Tag Archives: australian authors

Book Review: Magnolias don’t Die by A J Collins

This is the sequel to Oleanders are Poisonous, (see my earlier review https://sckarakaltsas.com/2020/03/06/book-review-oleanders-are-poisonous-by-a-j-collins/). I read this one just as quickly.


We skip ahead two years later when Lauren meets her old friend, Harry in a pub where she’s started singing. He convinces her that she has talent enough to make singing a profession and she escapes the sleazy manager and heads off on the road with Harry. There’s one thing she knows and that is, she wants more than friendship from Harry. Of course, it’s not easy as Lauren battles the demons of her past and especially that night on her sixteenth birthday.

This was as pacey as the prequel and my sympathy for Lauren never altered.  I found myself cheering for her hoping she’d put Harry out of his misery, because Harry is a truly likeable guy. She’s grown up a bit more; is gutsy and feisty while finding a way to learn how to forgive and heal. I enjoyed the relationship with Snap too, although he needed more from her than what she was capable of giving. No spoilers.


I’m not sure how you would go reading this one first, I think it would make sense and it is a longer read. But to enhance the reading experience, I’d recommend these books in sequential order. So, buy them both!

Book Review: The White Girl by Tony Birch

Pic from Goodreads

This is the first book I’ve read by Tony Birch and it won’t be the last.

Odette Brown is a woman who lives in shanty town in outback rural Australia in the early sixties. She looks after her grand-daughter Sissy keeping them both from the attention of the welfare authorities who systematically remove fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families supposedly for their own good.

When Sissy turns thirteen, she comes under the notice of new policeman in town who zealously takes on the job of being the legal custodian all aboriginal children in the district. Odette leaves with her granddaughter and heads to the city with the policeman in hot pursuit.

This book, although a fictional story gives us a sense of the Aboriginal experience, one which was never taught in Australians schools or talked about in the daily newspapers.

For years, Aboriginal people living on the mission were barred from entering town, except on Saturday mornings between eight and noon, when they were permitted to shop at the company store in the main street. “

It’s well-paced and filled with tension. It’s also a story of resilience, love, courage and hope as well as connection to and the importance of family. In the words of the author, “What I do hope for with this novel, is that the love and bravery of the tenacity and love within the hearts of those who suffered the theft of their own blood.”

It’s an easy to read and well-written book which touches on important issues of a nasty era.

Special Offer for A Perfect Stone

 

A special offer for A Perfect Stone on Kindle, only for a short time and only on Amazon. To take advantage of this massive discount on price, grab it now on Amazon

What’s it about?

Living alone, eighty-year-old Jim Philips potters in his garden feeding his magpies. He doesn’t think much of his nosy neighbours and dislikes telemarketers intensely. All he wants to do is live in peace.

Cleaning out a box belonging to his late wife, he finds something which triggers the memories of a childhood he’s hidden, not just from his overprotective middle-aged daughter, Helen, but from himself. When Jim has a stroke, Helen is shocked to find out her father is not who she thinks he is.

Jim’s suppressed memories surface in the most unimaginable way when he finally confronts what happened when, as a ten-year-old, he was forced at gunpoint to leave his family and trek barefoot through the mountains to escape the Greek Civil War in 1948.

What are readers saying?

Goodreads

FIVE STARS FOR A PERFECT STONE

“This is a fictional story but based on actual events, and the author wastes not a word in evoking sympathy for those most vulnerable members of society, without ever becoming maudlin.” Helen Hollick (Discovering Diamonds – shortlisted for book of the month July 19)

 ‘It is a story of loss and survival interspersed with the history of a war I knew little about. Highly recommended.’ Elise

“A Perfect Stone” is a vivid and engaging novel that brims with believable characters and a great deal of observational wisdom.” Clare

 ‘It brought me to tears in more than one passage,” Stephanie

“The story of young children – their exhaustion, hunger and ultimate survival is riveting. It makes me think differently about my neighbours – eastern European, Asian – of where they’ve come from and what they may have endured to get here.
I loved the writing and the fastidious research and simply couldn’t put it down.” Meredith

“I was thoroughly immersed and couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended.” Eugene

“A fictional story drawn from real experiences, Dimitri/Jim become stand ins for all children throughout history forced from their homes in time of war and destined never to be reunited with their birth families.” Chris 

Book Review: Oleanders are Poisonous by A J Collins


I don’t normally read a lot of young adult fiction but what I have read is usually quite suitable for adults. Oleanders are Poisonous is one such book.


