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Reading journal: Rusted Off: Why country Australia is fed up by Gabrielle Chan

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Genre: Non-fiction Published: 2018 Date read: September 2018 Gabrielle Chan is a journalist who lives up the road from me, in Harden, New South Wales. This interesting book pulls apart the social structure of a country town and explores the point of view of people who feel unrepresented in Australia’s political system. It’s true that highly educated city dwellers find it hard to see things from a rural perspective. It’s a two-way street though. And Harden is only an hour away from Canberra. People travel between these towns all the time; in fact, many rural people are highly mobile, following work opportunities more than city people may do, and often have family all over the place. I enjoyed the book but was not totally convinced by the arguments. Governments in recent times have ignored everyone except their mates, and some of those mates were well-heeled country people. The argument is more one of connections, opportunities and funding than location, I think.

Reading journal: We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson

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Genre: Horror Published: 1962 Date read: July 2018 A scarifying story about a teenage girl, Merricat and her sister Constance. We know right from the beginning that something is off, and exactly what is revealed gradually. The girls and their uncle live apart from the town, exiled really. We learn that the rest of the family died in a horrific poisoning incident, but who was responsible? We suspect. We don’t know for sure. And then a greedy relative appears, and upsets the fragile family life that seemed so stable but really wasn’t, and everything goes straight to hell. I won’t include spoilers here, but if you want to read a perfect story about a sociopath, and how creepy haunted houses with demented old people living in them came to be, this is the one. Disturbing, unsettling and brilliant.

Reading journal: Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler

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Genre: Espionage Published: 1952 Date read: September 2018 Set in the years between WW1 and WW2, this is a chilling story. Josef Vadassy is a teacher living in France, but he is vulnerable because he is stateless, one of many people left adrift after the messy treaties following WW1. He is holidaying on the Riviera, but he becomes a suspect in a case of espionage and is blackmailed into helping the police solve the case. His confusion, his fear, and his feeble attempts to get out of the trap are exactly what anyone would feel. Life is not the movies, and we are all helpless in the merciless grasp of officialdom. No happy endings here. A brilliant book.

Reading journal: Fairy Tales of China by Peter Lum

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Genre: Children Published: 1959 Date read: 1960, and a few times since Great little book with four traditional Chinese stories. The Dragon King is about the consequences of disobedience—the Dragon King makes it rain at the wrong time and place and is punished. The Sacred Ric e is another consequences story—stolen rice turns to stones in the robbers’ stomachs. The Chess Players is a story of gods messing with human lives, and The Wandering Sta r is about estranged lovers who may only meet once a year by crossing the Magpie Bridge in the heavens. Very tragic and romantic. I loved these stories as a child. I loved the illustrations and the strong moral messages, and the cultural strangeness for a little girl in a sheltered life in Australia. Later in life, partly because of this book, I spent years trying to learn Chinese. I didn’t really succeed, but I’m glad I tried. These stories are culturally important too. The Magpie Bridge is the name given to a Chinese communicat

Reading journal: Murder on the Oxford Canal by Faith Martin

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Genre: Crime Published: 2017 Series: DI Hillary Greene Date read: November 2018 I read this because I’m writing a death on a canal story (working title, Yass Canal), and I need all the information I can get. DI Greene lives on a canal narrowboat, so is the natural person to be assigned to a corpse found in a lock. Good solid plot, with an outcome not easily guessed. The point of view switches between characters a bit too frequently, which can be confusing, but overall, a good yarn. I also read Book 2 in the series, Murder at the University , and it was just as good.

Reading journal: The Afterlife of Alice Watkins by Matilda Scotney

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Genre: Science fiction Published: 2018 Series: Books 1 and 2 Date read: December 2018 Two-book story of reincarnation, space travel, aliens, and new beginnings, with a thread of romance. Alice, an old lady, dies, but wakes up in the future, in someone else’s body. Or does she? Not much happens plot-wise, but the writing style has plenty of pace. I found most of the characters annoying, didn’t like the world the author built, and was hoping for a more exciting ending. On the other hand, I did read both books through to the end. Perhaps this one just wasn’t for me.

Reading journal: Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

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Genre: Science Fiction Published: 2013 Series: Heartland Trilogy Date read: October 2018 Awesome! The setting is a future where a lucky few live in floating satellite stations while everyone else toils in miserable conditions on the planet below, battling poverty, disease, oppression, and corn so aggressive it cuts your skin. Cael McAvoy is a young man, a troublemaker, and this is his story. There are hidden currents, a resistance movement, and nasty people, as well as good friends and a beloved girlfriend lost to him. Cael goes on the offensive, and his enemies had better watch their backs. I didn’t enjoy Wendig’s Miriam Black stories, but this one is genius. Pace, suspense, strong characters, brilliantly evoked settings and an overall sense of impending doom; what’s not to like? Highly recommended, as is Book 2 in the series, Blightborn.