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Showing posts from March, 2018

Reading journal: Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood

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Genre: Crime Published: 1991 Series: Phryne Fisher Read: January 2018 Set in Australia in the 1920s. Phryne Fisher, a lady of independent means and an amateur sleuth, travels by train to rural Ballarat with her companion to collect Phryne’s new car.   The passengers are gassed, and one is murdered. Phryne flirts with university students and identifies the killer in a tense and suspenseful scene. At the same time, she adopts a girl who has lost her memory and unravels a nasty plot exploiting children. Features, among other things, a crackingly beautiful car, an appalling boardinghouse, and an oily hypnotist. Great story, and the TV adaptation, while simplified, is still pretty good. Highly recommended.

Reading journal: Death by Water by Kerry Greenwood

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Genre: Crime Published: 2005 Series: Phryne Fisher Read: December 2017 It’s the 1920s, and amateur sleuth, Phryne Fisher, embarks on a voyage from Melbourne to New Zealand aboard the cruise ship SS Hinemoa. Her task is to find out who is stealing valuable jewellery from the first class passengers. Much drama, with interesting descriptions of the ship and of Milford Sound in New Zealand. Phryne is assisted in her job by Māori crew. But jewel thieves are not the most deadly criminals aboard, and tantalising snippets reveal a connection with the tragic sinking of the Titanic. I wish this lovely ship was real. Recommended.

Reading journal: Land of the burning sands by Rachel Neumeier

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Genre: Fantasy Published: 2010 Series: Griffin Mage Read: January 2018 Second in the wonderful Griffin Mage trilogy. Gereint is bound by a magic compulsion, a geas, as punishment for his crimes. When the griffin’s desert spreads and destroys his town in the aftermath of war, he escapes, wanting nothing but to be released from the geas. He falls in love with the brilliant maker Tehre and is enslaved once again to help an ice mage’s last desperate fight against the griffins. Great world building and exploration of the nature of compulsion and consent. I enjoyed all three books in the trilogy. Highly recommended.

Reading journal: Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

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Genre: Speculative fiction Published: 1986 Series: Foundation Read: December 2017 I read this as part of a clean-up of my bookshelves. This one is for discard. Dreadful. Tedious tale of two men, a “girl” (woman), and, briefly, a child, who travel to the ends of the galaxy, to the Sirius sector, in search of the legendary home planet of humanity. Why is not very clear. Extremely boring descriptions of how to find your way between stars. Don’t waste your time.

Reading journal: Wild Waterfalls of South Eastern Australia by Peter Quinton

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Genre: Nonfiction Published: 2018 Read: March 2018 A beautiful collection of the author’s own photographs of Australian waterfalls, some acquired at the cost of personal injury, and all showing Quinton’s mastery of photography. The photographs are supported with maps, well-documented historical details, and information about Indigenous names and cultural aspects of the falls. This book was helped along its path by record rains in Australia in 2016, which brought many creeks and waterfalls back to life after many dry years. The author has also used these images to provide inspiration and imagery for a collaboration with the American artist CR Bravo, the illustrated novel Twilight of the Gods . The ebook version is best viewed on a large colour screen, and doesn’t work on a basic Kindle. It’s worth it, though. Lovely work.

Reading journal: Too Easy by J.M. Green

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Genre: Crime Published: 2017 Series: Stella Hardy Read: December 2017 This is the second Stella Hardy story, and I loved it. Even the tag line is great — The road to hell has to start somewhere. Who wouldn't want to read on? Stella is a social worker in western Melbourne, a working class area with many immigrants undergoing significant social change. Her friend, Phuong, a police officer, needs help clearing her boyfriend of a corruption charge. Stella’s brother is in town, her own boyfriend is avoiding her, and some of her clients want her help. Things go downhill from there. Some great language. How about this?  “Phuong seized my hand with the force of a handcuff.”  Or this, “My heart hurdled the top rib.”  Or this,  “Up close, I saw that some hard years dragged at her cheeks.” J.M. Green is a great author and this is a wonderful book. Highly recommended.

Reading journal: Evangeline and the Alchemist by Madeleine d’Este

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Genre: Fantasy Published: 2016 Series: The Antics of Evangeline Read: January 2018 Great light read for younger teenagers, set in a steampunk Melbourne, Australia, in 1882. Evangeline and her friend Mei track down and confront an evil alchemist who has turned iron into gold, but unfortunately the transmutation is temporary. The girls rely on Evangeline’s inventions, Mei’s martial arts and a small injection of magic to escape with their lives. Fun.

Reading journal: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

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Genre: Fiction Published: 1951 Read: December 2017 A young man struggles with the pain and confusion of adolescence. He sees hypocrisy, what he calls phonies, everywhere, not understanding that most people create facades and adopt behaviours to cope with life. Holden has no coping mechanisms at all. Holden Caulfield is lonely and out of place in his boarding school, and runs away to New York where his parents and sister live. Very sad book about an immature man with poor social skills trying to grow up without anyone to turn to for help. His attempted interactions with women and girls, and with his own younger sister, end in disaster, and the ex-teacher he turns to as a mentor is a sexual predator. By the end of the story Holden is destined to be shipped off to yet another school, starting the cycle again without having learned anything from his experiences. No idea why this book should have been put on school curricula. I don’t think it’s suitable for teenag

