May 30, 2015

Book Review - A Pleasure and A Calling by Phil Hogan

This is an avuncular story which goes along quietly until you realize that the narrator, Mr Heming, a real estate agent, has kept keys to every house he has ever had dealings with and he indulges himself with visiting the houses and sampling the lives of their occupants. For example, he goes to one house every day for breakfast after the family has left. They are in such a muddle that they wouldn't notice extra toast has been used. Gradually, we learn more of his history, and then learn what he is capable of when he is threatened. He is in danger of losing his carefully acquired poise and good humour, not to mention several clients and employees! Macabre and darkly funny, a very unusual and different mystery which would not be for everyone. 

May 29, 2015

Book Review—The Surfacing by Cormac James

The HMS Impetus wades into the arctic in search of John Franklin’s lost expedition of 1845. While en route it is discovered that Kitty Rink, a female stow away, is pregnant with Morgan, the second in command’s, child. After a troubled start the ship gets stuck for 18 months and from there unfolds tension and desperation.

The restricted geography of the barren environment and the ship’s hull leaves as the only recourse for movement the temporal. Structured around dates, James replicates the strain of the voyage and moves inwards for psychological drama. It is not an easy novel to read, but not because of dense, obscure references or impenetrable language. Instead the hardboiled journal format leaves the reader fatigued from the fractured repetition. This repetition is not soothing or comforting. It is jarring, unsettling, creaking, and the narrative progresses slowly like the ship jerking in the hard Arctic Sea.

Strenuous and demanding, The Surfacing is as mentally and corporeally unrelenting as the events it depicts.

May 27, 2015

Book Review - Redemption by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Described as the "It boy of Nordic noir "on the cover blurb, Adler-Olsen does not disappoint in this murder mystery from Denmark. The serial killer here has the most ingenious way of targeting families, extracting money from them and also satisfying his need to control and to kill. All is going well until he makes a fatal error at the same time as the case is given attention by an eccentric cast of detectives in the cold case team. Another terrific Scandinavian mystery.

May 25, 2015

Book Review - Longbourn: Pride and Prejudice – the servants' story by Jo Baker

Pride and Prejudice, one of the English speaking world's favourite novels by the acclaimed Jane Austen, concerns the Bennett family of five daughters, who will be homeless on their father's death because the family property, Longbourn, is entailed and can only be inherited by a male heir, Mr Bennet's cousin, Mr Collins. This story focuses on the servants of Longbourn:  Mr and Mrs Hill, Sarah, Polly and James. Just as the Bennet daughters are dependent on a good outcome to keep a home, so are the servants. Mr Collins proposes to and is rejected by Elizabeth Bennet and immediately secures the hand of their neighbour, Charlotte Lucas.

"…it was though a sack of bricks had been lifted from Mrs Hill's back. The future was no longer such a terrifying place. Charlotte Lucas was a steady young woman, who knew the value of a good servant, and who had far too much sense to replace staff simply for the sake of appearance or fashion. Nothing was certain, of course – for nothing is certain in this life, except that we must leave it – but Charlotte had been in and out of Mrs Hill's kitchen since she was a little girl, asking for recipes, a loan of sugar or a jelly mould, and was known to be particularly partial to Mrs Hill's lemon tarts, and indeed had on several occasions been heard to say that nobody could make a lemon tart like Mrs Hill. Back in the kitchen, Mrs Hill set about whipping up a batch of lemon tarts to send back with Sir William. These little attentions were more than worth the effort."

It is not necessary to know Pride and Prejudice to get a lot out of this story. Elizabeth is fond of walking and getting her petticoats muddy, on such excursions, she has encounters with Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. In Longbourn, the focus is on Sarah and Polly getting the mud out on wash-day, with cold reddened hands and chillblains. The servants' tasks are carefully detailed, revealing the unimaginable drudgery of keeping a large household running with no running water, no sewerage, no mechanical aids and a lot of sheer hard work. Sarah takes centre stage and her story is told well, but Polly, James and the Hills all reveal their backgrounds, hopes and dreams in this sensitively imagined and satisfying read. A welcome complement to the beloved novel.

