Sunday, December 29, 2013

The hen of the Baskervilles

Another humorous romp in the life of Meg Langslow as told by Donna Andrews. Meg is helping to organise the Virginia Un-Fair but when vandalism of some of the exhibits is discovered and two birds are stolen from the poultry exhibit before the fair opens she is also involved in solving these mysteries. Then the murder of the former husband of Meg's friend, Molly, poses another threat to the event. Who is the murderer and are the events interlinked? Fortunately Meg is able to enlist the help of the many members of her family in order to unravel the mysteries.

Bertie's guide to life with mothers

Another instalment in the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith as told primarily through the eyes of six (about to turn seven) year old , Bertie.  This collection of short stories continues the description of the lives of a collection of people who have had an association with an apartment block in Edinburgh including Angus Lordie,  Domenica and Cyril who are visited by Antonia and Sister Maria-Fiore dei Fiori di Montagna, Matthew and Elspeth who are looking for larger accommodation to house their triplets, and Big Lou who wants to make a change in her life. The majority of the book however deals with the problems faced by Bertie. As his mother continues to control his life Bertie dreams of turning 18 when he will be able to leave home and live in Glasgow. However when his mother takes the opportunity to attend a literary festival in Dubai, Bertie discovers some freedom as his father allows him to plan his own birthday party and also attend the cub camp. These short, amusing observations of life in the city continue to be a joy to read.

A few right thinking men

Sulari Gentill has created an interesting collection of characters in this addition to Australian crime fiction. The first book in the Rowland Sinclair series was published in 2010. The plot for A few right thinking men is set in Sydney between December 1931 and April 1932. Rowland Sinclair, an artist, lives in a large house in Woollahra with three fellow artists - Ed (Edwina) a sculptor, Clyde a painter and Milton a poet. The political tensions of the early 1930s fuelled to some extent by the economic depression form a major part of the book. Fear of the possible growth of Communism in Australia sees the development of right wing movements including the Old Gard and the New Guard formed to 'protect democracy' in New South Wales. Rowland discovers that his brother is a member of the Old Guard but Rowland's friends have views tending to the left of politics. Rowland manages to continue living in his comfortable lifestyle until his uncle, also named Rowland Sinclair, is murdered. When the police investigation appears to be making little progress Rowland and his friends make their own investigations.

This was a traumatic time in New South Wales politics and Gentill portays a sense of this as Rowland investigates the identity of the people who attacked his uncle. Using the time frame of the story I found it interestingto investigate articles about New South Wales politics in Trove, including the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Book Thief

I first read and enjoyed this book by Marcus Zusak when it was published in 2005. With the film of the book being released in January I decided it was time to read the book again. The story begins in 1939 in Germany when Liesel and her brother, Werner, are being taken to the home of their foster parents, the Hubermanns, at Molching on the outskirts of Munich. Werner dies on the train leaving Liesel to face her new existence alone.

 At her brother's funeral Liesel finds a book in the snow and, although she cannot read, the book becomes her greatest possession. Hans Hubermann helps Liesel learn to read so that she can eventually read her new possession, The Grave Diggers Handbook. Gradually she acquires additional books and books and reading become a key part of Liesel's existence. The Book Thief is a story of the devastation of war on ordinary people. It is a story about friendship, love, understanding and trust. It is the story of a young girl growing up in a very uncertain environment. It is a story where the narrator is Death and throughout the book Death provides his viewpoint on the futility of war and provides observations on the behaviour of humans.

Books also determine, to an extent, the telling of the story as the main sections of the novel involve the title of a book recently acquired by Liesel. The Book Thief is a beautifully written story that deserves the acclaim it has received in Australia and overseas and I found the second reading of the book just as moving as the first time I read it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Takedown twenty

This is number 20 in the Stephanie Plum series but this series of books continues to to be entertaining to read. The normal cast - Stephanie, Lula, Connie, Joe Morelli, Ranger, Grandma Mazur and Joe's grandmother, Bella, all take part in the action of this story about a bounty hunter attempting to apprehend clients who have missed their court appearance. There is the occasional dead body, people shooting people and cars, plenty of mishaps and near misses and general devastation when Stephanie attempt to do her job. Each book has additional outlandish characters, usually baddies, who contribute to the mayhem.

The main target in Takedown Twenty is Uncle Sunny Sunucchi who likes to kill people. Unfortunately he is Joe Morelli's godfather and the Morelli family and Uncle Sunny's neighbours and associates do all they can to protect him and hide his whereabouts. There is a large price on Uncle Sunny's head but capturing him is a challenge. Naturally there are other subplots in Stephanie's eventful life, not to mention her romantic relationship with Morelli and working relationship with Ranger.

Unusual things happen in Trenton. When looking for Uncle Sunny 'a giraffe loped past us. It continued on down the road, turning at Sixteenth Street and disappearing into the darkness.' (page 4) Lula names the giraffe, Kevin, and his reason for apparently living on the streets of Trenton is a focus as the plot unravels. This is all good fun and once again I enjoyed reading this latest offering from Janet Evanovich.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Talking about detective fiction

P D James is well known as a writer of detective fiction. In this book she discusses the writing of detective fiction, particularly British books in this genre. Authors she discusses include Arthur Conan Doyle, G K Chesterton, Agatha Christie, E C Bentley, Gladys Mitchell, Edmund Crispin, Cyril Hare, Josephine Tey, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. There is also a chapter on American 'hard boiled' detective writing highlighting the work of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The author looks at why readers enjoy detective fiction and provides an insight into what methods authors, including herself, use to write successful detective novels.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling

This is J K Rowling's second book for adults and was written using the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. This time she has written a detective novel with the main character being Cormoran Strike, a veteran of Afghanistan and the son of a rock star junkie. His detective business is not flourishing until a new client asks him to investigate the death of his sister, the model Lula Landry. With the assistance of his secretary, Robin, Strike investigates the world of fashion, the paparazzi and show business in order to disprove that Lula's death was suicide and to prove that she had been murdered. This is a well crafted story with plenty of twists and turns as the investigation progresses. As the story develops we also learn more of the character of both Cormoran and Robin as they face up to decisions in their personal lives. I suspect that we may see these two characters in another detective story in the future.

An expert in murder

Nicola Upson's first book has playwright and author, Josephine Tey, as the main character in this detective novel. In 1934 Josephine is travelling by train from Inverness to London when she meets Elspeth, a fan of Josphine's play, Richard of Bordeaux, about to end a long run on the London stage. The two women become friends during the journey and arrange to meet again at the theatre. When Elspeth is murdered Detective Inspector Archie Penrose investigates the case and becomes convinced that the murder is connected in some way with his friend, Josephine Tey, and her play.

In this book the author describes theatre life in the 1930s and the reader meets actors and other people associated with putting on a successful play as well as learning of the jealousies occurring behind the scenes. This is a work of fiction although some of the theatrical characters can be identified. Josephine Tey is really a pseudonym for Elizabeth Macintosh and when she wrote Richard of Bordeaux she used George Daviot as a pen-name. One review of the book is written by a woman whose mother, aunt and father worked on the play and she recognised them in the characters and also recognised the description of the theatre. Archie Penrose is based on Alan Grant, the detective in a number of Josephine Tey's books. The author has therefore successfully interwoven fact and fiction to create the environment for this murder mystery. Set in the early 1930s a theme throughout sections of the book is the continued impact of World War I on the lives of the survivors.

