Tag Archives: sydney

Review: Preservation by Jock Serong

Preservation by Jock Serong

Preservation, based on the true story of the wreck of the Sydney Cove, sees master storyteller Jock Serong turn his talents to historical narrative.

On a beach not far from the isolated settlement of Sydney in 1797, a fishing boat picks up three shipwreck survivors, distressed and terribly injured. They have walked hundreds of miles across a landscape whose features—and inhabitants—they have no way of comprehending. They have lost fourteen companions along the way. Their accounts of the ordeal are evasive.

It is Lieutenant Joshua Grayling’s task to investigate the story. He comes to realise that those fourteen deaths were contrived by one calculating mind and, as the full horror of the men’s journey emerges, he begins to wonder whether the ruthless killer poses a danger to his own family.

Published 29 October 2018 |  Publisher: Text Publishing |  RRP: AUD$22.99

Read a sample chapter from Preservation here.

Buy it at: Dymocks |  Booktopia |  A&R |  Abbey’s  | Text Publishing

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

This is one of those books that’s been on my radar but I’ve resisted to add to my TBR because I just wasn’t sure whether it’s something I’d like. I ended up reading it to fulfil a reading challenge, of course, like so many of my reads and… I really quite enjoyed it.

Preservation has the flavour of a psychological thriller set in Colonial Australia. I’m not usually a fan of psychological thrillers – they frighten me somewhat but this novel is not quite the norm. It is inspired and/or based on a true historical event. One which I was not at all familiar with… I’ve just read the Wikipedia entry and the major plotline followed that but since not much else is known, the author really did have a lot of room to play with.

The first few chapters were a bit strange because this story is told through multiple point-of-views and as usual, this takes some getting used to. Each perspective is unique and wide-ranging (the perpetrator, the accomplice, the witness, the investigator and sidekick) so we have a very nearly well-rounded view of the case. For this novel is rather like a case study of a crime with some sprinkling of historical and personal interests to engage the reader.

Thanks to Text Publishing via Netgalley for ecopy of book in exchange of honest review

About the author

Jock Serong is the author of Quota, winner of the 2015 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction; The Rules of Backyard Cricket, shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Award for Fiction, finalist of the 2017 MWA Edgar Awards for Best Paperback Original, and finalist of the 2017 INDIES Adult Mystery Book of the Year; and On the Java Ridge, shortlisted for the 2018 Indie Awards.

Find Jock on:  goodreads  |  twitter

Review: Dead Man Switch by Tara Moss

Dead Man Switch (A Billie Walker Mystery #1) by Tara Moss

Bestselling author Tara Moss returns to crime fiction with a stunning new series, and a stunning new heroine. Meet PI Billie Walker – smart and sexy, with a dash of Mae West humour, she’s a hard-boiled detective with a twist.

She’s a woman in a man’s world …

Sydney, 1946. Billie Walker is living life on her own terms. World War II has left her bereaved, her photojournalist husband missing and presumed dead. Determined not to rely on any man for her future, she re-opens her late father’s detective agency.

Billie’s bread and butter is tailing cheating spouses – it’s easy, pays the bills and she has a knack for it. But her latest case, the disappearance of a young man, is not proving straightforward …

Soon Billie is up to her stylish collar in bad men, and not just the unfaithful kind – these are the murdering kind. Smugglers. Players. Gangsters. Billie and her loyal assistant must pit their wits against Sydney’s ruthless underworld and find the young man before it’s too late.

Published 21 October 2019 |  Publisher: HarperCollins – AU |  RRP: AUD$32.99

Buy it at: Dymocks |  Booktopia |  A&R |  Abbey’s

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

Firstly, loved the cover!

Secondly, it kinda reminded me of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series… albeit set a couple of decades later (in comparison between first books) and in different countries BUT that is the best thing about this book, it is set in my own backyard or rather Sydney & the Blue Mountains. I recognised all the landmarks and that was just added an extra layer of sweetness to this novel.

I must admit though that it meant I did a lot of comparing between Billie Walker (the protagonist in this novel) to Maisie Dobbs and while there are a number of similarities (eg. losing their loves to war, setting up private investigation agencies, injured returned soldier as assistant, etc), there were enough differences that I could appreciate especially the fashion (!) If you love fashion in novels, in combination with mysteries, you’d love this book.

