The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion

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Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Esther Campion’s second novel The House of Second Chances includes some of the characters who dominated the storyline in her first novel Leaving Ocean Road although the author states that this second book is not designed to be a sequel.

The House of Second Chances is set predominantly in Ireland, a place where the author grew up before moving several times in her adult life and eventually settling in Australia, firstly in South Australia, the setting for her first book, and later in northern Tasmania. Although the main action for her second novel is in Ireland there are also characters with a link to Australia.

As the title of the book suggests, this latest novel is about second chances, not just for the main characters but most of the characters who have a prominent role in this story. The central theme embraces people whose earlier experiences have left them with emotional scars but who were able to learn from these experiences and be brave enough to open their lives to a second chance.

A lot of emotion has been laid bare in the storyline which includes death, a troubled teenager, deception, family estrangement, a missing child, a debilitating illness, community altruism, the insecurity of being single in middle age and an attraction that could blossom into something deeper and lasting.

Aidan O’Shea is a builder who has embarked on renovating his grandmother’s house in West Cork, a house he has avoided for twenty years. His Sister Ellen, who lives in South Australia, has convinced him to do the work. (Ellen is the key character in Campion’s first novel). Considering the emotions Aiden is contending with as he embarks on this job, one can understand that he would not be impressed to hear that Ellen has asked her friend, Collette Barry to work with him as the designer and decorator. ‘Interior design; what the heck did they need that for? (1) ‘Sure wouldn’t a few fancy cushions in the parlour and a few bits of decent bed linen do the job’(2).

At their first collaboration, Aiden and Collette appear to be complete opposites and each is on the defensive. ‘Aiden couldn’t help but notice the crispness of the paper as Collette slid the sheets out of a plastic sleeve. (while) He gingerly took (out) his own coffee-stained, dog-eared print-out’ (6-7).

Collette is a city-girl, slim and athletic. Aiden on the other hand has let himself go but, when he is lumbered with the neighbour’s huge dog to look after, and has received several comments about his waistline, he comes to the realisation that he needs to take himself in hand.

Although many different issues and characters are mentioned in the storyline, they are all pivotal to the story; like the troubled Scottish teenager who came to stay with his uncle and Collette’s partner in the interior design business, Fabulous Four Walls. While he, himself, found a second chance to embrace a new focus in his life, he also had a part to play in uncovering what happened in the case of the missing girl, Millie, who Aiden often looked after while her mother was at work. The young lad with the debilitating disease was also crucial in solving this case when his family was in London with him for prolonged treatment.

I enjoyed being able to visit with these characters as they overcame some of their issues and embraced their second chances. They seemed so real and this is due to the skill of this relatively new author. I can envisage her next novel, though not a sequel, could embrace the newly renovated house and see Ellen returning to become part of this new venture. That is a book I look forward to reading.

The House of Second Chances

(2019)

By Esther Campion

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 978-0-7336-3617-2

$29.99; pp398

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The Change Makers by Shaun Carney

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Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

The Change Makers by Shaun Carney contains words of wisdom from twenty-five of Australia’s successful leaders in their field. They are quite diverse, thirteen are women and twelve men. They are heads of various organisations ranging from sport to education and charity ventures. There is a detective Chief Inspector, Chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Foundation chair of Indigenous studies, an Australian Chief Scientist Director of the International Comedy Festival, a senior public servant and people who have created new successful businesses. Many of these successful people are recipients of Australian honour awards and their ages and their original nationalities vary.

This collection of essays, which addresses some aspect associated with leadership, was inspired by the Mc Kinnon Prize in Political Leadership. The Mc Kinnon Prize was established in 2017 by the University of Melbourne, and aims to push for a stronger and more effective system of government in Australia and to encourage those who aspire to political office to consider carefully the type of leader they wish to be.

