Tag: book review (Page 1 of 4)

Book review: Feijoa, by Kate Evans

Title: Feijoa — A Story of Obsession & Belonging

Author: Kate Evans

Publisher: Hachette/Moa Press, 2024; RRP $34.99

I picked this work to read and review primarily because I have two feijoas in my garden and I don’t know enough about them save my neighbour has one and I thought why not. It has been a puzzling journey. One is currently covered in fruit after five to six years of providing me with lovely exotic-looking flowers blossoming out from promising little green nubs that would then drop off the branch without going any further. The second was slashed back to its base by an overly enthusiastic gardening helper and ever since has done nothing more than slowly claw its way back from what seemed certain annihilation. Though tropical by nature, and despite my very unhealthy soil, they are doing better than I thought so I already knew it was not an ordinary tree, and this book was a chance to learn more. 

Feijoa: A Story of Obsession & Belonging is written, predictably, by a feijoa addict, one who says  in the opening lines that this fruit ‘feels like home to me’. This I get. Apricots are home to me, so this approach sounded very promising.

Though centred on the feijoa, this work is also part memoir and part travel, interweaving geography, history and cultural explorations with detailed descriptions of feijoa-based meals shared with others, a sprinkling of recipes in which feijoa is the main act, and a search for a garden lost to time.

The historical and cultural influence includes socio-economic and political history of countries and peoples where the feijoa played an important role in everyday life, and also in the wider political and economic spheres.

It also contains information about the medicinal and health use of feijoa from the indigenous peoples of different countries thousands of years old, to recent discoveries in scientific laboratories. There is also reference to the lack of acknowledgement of either this older knowledge or the peoples who shared it with others who came later. In her dedication the author writes, 

For the feijoa-lovers, from 4000 years ago to today.

Warning us that Feijoa extends far beyond the walls of scientific laboratories and our backyards, and into the lives of all the different cultures and lands on which feijoa grows and has been loved for thousands of years.

The author travelled widely in her investigations. The chapters are headed conveniently for each country she visited. This is not only a tidy way of ordering the social  and cultural contexts of the role feijoa played in each location but also allowed me as a gardener to compare what was described there with the environment mine are growing in. There I  discovered its amazing resilience and capacity to survive – which explained the miraculous survival of a near death experience of one of mine.

Kate Evans talks about her love of the feijoa

@ abc nightlife

Both memoir and non memoir components of Feijoa are supported by a substantial set of End Notes pp 287-307 containing a mix of citations and footnotes rather than being a traditional bibliography. Citations of published works are mixed with recollections or the addition of extra information supporting what is contained in the body of the work. Where political, historical, medical, cultural, social, economic, agricultural or any other non-memoir statements are made, what is said refers back to a searchable source.

Who would enjoy this work?

This work is definitely niche, even for gardeners, however it satisfies more than one niche, which means potential to please more than one reading interest.

Even if you don’t particularly like feijoa the book is interesting for its approach of exploring the world through an unashamedly besotted focus on one plant, going deeper than simply how to grow and cook it – though foodies would be interested in that too. There is useful information for gardeners thinking of getting or already having a feijoa in their garden. The travel and memoir sides are entertaining in their own right and the extended look into the wider contexts in which one piece of fruit sits was also interesting. It is also particularly pleasing for anyone who fits more than one – personally I found the combination of travel, memoir, cooking and gardening both useful and enjoyable.

The author, New Zealand’s Kate Evans, is an award-winning journalist and nature writer who has written for, among others, The Guardian, The Observer, National Geographic and Scientific American. She has also won national media awards for scientific and environmental journalism and feature writing. She has also worked as a TV producer, and a video journalist including at the ABC and the BBC and reporting from multiple locations internationally.

Reviewed by: Rhonda Cotsell, June 2024

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy supplied by the publisher

Book review: The Fellowship of Puzzle Makers, by Samuel Burr

Title: The Fellowship of Puzzle Makers

Author: Samuel Burr

Publisher: Orion/Hachette, 2024; RRP: $32.99

Samuel Burr is a TV producer who has worked on popular factual shows including the BAFTA-nominated Secret Life of 4-Year-Olds. Samuel’s writing was selected for Penguin’s WriteNow scheme and in 2021 he graduated from the Faber Academy. He previously studied at Westminster Film School.

The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers is a story concerning relationships and self-discovery. It has two interconnected threads following two main characters, Pippa and her adopted son Clayton.

The book opens with a prologue;  here the reader is introduced to Pippa, and Clayton makes an appearance as the baby in the hatbox that Pippa has found on the steps of the Fellowship of Puzzlemakers.

