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Cloggie Downunder (Australia)
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One Life: My Mother's Story (Unabridged)
One Life: My Mother's Story (Unabridged)
Offered by Audible Ltd

5.0 out of 5 stars a brilliant read, 26 Mar. 2015
“It was different for Nance. She wasn’t dependent on a man. In fact, she thought that might be part of the problem. She’d been running her own life for so long, she was used to shaping things as she wanted…….She was like those girls who learned to dance with other girls, taking turns to be the man. They never got the hang of following, once they knew what it was like to lead.”

One Life is a biography of Nance Isobel Gee, written by her daughter, popular Australian author, Kate Grenville. Nance was born in 1912. Against the odds for a woman of her humble background, Nance attended Sydney University, became a registered pharmacist and owned her own pharmacy. But this simplistic summation of her life is completely inadequate, for Nance did much, much more with her life. As Grenville relates the incidents and events that punctuated Nance’s life, she takes the reader back to another era, one on the cusp of major change. Schooling, work, war, sexual discrimination, motherhood, political affiliations and even building a house feature in this interesting and entertaining memoir: “Why shouldn’t a woman lay bricks? The world would never change if someone wasn’t prepared to be the first.”

While this may be a memoir, Grenville still manages to treat the reader to some wonderfully evocative prose: “They woke to a day so hot and still the air was like something solid. All morning a cloud gathered on the horizon and by afternoon it filled the sky, dark with a dangerous green underbelly like a bruise. Then one great blast of wind, and the hail starting all at once, like someone spilling peas out of a colander” is just one example. Many of the images on the twenty-four pages of photographs will strike a chord with readers of a certain vintage, who may well have similar photographs of their own family.

Grenville explains: “Her story is unusual in some ways, but in other ways it’s the archetypal twentieth-century story of the coming of a new world of choices and self-determination” Those who knew her have described Nance Gee as a remarkable woman: this is a description which Grenville’s biography proves is certainly very apt. Once again, Grenville treats her readers to a brilliant read.


In Certain Circles
In Certain Circles
by Elizabeth Harrower
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars previously unpublished novel from an acclaimed author, 24 Mar. 2015
This review is from: In Certain Circles (Paperback)
“She was too young to be thoughtful, or interested in someone else’s problems. She felt a huge impatience at this unwarranted check to her self-absorption and happy conceit and ambition. So they had all had more troubles than she. Did that really make hem superior? ….It was not as though she were a trashy or frivolous person. Or not only trashy and frivolous. She was almost sure her heart was in the right place. It was simply that circumstances had not called on her to produce it very often.”

In Certain Circles is the fifth and final full-length novel by Australian author, Elizabeth Harrower, and is set in post-WW2 Sydney. Meet the Howard siblings, offspring of well-to-do parents living on Sydney’s exclusive north shore: seventeen-year-old Zoe, a shallow, self-centred, snobbish girl whose sheltered upbringing means she is quite naïve in some respects; and her older brother Russell, returned safely from the war and very unlike the rest of the family. Russell, about to marry childhood sweetheart, Lily, introduces two orphans to the family: Stephen Quayle, a prickly salesman with erratic moods, and his younger sister, Anna.

The narrative, carried mainly by two voices, Anna and Zoe, follows the lives of these five characters over the next twenty-three years. Zoe is a quite unappealing main character, although she improves with maturity; Anna is more likeable; the remaining characters are lightly sketched: Russell is apparently charismatic and convincing, a champion of the needy; Stephen, a stereotypical damaged soul; and Lily, a woman devoted to her twin daughters. A somewhat disjointed narrative may confuse the reader at times. Harrower subjects her players to unrequited love, widowhood, neurosis, mental breakdown, mental cruelty and suicidal thoughts.

Some of the prose is quite beautiful: “Something in him took her from the pink marshmallow castle of her life to a high cliff over the ocean of the real world” and “As always now, she had the sensation, when their eyes met, of sustaining a physical injury. A speechless, difficult resentment went out from them both” and “To live without the interest or attention of other people, without making an impression: in her mind, Zoe groped to imagine such a state. All she could find was a feeling of irritation” are examples.