This is the first book in a series and I will look out for other titles to read.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Murder and Mendelssohn

With the second series of the popular Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries now showing on ABC television there is a wider audience no doubt waiting to read the twentieth book in the Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood.

When the conductor of a choir is murdered Phryne joins the choir to try and uncover the murderer. However this is not the only murder involving the choir and it become apparent that someone is trying to stop the production of the choral work, Elijah, by Mendelssohn. In the same building Phyrne meets Dr John Wilson, an old friend with whom she worked during the war. John is in Australia with Rupert Sheffield who is on a lecture tour. It soon become apparent that Sheffield and John are in danger as a number of attempts are made on Sheffield's life.

The past relationship between Phryne and John allows the author to provide some of the back-story of Phryne's life before she returned to Australia after the First World War. The lasting effect of the war on individuals is a theme of the book. Phyrne's assorted family and friends, plus Inspector Jack Robinson, also feature in the book assisting in solving the crimes encountered. Phryne also finds time to encourage the relationship between John and Sheffield. The story is set in 1929 when homosexuality was illegal and attitudes to same sex relationships is another theme. Phryne also partakes in a romantic dalliance or two when the opportunity arises.

As Kathy Reich's has shown with her Temperance Brennan (Bones) books it is possible have the main character in the books living a different lifestyle than that portrayed in a television series based on the books. There are may similarities between the Phryne Fisher of the books and the television series but Phryne's attitude to relationships is much freer and varied in the books.

Murder and Mendelssohn is an enjoyable who done it set in Melbourne at the end of the twentieth century. Readers who know Melbourne will be able to identify many of the locations in the book and enjoy the opportunity of, for a short time, experiencing a lifestyle long past.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bereft

"Do you know, Quinn, there isn't even a word for a parent who has lost a child? ... It is unspeakable: Bereft." - Quinn's mother attempting to describe a mother's feelings concerning the death of her child. (page 144)

In 1919 Quinn Walker returns to Flint in outback New South Wales after serving in the army during World War I. But he cannot go home. In 1909 he fled from the district when, as a sixteen year old, he found the body of his twelve year old sister, Sarah, after she had been murdered by two men. Both his father and uncle threatened to hang Quinn if they ever found him. Yet he returns and watches from the hills the family farmhouse where his mother is dying from the influenza epidemic that affected many parts of Australia after the war. When he is sure his mother is alone Quinn visits her and tries to explain his ten year absence.

To some extent, due to lack of rain, the countryside is dry and almost barren, not dissimilar to part of the countryside destroyed by battles in Europe. While deciding what to do next he meets twelve year old Sadie, an orphan who is waiting for her brother to return from the war. Quinn is haunted by memories of war and it is Sadie who helps him when his dreams become too real. In many respects Sadie is a mystery, not just in her use of magic but in her knowledge of  Quinn's past. They both fear Quinn's uncle and know that he will eventually come and look for them. Together they hide and forage and wait until they both know that they will have to move on.

This novel portrays the lasting physical and mental affects of war on those who served, the loss felt by family members left at home, the affects of epidemics on families and the reactions and fear of members of small, isolated rural communities when faced with violent crime, the appearance of strangers and events that cannot be explained.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Young Lion

Twelfth century Europe, particularly England and what is now France, was a turbulent time politically with battles externally and internally for power and land. Blanche D'Alphuget, in The Young Lion, has written the first of a proposed quartet of books on the life of Henry II, son of the Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou and the great grandson of William the Conqueror. This volume focuses on the struggle leading to Henry gaining the English throne.

The novel begins when Eleanor of Acquitaine and King Louis VII return from the Second Crusade to their home in Paris. Their political marriage is not a success as Eleanor has only had two daughters and therefore not produced an heir to the throne. After her divorce from Louis she married Henry in another political marriage. During the book Henry is engaged in a number of battles to protect the land he has legally inherited as well as the land believed to have been taken from his family when Stephen took the throne of England instead of his mother. Marrying Eleanor also brought additional lands and money into the family.

Henry, Eleanor, Matilda and Geoffrey were all powerful characters in their own right and other prominent figures in history are also introduced throughout the plot, but as this is a work of fiction the author introduces additional characters to the story, including Eleanor's maid, Xena. She also refers to a half-brother of Henry named William who is involved in his early adventures. Henry had a brother, Guillaume (William), who was three years younger than Henry. The author introduces a character, Lady Isabella, as the mother of this child, William. Henry's father did have a number of recorded illegitimate children including a son, Hamelein, who was three years older than Henry. The William in the story is possibly another fictional creation. Both Xena (later known as Rachael), William and Isabella have prominent roles in this novel.

The book is generally easy to read (skim through) as a story though I found the often flowery passages, especially in the descriptions of the relationships between the characters, not to my taste but romantic fiction is not one of my favourite genres. The book however does introduce the reader to a colourful period of history and hopefully may encourage readers to investigate what really happened during this time and the lives of the historical characters portrayed in this work of fiction.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bones of the Lost

In Kathy Reichs' latest book Temperance Brennan investigates a variety of cases - the death of a young girl found by the side of the road, the authenticity of some bones possibly smuggled from South America as well as the exhumation of two bodies in Afghanistan. Although each case is very different, links between the cases become apparent and require investigation. Tempe's private life continues to be at times challenging. Her former husband, Pete, makes an appearance, their daughter is serving in Afghanistan and Tempe is concerned that she is unable to contact Andrew Ryan. This forensic crime novel combines a fast moving story with technical information plus a storyline that further develops our knowledge of Tempe as a person.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Some Like it Hawk

Continuing the theme of birds in the titles, Some Like it Hawk, is the 14th title in the Meg Langslow series written by Donna Andrews. Meg has been charged with organising the entertainment for a festival, Caerphilly Days, organised to help raise funds for the town bankrupted by a previous administration. All public buildings have been closed but the town clerk has barricaded himself in the courthouse basement with the town's archives. A small number of townspeople know about the secret tunnel used to provide fresh supplies to the town clerk. When during the festival a woman working for the 'Evil Lender', the firm attempting to purchase buildings and properties in the area, is murdered outside the barricade initial suspicion falls upon the town clerk. However most of the townspeople know this is not the case and work with Meg to find the real murderer. As with all books in this series there is a large cast of eccentric characters, primarily members of Meg's family. A relaxing book to read in the shade outside on a warm spring day.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

To love and be wise

This Inspector Grant mystery was first published in 1950. Josephine Tey writes crime books with a difference. Her books are not the purely police procedural stories that many recent authors write. Her books are about places and the people living in those places plus the impact of a crime on the community.

In this book Inspector Grant attends a party where he meets an American photographer wanting an introduction to the nephew of one of the guests. After the introduction Leslie Searle is invited to stay at the family home in a village, Salcott St Mary, where he can meet the nephew, Walter. Much of the plot revolves around village life recently changed by an influx of artistic people who do not exactly blend in with the other villagers. It also examines not only the effect of Lealie Searle's arrival in the village but particularly the reaction of the occupants of 'Trimmings' to Searle.

