Tag Archives: Reading

Book Review: Hello Beautiful by Hannie Rayson

I have to confess that I’d never heard of Australian playwright, Hannie Rayson. Yet I knew of her plays. When my book club chose this book I was extremely curious.

In Hello Beautiful, Hannie Rayson detours from plays to a memoir of revealing snapshots from her own life.

It’s a highly relatable book especially for those who lived in Melbourne during the eighties. Hannie grew up in East Brighton as the daughter of a real-estate agent who made and lost money. He was a ‘Melbourne bitter man. Anything else was cat’s piss.’ 

Nothing seems to be off limits in this memoir from ‘women’s problems’, and vagina moles to childbirth, together with blended families and dead bodies.

It’s a humorous collection of anecdotes as well as insights into inner suburban living, feminism, sex, being a mum, wife and friend, and becoming a writer.

‘One weekend my neighbours Suzie and Dave demolished their house. But the most significant impact on our household was that (they)… decided to move. Into our place. It seemed to me then that the nuclear family was a ludicrous idea – conceived not by nature, nor by God, but by people who wanted to sell us stuff.’

Hannie Rayson writes very well with charm and humour. If you don’t know Melbourne you might not fully appreciate the nuances but if you want an amusing insight, then give this one a go.

Book Review: Happy Hour by Jacquie Byron

A glass of bubbly in hand, a character of a certain age who does what she wants, and a couple of cute dogs. This book held a lot of promise and certainly did not fail to deliver.

Franny Calderwood keeps to herself with only her two dogs, Whisky and Soda as her companions. She likes her own company enjoying the chance to paint, walk along the beach and drink when she feels like it. When a family moves in next door, she’s wary of the single mother who juggles a grumpy teenage daughter, Dee and an exuberant eight-year-old boy, Josh. It doesn’t take long before Franny is reluctantly drawn into their lives.

Little by little we learn what’s behind Franny’s bravado and independence when we discover the loss of her beloved husband from a road accident some years earlier. The family next door draws Franny out of her self-imposed isolation little by little not without some disasters along the way.

The themes of grief and loss are beautifully handled as the story slowly unfolds taking the reader into Franny and the family’s world, one ordered and the other chaotic.

Franny is quite a character, talking to the photos of her dead husband, cooking gourmet meals, painting masterpieces and of course drinking a lot more than she should. You can’t help but love her as well as feel her loss and what she is doing to herself. The dogs are charmers as is Josh who is truly a star in his own right. The child’s innocence and energy is infectious causing the reader to love him as we watch Franny fall for this small boy.

This novel is sad, funny as well as moving. With an additional bonus that it’s set in Melbourne and the places Franny visits are almost my backyard – what more could I wish for?

Get this one and lie on the beach with a gin and tonic and you’ll be happily transported.

Book Review: The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey

The Morbids is a story about Caitlin, a young woman, convinced that she’s going to die. She joins a support group of people each of whom have their own issues about death and name themselves The Morbids. What has happened to Caitlin unravels slowly and painfully as we take the road with her towards healing and a better life.  

It’s a sad story yet an uplifting one too. Caitlin has suppressed her feelings after an accident where she blames herself for the death of someone. She copes as best as she can, throwing in her high-power job for a waitressing role, moving to a sordid neighbourhood and turning her back on her friends and family. She believes she is coping with the help of the support group but slowly she begins to unravel bit by bit.  Ever fearful, she avoids rather than confronts.

The impact of mental illness particularly trauma, anxiety and depression are important issues and the author does a superb navigating the reader through it in a very sensitive and touching way. There is no sugar coating so it is quite confronting. Not to say that it is all doom and gloom. There are shades of humour, love and joy. And then there are the moments of kindness, random and otherwise from people in Caitlin’s life. This character is very well drawn, complicated and multi-dimensional.

I also enjoyed the side characters from those in the help group to the ones in Caitlin’s work life. Along the way we meet caring Nic, her boss at the bar where she works; concerned Lina the best friend she’s avoided since the accident two years ago and the gorgeous Tom, the emergency doctor. They all played their part superbly.

The second half is quite intense and I wasn’t sure where it would go but I hoped that Caitlin would be okay. Take a look and see for yourself.

Book Review: Bowl the Maidens Over by Louise Zedda-Sampson

It’s often been said by friends and family that I don’t have a sporting bone in my body. There is, however nothing wrong with my appreciation of history particularly when it comes to women’s place in it. And I was delighted to pick up a book about the first female cricketers in Australia and more specifically in my home state of Victoria.

Bowl the Maidens Over helps us understand how women came to play what was originally known as a man’s game. Yet as a man’s game there’s no physical barrier for a woman to play. I have been known to play the game with men and although I have no real talent, I can bowl, bat and throw the ball, well perhaps not terribly well. I can also appreciate the strategy and of course the thrill of being on a winning side.

In fact, whenever women have made the initial attempts to play a man’s game there has always been opposition and derision. Who can forget that not long ago— read within the last ten years —when women’s football in Australia was greeted with great uncertainty? Indeed, the first sold-out match with a crowd outside the stadium floored the male dominated organisers. The innuendo and vitriolic comments on social media platforms could only be described in the sea of positive comments as vile and nasty.

Not much has changed since a group of women in 1874 played an exhibition cricket match to raise funds for charity. Where did they play? In the town of Sandhurst, now known as Bendigo. It was a match attended by thousands and soon after the initial praise, some media whipped up a storm about how unladylike these women were, describing their attire rather than their skill. Oh goodness, what a shock it must have been when ‘they paraded their ankles to the public gaze’ or engaged in ‘an unwomanly game.’

