28 April, 2013

Land's Edge

Land's Edge: A Coastal Memoir - Tim Winton
From Goodreads: On childhood holidays to the beach the sun and surf kept Tim Winton outside in the mornings, in the water; the wind would drive him indoors in the afternoons, to books and reading. This ebb and flow of the day became a way of life.
In this beautifully delicate memoir, Tim Winton writes about his obsession with what happens where the water meets the shore – about diving, dunes, beachcombing – and the sense of being on the precarious, wondrous edge of things that haunts his novels.
Complemented by the breathtaking photographs of Narelle Autio, Land's Edge is a celebration of the coastal life and those who surrender themselves to it.

What I Thought: Every time I read a Winton book I am amazed. The man's talent is boundless. He has a uniquely Australian voice without sounding overdone or ocker - a mature voice which retains the simplicity and straight forwardness of Australia. And in Land's Edge, he writes part of my childhood. The duality of suburb and coast, where coast makes you more alive, feel more, brighter colours and days that go too fast.

A quintessential Australian suburban life...But again, when I dream, when I remember...I don't see the picket fences and the Holden in the driveway... or hear the whine of the mowers...on rare and dreaded family slide nights,...I have to strain to recognise myself in Hush Puppies and a mohair turtleneck...Because in my memory of childhood there is always the smell of bubbling tar, of Pinke Zinke,the briny smell of the sea. It is always summer and I am on Scarborough Beach, blinded by light, with my shirt off and my back a map of dried salt and peeling sunburn.
 Another review I read described this book as a love letter to the sea, which is a perfect description. At just over 100 pages, it's a quick read, but once again Winton's prose is pure poetry. In chapter three there is a passage about swimming with sharks which had me enthralled - not a terrifying, heart stopping, over dramatic description, but one of wonder and awe that these creatures should  fill us with.

The shark alters course and the real shock hits you as you begin to see the size of its body. The colossal flanks are delicately spotted, as mesmeric as an Aboriginal dot painting, and at first sight as intimidating as a ship's hull. Astonishingly silent, unhurried and seemingly in slow motion, but hard work to keep up with for too long. Festooned with remoras, suckers, cleaners, tiny opportunists. Spangled and speckled by the light on the moving surface of the water, it makes you smile around your snorkel.
 Like Tim Winton, I am lucky enough to live close enough to the sea to experience it every day, and like him, it feeds my soul, soothes me and touches me daily. His description of Australians relationship with the sea is spot on.

Australians do not go to 'the seaside'...We go to the beach with a mixture of gusto and apprehension, for our sea is something to be reckoned with. We are reared on stories of shark attacks, broken necks from dumpings in the surf and the spectre of melanoma. I suspect we go because of these warnings, at times, and not simply despite them.
 Challenges: Aussie Author Challenge

13 April, 2013

Lords and Ladies

Lords and Ladies - Terry Pratchett
From Goodreads: It's a hot Midsummer Night. The crop circles are turning up everywhere-even on the mustard-and-cress of Pewseyy Ogg, aged four. And Magrat Garlick, witch, is going to be married in the morning...Everything ought to be going like a dream. But the Lancre All-Comers Morris Team have got drunk on a fairy mound and the elves have come back, bringing all those things traditionally associated with the magical, glittering realm of Faerie: cruelty, kidnapping, malice and evil, evil murder.* Granny Weatherwax and her tiny argumentative coven have really got their work cut out this time...With full supporting cast of dwarfs, wizards, trolls, Morris Dancers and one orang-utan. And lots of hey-nonny-nonny and blood all over the place.
 *But with tons of style.

What I Thought: Having finished the 6 books I bought on holidays, I turned to my kindle as I pondered my next read. Should I return to Les Miserables? Read the sequel to Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall? Try something completely unknown? Then my husband said Pratchett - Pratchett is perfect holiday reading. And he was right. (don't tell him, I don't want him getting ideas!)
Lords and Ladies sees a return to Lancure and the witches, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick as the prepare for Magrats wedding to the king. But as usual, all is not well. The elves are trying to break through from their world to the Discworld. And despite everyting you've heard before - Elves are not nice!

