Post Script: Journeys End – Jennifer Scoullar

Journey's End

Journey’s End

Jennifer Scoullar

Penguin Books Australia

Michael Joseph

ISBN: 9780143797005

 

Description:

From the author of Currawong Creek and Turtle Reef comes a beautiful story of family, friendship and the healing power of love.

When Sydney botanist Kim Sullivan and her husband inherit Journey’s End, a rundown farm high on the Great Eastern Escarpment, they dream of one day restoring it to its natural state. Ten years later, however, Kim is tragically widowed. Selling up is the only practical option, so she and her children head to the mountains to organise the sale. The last thing Kim expects is for Journey’s End to cast its wild spell on them all.

The family decide to stay, and Kim forges on with plans to rewild the property, propagating plants and acquiring a menagerie of native animals. But wayward wildlife, hostile farmers and her own lingering grief make the task seem hopeless. That is, until she meets the mysterious Taj, a man who has a way with animals. Kim begins to feel that she might find love again. But Taj has his own tragic past – one that could drive a wedge between them that can not be overcome . . .

 

My View:

If you are a fan of crime fiction (as I am) then this read will convert you to the genre of Australian Rural Fiction! Or maybe just to Jennifer Scoullar’s work 🙂

I loved this read – for so many reasons:

This is a well written narrative of rewilding/restoration – and the simile is not reserved just for the flora and fauna in the narrative, it also reflects the emotional restorations happening in so many of the characters’ lives in the book.

It made me reflect on another perspective on the war in Afghanistan that I hadn’t really given much thought to, (that of the innocent victims of the war) and I saw Afghanistan, the country as a more diverse  landscape than that often cited in media grabs ; more than  a flat, dusty, almost people less,  barren land of a remote villages.

It made me consider and reflect on more natural ways of conserving /preserving nature than baiting and trapping. I looked at dingoes and their role in the environment in a new light. Thanks for opening my eyes Jennifer.

Jennifer Scoullar’s writing has a rich complexity  – it can be read as simply a story of renewal from a place of grief,  a story of friendships, a romance, or you can absorb the depth of issues gently  raised here – of racism, environmental management, wild life rescue, the effects of dwindling numbers in small towns on education etc. the illegal logging of protected stands of trees etc. etc.

However you read this you will enjoy it!

 

 

Post Script: Sweet Wattle Creek – Kaye Dobbie

History has never been so important.

Sweet Wattle Creek Kaye Dobbie Cover

Sweet Wattle Creek

Kaye Dobbie

Harlequin Australia

ISBN: 9781743693087

 Description:

A vintage wedding dress reveals family secrets she never knew…

 

The chance discovery of a vintage wedding dress weaves together the fascinating stories of three women from different eras: Sophie, in hiding from a troubled past; Belle, who must lose everything to learn what really matters; and Martha, forced to give up those she loves in order to avoid exposure.

 

It’s 1930 and Belle Bartholomew has arrived in rural Sweet Wattle Creek to claim her inheritance – a run-down grand hotel formerly owned by Martha Ambrose. Determined to solve the mystery of her birth and the reason why she was bequeathed the hotel Belle runs into difficulties with the townsfolk and their desire to keep their secrets safe.

 

Sixty years later Sophie Matheson is on a quest to find Belle and her family after discovering the wedding dress. The Sweet Wattle Creek Centenary brings more challenges when her past catches up and she must fight for all that matters to her. Who were Belle and Martha and what links their lives together?

 

 

My View:

Kaye Dobbie has masterfully married two times fames to produce an exciting narrative that is both historical (1930’s) and contemporary (1980’s) fiction and there are aspects of life in both time periods that are relevant to the world we live in today. I found the history and social commentary of Australia between the wars and of the Great Depression illuminating; PTSD, the aftermath of war on families and communities, poverty, the role of women in society, unemployment were and are significant worldwide issues and it was exciting to learn a little more about this period by the device of using Sophie and Ian’s search for the provenance of the wedding dress.

 

Chapters alternate between the two periods and each chapter is clearly marked with the location, the year and whose voice we are listening to– Sophie’s (1980’s) or Belle’s (1930’s) – there is no chance of getting lost in this duality of time that sometimes happens in novels that employ this device – all is very clear and I thank the author for making it so – I never had to go back and re read to work out where I was or who I was listening to.