Book Review—Mapping our World: Terra Incognita to Australia

Who thought a book about cartography could be so captivating? Based on an exhibition by the National Library of Australia, this fascinating book reveals the history of man’s conception of the world.

Showing how cultures perceived their world, the volume starts with the earliest extant map from the Babylonians and progresses through to early maps of Australia. Beautifully reproduced are the maps from these many ages, from the geometrically divided world of the ancients, to the medieval mappaemundi that combined the physical and temporal history of the world, through the mercantile maps of the age of exploration, leading to the early sketches of the Australian continent.

The interest goes further than the physical with the story of how people perceived themselves in their world, their conceptions of time and space, other lands and people. It reveals the peculiarities of these ideas (like the belief that the southern continents were not inhabited by decedents of Noah and therefore not human) as well as expelling our myths of the past (the ancients knew the earth was spherical and not flat). As the maps grow more familiar and detailed, so declines the strangeness of these conceptions of the cultures that produced them. What remains is the intrigue of these notions and the people who conceived them.

Mapping our World proves that cartography is more than just geography. It is culture, belief, humanity.

May 22, 2015

Book Review—Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov’s most celebrated and infamous novel. It is the story of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged literature academic. While staying at the Haze residence to work on a multivolume comparison of French and English writers he meets Dolores, or, as he will come to know her, Lolita: “Light of my life, fire of my loins”. There is however a problem: Lolita is 12 years old, and Humbert goes to extreme lengths to see and hold Lolita, even marrying Charlotte Haze, her mother, whom he despises. Finally possessing that which he desires, Humbert regales through the troubling ‘relationship’, until in the end the already tawdry tale escalates to murder.

Humbert is unrepentant and neither is Nabokov’s prose. On full show are the writer’s love of and skill with striking phrases, puns, literary allusions and transformations that ooze over every line. It is alarming to have such vile subject matter in such incredible prose, and for many this is a stumbling block. It is a peculiarity that erotic elements in literature are often not viewed beyond the surface. It is accepted that Moby Dick is about more than just whaling, or that The Great Gatsby is about more than wild parties and excess in the Jazz Age. But with Lolita the obvious perversion is all some see, with Nabokov’s rich style viewed as an attempt at masquerading a “dirty little book”.

Lolita is best described as the twisted comedy of Humbert, a pompous, vile, self-absorbed unreliable narrator. He has his charms, chief among them his verbose wit, and many more flaws, primarily his misuse of his eloquence. But his is a hilarious, ironic tale of the collision of memory and desire in the mind of a vain wretch.

May 20, 2015

Book Review - Don't Look Back by Erica Spindler

Katherine McCall left town 10 years ago, after having been acquitted of killing her older sister, Sara, who was her guardian after their parents were killed in a car accident. Many townsfolk thought she did it and they aren't pleased she is back. But a series of anonymous letters have driven her to confront the truth and find out what really happened. Assisted by the new cop in town, she faces new dangers as the truth is finally revealed. Competent mystery romance fare set in small town USA.

May 18, 2015

Book Review - A Boy's Short Life: the story of Warren Braedon/Louis Johnson by Haebich and Mickle

Louis was born Warren, to the Braedon family in Alice Springs. As part of the government policy that applied for the welfare of children, he was removed from his family, adopted by a white family and renamed Louis Johnson. He had a loving and nurturing upbringing with his adoptive family but as a teenager, decided to try and find his biological family and understand his background. At the time of the adoption, his adoptive parents were told he was not wanted by his birth mother, but the Johnsons came to know the truth and tried to help him find his birth family.  Before he could meet them, he was shockingly murdered by some white youths who killed him because they had decided to murder a black person that day. He was killed on his nineteenth birthday.

Originally published as part of a larger book, this short book of 80 pages concentrates on this one story. Detailing the changing government policies and social attitudes that affected his life, it is told in plain almost stark language. The authors are experienced in researching and understanding indigenous history, and tell a strong and sad story. Extensively annotated and including a list of sources and suggested further study resources, this book illuminates a sadly significant part of our history.

