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Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

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The Thorn Birds has been on my tbr shelf (I laughingly refer to it as a shelf as if there aren’t that many books I have not yet read – ha!) for about six years. It’s not generally the kind of book I go in for, but I bought it for some reason – I have a feeling my aunt recommended it – and just occasionally I like to get caught up in a sweeping saga, so in search of some escapism (at the time of writing, most of the world is on lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic) I decided this might do the trick.

Pretty much all I knew about The Thorn Birds prior to reading was that there was a tv series adaptation in the 1980, starring Richard Chamberlain; I knew it was about the love between a woman and a Catholic Priest, and apparently it was extremely scandalous!! With this in mind, the book turned out to be a bit of a surprise. I was expecting a love story but this is more of a family saga, concentrating on three generations of the Cleary family. It takes place from the early to mid/late 20th century on a homestead in Australia (mainly) and at the centre of it is Father Ralph De Briccassart and his love for Meggie Cleary. It starts as a paternal type of love as Meggie is only a child when they first meet, and Ralph is a young priest, but as she grows older, their love becomes more – but Ralph’s vocation is always between them.

A lot of the book is given over to other characters – in the beginning, Meggie’s brothers and parents; and later on the net generation of the family, Justine and Dane. The hardships and realities of running a sheep station in Australia.

I did more or less enjoy the book – clearly it was well researched and it did hold my attention for the most part. However, I did not particularly warm to Meggie and I certainly didn’t like Ralph, who seemed particularly mercenary and manipulative. Nonetheless, I am glad I read it although it wouldn’t be a story I would probably want to reread at any point.

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The Blurb: 

England, September 1939. Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life in Australia and is plunged into a world of cocktails, jazz and glamorous friends. But as the sun beats down, poisonous secrets begin to surface. Suddenly Lily finds herself trapped with nowhere to go…

Australia, six weeks later. The world is at war, the cruise liner docks, and a beautiful young woman is escorted on to dry land in handcuffs.

What has she done?

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My thoughts: 

I had really been looking forward to reading this book, believing that it was some kind of murder mystery set in turbulent times. It sounded like just the kind of book I would enjoy, and I did enjoy it although it was not quite what I expected and the comparisons with Agatha Christie which I read in some reviews were way off the mark. But that is not to complain – it’s a well written story, definitely more character driven than plot driven. The threat of WWII looms large and causes tension among the passengers, especially when Lily makes friends with a young Jewish woman named Maria, much to the disapproval of some other passengers.

Other than Lily herself, the main characters are a brother and sister named Edward and Helena, who befriend Lily, and a glamorous American couple named Eliza and Max Campbell who have a scandalous background. All the different personalities thrust together in an intimate setting, are bound to make for tension and this tension pervades the story.

I did not guess the ending, although in hindsight, there were clues peppered throughout the book. I did think it was cleverly written and would definitely read more by this author.

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Year of first publication: 2017

Genre: Mystery, drama

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This was another audiobook (I’ve REALLY been getting into audiobooks this year), and it was narrated by Vanessa Coffey, who I thought did an excellent job. Admittedly, as this is non-fiction, she didn’t have to tackle different characters etc., but she kept it interesting especially during the parts where she was discussing statistics etc.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This book is a memoir of sorts, written by Jill Stark, a health reporter originally from Scotland but who has lived in Australia for many years. After one too many hangovers, on New Years Day 2011, Jill decided to give up alcohol for three months – this eventually turned into a whole year – and this is the story of how it was for her.

As well as the physical effects of not drinking, Jill concentrates a lot on the social effects – how for example her friends found it awkward to be around her, and stopped inviting her out on certain nights when they themselves planned on getting drunk. She was told that it wasn’t the Australian way not to drink, and people couldn’t understand why she would want to do it. Occasions when alcohol is not only normal but actually expected – birthdays, weddings, football season and first dates etc. are all navigated in due course.

