Murder On The Ballarat Train (Phryne Fisher #3) by Kerry Greenwood

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Title: Murder on the Ballarat Train

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: March 2005

Format: Paperback

Pages: 180

Price: $22.95

Synopsis: In Phryne’s third adventure, Phryne is off to Ballarat for a week of fabulousness, but the sedate journey by train turns out to be far from the restful trip she was planning.

For the elegant Phryne Fisher, travelling sedately is not at all what it seems.

‘Lie still, Dot dear, we’ve had a strange experience.’ But neither the resourceful Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher nor her loyal maid, Dot Williams, are strangers to odd events.

When the glamorous Phryne Fisher, accompanied by Dot, decides to leave her delightfully fast, red Hispano-Suiza at home and travel to the country in the train, the last thing she expects is to have to use her trusty Beretta .32 to save their lives.

What was planned as a restful country sojourn turns into the stuff of nightmares: a young girl who can’t remember anything, rumours of vile white slavery and the body of an old woman missing her emerald rings. And Phryne is at the centre, working through the clues to arrive at the incredible truth before another murder is committed.

Fortunately, Phryne can still find a little time for a discreet dalliance and the delicious diversion of that rowing team of young men.

~*~

aww2017-badgeJourneying to Ballarat on the train with Dot, Phryne is expecting a week of elegance and a break from the bustle of the city. However, Miss Fisher finds herself midst a murder case, a young girl whose memory has disappeared and rumours of white slavery occurring in Melbourne. Returning back to Melbourne with Dot, the young girl, Jane, and the daughter of the murder victim, Phryne sets herself the task of finding out who killed the old woman, and where Jane comes from so she can help her, and engaging in a dalliance with a rowing team from the local university, culminating in events that Phryne had not thought possible.

As always, Phryne engages the Communist drivers, Bert and Cec to help her look into the less savoury aspects, people and locations that are linked to Jane in order to help her, and eventually, another young girl called Ruth. Little does Phryne know that somehow the rowing team and the two cases she picked up on the train are to become linked, and the killer and their secrets revealed.

Kerry Greenwood has succeeded again in creating a female character who simultaneously fits in with the time period she lives in yet also flouts all socially acceptable behaviour for a woman of her standing. She allows the male police to act when necessary, but assists them and uses her feminine wiles to ensnare Detective-Inspector Robinson into helping her, which he does, gladly, and in awe of her.

Set in the late 1920s, during the early stages of the Great Depression that gripped the world during the 1930s, and up to the Second World War, Kerry Greenwood at times hints at moments of Australian history that are significant, though these moments are a bit more prevalent in Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair series, set roughly during the same time, and with a character who is also an amateur detective and gives the police he deals with a run for their money.

A series of historical fiction crime books with a female character who is strong and feminine in equal measures, and whose escapades shock the prim and proper, and traditional echelons of society in a young Australia, merely ten years fresh from a world war and almost three decades old, Kerry Greenwood has captured an essence of the Australian character in a unique way. I am enjoying this series, and look forward to reading more, and hopefully getting through them all this year.

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Singing My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan

singing my sister downTitle: Singing My Sister Down and Other Short Stories

Author: Margo Lanagan

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th January. 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: An outstanding collection of thirteen short stories from the internationally acclaimed, multi-award winning author of Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels.

‘We all went down to the tar-pit, with mats to spread our weight.’ So begins ‘Singing My Sister Down’, Margo Lanagan’s internationally acclaimed, award-winning short story.

Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories brings together ten celebrated short stories, along with three new ones, from the extraordinarily talented author of Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts.

A bride accepts her devastating punishment. A piece of the moon is buried. A ferryman falls into the Styx. Wee Willie Winkie brings a waking nightmare. A new father dresses a fallen warrior princess. A sniper picks off clowns one by one. Margo Lanagan’s stories will stay with you, haunting you with their quiet beauty and fine balance.

 

~*~

 

aww2017-badgeSinging My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan brings together a collection of surreal, fantastical and timeless short stories. They are not interconnected, but each reflect on the human condition, and aspects of the fantastical. In the title story, Singing My Sister Down, a bride is forced to accept a devastating punishment while her family watches and assists – it is heartbreaking and yet, has a feeling of fairy tale or the distant past, where punishments were harsh. One story, Ferryman, draws on Greek Mythology and the underworld, with the ferryman of the River Styx falling into the river he crosses every day, ferrying the recently departed to the Underworld to live with Hades and Persephone. Not All Ogre is an unusual retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a not so happy ending for the sleeping princess. These are just three of the thirteen stories that are included in this anthology, and that evoke a sense of timelessness mixed with a fairy tale or mythical feel. Another story shows a more sinister side to the Wee Willie Winkie nursery rhyme.