Walter and Leslie decide to go on an expedition exploring the local river in order to collaborate on a book. Several days into the expedition they visit the hotel at Salcott St Mary for a drink. Walter leaves early leaving Leslie to return alone to the camp and Leslie is never seen again. Because this has the potential to be a high profile case, due to the personalities involved, Inspector Grant is asked by the local police to help with the investigation.

Written more than 60 years ago it is interesting to observe the methods of communication, including time delays, between the village and London and between London and the USA. It is also interesting to note how the use has changed of some words. This is a well constructed crime story with an unexpected twist at the end.

The University of Adelaide has digitised a number of Josephine Tey books making them available online as e-books - http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tey/josephine/index.html

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Franchise affair

This novel by Josephine Tey was first published in 1948. Robert Blair is a lawyer in a small English town where he usually attends to wills and conveyancing. One afternoon he receives a phone call asking him to assist a woman who has been visited by police suggesting that she and her mother had kidnapped a fifteen year old girl. The girl is brought to their house, The Franchise, which she had described, and identifies the two women as her captors. The police, however, are not convinced with Betty Kane's story and decide to investigate further.

In the meantime a scandal newspaper publishes the girl's story plus a statement about the supposed inaction of the police. This results in sections of the local public taking actions to persecute the two women, Marion Sharpe and her mother. Robert Blair is determined to prove that Betty Kane's story is a fabrication and most of the novel involves the investigations to prove the innocence of the two accused women.

This is a well written detective story which quickly captured my interest and demanded that I should keep reading. Josephine Tey is particularly interested in depicting characters and in justifying their thoughts and actions. Detective-Inspector Grants appears briefly in the book - he is a major character in a number of other books by Josephine Tey.

The plot of the story is based on events in 1753 when Elizabeth Canning disappeared for a month and then fabricated a story about her disappearance.

Miss Pym disposes

When I began working in public libraries in the 1960s one of the popular authors was Josephine Tey. I did not read any of her works at the time but have had the opportunity to do so this year. Josephine Tey is well known for her detective fiction featuring Inspector Grant but she also wrote stand alone fiction - one tile being Miss Pym disposes published in 1946.

Miss Lucy Pym, a former school teacher who has written a popular book on psychology, is invited to be a guest lecturer at Leys Physical Training College run by a former school friend. After presenting the lecture she intends returning straight to London but is persuaded by the senior students and staff to stay, initially for a few days which extends to a two week holiday. Much of the book is Miss Pym's assessment of the character and personalities of students and staff that she meets as well as observations on the activities at the college as the girls prepare for their final examinations and end of year performance. Josephine Tey (Elizabeth Mackintosh - her real name) once trained at such a college which explains the detail in which the activities are described.

This is a slow moving book as the first 150 pages create the atmosphere of life at the college and allowus get to know its participants. The mystery occurs in the final quarter of the book. Initially there is evidence of cheating during one of the final exams but this is overshadowed when one of the girls has a serious accident when practising in the gym and suspicions arise that it was not an accident. The tension builds in this section with the inevitable twist at the end. The book poses dilemmas faced with the need to make correct decisions that may or may not create subsequent consequences and or impact on other people.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The quarry

Guy is dying from lung cancer and being cared for by his eighteen year old son, Kit, who struggles with social interaction and alteration to his routine. Friends from when Guy attended university twenty-year previously are invited to stay for a three day weekend get together for reminiscing. Much of the time however is spent trying to discover a video-tape made in their student days that none of the participants wishes to see the light of day. Kit also wants to discover the identity of his mother. Much of the novel focuses on the interaction between the characters who spend much of their time drinking, smoking a variety of substances and taking other drugs. Guy's imminent death is a discussion point among the characters along with Guy's anger about his situation. The setting for the book is a house built at the side of a quarry which will absorb the house once Guy dies. Kit consequently is concerned not only about his father's impending death but also about his future when he is on his own. A powerful character study of a group of dysfunctional and often unpleasant characters.

Several days before the publication of this book, Iain Banks died from cancer in June 2013.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Rocks in the belly

This first novel by Jon Bauer was published in 2010 is a book about relationships in a dysfunctional family. The story is told both from the viewpoint of the protagonist as a young boy around eight years of age and as a twenty-eight year old man returning home after a period of living in Canada to look after his dying mother. We never learn the real name of the protagonist but we know that his mother feels the need to offer a foster home to young boys and that his father supports her. This is a story of jealousy and mistrust. We learn of the feelings of the young boy having strangers constantly living in his home and the fear that his mother, in particular, favours these boys with problems above his needs. The father to some extent understands the concerns of the son but over compensates by allowing him to do things that perhaps he shouldn't. The main focus of the story is when thirteen year old Robert comes to stay and the consequent impact of this event on the life of the family. When the son returns home he is a troubled man with anger management problems finding difficulty to relate to other people. It is only when it is too late that he begins to understand his mother. A character driven book, I found myself becoming annoyed with the characters, especially the protagonist, and their failure to perceive how others may view their actions. It is also not clear where the story is set - the author is English and now lives in Australia - however this does not affect the events in the book. All in all this is a study of the destruction of a family when lines of communication and understanding of the needs of other family members appear not to exist with the consequent unfortunate results. A well written but, I thought, a rather bleak book.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dead cat bounce

7 September 2013 (election day) seemed an appropriate time to begin reading Dead Cat Bounce, a novel about the mysterious death of an Australian federal politician only weeks before an election. Peter Cottons' knowledge of the workings of parliament and of Canberra shows in this novel about murder and kidnapping in the national capital. Would the mystery surrounding the death of the politician improve a party's electoral prospects in the long term as well as the short term? Who is behind the murders and kidnappings and how can they be stopped is the concern of Detective Darren Glass and the Australian Federal Police in this novel about crime and political intrigue.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cairo

Set in Melbourne in the 1986 this novel traces the experiences of seventeen year old, Tom Button, when he leaves home in a country town to live in he city. His aunt had recently died and he has the use of her small flat in Nicholson Street Fitzroy. The block of flats, Cairo, was built in 1935. Tom is soon befriended by musician, Max Cheever, and his wife Sally and their close circle of artists and poets, all of them much older than he is.

This is a right of passage book where the naive Tom must learn to cope in this alien, exciting Bohemian lifestyle including the danger of being drawn into the schemes of the older group members, including the plan to steal a painting from the art gallery. Tom learns about friendship, love and betrayal as well as how to cope in the 'real' world. The descriptions of living in the city of Melbourne and Fitzroy in the 1980s form a major part of the book.

Cairo flats do exist and there are a number of links online providing information about them.
The Cairo: romance and the minimum flat
Cairo flats
Art deco buildings
Fitzroy history: the Cairo flats on Nicholson Street
Cairo flats model - Melbourne Museum

Theft of the Weeping Woman

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Careless people

Having seen the film, which I enjoyed, a few months again I have recently reread The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald.