The dialogue seems rather stiff and formal, but perhaps the well-to-do intelligentsia really did talk like that in post-war Sydney; perhaps they really did spend their days analysing themselves and their relationships. : “Now she realised that she had shared the common illusion that if someone were only ‘himself’, instead of an imitation of what he could be, he would be fulfilled, more likeable, cleverer, happier, good, better, best. That the mask might sometimes be superior to what lay beneath was an idea that had only recently occurred to her”. This previously unpublished novel from an acclaimed author rewards the reader who persists with a very clever twist at the end.


A Place Called Winter
A Place Called Winter
by Patrick Gale
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.00

5.0 out of 5 stars incredibly moving and completely captivating., 24 Mar. 2015
This review is from: A Place Called Winter (Hardcover)
“When a thing has always been forbidden and must live in darkness and silence, it’s hard to know how it might be, if allowed to thrive.”

A Place Called Winter is the sixteenth novel by British author, Patrick Gale. In early 20th century England, shy and stuttering Harry Cane, nurturing older brother to the infinitely more confident Jack, is rather surprised to find himself married to Winnie, and before long, a father to Phyllis. Even more surprising, the obsessive infatuation for another that forces him to abandon his family, England and the bulk of his wealth for the hardship, privation and loneliness of the Canadian prairielands. Harry is befriended on the ship by a strangely charismatic man, a Dane named Troels Munck, who commandeers his life and steers him to a land plot near the remote Saskatchewan town of Winter.

The narrative alternates between two time periods: Harry’s life after he leaves a mental asylum and joins the therapeutic community run by the unconventional Dr Gideon Ormshaw at Bethel; and the events of his life from when his father died, events that led up to his admission to the asylum. Based on story of his own great-grandfather’s life, Gale’s story portrays the reality of pioneering in the Canadian wilderness. It also touches on accepted therapies for mental illness at the time and the dangers of being a homosexual in this era. Gale has a marvellous talent for making the reader feel true empathy for his main character: it is virtually impossible not to feel Harry’s heartache, his anxiety, his anger and his fear, but also his love.

Gale’s descriptive prose is a pleasure to read: “She looked after the geese and ducks and was an excellent shot, regularly bagging wild duck…. She also shot rabbit and the occasional hare. These she would pluck or skin herself in an efficient fury all the more self-righteous for being unapplauded and unregarded” and “As Troels cane to stand beside him, Harry smelt the musk of his sweat and something else, something threatening, if threat had a smell” and “There were stars, a seamless, spangled fishnet of them from horizon to horizon, coldly lighting the land and lending the farm buildings, outlined sharply against them, an eerie loveliness” are just a few examples.

Fans of Gale’s work will not be disappointed, and newcomers to his work will want to seek out more of it. This beautifully written novel is incredibly moving and completely captivating.
With thanks to Hachette and The Reading Room for this copy to read and review.


Legend of a Suicide
Legend of a Suicide
by David Vann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An amazing debut, 24 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Legend of a Suicide (Paperback)
“Watching the dark shadow moving before him, it seemed as this were what he had felt for a long time, that his father was something insubstantial before him and that if he were to look away for an instant or forget or not follow fast enough and will him to be there, he might vanish, as if it were only Roy’s will that kept him there”

Legend of a Suicide is the first book by prize-winning American author, David Vann. It consists of five short stories and a novella. The stories are all connected and describe the relationship of young Roy Fenn with his father Jim, a failed dentist and unsuccessful fisherman who commits suicide when Roy is thirteen. Vann writes from a position of authority, having experienced exactly that with his own father.

While this dark subject forms the centre of the tales, Vann often surrounds it with equally dark humour as he describes the (frequently absurd) incidents of their lives. All this is contained within Vann’s luminous prose: “There had been rain overnight. I remember how strong the dove grass smelled, bitter in my nostrils and throat. I looked up suddenly from the bright ground and everything pulled together, all the strands of cloud and blue air, as if there were a huge drain in the center of the sky that sucked it all up”

The short stories are narrated in the first person by Roy; the novella (Sukkwan Island) is narrated in the third person from the point of view of Roy and Jim, and describe a fateful homestead stay on a remote Alaskan island. Again, some evocative descriptive prose is used: “They watched the sun getting lower. It was so slow they couldn’t see it dropping, but they could see the light changing on the water and on the trees, the shadow behind every leaf and ripple in the sideways light making the world three-dimensional, as if they were seeing trees through a view-finder” is an example.

