The Soldier’s Curse (The Monsarrat Series Book One) by Meg and Tom Keneally

soldiers curseTitle: The Soldier’s Curse (The Monsarrat Series Book One)

Author: Meg and Tom Keneally

Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

Publisher: Vintage/Penguin Random House

Published: 27th February 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A fast-paced, witty and gripping historical crime series from Tom Keneally and his eldest daughter Meg.

In the Port Macquarie penal settlement for second offenders, at the edge of the known world, gentleman convict Hugh Monsarrat hungers for freedom. Originally transported for forging documents passing himself off as a lawyer, he is now the trusted clerk of the settlement’s commandant.

His position has certain advantages, such as being able to spend time in the Government House kitchen, being supplied with outstanding cups of tea by housekeeper Hannah Mulrooney, who, despite being illiterate, is his most intelligent companion.

Not long after the commandant heads off in search of a rumoured river, his beautiful wife, Honora, falls ill with a sickness the doctor is unable to identify. When Honora dies, it becomes clear she has been slowly poisoned.

Monsarrat and Mrs Mulrooney suspect the commandant’s second-in-command, Captain Diamond, a cruel man who shares history with Honora. Then Diamond has Mrs Mulrooney arrested for the murder. Knowing his friend will hang if she is tried, Monsarrat knows he must find the real killer. And so begins The Monsarrat Series, a fast-paced, witty and gripping series from Tom Keneally and his eldest daughter, Meg.

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This is another series that I have had on my shelf for years and have only just started reading. All the books in this series are out, so hopefully I can get through them over the next few weeks or months. The first book introduces us to Hugh Llewellyn Monsarrat, a gentleman convict who is towards the end of his sentence in 1825. He is friendly with a local housekeeper, Hannah Mulrooney, and Hugh now works as the clerk for the commandant of the Port Macquarie settlement in 1825.

It is around this time that the commandant heads off – and his wife, Honora starts getting ill, and eventually dies. When Hannah is accused, Monsarrat sets out to uncover the real killer.

The mystery within The Soldier’s Curse starts out slowly – as an illness that the doctors have several ideas as to what it might be – but poisoning does not cross their minds until it is too late, and this is where it is clever, as once Honora dies, the investigation Hugh conducts ramps up – whereas  before he is an observer, and finds himself reflecting on the events that led him to where he is at the stage of the novel. As a result, there is a lot of backstory and build up, yet I think it helps contribute to the setting and feelings of the characters and mystery. Hugh is determined to prove Hannah Mulrooney is not guilty – the presumption that she is guilty because those in charge of finding out what happens ignore the access that others had to what may have to Honora and her home.

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Whilst Hugh navigates his position between the world of convicts, education and freedom, he also observes how the Indigenous people of the area the settlers named Port Macquarie – the Birpai – interact with the newcomers to their land, and the intersections of these communities in different ways – from those who do not come into contact, to the Birpai returning absconding convicts and to those mentioned who are said to have relationships (though this is not expanded on) with the settlers – of which, knowing history, there would have been negative ones as well as the positive ones hinted at in this book. As these stories are not always told, having them mentioned brings them to light at least, and readers can, from there, explore this area of history further to gain a better understanding of what happened in those early colonial days. It will be interesting to see how this is further explored in future books. There are complexities of relationships between convicts, jailers and free settlers, between the Indigenous people and the Europeans, and indeed, between the men and women, as well as between Englishmen and Irish or Scottish folk dealt with in this novel throughout. It felt as though these were carefully considered through the lens of Hugh, and based on his personality, and ways of understanding the world. Inequality is highlighted in many ways here – as is the hierarchy of everyone there. The way this is navigated throughout is consistently there, even if not mentioned on every page: there is a constant feeling that this is all going on at the time. It reflects a world where nobody quite understands each other and struggles to find a way to collaborate.

As the start of a series, it is very dense in establishing the character and his history,  yet as with any series with a key character, there is always more to come in subsequent books – the little things that have not come to the surface yet, and questions about the character that were not answered in the first book. I have the four that are already out on my shelf and hope to get through them all soon. It is an intriguing read about colonial history, and colonies other than Sydney Cove as well as the various interactions between the original inhabitants and those brought here for punishment, and the attitudes towards those two groups from the people who south to enforce their authority. A great start to a series.

Books and Bites Book Bingo – Written in the First Person: Pippa’s Island: Puppy Pandemonium by Belinda Murrell

game card books and bites

My second book bingo card, the Books and Bites Bingo Card, is a more casual one for me. I’ll post as I fill a square, rather than on a schedule as I am with the other one, and ideally, one post per square for better clarity. So this is my post for my second square – written in the first person.

