Author Archives: S.C. Karakaltsas

About S.C. Karakaltsas

I am a published author of historical fiction and short stories.

Book Review: Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

I closed the last page and had to go for a walk to clear my head and take in the colour of the day. The brilliance of blue sky contrasted with the red, yellow and green of the falling leaves helped me  contemplate what was in this book. The walk brought me into the ‘now’ of savouring my own ordinary day.

Leigh Sales explores what happens to a person when they’re blindsided by a moment they never see coming. She carefully treads through her own life as a mother, wife and award winning journalist, who you think would be resilient having had to confront other people’s tragedies on a regular basis. But journalists are only human too and she readily confesses to her own blindsided moments.

People like Walter Mikac who suffered tremendously when his wife and two young daughters were gunned down; Stuart Diver, who buried under tons of earth and rubble was unable to save his wife; Juliet Darling whose husband was brutally murdered by his son; the list goes on. Sales talks to each one about their trauma and grief and what they valued most from those around them in their road to recovery.  She talks to detectives, medical personnel, families and friends to learn from them. The discussions are honest and at times raw causing Sales to examine the role of journalists and the media and in particular her own actions in the past of pursuing a story despite the cost for the person who has suffered from a trauma.

I was very interested in the role of support and what it is that gets people through. While  Sale weaves in some scientific theory with facts and figures it’s not heavy handed. It’s matter of fact and down to earth and easy to read. At times, it’s confronting but thought provoking enough for you to learn something, if not be inspired.

Book Review: The Corset by Laura Purcell

 

This is a difficult book to review without giving away spoilers. But boy, it’s a book which stays with you for some time.

Dorothea, a young, wealthy woman studies the science of phrenology when visiting women in jail. She meets sixteen-year-old Ruth, who is facing the death penalty for murder. Dorothea wants to test the theory that the shape of a skull reflects a person’s propensity for crime and redemption. After getting to know Ruth, she considers another idea, which is that it may be possible to kill with a needle and thread by supernatural means.

Set in Victorian, England this is a fascinating read as we enter the points of view of both women. Ruth tells Dorothea her story; her childhood, dictated by poverty and horrific circumstances meant she had little choice than to become a seamstress for a madwoman. When she loses the people she loves, she takes on the blame. Sewing herself into a corset, Ruth believes it will offer protection against the needle’s evil power to do bad things to the people she sews for.

Dorothea’s ideas are challenged by Ruth’s frankness and she struggles to believe her story. She identifies with Ruth – their mothers both died when they were young. Their fathers are weak. Dorothea, secretly in love with policeman, David, is an unmarried twenty-five-year woman turned Catholic. Her father is desperate to get her off his hands by marrying her off to anyone eligible he finds and Thomas is perfect. She has other ideas and when her father announces that he is to remarry, she takes matters into her own hands with disastrous consequences.

The themes of poverty and wealth in society are explored particularly for women whose wealth is dependent on men. It was fascinating to learn about debtor’s prisons where prisoners were unable to earn money to pay their debts and so were doomed as soon as they entered.

As a reader, we’re swept up with the idea of superstition and the ‘magic’ of the needle and thread. Purcell weaves an intricate and clever plot with unexpected twists and turns. I wondered about the two men in Dorothea’s life – David and Thomas – who seemed to fade away and I would have liked to know what happened to them. However, this may be deliberate as we are left wondering about Dorothea and what she has become, long after the last page. The ending is masterful and reading each word carefully is a must. It’s a pity I can’t reveal more.

It’s a definite page-turner, although grisly and gruesome in parts. Beware! Just check it out for yourself.

Historical Fiction Reading: A Perfect Stone

 

For those of you in Melbourne next Thursday (11 April 2019)  you’re invited to come along to the Prahran Mechanics Institute for a 6:00pm start to hear me read from A Perfect Stone. With me will be Ella Carey, International best selling author of The Things We Don’t Say, Secret Shores, From a Paris Balcony, The House by the Lake, and Paris Time Capsule.

Afterwards there will be an ‘open mic’ session where anyone is welcome to read a short passage from either their own work, or a favourite passage from another author.

I’d love to see a friendly face in the crowd. It’s free, but please do book.

Details are below-:

Event Details
5.30pm for 6.00pm start, Thursday 11 April 2019.
Prahran Mechanics Institute
39 St Edmunds Rd, Prahran.

Ticketing
Tickets (free) can be booked from Trybooking:
https://www.trybooking.com/book/event…
Everyone is invited to join us for dinner at a local restaurant at the end of the event (7.00pm).

Who are we?
Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) promotes the writing of historical fiction in Australia and New Zealand. Our flagship event is our biennial conference – 25-27 October 2019, Western Sydney University Paramatta).

Local chapters exist in various cities of Australia. The Melbourne Chapter hosts a monthly lunch and an Events series – all intended to promote networking and support amongst aspiring, emerging and established writers.

For More Information:
Go to our Facebook event page: https://www.trybooking.com/eventlist/hnsamelbourne
Melbourne Chapter: https://www.facebook.com/groups/242775092782782/
HNSA: https://www.facebook.com/groups/HNSAustralasia/

The Forgotten Macedonians

 

Many of you have read my latest novel, A Perfect Stone and told me that it piqued your interest for more information, not only about what happened during the Greek Civil War, but also about the history of Macedonians during the last one hundred years. BBC News have drawn attention to this in an article dated 24 February 2019 in the link below.

