inexplicably compounded by the gross negligence of the only people who could provide justice. It’s stirred thousands, including the prime suspect, to re-engage with the case after trusting the journalist to take them to dark places.’ Walkley judges’ comments

 

‘Outstanding.’ Leigh Sales

 

‘Moving, brilliant.’ Annabel Crabb

 

‘If you haven’t listened to Bowraville by Dan Box, then you should.’ David Campbell

 

 

My View:

I wholeheartedly agree with the comments that the Walkey judges made about the reporting of the Bowraville murders.  What more could I add?

 

That I was/am haunted by the stories here – the institutionalised and individual racism like none I have come across in Australia before now, my despair at the cycle of violence and alcoholism that has been normalised in some of the communities spoken of here and I feel the frustration of all those involved in trying to find justice for the two young people and the child victim in Bowraville and I thank Barry Toohey (p.214) for his outstanding explanation of “Chronic collective grief” that makes sense of so much of the pain evidenced in this read.

 

This is an outstanding read. All Australians would benefit from reading this book.

 

 

 

 

Review: Imperfect – Lee Kofman

Imperfect

Lee Kofman

Affirm Press

ISBN: 9781925584813

 

Description:

BY THE TIME she was eleven and living in the Soviet Union, Lee Kofman had undergone several major operations on both a defective heart and injuries sustained in a bus accident. Her body harbours a constellation of disfiguring scars that have shaped her sense of self, her view of the world and the choices she has made. But it wasn’t until she moved to Israel and later to Australia that she began to think these markings weren’t badges of honour to flaunt but were, in fact, imperfections that needed to be concealed.

 

In a seductive mix of memoir and cultural critique, Kofman casts a questioning eye on the myths surrounding our conception of physical perfection and what it’s like to live in a body that deviates from the norm. She reveals the subtle ways we are all influenced by the bodies we inhabit, whether our differences are pronounced or noticeable only to ourselves. She talks to people of all shapes, sizes and configurations and takes a hard look at the way media and culture tell us how bodies should and shouldn’t be.

 

By turns illuminating, confronting and deeply personal, Imperfect challenges us all to consider how we exist in the world and how our bodies shape the people we become.

 

 

My View:

Imperfect is a book that is intelligently and softly written in a mix of styles that is both academic, at times interview base; a reflection of the modern socio- political scene that unselfconsciously examines our and the authors attitude to physical appearance and how that attitude shapes our perception of the world. Let’s make that more than shapes our attitude, it determines how we walk on this earth – with a weary tread or lightly…embracing the sun.

 

Lee Kofman asks many of the questions that I have been unable to eloquently voice; about judgemental attitudes that are entrenched in out psyche (be honest the first time you see/meet someone your brain starts making/noting so many things about that persons physical appearance), how we respond to that individual is largely based on that first moment of quick judgment –   friend or foe, dangerous or not…same – different,  our tribe or not….and so begins the barrage of judgements based on physical appearance… “Most primates are visually orientated and make decisions about others chiefly on what they see. Humans who lack the acuity of smell or hearing of animals, particularly rely on their eyesight to deal with the complexities of the social world. To some extent our sanity (and I would add survival) depends on our presumption to read Body Surface.” P.82

 

Lee Kofman’s Body Surface, scarred in a traffic accident and via childhood surgeries, is a constant reminder to her of her “difference”, her “otherness” and provides the framework for the discussion in the book. Brave, open, honest, this narrative will provide you with insight and stimulate yet more questions….I would love to see this conversation continue.

 

A fascinating read.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Next for J.M.Green I asked?

J.M. ( Jenny )Green is the fabulous author of the Stella Hardy trilogy.  Good Money, Too Easy and the final in the series ( and my favourite of the set) Shoot Through.

 

I rated all 3 books 5 stars – I loved Stella Hardy – her self depreciating, sometimes black humour, her maturity, her socio – political awareness, her ability to see things in shades of grey…her complicated life…there is so much to love about this character, so it is understandable that when I finished reading Shoot Through, I wanted to know what next to expect from J.M. Green – so I asked her 🙂

 

After Stella Hardy – what happens now?

J.M. Green

“With the publication of SHOOT THROUGH, Stella Hardy has had her third and final outing. The ‘social worker-detective’ idea has generated some unusual story lines, and placed her in some dangerous, not to mention absurd, situations. Hardboiled crime as dark whimsy rather than gritty reality. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed testing the limits of credulity. And I confess in this series I have been knowingly but gently subversive to the crime genre, but please believe me when I say it has been reverential. I hope to be forgiven.

 

My next project is a shift away from crime. There’s a new novel in the works. It’s in the early stages and might not amount to anything so I won’t say much more.

 

As well as juggling that work, I’m studying screenwriting, which is a fantastic stretch for me creatively. Film and TV writing, as taught in the course, is highly structured.

 

Until now, novel writing for me has been an intuitive process. I know where the narrative is going, but I allow for surprises in the writing process – a kind of simultaneous write and plot method, seeing where the narrative drive goes. I sometimes need to backtrack but that’s okay, there’s such a lot of rewriting involved anyway. Also, with fiction the interior voices of characters makes the work is less reliant on conflict to drive the narrative.

 

In screenwriting plot character, theme are all worked out before a single creative word is written. These facets are gone over and over, so that when writing the actual script begins, all the creative energy goes into the language and the smaller details. Using a theme as a guide, every scene is conceived and drawn as integral in the overall story. Anything that doesn’t support the narrative is out. What remains is plotted in terms of conflict, obstacles and argument. If there’s conflict there’s no drama. It’s a sort of mantra.

