Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Written as a series of letters dated 1946 Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows have written a novel depicting life on the island of Guernsey. When author Juliet Ashton is contacted by Dawsey Adams requesting information about the life and books of Charles Lamb she is unaware of the extent to which her life is about to change. In the letter Dawsey mentioned The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and subsequent correspondence on that topic introduced Juliet to the members of the society and also to a project recording the occupation of the island by the Germans during the war. Aspects of living in an occupied country are revealed throughout the book as well as attempts to adjust to life after war. The book is populated with a wonderful and sometimes quirky cast of characters and throughout the novel there are many references to and quotes from books read by the literary society members. And of course there is a little romance to add to the enjoyment of reading this book.

Postscript: Later this month,  April 2018, the film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, will be released.

La's orchestra saves the world by Alexander McCall Smith is also about the inhabitants of a small village coping during the Second World War.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tracing your Irish ancestors

Those of us with Irish ancestors are aware of the difficulties faced when trying to locate information. The destruction of records by fire at the Public Record Office in 1922 makes it difficult to locate early Irish Records. The third edition of this book, published in 2006, by John Greenham, provides a detailed guide to locating genealogical records that do exist. Chapters cover General Register Office records, Census records, Church records, Property and valuation records, Wills, Genealogical Office records, Emigration and the Irish Abroad (includes a section on Australia), The Registry of Deeds, Newspapers, Directories, The Internet, Occupational records and County source-lists.

Six geese a-slaying

What can go wrong when organising a Christmas parade? Meg Langslow finds out when she is placed in charge of the annual Caerphilly Holiday Parade with the theme of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Needless to say Meg's large unconventional extended family is there to 'assist' and to take part in various sections of the parade. If ensuring that all the participants are in the right costumes and in their correct place is not enough, Meg faces an additional challenge when Santa is discovered murdered in his sleigh. Meg and Chief Burke face the task of solving the murder and also the parade.

Another amusing crime told by Donna Andrews with a large cast of zany characters, part of the series of books with birds in the title including Murder with puffins, Murder with peacocks, Revenge of the wrought iron flamingos, Crouching buzzard, leaping loon, We'll always have parrots, Owls well that ends well, No nest for the wicket, The penguin who knew too much, and Cockatiels at seven. Yes there is a bird theme going in the titles of these books.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shattered Anzacs: living with the scars of war

Marina Larsson provides a study of the effects of World War I on the lives and on the families of returned soldiers injured during the war. Often through case studies based on interviews with descendants of returned soldiers, examples are provided showing the challenges faced by families.
  • How the soldiers coped with chronic injuries including disfigurement, mental illness and other health problems including tuberculous and in some cases venereal disease.
  • Finding and keeping employment, especially when the former soldier had a disability and was unable to return to the type of employment he had before the war.
  • Implementation of the Soldier Settlement Scheme and why it was often unsuccessful.
  • How returned soldiers fared during the economic depression of the 1930s.
  • Provision of government assistance in the form of disability pensions was available but the amount was usually inadequate when the recipient had a family to support.
  • Reliance of the family on support from family members who were also often supporting other family members in a similar situation or who were family of war dead.
  • Reliance on charities such as the Red Cross, patriotic funds, the Centre for Soldiers' Wives and Mothers and the Tubercular Soldiers' Aid Society for additional and immediate assistance.
  • Commemoration of those who returned but died from war related injuries.
Sixty thousand Australians died during the First World War. Ninety thousand Australians returned home with a disability. Some died shortly after returning home. Some managed to live 'normal' lives after a period of rehabilitation. But the war related injuries of many of the returned soldiers affected their lives and impacted on the lives of their families throughout the returned soldier's life. This book provides an insight as to how injuries incurred by World War I soldiers affected not just the soldier but also immediate family members creating material and psychological impact on the subsequent generation of Australians.

The alphabet of light and dark

Danielle Wood's first novel is primarily set on Bruny Island in Tasmania where, after the death of her grandfather, Essie returns to spend three months to investigate and record the history of her family. The focal point of the island is the lighthouse which for many years was operated by members of Essie's family so much of her time is spent in this building examining the papers and artefacts left to her by her grandfather and writing the story. Her discoveries provide not only an understanding of her family's story but also the opportunity to review her own life, especially after meeting Peter again, a friend from her childhood.


In the sequel to The Broken Shore Peter Temple examines the role of Truth when compared with the need for preservation of reputation and personal survival. The Homicide Squad's investigation into the death of a prostitue found in a new expensive apartment is curtailed by the owners of the building as they have friends in high places. The investigation of subsequent murders involving torture, relationships and disintegration of families, corruption plus bushfires threatening the family property are interwoven with Stephen Vanelli and his team's investigation of the fate of the murdered girl.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Iconic building

Throughout the world cities are striving to build the iconic building as an architectural landmark. Charles Jencks looks at this trend and some of the recent buildings created to impress. Not all iconic building projects are successful. Building projects described include New Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; Selfridges, Birmingham; Ontario College of Art and Design, Ontario; Lyon Airport Station; Olympic Stadium, Beijing; Ronchamp Church; London City Hall, Disney Hall and the Swiss Re building in London better known as The Gherkin. Australian iconic buildings discussed are the Sydney Opera House, Parliament House in Canberra, and Federation Square in Melbourne. Jencks also has a chapter on the Ground Zero project in New York. An interesting illustrated study of modern city architecture.

International Harvester - Tractor equipment in Australia and New Zealand

Published in 2009 this book by Graeme R Quirk recounts the influence of the company, International Harvester, in Australasia from it American origins to its recent incorporation as Case IH. This book acts as a catalogue of International Harvester tractors, harvesters, other agricultural equipment and early cars with copious photographs of the different machines. There is also a chapter on the role of the International Harvester factory at Geelong where many of the products were made.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Investigating British census data in

Having spasmodically investigated my family history since secondary school I now have access to the website At the weekend I decided to check the England census for 1851 and 1861 and the Scotland census for 1841 for George Mackillop.

The census data provides the names of people in a house on the night of the census. In each case George was the head of the family. Lists of names of other people in the house are provided, their age, relationship to the head of the house, where they were born and their occupation. The address or partial address of the house can also be provided.

From the English census results for 1851 and 1861 I discovered that George and his family lived at 26 Grovenor Place in Bath. A search via Google revealed that Grovenor Place was built in 1790 and includes a terrace of 42 houses which are still standing today.

The census results listed the number of servants in the house. In the England 1861 census the family of George's daughter were visiting from India.

In 1841 George and his family lived at 16 Melville Street Edinburgh. The eldest daughter had been born in Scotland but the next two daughters were born in Van Diemens Land when the family spent a number of years in Australia.

Census results provide useful and interesting information but the results for George and his family demonstrate the misinformation that can occur. George's wife was Jean Eleanora but in the 1851 England census she is listed as Jane and Eleanora is misspelt. The person recording the information wrote the name incorrectly. Also in the 1851 England census the printed summary of the information provided by states George's birthplace as Shitingsh, Scotland. A close look at the copy of the handwritten information reveals that he was born in Stirlingsh, Scotland (Stirlingshire). In the 1861 English census the name of George's son-in-law is presented in the printed summary as William T Hutton instead of William F Hutton. There is also misspelling of other family names. Van Diemens Land on one occasion was also written in the printed version as a 'Diemansland, Devon, England' when it is clearly Van Diemens Land in the handwritten record.

Provided that the researcher is aware the possibility of error in recording and / or transcribing material the census data presented in is a great resource for discovering information about family members. Because of possible errors if a name is not immediately found lateral thinking for alternative forms of the name may locate the required person.

The girl who kicked the hornets' nest

The third volume of the Millenium series. Two badly injured bodies arrive at the hospital, one being that of Lisbeth Salander whose wounds include a bullet wound in her head. The second person is her father, Zalachenko, who after defecting from Russia lived under the name of Karl Alex Bodin.

Lisbeth survives surgery and is kept under guard in hospital until well enough to be tranferred to prison and then tried for a number of offences including attempted murder. She continues her policy of limited communication with the police but is persuaded by her lawyer, Advocat Gianni, and the lawyer's brother, Mikael Blomkvist, to prepare her story to present at the trial

Lisbeth has many supporters, particularly Mikael Blomkvist, the staff at Millenium, her former employer, Armansky, her former guardian, Palmgren, her doctor and some members of the police who with many others work to help her and to expose the injustices that have been done to her in the past. Millenium plans to publish a special issue of the magazine and a book to coincide with the beginning of the trial. However Lisbeth also has made many enemies, especially those who will lose their jobs if the truth is revealed.