Billie Walker is working hard to push her grief aside. She’s also working hard because things are tough after the war; everyone is looking for work & are mostly strapped for cash. At the same time, she also loves her work. She loves solving puzzles and seeing justice served. She’s a character one can easily loved. It was also quite easy to love the secondary characters from her toff mother, her most reliable assistant, to the enigmatic detective inspector; Moss has created a most appealing set of characters.

The mystery itself was pretty interesting and the author has done well in connecting the dots. I do love the car chase scene and Billie’s overall capability as a private investigator. There is no bumbling about like an amateur, she’s all professional.

There were 2 things which I found a little bit weird… Instead of using words like ‘gut instinct’ or ‘intuition’, she used ‘little woman’. There was a paragraph in the book explaining why she’s chosen this phrase of ‘little woman’ but really, it just didn’t sit right with me. Maybe I’ve just got a dirty mind (?) because when we have a male protag and he refers to ‘little me’, he’s usually referring to his private parts. Can I just say that I therefore automatically applied the same meaning and had to work really hard to steer myself in the right direction? That was just too strange.

Also, there were too much ‘looking into people’s eyes’ – not staring as such but Billie seems to like to make sure she’s looking into whoever’s eyes a lot… but then again, I read an uncorrected proof so maybe there have been some changes since.

Dead Man Switch was an absolute delight to read. I loved walking through Sydney in the 40s in the high-heeled shoes of a fashionable, capable & brave young woman. If you love historical mystery set in Australia or those like Maisie Dobbs series, I’d highly recommend that you get on board with Billie Walker!

Thanks to HarperCollins AU via Netgalley for ecopy of book in exchange of honest review

About the author

Tara Moss is the bestselling author of eleven books of fiction and non-fiction published in nineteen countries, a documentary maker and host, public speaker and outspoken advocate for human rights and women’s rights. She is the writer of the popular Mak Vanderwall crime series, the Pandora English paranormal series, and the feminist memoir The Fictional Woman. She received an Edna Ryan award for making a feminist difference, inciting others to challenge the status quo. Tara currently lives in Vancouver with her husband and daughter.

Find Tara on:  goodreads  |  website  | twitter  |  facebook  |  instagram  |  pinterest

Review: The Big Smoke

big smokeThe Big Smoke by D’Arcy Niland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: hardcover copy borrowed from library

My interest in D’Arcy Niland was only sparked when I read Ruth Park’s autobiography, A Fence Around the Cuckoo & Fishing in the Styx which of course, referred quite a bit to Niland being a happily married couple who also spurred each other on in their writing jobs. Unfortunately, most of his books are out of print except for one, The Shiralee. Thankfully, my library has a decent collection and carried a few of his works.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel as there wasn’t much information online about it. I’ve amended the Goodreads page with the blurb from the inside jacket noting the only other review about this book noted (uncertainly) that it was set in 1950’s Sydney but… it’s not. It is actually from beginning of 20th century to mid ‘20s. It is a novel of interconnected stories surrounding “Jack Johnson’s boy”.

The story began, of course, just before the conception of this boy from the perspective of a fight promoter, Chiddy Hay, who never really made it and is down on his luck. It ended, at a full circle, with Chiddy Hay, a pensioner still down on his luck (though this was during the Great Depression) and the boy grown. Out of the 10 chapters/stories, only one short one is from the perspective of the boy. All other 9 stories are told from people connected to him either directly or indirectly but most assuredly connected by living in the Big Smoke (ie. City of Sydney).

This novel really isn’t about the boy or anyone in particular but rather of the city and its effects on the residents of said city.

”…this city is a character. It talks. It works on its own. It plays fair and it plays foul. I’m what it’s done to me.”

The variety of the characters, their warmth and vitality, was just amazing. At the end of each chapter, I want to know more about that particular character though of course, we’d have to move on. There was a steeplejack, a street sweeper, owner of a burger joint, a night watcher, a housewife, and many others who work in and for the city. Yet, despite everything they do, the city lives on when they fade away.