 

In both time periods we have protagonists that are strong, determined, resourceful and caring women. Dobbie writes her lead characters with poise, grace and humanity. The issue of small town attitudes and prejudices of the 1930’s – in particular the perceived social, economic and moral attitudes towards the “travellers,” the displaced victims of the Depression is comparable to attitudes today to the to the displaced people of Syria – the same fears and misconceptions surrounding their plight leapt out at me as I read this book. I think there is a lesson or two here we can all take from Belle and Michael’s attitudes of social responsibility.

 

Belle lived in a time of great upheaval, upheaval is a theme that is also prevalent in Sophie’s life too. Sophie’s story evokes much empathy and her situation is just as relevant to many women today as it was back in the 1980’s (no spoilers here.) Dobbie successfully reflects upon attitudes of the time as we discover more about the life and history of both female protagonists.

 

A blend of historical and contemporary fiction, with a dash of empathetic characters, drama, suspense and social commentary and Kaye Dobbie has created a recipe for success.

 

 

Post Script: The Secret Years – Barbara Hannay

Australian Contemporary Fiction at its best!

Cover The Secret Years

The Secret Years

Barbara Hannay

Penguin Books

Michael Joseph

ISBN: 9780143799733

 

 

Description:

When Lucy Hunter stumbles upon her grandfather Harry’s World War II memorabilia, she finds a faded photograph of a stunning young woman known simply as ‘George’ and a series of heartfelt letters. They are clues about the secret years, a period of Lucy’s family history that has been kept a mystery . . . until now.

 

How did a cattleman from north Queensland find forbidden love with the Honourable Georgina Lenton of London and persuade her to move to his isolated outback property? And why are the effects of this encounter still reverberating in the lives of Lucy and her mother, Rose, now?

 

As the passions of the past trickle down the years, three generations of one family pull together. Each must learn in their own way how true love can conquer the greatest challenges of all.

 

From the wild beauty of the Australian bush to England’s rugged south coast, this is a deeply moving story of heartbreak, heroism and homecoming by a beloved, multi-award-winning author.

 

 

 

My View:

Barbara Hannay writes beautiful visuals of rural and remote Australia, in particular the thriving military town that is Townsville with its beautiful Strand and bustling city scapes to far north Queensland with its picturesque cattle properties, where “Big mobs of silvery Braham cattle grazed, and telegraph poles tracked the straight line of the Flinders Highway into the shimmering distance till they looked like mere wisps of smoke.”(p.348); such beautiful visuals forever remind me of Queensland.

 

The dual storylines – of George and Harrys’ early life during and after WW11 and Lucy’s current life, add many more destinations to the mix – we have London in the time of air raids and blackouts and the rugged Cornwall coast when Lucy visits England researching her family’s history, we have war zones past and present – Harry fought in many places including Tobruk, Kokoda and New Britain (an island of Papua New Guinea) and we have Lucy and Simon’s service in Afghanistan; so much information, travel and history is packed into this book.

 

Lots of travel, a fast moving and engaging narrative that reflects on times past and present , on families and choices, cultures and wars and the relationships that shape us and bind us to the land and characters you will warm to, this is a remarkable book. And did I mention the romance? Nick Myatt sets new standards for the male love interest in rural romances.

 

 

 

Post Script: The Zig Zag Girl – Elly Griffiths

A delight to read!

The Zig Zag Girl

The Zig Zag Girl

Elly Griffiths

Quercus Books

Quercus

ISBN: 9781848669857

 

 

Description:

Brighton, 1950. When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl. The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men. Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind. Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick’, the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in the killer’s sights…

 

My View:

What an amazing read! Great plot, intriguing back story of spies and a top secret unit – The Magic Men, great characters, settling that are authentic and very visual – I can see with my minds eye the old theatres, the piers, the tired B & B’s… the cars, the houses, the variety acts, …and the magic tricks!!! Elly Griffiths writes in a style that is just so easy to read; it is sincere, visual, authentic and intelligent and flows so easily, reads so naturally…you can feel the delight the author takes in writing this novel. This was just so relaxing to read…so engaging, it took no effort on my part to fully engage with this narrative and just enjoy the words on the page as the story was revealed, as pieces of this jig saw puzzle slowly came together and made sense of the bigger picture. What a delight!

 

PS I am pleased to hear there is another book in this series on the way.