Lauren, is a young teenage girl who lives in a small country town. She has a close mate, Harry whom she’s known for years. Singing with him takes her mind off her home life where her mother is deteriorating from a debilitating illness. Lauren and her step-father, Samuel struggle to cope until one night on Lauren’s sixteenth birthday, when everything dramatically changes.


This is the first book out of a series of two. Being short, I read it in a few hours and found I couldn’t put it down: reading it on the train, on the escalator and in the dentist waiting room hoping he was running late – he was.


I was hopelessly hooked into this coming of age story, immediately caring so much about Lauren and what was happening to her. How she navigates her feelings and her way in the world had me cheering for her all the way. Collin’s writing is superb and fast-pace. Oleanders are Poisonous is an easy and quick read. 


Now for the sequel, Magnolia’s don’t Die.

Book Review: The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

This book is a difficult one to review as I have mixed feelings about it. I’d read The Natural Way of Things which won the Stella Prize and was blown away by it.

The Weekend is absolutely nothing like it. The story is about three seventy-something- year- old women who come together over Christmas to clear out the house of their dead friend. The relationship of the women is complex, as it is long, having known each other for more than forty years. Jude is an accomplished restaurant manager, Wendy, a published academic who owns a very old dog, called Finn and Adele is an ageing and out of work actress. Sylvie, the dead friend is the connection for the four and we are taken on a journey tackling their losses, loves, friendship, grief and betrayal.

It’s well-written and the setting on the north coast of N.S.W. is divine. Yet I struggled to find any real connection to any of the women. They didn’t seem like good friends, instead they each came across as needy and selfish, barely tolerant of each other. I didn’t understand why they were indeed friends. Jude was an odd character. Confident, well organised, supposedly self-reliant earning her own money yet she’d been a kept mistress for twenty years. The dog, Finn dominated the story a lot in an almost repetitive way. Wendy, seemed a bit dithering and Adele was narcissistic and self-absorbed, more like a teenager than a mature woman and that was a challenge for me to accept.

Yet, I was compelled along as it was an easy read. The second half of the book was almost like watching a dramatic play and I could easily visualise it. Perhaps this was intentional, perhaps not. In the end, I didn’t love it but I didn’t mind it.

Book Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

I’ve read every book written by Jane Harper and her latest, The Lost Man, certainly did not disappoint.

Cameron and Bub are brothers who have arranged to meet each other on the border of their large cattle property located in outback Queensland. Cameron doesn’t turn up and after a search, is found dead at a legendary stockman’s grave in the middle of nowhere. What’s puzzling is his car is found nine kilometres away. The car hasn’t broken down and is fully stocked with water and food and the driver’s door left ajar.

Cameron lived in the old family homestead with his wife, two daughters, his younger brother Bub and his mother.  Nathan, the older of the three brothers, who hadn’t seen his family in months has his sixteen-year-old son Xander staying with him when he gets the call about Cameron. It’s through his eyes that the reader is taken on a journey of family mystery and intrigue.

Cameron had been agitated in the months leading up to his death and with one policeman to cover hundreds of kilometres of remote area, it’s concluded that with no sign of violence or tampering with his car that he deliberately walked to his death. Nathan is not convinced.

The characters are very well drawn and the layers of the family’s history are cleverly peeled away revealing multiple secrets. The landscape, red dust and suffocating heat was beautifully descriptive of how harsh life is in the outback.

“He adjusted his mirrors as the sun’s reflection rose, blinding red behind them. They were heading west, towards the desert, and the sky loomed huge above the perfect flat horizon. By the time they hit the edge and turned north, they would be able to see the dunes; huge sandy peaks running north to south for hundreds of kilometres.”

Indeed, the central theme around mental health issues in the outback is well covered, the lack of resources and the isolation for both women and men is all too real.

“He had lain there, anxious and unsettled, as it dawned on him. He was entirely alone. No staff. Nothing but static on the radio… There was not a single other person near him for hours in every direction. He had been cast fully and completely adrift.”