The BBC does a great job to explain about Aegean Macedonians, forgotten and invisible, still living in Northern Greece, who have been largely ignored in the recent dialogue about the ratification of the new name of Northern Macedonia. It’s an important article about the history of Macedonians in Greece and I hope it helps to give you further clarity.

https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-47258809

Book Review: The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

 

Romy Hall is a young woman serving two consecutive life sentences at Stanford Women’s Correctional Facility in California. Outside, in the free world is her mother and her seven-year-old son. Inside, is a world where she has no rights, where hustling to survive is the norm and boredom is rife. Her upbringing by her single mother was less than ideal and she does what she can to escape the cycle of poverty which was pre-ordained from her childhood. Working in various jobs, dabbling in drugs, she ends up as a dancer in a strip club where a man stalks her and that’s where the trouble begins.

The Mars Room, short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2018 is the name of the strip club where Romy worked. We are in her head, observing and feeling the desperation and despair of prison life. Detail slowly unfolds until we find out the reason for her incarceration.

The legal system is frustrating and her overworked legal counsel is barely adept because she can’t afford anything better. Her side of why she did what she did wasn’t permissible and the injustice of it all permeates.

Her lawyer explains, “Even in these unbelievable cases, where the lawyer is totally out to lunch, they (the judiciary) still side with him. One guy fell asleep during cross-examination of his client. Another was a felon himself, handing a murder case as community service, but had no experience as a trial lawyer. Think those guys were ‘ineffective’? Not according to the Supreme Court. You got a very tough deal. There’s no question, and I feel for you.”

The author takes us on a bleak ride into the gritty and raw lifestyle of people who are down and out, abused and drug addicted, and into an institutionalised system where prisoners are barely treated with any human dignity. The characters are well drawn and Kushner does a remarkable job to show not just their flaws but their vulnerability and humanity particularly fellow women prisoners. Kushner gives us brief interludes into other points of view, mostly men; Doc the corrupt detective, Hauser, the teacher and even the stalker.

I’m in two minds about this book. On one hand it’s a fascinating look at life through the eyes of a prisoner. On the other hand, it was disjointed as the chapters flipped in and out of Romy’s point of view and I found this to be a bit laboured. I think I would have preferred to see the world only through Romy’s eyes which was quite rich enough. It’s very well written and the  ending was incredible stayed in my head long afterwards. It’s definitely a book worth checking out.

Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

I loved Backman’s book, A Man Called Ove and was keen to read another of his and found  Beartown to be very different.

It’s about a small town nestled in a forest somewhere in Sweden. The community is depressed and the only thing that brings the town together is ice-hockey. Hopes and dreams are pinned on the junior hockey team and in particular its seventeen-year-old star, Kevin. The burden of hope rests with the team and their General Manager, when the team has the chance to win the national championship. An act of violence by a boy to a young girl tears the town and the team apart. Is she telling the truth or is it a conspiracy to prevent the team from winning?

Let me say at the outset that this is a long book with many characters. We are introduced to many of them and are witness to each of their hopes, dreams, weaknesses and strengths. The town itself is set in a snow covered wilderness and even though it’s summer here, I shivered and not always from the images of ice and snow.

I’m not much for following sport although living in a football loving city, I regularly witness the fanaticism, zealotry and love for a team of men who often have no other talent than play sport. And this is what this book shows us. But it also shows us that sports players are not God, they are mere humans who get things wrong and sometimes do the wrong thing.

This story also shows us what happens when money and sport mix and when it can be a lethal combination blinding everyone to accept a toxic culture for the greater good of winning. It also tells us about community;  of the rich and powerful who don’t hesitate to use their power for what they want regardless of who they may hurt; about the brave and the cowards and the honest and the cheats.

There are many facets to this book and it comes with a warning. It takes a long time to get there. The first three-quarters gives us a multitude of characters in the town and in the team. There is a lot explained about the sport of hockey, as there should be. But for me it got a bit too much and I almost gave up on several occasions, and at times, I admit it, I did skip some bits (sigh).

But if you persist, you’ll be rewarded with a story about right and wrong which will stay with you for a long time after.

 

Pic from Goodreads

Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker-Kline

 

For more than eighty years and until 1929, in excess of two hundred thousand homeless children were put onto trains and sent out to the mid-west of America. The trains stopped at towns where adults were encouraged to ‘adopt’ and give a home and education to an orphan child. More often than not the children were used and abused and many were seen as little more than indentured servants. This is a little known part of American history and reminds us again how children are not always treated the way they should be. Sadly, history like this seems to continually repeat itself.

Orphan Train is about a ninety-one-year-old woman, Viv who befriends a seventeen-year-old girl, Molly, who herself has lived a life in foster care. She has been shunted around many foster families many of whom are well intentioned but can’t provide the stability and sense of love and belonging that Molly needs.

Viv tells Molly her story and the reader is taken back in time to the 1920’s when Viv was an orphan child. She had migrated with her parents and three siblings from Ireland to New York where the hardship described reminded me of Frank McCourt’s account of life as a migrant in Angela’s Ashes. A fire sweeps through the building and Viv (or Niamh as she was known by her birth family) is the only survivor. She is taken in by the Children’s Aid Society and placed on the train for eventual adoption.

The stories of both Viv and Molly are heartbreaking and moving. Molly, a Native Indian never feels she belongs and Viv is the same and this is where they truly understand one another.  Viv, as a child trying to cope with her changed circumstances was particularly sad.

I wasn’t convinced about Viv’s life as an adult and this part fell a little short for me in some of its predictability. Molly’s back story around her heritage never really had the chance to be fully explored.

Nonetheless, it’s a wonderful story, beautifully written and researched.

 

Pic is courtesy of Goodreads