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Miles Franklin Shortlist

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Five Australian books shortlisted for the 2016 Miles Franklin literary have been announced, with four of the authors hailing from Melbourne.

The Miles Franklin Literary Award is Australia’s most prestigious literature prize. Established through the will of My Brilliant Career author, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin (pic left), the prize is awarded each year to a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.

The five books shortlisted for the prestigious prize are Hope Farm by Peggy Frew, Leap by Myfanwy Jones, Black Rock White City by AS Patric, Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar and The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood. Each writer has won $5,000 for being shortlisted, and the winner – judged as being of “the highest literary merit” and presenting “Australian life in any of its phases” – will receive $60,000.

The final winner will be announced at the Melbourne writers festival on 26 August.

~ Deb

Dust on the Horizon

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Dust on the Horizon by Tricia Stringer

1881. Joseph Baker works hard on his pastoral lease at Smith's Ridge in the beautiful but harsh land of the Flinders Ranges. For Joseph this lease, lost to his family in the early days of settlement, offers a future for his young family and that of his Aboriginal friend, the loyal and courageous Binda. Joseph is a clever man, but it is a hard land to work and drought is once more upon the country. 

New arrivals to the small rural town of Hawker, Henry Wiltshire and young wife Catherine open a general store and commission business. Unscrupulous but clever, Henry has plans to prosper from the locals' fortunes, and quickly makes powerful friends, but when he throws Binda's family out of his shop, his bigotry makes an immediate enemy of Joseph and a die is cast. Then the dark force of Jack Aldridge, a man torn between two worlds, crosses their path. Outcast and resentful, he wants what Henry and Joseph have and will stop at nothing to take it. As the drought widens and the burning heat exhausts the land, Joseph, Henry and Jack's lives become intertwined in a way that none could have predicted. In their final confrontation not all will survive. 

This sweeping historical saga takes us into the beautiful and brutal landscape of the Flinders Ranges and through the gold rush, following the fate of three men and the women they love. Men and women whose lives become intertwined by love and deceit until nature itself takes control and changes their destinies forever.

Why we love it:  
From bestselling author Tricia Stringer comes this compelling stand-alone historical saga, which can also be read as a sequel to Heart of the Country, the first book in the Flinders Ranges series. In Dust on the Horizon, Stringer returns to the beautiful but harsh Flinders Ranges in the 1800s with this vividly drawn and compelling tale of settlers and first peoples. When you’re in the mood for a juicy historical saga to sink your teeth into, this is just what you need.

~ from The Team at Better Reading

Other Side of the Season

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The Other Side of the Season by Jenn J McLeod

When offering to drive her brother to Byron Bay to escape the bitter Blue Mountains winter, Sidney neglects to mention her planned detour to the small coastal town of Watercolour Cove. 

Thirty-five years earlier, Watercolour Cove was a very different place. Two brothers work the steep, snake-infested slopes of a Coffs Coast banana plantation. Seventeen-year-old David does his share, but he spends too much time daydreaming about becoming a famous artist and skiving off with Tilly, the pretty girl from the neighbouring property. His older brother, Matthew, has no time for such infatuations. His future is on the land and he plans to take over the Greenhill plantation from his father. Life is simple on top of the mountain for David, Matthew and Tilly until the winter of 1979 when tragedy strikes, starting a chain reaction that will ruin lives for years to come. 

Those who can, escape the Greenhill plantation. One stays-trapped on the mountain and haunted by memories and lost dreams. That is, until the arrival of a curious young woman, named Sidney, whose love of family shows everyone that truth can heal, what's wrong can be righted, the lost can be found, and there's another side to every story.

What a wonderful book this is, Jenn J McLeod's writing goes from strength to strength! The book is told in different timeframes for the characters. Sidney who comes to Watercolour Cove to search for her never-seen grandfather who has been in prison for some time. Sidney herself is recovering from a break-up with her partner and she and her brother Jake venture up together. She falls in love with the area, much to her mother's disappointment, and meets David who has a gallery and accommodation where he offers Sidney a job.  As Sid keeps digging further, the truth about her past slowly appears which has mixed consequences for all involved. 