Like the two other books in the series - The girl with the dragon tattoo and The girl who played with fire - this book is hard to put down as the plot unravels. The girl who kicked the hornets' nest provides a fitting conclusion to this three volume story, unravelling a number of events that commenced in the earlier volumes.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

D-Day: the battle for Normandy

On 6 June 1944 an armada of vessels crossed the English Channel from England carrying Allied soldiers to land on the French coast. So began what has also been called ' the longest day' as soldiers fought their way ashore to liberate France from German occupation.

Antony Beevor provides a detailed account of events leading up to D-Day, the landings on numerous beaches on the coast, the casualties with some landing places proving harder to get the soldiers safely ashore than others, consequent battles to remove the Germans from the area as the Allied forces progressed to Paris. The effect of this event on the French people who had lived under German occupation since 1940 is also described. Pages of photographs throughout the book contribute to this account of a turning point in World War Two.

Family history in the genes

DNA testing is increasingly being used by some as a tool for genealogy research. Chris Pomery discusses how tracing DNA can help expand a family tree. The various organisations and schemes promoting this methodology are discussed along with web addresses of DNA testing companies. Information on how to set up a DNA testing project among family members and possible pitfalls is examined. The author also describes the Genographic Project sponsored by National Geographic which since 2005 is investigating migration paths of people throughout the world from Africa.

Convict women

Kay Daniels wrote this account of the experiences of convict women in Australia in 1998 looking primarily at the transportation of convict women to Australia and the conditions they faced in the new colony. Two chapters deal with assignment and the female factories. Case studies illustrate the lives lived by convict women. The argument that a high ratio of convict women were prostitutes is also explored.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The lost Mona Lisa: the extraordinary true story of the greatest art theft in history

In August 1911 the painting, the Mona Lisa, disappeared from its gallery in Le Louvre. The theft of the painting became an international story and was a great source of embarrassment for the French. How could anyone walk into a gallery and steal one of the most famous works of art.

In December 1913 the painting was returned. When it was offered to a Florence art dealer for a large sum of money the police were informed and the Italian who had stolen and kept the painting in his rooms for more than two years was arrested and later tried for the theft of the painting.

The book examines how the painting was stolen as well as the many theories as to why the painting was stolen. Unfortunately proof that any of these theories is correct has not been found however the book provides an insight into the furor caused by the theft of the painting and the changes that have since occurred to keep this and other paintings safe. The Mona Lisa now has two guards watching over her in her bullet proof case which is securely attached to the wall of her own galley in Le Louvre. An intriguing account of an international art theft.

The Lawn: a social history

The lawn has traditionally been an important feature of garden in Australia although the recent drought may have changed our attitude to and expectations of the perfect lawn, especially in the summer where brown lawns are now the norm in Victoria.

Peter Macinnes examines the history and importance of lawns in many parts of the world but particularly in the United Kingdom, USA and Australia. Prior to the invention of the lawnmower in the early 1800s shortening patches of grass was possible by grazing animals in the required area or by using scythes. The lawnmower made it possible to have a more even surface of grass coverage. Lawns originally signified status and wealth but eventually as the design of lawnmowers improved and the machines became affordable lawns were available in the gardens of the general populace. The development of lawns also contributed to the development of many sports, athletics, tennis, lawn bowls, croquet and of course, cricket. The rise of public gardens contribute to the environment of our cities. Allusions to lawns in literature are also provided in this illustrated treatise on the lawn.

Getting real: challenging the sexualisation of girls

Television programs, advertisements on TV, advertisements in magazines and on billboards, comments on radio, lyrics of popular music and even children's toys, clothing and the internet bombard us with sexual images, references and inuendo. This is the world in which young children are growing up,

Edited by Melinda Tankard Reist this collection of articles looks at the pressures faced by girls and young women particularly in regard to the 'sexualisation and objectification of girls and women' in the twenty first century. Children have the right to be children and should not be bombarded with concepts of the 'right' body image, dressed in adult clothes at a young age and face the need to conform to the latest trend as portrayed on tv, film or other media. Articles include studies of the objectification of women in advertising and the media, examine the need for a healthy lifestyle without the need for medical and other intervention to conform, and a discussion on the risks of premature sexualisation of children. The final chapter provides a case study of a campaign by Julie Gale to raise awareness of current practices and to place pressure on advertisers, companies and shops to be more responsible when promoting and selling products.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wolf Hall

Set in the reign of Henry VIII this novel by Hilary Mantel explores the intrigues and machinations of life at Court when King Henry decides to disolve his twenty year marriage to Katherine so that he can marry Anne Boleyn. The book chronicles the rise of Thomas Cromwell from his early life as the son of a violent blacksmith to become the chief advisor to the King. The politics of Court, Church and Parliament are fully described as the struggle to enable the King to marry Anne is played out. The aftermath of this decision including the trial of those who oppose the King's remarriage and his new position as Head of the Church in England aligned with the beginnings of the protestant movement overseas and the impact of printing making the Gospel available to common people is explored. Fluctuating fortunes of prominent families including the Boleyns, the Seymours and the Howards are documented as well as Englands relations with countries overseas. The novel emphasises the instability to the country caused by not having an heir to the Crown. It creates a dramatic picture of life in Tudor England, particularly from 1527 to 1535. This is only part of the story. Undoutably there will be a sequel to this winner of the Man Booker Prize 2009.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A place of safety

For many years the series, Midsomer Murders, where Chief Inspector Banaby and Sergeant Troy solve usually a series of crimes in each episode has been a popular television program on Channel 2. The books on which the series is based are written by Caroline Graham. In A place of safety the investigations centre around the death of Charlie Leathers, the disappearance of a Carlotta last seen falling into the river, blackmail, an attack on a woman in a carpark and the injuries inflicted upon a dog. The impact of the crimes on the villagers and village life provides the background as Barnaby and his team solve the crimes.

Forbidden fruit

Corinna Chapman is a baker and owner of the bakery, Earthly Delights. With Daniel she also is involved in solving mysteries - in this case locating a young pregnat girl who has run away from home. The books are set in Melbourne and although the exact location of the bakery is never provided many of the landmarks in the city are identified. The bakery is situated near Flinders Lane in a building containing a number of apartments. The interactions of the tenants in the building, Corina's staff and customers, the staff and volunteers of the soup run who spend their evenings helping the homeless and the people met when solving the mystery contibute to the character of inner city living and bustle, particularly with the approach of Christmas.

This is the fifth book in the series, the others being Earthly Delights, Heavenly Pleasure, Devil's Food and Trick or Treat.

Don't stop me now

The British television program, Top Gear, has developed a cult following in Australia. One of the presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, writes a regular motoring column for the Sunday Times providing his humourous and often non politically correct view on life in general as well as his thoughts on the cars he is testing. Anyone who enjoys watching Top Gear should enjoy this selection from the newspaper articles.

206 bones

The eleventh book by Kathy Reich about the cases investigated by forensic anthropologist, Temperance Brennan and police officer, Andrew Ryan. At a crime scene Tempe counts and bags 206 bones belonging to a body but back at the laboratory four bones are missing and she is accused of negligence. This is only one of a series of accusations that are made including an anonymous telephone message stating that she missed important evidence during an autopsy. Coupled with threatening messages Tempe realises that not only is her career is at risk but also possibly her life. Why are these accusations being made and who is behind the conspiracy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The time traveler's wife

The concept of time travelling in books, films and television programs, particularly Dr Who, is not new. Audrey Niffenegger tells the story of Clare Abshire and Henry DeTamble who first meet when Clare is six and Henry is 36, though in real time Henry is eight years older than Clare. Henry, a librarian working at the Newberry Library in Chicago has the ability to travel backwards and forwards in time, sometimes meeting himself at a different age. A major disadvantage of time travel is that Henry is unable to take anything with him or bring anything back resulting in the need to find suitable clothing when arriving at a different destination. Henry also has no control over travelling in time though he suspects that being stressed contributes to the situation. Knowing what is to happen in the future but not being able to change the outcome is another burden of time travel though occasionally Henry uses prior knowledge to his advantage.

This love story is told in two voices through the eyes of Clare and Henry. Henry often visits Clare as she grows up until eventually they are adults in real time. When they first meet in the Library the visits to Clare's childhood are in the future and Henry is initially unaware of this part of their lives. The problems of uncontrolled time travel explored with many twists and turns in the plot as well as attempts to find ways of controlling this phenomenon.

The sequences of time travel can be haphazard and confusing as the plot evolves and reducing the book by a third would have tightened up both the writing style and the storyline. However The time traveler's wife is a popular book and will no doubt increase in popularity when the film of the book is shown in Australia.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bitter roots, sweet fruit

Karen Cummings' history of schools in Collingwood, Abbotsford and Clifton Hill won a Victorian Community History Award in 2009.

