Tag Archives: australian authors

Book Review: Elizabeth & Elizabeth by Sue Williams

I’ve been on a bit of a Elizabeth Macarthur odyssey ever since I read Michelle Scott Tucker’s book Elizabeth Macarthur: A life at the edge of the world. (See my earlier review https://sckarakaltsas.com/2020/05/22/book-review-elizabeth-macarthur-a-life-at-the-edge-of-the-world-by-michelle-scott-tucker/ ). When I heard about Elizabeth & Elizabeth, a fictional story about Elizabeth’s friendship with Elizabeth Macquarie, I had to buy the book.

Too many Elizabeth’s can be a bit confusing so I’ll use surnames. A young Mrs Macquarie was married to Lachlan Macquarie who came to Australia as the Governor of the new colony. He was a man of vision, providing the name of Australia and introducing social reforms to emancipate convicts despite strong opposition from the elite including Mr Macarthur. Williams imagines Mrs Macquarie to be a strong and assertive influence on Lachlan and credits her with imaginative ideas of architecture, garden landscaping as well as social welfare for young women.

Meanwhile Mrs Macarthur married to the troublesome, duel challenging at the drop of a hat, Mr Macarthur is much older and wiser not given to airs and graces while she’s grappling with a couple of sheep on the farm she’s managing because Mr Macarthur is in England sorting out the scraps he’s had with the previous Governor.

When she first arrives, Mrs Macquarie is portrayed as a wide-eyed and naïve young woman and I wondered if it might have been further from the truth given that she was thirty-one not twenty-one. But her character grows as she quickly adapts to the realities of the harshness of colonial life. She holds the much older Mrs Macarthur in high esteem. The relationship while brittle at first grows over the years as the challenges to the Macquarie’s post grows more difficult.

Of course, Mr Macarthur is as troublesome as history has portrayed. I’d always imagined that the relationship between Mr and Mrs Macarthur to be a difficult one with little love. Yet the author paints a loving and caring relationship between them. From what I’d read so far, I really doubted the woman could have done anything other than be relieved when he went to London for several years leaving her to make her mark on the colony with her sheep breeding ideas.

In reality, history being written by men provides us with little knowledge of the relationship between the two women but Williams reads between the lines to give us a delicious account of what these strong and intelligent women brought to society and to the foundations of the colony giving them credit when there’d been little before. No doubt there would have been few women from their class and they would have little choice than to fraternise despite their husbands opposing views of each other. I really liked the idea that women could come together to support each other enough to make the colony a better place. I can’t imagine how horrific it must have been to be a woman where childbirth and child raising was fraught with disease and death.   

The other great insight is just how entrenched the class system was adopted and continued on from England. It’s hardly surprising that the governing bodies, serving their own self-interests were mean-spirited about the people in the colony. But wait, what’s changed today with our present government? Perhaps not a lot when you consider the refugees who came here by boat.

This novel is rich in history, well-written and researched. If you’re after a bit of history about upper-class women of influence then check this one out.

Book Review: A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

I bought this book because of the hype around it. If I’d bothered to read the reviews, both supportive and divisive, I probably wouldn’t have read it. But this is a debut novel by a young Australian woman and I wanted to give it a go.

Jena Lin is a twenty-three-year-old classical violinist who as a child prodigy, toured the world. Something happened when she was fourteen and she stopped playing and embarked on a ‘normal’ life. Her relationship with her mother and mentor is fractured.  When she resumes her career, she is caught up in a world of rehearsals, performances and practice. In her spare time, she hooks up with just about anyone she meets using sex as a crutch to fill her loneliness.  When she is awarded an internship with the New York Philharmonic orchestra she begins to take control of her life and her comeback on her terms.

The book is essentially the blurb, reading almost like a diary of rotating daily activities of rehearsal, performance and sex, which in my opinion is overly graphic and gratuitous. There’s not much of a plot here and the sex scenes, and there was a lot, detracted from what was really going on with Jena.  There was little depth in her relationships and there was only just enough interest for me to find out about what had happened at fourteen. The world of the classical music lifestyle also held me to a point but I found that this too became repetitive.

The problem I had with the book was that while it was detailed in some aspects it was frustratingly short on depth in characters and Jena’s relationships. The characters almost seemed like cardboard cut-outs wheeled out at periodic times. As a reader we knew more about Jena’s day to day life than we did about much else.

On the day of the audition, I wake early to take a long shower, scrubbing off the residual sweat of sleep, washing my hair, shaving my underarms and legs. In the bathroom mirror, I squint at my own reflection.”

Trying to understand Jena, her motivations and the people around her was at times, quite bewildering. In particular, I would have liked to have known more about her relationship with her mother, and her father who is rarely mentioned. Half way through, I almost gave up but I slogged on hoping to get more than a superficial insight, even just a glimmer of emotion from just about anyone.  

Yet, I appreciated the themes the author was trying to explore, racism, sexism, female sexual desire, and loneliness. I’d never given a thought to classical music and in particular how most of it is written by men.

“I wonder why none of the music I play has been created by a woman and whether that exclusion was deliberate. What is the point of being any kind of artist if your skin colour or gender excludes you from the choices of old white men, just because you don’t look like them or they don’t see themselves in you?”