A large part of the book discusses statistics surrounding binge drinking; how it is encouraged by the alcohol industry, however subtly, and the effects that it is having on families and society in general. Some of the statistics are frankly quite scary, and paint a picture almost of a timebomb waiting to explode.

To clarify – Jill Stark is not an evangelistic teetotaller – she understands the attraction of alcohol and has no desire to stop others drinking; indeed she hopes that after her sober year, she will be able to indulge in alcohol in moderation herself. However, she does have genuine concerns about the rise in binge drinking and the long term effects of this behaviour.

Overall, I found this a fascinating listen – my only niggle is that it is occasionally very statistic heavy. Nonetheless, it gave me a lot to think about, and there is no doubt that Jill Stark is an engaging and entertaining writer.

If you have any interest in the subject, I would definitely recommend this book.

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Don Tillman is a highly intelligent but socially inept professor of genetics. He is able to count his friends on one hand, is painfully literal and brutally honest – not through any cruelty, but just through lack of social skills. When he decides that he needs a wife, he acts in typical fashion and devises a questionnaire to select the perfect candidate and weed out anyone who is not suitable.

So when Rosie walks into his life, Don immediately dismisses her as entirely unsuitable – she smokes, drinks, is led by emotion rather than logic and is habitually late. She is also on a mission to find out the identity of her real father – and Don, as a geneticist, is ideally placed to help her. As they become friends and go through a number of adventures to obtain the DNA of the various candidates, Don finds that sometimes emotions do trump logic, and what should make two people incompatible can sometimes be exactly what makes them click with each other.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. It is narrated from Don’s point of view, which gives plenty of opportunity for humour, and also means that the reader empathises with him in a way that wouldn’t have been so easy if it were told in the third person. I also really liked Rosie – she is feisty, intelligent and witty, and the two of them made a great main couple of characters as they navigated the highs and lows of friendship.

The ending really made me smile as well – it covers more than just the outcome of the friendship between Don and Rosie – and manages to be both surprising and heartwarming.

I highly recommend this book and am already looking forward to reading the sequel, The Rosie Effect.

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Sophie Honeywell unexpectedly inherits a house from the late aunt of her ex-boyfriend and moves to Scribbly Gum Island, where the only inhabitants are the a large family, who (more or less) take Sophie into their fold.

Scribbly Gum Island is the scene of an old mystery – in the 1930s, local couple Alice and Jack Munro disappeared, leaving their very young baby. Sisters Connie and Ruth Doughty found the baby and took her in, naming her Enigma. Alice and Jack were never found and as a result, the Doughty family have made a huge business out of the mystery, with tours of the house, yearly anniversaries and lots of other merchandise for visitors to the island to spend their money on.

Although the 1930s storyline is told entirely from memories (we never ‘meet’ Alice and Jack), it intertwines neatly with the current day storyline, which revolves around Sophie’s lack of love life, and the individual problems of the rest of the family. Enigma’s granddaughter Grace and her husband Callum have recently had their first baby, and Grace feels trapped; she plans on a drastic solution to her problems. Veronika, Grace’s granddaughter and Grace’s cousin, is extremely resentful of the fact that Connie left her house to Sophie, and makes no bones about it! Veronika’s mother Margie is trapped in a stale marriage with the (frankly revolting) Ron, but maybe her Weight Watchers meetings will bring new meaning and fun to her life. And Sophie is just trying to navigate these new waters and get along in a new family. She is also worried about the fact that she is approaching 40 and still single.

I listened to the audiobook of this novel, narrated well by Caroline Lee, and overall I did enjoy it. I was initially intrigued by the Alice and Jack mystery, but I actually guessed the ending about halfway through, and ended up more interested in the current day family dynamic. I did feel that a lot of the characters were so exaggerated as to be almost caricatures, and were not actually that likeable, but I did feel for Grace (why oh why could nobody see what was staring them in the face?? Grace clearly had post-natal depression and anybody reading/listening to this book would probably be able to spot that straight away. I also liked her aunt Margie and rooted for her probably more than any other character. Sophie was one of those characters that you quite like, while simultaneously wanting to shake her and tell her to grow up. Veronika was hateful in the beginning, and as already mentioned, Margie’s husband Ron was a horrible man who didn’t deserve such a loyal wife. Also – I couldn’t warm to Enigma at all. She struck me as a self-absorbed and quite mean spirited lady.