Sydney, of course, is my city, my home and I have loved each moment I read this novel as I imagine myself as life was back in the last century. These characters expressed what each city dwellers would have felt at one time or another; the beauty of the city, the smog, the loneliness, etc. The Great Depression surely was not a good age to live in but each of these characters felt so real and their stories (regardless of whether it ends well or not) were heartfelt.

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Review: Night Walker

night walkerNight Walker by Aaron L. Speer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: ebook courtesy of author

Night Walker piqued my interest mostly due to its setting; Sydney. I’m always keen to read a books set in my hometown so when the author, Aaron L. Speer, approached me, I really couldn’t refuse. He stated that he didn’t think there was a vampire story in connection to the Australian history before… I can’t think of one either so, I was really quite curious.

I had quite a bit of expectation of some historical content with some well-known historical characters with some being, secretly, creatures of the night who are alive (or rather, undead) now. The historical part of the story was only at the beginning of the book with only references to the past later on in the story.

The unfortunate bit was that I struggle to sympathise with any of the characters so it really took me a long time (maybe halfway) before I started enjoying the story. I don’t think I’ll go into exactly why because that’ll take a long time; suffice to say that I found each character to be annoying in a different way. There are characters that I don’t think I’d get along well, in life, at all.

I feel this novel to be plot heavy –lots of characters talking and doing things but I’m missing the atmosphere of this world. I’m just not quite sure what it’s supposed to be like! I’d like a bit more of world building –more descriptions on the surrounding (the colours, the smell, the feel, etc). And then, the ending… hhhmmm, I was utterly exasperated by the turnaround!!!

Honestly, I think I have been completely spoiled by All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness so please bear this in mind when you are considering my review knowing where my perspective lies. Night Walker has an appealing premise but I’ve only found delivery to be average.

Thanks to Simon Aaron L. Speer for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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Review: Razorhurst

razorhurstRazorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Source: Purchased own paperback copy

It was a last minute’s decision to attend the book launch for Razorhurst though it was such a enjoyable night listening to Justine Larbalestier talk about the inspiration behind this book and the research into the historical background of this novel. Her passion, not only for writing but also for this dark-piece of Aussie history, was easily felt and very contagious. I dived into this brilliant novel with a very high expectation.

I expected ghosts. I expected tough characters. But what I didn’t expect was the complex layering of the book. Whilst we follow 2 main characters (Kelpie and Dymphna), there were several other perspectives injected throughout the novel along with some historical background (fictional and / or real) to either characters or setting. This could easily have been a pretty mess of structure BUT I was amazed that it wasn’t at all. It was done expertly and it worked a treat –a remarkable feat!

The ending saddened me, somewhat. Honestly, I knew not to expect a neat little package tied up with a bow. In all possibility, with the mafia involved, that just wasn’t realistic still… it didn’t stop me being sad although I think, Justine Larbalestier managed to find just the right amount of mess to be realistic and yet, still gave some sense of optimism.

Razorhurst is not your typical paranormal (romantic) novel despite the ghostly encounters. It is rather a novel to be appreciated by point of structure, characters, and historical value (especially if you’re a Sydneysider). It was hard for me to really understand just how hard the life these young girls had in those days. For parents of younger audiences, I’d suggest some parental guidance / discussions. I don’t have girls of my own but if I do, this book is not to be missed as a book to read together as it has the potential of really good discussions.

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Review: The First Third

first thirdThe First Third by Will Kostakis

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Source: courtesy of Penguin Teen Australia through a Live Event

This books hurts me. Seriously. Physically. Hurts. Me. Lesson learnt: Do Not Read this book when you are sick because:
1. Laughter will turn to a coughing fit which hurt your chest and will earn you the dirtiest looks from your fellow commuters;
2. Staying up to finish reading end up with bucketload of tears [did I mention that I also suffer from over-sensitive tearducts?] which as a result completely blocked my nose passages and followed by the worst-head-pounding-headache from lack of oxygen…
So… I barely had any rest that day and couldn’t sleep at night because this book is one that will stay with you for a long time. Forgiveness was easily granted 

Billy Tsiolkas is in Year 12 when his yiayia (grandmother) handed him a list of 3 things she’d like him to do. They are not, in any way, easy to do as it required him to find happiness for the 3 members of his immediate family (mother and 2 brothers) and to keep them together as a family. Even though he struggled with what to do with this list, his yiayia evidently saw something in him when she passed the torch to him, or rather the “gluestick”. She expected him to keep the family together as she has been doing, when she is no longer around. This is a big ask even for an adult but Billy found that he does want his family to stick together and he will give up even his one chance at making it big for this.

