Author Archives: S.C. Karakaltsas

About S.C. Karakaltsas

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

Book Review: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

 

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It’s an ordinary day for Lucy. The kids are arguing over a television program, her husband Ollie is cooking burgers on the barbecue, and the house is a mess. When police knock on the door, Lucy knows what it will be about.

“I close my eyes because I already know what she is going to say. My mother-in-law, (Diana) is dead.”

A suicide note is found next to Diana but things don’t add up. She was an upstanding member of the community with high standards. She also happens to be very wealthy and questions begin piling up. When Ollie and his sister, Nettie both desperate for money, find out that the will was changed only weeks earlier, things really begin to get interesting.

The story is told mostly from two points of view, Lucy and Diana. We get inside the heads of both women, feeling their pain as their secrets unfold. When Lucy met Diana, she hoped for a  mother figure to replace her own long dead mother but is disappointed by her mother-in-law’s coldness.

I liked the intricacies of the relationships between every member of the family and secrets are revealed nicely so that the reader understands why they behave the way they do. Diana’s harsh upbringing and the way she treats her children makes sense when you find out what happened to her as a teenager. Her husband Tom is a saint keeping the peace between his children and his wife.

It’s an intricate story weaving back and forth between the main characters. In fact, each character is well drawn and the changing relationship particularly between Lucy and Diana is very well done.

This is another great book by a Melbourne author who also happens to be a New York Times best seller.  If you’re looking for something fantastic to read during the holiday season or a great gift, then grab this one.

Book Review: The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben McIntyre

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Move over James Bond. The Spy and the Traitor is an edge of the seat read about Oleg Gordievsky, a Russian spy working for the British intelligence during the Cold War.

Oleg was the son and brother of KGB agents and it only seemed natural that he too join the KGB. His first post as an intelligence agent in Denmark opened his eyes to the West in 1968. As he rose through the KGB ranks to become the top KGB officer in London, his disillusionment with communism intensified and became an informant for the British from 1973 until his defection in 1985.

The intimate workings of both sides of the spy game was a fascinating read and I was astounded to find out that the world was on the brink of nuclear war in 1983 when Russian paranoia was at its height. Russia mistakenly believed that the US was about to push the nuclear button. Gordievsky revealed this information which was given to Thatcher and Reagan who quickly diffused Russia’s concerns. Thank God for Gordievsky. He is also credited with not just preventing nuclear war but quite possibly the break-up of the Soviet Union.

MI6 kept a close eye on Gordievsky; the risks were high and very few people knew his identity. However, the CIA were desperate to find out the identity of the British source and the power struggles between the two intelligence machines was intense.

The spy world is filled with treachery, ego and stupidity highlighted by games of cat and mouse. I had to keep reminding myself that this actually happened and was not make-believe which served to make me feel a bit uncomfortable that the world’s peace is in the hands of these so-called intelligence gathering experts.

The way the author has pulled this book together from interviews and documented evidence  is truly remarkable. It makes for chilling and uncomfortable reading. Just try and put it down. I’ll bet you can’t.

Book Review: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

As the girlfriend, then wife of a lead guitarist of a rock and roll band in the late seventies, I was very interested to read Daisy Jones and The Six. The book is a chronicle about a band who reaches the dizzying heights of stardom and fame before dramatically coming apart in 1979.

The band starts as The Six in the early seventies founded by Billy and his brother Graham. They gather other musicians, Eddie, Warren, Karen and Peter to form a band and have little success at first. Like any other form of art, most bands don’t make it to stardom and fame yet are content to make music for whatever reason. There are some like the Stones and the Beatles who do and this is the story of one such band. It’s said that the author was inspired by Fleetwood Mac but it isn’t their story by any stretch of the imagination.

The Six plod along playing wherever they can get gigs with Billy writing songs hoping for a hit. Their manager introduces Daisy Jones to them suggesting that with her style, looks and talent, the band will achieve the heights of greatness they’re all looking for. Daisy herself is a girl raised in California with natural talent, incredible looks and an attitude that she’ll do things her way to counter sexism in the music industry.

There is everything in this novel as you would expect; sex, drugs and rock and roll. The highs and lows of music, fame, fortune, relationships, ambition and infidelity are all covered and the struggle with addiction was thoughtfully explored.