A total of 169 schools and colleges plus 9 kindergartens are described in this comprehensive study of education in the Collingwood area. As well as providing a history of each educational establishment, side panels provide additional information about staff or families attending a school. A listing of name changes is provided plus any changes of address. The amount of information provided for each school varies depending on availability of information - for some, especially small schools that existed only for a few years, available information is limited. Much of the information was obtained from the files of the Victorian Public Record Office, newspapers and books. An extensive bibliography and notes section are provided. At the beginning of each section of the book a summary article is provided on topics such as State aided schools to 1872, Denominational schools, Common schools, State education from 1873, Technical education, Secondary education, Private schools, Kindergartens etc. There is also a brief history of Collingwood together with an outline of the development of education in Victoria.

As well as providing an insight into an aspect of Collingwood's history, this well illustrated comprehensive account of education in Collingwood will also be a valuable resource for anyone studying the history of education in Victoria.


Port Douglas - sun, sand and restaurants. The most difficult decision when staying in Port Douglas is deciding where to have dinner as the town abounds with quality restaurants. After three visits to Port Douglas we have visited a number of restaurants but there are still many more we have yet to visit including Salsa Bar & Grill in Wharf Street.

Recipes for many of the dishes served at Salsa are now available in the recently published book, Salsa (2009). Starters, soups and salads, Mains, Sides, stocks and dressings, Breads, Desserts, Cocktails are included in this well illustrated book. Interspersed between each section are images of Port Douglas to add to the tropical atmosphere of the book. Many of the recipes focus naturally on the use of seafood but there are also recipes using beef, chicken and lamb with a few vegetarian selections. Recommended for a selection of interesting recipes and for a taste of the tropics.

The use and abuse of history

Frequently in the media we hear politicians using 'history' to justify a viewpoint resulting in a variety of interpretations of an action or event.

In this book Graeme Davison looks at the ways history is recorded and interpreted in Australia, particularly how the past is used and sometimes misused. Sections of the book look at the need for heroes and hero-worship, monuments, statues and other memorials, national celebrations, concept of heritage, historic buildings, reuse of church buildings, teaching of history in schools, use of community history, history and business and history and politics.

Written ten years ago, this book is still relevant today.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The children's book

Two weeks relaxing in Port Douglas required a special book to read by the pool and A.S. Byatt's 617 page novel did not disappoint.

Set between 1895 and 1919 the book chronicles the lives of members of the Wellwood family as well as the lives of the families of friends and others who come in contact with this eccentric group of people. Edwardian England is a major feature of the novel and Byatt provides an insight into life during the early twentieth century set against historical events occurring during these years. While some of the characters delve into bohemianism, Fabianism and experimentation with groups promoting anarchy, it becomes obvious that many of the characters, particularly children's author, Olive Wellwood, live in a world of fantasy with a reluctance to view what is really happening in the world around them.

Fantasy and children's writing weave a major thread throughout the book with allusions to the large number of children's classics written during this period including a number transferred to the stage. The adult characters live in their own world with extreme moral standards and appear oblivious to the affect this is having on the next generation. The world of fantasy is also, of course in dramatic contrast to the reality that many of the younger characters have to come to grips with during World War I.

As well as literature, the arts are also represented by potteries with a major part of the book revolving around the lives of a master potter and his assistant, puppetry both in England and in Germany and the Victoria and Albert Museum where some of the events in the novel take place. Relationships between England and Germany prior to World War I are also explored.

The many themes in this well researched, well written and compelling novel take the reader into a variety of worlds and situations as the complex family relationships portrayed unravel. A book to read when you have time to enjoy it.

The night my bum dropped

This book by comedian, author, television presenter and newspaper columnist, Gretel Killeen, is subtitled - a gleefully exaggerated memoir. The note at the front of the book reads - None of the character depicted here are based on real life. This especially applies to any persons referred to as 'my mum', 'my dad', 'my brothers', 'my sisters', 'my siblings', 'my son', 'my daughter', 'my children' or 'my friends' ... and to the character referred to here in as 'me', 'I', 'myself' or 'Gretel'.

Basically the book is an amusing, exaggerated account of someone facing a mid-life crisis revolving around being a mother, losing a job and horror of horrors, aging. In order to find solutions to her problems 'Gretel' turns to 'family' and 'friends' for usually unhelpful advice. Sections of the book have previously been published in articles.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Beyond the garden gate: Local insight into the Victorian female suffrage movement

In 1891 more than 28,000 women signed the Woman's Petition requesting the right to vote. Joanna Fitch has prepared this set of six case studies investigating the possible suffrage involvement of women in selected towns and suburbs in Victoria in the years following 1891. The six areas are St Kilda, Bairnsdale, Hawthorn, Casterton, Maryborough and Colac.

The general information in the book is gleaned from secondary sources and the information used in the case studies is primarily from newspaper articles and / or books written about the local history of the area. No attempt appears to have been made to investigate the minute books and records of the women's organisations during the period up to 1908 when women in Victoria won the right to vote in State government elections.

The case studies however do provide an insight into some of the factors that would have contributed to the possible involvement or non-involvement of women in working to win suffrage. The many footnotes provide a guide for further research.

A list of numbers of women in towns and suburbs is provided as well as suggestions for locating additional information about some of the women who signed the 1891 petition.

A copy of this publication is available online from the Victorian Women's Trust website - Copies of the book can be purchased from the Victorian Women's Trust.

The index to the 1891 Woman's Petition can be found online.
Additional information about the collection of the petition signatures in 1891 is available in the online exhibition - The WCTU & the 1891 Woman's Petition

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Disaster in the Dandenongs: the Kyeema airliner tragedy

Macarthur Job has written an account of the the last flight of the Kyeema on its journey from Adelaide to Melbourne on 25 October, 1938. It was a foggy day and instead of landing safely at Essendon Airport the aircraft went off course, crashing into Mt Dandenong. UHF radio range beacons had been installed, but not finally tested, in many parts of Australia prior to the accident. These were quickly brought into service to avoid future incidents. The enquiry that followed the disaster resulted in the development of modern air traffic control and the founding of the Department of Civil Aviation. A readable account of this tragedy in Australian aviation history.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The real history behind Foyle's War

This book provides information about the true stories on which each episode of the television series, Foyle's War, was based. Set in Hastings during the early 1940s the police series follows the experiences of DCS Christopher Foyle and his team as they attempt to maintain law and order during a war. The television series was written by author, Anthony Horowitz, who contributed the forward to this publication written by Rod Green. Liberally illustrated with photographs taken during the period as well as images from the television series the book contains chapters on policing in Britain during World War II, crime and punishment at the time as well as information about the major characters in the television series before discussing the original events that prompted development of the story for each episode.

Finger Lickin' Fifteen

Another Stephanie Plum novel, this time evolving around the decapitation of celebrity chef, Stanley Chipotle, witnessed by Lula. Much of the story involves Lula trying to keep out of the path of the decapitators as she devises a plan to lead to their capture, in order to collect the reward, by entering a barbecue sauce making competition. With Grandma Mazur as an accomplice chaos ensues as they experiment with recipes. Meanwhile Stephanie agrees to work part-time for Ranger to help find out who has been trying to sabotage Ranger's security service while Ranger agrees to help Stephanie bring in some of the more difficult bail absconders on her list. As well as the usual destruction of vehicles Stephanie manages to become, at various times, covered with flour, sauce and other foodstuffs, much to the amusement of Ranger and Joe Morelli.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Handle with care

Jodi Picoult's latest book deals with ethical and social issues revolving around the birth of a child born with with a disability. Willow has OI (Osteogenesis Imperfecta) - brittle bones. At birth a number of her bones were broken and broken bones were a constant part of her life placing a strain on family members emotionally as well as financially.

When Willow was five Charlotte (Willow's mother) started legal proceedings against Piper Reece (her obstetrician) for not recognising the early symptoms of OI and therefore preventing Charlotte having the choice to terminate the pregnancy. The repercussions of Charlotte's actions are told by those most affected - Charlotte, Sean (her husband), Amelia (Willow's sister), Piper who had been Charlotte's best friend, Marin (Charlotte's lawyer). Each character addresses Willow when recounting what is occurring. The last episode belongs to Willow.

Disintegration of relationships, living with community reaction, trying to do something for the best reasons (in this case creating a secure future for her daughter), blame, guilt, ethics of abortion, strain of disability on family members including concentration on the needs of one family member to the detriment of siblings are some of the issues covered in this novel.

Other novels by Jodi Picoult with medical ethics themes include Change of Heart (a convicted murderer wants his heart donated to the sister of the child who was killed) and My Sister's Keeper (a family has another child in order to save the life of a child).

Sunday, June 7, 2009

About face

In this latest episode by Donna Leon, Commissario Brunetti is asked by an officer from a neighbouring police force to help investigate a murder believed to be connected with the legal dumping of rubbish, including toxic waste. His father in law also asks him for background information on the business dealings of a businessman who has asked him to become a partner in shipping unspecified gods to China. The subsequent murder of the police officer who has a photograph of the murderer encourages Brunetti to continue the investigation revealing links with the mafia. The book also focuses on Franca Marinello with her disfigured face and her love for classical literature.