 

Each story is written in first person, and set in undetermined times and places, and at times, drawing on myth and fairy tale to create the story. This gives each story an eerie feel, but at the same time, it works really well, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the stories that Lanagan has written. In some tales, the sinister side of tradition and fairy tales or nursery rhymes emerge –Wee Willie Winkie is shown as a living nightmare, a world where the worst dreams come true and haunt people for a long time. Yet others are more surreal, where I was unsure about the setting and plot and characters – yet at the same time, show a world that is not quite perfect at times, but idealised through the eyes of some of the narrators. The characters are all flawed, but driven by their own natures and desires towards the final outcomes of each story.

 

Within each story, Margo Lanagan has created a world we can recognise – the world of human nature and human flaws, not a physical world. It is lyrical and full of rich language and imagery that makes each read compelling, something that I didn’t want to set aside. It is another book that can be devoured or savoured, and I tried to do both, wanting to know how each story ended, yet not wanting to finish it too quickly.

 

In most anthologies, the stories can be linked by a theme, or even a series of characters or other plot devices. Yet in Singing My Sister Down, each story is its own entity, and yet, this works. I liked the different stories and characters within each tale, alternating between timeless worlds or worlds of magic and wonder, or unknown worlds hinting at a non-human existence. She does all of this in a wonderful way that captures the imagination and brings together ideas of what makes us human – and how an individual might deal with certain circumstances. If I had to pick a favourite, or at least one that sticks with me, it is probably Not All Ogre – I recognised the fairy tale motifs and this was exquisitely done, even though the conclusion and events that led to the conclusion were unexpected. I think this worked well for this tale in particular, leading the reader to believe one thing and then allowing another to happen – this made it intriguing and memorable.

 

A good read for young adult and adult readers. It can be read in a few days, and I hope to revisit it.

 

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The Stella Prize 2017

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In 2013, The Stella Prize, a major literary award that celebrates Australian women’s writing and Australian women writers was established. Named after one of Australia’s most iconic female writers, Stella Maria Sarah “Miles” Franklin, The Stella Prize seeks to:

  • Recognise and celebrate Australian women writers’ contribution to literature
  • Bring more readers to books by women and thus increase their sales
  • Provide role models for schoolgirls and emerging female writers
  • Reward one writer with a $50,000 prize – money that buys a writer some measure of financial independence and thus time, that most undervalued yet necessary commodity for women, to focus on their writing,

aww2017-badgeThe Stella Prize also participates in the Stella Count, looking at how many male and female writers are reviewed each year for newspapers. This count is conducted to understand reading and reviewing habits, and hopefully, highlight more women writers, authors of various sexualities, ethnicities, race and gender identities, and also disabilities. The Australian Women Writer’s Challenge encourages this too – in reading more women writers whose identity can be made of one, or several of these distinctions, the profile of women writers is highlighted.

The Stella Prize has been running for five years. Below are the winners for each year, from the most recent to the earliest prize:

2017 Winner

museum of modern love

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose “The Museum of Modern Love is an unusual and remarkable achievement, a meditation on the social, spiritual and artistic importance of seeing and being seen. It is rare to encounter a novel with such powerful characterisation, such a deep understanding of the consequences of personal and national history, and such dazzling and subtle explorations of the importance of art in everyday life.”

2017 Shortlist

Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clark

Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (Winner)

Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

2017 Longlist:

Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clark

Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (Winner)

Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

Victoria by Julia Baird

Offshore by Madeline Gleeson

The High Places by Fiona McFarlane

Avalanche by Julia Lee

Wasted by Elspeth Muir

The Media and the Massacre by Sonya Voumard

2016 Winner

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

 

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2015 Winner

The Strays by Emily Bitto

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2014 Winner

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Claire Wright

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2013 Winner

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

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Link to the website with the short and long lists for each year: http://thestellaprize.com.au/

I haven’t read many of the winners or the short and long list books yet, but have Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2014), and The Golden Age by Joan London (2015) and a few undecided titles on my want to read list. I look forward to trying to read a few this year, and seeing what next year brings.

