Tag Archives: sydney

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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