As usual there is much reflection on Italian politics, corruption and ethical issues as the story unfolds.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Long Tail

How endless choice is creating unlimited demand.

Chris Anderson looks at how marketing and business is changing in the twenty first century. The Internet has dramatically increased the opportunity for marketing products of all kinds including music, film and books. Shops tend to stock primarily best sellers when selecting products but the establishment of virtual stores means the availability of a greater range of products and the opportunity for more products to be sold, though often in smaller quantities. In the virtual stores the combination of large numbers of items selling small quantities can equal or surpass a few items selling large number of quantities, which is the norm in traditional stores.

A comparison is made with the effect on marketing in the late nineteenth century of Sears & Roebuck with their mail order service from catalogues before eventually establishing retail stores.

Increasing people are using the Internet to purchase items and producers of items are increasingly using the Internet to promote and sell their products which are often not available in conventional stores. This trend is enabling more people, who would normally have difficulty marketing their product, to distribute their items .

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Golden Legacy

How Golden Books won children's hearts, changed publishing forever and became an American icon along the way is the subtitle of this sixty-five year history of Little Golden Books.

In 1942 twelve Little Golden Books were released in retail outlets to be sold for 25 cents each dramatically undercutting the price of other children's books available. In the Golden Legacy, Leonard S Marcus provides the history of the company publishing the books, the writers and illustrators, the impact of the books on the publishing industry and the selling of children's books.

The book is well illustrated with covers of many of the titles and flicking through the pages brings back memories of titles long forgotten but which once were favourites for generations. The Poky Little Puppy, The Three Little Kittens, The Big Brown Bear, The Little Red Hen, How to Tell the Time, We Like Kindergarten and Doctor Dan the Bandage Man are only a few of the the hundreds of titles published over the years.

The names of the authors and illustrators were never shown on the covers of the books but a number including Richard Scarry, Margaret Wise Brown, Mercer Mayer and Garth Williams became well known in children's literature.

Trends in writing for children are discussed especially those in the 1960s when care was taken to avoid stereotypes and include illustrations reflecting the multi-racial makeup of society.

Random House bought the company in 2000.

A number of websites are dedicated to Little Golden Books including:

Little Golden Book Collector -

Little Golden Books: a treasury of children's literature -

Little Golden Books (Random House) -

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Iron Heart

In this sequel to the Eye of the abyss Franz Schmidt has moved to Berlin to become Chief Auditor at the Reichsbank and to continue working undercover for von Strek to undermine the plans of the Nazi Party. His attempts to maintain a low profile in order to concentrate on his mission to copy the plans of the Nazi financial blueprint for war are interrupted when a colleague, Theodore Fischer, is murdered and Schmidt becomes involved in helping the murdered colleague's assistant, Anna von Schnelling, to leave Germany.

Set in early 1931 Marshall Browne graphically describes tensions, conflicts and fear in Germany as the country prepares for war.

Brunetti's Venice: walks through the novels

Toni Sepela provides an exploration of the City of Venice based on the series of Brunetti books written by Donna Leon. Donna Leon wrote the introduction. In the novels Brunetti walks through the streets of Venice or travels in the police boat or other water transport along the many canals as he solves his cases. In this book Sepela provides twelve walks varying from 1.5 to 2 hours duration covering different parts of the city. Each walk contains references to events described in the novels occuring at a specific location. Maps are provided showing the route with the places to stop numbered.

The focus of the guide is on Venice as observed by Brunetti. Donna Leon, through the novels, brings Venice to life and the guide allows both visitors to that city and readers at home to explore Brunetti's home city.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The girl of his dreams

When a young gypsy girl is found drowned in a canal, Commissario Brunetti and Ispettore Vanello discover that finding out her identity as well as how she died is not straight forward. Differences in culture, attitudes to people of different nationalities and the changes in Venice brought in to accommodate the interests of the tourists rather than the locals are some of the issues that concern Brunetti and his wife Paola. The concerns of a priest about the activities of a man who may be obtaining money fraudulently from gullible people is investigated by Brunetti.

In Donna Leon's books Venice and living in Venice provides an important component of the book as are Brunetti's thoughts on the issues that he is investigating.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The writing book

In 1990 Kate Grenville wrote, the writing book: a workbook for fiction writers. This is a resource book for potential writers of fiction to read examples from Australian authors and to undertake a series of exercises designed to help them understand the fundamentals of writing either a book or a short story. Chapters include Getting started, Sorting through, Character, Point of view, Voice, Dialogue, Description, Design and Revision. Examples in early chapters are reworked into a completed short story at the end of the book as an example of how a few ideas can be worked and reworked into a finished product. The book is a practical starting point for would be writers though the age of the book is apparent in many of the examples used.

Illegal action

Liz Carlyle and Peggy Kinsolving are transferred to the Counter-Espionage Unit of MI5 when Charles Wetherby takes leave to look after his sick wife. Liz works undercover as an art student in the home of Nikita Brunovsky, a Russian oligarch now living in London, whose life is thought to be under threat. When the secret services discover that there is possibly an Illegal Russian agent in London the race is on to discover who this threat is and if there is a connection with the threat to kill a prominent Russian in the UK. Who attacked Liz near the 'safe' house where she is staying and who murdered Brunovsky's art dealer? Stella Rimington writes another easy to read account of intrigue in the secret services of the UK.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A collector's year

Adrian Franklin, one of the panellists on the the ABC1 television program, The Collectors, has written a book relating to collecting adventures undertaken during a year. Each chapter covers a month in the life of this collector and the sections within each chapter provide a brief introduction to collecting on a wide range of themes. Travel souvenirs, postcards, Australiana, major sporting events, recipe books, snow domes, tiles, fishing books, cricket memorabilia, barometers, watches, Tupperware, baranalia and perfume bottles are some of the topics covered as well as St Valentine's Day, Easter and Christmas. A visit to the Antiques Roadshow in England is also described. Adrian Franklin also looks at the difference between hoarding and collecting, as well as the bargains to be discovered op shopping and at car boot sales. Well illustrated, this a book to dip into if you are interested in collecting anything.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Modern times

From 21 March to 12 July an exhibition, Modern times: the untold story of modernism in Australia, produced by the Powerhouse Museum is being held at the Heide Museum of Modern Art. Powerhouse Museum produced a book on topic edited by Ann Stephen, Philip Goad and Andrew McNamara in 2008. The book and the exhibition looked at how modernism transformed design in Australia from 1917 to 1967 and the cultural changes that were impacted on by modernism. The affects of modernism on art, advertising, photography, film, fashion, furniture and architecture are discussed.

The book consists of a series of 25 articles arranged in five broad topics - Abstract in Australia; Bodies & bathers; City living; Designs on the space age and Electric signs and spectacles. The book is well illustrated with photographs and just browsing through the photographs brings back many memories of what became everyday objects that looked modern and challenging when first designed. The design of swimwear and swimming pools, milk bars and bars in pubs, furniture by Featherston and major buildings such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House, Myer Music Bowl as well as electric signs such as the Skipping Girl sign are some of the legacies of modernism in Australian design.

The Heide website - - contains information about the exhibition and also a podtour for those interested in additional information.

Art Deco in Australia is another book on this topic.

Dead line

Stella Rimington, former Director General of MI5, has written a series of books about MI5 agent, Liz Carlyle, the most recent being Dead line.
When a conference to discuss peace in the Middle East is to be held at Gleneagles in Scotland all the security services are called in to ensure that nothing disrupts the proceedings. MI6 are alerted to a plan to cause trouble and have the Syrians blamed. A former employee of MI5 contacts Liz as she is concerned about a staff member from the Israeli Embassy who has shown interest in her mother - in - law. Shortly afterwards an attempt is made on the life of Liz Carlyle causing her to spend time in hospital. As investigations continue questions are raised as to possible under handed methods occurring in security services of other countries.

The action centres in London, Scotland, Cyprus, USA and the Middle East as Liz and her colleagues strive to find out what the possible danger is, who is responsible and how to stop it from happening.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dracula alive!

The Historian a novel by Elizabeth Kostova. An old book and a mysterious letter lead to the quest to discover the truth about Vlad the Impaler - is it possible that Vlad the Impaler never died? - and the myth of Dracula. How do events occuring centuries ago affect the modern world? Investigating research undertaken by her father and her own research in many libraries result in a quest full of suspense and danger as the story unravels.

The girl who played with fire

The sequel by Steig Larrson to his book, The girl with the dragon tattoo. Mikael Blomvist and the staff of Millennium magazine are approached with the offer to publish a book exposing the sex trafficking industry. Dag Svensson, the author, was prepared to have the book thoroughly edited and investigated by Blomvist and was also to write articles for Millennnium. His partner, Mia Johansson, had recently completed a thesis on the topic.

