Our resident book reviewer (Angela Galvin) has just given us several book reviews, so the start the ball rolling, here is the first of them.
The Japanese Lover, By Isabel Allende – A Review
I spent a lot of my adult years not reading anything written by women because the stuff I had read lacked depth and colour – or if they had depth and colour they waffled on and lived there instead of getting on with the story. Then someone gifted me a copy of ‘A Portrait in Sepia” and my mind was changed for ever.
Keeping the descriptions of people and places tight and in small chunks then moving effortlessly through the narrative to the next snippet – so you build a complete picture over the course of the book – is Allende’s particular genius for me.
This is another wonderfully compelling story by Allende. A historical account of two families through the turbulent pre and post-World War ll years, the story of a young woman coming to terms with a dark past, three love stories and a brutal poignant account of old age.
I couldn’t put this one down and read it over two nights. The characters are contemporary and believable, the setting is beautifully described and the story is a gem. Keeping the descriptions of people and places tight and in small chunks then moving effortlessly through the narrative to the next snippet so you build a complete picture over the course of the book is Allende’s particular genius for me.
Our resident book reviewer – Angela Galvin, has just given us a review of an old, but much loved book, Vanity Fair by the splendidly named author, William Makepeace Thackeray.
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
Spurred on by the recent miniseries of this book I decided to read it again after many, many years. I remember thinking the first time I read it ( I might have been 17?) that I didn’t think very much of it.
First up I read this over Christmas where I read lots of simple “Feel Good” novels with bright covers and simple stories, or engaging spy thrillers, and the odd biography – none of which have overly effusive prose.
William Makepeace Thackeray – wow – getting used to your writing style and the language took literally chapters for me. Fortunately I had seen the first installment of the television miniseries so I got the gist of it pretty quickly.
Funny thing I actually didn’t recall any of the story from my first reading – maybe at 17 I just couldn’t be bothered deciphering it.
Once you get passed the weird spelling – the story is quite a lark. The main character Miss Sharp is both likeable and revolting.
You can’t help thinking that WMT was the Monty Python of his day – poking fun at all the institutions and class structure – while writing a book to appeal to those very people.
If you haven’t read it it’s worth a couple of hours.
An adored aunt, an avid reader, recommended Birdsong to me; my copy was printed in 1994. Once I had read it (and I’ve re-read a number of times) I was hooked. The only one of Faulks’ books I haven’t enjoyed as much as the others is Girl at the Lion D’Or; I seem to remember it lacked as much punch (a flimsy protagonist perhaps?) as the others. I need to re-read it as I suspect I was endowing the girl with more sophistication than she had.
I went searching for my copy of The Fatal Englishman; alas alack, I cannot locate it! The book is, though, a trilogy of the stories of three young men who died young; it is poignant. Faulks manages to get right into the heart of his subjects— and his ability to weave meaningful and exquisite tales around them is, for me, the epitome of literature.
The human condition seems to drive his writing. He writes about war, anguish, love, betrayal, reconciliation and is fascinated by the establishment of psychiatry and psychotherapy (Human Traces). His research is wonderful and his ability to live in other times — thus bringing them to life for us — is admirable. I have yet to catch up with a couple of his more recent releases. Shame on me. He wrote in the style of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, for that author’s centenary and it’s wonderful (Devil May Care).
Do not, please, watch the television version of Birdsong. Despite starring the talented Eddie Redmayne, it made a dog’s breakfast of the story. I understand there has been a recent project to film the book and Faulks said he was pleased with it, diplomatically side-stepping comments on the TV version!
I have a signed copy of A Possible Life. It’s coming with me when I step off the planet!
A free ebook offer from one of our main contributing writers, Mary Mageau. If this brief introduction to her book on trees intrigues you, please follow the link at the bottom of the text to obtain the actual ebook.