I liked the ending – as I said earlier, I did guess the mystery behind the missing couple, but I thought Sophie’s story had a lovely and unexpected ending. I also loved Margie’s storyline which again was somewhat unexpected.

Overall, I would say that this is an enjoyable and undemanding read/listen. I thought it went on possibly a bit too long, and could have done with some editing in places, but basically not too much to complain about. I would certainly try more books by this author.

 

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This is the sixth book in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and probably my favourite one so far. In essence, our feminist, intrepid sleuth is bored, and goes undercover at the Farrell’s Circus, where she has friends, to try and find out who is trying to sabotage the circus, and who murdered Mr Christopher, one of the acts. Phryne, so usually able to hold her own in almost any situation, finds herself out of her depth and lacking in friendship. Not to mention that she is not able to easily call on her friends and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (although Jack does take a bigger role in this book than in previous adventures). Without her usual back-up she has to rely on her own wits, but anyone who is familiar with the series knows that she has plenty of those!

Interestingly, having read other reviews of this book, it seems that people who have enjoyed previous novels in the series have been somewhat disappointed in this one. For me it is the other way around; the last few novels have been underwhelming for me, but this one was much more enjoyable. The mystery itself was not as enjoyable as Phryne’s experience of circus life. Here we meet a different Phryne – going by the name Fern, she is vulnerable, unhappy and an outsider among the circus folk, and I did enjoy reading about that. The mystery itself was an intriguing one although I felt that the solving of it was rushed and somewhat unsatisfactory – interestingly I remember thinking the same about the television adaptation of this particular book. I liked the colour, flamboyance and excitement of the circus atmosphere though, and the story whipped by quickly enough I also loved the young policeman Tommy Harris – I wish he had been a character in the television series.

Overall, if you are a fan of this series, for my money this is one of the best so far.

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In this fourth instalment of the Miss Fisher series, Phryne is driving in her car when her windscreen is shot out. When she gets out of the car, she sees a young man who was also shot and who dies in her arms. Outraged, Phryne determines to find the guilty parties. However, she also takes on another case, that of missing schoolgirl Alicia Waddington-Forsythe, and Miss Fisher’s two adopted daughters Janie and Ruth are able to help out with this matter.

The investigations take our intrepid investigator – along with her friend and maid Dot, and the rough but reliable Bert and Cec, not to mention her butler and chef Mr and Mrs Butler, into the dark world of anarchists and psychics, and as usual there is danger everywhere.

Lots of humour along the way of course, and Phryne naturally finds time to indulge in a little dalliance with a mysterious man named Peter Smith. Anyone who has read any of the series will be familiar with the style and will know what to expect from Phryne. I have to say that while the books are thoroughly enjoyable, I don’t think that they are actually really well written and on this occasion, the adaptation is better than the book. No Jack Robinson in this story, which is a shame, but we do get to meet Hugh Collins, who is a regular in the TV show.

Overall for an undemanding and quick read, this fits the bill.

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The third instalment of the Miss Fisher series starts with Phryne Fisher waking up on a train to discover that she and her fellow passengers have been chloroformed. After raising the alarm it is discovered that an elderly lady, Mrs Henderson, is missing from the train and is subsequently found dead. The honorable Miss Fisher is soon on the case, but the plot thickens when a young girl who was on the train is brought to her having lost her memory. Now Phryne is not only trying to discover who killed Mrs Henderson, but also where the girl has come from and what has happened to her to cause her to forget everything…

As with the previous two Miss Fisher novels, there is a great sense of fun in this book. However, there is a sinister undercurrent, which deals with the trafficking of young girls and a gruesome murder. The author does traverse this tightrope well though – conveying the characters’ (and by extension the readers’) disgust at the treatment of the girls, while still allowing Phryne’s sense of adventure and her liberated attitude towards sex to come through.