I was therefore interested to find in the library this new analysis of the book written by Sarah Churchwell. Subtitled: murder, mayhem and invention of the Great Gatsby, Careless people looks at events, including crimes, that occurred in New York, particularly in 1922 when the novel is set but also in 1923 and 1924, which possibly served as background for events in F Scott Fitzgerald's famous novel published in 1925. In the latter part of 1922 the Fitzgeralds lived in Great Neck (West Egg in the novel). The period after the First World War for many of the affluent in New York was a time for parties and living for the sake of living. It was also a time of transition with the return of servicemen after the war. Prohibition in the United States was in force though there was not a shortage of alcohol for those who knew where to obtain it. Life was not easy for everyone, however, and Churchwell describes the poorer areas, especially around the Ash Heaps. Churchwell provides a long list of notes with references to many newspaper and magazine articles providing additional information as well as an extensive bibliography.

The Burial

A first novel by Australian author, Courtney Collins, tells the story of a female bushranger / rustler in New South Wales in the 1920s. The novel is based on a true story. Jessie has had an eventful life as a child circus performer before the war, arrested for 'vanishing' cattle and horses resulting in a two year prison term and then being bonded to Fitz, initially to care for the horses but in reality to use her rustling skills for his financial gain.

We meet her when she is on the run after the murder of her husband and she needs to use all her bush skills as she heads towards the apparent safety of the mountain. The story also traces the story of two men who have links to her past and who set out to find her.

The book is about Jessie's self sufficiency, her knowledge and affinity with bush survival skills and with horses and her need for freedom. As a twist part of the story is told from the point of view of her dead baby who is seeking its mother.  This is a beautifully written and well crafted novel, almost poetic in the writing.

Read with Raf has introduced me to books and authors I have not previously read. This one I can highly recommend.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I take you

The August book in  Read with Raf on 774 is Nikki Gemmell's latest book, I take you.
In 2003 Nikki Gemmell's book, The bride stripped bare,was published causing a stir among many readers (and possibly non-readers) of the book. In 2011 the companion volume of erotic fiction,  With my body, was published and the third book, I take you, was published this year.

Connie has been married for four years but two years into her marriage her husband has an accident resulting in him being confined to a wheelchair. Cliff is a successful banker and Connie in reality is his trophy wife expected to be at his beck and call in return for almost anything money can buy including living in an expensive five storey house in Notting Hill with access to an exclusive garden available only to residents. Although this is a loveless marriage there is much experimentation with sexual practices as Connie is submissive to her husband's demands and the requirement to be 'the good wife'. Eventually, however, Cliff goes too far and Connie decides to strive for independence and the opportunity to live her own life.

The first twelve chapter of the book contain graphic sexual imagery as the author portrays the extent of power that Cliff has over his wife. The story then runs parallel to the plot of Lady Chatterley's lover when Connie develops a relationship with the gardener, Mel. Excerpts from the writing of Virginia Woolf precede each chapter. With Mel Connie discovers a tender lover and she must decide whether to stay with Cliff and live in luxury or give it all up and start a new life.

This is not really my style of book however I found it relatively easy to read once I completed the initial chapters. Since 2011 the three volumes of the Fifty shades of grey trilogy have hit the headlines as being books of erotic romance. I think that it is interesting that although the cover of the copy of  I take you that I read is bright orange and blue with a drawing of the heroine on the cover, other editions have been published with a grey cover picturing a small locket - perhaps, in some countries, cashing in on the popularity of the E L James books?

Article about the book by the author in The Independent 11 August 2013.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Holiday reading

While on holidays recently I borrowed a selection of e-books from the library to read.

The first was Heartsong by American author, Debbie Macomber. This was her first novel and was published in 1982. It is the story of Skye Garvin who volunteers to help sick children and their families in the local hospital. One day she meets an adult patient, Jordan Kiley, who is recovering from a car accident. Much of the plot revolves around the developing relationship between these two, misunderstandings, the need for truth and trust in relationships and Skye's still strong feelings for a former love. To say that the book has strong Christian overtones would be an understatement. Because of this it has a strong following from some readers while others are put off by it. I found myself questioning whether my reaction to the book would have been the same if the heroine had song religious beliefs of another faith. I finished reading this romance but would not recommend it as a must read book.

For something completely different I then read The coast road by Australian author, Peter Corris. This is the 27th book in the Cliff Hardy series about a Sydney private investigator. The character of Cliff Hardy is well developed and the reader is well aware of his many faults as well as his strengths and talent for investigating crime. In this book he is investigating two cases - the mysterious death of Frederick Farmer and the disappearance of Marisha Karatsky's daughter. Much of the action takes place in the Illawarra area and it soon becomes obvious that there are people who do not want Cliff Hardy to resolve these, and subsequent, mysteries. A well written, gripping crime story that I enjoyed reading. 

The third book was Kerry Greenwood's novel, Away with the Fairies, number 11 in the Phryne Fisher series. When Miss Lavender, author of fairy stories for children, is murdered, Phryne is asked by the police to assist with the investigation and for a time works as a fashion reporter for a woman's magazine where Miss Lavender had worked. Phryne is also concerned about her lover, Lin Chung, who has travelled overseas and may have been abducted by pirates. Set in Melbourne in 1928 this is another enjoyable edition to a well loved series.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The ocean at the end of the lane

When the narrator attends a funeral near where he spent his childhood he decides to drive back to where the house in which he lived used to be and then continues driving to the end of the lane. Stopping near an old farmhouse memories from his childhood return and gradually he remembers episodes that may have occurred when he was a lonely boy of seven who escaped from problems by reading adventure stories. In Neil Gaiman's short novel the narrator, more than forty years later, tries to explain and rationalise the reality of a lonely childhood merging with a world of fantasy and danger.

It was after a lodger committed suicide in his parents' car at the end of the lane that the narrator meets Lettie, her mother and grandmother and the boundaries between his known world and a distant world, maybe going back to the beginning of time, begin to merge. On the second visit to the farm he and Lettie set off to confront an unknown being and from that time onwards the narrator realises that an evil presence has gained entry to his world and that his life is in danger. Confronting evil is only one part of the story. It also explores how external influences may threaten family relationships. The book is also about memory and questions what we actually remember and what we think we remember (or forget) from childhood and other times in our lives.

This, perhaps, is another book that is best read in one sitting allowing the reader to become totally immersed in the world of fantasy created in the novel.and its possible impact on daily life and the fears of a child.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Children of the Raj

Vyvyen Brendon's book, Children of the Raj, investigates the lives of children of British parents serving in the army or working for the East India Company as civil servants or merchants in India. Many children of British families were born in India and through examining primarily correspondence and diaries the author traces the lives of these young people. In many cases young children were sent home to England or Scotland to be looked after by family members and educated in the UK. The problems of separation, loneliness and growing up without immediate family is discussed. Other children remained with their parents and the life of these families is also described. Health concerns, climate, relationships with local people, summers at the hill stations in the highlands to escape the extreme heat are all described. The uprisings that occurred during 1850s provided additional concerns and dangers. In many cases the children of the British in India followed the footsteps of their parents and either stayed or returned to the Indian sub-continent. The book traces stories of these families up until the end of the Raj when India gained independence in 1947.