The stories behind the characters in this book are well developed and intertwine beautifully. Even though there was a twist which I didn't see coming, I was not entirely disappointed at the conclusion of this great book and would encourage everyone who likes Contemporary Women's Fiction to read it.

~ Janine


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*** TONIGHT ***
THE DRESSMAKER: page to screen
with the author, Rosalie Ham and the film producer, Sue Maslin.

Hear how it all came about ...

In this special event to celebrate Library and Information Week, Rosalie will reveal her inspiration for the story; the writing process; her experience at being an extra in the award-winning film; and her other novels since the film’s outstanding success.  Sue will share why she produced the story; the screen adaptation process; and the triumphs and hurdles - from finance to casting. 

‘The Dressmaker’ has been hailed as ‘an Australian gothic novel of love, hate and haute couture’. It is set in a fictional country town in the 1950s. Filming took place in various locations around Victoria, and along with many locals, author Rosalie appeared as an extra alongside stars Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving, and Liam Hemsworth.  The film has made over $20 million at the box office and won five AACTA awards. 

Come and experience the journey from page to screen. There is no cost, some tickets are still available, so BOOK NOW, print out your tickets and enjoy a memorable evening.  

Tonight - Thursday 26 May, 7-8pm followed by book sales and signing.
Rivergum Performing Arts Centre, 58-96 Fordholm Rd, Hampton Park.

PLEASE NOTE:  Some newspapers have erroneously published the event taking place at Hampton Park Library.  It is Rivergum Performing Arts Centre, 58-96 Fordholm Rd, Hampton Park.


Pakenham Upper gives more of her best to the A.I.F

Casey-Cardinia 1914-1918: the Great War -

Pakenham Gazette May 31, 1918http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92154616

Douglas Bruce Black (Service Number (SN) 64799) enlisted on June 28, 1918 at the age of 19 and was sent overseas and arrived in Egypt but sadly died of 'cerebro spinal fever' on December 12, 1918. Bruce was the son of Thomas Montgomery Black and Margaret Ellen Fergus, orchardists of Pakenham Upper. The article refers to his three brothers who were also fighting in France - two of the brothers  were Donald Caldwell Black (SN 7201) and Wallace Moncrief Black (SN 7451). They were both orchardists. Donald enlisted at the age of 24 on January 10, 1917. He Returned to Australia July 7, 1919. Wallace enlisted on July 10, 1917 aged 21 and Returned to Australia July 13, 1919. 
The other brother was Robert Livingstone Conning Black (SN 5985) a 22 year old Engineering student, who enlisted on February 2, 1916. Robert was Killed in Action in France on August 9, 1918. Whilst these brothers were fighting overseas the farm was being run by another brother Thomas Fergus Black. Thomas appeared before the Dandenong Exemption Court on October 17, 1916 for exemption to military service on the grounds that he had 22 young orchards of ten acres each to attend to amongst other work and also employed four men. The case was adjourned until November and as I can find no record of him serving I believe he must have been granted an exemption. 
The Holdensen boys were the sons of Peter Holdensen and Katrine Lindberg of Pakenham Upper although their address is sometimes referred to as Gembrook South. The family arrived from Denmark in January 1898.  Jens Peter Holdenson enlisted when he was 19 on August 6, 1915 and was discharged as medically unfit a month later on September 9 due to 'deformed insteps of feet'.  Paul Holdenson, officially called Povl Jorgen Holdensen, was also born in Denmark but was naturalised in August 1915. Paul enlisted on June 3, 1916 aged 23 and Returned to Australia on December 21, 1919. I can't find any record of Lin Holdensen's enlistment on either the National Archives of Australia or the Australian War Memorials - but I believe his full name was Iver Rasmus Lindberg Holdensen and he was naturalised in June 1918. 