Chapter One is the beginning of Clayton’s story – it is Pippa’s funeral some 25 years later. Burr interweaves the stories of Pippa and Clayton chapter by chapter to form a single story exploring the value of connecting with others.

On the bell curve of social normality, Pippa is something of an outlier, a setter of cryptic crosswords, an intellectual, single and alone. Pippa’s story is mostly concerned with her efforts to establish The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers, which she begins as a way of engaging with like-minded people. It soon becomes much more.  

The Fellowship members live in a sort of commune and make a living by creating jigsaws, crosswords, mazes, and other games. Burr has managed to draw on that tradition of English intellectual eccentricity, one of understated ability, and quirky cleverness.

Samuel Burr on his writing routine

writer’s routine podcast

Clayton lives within the Fellowship, which by this stage is more a retirement home than enterprise. He is not a puzzle maker but a chef and de facto carer for the aging Fellowship members. Clayton is  a quiet and reserved young man. Loved and treasured by those around him, but as the first line of Chapter One says, “Clayton Stumper is an enigma”.  He has never questioned his parentage, and Pippa has never told him directly.

He is somewhat reclusive and not particularly adventurous. This changes after Pippa’s funeral.  As part of her legacy to Clayton, Pippa has set him a puzzle that will challenge him and take him out into the world to find himself and his parentage.

Burr’s writing is clear, clean, and uncomplicated. At times I thought it felt too sparse, too direct – telling the reader, especially in the first half – but perhaps this was necessary to establish the context for the second half.

This is an agreeable and pleasing tale with a touch of English eccentricity.

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher

Book review: A Feather So Black

Title: A Feather So Black

Author: Lyra Selene

Publisher: Hachette/Orbit, 2024; RRP: $32.99

Lyra Selene is the author of the YA duology Amber & DuskA Feather So Black is her debut adult novel.  She lives in New England with her husband and daughter.

Fia is a changeling left in place of the stolen High Queen’s daughter. The High Queen trains her to be a weapon. Fia, although eight years old when left in the princess’s place, has no memory of before. She is obviously not human but she looks like the human princess, Eala, except for her sable hair and two different-coloured eyes. She has an affinity with the forest and plants. Her only friend is Prince Rogan, Eala’s betrothed. 

Rogan and Fia find a forgotten gate to Tir na nOg and set out over almost a year (they can only cross over one night a month at the full moon) to break Eala’s curse and free her. Fia also has to find a Treasure. Early in the story Fia has a Folk creature ask her to “Mend the broken heart. End the sorrow. Give what life is left, so we may see the morrow.” This neatly sums up Fia’s ultimate task. 

The fantasy element adheres closely to Celtic tales of the Fair Folk and I only wished I’d thought to look for a glossary first instead of making up my own pronunciation for Gaelic names such as Eala and Irian. (The glossary is at the back of the book and I didn’t find it until I’d finished the story.)

The romance is equally important to, and bound up in, their quests. Fia’s tasks are complicated by her feelings for Rogan and her growing feelings for the dark Folk Gentry, Irian, who while seeming more monster than man reveals a better understanding of Fia’s nature than anyone else. Fia also learns to understand and accept her own self as her character develops and deepens throughout the story.

There is sex and violence and all that the fantasy aficionado could ask for along with a strong and steamy romantic element.

The book is 466 pages long but the writing is evocative and a pleasure to read, as this excerpt shows:

“Inside the tiered grotto surrounding the greenhouse, the world had cracked open, letting light inside. Winter branches were furred with new leaves. Crocuses in red and purple lolled their heads. The air smelled of moss and fresh beginnings.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and my only regret is that I now have to wait for the second instalment, A Crown So Silver, Book 2 of The Fair Folk.

Reviewed by: Marian Chivers, April, 2024

Ballarat Writer Inc Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher

  • Marian Chivers has a lifelong interest in reading and writing with her work and study involving books from children’s literature to postgraduate studies.

Book review: Forgotten Warriors, by Sarah Percy

Title: Forgotten Warriors: A History of Women on the Front Line

Author: Sarah Percy

Publisher: Hachette/John Murray, 2023; RRP $34.99

Dr Sarah Percy is an associate professor at the University of Queensland and former Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. She was also author and presenter of ABC radio series Why the Cold War Still Matters, and has written Mercenaries, another unconventional military history spanning multiple locations from medieval times to the present.