This is not like any other book I’ve read. Each person who has a history with the band past and present is interviewed by an anonymous journalist. They have the opportunity to have their say and the writing flies directly in the face of ‘show, don’t tell.’ It is pure ‘tell’ but is done so cleverly that you almost feel as if you are watching a documentary. Each character explains their perspective and sometimes as in real life, interestingly come up with differing views of the same event. Possibly their recollections might seem repetitive yet the differing perspectives make it satisfactory. This book will have you reaching for google to find out more until you catch yourself – it’s pure fiction.

I can see why so many have raved about this one. I was totally hooked and disappointed when it ended. And did my husband’s band have any similar history? I’m afraid that’s a story for another day.

Book Review: Stone Girl by Eleni Hale

I’ve been reading some amazing books lately and here is another.

Stone Girl is Eleni Hale’s debut novel set in Melbourne, Australia during the nineties. It opens with twelve-year-old Sophie at the police station with blood on her clothes holding a backpack full of her treasures. She’s been found in a flat with her dead mother and is clearly traumatised. With her father living in Greece and no other relatives, she becomes a ward of the state shunted from one place to another, living in despair without hope and learning the ways of the world from other children who’ve been removed from parents. When she meets Gwen, Matty, and Spiral, she finally feels she belongs.

To say this is an eye-opener is an understatement. Nothing is held back as the reader is taken on a ride with Sophie. We hope that someone will care enough about her and then despair when it doesn’t. We follow her journey through her teenage years which is dictated by a system that can’t give her what she needs, let alone what she and any other child in her situation deserve.

The fact that the author knows firsthand about what it’s like to be a ward of state gives this book more of a punch. Although it’s a work of fiction, it’s not make-believe. Children in the system aren’t vote-catchers so resources aren’t a priority. They’re akin to refugees within our own society and that’s horrific. That’s not to say that youth workers, social workers and the like aren’t doing their job, they are, but in stretched circumstances. Is it really acceptable to house half a dozen broken children in one place with an adult who is on shift, without time and energy to develop relationships with those in their care? Is it any wonder that most of these children end up on the streets, on drugs with a pathway to jail or even worse a short life span? Surely there is nothing worse than to lose your home and your loved ones. Yet this happens with children who are the most vulnerable, time and time again.

I felt so much for Sophie and was annoyed at the uselessness of the adults around her who let her down, time and again. To watch her spiral out of control was heartbreaking. The climax had me reading until the end and closing the last page left me thinking about every kid who ever needed a home, love and respect and those who aren’t lucky enough to get it.

This is classified as Young Adult and has begun winning awards. The writing is authentic and rich. The characters are like no-one you probably know if you live in a middle-class world. It’s a powerful book that needs to read by adults of all walks of life especially by those who make policy as well as those who allow children to slip from their grasp.

Read this one. It’s important.

https://www.penguin.com.au/books/stone-girl-9780143785613

Book Review: Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar

This is a masterful book delivering long after the end.

Kitty Hawke lives alone with her wolfdog on Wolfe Island somewhere in the American region of Chesapeake Bay. All other inhabitants have fled due to rising sea levels. Kitty is a sculptor whose work is driven by what she finds on the island, a place that has strong links to her mother and grandmother.

Estranged from her own family, Kitty is surprised one day by a visit from her granddaughter, teenage Cat, and refugee friends Luis and his seven-year-old sister Alejandra. Despite their intrusion, Kitty becomes involved in the plight of Luis and Alejandra who are both clearly traumatised. We don’t know the details of their lives before but with some snippets of information about their parents we get enough of an idea and it’s not pretty. The world beyond the island is bleak where people smugglers known as runners take on refugees like Luis and Alejandra who are fleeing persecution from their own country somewhere in the South.

We learn about Kitty’s past but she’s also forced to confront the ugly present day of a world where no-one can be trusted when she leaves the island to help Cat get Luis and Alejandra to the safety of the North during the winter. It’s a difficult journey for them all and Kitty carries the responsibility of their safety on her shoulders.