Vann’s portrayal of the mentally ill father, his rationalisations and choices, is very realistic. Young Roy’s thought processes have a similarly authentic feel. This is a moving, sometimes funny, sometimes shocking tale with a clever twist. An amazing debut.


Leaving Everything most loved (Maisie Dobbs)
Leaving Everything most loved (Maisie Dobbs)
by Jacqueline Winspear
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent read., 21 Mar. 2015
Leaving Everything Most Loved is the tenth book in the Maisie Dobbs series by British-born American author, Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and private investigator, is engaged by (former) Sergeant-Major Pramal, of India, to investigate the murder, some two months earlier, of his sister, Usha, a governess living in London. Scotland Yard have made no progress with the case, so Maisie’s team have a challenge ahead of them with this cold case. When Maisie visits the ayah’s hostel where Usha had been living, she gets the impression that the couple running the supposedly charitable institution are not quite what they seem, and before Maisie can speak to her privately, Usha’s friend and fellow lodger, Maya Patel is murdered in the same manner: shot between the eyes and found in the nearby canal.

Maisie’s assistant, Billy Beal is back in the job, but apparently not completely recovered from the attack that hospitalised him: his distraction affects his investigative abilities. Maisie takes over the case of a missing boy and a chance remark by DI Caldwell has her wondering if their two cases are linked. But Maisie is distracted too, by her burgeoning desire to travel overseas in her mentor’s footsteps. It seems that Usha Pramal was well loved, for her personality and her healing powers. As Maisie investigates, all manner of possible suspects present themselves. Maisie wonders if jealousy or a case of mistaken identity are the answer, or was there some sort of racial motivation? Or is it all about love? Winspear once again gives the reader a plot with plenty of twists and turns. She touches on the plight of Indian ayahs abandoned far from home; shell shock and mixed marriage also feature. The final chapters ensure that future books in the series will be quite different. Another excellent read.


Get in Trouble: Stories
Get in Trouble: Stories
by Kelly Link
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars plenty of dark humour, 21 Mar. 2015
Get in Trouble is a collection of nine short stories by American author, Kelly Link. Each of the stories has been previously published in other publications from as early as 2006. The stories are varied in both format and subject matter, although each one seems to feature some element of alternate reality and have a highly original plot with a twist or two to keep it interesting. There are Summer Visitors of quite a different kind, internet gaming worlds, an internet date that goes wrong in an unpredictable manner, an unusual theme park, a pair of nervous expectant gay fathers, bizarre teen toys, weird pocket universes and an attempted suicide with a potato peeler.

In these very different stories, Link manages to somehow logically combine: butter sculptures, dentists and superheroes; a surrogate mother, a gay couple, a bunch of left-over wedding dresses and a premmy baby; space ships, haunted houses and ghost stories; a jealous teenager, an antique locket and a ghost toy; pyramids, an asp and a pair of spoiled rich siblings; double shadows, twins, mermaids, iguanas and a hurricane; a Land of Oz theme park, superpowers and a childhood friend; a demon lover, an actress and a ghost.

There is plenty of dark humour in these tales; they are imaginative, sexy, often fantastic and great fun to read. Fans of Kelly Link’s work will not be disappointed with this latest collection.


The Adventuress
The Adventuress
by Audrey Niffenegger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Different., 17 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Adventuress (Hardcover)
The Adventuress is the first book by American author and artist, Audrey Niffenegger. It was created when Niffenegger was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, developing from a series of drawings. The original books were hand printed: a limited edition of ten copies. The drawings are aquatints, featuring a young woman in a skirt and long gloves, created by an alchemist. After the woman is kidnapped by a Baron, the story takes some bizarre turns, including transformation into a moth, an affair with Napoleon, giving birth to a cat and being cared for by nuns. The text is minimal, often as little as one or two words on the page opposite the prints.