By these books here:

The Song of Us by JD Barrett

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Title: The Song of Us

Author: J.D. Barrett

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 11th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 330

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Zoe Wylde is a woman at a crossroad. Five years ago, she fled her successful career as a concert harpist in London to return to her Bondi home. She still plays, but now her audience is on the way out … literally. It’s complicated and complication is something Zoe understands well. Her best friend is chasing a new love, her brother’s chasing too much love and her father has been married far too many times. Compared to them she thought she was doing okay. She’s met the guy she is sure is the ONE. He wooed her and has been sleeping with her for almost five years. It would all be perfect … if he wasn’t married.

Zoe is learning that hearts, like harps, are capable of beautiful music if treated the right way and can be tricky to manoeuvre. She’s over the old tune. But does Zoe have the courage to rewrite the song of her own life?

~*~

aww2017-badgeIn The Song of Us, we are introduced to Zoe Wylde, the child of a broken home, and many failed relationships, including the current one she is in, and despite being with the same man for five years, he is married, and stringing Zoe along, promising her the world, but disappointing her, and in a way, himself and his family, though they are unaware of his relationship with Zoe. Her father, who has been married several times since the death of Zoe’s mother, has been living with his current wife and stepchildren, abandoning Zoe and her brother as teenagers. And Zoe’s brother Tom is keen for love, but perhaps a little fearful of the commitment that comes with it. Lexie, her best friend has fallen for a woman who is married, but is determined that this is the one.

Zoe is a musician, a harpist who once played in concerts in London, but fled to her Bondi home five years ago, and has been a bedside musician since, helping people in a local hospice with their final journey. Her patients make quite the impression, with one, Clara, giving her a quest: to wear Clara’s clothes and take them to all the places she didn’t get to see, places like New York and London. Zoe undertakes this quest, setting aside her failed relationship with Ross until he turns up on the plane, and decides to accompany her on the journey, part of which includes her audition for the concert group she left five years ago. When things go just as Zoe expects them to go, and Ross leaves, Zoe continues her journey, armed with Clara’s clothes and wine recommendations for each location from the father of one of Zoe’s youngest audience members, Sam. She auditions for Jules and Gigi, members of the symphony, and then heads to Bali, where she meets up with her brother, Tom, and Lexie, and Lexie’s new love, Vivianne. From here, Zoe finds out that when it matters, the ones who really love you aren’t necessarily the one you think you’ll spend the rest of your life with. It’s family, and the friends you make along the way whose love is unconditional.

imagesZoe Wylde is definitely not the typical perfect female protagonist of many love stories out there. She is awkward, she has flaws – she spends five years on and off with a married man, and her family isn’t so perfect – unless you count her brother Tom, who is the best male character in the book. The flaws in Zoe, Lexie and Tom make them relatable, and easy to connect with. It is definitely not a conventional love story, but one of family love and friendship – which made it more appealing to me. It allowed for the characters to fail, and allowed imperfections to be shown. And it showed same sex love as well – in the way that love should be – with the same ups and downs that characters like Bridget Jones and Nina Proudman have in their love lives. Lexie was definitely a favourite character – she was amusing and cheeky, and someone who was a good friend to Zoe. She was caring and sympathetic, but also, could give the hit of reality when it was needed. She was impulsive in contrast to the cautiousness Zoe showed at times. I think Zoe, Tom and Lexie made the perfect trio of main characters, and the supporting characters were just as flawed, just as realistic as well.

The Song of Us is an enjoyable, light hearted novel about love of all kinds, love lost and love found, of family love, the love of friends and love that takes years to come back to us. It shows all of this in a way that readers can relate to, and is funny and witty. Just like Bridget and Nina, Zoe is awkward – which is why I liked her. She seemed to embrace her flaws and face her fears as the book progressed, showing that we don’t need to be absolutely perfect to fit it: We can just be ourselves. We need more characters like Zoe who show that it is okay not to be absolutely perfect. I look forward to reading this again.

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The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky

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Title: The Blue Cat

Author: Ursula Dubosarsky

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 29th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 176

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: From the multi-award-winning author of The Red Shoe comes a haunting story about a boy who can’t – or won’t – speak about his past in war-torn Europe, and his friendship with a young Australian girl.

A boy stood in the playground under the big fig tree. ‘He can’t speak English,’ the children whispered.

Sydney, 1942. The war is coming to Australia – not only with the threat of bombardment, but also the arrival of refugees from Europe. Dreamy Columba’s world is growing larger. She is drawn to Ellery, the little boy from far away, and, together with her highly practical best friend Hilda, the three children embark on an adventure through the harbour-side streets – a journey of discovery and terror, in pursuit of the mysterious blue cat …

~*~

aww2017-badgeThe Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky is a glimpse into a world affected by war through the eyes of children. The main character, Columba, is a dreamy, curious child, who notices the strange boy, Ellery at school during the early part of 1942. A blue cat, sleek and mysterious, has appeared at her neighbour’s house. The arrival of Ellery and the cat spark a curiosity in Columba that has her asking more questions, wanting to know more about the world as she tries to become Ellery’s friend. Columba’s friend, Hilda, is the realist, the pushy one out collecting money for the war effort, and isn’t as dreamy as Columba.