Treloar writes with confidence, her language beautiful and rich with colour. It reminded me a little of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Written in first-person narrative from Kitty’s point of view, we are with her the whole way feeling her desolation, her hope, her drive to do what it takes to get those kids to safety. It’s as much about the journey Kitty takes in her mind as it is on the road.

The seasons and the landscape are beautifully described and the tension builds slowly. A world with vigilantes who decide whether people look like they should belong or not is terrifyingly close to the bone in today’s world. There’s a lot to love and think about in this book. Every page is masterful and compels you not to put it down.

Theatre Review: Black is the New White by Nakkiah Lui

I’m branching out of my comfort zone of books to talk about other things.  I go along to quite a few plays held in Melbourne subscribing to seven or so plays a year with the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC).  I’ve seen some fantastic productions, none more so than the current play, Black is the New White.

While it is a long play, at two hours and thirty minutes, (including a twenty-minute intermission) and I hear the collective groan, it’s one of the most face-paced, hilarious, and subversive two hours that you’re ever likely to encounter for quite some time.

So what’s it about?

Charlotte Gibson, a successful lawyer has fallen in love with Francis Smith, an unemployed but highly talented experimental composer. They attend her affluent parents’ holiday house for Christmas extending an invitation to Francis’ parents. Charlotte’s father Ray, an ex-politician has grand plans for Charlotte as the next female Indigenous Waleed Aly on prime time television. But Ray doesn’t know that his daughter has other ideas for her life including marriage to Francis who happens to be the son of Ray’s political nemesis,  Dennison Smith. The skeletons come flying out of the closet thick and fast.

What follows is a tussle between the families which provides the perfect backdrop for a brilliantly funny play. The play has been described as a cross between Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Meet the Fockers. But it’s so much more than that. It’s insight with satire at its best.

Lui drills down on being indigenous and white particularly in middle-class Australia. The issues are even broader than race and are no less blunt and direct turning a mirror on all of us in an utterly explicit way.   Indeed it’s a play of the current day adding to the conversation of racism, equality, feminism, generation gaps and class and privilege. There’s no pussyfooting around the blunt, confronting and the thought-provoking messages poking fun yet involving us all.

Starring, Miranda Tapsell as Charlotte and Tony Briggs as Ray, the acting by all the players was brilliant; slapstick and nudity included. The set is wonderful and the dialogue tight. It’s refreshing to see a play like this.

If you’re in Melbourne or coming to visit, get along to this one for a very enjoyable evening. It runs until 9 November 2019.

https://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/season-2019/black-is-the-new-white/

Book Review: The Fragments by Toni Jordan

The FragmentsPic courtesy of Goodreads

Oh, how I adored this book!

Inga Karlson a phenomenally successful novelist in the late 1930’s died in a New York fire which also destroys all evidence of her latest and highly anticipated book. An exhibition of her life in the form of photos and fragments of burned manuscript comes to Brisbane. While strolling through the exhibition Caddie Walker, a bookseller and Inga fan, crosses paths with an elderly woman named Rachel who recites;

“And in the end, all we have are the hours and the days, the minutes and the way we bear them, the seconds spent on this earth and the number of them that truly mattered.”

Caddie is astounded when she realises the fragment of a burned page that survived ended the above sentence at ‘we bear them.’

The fact that Rachel can recite the next line leads her to believe the lost book may actually have survived or that this woman has somehow read it or knows something.  So ensues a chase through history to investigate and discover what really happened to Inga and what was so important in her last book. For Caddie the possibilities of her own book and Ph.D. about Inga are in her grasp.

This literary whodunit story is beautifully written and evocative of 1980’s Brisbane and 1930’s New York. Told in a dual time-line narrative the characters of Rachel and Caddie evolve wonderfully and then come together in a very satisfactory end. Rachel’s love story was gentle and beautifully told contrasting nicely with Caddie’s own difficult love life. But it’s not a love story, it’s a mystery portraying the ends people will go to destroy another person’s life. In Inga’s case, it was her work and her life while in Caddie’s case it was academic theft of her work by her ex-lover Professor.

The politics of academia is explored as is the politics of pre-WW2 German activity in America. It’s a fascinating examination and the novel is well-paced with unsettling tension. If you are after a page-turner, then grab this one.