Lisbeth Salander had been overseas for a year but when she returned to Sweden she decided to settle old scores with people who had tormented her in the past, especially her guardian, Nils Bjuman. When the gun used to shoot Bjurman, Svensson and Johansson is discovered with her fingerprints on it, she becomes a major suspect in three murders. Lisabeth is determined to find the truth and also discover the whereabouts of the elusive Zalachenko and Niedermann. She insists on working alone but her friends including Blomvist, Armansky and Palmgren all attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding the life of Lisabeth.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tea time for the traditionally built

At the conclusion of the book Mma Precious Ramotswe and Mma Grace Makutsi enjoy tea time at the President Hotel where they reflected on their recent cases and experiences - the invstigation into why the local football team kept losing, the woman who had problems with two 'husbands' and Violet Sephotho's attempt to win the affections of Phuti Radiphuti (Grace's finance). This is a continuation of a series of books set in Botswana recording events in the life of Precious Ramotswe, her family, colleagues and friends. At book talks, the author, Alexander McCall Smith, states that not a lot of action occurs in the books but the description of the characters and their surroundings as they face the daily challenges of living has a loyal following of readers.

The other books in the series are The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Tears of the Giraffe, Morality for Beautiful Girls, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, The Full Cupboard of Life, In the Comapny of Cheerful Ladies, Blue Shoes and Happiness, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive and The Miracle at Speedy Motors.

The BBC has recently made a television series based on stories from the books which is yet to be viewed in Australia.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lygon Street

Michael Harden is the author of Lygon Street: stories and recipes from Melbourne's melting pot. The history of this famous Carlton street is told in words and pictures - its early development and architecture and the ethnic communities, especially the Jewish and Italian communities, who have helped give the street its character. Lygon Street conjures up images of restaurants and food and each chapter of the book contains recipes from restaurants associated with Lygon Street - a history conveyed by food. The book will appeal to those interested in the history of street as well as those wanting recipes of some of the meals they have enjoyed. A wonderful book to delve into and enjoy.

The Eye of the Abyss

This suspenseful novel by Marshall Browne is set in pre-war Nazi Germany. Franz Schmidt, head auditor of Bankhaus Wertheim & Co. has only one eye, the result of an attempt to help the victim of a attack by a group of SA thugs returning from a Nazi rally three years previously. Life at the bank changes when the bank is to look after the accounts of the National Socialist German Working Party and a new member of the board representing the interests of the Nazis is to work at the bank. The immediate target is the Director General's secretary whose mother was Jewish. A number of plans are made to help Fraulein Dressler but she is arrested before she can escape the country. Franz and his colleague, Wagner - who is also being investigated for involvement in a banned political party, plan their revenge.

Dear Fatty

Dawn French has written a memoir in the form of letters to people who have been important in her life including her father, who committed suicide when she was 19; her husband and Fatty (Jennifer Saunders). Each letter recalls incidents in her life including living in a variety of RAF bases, teenage years, her first engagement, college and working in the entertainment industry, especially her friendship and partnership with Jennifer Saunders and her marriage to Lenny Henry. An interesting insight into the life of well loved actress.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Art of Australia

Volume 1 of Art of Australia is entitled Exploration to Federation and was written by John McDonald. This large (655 pages), lavishly illustrated work, explores the development of colonial art in Australia from the arrival of the convicts until Federation in 1901. A great introduction to the art of this country.

Friday, February 27, 2009

La's orchestra saves the world

When her husband leaves her to live with a French woman in France her parents in law allow her to live in their country house in Suffolk. With a degree in literature from Girton Hall, Cambridge, followed by married life with Richard in London, La took a while to adjust to her new surroundings despite her early life in Surrey. Mrs Agg from the farm next door helped her settle in and when war broke out she worked looking after hens on a nearby farm. It was there that she met Feliks, a Polish airman who had flown with the RAF. After he had been shot down and lost an eye he worked on farms.

Alexander McCall Smith's book, La's orchestra saves the world, provides a microcosm of life in the farming community near an airbase during the Second World War and reflects on relationships that develop or have the potential to develop, particularly between La and Feliks.

Permission is granted for La to start an orchestra which meets once a month to play music for themselves and anyone who wants to listen. The orchestra becomes a symbol of defiance against the threat that overshadows the lives people living in England. Music, even played inexpertly, has the power to bring people together, if only for a short time.

The book explores the effects and aftermath of war and how people adapt to hardship and change. It also questions political outcomes that impacted upon the lives of people from other countries who supported the allies during the war but lost their homelands in the carve up at its conclusion.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Heart and soul

Maeve Binchy once again introduces us to the lives of a cast of characters in her latest novel, Heart and Soul. A new heart clinic is opened in the grounds of St Bridget's Hospital, Dublin and the story is based on the development of the clinic during its first year and the lives of the staff and patients, their families and friends. Clara Casey - director of the centre, Declan Carroll - the centre's GP, the nurses - Barbara and Fiona, the admin officer- Hilary, Ania - an immigrant from Poland and Fr Brian Flynn are a small number of the cast of characters whose relationships are explored and interwoven in the novel. Regular readers of Maeve Binchy books will enjoy meeting again characters who have appeared in earlier books including Quentins, Scarlet Feather, Nights of Rain and Stars, Whitethorn Woods and Evening Class.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The girl with the dragon tattoo

I had heard on the grapevine that The girl with the dragon tattoo written by Stieg Larsson was a must read book and the grapevine was correct.

Mikael Blomkvist, journalist and part owner of the magazine, Millennium, was found guilty of writing a libellous article about industrialist and financier, Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, resulting in a large fine and a three month gaol term. In order to save the magazine he decided to (temporarily) resign and move to the country for a period.

Lisbeth Salander, aged in her mid twenties but looking younger, worked part time for the firm Milton Security as an investigator. Although not always the most reliable of workers as far as adhering to office principles, her reports were always thorough and frequently contained information that normally would not be available to researchers.

Henrik Vanger was 82 and former CEO of the successful Vanger Company which employed many people in Sweeden. Each birthday Henrik received a flower in a frame. The first flower had arrived a year after the disappearance and possible murder of his niece, Harriet, thirty-six years previously. Her disappearance was still a mystery and had become an obsession of her uncle.

Henrik, via his lawyer, commissioned Lisbeth to prepare a report on Mikael Blomvist and then asked to start investigating Wennerstrom. He then asked Mikael to spend a year writing a history of the Vanger family as a cover for investigating Harriet's disappearance. As well as a large salary Henrik promised to provide information about Wennestrom that would help prove that he was a criminal.

Mikael reluctantly accepts the project but soon becomes immersed in the intricacies of the Vagner family and also uncovers leads in the investigation of Harriet's disappearance missed in the initial investigation. As the investigation proceeds he needs a research assistant and Lisbeth is employed to assist him.

The book is more than an excellent crime mystery but also describes the attempts to keep the magazine afloat, questions the ethics of withholding the publication of material relating to a crime which would harm others if made public, and allows the reader to explore the lives of the characters, particularly Lisbeth - the girl with the dragon tattoo.

The girl with the dragon tattoo is the first book in the Millennium Trilogy. I look forward to reading the next instalment.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More Bones

In Bare bones Dr Temperance Brennan's beach holiday planned with Andrew Ryan is put on hold as she endeavours to discover the identity of a number of bodies including two men found in a crashed Cessna plus the head and hands of person found in two bags containing bear and bird carcases and a headless skeleton in a disused toilet pit. As she investigates threats against her are made via email by someone calling himself the Grim Reaper. More bodies are located, attempts are made on the lives of people following up leads in the case and as the investigation develops it becomes obvious that apparently separate deaths are linked and in crimes involving smuggling drugs and animal parts.

A decomposed body is found in a cupboard and Tempe Brennan is asked to investigate cause of death. At the laboratory a mysterious man shows her a photograph of a skeleton and says that is why the man died. The investigations lead Tempe and Detective Andrew Ryan to travel to Israel to return a skeleton excavated from a cave, the bones possibly being 2,000 years old. The adventure in Cross bones includes exploring caves and finding additional bones which may or may not belong to the Holy Family. Danger stalks Tempe and Ryan as other people also try to gain access to the mystery bones.

Tempe Brennan is supervising a field trip on an island, Dewees, north of Charleston in South Carolina. In the final days of the archaeological dig a recently buried body is found in a shallow grave. Tempe is asked by the Coroner, Emma Rousseau who is also a friend, to assist with the case. When Tempe discovers that Emma is ill she tries to help her friend by taking on an increased workload. During the investigation other bodies are discovered and links between the seemingly unconnected deaths are developed. Tempe's life becomes complicated when her estranged husband, Pete, and Detective Andrew Ryan both advise her that they are coming to Charleston to visit and stay with her. Tempe receives threats, which she ignores, trying to get her to drop her investigation and then one evening Pete is shot. Pete is working for a client in Charleston and his investigation links to the case Tempe is investigating. Was the shot meant for him or for Tempe? Kathy Reich's book, Break no bones, keeps the reader guessing as she unravels the plot resolving the murders and also the complications in the lives of the main characters.