Forgotten Warriors is approached in the same way. What struck me about this work is how effectively the author tied together all the different strands across nations and recorded history to create a complex, cohesive picture of war itself and women’s roles in it. It is unstintingly relentless in its portrayal of what women can, and have done, destroying any notion that women don’t fight so comprehensively it was tempting  just to quote nothing but examples from this work. But a review needs more than just a list.  

The central theme of Forgotten Warriors, however, is not whether they were involved, but how women’s involvement in battle has been consistently and systematically concealed or misrepresented by military leaders since early recorded history. The book beginning with the example of the skeleton of a high-ranking Viking warrior surrounded by weapons and a horse being automatically identified as male for over a century until developments in DNA analysis revealed it, to widespread disbelief, to be female.

 In her research for Forgotten Warriors Dr Percy uncovers how large a role women have always played in conflict. Records show that female camp followers in European wars between the 15th to the 18th centuries, popularly described in history as wives and prostitutes, played essential support roles including feeding the armies, laundry and medical services, and fighting on the front line itself. Before them were Boadicea and Joan of Arc, and the millions of women who fought and died unnamed. Today women are fighting on the front lines in the Ukraine and Gaza, military and non military, on both sides and everywhere else a war is being fought.

The author identified a number of repeated reasons given for the belief that women do not belong in war. Among these were that it would destroy the bond of brotherhood between soldiers, that  women cannot fight, that their presence would distract male soldiers, that on the home front they would be taking men’s jobs, and finally that to acknowledge women as active participants in war was to damage the ‘feminine mystique’ necessary for peace time – at home and in the kitchen.

Watch Sarah Percy lecture on Forgotten Warriors

SAHR Lectures

What her research uncovers, however, is there are far more reasons why women are likely to be involved in war than not, that there is no real basis for the notion that women would sit passively aside while male family members, friends and neighbours went off to fight, or war came through their own front doors.

These discoveries are confirmed by what she details in Forgotten Warriors from when wars were first recorded. Some women, concealing their gender, were involved not for the above reasons but because soldiering was their chosen profession. The author also suggests homosexual or transgender women may also have found military life a safer option than civilian life. More telling is the fact that women were often conscripted, by military leadership bodies discovering repeatedly that wars could not be won without them.

There are countless stories of courage and of brutality, too many too repeat here. Some of the more dramatic include the hugely successful Russian Night Witches flying 24,000 missions using substandard bombers compared to their male counterparts, the terrifying Dahomey, and the Battalion of Death led by Maria Bochkareva. Google them.

Forgotten Warriors is not an easy read. I found it disturbing to find within it, for example, many instances where determination by military leaders to downgrade the input of women often involved putting them in dangerous situations, e.g., the  British women in WW2 who manned the huge anti-aircraft battery lights that spotlit attacking German planes. When enemy planes were caught in their sights the women became defenceless targets themselves, because women were not allowed to fire artillery while the men who did the same job could.

A confused sense emerges from history in Forgotten Warriors as it uncovers both military leaders and sometimes the men women fought beside, simply not being able to come to terms with the idea of women in wartime except in terms of needing to be protected, or inevitable victims of collateral damage. Being unable to openly acknowledge the need by women to fight for their own reasons, or essential contribution woman made when they were involved, leaves a gap it seems to have been too hard to traverse. 

During WW2 a high-ranking Russian official, Mikhail Kalinan, despite acknowledging that women’s involvement had strengthened the army and improved the behaviour of men, warned the women under his command that, post war,

Do not give yourself airs in your future practical work. Do not speak about the services you have rendered, let others do it for you. That will be better.

Betty Friedman, in her ground-breaking work The Feminine Mystique, would have loved ‘your future practical work’.

I want to stress, however, that the tone of Forgotten Warriors is one of serious military history and not a diatribe against men. Much of it is heartwarming, showing simple camaraderie between individuals fighting and suffering side by side. There are truly amazing, deeply human stories in there, celebrating both men and women at their best and worst in awful situations.

Target audience?

All those interested in military history and especially all those who believe women do not ‘belong’ in wars so they can test their understanding against what lies hidden beneath the other stories we have been told. 

Reviewed by: Rhonda Cotsell, March 2024

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy supplied by the publisher

Book review: Yeah, Nah!, by William McInnes

Title: Yeah, Nah!: A celebration of life and the words that make us who we are

Author: William McInnes

Publisher: Hachette Australia, 2023

William McInnes is one of Australia’s most popular and well-known writers and actors.  He began his writing career with his memoir A Man’s Got to Have a Hobby.  In 2012 his book, co-written with his wife, Sarah Watt, Worse Things Happen at Sea, was named the best non-fiction title in the ABIA and Indie Book Awards.  He now has a dozen books to his name.

