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Showing posts from February, 2018

Reading journal: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

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Genre: Speculative fiction Published: 1969 Read: January 2018 Part of my re-reading program, made especially sad by the death of the author just this month. I read this in 1973 as a young woman. Now, 45 years later, I’m not the same person, and this is not the same book. Back then I raced through the story, desperate to find out what would happen. This time, I knew what would happen, and instead saw layers and depths to the work that I missed first time around. Genly Ai is the first Envoy to the planet Winter, come there to start the process of bringing the planet into humanity’s Ekumen, an organisation that coordinates trade and cultural exchange between 80 human planets. But the people of Winter are not like the rest of humanity. Instead of two genders, each person is both male and female within themselves. Genly, a male, struggles to adapt to this difference. Only after great hardship and sorrow can he find love and friendship, and succeed in his mission, but he is c

Reading journal: Good Money by J.M. Green

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Genre: Crime Published: 2015 Series: Stella Hardy Read: December 2017 First in a series featuring Stella Hardy, a western Melbourne social worker who helps immigrant families. Stella is drawn into a frightening world of drug dealers and murder. Stella also has a new boyfriend with a drug problem and a missing neighbour to find, as well as irritating colleagues and bureaucracy at work. And nagging at her throughout is the fear that something she did in the past has come back to haunt her. I loved this book. It has great characters, a wonderful sense of place, and an exciting and convincing story of modern Australia. I love Stella, a person trying to do good but struggling with only average ethical standards which get her into trouble. There's a  little bit of Stella in most of us, I think. The story is set in Western Melbourne, a relatively economically deprived area with many immigrants. Recent political point-scoring in Australia has seen statements t

Reading journal: The Popeye Murder by Sandra Winter-Dewhirst

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Genre: Crime Published: 2015 Read: December 2017 A murder mystery set in my home town of Adelaide, South Australia. A chef’s head is found on a luncheon platter aboard a day cruise boat on the River Torrens. These boats are generically called Popeye. The cruises are fairly short, because the river is shallow and muddy and only navigable over a short distance. Much of the scenery, from childhood memory, comprises the manure pile behind the zoo. The Popeye of my childhood was basically a metal hull with a few wooden seats and a metal roof, open to the elements, and filled with excited children accompanied by grandparents during the school holidays. Apparently I’m behind the times, as the modern equivalents are far more luxuriously appointed. The story features a newspaper journalist, Rebecca Keith, hoping to kickstart her career with a serious investigation to escape her foodie column prison. The writing suggests instead that she is firmly incarcerated in the hom

Reading journal: Odds Against by Dick Francis

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Genre: Crime Published: 1965 Series: Sid Halley Read: January 2018 This was a re-read, one of my favourite Dick Francis books. Sid Halley, now an ex-jockey after a steeple-chasing racing accident destroyed his left hand, works for an investigative agency. He takes on and defeats a villainous land speculator who is determined to gain control of Seabury Racecourse. The story shows its age in places, mostly in descriptions of women’s roles and behaviour, but the main plot is a good one, and the storytelling is first rate. Recommended.

Reading journal: Ashen Stars by Glynn Stewart

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Genre: Speculative fiction Published: 2018 Series: Exile Read: February 2018 This novella, made available free to Stewart’s newsletter subscribers (subscribe here ), is a taster for a new series, Exile , coming later in 2018. Captain Isaac Gallant is in the unenviable position of being the son of the ruling dictator, and has to prove himself to his crew. A planned training exercise unexpectedly becomes a frightening combat situation when his ship, Scorpion, is the only defence for a mining station threatened by rebels. The book has a great tag line: The rebels didn’t expect to fight anyone. The Confederacy didn’t expect Isaac Gallant to fight at all. They were both wrong. Canadian author Glynn Stewart has a solid list of space opera titles under his belt. I most enjoyed the Star Mage series, but the Exile  series has promise. Recommended for space opera lovers.

Reading journal: The Fast Diet by Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer

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Genre: Nonfiction Published: 2014 Read: January 2018 This book was lent to me by Emma at the gym after a discussion about this intermittent fasting diet. The recommended variant is to eat a low-calorie diet of around 500-600 calories two days out of seven, hence the name, the 5:2 diet. The "fast" part refers to periods without eating, not how quickly you will lose weight. The book covers much the same material as the television special which spawned it, with the addition of recipes. This book is from the UK, and the recipes show the vast gulf in food preferences between Australia and the UK. It would be a rare Australian who would chow down on a breakfast of smoked salmon or kippers, or dine on roast mackerel or turkey burgers. Cultural differences rule. The diet is going well for me, though. Moderately inspiring book. There is also a website, https://thefastdiet.co.uk/

