Zebra and Other Short Stories by Debra Adelaide

Zebra.jpgTitle: Zebra and Other Short Stories

Author: Debra Adelaide

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Picador

Published: 29th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 326

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:A body buried in a suburban backyard.

A suicide pact worthy of Chekhov.

A love affair born in a bookshop.

The last days of Bennelong.

And a very strange gift for a most unusual Prime Minister…

Tantalising, poignant, wry, and just a little fantastical, this subversive collection of short fiction – and one singular novella – from bestselling author Debra Adelaide reminds us what twists of fate may be lurking just beneath the surface of the everyday.

~*~

In this series of short stories, Debra Adelaide explores the spectrum of humanity and the human condition, from a dream about a murder, and the suburban lives it almost disrupts, to stories about love affairs that start in a bookshop, and suicide pacts, and an interesting story about the last days of Bennelong – a man who was captured and served the governor of New South Wales and travelled back to England, told from the perspective of Governor Phillips’ wife. Finally, the novella-length story Zebra is about an unnamed female Prime Minister in Australia who is gifted a zebra – and how this changes her and her life, and her relationships with those around her in government and her neighbours.

Each story encapsulates a different aspect of the human condition, and how we respond to the world and people around us, and how we handle ourselves. They are subversive, touching on the things we do not speak about, or the things about ourselves that we have to hide from the public, or the public persona versus the private persona and how we reconcile these. Or, the lengths humans go to in order to ensure their quirkier, fantastical aspects of their lives are kept private, and hopefully not released. This is what made me enjoy it – that each story was so different, and each perspective has been told from a unique perspective in first, second or third person. To make this connection, the book is divided into three parts – one, two and three – that represent which stories are told through which perspective. Doing this was brave, and unique – it is something I have never seen before and where some might think it takes away, I think it makes each story, each section and finally, the entire anthology more powerful because it shows the world through so many different perspectives, you always find yourself engrossed wholly in one story, and then pulled wholly into another.

If I had to choose a favourite story, it would have to be the novella, Zebra – about a female PM. What was striking about it, and indeed the rest of the anthology, was the tight, and varying imagery used throughout to convey what the characters were doing. Zebra was my favourite because I enjoyed the way the PM dealt with her neighbour, her staff members and everything in her life – too many to quote, I think. I liked that she was allowed to be human in her own world – we were allowed to see the vulnerabilities of politicians we never see in the media, such as when she was contemplating whether she should call Malcolm on a work pretence, but really, she just wanted to tell him how she felt.

Each character can represent people at different stages of life, or at various times and spaces in our lives – whether it is the culmination of many things, or a single instance where we cross paths with a like-minded person in a bookstore and start an affair. The subtlety in each story is excellent and enjoyable. It allows the reader to imagine some of what happened without completely explaining it, and this is the power of the stories in this anthology – that anyone can see themselves in these characters and situations. The subtlety also allows the reader to imagine how they might handle things, and what happens in the story.

Debra Adelaide has created a series of stories and a novella that are engulfing and subversive, that allow the depths of human nature to be explored and the reality, so to speak, is shown here in an unusual and intriguing way.

Short story collections are often hard to review, because they don’t always necessarily always link through a theme. In Zebra, the only discernible link is the subversiveness of the stories and characters, and the fantastical elements and quirkiness that feels uniquely Australian that connects these stories. I found this to be very effective, and it allows for the stories to be read in isolation, or as whole, seeing the progression of human nature and tearing ourselves away from our normal, everyday lives that might feel suffocating or claustrophobic. Debra Adelaide allows readers to feel like they were in that enclosed space with the characters until that final release of what constrains the characters, the narrators of the stories, and this release is like a weight lifting off the reader’s chest.

I quite enjoyed these stories and their uniqueness that showed another side of human life. Each story is tightly plotted and tells the whole story succinctly in a way that feels like a novel or epic story.

An excellent read if you enjoy short stories.