I didn’t mind the writing style and it’s slightly reminiscent of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. However, the characters are largely unlikeable and although there was some limited sympathy for Jena, the book left me frustrated and disillusioned. I know others liked it and but I don’t think it was for me. I guess I just wanted more depth.

Book Review: The Yield by Tara June Winch

This highly awarded book is an evocative and eye-opening read from Australian (Wiradjuri) author Tara June Winch.

There are actually three stories all cleverly constructed to relate to each other:

Pop (Albert Goondiwindi) composes a dictionary of Wiradjuri words. He peppers the meanings with stories of his family, his past and his culture in the hope that none of it will be lost. He passes away before completing it.

The second story is from his granddaughter’s point of view. August flies home from England for Pop’s funeral and faces the family she ran from many years earlier.  She’s embraced by her grandmother and aunties and must confront the reasons for running away.

The third is a series of letters from Reverend Greenleaf of German background who set up a Mission for Aborigines in the late 1800’s.

This is a remarkably clever reconstruction of a history largely forgotten and untold in Australia. The dictionary was genius giving us a real sense of the Wiradjuri language including pronunciation. The focus on intergenerational trauma as well as the strength of connection to land and culture was inspiring.

Look at it this way – when people travel overseas the first thing, they do is learn a handful of words, learn the local language – please and thank you and hello and goodbye, maybe even where is the supermarket? People do it because it makes life easier but they also do it out of respect…

And then we’re all migrants here, even those first-fleet descendants, we forget we’re all in someone else’s country.”

Reading The Yield gave me all sorts of feelings. The anguish and anger of what happened to our indigenous people was detailed in the letters written by the Reverend. His seemingly good intentions to set up a mission under the guise of removing a long-established culture to impose another was incredibly misguided. But this is what he and most missionaries around the world have done. Even so, his so-called protection was never enough.

Then there was the sorrow about the loss and trauma experienced by August: her missing sister, not knowing what happened and the affect it had on her for years afterward, her emptiness and lack of belonging to the land or to her people.

The disgust about how we treat the fifty-thousand-year-old indigenous history. If we dug up a Roman building, we’d revere it yet that history is new in comparison to what exists in Australia. Who can forget Rio Tinto blowing up a 46-thousand-year-old sacred site only last year? And the novel’s story parallels this when the land that Pop had lived on and loved was sold off for a tin mine.

This is another great novel for all Australians to read. These stories help us to understand. Please check this one out.

Book Review: The Silent Listener by Lyn Yeowart

I turned the last page a few days ago and this book hasn’t left me alone to think about anything else other than the characters and the page turning story.

The first line “the moment he dies, the room explodes with life”, pulls you in and propels you through three time zones, 1940’s, 1960’s and 1983. Each chapter highlights which character it’s about and when, so it’s not difficult to follow.

The main character Joy returns after a long absence in 1983 to nurse her dying father, George, a highly respected and upstanding citizen of the rural community of Blackhunt. Alex Shepard, the local policeman, suspects foul play when George is found with a belt pulled tight around his neck and we’re left wondering if Joy has done it.

We’re then propelled back in time to George’s marriage to Joy’s mother Gwen, their whirlwind courtship, the run-down dairy farm she lives in and how she survives her new life.  It’s through eleven-year-old Joy’s eyes in December 1960 that we learn about her fixation with words, about her religious father and his abusive consequences on Joy and her siblings. In particular, Joy’s special relationship with her older sister Ruth is fascinating as it is revealing.

“Joy knew she should feel sorry for Ruth, but the truth was she felt a familiar white tremor of jealousy.”

Beyond that we get a strong sense of the community and the era particularly when nine-year-old friend, Wendy who lives on a neighbouring farm disappears and is never found which haunts the same investigating policeman, Alex Shepard twenty years later.

The novel is divided into four parts and the first half slowly but intricately unveils the many secrets of Joy’s family sucking the reader into a web of intrigue. A few twists and turns threw me into an unexpected direction culminating in an ending I had no idea was coming.

“His room smells like the orange blankets have licked up the dying odours from his body and are slowly releasing them into the air, and the semi-darkness reminds me of the day I hid in here and saw a snake on the bed, about to attack me.”

There are so many elements to this story and to say too much would be to give away spoilers however, it should be noted that there is a strong theme of domestic violence and child abuse. And although not explicit, it is nerve-wracking and somewhat harrowing. Nevertheless, Ms. Yeowart holds nothing back, taking us on a journey where nothing is as it might seem, where neighbours turn a blind eye and where families hide what really goes on behind closed doors.

It’s disturbing and tense, gripping and complex yet beautifully crafted by debut novelist, Lyn Yeowart. Definitely worth checking out.

Book Review: The Paris Time Capsule by Ella Carey

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Cat Jordan inherits an apartment in Paris from someone she doesn’t know. She leaves New York to find out why. When she arrives and visits the apartment, she’s shocked to find it has been untouched since 1940. What happened to the owner, who is the person who left her the apartment? And so, the novel uncovers the mystery of what happened and why?

