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Reading journal: Victory on Gallipoli and other what-ifs of Australian History edited by Peter Stanley

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Genre: Non-fiction Published: 2017 Date read: July 2018 I’m interested in alternate history. It’s a bit like studying history in reverse. In the study of history, the European approach is to examine primary sources to establish facts, and then retro-fit an interpretation onto that information. The interpretation changes as society and our current pre-occupations change. Alternate history is different. It postulates a change in “known” facts, then  tries to deduce what would have changed as a result. Of course some retro-fitted interpretation must still be present, but is usually not explicitly stated. In this volume, the authors do exactly this. I have a couple of complaints. Firstly, the events they have examined all fall into the traditional ‘famous men’ theme — military history, political events, and you guessed it, famous men. There are 24 stories, two are about women, and they are both political women (Vida Goldstein and Edith Cowan). Secondly, the interpretation. I

Reading journal: Exile by Glynn Stewart

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Genre: Science Fiction Published: 2018 Date read: August 2018 Competent science fiction tale from a solid professional writer. Isaac Gallant and a bunch of revolutionaries are exiled through a one-way wormhole to a distant galaxy, and must establish themselves on a new planet. But of course there are aliens, lots of them, and deadly dangers. Not a bad yarn. I’ll read any sequels. Great cover.

Reading journal: Ishmael by Barbara Hambly

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Genre: Science fiction Published: 1985 Series: Star Trek novels Date read: November 2018 Lovely book, almost worn out due to multiple reads. This is a cross-over book that cleverly meshes two TV series, the original Star Trek with Kirk and Spock, and Here Come the Brides , set in frontier Seattle. It has everything—evil Klingons, time travel, amnesia, gambling scenes set in old San Francisco, and romance. Barbara Hambly is a great writer and did a wonderful job with this book. Highly recommended for action, adventure, and scifi lovers and old 1960s TV tragics like me.

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