His acting credits include leading roles in Blue Healers, Sea Change, Total Control and The Newsreader.  He has won two Logies and two AFI/AACTA Awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.  William now lives in Melbourne after spending his formative years in Queensland.

Language is an important identifier of culture and community and William McInnes looks into the changes in the language of Australia.  This entertaining read is part memoir – a nostalgic look at expressions used in his childhood, his parents’ time and through to the present day.  The book consists of 11 chapters each examining a particular ‘time’, the language used and developed and McInnes’s thoughts and memories.  He begins with Simpler Times and Unprecedented Times (memory inducing for all of us).  He looks at Sporting Times and ends with Calling Time.  Occasionally, I thought he had lost his way but he always neatly brought it back at the conclusion of the chapter.

It becomes part manifesto in chapters like Men of Their Time where he and a best mate devise a list to guide young men in their early to mid-twenties, including their sons, on how to be a ‘good bloke’ and, I must say, if the young men of my acquaintance followed the list they would be on the right track.

William McInnes on his favourite Australianisms

@ ABC australia

McInnes is a wonderful storyteller with an insight into the human condition.  The book has some laugh-out-loud moments and a lot of quiet chuckles and smiles while still getting his point across.  As an example, a former girlfriend dumped him because he surfed like Herman Munster from a TV series in the 1960s.  Being of a similar age, I could really identify with a lot of his reminiscences.  When there was some lingo I hadn’t come across (he did grow up in a different state to me) he explains these terms neatly and succinctly. 

I would recommend this book for middle to older generations for the remembrance of a time past and the reminder that the world has moved on and so has our language.  However, it is still relevant for younger readers for some inside information into a previous time and proof that Australia is still a living language after giving the world “selfie”.  Yeah, Nah! is a particularly Australian term and I think is worth an unequivocal Yeah.  Read it in one sitting or dip into it a chapter at a time.  Make the time even if you’re flat out like a lizard drinking.  You won’t be sorry.

Reviewed by: Marian Chivers, January, 2024

Ballarat Writers Inc Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher.

  • Marian Chivers is a retired librarian with a lifelong interest in reading, writing and language with her work and study involving books from children’s literature to postgraduate studies.

Book review: Mother Earth, by Libby Hathorn

Title: Mother Earth: Poems to celebrate the wonder of nature

Author: Libby Hathorn, illustrated by Christina Booth

Publisher: Hachette, 2023; RRP $24.99

Libby Hathorn is a prolific writer for children, young adult and adult readers. Her work has won honours in Australia, the UK, Britain and Holland, and she has won multiple awards and prizes. Her work has also been translated into a number of languages, and adapted for stage and screen.

Illustrator Christina Booth is also an award-winning author of seven books and has illustrated over twenty, receiving a CBCA Honour Book award for her book Kip.

Mother Earth is a beautifully illustrated collection of poems aimed primarily at children between the ages of four and eight, but there are also poems older children might enjoy. The poems’ main theme is the beauty and vulnerability of the world we inhabit, and repeated throughout is the responsibility of all of us to protect and maintain it.

My first thought was how both message and reading and/or listening pleasure would be delivered,  as this requires delicate balance given the age of its audience. If the educational component is heavy handed, the poetic element can get lost in the facts. What made this danger particularly poignant is that its message is a more important subject for its audience than the adults who will share it with them.

Children, because of their age, respond to the natural world differently to the way adults do. Consequently alongside the need for environmental damage needing to be discussed with children it is equally important that it be relayed with rhythm and beautiful words they can connect with and enjoy.

Libby Hathorn has balanced these two concerns skilfully. Sharing what is meant by the natural environment and its need to be protected is explored throughout, including gentle hints about how this can be achieved. These ideas are presented in entertaining and informative poems alerting children to the need not to take its safety for granted, and what sorts of things that can be done, e.g., the bouncy ‘Say Rubbish to Rubbish’.

The natural world is defined in its full complexity, starting with a poem that talks about how we are all connected with the natural world.

You connected. Me. Us. They.

to things unseen and all you see.

The messages about current happenings doing damage are inserted amongst those concentrating simply on how blessed we are with the world we have. A poem filled with how good it feels to swim in the ocean, for example, is followed by another that recalls a beach walk and how too many of the shells have been removed.

This technique is used throughout, introducing invasive species, the effects of climate change, wildlife loss, etc. These are outnumbered by poems sharing the beauty and magic of the natural world however, so the overall tone is one of celebration.