An enjoyable and for the most part undemanding and enjoyable read – if you like ‘cosy’ murder mysteries I would recommend the Phryne Fisher series. However, if complex character studies and intricate plots are more your thing, this series may well annoy you. I like these books very much, reading them as I do, sandwiched between other books.

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This book is the second in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and revolves around not one, but two mysteries. The book opens with Phryne meeting a new client – a nervous lady who is convinced that her son is going to murder his father and she wants Phryne to intervene to stop this. When the father does indeed turn up dead shortly afterwards, Bill the son is naturally the main suspect.

The second mystery is the kidnapping of a young girl, whose parents engage Phryne to retrieve their daughter and return her to safety.

Naturally Phyrne, along with her friends Bert and Cec, and trusty maid Dot not only investigates the crimes, but investigates them with panache and cunning, and all while wearing a beautiful wardrobe and seducing a couple of rather gorgeous men!

I think I probably enjoyed this book marginally more than the first one (I gave the first one 3.5 out of 5, I’d give this one 4), which bodes well for the rest of the series. It is an undemanding read, sprinkled with humour and with enough twists to keep the reader interested. As ever, Phryne is loveable, exasperating and stubborn. Fans of the TV series should note that Jack Robinson hardly appears in this book (and in any event, he is entirely different in the show, not to mention still firmly married to his wife) and the main police officer in the story is Detective Inspector Benton.

Another enjoyable instalment from a series that I look forward to continuing to read.

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One day in Melbourne, happily married mother-of-three Cecilia Fitzpatrick finds a letter in the attic with instructions on the envelope from her husband John-Paul, telling her that the letter should only be opened in the event of his death. With John-Paul being very much alive, Cecilia is naturally curious about what the letter might contain, and wrestles with her conscience over whether or not she should open it…

Meanwhile Rachel Crowley living in Sydney, school secretary and grandmother to two year old Jacob, is reeling from the news that her son and his wife are planning to move to New York and take Jacob away from her. Rachel’s daughter Janie was murdered 28 years earlier and nobody has ever been brought to justice and it seems that Jacob is her only joy in life. But Rachel has her own idea about who killed Janie…

Tess O’Leary is – she thinks – happily married to husband Will. So she is devastated when she discovers that Will and her cousin/best friend Felicity have fallen in love. She decides to get away and goes to visit her mother in Sydney, and tries to put her life back together…

My thoughts

This book started out fairly light-heartedly, but soon developed into something of a mystery. Like Cecilia, I was eager to find out what was in John-Paul’s letter, but I actually ended up guessing the contents before the story revealed them. However, while I was initially disappointed because I thought I had guessed the ending of the book early on, it transpired that the story was less to do with the mystery behind the letter, and more to do with how the characters coped with what was in it.

The first few chapters threw a lot of seemingly unrelated characters out and I generally prefer stories that let you get to know characters gradually rather than all at once, but it didn’t take long before the different relationships between the characters were peeled away. I felt extremely sorry for Rachel, who had been living in a kind of limbo since Janie’s murder, and I also liked Cecilia and Tess. However, a lot of the other supporting characters annoyed me (unfortunately, husbands generally do not come off well in this story!) The ending did take a surprising turn, and I wasn’t entirely satisfied with it, but to say why would be to reveal spoilers and I definitely think that this book is better read with no knowledge of what it is to come.

It’s definitely a quick read – the writing flows really well and the story moves on at a quick pace, keeping you alert to what might be coming next. Based on this book, I would definitely try more by Liane Moriarty and would recommend the book to fans of drama or thrillers.

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