Ellery’s arrival hints that war is closer to home than everyone thought. He is mysterious and quiet, and doesn’t speak English – through the eyes of a child, he is strange, a mystery and yet, someone that Columba sees is in need of a friend. Though they do not talk, they become friends, something Ellery’s father finds pleasing for his son, lost in a new world without a mother. The story culminates in a search for the mysterious blue cat, and events that bring the war and the realities of what that means closer to home for Columba.

The Blue Cat is dreamy, and has a fairy tale feeling about it – as though the blue cat is not quite real. This fits with the dreamy sense I got from Columba, and also the childlike ways of understanding the war – You-Rope for Europe, said phonetically perhaps, as a child might say it. I found there was a sense of magic about it – the threat is real, especially during the air raid siren practice when Columba and Ellery are out walking, and yet, it retains some of the innocence of childhood, though it is scarred by a war that is so far away yet in other ways, so close to the characters.

The Blue Cat combines history with a sense of dreaming, placing the characters in a world where sometimes their imaginations help to get them through the day, but at the same time, the reality of war will always be there. Prisoners of war, bombs and people like Ellery, hiding away, hoping for safety away from the dangers of a nation far away. Throughout the book, Ursula Dubosarsky incorporated primary sources from the time period, which added to the reading experience and gave Columba’s story an authentic feel, and added to the gravity of the situation and reality that the characters were living. An enjoyable novel showing war through the eyes of a child, and a good read for children aged ten and over.

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Looking for Rose Paterson: How Family Bush Life Nurtured Banjo the Poet by Jennifer Gall

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Title: Looking for Rose Paterson: How Family Bush Life Nurtured Banjo the Poet.

Author: Jennifer Gall

Genre: Non-fiction. History, Biography

Publisher: NLA Publishing

Published: 1st March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $44.99

Synopsis: ROSE ISABELLA PATERSON gave birth to a boy, Barty, in 1864. That child became the famous balladeer, Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson. Barty was the first of seven children who lived on Illalong station, a property near the New South Wales township of Binalong, where Rose spent most of her married life.
In this book, we enter into the rustic world of late nineteenth-century pioneers, where women endured continuous cycles of pregnancy, childbirth and recovery, and the constraints of strict social codes. Rose faced the isolation of Illalong – ‘this poor old prison of a habitation’ – with resolute determination and an incisive wit. Her candid letters, written throughout the 1870s and 1880s, to her younger sister, Nora Murray-Prior, reveal a woman who found comfort in the shared confidences of correspondence and who did not lack for opinions on women’s rights, health and education. Here we see a devoted sister, a loyal wife battling domestic drudgery with scarce resources, and an affectionate mother whose parenting approach embraced ‘a little judicious neglect & occasional scrubbing’.

‘Looking for Rose’ recreates the world of Rose Paterson and, within the rhythm of her life, the bush childhood of ‘Banjo’ Paterson, which ultimately found a place in some of Australia’s best-known verses.

DR JENNIFER GALL is Assistant Curator, Documents and Artefacts, at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University School of Music. Her publications include ‘In Bligh’s Hand: Surviving the Mutiny on the Bounty’, published by the National Library of Australia, for which she won the 2011 Barbara Ramsden Award.

~*~

aww2017-badgeLooking For Rose Paterson brings the domestic world of women on the land in the mid to late nineteenth century, colonial era Australia, and in particular, the life of the mother of one of Australia’s much-loved poets. Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson’s (or Barty as his mother called him) mother Rose raised the generation of children that would go on to see the Federation of Australia, suffrage, and the early stages of the women’s rights movement, and the First World War. As Rose was a part of the generation that preceded this, Jennifer Gall’s book focuses on the trials she faced living the pastoral life, having a large brood of children, and the importance that society at the time placed on the role of women in the household, bringing up children and at times, seeing to the education of boys and girls, with a little more importance placed on the birth and education of sons who could provide for the family and take care of female relatives and younger sisters who were still children themselves if both parents were dead.