Post Script: The Twilight Hour – Nicci Gerrard

“The past never removes itself to a distance…”

The Twilight Hour

The Twilight Hour

Nicci Gerrard

Penguin UK

ISBN: 9781405919838

  

Description:

“Be with me now, at the twilight hour.

When the light fails.”

“I’m here.”

“Tell me.”

“What shall I tell you?”

“Tell me about us, when we were young.

What was it like? What was I like then?”

 

Eleanor Lee has lived a fiercely independent existence for over ninety years, but now it’s time to tidy her life away – books, photographs, paintings, letters – a lifetime of possessions all neatly boxed up for the last time. But amongst them there are some things that must be kept hidden. And, nearing blindness, Eleanor needs help to uncover them before her children and grandchildren do.

 

My View:

This is a finely drawn, exquisite look at relationships and love, the heroine a strong feminist before the word was popular. I have not read any Nicci Gerrard books before but have read and been impressed by several by Nicci French (the pseudonym for writers Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) who write psychological crime thrillers together , I love these works. I was very impressed with the quality of the writing in this novel; the evocative language, the realistic settings, the honest, powerful, passionate and strong female protagonist and her moving story. I was moved by this narrative, so much so I read the last few pages through teary eyes and thinking of this book even now, a week or so after I read this has me choking up. An exquisite read by an author I will be adding to my must read list.

The Skeleton Road – Val McDermid

The Skeleton Road

Val McDermid

Little, Brown Book Group UK

Little, Brown

ISBN: 9781408704578

 

Description:

The Queen of the psychological thriller returns with her latest chilling novel.

 

When a skeleton is discovered hidden at the top of a crumbling, gothic building in Edinburgh, Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie is faced with the unenviable task of identifying the bones. As Karen’s investigation gathers momentum, she is drawn deeper into a world of intrigue and betrayal, spanning the dark days of the Balkan Wars.

 

Karen’s search for answers brings her to a small village in Croatia, a place scarred by fear, where people have endured unspeakable acts of violence. Meanwhile, someone is taking the law into their own hands in the name of justice and revenge, but when present resentment collides with secrets of the past, the truth is more shocking than anyone could have imagined . . .

 

 

 

My View:

This story is intriguing, is chilling, is revealing, is historic in its depiction of the atrocities committed during war buy all parties, and is also a murder mystery and a powerful love story. This book has so much to offer. This narrative cleverly reveals that anyone is capable of brutality or revenge. This is a powerful read.

 

So much social commentary under the guise of crime writing! I loved this book. I think there are lessons here for all to embrace – this is so much more than a murder mystery but a murder mystery it is and such a great police procedural too. The plotting is outstanding, the characters are engaging and contemporary, the ending just a little sad. I hope this is just the introduction to a new series starring DCI Karen Pirie. Magnificent!!!

 

 

 

Post Script: The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Richard Flanagan

Random House Australia Pty Ltd

Vintage Australia

ISBN: 9781741666700

 

Description:

A novel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love.

 

August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma death railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever. This savagely beautiful novel is a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

 

My View:

This is destined to be an award winner!

Brutal, passionate, inspiring, remarkable, emotional and complex; a love story, a story of relationships, a story of war, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is all these things and more. Flanagan’s writing is poetic, is humbling, is revealing and is at times horrifyingly realistic, cruel and brutal and overwhelming and I have never felt so many contradicting emotions reading a book!

This man can write! At first I was lulled into a false sense of security thinking I knew where this narrative was heading; a coming of age tale, a story full of youthfulness, excitement and passions on fire, a young man discovering his potential, striving for betterment, an old man reflecting on a life that was, but these were just elements of this complex story.  The introduction lulled me into a sense of false comfort that was quickly shattered with the brutal truths of a Japanese Prisoner of War camp charged with building the Thai- Burma railway in impossible, inhumane conditions (my response fuelled by the many black and white images burnt into my retina from documentaries and still photographs of WW2) I almost could not bear to read any further, the images were too real.