Challenges: eBook Challenge

Ten Hail Marys

Ten Hail Marys - Kate Howarth
From Goodreads: Frank and funny, this memoir vividly recounts the first 17 years of the author’s life in Sydney’s slums and in New South Wales’ countryside. Abandoned by her mother as a baby and by her volatile grandmother as a young girl, Kate Howarth was shunted between Aboriginal relatives and expected to grow up fast. It was a childhood beset by hardship, abuse, profound grief, and poverty, but buoyed with the hope that one day she would make a better life for herself and her child. Incredibly moving, this is the compelling true story of a childhood lost and a young woman’s hard-won self-possession.

What I Thought: This is a book I picked up off the shelving trolley at work. It tells the story of Kate Howarth and her fight to keep her baby as an unwed mother in the 1960's. It details her life as a child passed from family member to family member at the drop of a hat, for no apparent reason. Like several other books I have read recently it provides a glimpse at a life so different from my own and situations I know I will never find myself in.
Howarth portrays her family as one that holds many secrets and troubles. Aunts that are abused, mothers that are really grandmothers and prodigal children that appear and disappear on a whim. Given her background, Howarth's strength in the face of everyone (including her mother, her boyfriend and the nuns at the home for unwed mothers) trying to make her give up her baby, is inspirational.
As is often the case with true life books, the end isn't quite what you expect, but it left me with a great admiration for Kate Howarth and a want to know more. There is mention of a sequel called Pray For Us Sinners, but I am unable to find a publication date. All I know is that I will be keeping an eye out for it.

Challenges: 13 in 13 Challenge, Aussie author Challenge


Blood - Tony Birch
From Goodreads: From the moment he saw her wrapped in a blanket at the hospital, Jesse knew that he’d be the one to look after his little sister. When their mother's appetite for destruction leads the little family into the arms of Ray Crow, Jesse sees the brooding violence and knows that, this time, the trouble is real. But Jesse is just a kid and even as he tries to save his sister, he makes a fatal error that exposes them to the kind of danger from which he has sworn to protect Rachel. As their little world is torn to pieces, the children learn that when you are lost and alone, the only thing you can trust is what's in your blood.

What I thought: After reading his two anthologies of short stories in one day, I couldn't wait to start on Birch's first novel - Blood.
Blood is the story of two kids - Jesse and his younger sister Rachel. They lie a nomadic and unsettled life with their mother Gwen. Gwen does not keep the best company  and her association with Ray leads to the three of them running across the country in the hunt for safety.
Once again Birch's writing pulls the reader right into the story. You are truly there as Jesse tries to protect his little sister. You feel Rachel's continuing devotion to Gwen and at the same time witness Jesse's growing distance from his mother and the choices she makes. I loved Jesse and Rachel - so much so I wanted to pull them out of the story and give them the loving stable home they deserved. The ending is as messy as real life, with no real resolution offered  to the reader. However, I choose to believe Jesse wins through eventually, saving him and his sister from what could be a tragic life.

Challenges: 13 in 13 Challenge, Aussie author Challenge

Book Review: Shadow Boxing & Father's Day

Shadowboxing - Tony Birch
Father's Day - Tony Birch

Shadowboxing blurb: Shadowboxing is a collection of ten linked stories in the life of a boy growing up in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy in the 1960s. A beautifully rendered time capsule, it captures a period of decay, turmoil and change through innocent, unblinking eyes. Michael's family, led by his long-suffering mother, live as though under siege, surviving his father's drinking and rage as well as the forces of 'urban renewal'. Their neighbourhood is a world of simple pleasures as well as random brutality; of family life and love as well as violence and tragedy. As Michael experiences all this with a combination of wonder and fear, he matures into a sensitive adult who can forgive but never forget.

Hunter Publishers (Father's Day):

conducted by Richard Fidler explains many of the links between Birch's stories and his life. It also explores how Birche moved from an incredibly tough childhood into being an academic and a writer. Using his own experiences lends Birch's stories an air of authenticity. The reader is transported to the time and place of the story, sharing the joys and fears of the characters and allowing the reader for a short time to live in a completely different time.