Having family in India in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries I found that this book provided interesting background information about how families connected with India lived during these years. Some of the families mentioned married members of my extended family which helped make the information even more relevant. There is a detailed notes section at the back of the book as well as bibliography and index. A useful book for those interested in life of the British in India prior to 1947.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Maeve Binchy's Treasury

Published in 2011 this book is a compilation of short stories taken from This Year It Will Be Different (1997) and The Return Journey (2007) - forty three short stories in all. Christmas is the central theme in the first half of this compilation while the stories in the second half revolve around travel and or holidays. Maeve Binchy writes about families and relationships and the stories are set in Ireland, England, Europe, USA and Australia. These stories of love and loss, reconciliation and hope, understanding and self realisation are universal. Being a collection of forty-three unrelated short stories this is a book that can be dipped into by the reader to be enjoyed from time to time rather than the reader needing to read all the stories at one time.

Maeve Binchy died on 30 July 2012.

For information about Maeve Binchy and her life and books - http://www.maevebinchy.com/

Obituary: The Guardian

Obituary: New York Times

Obituary: BBC

Obituary: Irish Times

Obituary: Legacy.com

Obituary: The Independent

Obituary: The Huffington Post

Obituary: The Telegraph

Report of funeral: Huffington Post

A search on the internet will provide many more articles.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Appeal denied

Since 1980 Australian author, Peter Corris' has written 39 novels and collections of stories about his Sydney based PI, Cliff Hardy. Appeal denied was published in 2007 and is no. 31. This is a good series to read when you just want to pick up a good book to read, something not too heavy.

After Cliff's appeals for the return of his PI licence have been refused he is faced with deciding what he will do next, but when his 'live-out lover', Lily Truscott, was murdered his focus is directed at finding her killer. Lily was a journalist and it appears that she was murdered as the result of a story she was writing involving police corruption in the Northern Crimes Unit. Lily's computer has been expertly wiped but the discovery of stories, written partly in code on a usb, provide initial clues to investigate. Finding who to trust is the first challenge, particularly within the local police, as Cliff learns of earlier deaths and a policeman is subsequently killed. Calling on assistance from close friends, Cliff and a journalist endeavour to discover the extent of corruption in the police force as well as who killed Lily.

This fast paced book set in Sydney suburbs continues recording the life of Cliff Hardy former PI, by this time down on his luck, living in a dilapidated home, dependant on drink but still determined to find justice for the woman he loved and other families affected by police corruption.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Faceless killers

This first book in the Kurt Wallander series set in Sweden and written by Henning Mankell was originally published in Sweden in 1991 (English translation 1997). Chapter one sets the scene - a savage attack, resulting in murder, on an elderly man and his wife in their farm house. The only clue is provided by the dying words of the wife 'foreign'. A neighbour on an adjoining farm found the victims when he awoke in the middle of the night to the feeble cries from the wounded woman but he did not see or hear anything relating to the actual attack. Inspector Wallander and his team face the painstaking task of discovering the perpetrators of the crime and the motive for such a vicious attack. The only clue, foreign' only complicates the issue as the police attempt to prevent possible attacks on foreigners by a section of the community. Immigration policy in Sweden is a major theme explored throughout the book. The book also focuses on Kurt Wallander's personal problems including issues with family members, his health and the health of his respected colleague, Rydberg. This is a gripping thriller with many twists and turns as Wallander and his team endeavour to solve this brutal crime.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The library of unrequited love

First published in French in 2010 with the English translation published in 2013, The library of unrequited love by Sophie Divry consists of a 92 page monologue issued by a librarian who, before opening hours, discovers a patron who has slept overnight in the library. The patron is told that he has to wait the two hours until opening time before he can leave and in the meantime the librarian provides him with a cup of coffee along with her views of libraries, books, library users, library staff, library bureaucrats, the Dewey Decimal Classification System, French culture, the Arts interspersed with her comments about a young researcher, Martin, who she wishes would notice her.

The only voice we hear throughout the book is that of the librarian and although it is obvious that at times the patron interjects we only hear her responses to his reactions. This amusing book is written as one paragraph and should be read in one sitting to be fully appreciated. Anyone who works in libraries or uses libraries should enjoy this short tale.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Rosie Project

Published in January 2013 this first novel by Graeme Simsion continues to be one of the most popular titles in the library. Because of the long waiting list I decided that I had better read it immediately rather than leave it to the end of the loan period, but once I started reading I  just kept reading until the book was finished. Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Don Tillman, aged 39, is an an Associate Professor of Genetics at a Melbourne University. It immediately becomes obvious to the reader that Don has problems communicating with people, has difficulty observing and relating to the feelings of others, lives in an extremely ordered world and becomes disturbed if his time-table is not adhered to. When I started reading the book Don's mannerisms reminded me of those of Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory. He possibly has Asperger syndrome, thought this is not stated. He is aware that he is different and has developed defence mechanisms, including the ability to laugh when he realises that he has acted inappropriately, however when he gives a talk to families with children with Aspergers he does not realise that he may exhibit the same symptoms.

When Don decides he wants a wife, although he has never managed to get beyond the first date, he decides to become proactive and develops The Wife Project by creating a sixteen page multiple choice questionnaire to filter possible candidates for marriage and attending a speed dancing session. Meanwhile he meets Rosie who wants to discover who her real father is and a new project, The Father Project comes into being. Through involvement in these two projects Don learns some skills in interacting with others and although Rosie does not meet any of the criteria in the questionnaire and is therefore not suitable wife material Don finds that he enjoys her company, causing another dilemma in his life.

The book is an enjoyable romantic comedy, but it is more than that as it investigates the need people feel to conform to 'social norms' as well as the need to find one's true identity.

Some interesting reviews about The Rosie Project can be found can be found on the Good Reads website, particularly the reviews by ALPHAreader and Steve Lovell in March.

Text Publishing website contains additional information including Notes for Book Groups.

The Rosie Project is the book of the month for June on Read with Raf on 774. It also featured on the April edition of The Book Club on ABC 1.

Friday, May 24, 2013

All that I am

The first book for discussion on Read with Raf on 774 radio is All that I am.  Published in 2011 this novel by Anna Funder has won many awards including the 2012 Miles Franklin Literary Award. The book follows the lives of a group of Germans who oppose war in general but particularly Hitler's rise to power in the 1930s. They are forced to leave Germany and continue their attempts to alert the world as to developments in their home country from bases in Europe including London.

Their story is told via two voices - writer and activist Ernst Toller who in 1939 is living in New York and Ruth Becker (Wesemann) who is living in Sydney in 2001. Both remember the events in which they were involved in the 1930s, particularly the part played by Dora Fabian whose body was found in a room in London in 1935.

I was not sure that I was going to like reading this book but soon became immersed in the story of the lives of people exiled from their country because of their beliefs and their challenges in convincing the rest of the world of the brutality occurring in Germany and impending danger to the rest of the world as the power of Nazi rule increases in Germany. The book shows the bravery as well as the fears of the exiles living in Britain where they are provided with temporary visas provided that they do not involve themselves in any political activity. The bury the head in the sand attitude of governments prior to World War II is a theme of the book. The exiles not only fear deportation from Britain but also fear capture by Germans sent to eliminate 'traitors'.

Based on real events All that I am deserves the acclaim that it has received not only because it is a good reading experience but also because of the account of history that is portrayed.