Book Review - Making Couples Happy, How Science can help get relationships back on track by John Aiken & Alison Leigh

John Aiken is a trained clinical psychologist he has written two other books and appears regularly on channel Sevens Sunrise. Alison Leigh is a journalist/broadcaster with over 30yrs experience in writing for Australia and New Zealand magazines.
Making Couples Happy, How Science can help get relationships back on track  is a companion to the ABC-series-helping couples rediscover the positives in their relationships and setting them up for long term happiness.
The 4 simple steps explained in the book are-
·         Talk
·         Connect
·         Support
·         Dream
With skills and exercises to work through. The book uses 4 real couples as examples and goes through their high and lows while using science to help get their relationships back on track. The book contains an index which makes it easy to look up issues and exercises.
The book was an enjoyable read, the exercises where satisfying and the skills to learn could be challenging. An upbeat approach to creating a happy long lasting relationship. Anne

May 15, 2015

Book Review - The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

This is a sensitive and thought- provoking read. The surety of touch by this debut author is astounding. Cameron is 12 when the novel opens and her life is just turned upside down by the death of her parents in a car accident. Her conservative, religious Aunt Ruth, and her well meaning, but ineffectual grandmother, take on the parenting role, something neither of them were expecting or feeling confident about. 

Cameron has feelings for girls not boys which has its own issues and her teenage years also involve all the normal teenage issues; trying out for the swim team, going to the Prom, getting a summer job etc. Her time on the swim team leads to meeting Lindsey, who comes from a more liberal area and displays a confidence in her sexuality that eludes Cameron.  Cameron lives in a conservative, Christian community and when her 'sins' are discovered, she is sent to a Christian camp where it is hoped that she will find their faith and turn away from homosexuality. Her frank account of time in the camp feels very true, describing the schedule of activities, the one-on-one counseling and the room inspections and many other rules. I thought this may be a polemic against such places, but she comes to understand that the people who run it are fully engaged in their belief system and well meaning.  These are not nasty people but they have a deep belief system that does not include gay people. For the teens who share that faith, and therefore have much more of a struggle in trying to change themselves, believing that their own natures are wrong, the camp is much more confronting than for Cameron, who does not share the same faith and sees the camp as just something to get through.

Cameron is just starting to question whether there is any actual scientific basis for the therapies they administer, or any evidence of their success, when a tragic incident occurs, providing a trigger for the novel's ending. The camp does provide a place for Cameron to think about who she is, to make friends and to grow up.  The supporting cast of teenage characters are well imagined and well-drawn, their actions and reactions feel real, their risk-taking believable, their care and compassion for each other heartfelt and their life force engaging. The camp helps Cameron realize her true self, it's just not the self they were trying to bring about.

May 13, 2015

TV Review—Sherlock Season 3

Sherlock is back! Not just for another season but from the grave. After the season two cliffhanger of “The Reichenbach Fall” the internet went wild with speculation about how Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) had done it. The first episode roars into many possible explanations, with doubt cast on all versions. Although stimulating, the lack of full disclosure is a little disheartening, and does make you wonder whether the writers had worked themselves into a narrative corner.

However, the season does add many new twists, turns, and mysteries. There is also Watson’s (Martin Freeman) relationship with soon to be wife Mary (Amanda Abbington) and her secret past that is climactically revealed.  And in place of arch-nemesis Moriarty we have Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen), who provides a villain even more troubling and intelligent.

As with earlier seasons it features high paced, ludicrous plots, source material references galore, and many demonstrations of Sherlock’s abilities in brilliant visual flourishes. While enjoyable it is more exhausting than earlier seasons. Perhaps scheduling conflicts took their toll, or perhaps the writers are becoming a little too clever, even cocky. But the final episode is perhaps the best of the series, and the confidence of the writers is well justified, producing some great television in what has become a very competitive market.

May 10, 2015

Book Review - Police by Jo Nesbo

The latest Harry Hole thriller and he is out of the police force and lecturing at the Police college. A number of loose ends from earlier stories are tied up here so it is an advantage, although not essential to have read the earlier novels. Harry's old team are on the hunt for a killer who is targeting policemen and women with a connection to a old crimes which were unresolved or had some difficulty about them.  Harry's personal life is finally getting to a point where he asks Rakel to marry him but will his commitment be derailed by a troubled student seeking to seduce him while he solves another  'unsolvable' mystery?  Red herrings aplenty which is no doubt appropriate for a Scandinavian mystery. Excellent stuff!