Reaching out to teenage boys aren’t easy. I lead a Year 10 group at church and bar 1, I would be so very lucky to get a grunt or a one word response from them. Amazingly though, they are not so reticent online. LOL. The point is that Billy truly has his work cut out for him. He found support in his best friend, Lucas (Sticks), and a girl whose grandfather shared a room with his yiayia at the hospital. With their ideas and backup, he managed to set up his mum on a date, checked up on his brother online public profile, and entrapped his younger brother to be in a room with him for one whole night.

The language is easy to understand and will appeal to all generations. Sentences are pretty short and direct with humour being delivered sharply to hit you in the right spot. The First Third is light reading in terms language but will have you clutching your stomach in hilarity (or in my case, my chest –see above) and tears will sneak out without you realising that the story has truly touch the deepest part of your heart. The only thing missing to make this a full experience for me is a recipe of yiayia’s moussaka! I was totally teary and salivating at the same time 😉

Thank you, Penguin Teen Australia, for providing copy of book through your Live Event

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Review: The Railwayman’s Wife

Railwaymans Wife, TheThe Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Source: Courtesy of Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room

I adore the first chapter as it sets the tone of this book. Slow as a small seaside town in the 30s-40s. The most important thing, of course, was that Annika Lachlan was reading… and I can feel myself being drawn into the story and looking through Annika’s point of view.

3 broken persons are seeking for healing, for themselves. Each of them had their own unique gut-wrenching heart-breaking experience and found themselves drawn to each other by the brokenness they sensed in each other. In the midst of all the sadness, there are also beauty- of sweet memories of love from the past, of the beauty surrounding them, of rows of words interlinking. It renders a bittersweet overtone throughout the book which was surprisingly maintained from the beginning to the end and left me with a gasp.

Thirroul is described so beautifully that makes me want to visit! I’m only about an hour’s drive away but due to the descriptions of the book, I’d like to catch a train there. I catch the train 4 days in a week and am not a fan of cityrail. Most Sydneysiders aren’t. However, I now want to go to Thirroul on the train just to be in the footsteps of Annika and to experience the beauty… though since the book is set in the 40s, I doubt I’d feel the same…

The engine is puffing and blowing, pulling hard, and the train presses on towards the archway that’s been carved to open up the mountain… They’re in darkness, the sound monumental, the speed somehow faster when there’s only blackness beyond the windows. And then they’re out, in the light, in the space, in the relative quiet. And there’s the ocean, the sand, the beginnings of this tiny plain that has insinuated itself, tenuous, between the wet and the dry.

It is a reminder of the beauty all around us which we really shouldn’t take for granted for there are also much brokenness. But brokenness are a part of life which makes the beauty of it all more precious.

Thank you, Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room for a copy of Uncorrected Proof of which I truly enjoyed

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Review: Playing Beatie Bow

Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It looks like I’ve got a really good start, this year, in catching up with the Aussie lits. This is another classic which pretty much everybody has read but me! Seriously, looking at the cover, I thought it’d be something creepy (a quote at the back of the book reads, “It’s Beatie Bow – risen from the dead!”) but it’s not at all creepy! It’s a time travel tale which I adore and I love this book!

Abigail Kirk is not perfect. She was hurt deeply years ago and has never let go. She felt that she should and she wanted to but she doesn’t know how. It took a trip in time for her to learn about love and what it means to love. The ending, whilst pretty predictable, also carried a twist which I didn’t expect.

The story is set in Sydney’s Rocks area and I had in my head through the book the images of cobblestones paths, sandstone buildings, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge… One of the loveliest places around! This is one of the factor of my loving this book because I can see it clearly in my head as I know the place well 🙂

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Review: Seven Little Australians

Seven Little Australians
Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: Own a copy -get your own copy from The Book Depository OR a free electronic version from Project Gutenberg

I think I would have enjoyed this story a lot more if I read this at a much younger age. This is, of course, one of those classic books that everyone (or at least most Aussies) would have read in school that I have missed out on, being an immigrant. But I am catching up!