Rose was not however, the meek and mild stereotype that some accounts and stories make women of this time out to be. She fulfilled the roles of mother, caregiver and wife as was expected, yet she also maintained a close relationship with her sister, strived to teach her children to be humble as well as self-sufficient and accomplished at various things – which usually meant music, housework, and maybe some language skills, reading and writing for the girls, so they could run a household of their own, and instilled a desire to write in her son, Barty – known to us these days as Banjo Paterson.

Each chapter begins with the reproduction of a painting depicting nineteenth century pastoral life, and a quote from Banjo Paterson’s poetry. Throughout, Jennifer Gall has reproduced some letters that Rose wrote to her sister Nora, as well as other images and artefacts from the time period to illustrate to the reader what Rose’s life would have been like, and the advice that would have been available to mothers and women.

The story of Rose Paterson is one that until now was unknown to me. I suppose, like the stories of many women of her generation, it was one that may not have been seen as important to the history of Australia. Indeed, we celebrate many male stories from colonial times and the first part of the twentieth century, but apart from the suffrage movement and women’s involvement in the First World War, some stories are still hidden and we need to continue mining away to find the gems, such as this story of Rose Paterson. In a time when women’s voices were often not listened to, Rose played an integral role in bringing up her son, Barty to become the poet we know today.

Reading Rose’s story brought me back to thinking about Jackie French’s Matilda Saga, and the way she has brought the lives of these women to life, white, Indigenous, rich, poor and sometimes, of various nationalities throughout the books. Rose Paterson is a figure whose story is worthy of being told, allowing insight into a world predominantly seen through the written word of men and their world views. A world where boys and girls were faced with different expectations and futures, and a world that only a generation later, would see the beginnings of Federation, and suffrage for women, moving into the twentieth century where women became more vocal, and fought for their rights. It makes me wonder: with Rose as strong as she was – what would she have made of that world, and would she have been for or against suffrage? If she had met a girl like Jackie French’s Matilda O’Halloran, what would she have thought?

An intriguing book, and one to be treasured, so we never forget these hidden voices of which there are so many. It is both informative and entertaining, and gives deeper insight into the world of women of this era and the ways so many found to step outside of the confines of a gendered world, even if only in a small way.

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London Bound by CJ Duggan

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Title: London Bound

Author: CJ Duggan

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th March, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 322

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: Like so many of her university friends, Kate Brown is London bound, but unlike her friends – who had the chance to enjoy the beer, sights and attractions of the UK – Kate is instead visiting her grandmother (who may or may not be the devil).

Wanting nothing more than to be a normal, independent twenty-something living it up in ol’ London town, Kate finds herself a prisoner in her grandmother’s Kensington terrace, daydreaming about the holiday that could have been. But when Kate is almost run over by the ridiculously good looking Jack Baker, it leaves her wondering if being out and about is such a good idea after all, especially when she catches herself laughing at his jokes.

One thing Kate knows for sure is that she has to avoid Jack at all costs. But with her balcony facing his, you can pretty much guarantee Kate’s London adventure is going to be anything but boring . . .

~*~

aww2017-badgeNovels that centre on a romance aren’t usually what I enjoy reading, but C.J. Duggan has managed to balance the romance aspect with character and plot development well. In London Bound, Kate Brown has moved to London to experience the city for herself, and work on her blog. Living with her grandmother, who seems to be the devil incarnate to Kate, she has several encounters with neighbour, Jack, who holds back much of his life as he gets to know her. When Kate stumbles across her grandmother’s secret room, she is inspired and begins to flesh out her blog, showing it to Jack and watching it grow. Inevitably, a romance develops and they hit a rocky moment, that is quickly resolved, and like many romance novels, results in a happy ending.

Whilst the romance factor in this book didn’t capture my interest, it was the London setting and Kate the writer that made the book enjoyable for me, even though I could guess how things would be resolved at the end. Jack was a more interesting character than I anticipated, and he was rather entertaining in the bar and at other moments, and during his interactions with Nana Joy.I found that each character had their own growth within the story – whether it was realising something about themselves or other people, or a combination of both, and to me, that made it more than just a romance, it had a romantic love but also a familial connection and love and a friendship.

Kate and Jack’s romance and subsequent relationship didn’t happen as soon as they met, or as soon as the novel began. Instead, it slowly developed along with the plot and Kate’s imagesblogging plans, and her desire to see more of London than the rooms she occupied.

The refreshing thing about this book was the meat to the plot and characters. The mysterious male figure was a bit of a trope but at least Jack had a pleasant side, which made him likeable. I’m still not a total fan but it was an enjoyable and quick read, and suited for fans of the author and genre.

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