Selection of sources on the web:

Anna Funder's website

Mystery deaths - two German exiles - Article in The Age 6 April 1935 (Google news Archive)

Biography of Ernst Toller - Spatacus International -  Ernst Toller

Review of All that I am in Times Literary Supplement

Reading notes for All that I am - Penguin - Reading notes

Another set of questions for discussion - Reading Group Guides

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Nine days

A photograph in the Argus Archives at the State Library of Victoria inspired Toni Jordan to write the novel Nine Days. Each of the chapters recounts one day in the life of a member of a family living in Richmond from the late 1930s until recent times. Although not in chronological order, collectively the individual stories tell the story of Kip and his family. The challenges of poorer families struggling to survive in the inner suburbs of Melbourne before, during and immediately after World War II are a focus of the book. The importance of objects in maintaining memories is shown via a one shilling coin that Kip was given when he was 13, a common thread in the stories, and a photograph of Kips's sister discovered many years after her death. This is a story of family life and love, often during challenging times.

The author acknowledges two non-fiction books that she read when resourcing background information for the book - On the home front by Kate Darien-Smith, an account of life in Australia during the Second World War, and Struggletown by Janet McCalman, a story of life in Richmond from 1900 to the 1960s. Both of these books are also worth reading.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Whispering death

No. six in the 'Peninsula murder series', the plot follows the endeavours of Inspector Hal Challis and his staff investigating a number of crimes as they unfold on the Mornington Peninsula. Much of the action centres on the fictional town of Waterloo, however real places on the Peninsula feature throughout the story enabling those of us living in Victoria to relate to the locations depicted, probably having visited them many times. In this book the police investigate a series of rapes and a murder, probably undertaken by a man wearing a police uniform. Running in parallel is the story of a young female burglar who is temporarily living on the Peninsula as she hides from a corrupt NSW ex-policeman. The police have also been warned about a bank robber who is thought to be in the region. Garry Disher maintains tension and intrigue as the plot is revealed. The book also focuses on the personal lives of several of the characters, especially Inspector Hal Challis and Constable Pam Murphy, as well as touching on politics in the police force and challenges faced by police in suburban and outlying police stations.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The dogs of Riga

The second book by Henning Mankell in the Wallander series is set in Sweden and in Riga, the capital of Latvia during the early 1990s when there was the beginning of transition of power from the Soviet occupation to the Latvians, but not total freedom. The plot begins with a raft, containing two dead bodies, washing up on a beach in Sweden. Investigations carried out by Inspection Kurt Wallander and his team suggest that the raft originally came from one of the Baltic countries to the north. A visit from Major Leipa of the Latvian police confirms the supposition but when Major Leipa returns to Latvia he is murdered. Inspector Wallander is then sent to Riga, supposedly to help with the investigation, but wherever he goes he is followed and his movements restricted. However he does manage to meet the widow of Major Leipa and agrees to try and help her not only to establish the truth about the death of her husband but also locate the report Leipa was writing about corruption in the police force.

Mankell uses the novel to write about the political situation in the Baltic states at this time, the fear that existed as citizens struggled for the independence of their country and the general mistrust through not knowing who was friend and who was foe. When Wallander return to Riga under cover he and the people he is trying to help are in constant danger until they discover who the enemy really is. In many ways it is a dark story as Wallander also has to examine what he wants in his own life.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

War Horse


On Anzac Day, when we remember Australian and New Zealand men and women involved in the First World War and subsequent wars and battles, it seems an appropriate time to write of a thought provoking production about World War I that recently played in Melbourne.

For Christmas I was given tickets to see the National Theatre of Great Britain production of War Horse at the Arts Centre in Melbourne. It was a fantastic production combining large scale puppetry with live actors. The plot was a commentary on the futility of war told primarily from the experience and viewpoint of a horse. Sounds incredible but in the theatre it works. Albert owns a horse called Joey but at the outbreak of World War I horses, as well as men, are sent from England to France to fight the Germans. There were scenes set on both sides of the conflict depicting the use of horses during the war plus the attitudes of the soldiers sent overseas to fight. The actual set was simple but the use of lighting and sound enabled the changes in the scenes as well as provided dramatic effect, especially during the war scenes which at times were very loud and often confronting. However humour was interspersed during the play to lighten the tension. The stars of the show were the horses - life size puppets each operated by three people. The operators were always in view however after a few minutes you did not notice them, just the life-like movements of the horses. There was also a puppet goose that provided comic relief on occasions. All in all I thought it was a wonderful theatrical experience and a thoughtful interpretation of the experience, horrors, death and destruction of war.

Two weeks ago the first episode of the new series, Parkinson's Masterclass, was an interview between Sir Michael Parkinson and Michael Morpurgo, the author of the children's book, War Horse, from which the play and also a film was adapted. The master class was followed by a program showing how the National Theatre adapted the book for the stage and the challenges in combining life sized puppetry with actors in a production. Both these programs helped re-enforce the experience I had enjoyed in the theatre in January.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

e-books continued

Recently reading The last days of Richard III as an e-book allowed me to explore some of the features provided when using an e-book reader - in this case a Sony e-book reader.

Each time you open the book on the e-book reader it opens at the large page you were last reading.

Using the button in the right hand corner of the reader provides further navigation options including going to the Table of Contents or typing the number of a required page in the box provided.

Tapping a heading in the Table of Contents takes you to specific chapters and sections such as appendices, bibliography, index, notes and selection of plates.

This non-fiction book had many foot-notes for each chapter providing additional information and sources. Tapping the highlighted number for each foot-note takes the reader to the additional information. Utilising the back arrow at the bottom of the Notes page return the reader to the section they were previously reading.

Pressing the button to the right of the Home button also takes the reader back to the section they were originally reading.

These options help the reader easily navigate their way around the variety of information features provided in the book.

Devil bones

Devil Bones is no 11 in the Temperance Brennan series of books by Kathy Reichs. When during renovations to an old house in North Carolina a plumber discovers, in a cellar, remnants of a scene of grizzly ritual including a human skull Temperance is called in to investigate. Meanwhile a headless body of a young man is discovered by the side of a lake. Is this part of voodoo or devil worship? As in all the books in this series Reichs provides additional information about the forensic investigations undertaken and topics pertinent to the story. In this book she provides information about the practices of Wiccans and the religion of Santeria. An evangelical preacher stirring up fear in the community is another thread. Relationships continue to play an underlying part in the story with Temperance's daughter re-introducing her mother to a colleague, Charles Hunt, and Andrew Ryan visiting from Canada. Another interesting instalment in the life of Temperance Brennan.