 

This thorough and planned approach to storytelling has been a revelation and something I will use regardless of whether I continue writing fiction or try my hand at the screen.”

 

Thanks Jenny – looking forward to reading script or novel or both soon – no pressure here 🙂

 

 

Review: Shoot Through – J M Green

Shoot Through

J M Green

Scribe Publications

ISBN: 9781925713848

 

Description:

Stella Hardy, the wisecracking social worker, is back to tackle crooked private contractors, an exotic cattle scam, and a delicious Mushroom Jalfrezi.

 

All Stella Hardy wants is a romantic country getaway with her artist boyfriend, Brophy. Instead, she must head to the Athol Goldwater Agricultural Prison (aka Arsehole Bogwater) to visit her jailbird brother, Ben, and sort out some ‘urgent’ family paperwork. But Stella has barely set foot in the prison when a prisoner, Joe Phelan, is found dead.

 

Before she knows it, Stella finds herself tasked, against her will, with investigating Joe’s suspicious death away from the eyes of police, including her best friend, Detective Phuong Nguyen. Her old nemesis Minister for Justice Marcus Pugh is pressuring her from above to save his election-year bacon, and Joe’s old friend and former gang member, Percy Brash, is providing a much more chilling form of pressure from below, promising to reduce her to mush and bone fragments if she doesn’t give him the name of Joe’s killer, and soon.

 

As the clock counts down, Stella becomes embroiled in a story of corruption, conspiracy, and high-tech cattle-wrangling, all while trying to manage her brother’s pregnant girlfriend, Loretta, get to the bottom of Brophy’s increasingly strange behaviour, and evade the murderous intentions of a shadowy mercenary. And then things get really crazy. It’s Stella’s last hurrah, and she’s going out with a bang.

 

My View:

This is most definitely on my list of Best Reads of 2019.

 

Stella Hardy is a protagonist I have embraced since the first book, Good Money (not literally but if I met her creator I would give her a big hugJ and thank her for creating this wonderful character and series). I love Stella’s sardonic, wise cracking demeanour, her depth of understanding of the Australian socio-political scene, her honest observations, her complicated life…even her age. It is refreshing to find a protagonists that is so grounded, mature and relatable.

 

Corruption, crime, mystery and romance… this book has it all. In a year of fabulous 5 star releases J M Green can hold her head high.

 

Stella Hardy I miss you already.

 

 

 

Review: The Chain – Adrian McKinty

 

The Chain

Adrian McKinty

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 9780733642517

 

Description:

You just dropped off your child at the bus stop.

A panicked stranger calls your phone.

Your child has been kidnapped.

The stranger then explains that their child has also been kidnapped, by a completely different stranger.

The only way to get your child back is to kidnap another child – within 24 hours.

Your child will be released only when the next victim’s parents kidnap yet another child.

And most importantly, the stranger explains, if you don’t kidnap a child, or if the next parents don’t kidnap a child, your child will be murdered.

 

You are now part of The Chain.

 

My View:

It’s been a long time since I have been filled with such dread and apprehension when reading; McKinty’s realistic protagonists inspire empathy and solidarity, the decisions they are forced to make leave you quaking in dread. There is no heavy handed, gratuitous accounts of violence yet the simple horror of the situation is enough to make the bravest reader cringe in fear.

From the very first page you will be captivated, hi jacked by the compulsive narrative, considering the “what if’s” and placing yourself in the margins of the page, experiencing firsthand the smell of fear that emanates from within. There was a point where I felt I could not read on, I could think of no way out, I had no hope for the characters I quickly had bonded with. I sat for a while and considered turning the page. Nervous apprehension powered me on, I needed to know what came next.

It was not what I thought….phew….I could continue reading (no spoilers here).

 

McKinty is a masterful storyteller who has crafted a book that will mesmerise and keep you enthralled until the very last page. Impressive, addictive reading, you really will be glued to the pages. This is the book that everyone will be talking about. Read The Chain and join the conversation.

 

Review: Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens

Hachette Australia

Little Brown Books

ISBN: 9781472154651

 

Description:

A novel about a young woman determined to make her way in the wilds of North Carolina, and the two men that will break her isolation open.

 

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. She’s barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark.

 

But Kya is not what they say. Abandoned at age ten, she has survived on her own in the marsh that she calls home. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life lessons from the land, learning from the false signals of fireflies the real way of this world. But while she could have lived in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.

 

 

My View:

This narrative is gently, softly spoken, yet powerful, immersive and surprising. Themes of Domestic Violence, resilience, prejudice, love and murder float softly across the page bumping chaotically against one another, leaving no marks.

 

This is the debut fictional novel for Delia Owens who has previously co-authored three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as wildlife scientist in Africa. I bet she can draw too – she writes like an artist – I imagine her work in watercolours and pastels – gentle, floaty, soft and vibrant.

 

Despite the violence that punctures this novel I am overwhelmed by the protagonist’s sense of curiosity and resilience. Her studies of nature are sublime…I can imagine the books she wrote. I can picture the illustrations. I feel her loneliness, I applaud her ingenuity and strong survival instincts.

 

This book is so many things – it is a haunting portrayal of domestic violence, guilt, prejudice and entitlement yet is equally a study in resilience, of nature, of environment and enduring love. And it has a wonderfully surprising ending – what a fantastic twist! For reasons I cannot identify it left me feeling light, weightless… happy…and surprised. I look forward to reading more from this author.