In the Preface, Shaun Carney gives his point of view on the topic of leadership based on his forty years of political journalism. His conclusion about leadership is that there has been ‘too much faux leadership by individuals occupying leaders’ positions who did not, in effect, lead’. He acknowledges that ‘modern politicians do face unprecedented challenges’ as they ‘ply their trade in a disrupted, fragmenting environment in which fewer of us formally attach ourselves to political parties’(vii). He also reminds us that leadership is obviously not restricted to politics and this is why the following leaders were chosen to be included in this text. Therefore, the aim of The Change Makers is to reach beyond the world of formal politics to examine leadership in all its forms across the Australian community.

The essays that follow are the result of interviews Carney had with the chosen leaders in which he wished to learn how these people came to be leaders and what they had learned along the way. Several overarching themes became evident during the interviews

–   That you achieve by doing not by talking or planning or dreaming or complaining.

  • That there always needs to be an acceptance of risk as few lasting achievements come without risk.
  • That there is no single personality type that determines that someone will be a leader.
  • That purpose is essential.

Glyn Davis, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Melbourne University, provides an introduction which draws much on the great book on the topic, Machiavelli’s The Prince. The introduction is broken into several sections addressing the following aspects of leadership:

– What difference does a leader make?

– the constraints of biography

– leadership attributes

– the limits of power

– parliamentary leadership

and finishing with a conclusion: learning about leadership.

This is a general discussion about leadership aspects and is not just related to Australia but takes on a more historical approach referencing well known leaders in the past and not so past. This is an academic piece of writing as shown by the accompanying bibliography, but still easily read by lay persons.

The sections attributed to the chosen leaders are accompanied by a photo and brief description of achievements. They are approximately six pages in length and are easy to read. Their content shows how people who have a strong desire to do something can achieve success. These are not necessarily academic people but ordinary people who have a purpose. Some of these people have pushed the boundaries of traditional thinking and in the process have opened up positions to women and ethnic groups which were once denied. They are interesting reading.

After these essays there are interviews by Michael Gordon done in January 2018 with John Howard and Julia Gillard with topics such as ‘Conveying what you stand for’ and ‘Thriving in an adversarial climate’. I am sure the reader can gauge which title is attributed to which past Prime Minister. The book finishes with information on the McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership and a six-page index.

It was interesting to note that on reading the essays from leaders in many different industries that the conclusions reached or lessons learned were quite similar. Duncan Lewis AO, learned through his military career and then as head of ASIO, that it is easier to lead human beings than to drive them from behind. He believes that there are three tenets of leadership that are immutable: to have the courage to lead; to have integrity in your leadership and to have humility. Eddie Woo, 2018 Australian Local Hero was also once told that you are a leader not because you have a title but because you look behind you and see people following you and that can often happen quite by accident. This he discovered to be true for himself. He believes that leadership is a function of character and personality and that leadership is about people and making time for them.

Barb de Corti, business entrepreneur, in her article, ‘Connecting with people’, also mentioned leading from the front. She believes that those who follow you want to learn from you but they also want you to learn from them. She has a strong belief that if you have never failed in anything, you haven’t tried hard enough.

In Simon Judkin’s article, ‘Setting an example by doing the right thing’, communication becomes the key, especially in his field as clinical director of the Emergency Department of Austin Health. He believes a leader needs to be flexible but willing to stick to core values and that a leader needs to evolve but do it in a way that is transparent and based on changes of evidence.

For the first female ACTU secretary, Sally Mc Manus, it is all about learning from the experiences of others. To be open to new ideas and to question the old ones. She suggests that the job of a leader is to clearly articulate a vision and a strategy and keep everyone on the same path, with the same goal. She also says that the culture of an organisation is the result of the leadership and that honesty is very important to build trust.

Simon Mc Keon, chancellor of Monash University and former Australian of the Year, reminds the reader that a leader is just a servant of the organisation and that they have to have the discipline to ask themselves, ‘What is the hard decision that needs to be made, the one for the long term? He also warns that leaders need to keep their ego in check.

Detective Chief Inspector of NSW Police, Gary Jubelin, stresses the importance of empathy, and that people who focus only on position, often fail. While for the Chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, it is the strong values of ethics, integrity, honesty, courage, compassion and commitment which are important attributes. For her a leader must own the decisions they make and be willing to stand behind them. They also need to support inclusiveness, fairness and diversity.