Complicating things is a handsome Frenchman, Loic who has a possible claim to the apartment and Cat’s controlling merchant banker fiancé, Christian who wants her to come home to New York for her engagement party. The inheritance forces Cat to review what she wants for herself rather than what others want for her.

This is an intriguing story and was inspired by the real-life story of a woman who fled her apartment as the Nazi’s marched into Paris. She never returned. It wasn’t until her death in 2010 that the untouched apartment was discovered.

What a wonderful premise for a story and I was very quickly hooked, impatient to find out why Cat had inherited the apartment and the owners history. I was drawn into the French countryside and the history of Paris in the 1930’s which was fascinating and well described.

However, there were times where the story slowed down, when Cat was distracted by Loic and his family or by a bit of sightseeing or her fiancé who was not particularly likeable. Cat was bewildered and Loic was – well he’s a Frenchman – what more can I say. The twists and turns in the story made me so impatient for answers I read this one very quickly.

It’s an easy read and despite my impatience, I was very satisfied with the end. Give this one a go for a light, holiday read.

Book Review: Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko



This is an incredible book written with confidence, opening up many confronting themes for the reader to think about and to be challenged by.

Kerry Salter is a mouthy woman living on the edge avoiding prison and her family. On her stolen Harley, she heads home because her Pa is dying and she figures all she needs is twenty-four hours and then she can leave. She soon finds that her family and sense of country aren’t easy to escape. Old wounds burst open and when a developer tries to take their river, she’s drawn into the fight.

The trauma of living as an indigenous woman is not sugar coated and the commentary of what the consequences of white settlement in Australia have been for indigenous families covers many things including racism, land rights, the stolen generation and corruption. The author puts us deep into Kerry’s family, the dynamics, the struggles and we see clearly what intergenerational trauma can do.

It might seem that it’s heavy handed but it’s not. The story is sad, and tragic while poking fun in a good-natured way and that’s the talent of the writing by Lucashenko. No wonder she’s won a raft of awards.

The scene around the imagined discussion by the crows is hilarious. And the animals in the story are their own characters. ‘The noise of the Harley didn’t worry Elvis one bit. A small cunning mutt of no discernible heritage, he raged at the bike from the top of the stairs, finding it a worthy adversary. When he recognised Kerry, Elvis leaped off the veranda and beat his half-a-tail wildly in greeting, all the while conspiring to get past her and piss on the bike’s front wheel.

The language is at times brutal, yet powerful as it can be in dialogue with her family. This is a very well written book where the language is evocative describing the landscape, the heat and the mood of a fictional Australian country town. There are words which will throw you but after a while you’ll get their meaning as you immerse yourself into the book.

The characters are well drawn and just their nicknames will make you smile, from Pretty Mary, Kerry’s mother, Black Superman, her younger brother, Dr No, one of her nephews. Yet there is also menace and an undercurrent from Kenny, her older brother ‘who had long held the monopoly on anger in the Salter family. Kerry didn’t give a rat’s. She couldn’t see Ken busting her up today.’ The family, immediate and extended become important to Kerry as the secrets of past and present unfold to give her new understanding of them and herself.

It’s a very clever story told with gusto giving us an insight and respect for our First Nation’s people. This one is a must read.

Book Review: The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall

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A dystopian Australia affected by climate change, where everyone is microchipped for their own safety is the setting and is not as farfetched as you might think.

Mim, a geologist with two young children is advised by The Department that her engineer husband Ben who works at a mine on an Indonesian island has gone missing. Is he actually missing or is that he can’t be tracked? The Department controls everything and tells her to remain at her house asking her to surrender the family’s passports. She passively agrees at first until her own attempts to get hold of Ben by phone fail, she begins to question what’s happened. She’s insecure and vulnerable without Ben. With no answers and struggling to cope with her two young children, Mim heads off on a ten-hour drive to her mother’s house where she realises the growing danger. This then sets her on a perilous path to find Ben no matter the cost.

This is a gripping read. More than once I winced at what Mim was about to do wishing she wouldn’t but cheering her on nonetheless. The role as a mother was beautifully done with all the anxieties and insecurities attached. It’s a difficult choice to drag your kids out of their environment on what is anything other than a wild goose chase across a hostile environment of land and sea in a search for the man she loves and depends on. Yet with the threat that her children could be taken from her by The Department, the choice is obvious.

I wondered about her family. Her brother has the controlling interest in the family farm and his hostile reaction to Mim wasn’t clear as earlier family conflict is only a hint. What we do know is that Mim is reacting to the perceived threat, doesn’t have time to think through what she has to do, makes mistakes along the way and puts herself and her children in danger. Yet she faces it with a bravery she has barely time to consider in her single-minded pursuit to protect her children and get to Ben.

As the journey progresses, her love for Ben is thrown into question when she meets Nick, her first love and even more so when she discovers what Ben has actually done. I wasn’t entirely convinced about Nick’s motivations and her relationship with him – was it more than the money she offered?

The Motherfault is a satisfying and thrilling story well written. Is Ben a hero or not? Does Mim manage to protect her children and survive? You’ll have to read it and find out.