Challenges: Aussie Author Challenge

Book Review: The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce - Ilyon Woo
From Goodreads: Ilyon Woo’s The Great Divorce is the dramatic, richly textured story of one of nineteenth-century America’s most infamous divorce cases, in which a young mother single-handedly challenged her country’s notions of women’s rights, family, and marriage itself.
In 1814, Eunice Chapman came home to discover that her three children had been carried off by her estranged husband. He had taken them, she learned, to live among a celibate, religious people known as the Shakers. Defying all expectations, this famously petite and lovely woman mounted an an epic campaign against her husband, the Shakers, and the law. In its confrontation of some of the nation’s most fundamental debates—religious freedom, feminine virtue, the sanctity of marriage—her case struck a nerve with an uncertain new republic. And its culmination—in a stunning legislative decision and a terrifying mob attack— sent shockwaves through the Shaker community and the nation beyond.
With a novelist’s eye and a historian’s perspective, Woo delivers the first full account of Eunice Chapman’s remarkable struggle. A moving story about the power of a mother’s love, The Great Divorce is also a memorable portrait of a rousing challenge to the values of a young nation.

What I thought: In the early 1800's, Eunice Chapman was just like any other woman - property of her husband, dependent on him for support and access to her children. On the day she returned home and found her husband had taken their three children and gone to live with a religious group known as the Shakers, she decided to fight back.
Over 5 years Eunice petitioned legislators (at the time the only way a woman could get a divorce was to prove adultery or have it passed into law), wrote books and harassed the Shakers all with the single minded objective of getting her children back.
Woo does not make Chapman out to be a saint. By all accounts, Eunice was not above using whatever tactics she thought would work for her in her fight against the Shakers. However, at that point in time, there were not a lot of options available to women who chose not to follow their husbands and were therefore seen by the law as "civilly dead." This means she was unable to own property, testify against her husband or lay claim to their children.
Woo tells the tale of an amazing feminist, who fought for her children and never gave up. A highly recommended read.

Challenges: 13 in '13 Challenge

Book Review: Holy Hell

Holy Hell - Patricia Feenan
From Goodreads: When Senior NSW Police Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox told the ABC's Lateline programme on November 8, 2012, that the Catholic Church had covered up crimes by paedophile priests, silenced investigations and destroyed crucial evidence to avoid prosecution, the public outrage across Australia that ensued triggered a Royal Commission into institutional child abuse. A case of Church interference Fox outlined was that of Patricia Feenan's son, Daniel who was a fourteen-year-old altar boy when he was first raped by a priest in the Newcastle-Maitland diocese. One of the many shocking aspects of the case was how the priest, a close family friend, set about secretly grooming his altar boy victim. The priest was later found guilty of nine charges of sexual abuse of a minor in a public criminal trial in 2004.  Patricia writes with raw honesty about her son's terrible ordeal, and it's effects on her family. She bravely reveals the scars that linger from the callous and often cruel ostracism they endured, as well as the denial they encountered from the Catholic community for seeking to bring a paedophile priest to justice. Detective Chief Inspector Fox describes Patricia Feenan as "an extraordinary woman who never gave up the struggle to rescue her family from the terrible abyss of despair created by a paedophile priest."