A poem I particularly enjoyed was ‘Valley under the rock’ which gives voice to the mysterious and unknown about the natural world, recalling to me the otherworldly feel in underground caves, and the peace evoked by the deep silence when I walk deep into bushland to where the sounds of human habitation disappear. This allows reader and listener to experiencing it not just as a collection of one-dimensional facts.

Found a rock cathedral

in mansions of green

ancient secret cavern

glistening, serene.

This book could be used both for reading out loud and for sitting reading alone with a child. The illustrations add colour, shape and movement to the words, and the vivid colours and inclusion of details both large and small in the illustrations support this as well as the size and construction of the book itself. The firm front and back covers means it is easy to hold open, facing outwards.

I practised reading some of the poems aloud and found they lend themselves well to performance, invaluable for the adult reader who is able to add that element to the reading or who just likes to put on a bit of a show, whether teacher, librarian, or adult at home. Repetition is used throughout, and rhythm, for example in the poem on how we are all connected

to butterfly, to hairy ape

to itchy nits, to slipping snake

and another about a storm:

water sobbing

in the doorways

cats hobnobbing

Though all the poems are expressed in simple, vivid language aimed at younger children, a few also include less common words to challenge, inspire and entertain, e.g., coruscant, thrum, gnarled, monotreme. Useful environmentally aware words and phrases are also scattered throughout, e.g., ecosystem, recycling, connectedness to add to children’s vocabulary.

Mother Earth invites questions thus adding to its educational value, but also – speaking as a parent here – opportunity to reassure. Practical solutions are offered, and I can see also how some questions, especially those that need to give hope, might lead naturally to talking about Greenpeace and Landcare, or positive stories like the ongoing emergence of new species.

A small warming. The poem ‘Bushfire baby’ contains a drawing of a wounded koala being given water by an emergency worker to illustrate what happens to animals caught up in a bushfire, which even as an adult I found painful to look at. There are children who might find this image distressful so it’s good just to check that page and be aware of this in relation to your audience, whether just one or a group.

In conclusion, my overall impression is that Mother Earth is anexcellent starting point for introducing children to our natural world and the issues it is facing in the world as it is today. As parent and grandparent, I think it is an attractive, entertaining and useful tool to help introduce our children to the world they will inherit.

Reviewed by: Rhonda Cotsell

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher

— Rhonda is a retired librarian, ex child bookworm and previous avid reader and performer of children’s books to her own children and later grandson, clocking up over 20 years’ reading a minimum two books every night.

Book review – Other Houses, by Paddy O’Reilly

Title: Other Houses

Author: Paddy O’Reilly

Publisher: Affirm Press, 2022; RRP: $32.99

Paddy O’Reilly is a well-known Australian writer. She has written four novels including 2022’s Other Houses: The Wonders (2014), The Fine Colour of Rust (2012) and The Factory (2005). She has also written two collections of short stories and a novella, all published over the last couple of decades. Paddy has been short-listed and successful for numerous awards, both in Australia and overseas. Paddy O’Reilly lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Set in Melbourne’s western suburbs, Other Houses tells a vivid story of disadvantage and struggle. Lily is the mum of Jewelee, a rebelling teenager, when Janks, a reformed drug addict joins their family. They decide to leave the rough side of town and move across the tracks. Their motive is to give their daughter a chance to attend a better school and provide her with the opportunities in life they never had.

Lily collaborates with a friend, Shannon, cleaning other people’s houses. Their boss is a shifty character with his  own interests at heart. The daily grind of the work is back breaking for the two women, but they pride themselves on their ability to achieve exacting standards. They are good friends supporting each other and making the most of earning a wage together. The clients they work for are a precious lot but cleaning their houses on a regular basis provides the women with amusement, concern and intriguing insights into the secrets and oddities of other people’s lives.

Janks works in a factory. He and Lily are dependent on both their wages to make ends meet but no matter how hard it becomes, Lily and Janks are determined to turn Jewelee’s life around, and they are comforted when she finally shows signs of responding. They teeter on the edge of financial fragility each week but believe in what they are doing, for Jewelee and themselves. Then something happens that shatters their plan for a better existence.

George Haddad on Other Houses: ‘trauma without the porn’

@ the sydney review of books

This book has Paddy O’Reilly’s signature written all over it: clever and humorous storytelling that bursts alive on the pages. It also contains an honesty that is cringe worthy but so accurate that the reader becomes acutely engaged with the characters. Lily, Janks and Jewelee don’t mince words. They are living and evolving products of a world where privilege is absent and surviving without it is harsh.

Written with a tension that has the reader turning pages, Other Houses provides a window into hardship and poverty and the extreme difficulty of finding a way out. I was left with a reminder of how the circumstance of class inequality and disadvantage is difficult to exit. In fact, for some people and families, escape is near impossible.  