Fallgirl

Dr Ella Canfield attends an important interview to secure funding to investigate possible sitings of Tasmanian tigers (an animal thought to be extinct) at Wilson Promontory. The person responsible for the money is Daniel Metcalfe. The interview has many ups and downs making it doubtful that the funding will be made available especially when Daniel says he wants to meet her at the university to learn more about her proposal. This introduces the first twist of the novel as we learn that Ella is really Della, a member of a family of con artists or grifters who make a living of persuading people to part with their money funding dubious projects. Della's father has a set of rules that family members are expected to follow when targeting a mark and Della, with the assistance of family members works hard to overcome the many obstacles that Daniel presents in order for her to obtain the goal. However as the story progresses she realises that there is more to Daniel Metcalfe than she initially thought and she needs to find our more about him. Fallgirl by Toni Jordan is a clever romantic comedy containing a number of twists in the plot involving a family of out of the ordinary characters with their own moral code.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The last days of Richard III and the fate of his DNA

This is the second edition of the book written by John Ashdown-Hill, originally published by History Press in 2010. After the publication of the first edition of the book, excavation of a carpark in Leicester resulted in the discovery and identification of the body of Richard III. This edition was published in 2013 as was the e-book which is the copy I read.

The first section of the book outlines the known details about the last five months of the life of Richard III covering the period from Friday 25 March 1485 until Monday 22 August 1485 when Richard died. Obviously there are gaps in the material available but the author contends that an examination of the known facts dispels many of the myths that surround later accounts of the personality and supposed deeds of the king. The stories about the treatment of Richard's body after his death plus the burial of Richard's body in Leicester are also examined.

The second part of the book deals with the DNA search to prove that the bones found belonged to Richard III. Males do not pass on the mitochondrial DNA but as a mother passes the same mitochondrial DNA to all her children the challenge was to follow a direct female line from the females in the family of Richard III to the present day so that the two sets of DNA could be tested. The author describes how a direct female line was discovered from Catherine (Katherine) de Roet, Duchess of Lancaster (1348-1403), via her daughter, Joan Beaufort, then her grand-daughter, Cecily Neville, the mother of Richard III, to Anne of York (Richards's sister) until finally, sixteen generations later, to Joy Ibsen (1926-2008).

During the writing of the book the author provides many details and explanations which at times do not make easy reading but generally this is an interesting study of an era in British history as well as an account of how new scientific approaches can help verify historical data.

The University of Leicester website - The search for Richard III - contains further information about the discovery of the body of Richard III.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The daughter of time

The recent identification of bones under a carpark in Leicester as being those of Richard III resulted in renewed interest in the king who was the last of the Plantagenets - [Guardian article] For centuries many history books have described Richard as the evil hunchback who stole the role of king from his nephew when Edward IV died, then imprisoned his two nephews in the Tower of London and arranged to have them murdered. Shakespeare's play, Richard III,  has perpetuated that notion.

In the novel, The daughter of time, written by Josephine Tey in 1951, a policeman, Alan Grant, is in hospital recovering from breaking a leg. To fill in the time a friend brings him a collection of portraits of people about whom a mystery is attached. Among them is a portrait of Richard III which inspires Grant to evaluate the story surrounding the king by investigating the actual known facts, rather than stories written long after Richard's death. 

The title of the book refers to a quotation from Francis Bacon (1561-1626) - 'For, truth is rightly named the daughter of time, not of authority.' In the novel Grant reads all the books that he can easily locate about the life of Richard including those credited with providing authoritative accounts. He soon discovers that the 'original' sources were written many years after the events described and by Tudor supporters. It is therefore necessary to seek information from documents produced during the reign of Richard. Aided by Brent Carradine who researches the available documents at the British Museum, Grant is able to debunk many of the myths and piece together the facts relating to this period of British history revealing an entirely different story.

This book should be read by all who are interested in history, including family history, re-enforcing the need to investigate the facts and not to just accept a story at face value.

For those interested in Richard III the Richard III Society provides detailed information.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A walking shadow: the remarkable double life of Edward Oxford

The life of Edward Oxford can be told in two parts. Born in England 1822 Edward Oxford gained notoriety in 1840 when he fired two pistols at Queen Victoria. There is no proof that the pistols were loaded and after his trial at the Old Bailey he was declared insane and was initially sent to the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Bethlem and later transferred to Broadmoor Hospital when it opened in 1863. From all accounts Oxford took advantage of the situation to study and improve his education  studying subjects including French, German and Italian as well as some Spanish, Greek and Latin. He also became a grainer and painter. Eventually it was decided that Oxford was sane but the government did not want him released in England so he was released on the understanding that he travelled to one of the colonies and stayed there.

Edward Oxford left Plymouth aboard the Suffolk in December 1867 but he now had a new identity - he was now John Freeman, a 'merchant' travelling to Melbourne Australia. In the second part of the book Jenny Sinclair pieces together what is known of Freeman's life in the colony of Victoria. Initially he worked as a painter and grainer and then in 1874 he wrote a series of articles about Melbourne for the Argus. The articles were signed Liber meaning, in Latin, free. Freemen was a member of the West Melbourne Mutual Improvement Society and was also actively involved at St James' Cathedral, holding positions of church warden and secretary.  In 1881 Freeman married Jane Bowen (Tapping) and by 1888 they were living in Albert Park. He was a respected member of Melbourne society and no-one suspected his past.

In 1888 the book, Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life, was published in London. Freeman based the book around the Argus articles of 1874 and provided a view of life in Melbourne probably written for a London audience.

Freeman was probably not the only person in Melbourne who had two or more identities. Living two lives cannot always have been an easy thing to do but there is no evidence that Freeman told anyone in Melbourne about his earlier life in England. It was only through letters to a friend in England that many years later that John Oxford was linked to James Freeman.

In this book Jenny Sinclair provides not only an account of the life of Oxford / Freeman but also an introduction to life in Victorian England and the Colony of Victoria.

Berkshire Record Office - Broadmoor - Edward Oxford

Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Celebrating Mooroolbark

Celebrating Mooroolbark is primarily about the Mooroolbark Community Centre and festivals held in Mooroolbark but it is more than that. It provides a view of the community spirit that existed in the area as it evolved from a rural community to a suburb of Melbourne.

The Mooroolbark History Group effectively has used articles from local newspapers plus photographs to tell the story. A brief account of the early settlement of Mooroolbark is followed by the story of the Mooroolbark Public Hall, the community meeting place for the residents of the area from 1924 until the building of the new community centre in 1980. The hall was the location for the first school until it moved into its own building and a number of churches also initially held services in the hall. The hall was also the centre of entertainment for the local population with dances and carnivals held in and around the hall.

In March 1980 the new community centre was opened and since that time has been the meeting place for many community groups, recreational classes, social functions, art displays and other events. To celebrate the opening of the community centre the first Red Earth Festival was held and it continued as an annual event until 2001. From 2002 the Celebrate Mooroolbark Festival, centred around the community centre, has been held each March.

The story of the community centre and the festivals unfolds chronologically and is well illustrated with copies of newspaper articles which further enhance the story as well as many photographs of people and events. The focus of the book is on the people and events that contribute to the function of the community centre and the festivals as well as the public who enjoy participating in the community centre activities and festival events.  As the title suggests, this book is a celebration of Mooroolbark. It is also the story of the evolution of a vibrant community contributing to an understanding of the social history of the suburb.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

e-books

Many libraries now provide the opportunity for patrons to borrow e-books.  Overdrive is used by a number of libraries to provide this service. This year staff at the library where I work have the opportunity to try a number of devices that can be used for e-books - a Sony e-book reader, a Samsung Galaxy tablet using the Android platform and and iPad. These all have advantages and disadvantages depending largely on the what you want from the device - primarily to read/manage e-books or other functions plus the ability to manage e-books. E-books can also be loaded on to and read on a PC. In all cases, when borrowing books using Overdrive, Adobe Digital Editions (ADE)needs to be downloaded. Depending on the device other software or apps will also need to be downloaded.