What I Thought: Christine Feenan had to face one of the worse nightmares any parent would have to face - the abuse of her son by a man she trusted and respected.
Christine Feenan is an extraordinary woman. She stood by her eldest son Daniel for many years, not knowing where his self destructive behaviour came from, but drawing on her faith and church to believe he would come good eventually. And the Daniel dropped a bomb shell - he'd been sexually abused by a priest from their church. A man who Christine had worked with on several parish councils, a man they had invited into their home and a man whose counsel they had sought when concerned about Daniel's behaviour.
For me, apart from the obvious, the worse part of this story is the way the Catholic church abandoned the Feenan family. This is a family who were heavily involved in their church, lived their faith and believed those leading the church did too. They were not part time players. From the time Daniel accused Father John Fletcher until the day he was convicted, the church all but washed their hands of the Feenan's. Little to no help was offered, no prayers were said, no support was given. On the other hand,  Fr Fletcher had funds raised for his defense, prayer circles were held for him and the support of his fellow clergy was freely given. And while I assume there are exceptions to this closing of the ranks, I fear they were few and far between.
Christine Feenan tells this story from the heart. It's gut wrenching, but it is not sensationalised. She leads the reader through events carefully, showing them how her family was betrayed by the one person they thought they could have full faith in. She is not searching for sympathy, she is standing up to say this was wrong, Daniel, like so many other's was the victim and the church needs to take responsibility for the actions of their priests - both those who perpetrated abuse and those who covered it up or pretended it wasn't happening.
The release of this book is timely, with an inquiry having just been launched in Australia to investigate the response (or lack thereof) of institutions into reports of child sex abuse. We can only hope those institutions, religious and otherwise, learn from previous mistakes and work to support those who were the victims of abuse while in their care.
You can listen to an interview with Patricia Feenan here. It's not an easy listen, but it gives you true insight into the strength of this amazing woman.

Challenges: Aussie Author Challenge 

Book Review: The Emperor of Nihon-Ja

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja - John Flanagan

From Goodreads: The adventure continues in the tenth installment of the bestselling series. When Horace travels to the exotic land of Nihon- Ja, it isn't long before he finds himself pulled into a battle that is not his - but one he knows in his heart he must wage. A kingdom teeters on the edge of chaos when the Nihon-Ja emperor, a defender of the common man, is forcibly overthrown, and only Horace, Will, and his Araluen companions can restore the emperor to the throne. Victory lies in the hands of an inexperienced group of fighters, and it's anybody's guess who will make the journey home to Araluen.

What I Thought: Book 10 in the series and I am still enthralled. Simply cannot recommend this series highly enough to anyone with 9 -10 year olds who enjoy a good quality story line and excellent writing.

Challenges: Aussie Author Challenge 

Book Review: The F Word: How We Learned to Swear by Feminism

The F Word: How We Learned to Swear by Feminism - Jane Caro & Catherine Fox
From Goodreads: When it comes to the work/life balance, modern women continually find themselves in a no-win situation where they are criticized regardless of the path they choose. The F Word: How We Learned to Swear By Feminism argues that the pervasive idea that women will never be able to effectively combine work or interests outside the home with marriage, a social life and parenting is a furphy. In their lively and topical new book, Caro and Fox combine both personal experience and the stories of a range of women with the big picture, and provide practical suggestions for forgiving ourselves, having fun and not giving up while holding it all together.

What I Thought: I think one of the great myths of today is that woman have achieved equality. We haven't - at least not in reality anyway. While it all appears good on paper, reality proves otherwise.
You see, equality is about more than the right to a career, more than about equal pay for equal work, more than the right to make decisions about our own bodies, our own money, our own lives (although all of that is important), it's also about being viewed as equals in society regardless of our marital status, parenthood status, age or appearance. It's about not being judged because we return to work, don't return to work, have ambition to reach the top of the corporate tree, have a spotless house, have a messy house, serve home cooked meals, pick up takeaway - you get the picture. It's about not having to "play the game" a way a man does in order to get ahead, being able to be ourselves without being labeled a slut, a ball breaking bitch, a macho cow. You only have to spend half a day listening closely to conversations or cruising social media sites to realise all of these happen every day. Whether it happens in your house or not, reality is that regardless of their work outside the home, women still do the majority of work inside the home as well. Our clothes, our weight, our whole appearance is still open for comment and debate. Violence against women is still seem by many as a joke, and when women don't laugh, show our disgust, we are called names and told to develop a sense of humour. Reality is, it's not funny. Don't believe this stuff still goes on? Go to Google and type in the following and see the suggestions you get.

Women shouldn't...
Women should...
Women need...
Women want to...

Now put men at the front. Notice the difference? 

Jane Caro and Catherine Fox discuss all of these things and more. They also celebrate how far we have come, how our sisters in other cultures are still facing days we have left behind and how important it is to continue. We need to reclaim the word feminism and make it about what it really is - men and women who support positive change and want true equality for all.