I loved this book and the characters danced in my head for days after I finished reading it. It’s a close-up read. Clever, funny, serious and real.  

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche, October 2023

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Book review – The Broken Places, by Russell Franklin

Title: The Broken Places

Author: Russell Franklin

Publisher: Phoenix Books/Hachette, 2023; RRP $32.99

The Broken Places fits into the genre of biological fiction, defined as a work based on the life of a real person but developed further within a fictional framework.

Nobel Laureate Ernest Hemingway had three sons: John, Patrick, and Gregory, his youngest and favourite. The Broken Places is  positioned within the history of Hemingway himself and the Hemingway family, but the main character is Greg, or Gigi as his family often called him.

Like his father, Greg was highly competitive and adventurous, a boy who won an international shooting competition in Cuba against far more experienced adults. He was fearless, muscular, and very fit. Being a little on the short side, he was also often referred to affectionately by his father as his ‘pocket rocket’. He also excelled academically and, when he left school, undertook medical training, working as a physician in NYC before moving to work in a small country town community hospital.

He and his older brother Patrick had a seemingly idyllic childhood including long stays with their larger than life, loving but overly indulgent father in his estate Finca Vigia in Cuba, including allowing them at a very young age to drink alcohol and smoke. Though he loved his sons he also demanded much of them. Being able to brag about his sons’ achievements gave him much pleasure, and the opposite  was true if they failed, something of which they were both painfully aware. Despite this, they loved their father and in their own ways tried to adjust to the demands he made of them.

Greg, however, had a secret other life. Quite early on in childhood, he developed a fascination for wearing women’s clothing. This  fascination grew steadily stronger as he got older, filling him with  shame and self-loathing.

As he grew into adulthood, he suffered periodic attacks of manic depression. These manic attacks wreaked havoc with his relationships, causing him to escape his marriage and home life and take to the night streets trying desperately to deal with the mayhem in his mind, and usually ending up in bars or parties out of his mind on alcohol and drugs.

Treatment included electric shock therapy but this changed from being a medical intervention to another addiction. Over time he begun submitting to the treatment willingly, even seeking it out for the period of peace and calm that followed. He refers to the sessions as his  ‘shocks’, in the same way an addict might refer to needing more heroin or an alcoholic needing another bottle of whisky.  The relief they provided, however, became shorter and shorter and the mania and the black depression which preceded them would always return.

More about Greg and the Hemingway family

@ the Chicago Tribune

The sections in the book dealing with his growing understanding of his desire to dress in women’s clothing are tragic and convincing. This side of himself was unwelcome but over time he found the only way to stop it from destroying his sanity, and his professional life as doctor, was to allow it a place in his life, in a safe and structured way. Like his ‘shocks’, however, each time he did, the reprieve was temporary. By the end of The Broken Place, however, he comes to a place where he is able to accept himself as all of who he is: Greg, Gigi, and finally, Gloria .This book is how he gets there, as well as how his family tries to support him.

The author, Briton Russell Franklin, states clearly at the start that this, his debut novel, is a fictional work inspired by Gregory’s life. There is no mention of  Hemingway family members in his Acknowledgements but at the end of the work he does provide a useful list of biographical and autobiographical works written by a number of them.

Franklin himself was able to write the book after being selected for the prestigious London Library Emerging Writers Programme 2000-2001 and he thanks those in his cohort there ‘for helping me take myself seriously as a writer’.

 In his Author’s Note at the beginning, and aware perhaps of his responsibility to his subject and possible responses from their fans, he writes:

I make no claims that my approach is definitive, but I hope the reader will appreciate that it arises from a place of love and respect.

I did have some qualms about this work. The book is filled with actual Hemingway family members and references real events and places like Hemingway’s Cuban home so it’s difficult  to extricate what is fiction from the factual.

Franklin’s writing is also very engaging and convincing. His characters leap from the pages and it is easy to see it may be taken as more factual than it actually is.

I enjoyed the book despite these doubts. The list of references is reassuring, and Franklin’s  reference to academic Paul Hendrickson’s Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961 as ‘the original well spring and authority on the real Greg’s life’ offers much. In there may be found a clearer sense of what is true and what is fiction. 

These concerns aside, I found the resolution at the end to be satisfying and the descriptions of his occasional ventures out into the world, unmasked, dressed as a woman – including the terrible  moment his father walked in on him, still only a young boy, dressed in his stepmother’s clothing – painfully convincing, giving insight into how very difficult life is in a world which restricts gender identity to either male or female. The author taking us deep into the loneliness and the shame and  conveying it skilfully and movingly, and, as he promises in his Author’s Note, respectfully.