There is such a lot in this book and like The Dry, I was guessing what happened right up until the end and was certainly surprised. I’m still trying to the digest the motivation and can’t say I’m fully convinced. Saying anymore would be to divulge the spoilers and that wouldn’t be fair. So, I guess that’s a good enough reason to read it yourself. It’s certainly a page turner and a perfect summer read and I’ll let you judge if you think the ending was right.

Book Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Bruce Pascoe, in Dark Emu has conducted a thorough research into the evidence by a host of sources to refute what was taught to me in school and what most Australians believed. And that is, we were under the impression that Aboriginal people were nomadic hunter gatherers. Pascoe turns this on its head to explain that Aboriginal people had their own villages with well-constructed huts, dams and water traps, toiled the land, grew crops and enjoyed a fair political system. Not only that, Pascoe convincingly argues that Aboriginal history is rich and is all around us, if we only care to look for it.

 “We’ve been taught that Aboriginal peoples arrived in Australia after crossing land bridges from Indonesia. … it was assumed that this happened 10000 years before sea levels began to rise – after the Ice Age. After the introduction of carbon dating, that figure ballooned to 40000 years and, after further research using more modern dating techniques, to 60000 years.”

Each chapter produces a raft of research and evidence to challenge the colonialist way of thinking of what happened before. Of course, the argument that Aboriginals were nomadic suited the colonialists as it gave them the opportunity to acquire the land – after all, in their minds, no-one else had ties to it.

Pascoe gives us evidence of advanced aqua cultural practices from sophisticated eel traps to sustainable fisheries. A few months ago, I went with friends to the Budj Bim National Park half way between Hamilton and Port Fairy in Victoria and was awestruck by the historic significance of the eel traps. What many Australians may not know is that Budj Bim is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List and features the earliest living example of aquaculture in the world. Simply astounding. In Australia there has been very little fanfare about this significant announcement. The Roman empire ruins across Europe has nothing on aboriginal culture.

The chapter around Fire was particularly enlightening as more than one hundred and fifty fires rage across Australia at the time of writing, causing untold damage to houses, people and millions of animals and plant life. I wonder if we had listened and to our Indigenous citizens whether we could have managed to ease the current disaster in any way.

“The Aboriginal approach to fire worked on five principles. One, the majority of the agricultural lands were fired on a rotating mosaic, which controlled intensity, and allowed plants and animals to survive in refuges. Two, the time of the year when fires were lit depended on the type of country to be burnt and the condition of the bush at the time. Three, the prevailing weather was crucial to the timing of the burn. Four, neighbouring clans were advised of all fire activity. Five, the growing season of particular plants was avoided at all costs.”

In fact, this has been discussed many times over the last few years yet action and further investigation has been slow. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-14/traditional-owners-predicted-bushfire-disaster/11700320

It’s natural to look for a scapegoat in the current bush-fire disaster which sees little end in sight until rain begins to fall. Climate change, land mismanagement, lack of funding, lack of leadership by our paid politicians, the drought, all have a part to play. But if what we learn takes into account a respectful dialogue with our Aboriginal elders then we may actually fix up our mistakes and change our thinking for a better future.

“If we could reform our view of how Aboriginal people were managing the national economy prior to colonisation, it might lead us to inform the ways we currently use resources and care for the land. Imagine turning our focus to the exploitation of meat-producing animals indigenous to this country. Imagine freeing ourselves from the overuse of superphosphates, herbicides and drenches. Envisage freeing ourselves from the need of fences, and instead experimenting with grazing indigenous animals and growing indigenous crops.”

Yes! My imagination is wild with possibilities and ideas. And so, this book serves as a timely message to all of us and as I peer around my own garden, I’ve started to question why the hell I have a water-sucking English style garden of roses, lawn and hedges and ponder about what was here before.

Dark Emu is sobering to read yet provides a hopeful argument for each of us to change our thinking. This is an important one  for all Australians to read.

NOTE: Bush Fire Fundraiser 

I’m participating in a fundraising effort for our firefighters. It’s a twitter auction involving hundreds of Australian authors. Incredible items are being auctioned -from signed books, writing retreats, mentoring, workshops etc. If you’d like to know more head over to the webpage below and if you have a twitter account, type in#authorsforfireys and make a bid.

Get in quick. The twitter auction ends 11pm on 11 January, 2020 (Melbourne/Sydney time)

I have offered up signed copies of my three books and am throwing in a framed original drawing used for the cover of Out of Nowhere.

https://authorsforfireys.wixsite.com/website