Booktopia

Challenge Check-In: February

In February, I didn’t read or review as many books as I did in January. I managed to read twelve books this month, bringing my yearly total to twenty-six, and have made some progress on my challenges. Some reviews are yet to go up, but this will wrap up what I have done:

#Dymocks52Challenge

General and #Dymocks52Challenge

  1. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
  2. What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson
  3. The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble
  4. The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion
  5. The Familiars by Stacey Halls
  6. The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers
  7. The French Photographer by Natasha Lester
  8. Harry Potter: A History of Magic, The Exhibition Guide by British Library, JK Rowling
  9. D-Bot #8: Dino Corp by Mac Park
  10. Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey
  11. The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
  12. 52 Mondays by Anna Ciddor

pb history of magic

2019 Badge

#AWW2019 Challenge

  1. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth – Reviewed/Revisited post
  2. What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – Reviewed
  3. The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – Reviewed
  4. The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – Reviewed
  5. The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – Reviewed
  6. The French Photographer by Natasha Lester – Reviewed and Q&A
  7. Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey – Reviewed
  8. The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – Reviewed
  9. 52 Mondays by Anna Ciddor – Reviewed

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Book bingo:

Themes of Justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Themes of Inequality: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – AWW2019

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Book set on the Australian Coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Mountains: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – AWW2019

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Some of these have posts up, and some don’t – this is based on my reading log.

February Round Up

 

Book Author Challenges
Beauty in Thorns Kate Forsyth AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General
What Lies Beneath Us Kirsty Ferguson #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General, Book Bingo
The Dog Runner Bren MacDibble #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General, Book Bingo
The House of Second Chances Esther Campion #AWW2019 #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General, Book Bingo
The Familiars Stacey Halls #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General
The Orchardist’s Daughter Karen Viggers #AWW2019 #Dymocks52Challenge, General, Book Bingo
The French Photographer Natasha Lester #AWW2019 #Dymocks52Challenge, General, Book Bingo
Harry Potter: A History of Magic, The Exhibition Guide (paperback) British Library, JK Rowling #Dymocks52Challenge, General
D-Bot #8: Dino Corp Mac Park #Dymocks52Challenge, General
Kensy and Max: Undercover  Jacqueline Harvey #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General,
The Things We Cannot Say Kelly Rimmer general, #AWW2019, #Dymcoks52Challenge, PopSugar
52 Mondays Anna Ciddor general, #AWW2019, #Dymcoks52Challenge

 

Booktopia

Book Bingo Five: A book set in the Australian Mountains.

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We’re now into March (How did that happen?) and my fifth book bingo for the year, and i have checked off seven of my thirty squares now. Initially when I got this card, I though this square – a book set in the Australian Mountains – might be a challenge, because I wasn’t sure what book would fit this square until I got The Orchardist’s Daughter from Allen and Unwin to review.

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Today, my friends Amanda and Theresa will also be posting a new book bingo post each, and each fortnight, it is always interesting to see what squares we fill and with what books, and whether or not we will be doing single or double bingos to make sure we fill all the squares by the end of the year. Some of my forthcoming reviews have been slated for certain squares but as they have not gone live yet, I will wait until those reviews are up to check off the squares.

orchardists daughter

The Orchardist’s Daughter is set in the south-east of Tasmania, around the mountains and forests. It is filled with various contentious relationships: a brother and sister, a husband and wife, Park Rangers and loggers, and humans and nature. It is a story with many threads that at the beginning, feel disconnected, but are still beautifully written, and that eventually weave together to create the overall narrative.

Check back in on the sixteenth for more book bingo action, and then again on the thirtieth of the month. With twenty-three squares to go, there might be some more double bingos coming your way.

Book Bingo Three – Double Bingo: Crime and Non-Fiction About a Non-Famous Person

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Book Bingo Saturday with Theresa Smith and Amanda Barrett has rolled around again, and week three has provided me with my first opportunity to tick off two squares, as per our arrangement to make sure we fill out all thirty across the year. Both of these books are new releases from January this year. Of course, no reading challenge would be complete without a book by Sulari Gentill, and her new book, All the Tears in China, fits this square. My second square is the Non-Fiction About a Non-Famous Person, filled with a book about someone i had never known about before.

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3D-Cover_C-format_ATTICIn his ninth outing, artist Rowland Sinclair his friends, fellow artist, Clyde Watson Jones, sculptress Edna Higgins, and poet, Jew and Communist, Milton Isaacs have headed to China to help Rowland’s brother, Wilfred, with a business deal involving the family business. However, as it is Rowly, not everything will or can go smoothly. From beatings to a murdered Russian in his suite, arrests and people from all sides looking to harm Rowly or wrongly accuse him of nefarious crimes. As the series moves further towards the outbreak of World War Two, the threats of fascism, nationalism, jingoism and violence against any perceived as being the wrong sort are growing. Hitler’s shadow keeps rising as the books go on as well – and politics are becoming ever more cemented in narcissistic and devious, evil themes and extremes, mirroring our world today. Reading the series, Rowly and his friends are caught between sides, and being pulled in different directions with demands for support. Set in 1935, the world is teetering between two wars: The War to End all Wars and the war that nobody thought they would have to face. It has been eighteen years since the Russian Revolution, and rumours abound about the survival of the youngest daughter. In this world, and story, who is telling the truth, and who is trying to hurt Rowly and his reputation?