This novel asked many questions – about the brutality inflicted during war and who carries the responsibility for war crimes, it discusses the meanings of culture, of reverence to ones political and sovereign leader, of who should pay the ultimate price for sins inflicted in that leaders name (and maybe didn’t), of when punishment becomes a sadistic pleasure and why/how onlookers allow these terrible acts to happen or joins in…The novel offers rational meaning for such behaviour that effectively discredits such behaviour…

But this is not just a story of war – it is also a story of love and of the meaning we place on relationships/family and love.  “There grew between him and Ella a conspiracy of experience, as if the raising of children, the industry of supporting each other in ways practical and tender, and the sum of years and then decades of private conversations and small intimacies – the odour of each other on waking; the trembling sound of each other’s breathing when a child is unwell……as if all of this were somehow more binding, more important and more undeniable than love, whatever love is. For he was bound to Ella. And yet it all created in Dorrigo Evans the most complete and unassailable loneliness, so loud a solitude that he sought to crack its ringing silence again and again with yet another woman…  ” (p.373-374), such beautifully evocative writing amid such tales of horror and amazing ability to survive you cannot help but be moved.

And then we have the beautiful poems scattered amongst the prose.

Surrender to the influence and emotions of this book. Read this book, and then re read this book!

Post Script: Bone Ash Sky – Katerina Cosgrove

The Best Contemporary Fiction of 2013 

Bone Ash Sky, Katerina Cosgrove

Bone Ash Sky

Katerina  Cosgrove

Hardie Grant Books

ISBN:9781742705859

 

Description:

When Anoush Pakradounian steps off a boat and feels the Levantine heat on her cheek like a caress, she thinks she knows what she has come to Beirut to do: bear witness to her long dead father’s trial for war crimes, and discover the truth behind years of secrets and lies.

Yet nothing about her family is black and white. Anoush is poised to unravel four generations of war, genocide, love and renewal amongst the relics of her past.

In 1915 one million Armenians were marched into Syria by the Turkish and killed in the first genocide of the twentieth century. In 1982 Beirut came under Israeli siege for three months with thousands killed. Anoush’s quest for answers is interwoven with the memory of ruined cities and vanished empires: Lake Van before the genocide, Beirut in civil war, Ottoman villas and desecrated churches, Palestinian refugee camps and torture chambers turned into nightclubs. Her search to find out the truth about her father, her grandparents, and her own place in the story spans three generations against the backdrop of war and genocide in the Middle East.

With echoes of Barbara’s Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, Bone Ash Sky is a powerful work that examines family, loyalty, love, and secrets long-hidden in the chaos and horror of war.

My View:

For once I am speechless, words fail me. I cannot describe how incredibly good this book was to read – the prose so beautiful, the descriptions so eloquent and elegant and then…horrific. Cosgrove is a true storyteller – a master of words, of delicate prose and a teller of three dimensional stories; I could feel the silk, I could see the light refracted in the tulip shaped tumblers ( p.39 ) I can see and hear the death train (p.117) “There was an unfocused brutality in its movements in the sickening, shrill sound of wheels grinding on tracks…People started to scream; at least, those who were still well enough to expend the energy did. She screamed with them. The mechanical movement so final. It was more terrifying than anything else, this fiery beast that held them in its belly.” Echoes of the Holocaust.

I felt the sadness and despair as Lilit tried to think of a way to help the woman with the crying baby p. 117  “She knew the woman’s milk had dried up, knew the baby would soon die. But there was nothing she could do. She thought of latching the baby to her own small breasts, praying milk would come in sympathy, but, somehow, she was too tired. Too sleepy. Too indifferent. Too afraid of what the Turks might do again if they saw her.” Such hopelessness and despair. Such pain.  Then… p.119 “Lilit saw the mother make for a well with the bundle of concealed baby under her arm. She was shaking now, her head jerking from side to side like a hen’s, the movement of her legs spasmodic….In an instant of despair, she dropped her baby like a  wishing stone into the well. He would bring her good fortune. He cried too much. She was too tired to carry him anymore. There was no milk left to give him. She wanted him to drown, have a swifter, easier death.” So emotional, so real, so much pain, so much hopelessness.

It is the hopelessness that struck me more than anything. Having no choices. No existence. The endless cycle of violence based on nothing more than superstition, history, and prior bloodshed.  Where no lessons learned?

Cosgrove states in the opening pages of this novel, “The historic circumstances in this novel are real. Many of the characters are not. This is a work of fiction and liberties have been taken with some dates, events and places.

The author does not seek to blame, defame or offend any race, creed or culture for their beliefs or their past and present actions.  There are no villains in this story – and no heroes either.”

Such a poignant and remarkable multi-layered expose of society – past and present. What has changed? Not a lot. Truly sad, moving and memorable.