The Trees

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The Trees by Ali Shaw

'There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly, a chinking shower of rubbled cement. Leaves calmed and trunks stood serene. Where, not a minute before, there had been a suburb, there was now only woodland standing amid ruins.' 

There is no warning. No chance to prepare. They arrive in the night: thundering up through the ground, transforming streets and towns into shadowy forest. Buildings are destroyed. Broken bodies, still wrapped in tattered bed linen, hang among the twitching leaves. Adrien Thomas has never been much of a hero. But when he realises that no help is coming, he ventures out into this unrecognisable world. 

Michelle, his wife, is across the sea in Ireland and he has no way of knowing whether the trees have come for her too. Then Adrien meets green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb. Together, they set out to find Hannah's forester brother, to reunite Adrien with his wife, and to discover just how deep the forest goes. Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves.

I seem to be (again) on a literary boat sailing through two ports - starboard are the haters, port are the lovers, and now it's up to me to decide which way to steer.  Without any hesitation I can say right upfront that this audio version (Bolinda e-audio download) has the most wonderful narrator, Ben Onwukwe.  His mellifluous voice and characterisations add so much to what is already an intriguing premise, Nature 1, Humans 0.  

In this mesmerising and wildly imaginative novel, it doesn't take long before we're in full swing of a dystopian disaster and it is a very creepy scenario indeed.  Soon thereafter we become involved with our main players, then suffer somewhat of a lull as our protagonists tramp about the countryside.  This could have been boring, but there's a subtle menace underfoot creating unease, uneasy enough to keep going with it.  It's a very long book, split into parts 1-5 with many chapters taking us through fantasy, botany and zoology, murder, despotism, romance, and some beautiful, lyrical writing. 

The Trees is one very original story; it's totally left-field; and I think it beckons a sequel. Overall, I'm docking on the port side.


Right sort of Colonist - Kenneth Fyffe

Casey-Cardinia 1914-1918: the Great War -

The Weekly Times published this article on August 4, 1917 and is interesting as it shows the connection at the time between  patriotism, colonialism and nationalism. Kenneth Thompson Grant Fyffe (Service Number 6798A) enlisted on September 3 1917, at the age of 21 and had been employed as a Farm Labourer at Bunyip. Kenneth was gassed while serving overseas in France. He Returned to Australia February 26 1920.

In the 1921 Electoral Roll Kenneth was living in North Fitzroy and had an occupation of 'Engine Cleaner' and three years later he was living at Brighton Avenue in Preston, with his wife Amelia, and he was a tram conductor. You can read more about Kenneth on the RSL Virtual War Memorial rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au or click here to go directly to his entry. Sadly, his life after the war was not all smooth sailing and he died in 1964 at the age of 68. I wonder of he ever returned to Bunyip?

Weekly Times August 4, 1917 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page13611994

Good money

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"Good money" is a first novel by J.M.Green, a Melbourne author who has set her mystery novel mostly in western suburbs of Melbourne.

"Introducing Stella Hardy, a wise-cracking social worker with a thirst for social justice, good laksa, and alcohol.  Stella's phone rings. A young African boy, the son of one of her clients, has been murdered in a dingy back alley. Stella, in her forties and running low on empathy, heads into the night to comfort the grieving mother. But when she gets there, she makes a discovery that has the potential to uncover something terrible from her past - something she thought she'd gotten away with.  Then Stella's neighbour Tania mysteriously vanishes. When Stella learns that Tania is the heir to a billion-dollar mining empire, Stella realises her glamorous young friend might have had more up her sleeve than just a perfectly toned arm. Who is behind her disappearance?  Stella's investigation draws her further and further into a dark world of drug dealers, sociopaths, and killers, such as the enigmatic Mr Funsail, whose name makes even hardened criminals run for cover.  One thing is clear: Stella needs to find answers fast - before the people she's looking for find her instead."