australia's sweetheart

The second book this week is Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams, the story of Mary Maguire, a young woman who moved from Australia to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, and the ups and downs of the world of Hollywood, and the expectations and pressures she was under during this time to fit in and fulfil the desires of people she didn’t even know. Her life was much more than this though, and Michael begins from her early days as a child growing up in her parent’s hotel, to dance classes, small films in Australia and the eventual Hollywood siren call. From here, to England, and marriage sickness and motherhood – a fraught time where her husband was arrested for being a Nazi sympathiser, and she was watched by MI5. Finally, her life took her into a new marriage, and away from the darkness of the war years. The full story is fascinating, and too full to recount it all here. I chose this for this square because Mary is a forgotten star and figure in Australia – she’s not as well-known as others from history – so I think this was a perfect fit for this square.

Look out next week for my next square!

Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Australia's Sweetheart.jpgTitle: Australia’s Sweetheart

Author: Michael Adams

Genre: Biography

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 29th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 404

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: This is the fascinating story of Mary Maguire, a 1930s Australian ingenue who sailed for Hollywood and a fabulous life, only to have her career cut short by scandal and tragedy. Packed with celebrity, history and gossip, AUSTRALIA’S SWEETHEART is perfect for readers of SHEILA and THE RIVIERA SET.

Mary Maguire was Australia’s first teenage movie star and she captivated Hollywood in the mid 1930s. Mary lived on three continents and was celebrated in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Los Angeles and London. Her life was lived in parallel with seminal incidents of the twentieth century: the Spanish Flu; the Great Depression; the Bodyline series; Australia’s early radio, talkies and aviation; Hollywood’s Golden Era; the British aristocracy’s embrace of European fascism; London’s Blitz; and post-war American culture and politics. Mary knew everyone, from Douglas Jardine, Don Bradman, Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan, to William Randolph Hearst, Maureen O’Sullivan and Judy Garland.

AUSTRALIA’S SWEETHEART in an irresistible never-before-told story that captures the glamour of Hollywood and the turbulent times of the twentieth century, with a young woman at its centre.

~*~

These days, it’s very hard to imagine Hollywood not being infiltrated by Australians. Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Heath Ledger, Margot Robbie and many more these days. But where did it all start? Who were the Australians who led the way, and paved the now well-trodden path that many Australian actors and actresses walk to Hollywood? The book I am about to review from Hachette is about Australia’s first teenage movie star – and her journey from small, local films in Australia, to captivating Hollywood in the 1930s, in a time of growing uncertainty in Europe. Throughout her life, Mary would live across three continents, and would be celebrated in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Los Angeles and London. She lived through events such as The Spanish Flu, The Great Depression and The Bodyline series. she saw the development of radio in Australia, talkies (films with sound) and aviation. She starred in films during Hollywood’s Golden Era and saw the British aristocracy – including her own husband – embrace European fascism and lived through London’s Blitz and post-war American culture and politics. She knew so many people that today, we know by name from film and history, but these times were also turbulent and uncertain for Mary, and Michael Adams carefully explores these in this biography.

When Mary Maguire’s stardom began, the world was falling at her feet, and her journey to America would be the beginning of many more Australians flocking to Hollywood to make their fortunes. Perhaps her influence also had an influence on the film industry at home, which over the past decades has produced memorable films such as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Moulin Rouge, The Dish and many more, and renowned directors such as Baz Luhrmann. These are stories we know about, and figures and movies that are always in our consciousness as Australians these days. But where did all this come from? From many places, but Mary Maguire was one of those people, and her story has been one that has been widely unknown until now.

This was a fascinating story to read, because it reveals an unknown story, of a woman who might be known to older generations, but has possibly been hidden from history, or simply ignored or forgotten until recently. A story that contributes in many ways to our entertainment history, but also a sense of what people went through during the 1930s and 1940s and the cut-throat world of Hollywood: how short careers could be, and the lengths people went to remain in films and maintain their career – keeping to a specific look and weight were important, and it seemed that whilst male actors maintained lengthy careers, female actors like Mary and Judy Garland might have had shorter ones – with factors like age, marriage and motherhood hinting at why they might not have the same success at thirty as they might at twenty. Nevertheless, it seems after suffering tuberculosis, her first husband being sent to jail, and losing her son, Mary attempted a comeback, but then decided to live a quieter life, though she still spent some time in the papers, with major events in her life being reported when they happened.