There were many options I could go with here, that I have read, am reading and that I could read in the coming weeks and months. However, as there are other categories to fill in this and all my challenges, I chose one that I read just after New Year.

Pippas Island 5

Pippa’s Island: Puppy Pandemonium is the fifth in the Pippa’s Island series by Belinda Murrell. Pippa tells these stories as she adjusts to life on an Kira Island after moving there with her mum, brother and sister from England. Across five books, Pippa has told her story as she has made friends and watched her new home being built. I’m hoping there are more to come, but for now, I will be content knowing Pippa has her home, family and friends, and this book has managed to tick off several different challenge categories.

Book Bingo one 2020 – A Prize Winning Book

Book Bingo 2020 clean

Welcome to another year of book bingo with my co-hosts, Amanda Barrett and Theresa Smith. This year, we have cut down the number of squares from thirty to twelve, so one square a month to post about, though nothing is stopping us from filling out the card within a few months and scheduling every post. Which perhaps, might be a good way to think about it – filling it out as soon as possible and getting it all scheduled to focus on everything else and running the challenge and our posts for the Australian Women Writers challenge.

Book bingo 2020

With many options to yet come through, and some decisions to still be made, I decided to start with the prize winner category. There were many books I could have chosen for this, in many genres and categories, but settled on Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales, which looks at how an ordinary day can turn into one of blindsides, tragedy and things that we don’t expect to happen when we roll out of bed in the morning. I go into much more detail in my review, and this book ticked off at least one category in each of my reading challenges, so I am off to a good start there!

Any Ordinary Day

Any Ordinary Day had nuances in it that gave insight into what goes on behind the scenes of journalism at times and how the ongoing, twenty-four seven news cycle changed the way news was delivered and the trickle of details that come out over time, rather than a report with all the facts at once, which I found interesting in light of current responses to media. Understanding that journalists perhaps can have pressures of networks or publications pushing them to get a certain angle or get everything in by a certain time – shows how only seeing the end result, the story presented or printed – can affect how people react. Either they want to know more, or they get frustrated with so little coming through when they think it should, yet at the same time, people get frustrated when they’re not informed – so in writing this book, Leigh examined the balance of this and ethics and how she struggles  to maintain this balance so she can do her job effectively, whilst still maintaining her humanity. A very well-thought out book in my view.

Adding two more challenges…

 

Today whilst making sure I’d set up my challenge document properly, I came across two more challenges. The Dymocks Reading Challenge, and the STUF #AusLit Reading Challenges. Like my other challenges, both these challenges have categories flexible enough to work with what I read, and with the odd category I’ll need to work to find but I’ll work on that as I go. Sometimes, a book just falls across my path that fits perfectly.

So that’s six challenges but as each complement each other, I am not worried. My first three reads have already ticked off at least one category in five of the six challenges, and hopefully, with one in the sixth to follow soon.

My one challenge is the Dymocks Reading Challenge. To partake in this challenge, I must use the hashtag #DymocksReadingChallenge for my posts on this – easy enough to do, and try to check off at least one book for each of the following categories – one book a fortnight!

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Dymocks Reading Challenge

1. A book by an Australian author:
2. A book by an Indigenous author:
3. A book from our Top 101:
4. A book from our Kids’ Top 51:
5. A Dymocks ‘Book of the Month:
6. Re-read your favourite book of all time:
7. Ask a friend for a recommendation:
8. A book featuring your favourite country:
9. A book from your TBR pile:
10. An award-winning book:
11. A Mystery/Thriller:
12. A memoir:
13. A book outside your usual genre:
14. A book of short stories:
15. A self-help/motivation:
16. A fairytale/fable adaptation:
17. Book one in a fantasy series:
18. A book that teaches you something new:
19. A book with a red cover:
20. A book with a colour in the title:
21. A book you can read in a day:
22. A book about books:
23. A book that made you laugh:
24. A book published this year:
25. A book you said you’ve read but haven’t:

The second challenge I chose today was the STFU #AusLit Reading Challenge. Some of these categories require a bit of googling to make sure I find what I want by an Australian author, but that shouldn’t be too difficult to do. The provided links should make it easier, and I can reach out to my book and reading groups for advice if I get stuck. With any luck., review and quiz books will fit into some of my challenges as well as I go through the year. This is another I’ll be contributing to on Twitter and will hopefully be able to finish it as well as all my other ones. Some categories, I have to wait for shortlists or the books to be released, which takes a little pressure off finding them now.

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STFU Reading Society #AustLit Reading Challenge
1. Found on #BookstagramAustralia
* Scroll through #BookstagramAustralia on Instagram and find an Australian title recommended. [Make sure you check the book is by an Australian author, as this hashtag will no doubt find you some great Australian Bookstagrammers to follow, but they won’t read or recommend exclusively Australian books.]