In conclusion, the title, taken from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, provides in retrospect an excellent introduction to what lies at the heart of his favourite son’s story.

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.

Reviewed by: Rhonda Cotsell

Ballarat Writers Inc. book review group

Review copy provided by the publisher

Book review – Borderland, by Graham Akhurst

Title: Borderland

Author: Graham Akhurst

Publisher: UWA Publishing, October 2023; RRP: $22.99

The hidden Chosen One trope is as old at least as Arthur, especially in the Young Adult realm, but Graham Akhurst gives it fresh poignancy in his debut novel by using the frame of the Stolen Generations and colonial displacement. In fact, the non-fantastical elements of Borderland are where the tale strikes deepest, the horror elements familiar and the narrative trajectory treading a well-worn path of discovery, mentorship and challenge.

Our hero is Jono, a First Nations lad raised in Brisbane with no knowledge of his mob or Country, his family’s past either not known or obscured by his loving single mum who is, one suspects, battling her own demons. In an echo of the acclaimed TV series Cleverman, Jono is embroiled in a journey of discovery that reveals far more than he could ever have expected about the world and his place in it.

The story opens with Jono feeling like the odd one out, he and his long-time friend, Jenny, graduating as the two Indigenous kids on a scholarship at a prestigious high school. That the discrimination comes not only from classmates either ignorant or jealous but also other blackfellas, who brand him a ‘coconut’, is telling. Hell, even magpies give him a rough time, even out of nesting season.

Aside from his mother, Jenny – attractive, talented and secure in her cultural identity – is Jono’s rock. It is at her instigation that Jono joins an arts academy, where the story picks up the pace. It is here that the pair find themselves on a flight to western Queensland to shoot a ‘documentary’ extolling the virtues of the mining industry to the traditional custodians whose land sits above rich seams of gas ripe for the fracking.

Akhurst looks back at life in Nudgee and forward to his next writing project

@ behind the stripes, 2021

For the boy from Brisbane, the tension of mining interests, economic drivers and preservation of Country is an intriguing backdrop to the simple fact that he is making serious money for the first time in his life – money that can help his mother. This mirrors the argument of trying to better the lot of traditional owners by allowing exploitation of Country, a contemporary conflict that gives the story added social weight. Further illustrating the clash, Akhurst appears to draw upon a decade-old, contentious accusation of methane released by coal seam gas operations setting the Condamine River alight in one of the book’s more evocative scenes.

It is out west that Akhurst finds his most vivid descriptions of landscape in a tale simply told, as befits its young first-person narrator who wields slang, not metaphors. And it is out west where truths are uncovered that will irrevocably change the lives of Jenny and Jono. There is the matter, for example, of Jono’s growing attraction to his confident, mature friend. And there’s the question about that dog-headed monster that’s been haunting him of late, the visions growing in potency despite the medication he has been prescribed. And what about that enigmatic ringer so at ease in the dust and haze of the west, and tales of Dreamtime spirits that may not be as quiescent as believed?

These spirits and other totemic and symbolic meanings are the creation of Akhurst, a Kokomini writer and academic who grew up in Meanjin (Brisbane). In a note, Akhurst, who includes a Fulbright scholarship among his accomplishments, reveals extensive consultation with First Nations people in relation to this story, but he makes the point that he carefully invented settings and cultural elements to avoid appropriation.

This incorporation of beliefs, however fictionalised, and Jono’s growing understanding of their meaning and their relationship to him, are key elements of this coming-of-age yarn that sets the scene for further volumes.

At story’s end, Jenny and Jono both have quests awaiting them that provide further opportunity for social exploration as well as good old-fashioned adventure. As such, Borderland is a solid start, both for our heroes’ journey and Akhurst’s fiction career.

Reviewed by: Jason Nahrung

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Advanced reading copy provided by the publisher

Book review – The Fast 800 Keto Recipe Book, by Dr Clare Bailey

Title: The Fast 800 Keto Recipe Book (Australian and New Zealand edition)

Author: Dr Clare Bailey with Kathryn Bruton

Publisher: Hachette Australia, 2022; RRP $39.99

Why choose to review a cookbook? Those who cook will not be asking that question and since you have started reading this then you already know. Some cookbooks are like another pair of hands in the kitchen, some not. It’s good to know in advance.