Mary Maguire’s life is fascinating and complex, from performing in her home town to starring in movies and being suspected of pro-fascist sentiments by MI5 during World War Two, and her struggles with illness and her marriage, to a second, more peaceful marriage in her later years. The whole time she was supported by her parents and sisters, who would eventually join her in London and America. It is a fascinatingly complex story, with too many layers to go into here. Each layer added something to who Mary would become, from a carefree young girl taking dance classes, to one with stars in her eyes and finally, to a woman who led a quiet, if troubled life until she died. She had suspicions follow her during the war years. In these days, she would be misquoted by the media – something not uncommon today either. She is an important figure because it shows how Australians were treated and seen in Hollywood, and perhaps the novelty that young Mary was at first. At the same time, the political dealings of her first husband darkened her later life, and knowing how she pulled through shows the strength of her character as a woman and an Australian.

Booktopia

All the Tears in China (Rowland Sinclair #9) by Sulari Gentill

3D-Cover_C-format_ATTIC.pngTitle: All the Tears in China

Author: Sulari Gentill

Genre: Historical Crime

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 21st January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 375

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Shanghai in 1935 is a twentieth-century Babylon, an expatriate playground where fortunes are made and lost, where East and West collide, and the stakes include life itself.

Into this, Rowland Sinclair arrives from Sydney to represent his brother at international wool negotiations. Rowland is under strict instructions to commit to nothing… but a brutal murder makes that impossible.

As suspicion falls on him, Rowland enters a desperate bid to find answers in a city as glitzy as it is dangerous, where tai-pans and tycoons rule, and politics and vice are entwined with commerce.

Once again, the only people Rowland can truly trust are an artist, a poet and a free-spirited sculptress.

“A sparkling crime series… Evelyn Waugh meets Agatha Christie…” – THE AGE

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-rose

In the ninth outing with Rowland Sinclair, and his three friends – Jew, Communist and poet – Elias Isaacs, known as Milton Isaacs, the sculptress, Edna Higgins and landscape artist – Clyde Watson-Jones – find themselves in China, on a wool trading expedition for Rowly’s older brother, Wilfred. Instead, Rowly is first attacked in light of the events of the previous book, where Rowly helped out Egon Kisch – twice – and then, meets a young woman who says her name is Alexandra Romanova – a taxi girl who is supposedly rumoured to be the lost princess Anastasia – in 1935, almost twenty years after the Russian Revolution, rumours still abound about one Romanov royal escaping the death squad, but there are also those who believe the truth – is found dead in Rowly’s suite. He is then suspected by the local inspector of murdering Alexandra, as does her brother, Sergei. It is the presence of this Russian family in Shanghai illustrates the rise of Communism and the dangers in Germany, and threats from Japan to China build the backbone to this story.

Inspector Randolph, and several others behind the scenes, are convinced, based on circumstances, that Rowly is guilty. With very little evidence, Rowly is sent to the Ward Road Gaol, where the treatment of prisoners is awful, and where he is mistreated, and where the warden is determined to make his time there terrible – and those who are involved in trying to destroy the Sinclair name, and the lengths they will go to.

Rowly and his friends find themselves in an ever-changing world of politics – fascists, Communists, Nazis, and the rise of Hitler, and the clashes of the New and Old Guard back home in Australia, and conservative brother, Wilfred, trying to pull Rowly to his side of politics and away from his friends, yet Rowly is still wary of becoming involved in either side of politics and the extremes of both sides that bubbled and brewed over decades and culminated in World War Two – events that seem to be mirrored in events today, with the rise of similar groups on either side, with some more prominent than others, and leaders with certain attitudes that Rowly would find absolutely abhorrent. The books are eerily starting to mirror what is happening today – or maybe today’s events are starting to mirror the times Rowly is living through. Or it could be a combination of both.

With each Rowland Sinclair mystery, we move closer to the darker days of the Third Reich, Kristallnacht, and World War Two, and everything that came with those years in Europe, and within the tumultuous 1930s and 1940s, and the inevitability of war, and the question of what Rowland will do – the choices he will eventually have to make.

