Tag Archives: australian authors

Book Review: The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld



This is a book where the reader needs to work. By that, I mean not everything is delivered to you and neatly tied up in a bow. You must concentrate and think beyond what is on the page and it’s not a book for everyone.

For a start there are three different stories in three different timelines and numerous characters and some side stories along the way. And what they all have in common is Bass Rock set in coastal Scotland.

“something about the Bass Rock was so misshapen, like the head of a dreadfully handicapped child.”

There is Sarah, a young woman in the 1700’s accused of being a witch who is on the run after being saved by a priest and his son. Then in a post-WW2 setting, there is Ruth, who marries a widow and tries to come to terms with being a young bride and stepmother to two young boys. The third story is about Vivienne in present day who grieves for her dead father and comes to Bass Rock to be caretaker of the house once lived in by Ruth.

It’s a difficult thing to do full justice to three very rich stories. For me the strongest story is around Ruth and could have stood alone or at least could have withstood sharing the pages with Vivienne. The one with Sarah was difficult for me to engage with and had little connection to the other two stories. 

In Ruth’s story, the behaviour of the village townspeople, and in particular the priest is quite bizarre, yet she is made to feel the odd one out. There is a mysterious ghostly presence in the house which is felt by Ruth and Vivienne and the unravelling of this separate story is violent and difficult to read. The manipulation of Ruth by her husband is infuriating and what goes on in the boy’s boarding school is left to the reader to piece together.

“Ruth had slept badly, waking throughout the night, too hot or too cold, with the smell of the school in her nose, like thick mud and flowers left to rot in their water.”

This is a tale of murder, domestic, sexual and psychological abuse, generational trauma in a largely patriarchal setting. At times brutal, the harshness of life for the women matches the harshness of the landscape. Somehow the thread of resilience and survival binds the women in their relationships with others. For Ruth it’s with Betty the housekeeper, for Vivienne it’s with Maggie a woman she befriends and for Sarah it’s with the boy.

It’s an intricate, haunting and thought-provoking novel, beautifully written. I found myself re-reading it to make sense of some of the story and fully analyse and appreciate the characters.

Nevertheless, this one will stay with me for a quite a while.

Book Review: Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World by Michelle Scott Tucker

Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World

I have to confess to not having as broad a knowledge of Australian history as I probably should and so I was looking forward to this non-fiction book about Elizabeth Macarthur, one of Australia’s first farmers.

Elizabeth came out to Australia with her military officer husband John, on the second fleet. She must surely have been an extremely tolerant woman. John by all accounts was a pushy, complaining, selfish and irrational man prone to episodes of disputes and disagreement with all and sundry (including the odd duel or two) in the new settlement of Australia, with little regard for his long-suffering wife.

By all accounts, she tolerated him and their relationship was claimed to be a loving one. The poor woman endured a lot and the author has done an amazing job to piece together her life by way of letters, court cases, journals and newspaper articles. The author gives us a slice of what the Macarthur family was like as well as an insight into their vast land holdings and businesses and the politics and life in 1800’s Australia. It’s a fascinating look at colonial power over convicts, free settlers and the treatment of indigenous peoples, none of which is sugar-coated. Indeed, to read the brutal journey on a second fleet ship needs a strong stomach as conditions are described in gory detail, yet serves to highlight Elizabeth’s strength and endurance.

Elizabeth was a remarkable woman raising her children and running the Macarthur holdings, while her husband gallivanted off to the home country for several years. Yet her husband’s name in history is credited with establishing Australia’s wool industry. The author corrects this perception by shining a light on Elizabeth as well as acknowledging that many other women ran farms just as successfully. As is so often the case, we learn a lot more about John and the author does a gallant job to draw conclusions about what type of woman Elizabeth must have been.

It’s a well written and wonderfully researched book although I’d had just about enough of John, yearning for more on Elizabeth. Sadly, like so many women who were never acknowledged in history, we can only draw enough conclusions to elevate her.

If you’re after a snapshot of life in Australia in the eighteen hundreds, give this book a go. It’s worth it.

Book Review: Snakes and Ladders by Angela Williams



This is a story which is raw, brutal and honest. Angela Williams memoir could almost be fictional and you wish that it was.

Angela with university and teaching credentials stepped out to cross a road and was hit by a postie’s motor bike. Police took down her name and a statement and came back two days later with a warrant for her arrest. There was no court case, no bail opportunity, no appeal, just straight to a correctional facility in handcuffs in front of her dismayed partner and young son. Why? She’d served time for a crime she committed when she was a drug addicted teenager, thirteen years earlier. Except she’d only served five months of it. She was taken away to serve the rest.

I’d seen an interview with Angela on the ABC News less than a month or so ago where she talked about her book which had just launched. My curiosity peaked. I had to read it.
Angela pulls no punches. The introduction warns the reader what to expect.

Let’s take something from the old me and jump in with both feet. Let’s hold our breath when we need to, and laugh when we need to, cry when we need to, eat doughnuts when we need to. I’m here, in the future, holding your hand. I promise it all turns out okay… I drove myself mad to tell you this story, so you damn well better read it.

And once you start reading you can’t stop because no matter how much we see of the old Angela, the prison system, the cruelty of her upbringing and enter her old world, we know it turns out okay. That’s what kept me going. That and the writing, which is wonderful.

Acrid panic froths across the back of my tongue. A glint of burning light off chrome catches my eye. I lock onto this shred of bright, body frozen in place. Crickets chirp in the bag hanging from my hand.

Learning about the women in the modern-day prison system, how it runs, life as a sex worker and drug addict was astonishing at times to read, yet eye-opening. Her own personal journey gives hope.

I couldn’t stop myself from questioning power imbalances, was filled with rage at small inequalities and awed into silences by big ones. But I keep trying, trusting, writing, thinking.

I couldn’t help comparing this book to the Mars Room which is fictional and was short listed for the Booker 2018. Snakes and Ladders, I think, is so much better.

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.