It was fascinating to read a mystery set in areas I know and could see in my mind's eye. The twists and turns in the story were amazing and kept me wanting to know more and read through right to the last page.  Green made the story all the more real by entwining Stella's background and personal life throughout the story, some of which made you admire what she was trying to achieve all the more.

There were times that I had to suspend my disbelief though, like with how did she manage to do all this investigation whilst still allegedly being in full time work, but otherwise it was a good story to read and well done as a first novel.

And the reason that I got onto this title in the first place, is that we will have J.M. Green visiting us soon for a talk.  Watch our website for more details coming soon.

Otherwise, if you love a good murder/mystery, you will do well by Good money.

~ Michelle

Vale Gillian Mears

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Award-winning author, Gillian Mears, passed away recently after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.  

Born in 1964 and growing up around Grafton NSW, her work is well-entrenched within the tradition of Australian literature.  Her first novel, The Mint Lawn, won the Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award.  Amongst many other titles, she is most well known for Foal’s Bread which, in 2012, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, took out the Gold Medal award by the Australian Literature Society, and won the Prime Minister's Literary Award.  

Her most recent book was The Cat with the Coloured Tail, a beautifully illustrated children’s fable.


Australian Book Industry Awards

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The Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIAs) is an annual celebration that celebrates the connection between Australian readers and the ‘book makers’ – authors, editors, publishing professionals and retailers, who unite to create the must-read books of the year.  The awards are primarily for Australian writers and illustrators however there is one award for the International Book of the Year, plus two awards that acknowledge a significant contribution to book publishing and book-selling industry:

And the winners are:

Australian Book of the Year
Reckoning: A Memoir by Magda Szubanski (Text Publishing)

Biography Book of the Year:
Reckoning: A Memoir by Magda Szubanski (Text Publishing)

General Fiction Book of the Year:
The Patterson Girls by Rachael Johns (Harlequin Books)

General Non-fiction Book of the Year:
Island Home by Tim Winton (Penguin Books Australia)

Illustrated Book of the Year:
The Happy Cookbook by Lola Berry (Pan Macmillan Australia)

International Book of the Year:
Gut: the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ by Giulia Enders (Scribe Publications)

Literary Fiction Book of the Year: The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop (Hachette Australia Books)

The Pixie O’Harris Award: This is a major award for a person who has given outstanding, distinguished and dedicated service to the development and reputation of Australian children’s books - Jackie French.

The Lloyd O’Neil Award: This is a major award for a person who has provided distinguished and dedicated service to the development and reputation of the Australian book industry - Brian Johns

~ Deb.

Keep You Close

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Keep You Close by Lucie Whitehouse

Rowan and Marianne Glass were great high school friends, but they haven’t spoken for ten years after a major fall-out. When Marianne dies falling from the roof of her family home, Rowan can’t believe it really was an accident – Marianne suffered terrible vertigo and had always been terrified of going near the edge.

As much as we tried to figure out this intricate plot, we didn’t see the final, startling, twist coming. Whitehouse is highly skilled at withholding just the right amount of information so that we’re madly turning the pages wondering what’s going to happen next.

Why we love it: A clever and chilling psychological thriller, Keep You Close kept us guessing until the very last page as we tried to put together the many pieces of its shockingly original plotline. We’ve heard many novels compared to Gone Girl recently, but this really did remind us of Gillian Flynn’s popular novel. We even dare to venture… this is better!

~ from The Team at Better Reading


Quicksand -

I was dubious about reading 'Illuminae' by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff because a) Science Fiction is not my thing and b) the book is around 600 pages.
But I am pleased to say that I have nothing but praise for 'Illuminae', which has been nominated for a string of awards including Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

The year is 2575, and the remote planet Kerenza is being invaded by a mega-corporation called Bio-Tech. The day of the invasion is the day teenage Kady breaks up her relationship with Ezra.
It is clear, however, that the pair are still greatly attracted to one another and this attraction and
tension is a compelling factor in the novel.