I chose this book to review because I wanted to know more about the keto diet. I am not reviewing the diet itself as I am not a medical professional. When I judge cookbooks for purchase I consider whether they contain something I want to know, and how easy they are to work with as a longtime but unqualified cook in an average to small home kitchen.

My approach is based on awareness that all cooks will vary hugely on the specifics but, generally,  we all tend to want roughly the same thing concerning cookbooks: recipes and how we find and put them to use.

Because many cooks, including me, google recipes too, I need to get that out of the way. Googling is great for finding recipes from simple to complex, and also exploring such things as substitutes or what to do with a sausage, half a cabbage and a packet of chips in twenty minutes. But my phone screen cuts out too quickly and laptops do not belong on kitchen benches. Neither cope with sticky fingers or inevitable spills. Keeping successful recipes found on Google is a whole new task in itself, often requiring a print out which must then itself be kept somewhere since it’s more user friendly in non-digital form. 

‘A ketogenic (or ‘keto’) diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet.

read more at health direct

I wanted to know more about the keto diet itself as the little I knew sounded healthy, and I wanted simple recipes that used most of what I already have in my home kitchen, with a few interesting new ones and hopefully new ways of cooking food I already like.

After that, what matters is how easy the book is to use. Though important, this is always secondary. Cookbooks have a distinct role and even a battered op shop cookbook minus its cover is going to be the right one if it contains new ways of cooking mince or the recipe for a Black Forest cake that we are searching for. Some cookbooks are things of beauty but useless in our kitchens if they are not a catalyst for joy on a plate.

For this work – the basic requirement was that the keto diet be clearly and simply explained, by writers I could trust. 

Both Dr Michael Mosley, who wrote both the forward to this volume and Fast 800 Keto, to which this is a companion volume, and his wife, Dr Clare Bailey, are trained and practising medical scientists. Dr Mosley is the scientific and PR backbone of the pair, and Dr Bailey also an enthusiastic cook. She, along with recipe writer, developer and food stylist Kathryn Bruton, are responsible for the recipes.

Both doctors are passionate about the diet and the work does involve a lot of information spruiking its benefits, though that is to be expected. This is offset by a section ‘Exclusions and Cautions’, which lists conditions for which the diet would not be suitable, and also advising anyone considering the diet to always consult their doctor first about pre-existing conditions. There is also helpful advice for a flexible approach allowing for different levels of commitment.

This information is set out clearly at the beginning before the recipe pages so encouraging a fully informed approach before the cooking starts.

The rest of the book contains the recipes themselves interspersed with information listing protein content and calories as these are basic to the keto diet.


Dr Mosley talks about his Fast 800 keto book

@ the BBC

I just wanted to know if the recipes looked good, at this stage having read enough to decide not to follow the diet. Not because I didn’t agree with it but because I don’t like regimented eating. But I did like the recipes and I do like healthy food.

What remains then for potential users is how easy it is to use the physical book in the kitchen environment.

First, how well is the information ordered and laid out? I found the index and contents easy to read, and thorough. The Contents are in bold, and not fussy, separating the book into eight main groups from breakfast through to treats, followed by others under headings like ‘counting carbs’, ‘no fuss dressings’, ‘protein alternatives’.

The index is by ingredient, individual recipes, and recipe groups, for example pancakes, dressings, etc, which makes it particularly useful for searching for recipes according to different needs.                                                                                                                         

Secondly, can it sit upright or lie open on a flat surface at the relevant page? Many can’t and this unfortunately is no exception. This is always a pain when having to check details mid recipe, or find the next step.

Thirdly, is there space for notes? And yes, there is. This is necessary for comments around or near the recipe once attempted. There doesn’t need to be an allocated space. Things like emergency substitutes for missing ingredients, suggestions for changing things around, or just ‘Yum!’

This book is roughly 19cm by 24cm with a bright cover, so easy to find on a cluttered bench. The pages are shiny and a little stiff, so able to cope well with fingerprints, etc. The illustrations are attractive, simple shots of the dish with nothing around it to distract, nice to look at, and useful so we get an idea of what the end result should look like.

I would recommend it to anyone curious about the keto diet, or who likes reading about food generally. A strength is that most of the recipes are really simple and inviting, using easily found ingredients, and also that it is written in a concise, no-fuss style suited to a busy cooking environment. 

Reviewed by: Rhonda Cotsell

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher

  • I am a qualified librarian, and have completed a PG in Professional Writing. I read widely, nonstop, and have all my life. My librarian self thinks about who would like to read this book. My writer self clarifies my response, tries to identify where a book succeeds, and where it fails. As a writer I also explore different sorts of writing in order to write better and to fully explore the power of the written word in all our lives.
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