Reading journal: The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan

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Genre: Thriller Published: 1915 Read: January 2018 I’ve read this many times. It’s still a very enjoyable story in spite of some dated prejudices against Germans, Jewish people and non-British foreigners. Richard Hannay, a mining engineer fresh from exploiting South Africa, returns to Britain in 1914, just before the start of the Great War. On the run from the police for a murder he didn’t commit, Hannay must foil a German spy plot and rediscover some kind of purpose in his life. Hannay is portrayed as a dimwit, and many of his choices are quite stupid, but his innate goodness and endurance let him triumph over his enemies. He is humble in a smug British way. It's slightly worrying that in later Richard Hannay stories he is promoted to the rank of general. A boys’ own adventure story, entirely lacking in women other than as suppliers of food, but utterly consistent in voice from start to finish, with plenty of pace and suspense. The book is much better t

Reading journal: The Stars, Like Dust by Isaac Asimov

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Genre: Speculative fiction Published: 1958 Read: January 2018 Great title, and a well-written, enticing beginning: The bedroom murmured to itself gently. It was almost below the limits of hearing — an irregular little sound, yet quite unmistakable, and quite deadly. The rest is a descent into banality. Biron Farrill is preparing for graduation on Earth, but he never makes it. Instead he flees for his life, and a series of incoherent and silly adventures follow. At one point Biron finds himself in a tiny spaceship with a young woman and her uncle. The opportunity arises for resupplying the ship, and he is asked what they need. “A supply of clothes for the lady … We’ll supply you with all necessary measurements … Oh, yes, cosmetics, perfume — the things women need.” The woman herself is only a couple of metres away in the next room. Couldn’t he just have asked her what she needed? And when you’re fleeing for your life through space, would cosmetics and perfume rea

Reading journal: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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Genre: Fiction Published: 1843 Read: January 2018 I was watching a YouTube video demonstrating the use of Scrivener (a wonderful writing tool). The examples were from A Christmas Carol , and I realised that I had never read the book, in spite of seeing film and cartoon versions galore. Scrooge is a miserable, greedy, money-grubbing old man in Victorian times who hates Christmas. Over the course of one night a series of ghosts show him the error of his ways and the inevitable lonely outcome. Scrooge must choose between the pursuit of wealth, or the more moral path of generosity of spirit. I enjoyed the book. For something so old, the dialogue has a surprisingly modern feel, and Scrooge’s conversion to the good side is very convincing. The story is a quick read with a happy ending. Highly recommended.

Reading journal: The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry Greenwood

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Genre: Crime Published: 2003 Series: Phryne Fisher Read: December 2017 In 1920s Australia, the gold rush days of the 1850s seem far in the past, but two mysteries from the Castlemaine goldfields come back to threaten amateur sleuth Phryne Fisher and her lover Lin Chung. Phryne’s mystery relates to a lost heir and a great inheritance. Lin Chung’s comes from a family feud, goldfield riots, and lost gold, and is far more interesting. There were riots at Castlemaine in 1854; many Chinese lives were saved through the bravery of Senior Constable Thomas Cooke, see memorial here. At Lambing Flat (now Young) in New South Wales, there were disgraceful riots and Chinese deaths in 1861, although many people were given refuge by a local landowner, James Roberts. There is an interesting recent essay about this by Gabrielle Chan, Race and the Golden Age [paywall, Meanjin magazine].   Threads of racism, and of courage in confronting it, continue in Australia today. 

Introducing Jai's reading journal

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I'm an author, but I'm also a voracious reader. A big reader, often devouring a book a day if I'm not working. I read new books on my Kindle e-reader, but I also have many shelves of print books. I'm working through these to decide which ones to keep. Sometimes I'd like to keep them but the print is too small or dense for me to read, a sad side-effect of ageing. For some, especially Australian printed books or cheap mass market paperbacks, the paper has foxed and deteriorated. Others, I'm regretting the hard-earned money I wasted on them, and they go straight onto the charity pile. Starting in February 2018, I will post thoughts on each book I read. Some entries will be brief, others longer reviews, especially for Australian crime, action and adventure, and science fiction, which are my favourite themes. Enjoy.

Summer downunder in Australia

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If you live in the northern hemisphere, Australia's seasons can be confusing. Here's what you need to know about summer. Summer is officially December 1 to February 28. DECEMBER December is the end of the school year and the university (college) year. Think end of year formals (dances) for high school kids. Think crazy pace of shopping for Christmas with all the kids underfoot. Think office Christmas parties and huge numbers of people off on holiday. Christmas Day on 25 December is a public holiday. For some it means church, for most it means family get-togethers and opening presents. Christmas is the main family event in Australia, and people travel long distances to be with family. Food is excessive. Some have traditional roast meat with pudding, others have barbecues, salads and seafood. Boxing Day 26 December is for retail frenzy, the after Christmas sales. I've never been to them. Also, the start of the Sydney-Hobart yacht race, which looks excel