A brush with birds

A brush with birds: Australian bird art from the national Library of Australia provides examples of illustrations of birds as portrayed by a variety of artists from the First Fleet to more recent times. Artists include John Hunter, George Raper, Sarah Stone, John William Lewin, John Gould, Neville Cayley (sen and jnr), Ebenezer Edward Costelow, Lilian Medland, Betty Temple Watts and William Thomas Cooper. Each section provides a page or two of text discussing the work of the artist followed by a series of coloured plates showing examples of their work. An interesting work for those interested in birds and also for observing changes and development in style in the portrayal of birds.

The shark net

The shark net: memories and murder was written by Robert Drewe and first published in 2000. It records the memories of Drewe growing up in Perth in the 1950s and 1960s. His father worked for the Dunlop Company and the family transferred to Perth when Robert was six. Amongst the description of suburban life there is the undercurrent of fear created by a series of apparently unrelated murders which for many years baffle police. One of the victims was a friend of Robert. An implement used owned by another friend was a weapon used for another murder. It was later discovered that the murderer, Eric Edgar Cooke, once worked for the Dunlop Company. The effects of the murders played a significant part in the minds of the local citizens and as a journalist Robert Drewe was particularly interested in the case.

As well as describing the life of the Drewe family in Perth and the constrictions of being part of the Dunlop family the book recalls the murders and associated crimes committed by Cooke and the fear these crimes created in the community. Interspersed are chapters where Drewe attempts to portray the thoughts, feelings and actions of Cooke as the series of crimes are committed. This is an interesting, readable book based strongly on fact but with sections written as fiction.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The comfort of Saturdays

Alexander McCall Smith produced the first book in The Sunday Philosophy Club series in 2004. Titles in the series include The Sunday Philosophy Club, Friends, Lovers, Chocolates, The Right Attitude to Rain and The Careful Use of Compliments. The latest book is The Comfort of Saturdays (published in the USA as The Comfort of Muddy Saturdays).

The books, set in Edinburgh, describe the relationships between Isabel Dalhousie and her family and friends. Isabel is a philosopher editing a refereed journal, Review of Applied Ethics. Editing a journal about ethics creates many opportunities to investigate and agonise about the content of the articles submitted as well an examination of the role of egos in academia and publishing. Being financially independent Isabel is able to live her life without having to worry unduly about matters financial however being a philosopher she analyses and worries about everything else, particularly about how she and her friends live their lives. Consequently the books tend to contain a proportion of angst as Isabel decides on the ethical and moral action to be taken.

Characters regularly appearing in the books include Isabel's niece, Cat, the owner of a delicatessen and a young woman with a succession of unsuccessful relationships; Eddie, the insecure young man who works in the delicatessen; Jamie, a young musician who once went out with Cat but when that relationship ended has a relationship with Isabel and together they have a son; and Grace, Isabel's housekeeper who has definite views on most topics including how to bring up children.

It is not in Isabel's nature to let matters lie and she often investigates and solves mysterious events. In The Comfort of Saturdays Isabel meets a woman at a dinner party who asks her to help her husband who has been implicated in a scandal after the death of a patient prescribed a new drug. Private concerns about a young composer who may come between her and Jamie and why Eddie needs a large sum of money keep Isabel's mind fully occupied.

In the Sunday Philosophy Club series the light hearted, intelligent style of writing used so effectively by Alexander McCall Smith examines a range of familiar human problems causing the reader to reflect on how they may have handled the situation while they follow the situations to be resolved by Isabel.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The lost dog

Tom's dog is missing in the bush. As Tom searches for the dog his mind explores sequences of events from his life and the life of his family. Michelle de Kretser has written a book about loss, love and aging with the themes interwoven in the account of the search for the lost dog, the declining health of Tom's mother and the mystery of Nelly's past life.

Tom's father, Arthur, went to India during the Second World War, married Iris de Souza and they had a son. After migrating to Australia Arthur died leaving his wife and son dependant on the reluctant charity of Arthur's sister. Tom escaped but his aging mother still lives with her sister-in-law.

Tom is an academic finishing a book on the ghosts in the writings of Henry James. His world is the world of literature but he finds himself entering a corner of the art world after meeting Nelly Zhang, an artist who paints pictures and then supposed destroys the artwork after photographing it and exhibiting the photographs in exhibitions.

While searching for the dog he remembers events relating to his family's life in India and in Australia. Increasingly the needs of his mother as her health fails require more of his time and cause him to reflect upon possible changes to his future lifestyle. Intrigued by and drawn to Nelly Tom also attempts find out the secrets of Nelly's past as he attempts to define his thoughts and feelings for her.

Although the book describes ten days in Tom's life it covers several lifetimes while Tom searches for who is and what he wants of his life while searching for his dog. This is a beautifully written book with the interwoven plots, including flash backs, encouraging the reader to want to know what happens next but also to engage in personal reflection.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Stephanie Plum forever

Since 1994 Janet Evanovich has been writing a series of novels about Stephanie Plum and her attempts to capture bond absconders whose bail was posted by her cousin, Vinnie. Stephanie is not the most successful bounty hunter in New Jersey often requiring a number of attempts "to get her man". Helping her are an assortment of associates including Lula, Grandma Mazur, Ranger and Joe Morelli, her on again off again boyfriend. Each novel usually includes further zany characters to help or hinder Stephanie carry out her task. These characters often reappear in a later book. Stephanie does not lead a quiet life. Around her things happen. Cars explode or disintegrate or crash, buildings blow up, bodies are found. Frequently she finds herself in situations she would rather not be in but that is all part of the life of being a bounty hunter - if you are Stephanie Plum - as is junk food and questionable fashion. The books can be dangerous to read in public as the larger than life characters and or ridiculous situations can cause the reader to laugh out loud resulting in strange looks from those without the privilege of enjoying the book.

The titles of the fourteen novels so far include sequential numbers - One for the money, Two for the dough, Three to get deadly, Four to score, High Five, Hot six, Seven up, Hard Eight, To the nines, Ten big ones, Eleven on top, Twelve sharp, Lean mean thirteen and Fearless Fourteen.

Reading Stephanie Plum books can be contageous and I have had conversations with many women waiting for the next installment. Since 2002 Janet Evanovich has written additional, often shorter books, containing further adventures of Stephanie Plum - Visions of sugar plums, Plum lovin' and Plum Lucky. Diesel - a bounty hunter with special powers - appears in these books assisting Stephanie in her adventures. The latest in the 'Between-the-Numbers' novels is Plum Spooky, a book the size of the traditional Stephanie Plum novels.

In Plum Spooky Stephanie is looking for Martin Munch who has stolen a magnetometer and disappeared. Out of the blue Diesel reappears in her life and insists on helping her as he is looking for his cousin, Wulf Grimoire, who possibly has Munch working for him. As an added complication Stephanie discovers that she is baby sitting a precocious monkey named Carl who insists on accompanying them and causing additional havoc. Animals often feature in Stephanie Plum novels. In Plum Lucky a horse was a major additional caharacter. The search leads them to the Barrens populated by an assortment of unusual characters and events and after confronting a range of dangerous situations Stephanie, Lula and Diesel, with assistance from Joe and Ranger and Ranger's men, eventually track down their targets. Needless to say various subplots add to the enjoyment of this humourous adventure. Now waiting for the next installment.

Women of the Raj

Margaret McMillan wrote Women of the Raj in 1998 and it was republished in 2005. It tells the story of the life of British women living in India particularly in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The East India Company had established trade with India in the seventeenth century and by the eighteenth century had established posts along the coast of India. The power of the East India Company grew and was supported by contingents of the British army as the importance of the Indian trade route increased. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the East India Company had become the Raj.

Increasingly British women travelled with their husbands when their husbands were posted to India where in India they faced an entirely different lifestyle from their way of life in Britain. The women largely kept to their own community and most tried to replicate the British lifestyle, especially food, clothing furniture, flowers and entertainment in an alien environment. There was a ready supply of cheap labour and the woman was expected to ensure that the household ran smoothly but she was not normally expected to do physical work. Entertainment included visiting other families, parties and sport. In summer, those who could afford to do so, retreated to the hills where the temperatures were cooler. However there were also threats including disease, snakes, heat that sapped energy and rapid dogs. After 1857 there was also the threat of another mutiny.

When children of British families were born in India there were concerns for the health of the children and also for their education. Consequently families in the position to do so sent young children back to England to be cared for by family. Wives faced the choice of abandoning their children or abandoning their husbands.