The world(s) in which Kady and Ezra inhabit are very different to our world. Spaceships, jump gates and wormholes enable people to travel from planet to planet.

The unravelling plot will have you riveted as a deadly virus is being unleashed on an unsuspecting population. Chances of survival are slim and getting slimmer.

The writing is sharp and edgy. Ezra's friend and Ezra have a conversation about Kady. His friend McNulty writes 'You are IN' 'PICKING CURTAINS' 'MEETING PARENTS' 'MAKING PUPPIES'.

At one point, Kady asks 'What's a book?' Is she serious? I'm not sure.

'Illuminae' is highly readable. Don't be put off by the 600 pages either-many of the pages are visuals-images that give the reader a sense of space and space travel.

Highly recommended reading for teens.


Our Tiny, Useless Hearts

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Our Tiny, Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan

This fast-paced, screwball comedy takes place at the home of Caroline and Henry in semi-rural suburbia. Caroline's sister Janice is trying to help out as Caroline’s marriage falls apart. Janice is from the city, single and childless, a microbiologist used to looking after only her beloved bacteria, when she is suddenly thrown into the chaos of her sister’s crumbling marriage.

Caroline’s husband Henry is about to walk out on the marriage to take up with Martha, their children’s primary school teacher.  When Henry and the youthful Martha fly off to Noosa together, Caroline makes off in hot pursuit to save her marriage, leaving Janice to look after the children, astute Mercedes and the youngest, Paris, who is coping with it all by refusing to speak.

While Janice tries to cope herself, she has to deal with Caroline’s smug, uber-healthy neighbours Craig and Lesley who, behind the façade of their lovey dovey marriage, are dealing with their own serious relationship issues and won’t leave Janice alone. When Craig gets into Janice’s bed thinking she is her sister Caroline, Janice is aghast. As if that weren’t enough, Janice’s ex Alec, who she’s never come to terms with parting from, arrives at the house unexpectedly...

Why we love it: Toni Jordan's latest is a hilarious bedroom farce interwoven with serious threads that will strike a chord with many.

~ from The Team at Better Reading

Man Booker International Prize

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Korean novelist Han Kang will share the Man Booker International £50,000 prize with translator Deborah Smith, for her ‘lyrical and lacerating’ story "The Vegetarian". This is the first year the prize has been awarded to a single book, with previous awards honouring an author's body of work. 

"This compact, exquisite and disturbing book will linger long in the minds, and maybe the dreams, of its readers. Deborah Smith’s perfectly judged translation matches its uncanny blend of beauty and horror at every turn."
      Boyd Tonkin, chairman of Man Booker International Prize 2016 judging panel


Twisted River

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Twisted River by Siobhan MacDonald

From back cover:  Kate and Mannix O’Brien live in Limerick, Ireland, in an unusual house they can barely afford. Their son Fergus is bullied at school and their daughter Izzy wishes she could protect him. Kate decides her family needs a vacation, and is convinced her luck’s about to change when she spots an elegant Manhattan apartment on a home-exchange website. 

Hazel and Oscar Harvey and their two children live in Manhattan. Though they seem successful and happy, Hazel has mysterious bruises, and Oscar is hiding things about his dental practice. They, too, need a change of pace, and Hazel has always wanted her children to see her native Limerick. The house swap offers a perfect way to soothe two troubled marriages.

But when Oscar finds the bloodied body of a woman in the trunk of his hosts’ car, it’s just the start of what will be anything but a perfect vacation.

This is a story of two families in crisis who decide that a family holiday will be the answer to their problems. Instead, the home-exchange holiday becomes the stem of yet more problems. Secrets are gradually revealed as MacDonald takes us chapter by chapter through the lives of the four main characters; Kate and Mannix O’Brien and Hazel and Oscar Harvey. It is great the way MacDonald provides us with individual perspectives on each character, building up a story that both intrigues and horrifies.