For The Love Of Trees
So many people love and enjoy trees. Dame Judi Dench has recently narrated a BBC documentary, “My Passion for Trees,” and Queen Elizabeth launched a landmark Commonwealth Canopy project. During the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2015, the Queen made her appeal to all 53 Commonwealth nations – to contribute areas of indigenous forests to be preserved in perpetuity. This aim will eventually link all Commonwealth countries in a canopy of sustainable forest conservation for future generations. Since then, 35 Commonwealth countries have dedicated forestry projects or are planting new forests. What a wonderful initiative this has become for the future benefit of all humanity!
years I have studied, written about, and photographed numerous trees.
Recently my short eBook, “For the Love of Trees,” has been
published by naturewriting.com, one of the premier nature websites in
the USA. Its editor has created a dedicated page wherein the book can
be offered to a global audience. Click on this link:
and scroll to the bottom of the page. Another link will open the PDF
file that will allow you to read, download, or print my book. This is
a free offer and I hope you will enjoy its contents.
If you are not happy reading ebooks in PDF format, you can always download and install the free ebook management program (click here), which will enable you to easily convert the PDF file to any of the standard ereader file formats.
My copy of this book, The Commandant by Jessica Anderson, was purchased as a second hand copy from Booktopia. It arrived in perfect condition and has been donated to the Community Library. Once I opened its covers I became so absorbed in its rich content I could hardly close the book or put it down.
Book review: by Mary Mageau
The early Moreton Bay Penal Colony, on the banks of the Brisbane River, was founded in 1824. From the beginning it was considered one of the worst colonies to live in, for together with Norfolk Island, it accepted only hardened, repeat offenders. Captain Patrick Logan assumed command of the settlement in 1826. He was a member of a noted Scottish family, and was accompanied by his Irish wife, Leticia O’Berine, and their two young children.
excessively cruel and rigid discipline included frequent use of the
lash, solitary confinement, and the treadmill. Yet he also developed
the settlement by planting fields of wheat, corn and vegetables while
carrying out a program of public works. Two of his buildings still
survive: the old Tower Mill and the Commissariat Store on William
Street. His work as an explorer added much to our early geographical
knowledge. Captain Logan named the Logan and Albert Rivers, climbed
Mount Barney, and attempted to chart the windings of the upper
Brisbane River. In 1830 on one of these expeditions, he met his
violent death at the hands of the Aboriginals on Mount Beppo, near
Author Jessica Anderson’s meticulous research and fine craft of writing makes this book a joy to read. Her descriptions of the Australian bush are clothed in vivid imagery, while details of daily life in the colony contribute to a better understanding of the trials and conflicts experienced in these brutal surroundings. We also feel the effects of Captain Logan’s death through the suffering of those close to him, and the differing attitudes of other people that surrounded him.
By 1842 no more prisoners were transported to the penal colony and it was officially closed. As free settlers were arriving in a steady stream, the time had come for the town of Brisbane to spread its wings and to fly.
I highly recommend
this book to all those who enjoy reading historical fiction while
savouring the work of a fine writer.
The fourth and last look at various books and writers who have been inspired by Brisbane in one way or another. Here Richard looks at more modern writers and their feelings about Brisbane.
Many writers fled Brisbane during the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era (1968–87). Queensland has been represented in the past as a culture-less backwater inhabited by rednecks. The state was perceived as being of no interest, a rural backward society caught between its violent frontier past and an artificial present.However, this negative image, while still valid for some, has changed radically since the World Expo in 1988 and the demise of Bjelke-Petersen. By the end of the twentieth century Brisbane had begun to reposition itself as a cosmopolitan city with a healthy cultural base.
A number of factors have also contributed to this transformation. The population has increased through migration, Queensland’s image as a tourist destination has been enhanced through sophisticated marketing and the government has invested in cultural organisations and practitioners. At the same time, Queensland writers such as Venero Armmano, John Birmingham, Nick Earls, Andrew McGahan and Simon Cleary among many others have played a central role in changing how Brisbane is perceived. For McGahan, the city is far from ugly. In his novel,1988,he describes his return after a stint in the north:
The glow in the sky. Orange streetlights. Outlying suburbs. It was beautiful. The highway turned onto the six-lane arterial. We came in through Oxley and Annerly, flowing with the traffic. Then the city high-rises were in view,alight, multi-coloured. Brisbane. It was impossibly beautiful.