May 08, 2015

Book Review—American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Shadow Moon is an ex-con who, through a series of unusual events, becomes the body guard and errand boy of Mr Wednesday, better known as Odin of Norse Mythology. Along with other old world gods and mythologies we are introduced to new divinities of American culture. Mr Wednesday, wanting to reassert the power of the old gods, rallies the old deities to take on these new gods in battle.

The novel is very enjoyable, with Gaiman playfully and effectively bringing the old deities into the modern world, and conjuring new ones with a keen eye on modern life. It is by no means realistic, but like his other works, exists in a fascinating world where high technology, seedy characters, dark underworlds, the mundane and magic all intermingle.
American Gods is a supremely fun read with many interesting turns, twists, and reinventions.

May 06, 2015

Film Review—Guardians of the Galaxy

The least anticipated but arguably the most enjoyable entry in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Guardians of the Galaxy features Peter Quill (AKA Star-Lord) a half-human half-alien  thief, Gamora, the personal assassin of an intergalactic warlord, Drax the Destroyer, a warrior vigilante, and bounty hunters Rocket, a raccoon-like alien experiment, and Groot, a sentient tree-like humanoid. This rag tag group must team up to stop an evil Kree zealot from destroying the planet Xandar. Make sense? No? That’s absolutely fine, as the franchise as a whole and this entry in particular is about having a great deal of nerdy fun.

It does suffer from many of the follies inherent in comic book films, most notably a ridiculous two-dimensional villain, predictable plot, and chance occurrences up the galactic wazoo. But it is fun, has perfectly executed humour, enough references and Easter eggs to keep the fan boys entertained for several hours, and a killer sound track.

May 04, 2015

Book Review - Kettlebell Training by Steve Cotter

Kettlebell Training contains 95 exercises for strength and weight loss. It is an easy to use guide that will help you set goals and select exercises to create a workout plan or follow the sample programs of sport specific routines such as football, soccer, mixed martial arts or tennis. The book contains step by step instructions with detailed photos.

Author Steve Cotter a Kettlebell expert has trained elite athletes, Navy Seals and U.S Marines.
‘Steve Cotter taught me the basics of Kettlebell lifting at a time I didn’t have any clue about Kettlebells. They have become a staple in my program and my athletes programs ever since’ Sean Skahan-Strength training and conditioning coach, Anaheim Ducks.

I enjoyed incorporating this book with its exercises into my fitness routine, I enjoyed mixing and matching the exercises to suit my training and no doubt have become fitter because of it. Anne

May 01, 2015

Book Review—The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

′Ay,′ he said aloud. There is no translation for this word and perhaps it is just a noise such as a man might make, involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands and into the wood.

Santiago is an unfortunate Cuban fisherman who has not caught any fish for eighty-four days, while his fellow fishermen gain sizable catches. He has been deemed “salao”, the worst kind of unluckiness. But on the eighty- fifth day he believes his fortune will change by sailing his skiff far into the gulfstream. His instinct pays off and so begins a three day struggle with a giant marlin.

The text contains many biblical illusions, conjuring images of feuding brothers, dreams of lions, and numerous references to the crucifixion.  It is also one of Hemingway’s most unique novels, relying more heavily on allegory than the realism that characterises his works, although the work is inspired by real life events. It does feature Hemingway’s influential and trademark restrained prose, the simplicity of which is the strength of the novel combined with the Christian imagery.

The novel brought Hemingway back into the literary limelight and was specifically mentioned by the Nobel committee when awarding him the prize. This is fitting, as in many ways the work is a swan song. His last major work, it was preceded by a few poorly received novels, leaving many to think the old master was unable to produce a noteworthy tale as in his earlier years. But with The Old Man and the Sea Hemingway asserts his abilities, luring readers and fixing them with his many literary tricks and techniques, producing a simple but powerful tale.