Each library using Overdrive decides the selection of books that will be made available to their patrons. A list of compatible devices is provided. One device that cannot be used in Australia to borrow e-books is a Kindle device.  In the Help section, under My Help, there are detailed instructions on what software or apps need to be downloaded for a particular device and how to authorise the computer or device in order to borrow e-books from Overdrive.

This week I purchased a Sony e-book reader. I chose the e-book reader as I primarily want a device for reading e-books rather than a general device on which e-books can also be read. Like other e-book devices it is a touch screen device but it also has buttons making it easier for people who find touch screen devices challenging to still be able to navigate the e-book reader.

Advantages of e-book readers for older reader include the ability to adjust the size and type of font and the contrast to suit the needs of the reader. The devices are light and therefore easy to carry in a bag. They are easier to manage than many large print books which can be heavy and cumbersome. Once the reader has been set up it is easy to select  items to borrow from a public library or to purchase from the many online suppliers. Being able to use buttons as well as touch screen is also an advantage.

With the Sony e-book reader books can be downloaded on to a PC and then transferred to the reader or books can be transferred directly to the e-reader using wifi.

I still prefer being able to read real paper books but there will definitely be times when I will find my e-book reader extremely useful.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The white lioness

This book was first published in Sweden in 1993 with the English translation appearing in 1998. According to the Inspector Wallander website thirteen books in this series have been published in Sweden between 1991 and 2009 but not all have been translated into English. The white lioness is number three in the series. A number of films and television series in Swedish have been produced. The BBC has also produced three series of television productions based on the books and shown on SBS.

Inspector Wallander lives and works in Ystad in southern Sweden. In the first chapters of The white lioness, Wallander and his team are alerted to the disappearance of a female real estate agent. While looking for her a house and surrounding buildings explode and in the ruins are found the finger of a black man, the remains of a Russian made radio transmitter and the but of a pistol. Shortly afterwards the woman's body us also found in a well. Events in South Africa at the end of Apartheid become interwoven with the hunt for the murderer of the Young Swedish woman as investigators uncover a plot to assassinate a major South African political figure.

Although 550 + pages, this is a fast moving story which makes you want to keep reading to find out what happens next. As well as the plot, however, a major feature of the book is the development of the flawed character of Wallander as he endeavours to work out the connections between seemingly unconnected events, catch the murderer and foil the assassination. His health, both physical and mental, is jeopardised as depression sets in after killing a man and the need to save his daughter when she is imprisoned.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Husband List

Set in 1894 in Caroline Maxwell, heiress, is struggling to maintain her independence and the right to marry the man she chooses and not a member of the British aristocracy chosen by her mother. When her mother discovers that Lord Bremerton is visiting America looking for a wife she places him at the top of the husband list that she has compiled of suitors for her daughter. Caroline is not impressed and instead decides that she would prefer to marry a friend of her brother, Jack Culthane. When Caroline refuses to accept Lord Bremerton's marriage proposal without having seen his family estate, Caroline and her family sail to England, accompanied by Jack who is following leads to discover more about Bremerton's past. This enjoyable historical romance was co-written by Janet Evanovich and Dorian Kelly who previously wrote, Love in a Nutshell. I have enjoyed reading both of these books and look forward to reading their next collaboration.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Four Queens: the Provence sisters who ruled Europe

Nancy Goldstone recounts the story of the four daughters of  Beatrice of Savoy and Raymond V Berenger, Count of Provence - Marguerite who married Louis IX of France, Eleanor who married Henry III of England, Sanchia who married Henry III's brother, Richard of Cornwall who later became King of the Romans and Beatrice who married Louis IX's brother, Charles Count of Anjou who later became King of Sicily.

The stories of the lives of the four women are told in chapters interwoven throughout the book and combined tell the story of a large section of Europe between the years 1221 and 1296. Much of the story involves the politics / territorial disputes between England and France, the politics within the counties and territories that made up England and France as well as politics / territorial disputes with bordering countries. Religion was also a main player with the the role of the Pope prominent in determining many of the policies adopted by the various countries.

This was the age of the Crusades where leaders were encouraged to take up the cross, raise money by any means, recruit soldiers and spend several years fighting for and often dying for the holy cause. In 1247 Marguerite and Beatrice accompanied their husbands and Louis' army on a Crusade which led to the capture of Louis and many of his men by the Egyptians, resulting in a hugh ransom to be raised for their release. The army was decimated from fighting and from disease and most of those who survived returned to France in 1250, however Marguerite and Louis did not return until 1254.

In England Eleanor and Henry III had problems with the barons resulting in a civil war in 1263 and it took several years before the monarchy and its succession were once again secure.

The desire of younger brothers of the kings of England and France is shown in the stories of Sanchia and Beatrice and the determination of their husbands to extend their territories and power, particularly in becoming kings of foreign realms where they were not generally welcomed.

The book provides useful insight not just into the lives of the four women and their role in supporting their husbands and family but also into the power struggles of Europe in the thirteenth century.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Blaze of glory

A SteamPunk afternoon was held at Nunawading Library in December and the guest speaker was Michael Pryor, author of the Laws of Magic series. The opening sentences of Blaze of glory read - 'Aubrey Fitzwilliam hated being dead. It made things harder than they needed to be.'  Aubrey has advanced magical skills which he needs when he and his friends, George and Caroline, attempt to uncover the source of the dark magical power threatening the kingdom of Albion. Aubrey's father is campaigning to regain the position of Prime Minister of the kingdom as it faces the threat of war with a neighboring kingdom. Throughout the book there are parallels with early twentieth England with technology, suffragettes, threat of war plus lots of magic. Other titles in the series are Heart of gold, Word of honour, Time of trial, Moment of truth and Hour of need.  Visit the author's website for more detailed information about Blaze of glory.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Pillars of the Earth

Medieval Europe saw the building of many of the cathedrals that continue as religious and architectural wonders in the twenty-first century.  In the novel, The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett describes the building of a cathedral in the town of Kingsbury in Twelfth Century England. The background for the story is the time of the Anarchy - 1135-1153 - when Matilda (in this account, Maud) and her cousin, Stephen, each maintain their right to the throne after the death of Matilda's father, Henry I. This results in a number of small battles throughout the country with the leadership of the country alternating between the two protagonists, as well as a major siege at Lincoln. Consequently this was a time of unrest throughout the country. Local leaders swapped allegiances as it suited them, the struggle between the church leaders and the ruling class continued to have a major impact on the governance of the country and the villagers and farm workers suffered as there was a focus on battle and shoring up a power base rather than managing crops and the welfare of local people.

The book is a work of fiction however it does portray a vivid account of what life may have been like living in Medieval England. Among the description about the building of cathedral is intertwined the dramas faced by those working on the project. The Pillars of the Earth is the saga of a families who attempt to survive during these turbulent times as well as the story of a prior who strives, against all odds, to ensure that the cathedral will be built. At 1088 pages this is a long novel but one well reading.