Women of the Raj provides a number of case studies illustrating the lives of British women in India providing a different perspective of the British in India as well as interesting background information for family history researchers with family in India at the time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ochre and rust

Philip Jones is the author of Ochre and dust: artefacts and encounters on Australian frontiers, an account of how investigating the provenance of an artefact can provide information about a person, place or incident from the past.

The book investigates nine artefacts starting with Master Blackburn's whip. The whip, housed in the South Australian Museum, consists of an Aboriginal club and four knotted lashes. The article provides information about David Blackburn, Master of the Supply, a ship in the First Fleet. Letters written by David Blackburn to members of his family are now held in the Mitchell Library. Looking at information from the letters as well as journals of men such as of Tench and Dawes who recounted events of the early settlement the author surmises the use of the origin of this artefact, a combination of two culture. As well as being one of the few artefacts of the first convict settlement in Sydney it also is represents the European contact with the Aborigines. Like Dawes, Blackburn was interested in the lives and languages of the Aborigines and helped collect words of the language. Much of the article looks at the first contact between the Aborigines and the convicts, soldiers and sailors and the information is similar to that used by Kate Grenville in her novel, - The Lieutenant .

Other articles include Broken shields, The magic garb of Daisy Bates and Namatjira and the Jesus plaque. The artefacts described originated in different regions of Australia. This well researched book is well illustrated and has extensive notes and bibliography.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bones to ashes

Having watched a number of episodes of the television series Bones during the holidays I decided to read one of the books on which the television series is based. Kathy Reichs, a forensic anthropologist, has written ten books, the most recent being Bones to ashes.

Dr Temperance Brennan, or Tempe as she prefers to be called, is a forensic anthropologist working in Montreal. On some of the cases she works closely with the police including Andrew Ryan and Hippo Gallant, a specialist in cold cases. The police are investigating the deaths or disappearance of six girls over a number of years and Tempe is asked to help. A skeleton she is asked to examine brings back memories of a childhood friendship that ended abruptly. When Tempe and her sister, Harry, decide to find out what happened to their friend, Evangeline, they find themselves in danger, but from whom?

Detailed description of procedures undertaken when examining corpses is provided as Tempe examines her various cases. The variety of cases interspersed with the action of the main plot plus glimpses into Tempe's earlier life and her relationship with Andrew Ryan make this a book difficult to put down.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Inspector Anders and the fight against crime

Inspector Anders is an expert on combating terrorism and anarchy and is called upon when a new suspected outbreak occurs. Closing down the activities of a terrorist cell in the 1980s made Anders a hero but he lost a leg in the process.

In Inspector Anders and the Wooden Leg Anders is sent to southern Italy to report on the violent deaths of local officials investigating corruption. Each death is blamed on anarchists but the groups have disbanded. Corruption abounds in the city where the Mafia rules and as the investigation continues Anders concludes that more than a report is needed to stop the corruption at all levels and the assassinations.

Inspector Anders and the Ship of Fools
sees Anders and Matucci, now members of Interpol, investigating an explosion in Frankfurt and threats against companies and individuals in a number of European countries, particularly France and Germany. With the advent of the European Union boundaries between countries have become invisible making it easier for criminals to move from one country to another without trace. The threat is against large corporations planning mergers resulting in a loss of jobs for many employees. As the investigation continues it is apparent that the perpetrator has special powers to carry out the crimes.

In Inspector Anders and the Blood Vendetta, Anders is sent to Milan to investigate the killing of two right wing politicians. Are the deaths due to terrorists or are they political killings? During the investigation he also spends time tracing the theft of a painting.

Anders is in his fifties and in the first book plans to retire after completing the case. However after taking on the Mafia his life is in constant danger and he is aware of the threat not only due to the current investigation but also from members of the Mafia who have threatened to kill him. The events in past years affect his decisions and actions, particularly when it comes to using weapons. He is also conscious of the restrictions of having an artificial limb though he endeavours not to let this interfere with his work. In each book he has relationships with one or two women, usually women who also have a troubled past. A sub theme throughout the three books is Anders' endeavours to write a book in tribute to Anton Anders, an ancestor who was a poet in the nineteenth century.

The books by Australian author, Marshall Browne, are set in Europe, particularly in Italy, and have many layers and complexities in the exploration of plot and characters. They are crime stories well worth reading.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

War of the sexes

Australian author, now living in England, Kathy Lette, entertains her predominantly female audience writing books describing the battle of the sexes within and outside marriage. Recently I have read three of her books, Dead sexy, How to kill your husband (and other handy household hints) and To love, honour and betray (till divorce do us part).

In Dead Sexy music teacher Shelley discovers that her students have entered her in reality television program where, based on computer matching, she will meet her perfect man. Substantial prize money will be provided if she and Kit Kincade decide to marry and enjoy a honeymoon on a French run African island, observed of course by a film crew for a television program. Shelley decides to take the risk but then the intrigue starts. Who really is the man she married? Why does he disappear immediately after the wedding and then insist on separate rooms on the island? With the obnoxious television crew attempting to follow her every move Shelley encounters betrayal, revolution, a cyclone and a volcanic eruption as she discovers the true story of Kit Kincade and also re-evaluates her life.

How to kill your husband follows the realtionships of three friends aged 40 + years who regularly meet to gossip and discuss their families. Cassie is a school teacher and mother and is married to a vet who does not see the need to help her with household chores. Hannah owns an art gallery and is married to a young artist who enjoys spending the money she earns. Jazz is married to a doctor well known for his medical work in Africa as well as running his practice. She does not need to work and they have a teenage son. When Jazz is accused of murdering her husband Cassie agrees to help her clear her name. The realtionships of the three women are tested in this amusing commentary men and sex and expectations in marriage.

In To love, honour and betray, Lucy, Jasper and their two daughters have moved to Australia where Jasper has a new job. Once settled at Cronulla Lucy discovers that Jasper has also brought his mistress who Lucy thought was her best friend. Lapsing into a world of self pity Lucy is determined to win Jasper back. Further complicating her life is the challenge of bringing up two daughters, one a rebellious teenager. With new friends and the attempt to win her bronze medallion she eventually regains some self respect as she attempts to sort out her life and protect her family.

Kathy Lette's are humourous chic lit providing commentary on domestic and sexual discord and concentrating on the differences between the sexes.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Peters ice cream - the healthfood of a nation

Refrigerators in the 1950s had a small freezing compartment only large enough to hold an ice-block tray or two. Ice cream was home made using Carnation Milk - hard blocks of cream coloured ice served on special occasions in small portions with hot apple pie or bread and butter custard or lemon pudding. When a new refrigerator was purchased with a larger freezer compartment Mother sometimes purchased a Peters Ice Cream Family Brick - a rectangle of vanilla ice cream, originally wrapped in paper but later packaged in a cardboard box with a zipper opening. Slices of soft white ice cream became a favourite dessert. Sometimes Neapolitan Family Bricks - layers of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream in the one box - would be purchased, especially if there was a birthday. Chocolate was always my favourite.

Ice cream in the 1950s and the early 1960s was a special treat - not something you had every day. Once a week we were allowed to go to the local Milk Bar and buy and icy pole. Milk Bars throughout Victoria were recognisable by the large Peters Ice Cream Cone attached to the roof. Sometimes we were allowed to have an ice cream in a cone. A very special treat was to be allowed to have a Choc Wedge - vanilla ice cream coated with chocolate on a stick. Other special ice creams were Two - in Ones - chocolate coated vanilla ice cream on two sticks designed so that the ice cream could be split and shared and Have - a Hearts - chocolate coated, heart shaped, creamy vanilla ice cream on a stick. For special treats for dessert we occasionally were allowed to have an Eskimo Pie - a small rectangle of chocolate coated ice cream wrapped in foil ( no stick) - or a Kreme B Tween - a slice of vanilla ice cream which you then inserted between two wafer biscuits. When we went to the Pictures or to a Pantomime there was always a Dixie at interval - a small cup of vanilla ice cream eaten using a small wooden stick. In the 1960s the big innovation in ice cream was the Drumstick.

Of a nation, written by Michael Harden, celebrates 100 years of Peters Ice Cream in Australia from 1907 to 2007. Two men in particular were responsible for the success of the company - Fred Peters and Emil Christensen. Fred Peters, an American, began making ice cream in a back yard shed in Manly. He made the ice cream in the morning and delivered it in a horse drawn vehicle in the afternoon. The book describes how from this humble beginning grew a major Australian company employing thousands of people. The book explores the development of the company, the challenges of making ice cream with primitive refrigeration available, transporting the ice cream, developing new products, publicity and promotion of the product, the family friendly conditions provided for the workers and the community involvement of the firm. In many ways there are parallels between the story of Peters Ice Cream and the story of MacRobertsons' Chocolates as told in the book by Jill Robertson, The Chocolate King.