2. An Australian classic

3. A book by an Indigenous Australian author

4. A book about climate change [cli-fi or non-fiction]
* Bonus: Read both a fiction [cli-fi] and non-fiction book on climate change
* You might want to check out the Climate Reality Book Club over on Insta for some ideas

5. A book by an LGBTQ+ Australian author

6. A #LoveOzYA book
* #LoveOzYA is a great resource to find an Australian YA read, or check the hashtag on Insta too!

7. A memoir by an Australian woman

8. A poetry collection
* Solo author or anthology

9. A 2020 Finalist for a State Premier’s Literary Prize
* Note: Not all states have a Premier’s Literary Prize / some are awarded biennially rather than yearly, so are not running in 2020.
* New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards – Shortlist announced March 2020 / Winners announced 27 April 2020
* The Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature – Shortlist out now / Winners announced 29 February 2020
* Victorian Premier’s Literary Award – Shortlist out now / Winners announced 30 January 2020
Bonus: Read a finalist [shortlisted book] from each of the State Premier’s prizes

10. A Book by a Territorian author – NT or ACT
Bonus: Read both an NT and ACT author

11. Read and watch a book to movie adaptation

12. A book from across the ditch – A book by a New Zealand author
Yep, psych! Kiwi authors need love too.

Pippa’s Island: Puppy Pandemonium by Belinda Murrell

Pippas Island 5.jpgTitle: Pippa’s Island: Puppy Pandemonium

Author: Belinda Murrell

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 3rd December 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: The fifth book in the Pippa’s Island series is the most adorable story yet!

Life can be hard when you’re crammed into a tiny caravan with your noisy family. Pippa’s looking forward to moving into their new home above the Beach Shack Cafe, but it’s taking forever! Money is tight, too, and Pippa has her eye on a gorgeous new swimming costume.

Luckily, Pippa has her Sassy Sisters to help. Together they come up with a plan to make some cash: Pippa’s Perfect Pooch Pampering! Before long, Pippa has her hands full with adorable but pesky pups.

What could possibly go wrong?

~*~

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It has been a long ten months since Pippa, her mum, and her siblings, Harry and Bella moved from London to Kira Island. Their home is nearly finished, though they have spent the past ten months living in a caravan in the backyard of Pippa’s grandparents. At school, things are going well – even her friendly rivalry with Olivia. Yet Pippa longs for her own space, and a new cossie. So when the local swimwear store has a sale, Pippa knows she must get something there, and starts saving up.

To do so, she begins a dog care business – walking, grooming and taking care of the dogs of Kira Island. Her friends – Meg, CiCi, and Charlie – help her with her brilliant plan, and step in to help her take care of the dogs – especially Charlie. Pippa soon has her hands full with too many dogs, including her own puppy, Summer.

Pippa’s excitement when she finally gets to start unpacking her boxes is slightly dampened when she struggles to sort through her clothes and books – until her Sassy Sisters come to help. With her friends, Pippa can finally create the haven she has been longing for since arriving on Kira Island.

The fifth book in the series continues to celebrate family and friendship, and the connections people make at all stages of life. This marks my second book in the 2020 Australian Women Writers challenge, and ticks off categories in several other challenges, including my February Book Bingo post – 2 down, ten to go for that one!

I’ve loved reading the Pippa’s Island books, and hope there are more, as they are delightful books to read and engaging for all readers across many demographics. A great book, and a series that I hope to revisit.

Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

Any Ordinary DayTitle: Any Ordinary Day

Author: Leigh Sales

Genre: Non-fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 19th November 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: The day that turns a life upside down usually starts like any other, but what happens the day after? Dual Walkley Award-winner Leigh Sales investigates how ordinary people endure the unthinkable.

As a journalist, Leigh Sales often encounters people experiencing the worst moments of their lives in the full glare of the media. But one particular string of bad news stories – and a terrifying brush with her own mortality – sent her looking for answers about how vulnerable each of us is to a life-changing event. What are our chances of actually experiencing one? What do we fear most and why? And when the worst does happen, what comes next?

In this wise and layered book, Leigh talks intimately with people who’ve faced the unimaginable, from terrorism to natural disaster to simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Expecting broken lives, she instead finds strength, hope, even humour. Leigh brilliantly condenses the cutting-edge research on the way the human brain processes fear and grief, and poses the questions we too often ignore out of awkwardness. Along the way, she offers an unguarded account of her own challenges and what she’s learned about coping with life’s unexpected blows.

Warm, candid and empathetic, this book is about what happens when ordinary people, on ordinary days, are forced to suddenly find the resilience most of us don’t know we have.