The negative qualities of Brisbane, as portrayed by writers like Maloufin Johhno,have been refigured by other writers, and Malouf himself, so as to portray Brisbane in a positive way. One transformation in particular was how the old wooden houses became to represent all that was good about the city. The “Queenslander,” as the house is known, was epitomised in Malouf’s 12 Edmonstone Street(1985), where he describes the building as “a one-storeyed weatherboard, a style of house so common then as to be quite unremarkable; Brisbane was a one-storeyed weatherboard town”.
Contemporary writers may be reconfiguring Brisbane in a positive manner, but the question still remains of why so few historical novels have been written about the colonial era in Brisbane. Is it due to a collective will to forget the early history of Queensland, especially the “birth stain” of the penal colony and the desire of emancipists and their descendants to hide their convict origins? This denial of our convict past was deepened by a desire to forget the way early settlers treated the Aboriginal people—the massacres, the poisonings, the diseases. The frontier violence in Queensland has been replaced by the notion of the brave pioneer taming a wild country and has been collectively forgotten in the same way as our convict past has. Australians are unwilling to treat with this period because they would need to look deep within themselves and confront the demons that are unleashed when one people dispossesses another.
Even so, since the 1970s, more and more family historians have been searching the archives and discovering convicts in the family tree. Now people are accepting their convict ancestry to the point that it has become a badge of honour for some. We are also beginning to recognise and acknowledge the suffering the whites caused in their early interactions with the Indigenous people of Australia. Then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s “Apology to the Stolen Generations” in 2008 is one example.
And has literature itself unwittingly played a role in putting novelists off? Indeed, as we have seen, a thread of negative images of the city runs through the novels discussed in earlier articles, from The Curse in1894, which depicts a city in decay, to the myth of the hostile country portrayed in Penton’s Land takers and then the city concealing its past in the follow-up Inheritors. The line continues through the works of Malouf: Johnno, Anderson: TirraLira and Astley: Reading, who paint Brisbane as uninteresting, a place to flee from. Does this sense of Brisbane as not worthy of attention still haunt the collective subconscious and reinforce the desire to forget the city’s past? Nick Earls, author of Zigzag Street (1996), which is set in Brisbane, says that,“[f]or years I wrote things and deliberately avoided setting them in South-East Queensland because people didn’t seem to do that and the area didn’t seem to be regarded as worthy of carrying a story.”
And so our writers escape from Brisbane to look elsewhere for their stories. Two contemporary historical novelists who have lived in or around Brisbane have turned towards the “old country” to tell their tales. Kate Morton has chosen to set her novels in England, flitting back and forth from the present to the first half of the twentieth century, beginning with The House at Riverton/The Shifting Fog(2006) through to The Secret Keeper (2012). M. K. Hume, who grew up in Ipswich, is consumed by ancient history which, as she says on her website, she “loved to teach . . . using stories to bring the ancient world to life for my students.” Hume has written two trilogies centred on her “first love, King Arthur, and the legends of the Arthuriad.” It seems the wonders of our distant ancestors in Europe are more attractive to writers than what happened in Brisbane in its early days. That is quite understandable, but more and more people want to learn about Brisbane’s past. However, only time will tell whether or not historical novelists turn their eye to the colonial era and do justice to the city. Brisbane has changed much since those far-off days of a tiny settlement tucked into a bend in the river and ringed with an endless sea of vegetation and later its image as a cultureless backwater where nothing ever happened. Now the city has begun to embrace its past more than ever and has become a place to move to, not to escape from.
“The Epherium Chronicles – Crucible” is the name of this volume, in which we are taken into the deepest of deep space to discover what is happening to a spaceship full of colonists who departed the planet earth some 25 years ago on a journey to find a new home for humanity.
The synopsis on Amazon describes this volume as follows:-
Book two of The Epherium Chronicles
Earth Defense Forces Captain James Hood is on the mission of his life. The Cygni solar system is just one space-fold jump away. One more jump and they’ll have reached the fledgling colony that Earth desperately needs if the human race is going to survive. But a plot to derail him has already damaged his ship, threatened the lives of his crew and cost him time. Time the colonists might not have.