The end left me speechless and allows enough unanswered questions to warrant a sequel. It is a psychological thriller with a twist. A great debut novel that takes us on a crazy ride, leaving you wanting more.

Highly recommended for fans of Girl on the Train, Before I go to Sleep and Big Little Lies.

~ Narelle

Aussie Midwives

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Aussie Midwives by Fiona McArthur

Midwives play a vital role in supporting women through some of the most challenging and rewarding moments of their lives. These remarkable professionals watch over births across Australia and this inspiring collection features stories from the remote outback to busy urban hospitals. From homebirth midwives, to rural and remote island nurses, to midwifery educators and clinical midwifery consultants, these stories are brimming with warmth, hope, heartbreak and courage.

Some of you may know Fiona McArthur for her medical inspired romance and rural romance novels, but she is a trained nurse and midwife herself. She is also the author of two non-fiction books for expectant mothers and a Mum to five boys too, so can speak from experience!

This book was so interesting to read; Fiona shares stories of real Australian midwives who work in sometimes unbelievable circumstances and conditions. There are stories about midwives who work for the Royal Flying Doctor Service who fly in and out to deliver babies - sometimes on the plane! There are also stories of midwives who work in remote areas with the indigenous community and island community, while respecting their cultural traditions. There is also a story about a male midwife (or should he be midhusband?) and trainee midwives who are 'thrown in at the deep end'. These midwives have incredible stories to share as they deal with different challenges, joys and heartbreaks - just like the mothers and families they serve. A very enjoyable read.

~ Janine


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Relativity by Antonia Hayes

Ethan is a bright young boy obsessed with physics and astronomy who lives with his mother, Claire. She is fiercely protective of her talented, vulnerable son, and of her own feelings. When Ethan falls ill, tied to a tragic event from when he was a baby, Claire's tightly held world is split open. On the other side of the country, Mark is trying to forget about the events that tore his family apart. Then a sudden and unexpected call home forces him to confront his past, and the hole in his life that was once filled with his wife and son. When Ethan secretly intercepts a letter from Mark to Claire, he unleashes long-suppressed forces that, like gravity, pull the three together again, testing the limits of love and forgiveness.

This is a stunning and original debut novel by Antonia Hayes. She interweaves a wonderful heartfelt story and quantum physics with absolute beauty and ease. The characters are all strong, as is the imagery, and the physics metaphors are very powerful. Moving, sad and unique. 

~ Ali

The One Who Got Away

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The One Who Got Away by Caroline Overington

We all keep secrets. Some are deadly. Loren Wynne-Estes appears to have it all: she's the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who's landed a handsome husband, a stunning home, a fleet of shiny cars and two beautiful daughters. Then one day a fellow parent taps Loren on the shoulder outside the grand school gate, hands her a note ... and suddenly everything's at stake. Loren's Facebook-perfect marriage is spectacularly exposed - revealing an underbelly of lies and betrayal. What is uncovered will scandalise a small town, destroy lives and leave a family divided. But who is to be believed and who is to blame? Will the right person be brought to justice or is there one who got away.

Why we love it: 
Loren has a seemingly perfect life, but underneath this charming veneer, husband David is a total creep and far from the great catch she’s convinced herself he is. She’d always been warned about him, even back when they started dating in New York, but did she listen? No, of course not. David’s other sex life is only just ramping up though and the things that David is getting up to behind her back would make a regular sleaze-bag look chaste. Inevitably, events catch up with David, and his financial and personal life seem about to implode. So when Loren goes missing on a Mexican cruise, suspicion falls on David. But will he manage to talk himself out of trouble this time?  Australian author Caroline Overington’s latest novel The One Who Got Away is a twisted yet funny psychological thriller that culminates in a gripping courtroom drama.

~ from The Team at Better Reading

Red Hot

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Red Hot by Cheryl and Leonie Alldis

A vividly written story based on true events.