Ownership was also the theme in the contribution by John Crowley who became Head of St Patrick’s College, Ballarat, at the time of the Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse. He believes that the church and its related schools need to take ownership of what had happened and accept responsibility to ensure that this type of behaviour is never allowed to occur again.

Ronni Kahn, head of OzHarvest, never aspired to lead but her passion to live a purposeful life led her to enable behaviour and laws to be changed in relation to rescuing waste food and redirecting it to where it was needed. For her, leadership is not a role, as she says you cannot become a leader if you do not have a team. Her goal is to get all people to see that they are part of the solution. Determination and passion are what helps businesses succeed. She takes this opportunity to remind us that the word economy comes from two Greek words – oikos which means household and nomos meaning management. This is not how our politicians use the word.

The remaining contributors also highlight qualities of transparency, passion, empathy, integrity, the need for a clear strategy as well as the importance of engaging with others both clients and fellow team members. Kon Karapanagiotidis, founder of Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, sums up leadership with the following words. ‘See the people who support you, value them, bring them on a journey, be vulnerable, be transparent’ (146). He believes that there are many wonderful leaders at the grass roots level- thousands of them, but at the same time he is depressed by the state of leadership in the country, when few people with any profile and standing are willing to be fearless and to take risks. He leaves us with a sobering thought, ‘A great challenge in public leadership now is trying to inspire in an era where we’re constantly trying to tear people down, constantly trying to find that flaw, that lack of perfection. We need, instead, to build each other up, to roll up our sleeves and help one another create the society that we want’ (147).

All of the contributors to this book, have much to tell us that can not only help those who wish to be leaders but to all who work with others, whether in commerce or in the home. Martin Luther King posed one of the most important questions: ‘what are you doing for others?’ This is something for us all to ponder.

I found this an interesting and uplifting read.

The Change Makers

(2019)

By Shaun Carney

Melbourne University Press

ISBN: 978-0-522-87478-5

208pp; $32.99 paperback: (out of stock)

Ebook: $14.99

 

Griffith Review 63 Writing the Country Edited by Ashley Hay

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Reviewed by E. B. Heath

Griffith Review 63: writing country – a compilation of essays, memoir, reportage, fiction, poem, and a photo essay of eight images – presents differing perspectives on the connection between people and place. The contributors are writing from a range of disciplines: science, politics, history, a lived experience, or fictionalised accounts. The work is uniformly of a high standard and a pleasure to read.

There is not space enough to comment on all of the thirty-one contributions, the essays chosen being just a small sample of those that resonated at the personal level. Ashley Hay’s piece details scientific data and acts as an eloquent alarm, as in: ‘ Wake Up! The house is on fire’.   Paul Daley – ‘A change in the political weather?’ – brings political activist, Carl Feilberg, to our attention and details the dithering political leadership in Australia on climate change. Kim Mahood’s fascinating essay, ‘Lost and found in translation: who can talk to country?’ explains the significance of language, particularly songlines to Indigenous cultural connections with country.  Almost as a reply, regarding who could talk to country, a Wiriomin-Noongar woman, Claire G Coleman writes an historical eulogy for her ancestors in a mix of prose and poem.   ‘Boodjar ngan djoorla: Country, my bones’, is a beautiful piece that evokes an emotional understanding of Indigenous connections to country.

In the introduction Julianne Schultz quotes Toynbee: More civilisations die from suicide than murder. And for many of us, climate change does feel like a suicide-by-denial. For Indigenous Australians, however, it must feel more like murder – the murder of a close relative. Schultz hopes Writing the Country will imbue an appreciation of our wonderful environment and a determination to take action to protect it.   Perhaps, as suggested by Stephen Mueche in his essay, ‘A Fragile Civilisation’, we should start by redefining established definitions of ‘civilised’ to incorporate ideas of sustainability. Similarly, Brendan Mackey, ‘Climate change, science and country’, suggests western world view is hampering our ability to face climate change and thinks we should reflect on the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Australia. A change in perception does seem to be happening. Tom Griffiths reports in ‘The planet is alive’ that environmental historians have not just added nature to the categories of historical analysis, but question the ‘very separability of culture and nature’.