It was an easy story to read and enjoy on a fine weekend. In between, we went to a birthday picnic where children were indulged in sugar-y goodness and lots of play in the sun. So, I had the same sort of image in my head when I was reading this book. But… I have to say that those children were pretty tame in comparison to what these “Seven Little Australians” get up to!

The book was evenly spread out between all children; what they are like, why they are so, their own brand of mischiefs but all imbued with their own innate goodness. There were some shocking things that they do but as a reader, you can’t help but laugh –although, if my child did any of those things, I would’ve been so… angry and disappointed. The ending was really unexpected but I would love to continue and follow their stories.

Not one of the seven is really good, for the very excellent reason that Australian children never are…. But in Australia a model child is – I say it not without thankfulness – an unknown quantity. It may be that the miasmas of naughtiness develop best in the sunny brilliancy of our atmosphere. It may be that the land and the people are young-hearted together,… There is a lurking sparkle of joyousness and rebellion and mischief in the nature here, and therefore in children.

If you enjoyed children classics such as What Katy Did / What Katy Did at School or even Little Women, I believe you may enjoy this tale too.

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Review: They’re A Weird Mob: A Novel

They’re A Weird Mob: A Novel by Nino Culotta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Source: My local library -get your own copy from The Book Depository OR direct from Text Classics

Most Australians speak English like I speak Hindustani, which I don’t. In general, they use English words, but in a way that makes no sense to anyone else. And they don’t use our European vowel sounds, so that even if they do construct a normal sentence, it doesn’t sound like one. This made it necessary for me, until I become accustomed to it, to translate everything that was said to me twice, first into English and then into Italian. So my replies were always slow, and those long pauses prompted many belligerent remarks, such as ‘Well don’t stand there like a dill; d’yer wanta beer or dontcha?’ Now that I have had five years of practice, I find that I am able to think in English, and often in the Australian kind of English, so that when some character picks me for a dill, he is likely to be told quick smart to suck his scone in!

Dunno what exactly I expected from this book… Mis-adventures of an immigrant with some humour involved at most. But, what I got was absolute hilarity –I was laughing so much and I just couldn’t put the book down. Most of the hilarity, of course, was due to misunderstanding the ‘Australian English’ and Australian ways.

If you’re Australian, you may enjoy this look at yerself form another’s point of view. Even though it’s stereotypical of the Aussie working class in mid 20th century, I found it wildly entertaining and made time flew by very quickly. It’s a pretty short read too. However, I have to confess that whilst I can see traces of these type of Australian-ess around me, my Aussie friends (born & bred) don’t speak like this (I’m not referring to the accents but rather to the specific lingo).

If you are not Australian, you may find this book a bit of a struggle as the writing takes into consideration the way the people speak (accents etc), for example ‘Owyagoin’ (How you going), Orrightmate (all right, mate), etc. In addition, of course, the Aussie slang gets more than a little confusing.

In my own experience as a migrant, I didn’t find it as much of a problem –I don’t recall of having to struggle with English (nor ‘Australian English’) too much. I probably didn’t get many of the jokes and I still have a bit of a problem with some sayings now and then but other than that, if you actually hear my speak, I sound mostly Australian (excepting some little nuisance of words). At the end of the book, the author was encouraging migrants to mix into the Australian cultures and not to cling tenaciously stubbornly to one’s original cultures. Indeed, Australia provides that opportunity for a better life but to build a country which supports better life, we would all need to work together wherever you’re from.

That episode of Friday night and yesterday illustrates the informality of the Australian way of life, and the Australian’s unquenchable energy and thirst. He works hard, with much cursing and swearing, and is most unhappy when he has no work to do. He loves beer and tobacco, and impassioned arguments. He is kind and generous and abusive. He will swear at you, and call you insulting names, and love you like a brother. He is without malice. He will fight you with skill and ferocity, and buy you a beer immediately afterwards. He is a man of many contradictions, but his confidence and self-sufficing are inspiring. If he is beaten in a fight or an argument, he laughs about it the next day, and tells his mates, ‘ The bastard was too good fer me.’ He doesn’t resent a defeat of ‘that bastard who done me over’. It takes a European a long time to begin to understand him.

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