It's 1964 when a crazed arsonist begins torching the once tranquil Hamilton Valley in NSW Australia.
Night after night the ail of sirens wake the locals from their sleep. Little did they realise, this rampage would last for close on four years!

The detectives have their eye on several persons of interest, then they discover the method the lunatic is using to light the fires! Clever indeed!

Father Damien the priest from the local seminary has a penchant for lurking around watching the aftermath of the fires...

Grandma Emmie, the keeper of family secrets, holds the key to the reason a newcomer has arrived in the valley. She has to make a decision to reveal the truth for everyone concerned.

Beautiful Ellie becomes tangled in a shocking web of lust, with dire consequences...

The Christmas Eve fire looks like it may destroy the valley...will this maniac ever be stopped?

Evil has entered Hamilton Valley in more ways than one...RED HOT... chilling, tantalising, erotic and emotional.

I was attracted to this story as it is based on a true story of the Lavington Firebug crime mystery that took place near Albury, NSW in the mid-1960s. Over several years, the firebug caused financial loss to many farmers and fruit growers in the area. Fires would take place several times a week, month after month, and year after year! The local authorities were perplexed as to who this firebug was! 

The authors, Cheryl and Leonie Alldis, grew up in the area during the 1960s when all this took place - their first-hand experience being the inspiration for their novel. While it is interesting and intriguing, it is at times frustrating due to the many characters interwoven in the storyline, some with similar sounding names! The relationships between characters were complex and not always believable; however, if you can be forgiving of these indiscretions then you'll enjoy this Australian whodunit mystery. 

~ Narelle

Henry & Banjo

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Henry & Banjo by James Knight

We know about Waltzing Matilda, Clancy of the Overflow, The Man from Snowy River, The Drover's Wife, While the Billy Boils and Joe Wilson and His Mates, but we don't know about the two men who captured our imagination.  Now, in Henry & Banjo, the storytellers become the story. And there is much to tell.

Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson and Henry Lawson were both country born, Henry on the goldfields of Grenfell and Banjo on a property near Orange, but their paths to literary immortality took very different routes - indeed at times their lives were ones of savage and all too tragic contrasts. The divide between the bush and the city, the haves and the have-nots, is sharply revealed. There are broken hearts and thwarted dreams. Both men would become household names during their lifetimes. Both would have regrets.

In this compelling exploration, James Knight reveals the lives and times of the two men whose words had the power to influence and change Australia. Their stories live on and now, so too, can they.

I don't agree with that very first line above - that is one all-encompassing 'We'. Aside from Waltzing Matilda, I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone under the age of 30 who could honestly say they've heard of either name, more than one published title, or recite even one line, but I would be delighted to be proven wrong. 

I have always had a love for the rhyme and meter of Banjo's bush poetry, possibly stemming from school days during stinking hot summers when our teacher would take the class outside to sit under the peppercorn tree to read: "There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around, that the colt from old Regret had got away ..." (Patterson); or have us in stitches laughing over the escapades in The Loaded Dog (Lawson). 

Henry & Banjo was quite an eye-opener for me because despite familiarity with both authors' work, I knew not much about the men themselves other than their early compositions appeared in the Australian news magazine, The Bulletin. 

James Knight has done his homework well in bringing out the flavour and turbulence of the times, plus a 'swag' of personal facts and information to flesh out these two stalwarts in early Colonial publishing; far better actually than reading his own work for this Bolinda audiobook.  His narration is flat and lacking colour, and unfortunately there's a bit of a lisp as well, which makes the audio version somewhat unattractive.  Henry & Banjo however is well worth the read, so do yourself a favour and reserve a print copy now, with a bonus of eight pages of illustrations and portraits.

" I had written him a letter which I had, for want of betterKnowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,Just 'on spec' addressed as follows: 'Clancy of The Overflow'.
And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,(and I think the same was written with a thumbnail dipped in tar)'Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:"Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are."
Clancy of The Overflow" is a poem by Banjo Paterson, first published in The Bulletin on 21 December 1889.



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