So much depends on him now, but Hood’s confidence is shaken. It’s self-doubt he thought he’d buried, a brutal mind-killer for all military commanders. Yet danger surrounds his team; a brutal insectoid alien race is still out there, intent on eradicating humans, and a greater threat from an unknown, elusive enemy has emerged.
The forces at work on Cygni are like nothing Hood has trained for, tactically or emotionally. When put to the test, he must choose to either trust the unlikeliest of allies, or run and seal the fate of the Cygni colony forever.
I was happy enough to cut and paste this synopsis, as it actually really tells you almost nothing about this book, merely enough to whet your appetite I hope. Obviously there is much, much more going on in this volume than is suggested in this synopsis.
Actually, buried in the Sci-Fi aspects of this story we also have a sort of futuristic version of Homer’s tales of the battle of Troy, and the Odyssey as well. Firstly we have the journey from Mars to the planet Cygni, which is beset with a number of mysterious and alarming problems, then we have the complex politics of the scary insect like beings we met in the first volume and last but by no means least, a totally splendid battle, which manages to combine high tech, mass killing with a very classic form of battle, in which individual heroes battle it out with each other. As with the battle in the first volume, this is a rather interesting form of warfare – not super hero stuff (in spite of some very high tech armoured fighting suits and tanks), all fights are settled by plain old fashioned military skill and courage on a personal level. At the risk of offending people of a Christian persuasion, it is reminiscent of the Old Testament in many ways.
As with the first volume, this one has a collection of well rounded characters and sub-plots and a judiciously dosed amount of science to make it all believable and enjoyable.
And as with the first volume, this one ends on a cliffhanger, leaving us gasping for the next volume – which has been published as well.
As with the first volume, this is a very enjoyable read, lots of exciting and scary details and battles, enough relationships beginning to occur between the various characters, which will obviously be built upon in following volumes. Wilson has created a believable and interesting new world for all of the action to take place in, and last, but by no means least, he has given us a situation in which the relations between the humans and the insects are going to be extremely interesting.
Gary Ruse, A most prolific and varied author has done it again. This time he has ventured into the curious world of “Steam Punk” with his latest ebook. With the wonderful title of “Perseverance Triumphant!” he takes us into a Victorian world which has developed space flight (among other technical marvels) owing to a box of papers that Nikolai Teslasent back in time – the ins and outs of why he did that I shan’t discuss here, you will have to read the book yourself to discover that important information.
In Ruse’s world, as in the real Victorian world, steam power is the basis of everything, but he has carried it to almost lunatic levels – The mind boggles slightly at the idea of a space ship that relies on steam for all its power, but why not?
A very enjoyable and memorable book.
Anyhow, this story, which I read at one sitting as I found it both griping and totally enjoyable – if remarkably silly – is all about how our universe is about to be invaded by horrible aggressive aliens from another universe, with the help of a number of Earthlings who have been recruited to help this invasion by the promise of being given total power on earth – foolish individuals.
A Review Of Three Books About The History Of Brisbane – Richard Carroll.
The first half of the twentieth century saw few novels written about Brisbane, or even Queensland. Three historical novels stand out in this period. The Romance of Runnibede by Steele Rudd aka Arthur Davis was published in 1927. Set on the Darling Downs in the mid-nineteenth century, the book narrates the lives of squatters and the Aboriginal resistance to the white presence, but there is no mention of Brisbane.
Brian Penton’s Landtakers, the Story of an Epoch, published in 1934, also explores squatter life and the treatment of the Aboriginal people from the 1840s to the 1860s. Landtakers relates the life of Derek Cabell, a young English immigrant who arrives in Moreton Bay in 1844. Penton describes Brisbane:
Red earth and blue sky met in the jagged line of a near horizon. In the middle of this vault stood the settlement—a prison within a prison. Shanties built of black bark twisted by the fierce sun, with crazy-shaped doors and glassless windows. Jail and barracks of stone. A yellow stone windmill. A long, dusty, empty street.Sheep, a few cows, pigs, wide patches of yellow Indian corn. At one side of the valley a river shimmered in the sunlight; at each end of the valley the bush. Into illimitable blue distance it faded, across unexplored mountains and plains, grey, motionless and silent.