Reading journal: The Māori Detective by D A Crossman

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Genre: Crime Published: 2017 Series: The Red Zone Mysteries Read: February 2018 This is a wild ride! Carlos Wallace, part-Māori, returns to Christchurch to work as a private investigator after his career in the New South Wales police force goes bad. There are plenty of plot strands, including in no particular order a lost dog, an unfaithful wife being blackmailed, a missing financier, an inheritance or two, a clairvoyant cousin, evil spies, looters who come to a sticky end, creepy old grannies with family history to share, Māori legends, a missing French girl, an international assassin, assorted gangsters, and a business partner, Ginny, in hiding from her abusive husband. Overshadowing everything is the city of Christchurch itself, ruined by earthquakes and in the throes of mourning and renewal. The Red Zone refers to areas restricted after the earthquakes, especially the CBD, which was cordoned off for safety reasons for years, and residential areas which were no longer s

Reading journal: Cause for Alarm by Eric Ambler

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Genre: Espionage Published: 1938 Read: March 2018 Europe in 1938 was preparing for war. This story follows the adventures of Nick Marlow, a British engineer sent to work in Milan. He falls, unprepared, into a cauldron of spying, deception, surveillance, bribery, Fascists, Communists, and betrayals, ending with a tense escape across the border into the relative safety of Yugoslavia. Ambler is a great writer. Look at the wonderful use of language here to describe Marlow’s friend Zaleshoff He had a way of disconcerting you with a gesture, with the way he timed his phrases. Yet you could not quite discover why you had been disconcerted. You received the impression that you were watching a very competent actor using all the technical tricks in his repertoire in an effort to make something of a badly written part. There was something about him which cried out for analysis and yet defied it. I glanced sideways at him. His chin was tucked inside the thick grey muffler that he wore

Reading journal: Two Man Station by Lisa Henry

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Genre: Romance (m/m) Published: 2018 Series: Emergency Services Read: February 2018 The latest offering from prolific Australian author Lisa Henry is set in the remote outback town of Richmond in Queensland. Gio Valeri, dragging baggage from his previous Gold Coast posting behind him, joins Jason Quinn in policing the small town. He has to deal with snakes, neglected children, family violence, and the strange fallout from bingo night, as well as a growing attraction to Jason. A great book. I particularly liked the snake silhouettes that divide the chapters, and the realistic portrayal of the difficulties of single parenting and limited resources in policing in a remote area. Recommended. If you want to see what Richmond looks like in real life, there are plenty of photos on Google Maps and you can see the police station on street view. Town of Richmond, Queensland, Australia. Copyright Google Maps

Reading journal: Wyatt’s Hurricane by Desmond Bagley

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Genre: Action/Adventure Published: 1966 Read: January 2018 A story about a hurricane and a revolution on a Caribbean island. There is a large cast of secondary characters, some little more than stereotypes, but the main characters are strong and interesting. Dave Wyatt is a meteorologist specialising in hurricanes, and a man of principle. He fights his way through obstacles to save the population and the girl he loves. Great descriptions of the hurricane and its impact on the island, and of the chaos of war and the aftermath of disaster. Recommended.

Reading journal: Whip Hand by Dick Francis

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Genre: Crime Published: 1979 Series: Sid Halley Read: January 2018 Ex-jockey Sid Halley returns in this second book in the series. Now an independent investigator, he is on the trail of corruption in the Jockey Club, illegal syndicates that fix race results, and the mysterious failure of highly fancied favourites in big races. As if that wasn’t enough, his ex-wife has become involved in a fraud and he must find the perpetrator to protect her. His opponents use extreme violence to try to deter him, but Sid is made of sterner stuff and finds his courage in time to finger the criminals. I particularly like the description of a balloon race, where Sid finds himself in a tiny wicker basket thousands of feet up with someone as crazy about winning as he is himself. Great story, highly recommended.

Reading journal: The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

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Genre: Crime Published: 1949 Read: December 2017 The action takes place in a small English village, one of the most dangerous places on earth if television is anything to go by. A staid solicitor, Robert Blair, is caught up in the defence of two women accused of abducting a teenage girl with the aim of forcing her to do domestic work for them. The girl is an innocent child with the media on her side, and Blair has to exert himself to prove her accusations wrong. This is a well-plotted and well-written story. The problems come with the subtexts — the author’s middle class concerns permeate everything. The servant ‘problem’, the stupidity and ignorance of rural people, the lack of class and pursuit of febrile thrills found in industrial city dwellers, the inevitable consequences of bad blood and the triumph of nature over nurture; all these pernicious ideas find their way into what would otherwise be an excellent yarn. In the end, unable to cope with an England that ha

Siri, diet saboteur

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My sedentary lifestyle has a predictable price, so I’m working on dietary improvements. To help, I have a nifty little app on my phone for keeping track of what I’ve eaten. I was adding today's menus. They were sadly deficient in the four basic food groups (takeaway, chocolate, pastries, chips). Of course, most days’ menus should be so lacking, but it is a dispiriting sight. Imagine me sighing deeply, and saying, “I’m so hungry” in an affected tone, like Lydia in Pride and Prejudice.  * What I did not expect was a response from Siri. Siri is a phone app that you interact with verbally. For example, you say, “Hey, Siri, what’s the time?” and it tells you. So far my interactions with Siri have been a cause for hilarity. It’s so polite! I tried, “Siri, close Maps app”. Siri replied, “As much as I would like to, I can’t close apps.” I feel as if I should apologise for asking. I feel that I should say “please” and “thank you”. Anyway, my sighing and complaining of hung