In her afterword, Niffenegger explains the complicated process involved in the hand printing. The prints, in subdued colours, are quite individual, and Niffenegger’s style is distinctive. It is easy to see from her later works (The Night Book Mobile and Raven Girl) that both the quality of the art and the storytelling have improved since the earlier books she refers to as “visual novels”. Dedicated Niffenegger fans may wish to own a copy; borrowing from the library is recommended for those who are merely “interested”. Different.


The Three Incestuous Sisters
The Three Incestuous Sisters
by Audrey Niffenegger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Different., 17 Mar. 2015
The Three Incestuous Sisters is the second “visual novel” by American author and artist, Audrey Niffenegger. The original books were hand printed: a limited edition of ten copies. The drawings are aquatints, featuring three sisters, Clothilde, Ophile and Bettine, who live by the sea. They all look quite similar but conveniently have different coloured hair. Two of them fall in love with the same man and jealousy leads to nasty consequences. The story is a little bizarre, but Niffenegger explains it needs to be imagined as a silent film made from Japanese prints, a melodrama of sibling rivalry. The text is certainly minimal, often as little as one or two words on the page opposite the prints.

In her afterword, Niffenegger explains the complicated process involved in the hand printing. The prints, in subdued colours (except for the sisters’ hair), are quite individual, and Niffenegger’s style is distinctive. It is easy to see from her later works (The Night Book Mobile and Raven Girl) that both the quality of the art and the storytelling have improved since the earlier books. Dedicated Niffenegger fans may wish to own a copy; borrowing from the library is recommended for those who are merely “interested”. Different.


A Montana Man (Silhouette Desire)
A Montana Man (Silhouette Desire)
by Jackie Merritt
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A sweet romance, 14 Mar. 2015
A Montana Man is the second book in the Benning Legacy series by American author, Jackie Merritt. Sierra Benning leaves behind California and her failed marriage, and heads north for some adventure. In Montana, she gets more than she bargained for: a winding mountain road and a fast-travelling truck on the wrong side of the road mean she is lucky to escape with her life. When she wakes up in the ICU, unable to remember anything, a handsome stranger is keeping vigil by her bed. Rancher Clint Barrow is the young truck driver’s father, and he feels responsible for this young woman’s welfare. Sierra may not know who she is, but she feels she can trust this man. A sweet romance with a charming hero, an appealing heroine and a dilemma: how can they start a romance when they don’t know if Sierra is spoken for? The only flaw in this romance is that the amnesia is drawn out a little too long.


The Girl On The Landing
The Girl On The Landing
by Paul Torday
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars another brilliant Torday offering, 14 Mar. 2015
“How comfortable that idea is: that everything wrong with the human race is the result of some malfunction, some microscopic chemical change in our brains, some evolutionary wrong turning in our genetic code.”

The Girl On The Landing is the third novel by British author, Paul Torday. For ten years, Elizabeth has been married to Michael Gascoigne, ten years that Elizabeth says “demonstrated that at least I had commitment, although in my bleaker moments I thought that it might just be inertia”. Michael, boring but very wealthy, decent and reliable, begins to change after a weekend in Ireland, and Elizabeth discovers a spontaneous, romantic man she wishes had been present for those early years. Even when she discovers the reason for this profound change, and the danger it poses, she is reluctant to give this new man up.

This novel has a rather slow-moving start, but this tempo reflects the tone of the Gascoigne marriage, and as later events are described, the pace certainly picks up. Torday uses a twin narrative: Michael, who is eventually revealed to be an unreliable narrator; and Elizabeth, whose perspective demonstrates just how easily one can be ignorant of the true nature of one’s partner. Torday touches on the covert racism of the English Gentleman’s Club, as well as the medical profession’s opinion of what is “normal”, mental disorders and the drugs used to treat them: “…what type of human can conceive that a drug which obliterates the patient’s identity so entirely is a cure for anything?”

Torday said he trying to find the “ultimate novel” and wrote compulsively: each of his seven novels is a different genre, and The Girl On The Landing has been described as a subtle ghost story. This edition also contains a reading guide and a preview of the next book Torday wrote: The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers. Said Charlie Summers makes a cameo appearance in this novel: Torday’s characters tend to do this. This thought-provoking novel is another brilliant Torday offering.


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