I started reading the Rowland Sinclair series with book two, when the New South Wales Writer’s Centre sent me a copy to review. Since then, I have read and reviewed every book in the series. It is one pf my favourites – trouble seems to find Rowly all the time whether he goes looking for it or not. A reluctant player in political circles and at times, crime solving – though with the latter, his gentlemanly sense of justice and finding out the truth often wins out – Rowly certainly has managed over nine books to endear himself to readers and fans, has been injured many times across the series in his quest to uncover the truth and solve crimes that he more often than not stumbles into, such as finding a body in his suite, and has frequently frustrated his older brother, Wilfred. In this ninth outing, Wilfred is not physically present throughout much of the book, less so than in others, yet the sense that he is watching somehow is still felt. The Rowland Sinclair series is a charming, historical crime fiction series, peppered with historical figures in each book that are relevant to the plot and the political happenings at the time – events that have an uncertainty about them, and confirm Rowly’s suspicion of politics and his genuine desire to simply help people – though he draws the line at Nazis.

The Rowland Sinclair mysteries are a wonderfully unique and Australian series that incorporates diversity throughout in the characters that Rowland and his friends encounter, and that infuses Australian and world history into a story where a crime takes place, and that makes it accessible and understandable to readers who may not have encountered some of these events in history – and delves into them in a way that is interesting and informative. Most people will be familiar with the 1930s events in Europe and Australia but might not be familiar with China of the 1930s – this novel will introduce them to it.

The compelling and colourful narrative that Sulari creates in All the Tears in China and indeed across the whole series is engaging and delightful. It’s a series that I never tire of reading and talking about, and that is also exciting and engaging. Nine books in, and we are only just in 1935 – but we are inching closer to the events that lead to World War Two, and the eventual war that will divide the world and lead to millions of deaths in concentration camps and on the battlefield. Another great book in a spectacular series that has a very wide fanbase who eagerly await the new book each year.

Booktopia

Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

seven little australians.jpgTitle: Seven Little Australians

Author: Ethel Turner

Genre: Historical Fiction/Children’s literature

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 1st October 2003 (1894 originally)

Format: Paperback

Pages: 192

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: ‘Without doubt Judy was the worst of the seven, probably because she was the cleverest.’Her father, Captain Woolcot, found his vivacious, cheeky daughter impossible – but seven children were really too much for him and most of the time they ran wild at their rambling riverside home, Misrule.Step inside and meet them all – dreamy Meg, and Pip, daring Judy, naughty Bunty, Nell, Baby and the youngest, ‘the General’. Come and share in their lives, their laughter and their tears.

~*~

Amongst Australian literature, and especially children’s literature, women were amongst the first to publish it. Charlotte Waring Atkinson, great-great-great-great grandmother to my favourite author, Kate Forsyth, wrote the first children’s book published in Australia in 1841 – “A Mother’s Offering to Her Children” by a Lady Long Resident in New South Wales. And fifty-three years later, one of the best-loved children’s books to come out of Australia was published – Seven Little Australiansby Ethel Turner, published in 1894. The first time we meet the Woolcot children – seven of them – at nursery tea whilst their father, and step-mother feast downstairs with guests on food the children would never see in their wildest dreams. The children – Meg, Pip, Judy, Nell, Bunty, Baby and the General – are not quite what one would expect of Victorian children, and as the author says, they are not the paragons of good that their English cousins appear to be. Rather, they are filled with mischief and delighting in disrupting their father. Of the seven, Judy is the naughtiest and the cleverest – she is the one who comes up with the plans and whose clever actions are met with anger and astonishment. Their home is aptly called Misrule, for nobody – not the household staff, not their stepmother, Esther (and mother to the youngest, The General), nor their father, can tame the seven and their wild, and frantic ways. It is Meg, the eldest, who displays the most decorum but still cannot corral her younger siblings and falls under the influence of what other girls her age deem as proper.

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Each of them will laugh and cry, and learn harsh, life lessons that will stay with them long after the final page turns. Even as Judy is forced off to boarding school near Katoomba, the rest of the children do not relent in their mischief, and indeed, drive their parents spare with concern, worry and exasperation – but the story is not about the parents, it is about the children, and an idea of what a nineteenth century Australian child growing up on an estate would have, or might have, been like.

It is a uniquely Australian story about the life and lives of the pre-federation days of the New South Wales colony. They are lives filled with ups and downs, with tragedy and with love. It is a book that will warm your heart, and shatter it to pieces, and will stay with you long after turning the final page.

Booktopia