This small delightful volume packs a punch of history giving us a brilliant snapshot of an unknown group of pioneering women who dared to take on a sport with skill and talent. Zedda-Simpson does a fantastic job of weaving the narrative around the media’s debate about the match. Although we don’t really know how the women felt about the attention, the author gives us an insight by revealing the flurry of forthright and entertaining letters to the editor.

A really good read even if it does make you feel indignant about how far we have still yet to go.

Check it out. Bowl the Maidens Over

Author interview

I was recently interviewed about my latest book, The Good Child. You can check it out below.

Historically, men have power over the lives of both nations and women. Commerce and politics are traditional realms of masculine influence in cultures worldwide. The latest Australian historical fiction by S.C. Karakaltsas (see my review here), The Good Child explores the public and private aspects of how the behaviour of some influential men affects their loved…

The Good Child: exploring how power is shaped — Clare Rhoden

Book Review: Witness by Louise Milligan

Witness is an important book to read as it exposes gaps in Australia’s legal system.

Louise Milligan is an incredible investigative journalist who has spent years reporting on sexual abuse crimes. Her latest book exposes the toll on victims (known by the legal system as witnesses perhaps to dehumanise them) who attempt to seek justice using that very system. Milligan knows only too well what the experience is like when she took the stand in the case of George Pell’s trial. And although she was not a victim, the process she went through to protect those who had entrusted her with their experiences took a toll. She questioned that if she with resources and skills found the whole thing traumatic, what then of the actual victims of sexual abuse. And what she finds is enough to turn off most except for those who have the strength to take on their perpetrators.

Milligan’s interviews with barristers, judges, defence counsel, and victims together with meticulous research including transcripts, reveal how the wheels of justice operate, and it’s not pretty. It’s brutal and terrifying and more so for the victims who face the system.

“A system where, even if they received what is considered to be justice, they came away from the experience worse than when they went into it.”

 Milligan gives us Saxon Mullins case, a young eighteen-year-old girl raped in an alleyway. The trial itself raised the issue of what is consent but more importantly, what Saxon went through for five years to see her rapist brought to account can only be described as horrendous. The adversarial role the defence counsel uses to discredit, nit-pick and dehumanise a rape victim is put on show with Mullin’s case.

Then the legal system itself is dissected where the pattern of male patriarchy is still strong, where although numbers of women are growing, it’s an industry of self-employed barristers whose livelihood gives little encouragement for the female barrister who has a family or wants one.

Then there’s the environment of the legal industry and the challenges women face as workers. Who could forget Dyson Heydon who sexually harassed several women whilst serving as a High Court judge?

And Peter O’Callaghan QC who was on a retainer for the Catholic Church to manage their response to the hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse by members of the catholic church. A man who received $7.8 million in remuneration from the Catholic church from 1996 to 2014 to administer and hand out compensation of a mere $9.7 m with an average of $32k for each survivor of paedophile priests. Few were recommended for police investigation.

“For victims of sexual crimes, the unquestioning decision to use O’Callaghan’s name for their gallery speaks volumes about the Victorian Bar’s attitude to victims of sexual abuse.”

Milligan paints a vivid picture of what being a witness is like even through her own eyes on the witness stand where the barrister was aggressive, demeaning and disrespectful. Or the room she explains where they put child victims who aren’t allowed to have their dolls or teddy bears in case that should remind the jury that the victim is indeed a child.

Milligan has also endured threats to her life and online twitter trolling yet without people like her, nothing would ever change. And change is happening and Mulligan give us a glimmer of hope that eventually perpetrators of sexual abuse will be brought to account and victims will be treated with care and compassion and consideration of the trauma they’ve gone through.

This book doesn’t hold back. It’s confronting, gripping, eye-opening and terrifying making you think twice about raising a complaint of sexual abuse. Which makes it even more incredible that victims who go through the court system must surely be lauded as true heroes. I thank Louise Milligan and every other investigative journalist who has ever put themselves out there. What they do is enlighten and educate us so that we can stamp our feet and yell out loud to get things changed. This is an important book for everyone to read.

Book Review: Wimmera by Mark Brandi

I was totally unprepared for this unexpected story.

The blurb, (which I rarely check before diving in) is about two young boys, Ben and Fab, who in 1989 do all the things youngsters do; play cricket, go yabbying and camping. They talk about all sorts of things except for how Fab’s dad hits him or what happened to the girl next door. When a new neighbour moves in, their imagination soars wondering if he’s a secret agent. The opening scene is the discovery of a drum in the local river.

It’s a moody book and the first half is pretty much about the boys’ everyday lives from Ben’s point of view with a slow build of tension and foreboding when they meet Ben’s far too friendly neighbour.  Half way through the novel, Ben’s voice disappears and we’re propelled into the future almost twenty years later into Fab’s point of view. Fab still lives in the same country town, lost and alone working in a supermarket and we’re left to wonder what happened to Ben.

The second half takes on a sense of urgency and the story unfolds in a very unsettling way.  I appreciated the second half far more than the first. There was much left to the readers imagination and for the reader to piece together and I liked that. The last couple of chapters was dramatic and a page turner.

The subject matter isn’t for the faint-hearted and there’s no trigger warning about child abuse. But if you can see your way through the dark subject, it’s a very decent debut.