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Any Ordinary Day, winner of the 2019 Walkley Book Award, looks at those moments in life, the tragedies, the horrific situations, that happen on days that start like any other – as any ordinary day. A day where we get up and begin our ordinary routine to go about our daily lives. Until something out of the ordinary, like a sudden death, a landslide, an accident – or something like the death of a well-known figure such as Princess Diana, the 9/11 attacks or the Lindt Café Siege – occurs, and the world of the people connected to people involved in such events, and even beyond, is altered forever, and the subsequent grief and other reactions that come from it differ from person to person, and situation to situation. This is what Leigh considers in her book, as well as the role of the media, her career as a journalist and how the beginning of the twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week rolling news cycle altered reporting when it began around the First Gulf War.

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Within this book, as well as the human cost and reaction to events that are life-changing, Leigh examines how the demands of the need to know can impact how a journalist reports – where they need to navigate ethics, time constraints, and pressure not just from the public but by those that employ them. She acknowledges that the new media, the insertion of new technologies that allow people to access, and perhaps wat, news at their fingertips at any time of the day, has and can affect how the media responds to, and reports the news. In one case she talks about throughout the book, the Lindt Café Siege, she talks about one survivor she talked to, who had also been dealt a blow with her health, and how she dealt with the aftermath, and worked her way back to her life and what she was dealt. In some cases, Leigh points out that there were instances where people (specifically, the research she talks about from American institutions where people were asked about why they thought something bad had happened to them) thought it was God’s will, or it was meant to happen and various sentiments along those lines. In contrast, it felt like the Australians she spoke to – Stuart Diver, Hannah Richell and others – found more pragmatic ways to move on, even if it took them some time. Walter Mikac, who lost his wife and daughters in the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, started the Alannah and Madeleine Foundation to help children touched by violence as a way to help him remember his daughters and find a way to move on. What all of these examples have in common is that everyone will find a different way to cope with tragedy and will find their own ways to move on.

The role of the media in presenting stories can drastically affect how the public views those involved. Leigh illustrates a vulnerability in examining her role in inadvertently hurting people, and taking feedback into future stories, so she knows where she has gone wrong as she’s tried to balance ethics and the public need to know. She tells stories where she has been worried about what to write or report on, and where she has held back, especially early in her career where she was plagued with uncertainties. She also points to how a journalist reporting on a medical student who was missing for about two months, and who ran a story on 60 minutes soon after and how the public response was somewhat against him. It was a story she heard about second hand, and as with all the examples here, researched it.

Leigh also talks about a few times where her own life – her children, and the challenges of one being disabled and a difficult birth, things she has managed to get through with the help of friends, and the overwhelming feelings of gratefulness she felt. By combining her experiences and research, I feel Leigh has given a well-rounded take on how news reports on certain events from her perspective, and how something out of the ordinary can change us – and how events like the death of Princess Diana and 9/11 are the kinds of events where we all remember where we were when we found out. I remember that day in August 1997 – we were in David Jones buying a new computer when it was splashed across the television screens in the electronics department. Watching it unfold there and at home is a clear memory, and perhaps a good example of why the twenty-four seven news cycle doesn’t help anyone – those involved in the stories, the journalists and the viewers – because there will always be facts that cannot be delivered when they need to be or when viewers think they should. Perhaps the only exception to this rule is an event like the catastrophic bushfire situation plaguing the whole of Australia at the moment – where we need to know if we need to evacuate or what the fire fronts are doing. Other stories perhaps, can wait until all the facts are in place, and I felt like this is something Leigh grapples with – and has her whole career as she entered the world of journalism as this sensation was taking off.

Finally, keeping in mind that the role of technology has changed the way reporting happens – and the way it can now beam these tragedies as they happen into our living rooms, there is a further impact – on those who see it that way, and the way we try to cope with it. It is at its heart about dealing with the blows of life that come our way, and how everyone deals with them differently.

2020 Australian Women Writers Sign Up

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As in the past few years, I am again signing up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2020. As in the past few years, I have decided to set my own challenge, and aim to read and review twenty-five – though I am sure I will go over this.

I’m sticking to this low number to give myself leeway if I only manage the twenty-five. Anything extra is a bonus, as it is for all my reading challenges throughout the year.

In 2020, I hope to read many new releases, as well as a couple I got for Christmas, and finish off the Pippa’s Island series – I have one book left in that series. So far, the ideas I have are mainly fiction, but I am sure there will be some non-fiction books to come through as well as I go through the year.

The few I know I want to aim to read are:

Pippa’s Island: Puppy Pandemonium by Belinda Murrell

Josephine’s Garden by Stephanie Parkyn

The Bee and the Orange Tree by Melissa Ashley

A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill (2020 release)

And many others I have not thought of and that will come out throughout the year.

I look forward to reading as much as I can again in 2020.