Here Penton evokes a sense of isolation in a vaguely intimidating landscape from which there is no escape from the “prison within a prison.”
Penton has played with history, as he describes convicts in chains and other aspects of the penal settlement. However, Brisbane was no longer a penal institution in 1844 as the prison was closed down in 1842. Only the first chapter of Landtakersis set in Brisbane, where Cabell’s anger at the loss of some sheep boils over in a bar. His opinion of the land was echoed by many of the first settlers: “’I hate it,’ he said pathetically. ‘I loathe it. It’s so different from England, this eternal, cursed, colourless bush.’” Perhaps this myth of a hostile country is also partly responsible for later depictions in literature of the inhabitants of Brisbane, like Praed, wanting to escape to a better life in Europe.
In Landtakers, Cabell is bitter about his situation and prospects for the future, and blames the land for his failures. Two years after his arrival, he drives a mob of sheep and cattle 600 kilometres northwest of Brisbane where he establishes a huge holding. Over the years, Cabell commits atrocities including the massacre of Aboriginal people. Landtakers provides an unabridged view of life on the Queensland frontier and an image of the pioneer as an anti-hero. The role that landscape plays in shaping how we perceive a work cannot be underestimated. Landtakers, in the words of David Carter, shows a landscape that is almost gothic, that sometimes seems positively malevolent in its own right not merely the scene for malevolent human action. Imagining Queensland as a place of gothic haunting, guilty secrets, sexual repression, and violence—the other side of paradise—is a surprisingly strong theme in literature.
Inheritors (1936), the sequel to Landtakers, evokes this idea of guilt and suppression as it takes aim at the political corruption in Queensland and portrays Brisbane towards the end of the nineteenth century as being obsessed with hiding its not so glorious past of deceit and lies.
It was not until the mid-twentieth century and Vance Palmer’s Golconda (1948), the first of a trilogy partially set in Brisbane that some form of continuity in using the city as a setting developed. The three novels, including Seedtime (1957) and The Big Fellow (1959), are loosely based on the life of Ted Theodore, a Queensland politician, and span the period from the late 1920s to the 1950s. The main protagonist, Macy Donovan, starts out as a union organiser in the new mining town of Golconda in outback Queensland and later rises to become premier of the state. It is not until Seedtime that Palmer gives life to Brisbane with some parts being shown in more detail. In the following passage from Seedtime, Donovan has just left hospital after recovering from a knifing:
A sense of exultation was making Donovan feel light-headed as he left the hospital behind him and sauntered down towards the North Quay. Morning showers had washed the streets clean and a cool, bright wind was moving in from the Bay; there was even the tang of the sea in it. Winding through the massed spread of buildings in the city below, the river showed in streaks of silver and where it widened into a broad reach along the Quay the dark blobs of small cargo-boats could be seen like moving water-beetles through the bamboos of the Esplanade. (61)
Here Palmer uses the rain, the smell of the sea, and the river to evoke a sense of well-being in the city.
In the next instalment, I will look at David Malouf’s Johnno and Jessica Anderson’s The Commandant, amongst others, continuing the theme of Brisbane as a place to escape from.
Freedom at Midnight Larry Collins and Dominique Lapiere – review by Angela Galvin.
This isn’t an easy read but it is fascinating – I read this book when I was in my first or second year of high school. So reading it again now as an adult has been a delight. It isn’t for the faint-hearted with lots of explanations about policies, politics and history but it is still a riveting read.
“While the World Slept” “at midnight on 14th August 1947 the Union Jack began its final journey down the flagstaff of the Viceroys house in New Delhi. As a fifth of humanity claimed their independence from the greatest empire history has ever seen.”
The central characters Ghandi, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, George Vl and millions of Indians from Dehli to Pakistan make the story. The bureaucracy, the elation, the violence, the sadness at the end of an era – the end of an Age – it is all laid out bare and raw.
This book as the cover claims was the inspiration for the wonderful miniseries “The Viceroys House”.
Available in the Community Library Samford, or if you wish to own your own copy… At Amazon. Click here