Of a nation, is well illustrated with photographs and includes anecdotes from people long associated with the company. For those who grew up with Peters Ice Cream this book will revive many memories.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Lieutenant and The Secret River

Kate Grenville's new book, The Lieutenant, traces the life of Daniel Rooke, a lieutenant in the marines posted to New South Wales in 1788. The young Daniel was selected to study at the Portsmouth Naval Academy where he was introduced to astronomy. Not being able to afford a commission in the navy he joined the marines as a navigator and was then sent to the new colony of New South Wales as an astronomer. Isolated by choice from the main settlement he studied not only the stars but also the surrounding environment and particularly the Aborigines who visited his camp. Interested in languages he made it his project to learn to communicate with his visitors, especially a young girl, Tagaran. Always an outsider, Daniel Rooke discovered difficulties in reconciling his observations and understandings of his new environment and its people with the strict demands of discipline and obeying of orders expected of a marine.

The book is inspired by the notebooks of William Dawes where he wrote of his experiences in the new colony. This is however a work of fiction and although the novel is obviously set in New South Wales the names of the characters in the book are fictitious.

In 2005 Kate Grenville published another book set in convict times, The secret river. The novel traces the life of William Thornhill and his family. William is a waterman on the Thames but changing circumstances make him take chances to help support his family and result in his transportation to New South Wales. His wife and children are allowed to also travel on the ship and on arrival in New South Wales he was assigned to his wife, Sal. Together they established a new life in the colony facing the challenges of living in land very different from England, strange flora and fauna, making a life from nothing. William's skills on the water help him earn a living and eventually the family faces the challenge of establishing their own settlement on the river. The relationship between the Aborigines and the new settlers is interwoven throughout the story providing a variety of viewpoints as Will and his family strive to make a life in a new land. The secret river is a work of fiction but it provides insights into what life was possibly like for the settlers in New South Wales early in the nineteenth century.

Searching for the secret river examines the five years of research undertaken before writing the book. Originally the author was exploring her family history with no intention of writing a book but as the research continued she realised that she had discovered a wealth of material in which to set a novel. The end result was The secret river.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Water, water everywhere

Landscape plays an important part in many novels, especially in Australian novels, and in Australian fiction water is often a theme. The large coastline of the island continent ensures that much Australian fiction is set near beaches. As well as physical descriptions of the landscape the power of water, especially of the ocean, can be viewed as a force to be challenged, a world of freedom or as an opportunity for escape. It can also be portrayed as part of the Australian psyche.

Two authors whose books often feature water in their books are Robert Drewe and Tim Winton.

Most of the short stories in Robert Drewe's latest book, The Rip, involve water in some way. In a number of the stories water is in the background, not a dominant force, but in some of the stories water is a central character. The author examines a range of relationships in the stories and the reactions of people to situations but in many of the stories the catalyst for the events that occur is water. The analogy of a prison to an aquarium, the reactions to a possible tsunami, the escape of swimming laps in a pool, the need to impress someone by challenging the sea are a few of the scenarios in this book of Australian short stories.

In 1993 Robert Drew edited The Penguin book of the beach, a collection of 25 short stories written by authors from many countries including Australia. In the introduction Robert Drewe writes that he chose these stories "not only because I think they represent the best of contemporary shorter fiction writing about the beach - the coasts, ocean shores, bays, dunes, lagoons and rivers... They share a concern with pressing personal, social and political questions,, their satiric, humorous or fantastic sidelong glance often revealing more than direct realistic examination. ... The role of the beach in contemporary fiction may be literally gauged by the stories' subject matter. The vast majority deal with escape, often from the next most possible category - family and sexual relationships. These are followed in popularity by drowning, growing up and the mysterious voyage/journey to the Apocalypse." (p 4-5) Authors in this anthology include Graham Swift, Ian McEwan, Frank Moorhouse, Helen Garner, David Malouf and Tim Winton.

Water is a theme in much of the writing of Tim Winton. This is particularly the case in his latest novel, Breath. Set in Western Australia two young boys, Pikelet and Loonie, enjoy taking risks first in the river and then in the surf some miles from where they live. The book deals with relationships between the two boys and Sando and Eva but it also revolves around the relationship of the boys with the surf - the power of the surf, the danger of the surf, the allure of the surf. The need to conquer bigger and bigger waves. The need to take risks, to face death, to survive. The novel also explores sexual risk taking. Throughout the book there are references to breathing, the necessity for life. This is a beautifully written book.

The power of the surf to take over one's life is also observed in Di Morrissey's latest novel, The Islands. A love story set in Australia and in Hawaii, primarily in the 1970s, Catherines' life changes when she discovers the freedom brought about learning to surf and meeting challenges. The power of the ocean over the lives of many of the characters that Catherine meets when living in Hawaii is a major component of this book.

Learning to conquer fear of the ocean and learning to surf is a also a theme in Kathy Lette's new book, To love, honour and betray, a zany account of coping with a broken marriage and living with teenage daughters. Set in Sydney much of the action occurs at the local surf club where Lucy faces the challenges of gaining the Bronze Medallion as well as travelling down the hard road of self discovery.

The Maeve Binchy Writers' Club

A number of authors have written guides to writing books. The Maeve Binchy Writers' Club was published in 2008. It is based on a twenty week course held at the National College of Ireland aimed to encourage prospective writers with the skills to start and complete a book. Each week the students were provided with a letter written by Maeve Binchy covering an aspect in the process of writing and publishing a book. A guest lecturer then conducted a session providing detailed information on a specific topic. The twenty letters written by Maeve Binchy are included along with abridged notes from ten of the lectures. Topics included Getting Started, Writers' Groups, Telling a Story, Writing Short Stories, The Writers' Agent, Finding Your Voice, The Role of the Editor, Writing as a Journalist, Publishers and writing men's fiction, for the stage, for children, crime and comedy. The book also includes a short story about a writers' group written by Maeve Binchy which illustrates some of the points made in her letters. This book is a readable introduction for aspiring writers on aspects of writing a book.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Taste of Iran in Ireland

Recently I discovered two books written by Marsha Mehran - Pomegranate Soup and Rosewater and Soda Bread. Readers of Maeve Binchy books would probably enjoy these two titles.

The books are set in the Irish village of Ballinacroagh where three sisters from Iran open the Babylon Cafe much to the delight of some of the villagers who quickly succumb to the new cuisine and welcome the newcomers. However in a village where rumour and gossip reigns supreme a section of the population led by Dervla Quigley and Thomas McGuire strive to close the cafe.

Marjan, Bahar and Layla Aminpour persevere with the help of their landlady, Estelle, and the local priest, Father Mahoney. Stories of their life in Iran are revealed as the three sisters establish a new life and new relationships in Ireland.

Romance and religion are dominant themes in Rosewater and Soda Bread. Estelle finds a young woman with mystical powers washed up on a deserted beach and takes her home to care for her and protect her with the aid of Marjan. Bahar decides to study Catholicism and Layla and Malchy further develop their relationship while Marjan meets a writer who is rebuilding his family home. The wide cast of characters combined with the revelations of past events enrich the main storyline in both books providing an account of interweaving of two cultures.

In Pomegranate Soup recipes for the food described appear at the end of each chapter while in Rosewater and Soda Bread a selection of recipes appear at the end of the book.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Melbourne Trilogy

Life in the city of Melbourne between 1888 and 1900 is the background to a series of three novels by Marshall Browne - The Gilded Cage, The Burnt City and The Trumpeting Angel.

The 1880s saw a land boom in Marvellous Melbourne. Land speculation was rife and corruption reigned supreme in many quarters. A number of banks and other financial institutions were established with the promise that investing in these institutions was an opportunity to become rich. The reality was that the only people who made money, especially after the financial crash in 1889, were the directors who either withdrew their money before the institution went into liquidation or used a provision in the Companies legislation protecting their investments. As the directors were often also members of parliament it is not surprising that there was reluctance to change the legislation. Banks crashed. The smaller investors in particular lost their money. Unemployment was high and the wages of those employed were often reduced. Many families depended on welfare provided not by the government but by charities.

In the 1890s challenges to the political status quo were mounted. Attempts were made to alter legislation to remove the possibilities for corruption and women were campaigning for the vote. Federation was another major change about to be introduced. At the end of the century the Boer War was another area of concern.

Marshall Browne interweaves the action of his novels amongst the above events. The books follow the fortunes and misfortunes of several prominent families involved in commerce, the law and parliament as they strive to cope with the rapidly changing events occurring around them. The often melodramatic plots involve treachery, murder, jealousy, love, corruption, loyalty, misunderstanding and court cases as the protagonists face extreme challenges which could result in bankruptcy and / or loss of standing in their community.