The first essay, Ashley Hay’s ‘Crossing the Line: unknown unknowns in a liminal, tropical world’, is a pleasure to read. What is less enjoyable, or rather downright frightening is the message that this fluent writer imparts.   It concerns the effects of climate change that will impact our everyday lives.

Readers might expect to read about scenarios of predictable or probable outcomes; how scientists are working on models and algorithms that will give us a picture of our environment in the future, however dire that might be. Perhaps not expecting expressions such as: ‘unknown unknowns’, ‘wild cards’, and ‘new uncharted territory’.

However much the above is not the language of science, it has come down to this – we just do not know how our current predicament will end.   Climate change variables are moving fast and we do not have reliable data to feed into working models. In 1988 the CSIRO investigated the consequences of a doubled carbon dioxide, the predictions made then for the year 2030 have already occurred.

There are two features of climate change that must be considered – atmosphere and biosphere. We can still (but for how long we don’t know) have a positive influence on atmosphere, albeit a slow acting force, but we can effect change.   Whereas, once a species in the biosphere has been eradicated there is nothing to be done.   And species are being knocked out at an alarming rate. In his essay ‘The Costs of Consumption: dispatches from a planet in decline’ James Bradley gives some frightening statistics about just how many species human have wiped out.

As Hay writes she is traveling from Brisbane to tropical Queensland with her husband, who is researching a particular deadly disease carrying mosquito that has relocated from Papua New Guinea to northern Queensland. But she worries that that is not the only thing that is moving south. In fact current calculations suggest the tropics are moving eighty-five kilometres south each decade from its normal boundary on the Tropic of Capricorn. At that rate by the end of the century Northern New South Wales will be a hot and steamy and tropical. This is Australia on the move and it will impact all twenty-five million of its inhabitants.

There is room for a cautious optimism. And this revolves around the fact that human systems can and do change rapidly. Our hope rests in what each and every one of us purchase, what we vote for, what we insist on and how we chose to live. Even a small group of determined people can effect huge change.

Paul Daley expands on people power influencing politics. He provides a concise overview of just how abysmal our political leaders have been regarding climate change in ‘A Change in the political weather? Forecasting the future of climate policy’. Interestingly, we could all be in a different position had Carl Feilberg been attended to one hundred and thirty years ago. Daley gives us an account of this forward thinking man and goes on to detail the hesitant policies from those of Howard to the present day. The voters in Wentworth, a safe Liberal seat, voted for an independent candidate, running primarily on the issue of climate change.   Perhaps now there might be some change, although, as Daley says, only because our politicians have had a taste of electoral destruction.

Kim Mahood addresses a more esoteric aspect of country in ‘Lost and found in translation: who can talk to country?’ As detailed above, academics are defining culture and nature as irrefutably linked. Language has long since been identified as a guiding force, and in turn guided by culture. Mahood goes further linking language and country, and the idea of country understanding its native languages.   This comes from an Indigenous Australian perspective, and to the Western ear seems a little far-fetched, nevertheless, something resonates, even if the concept is slippery.

Mahood starts by citing novels in the European tradition, particularly the trope of ritual manliness, quoting: Lawrence, White, Stowe, and Rothwell. These writers reacted to the Australian landscape with some uniformity; they sensed the landscape and inhabitants as a ‘menacing’ – ‘void’. Lawrence writes more directly, rather than translating the Australian scene to an imagined place. At the beginning of Kangaroo, an astute novel set in Australia, he views the bush as: ‘biding its time with a terrible ageless watchfulness, ..’. But, by the end of the novel, comes to appreciate its enchantment, ‘He loved the country … it had a deep mystery for him, and a dusky, far-off call that he knew would go on calling for long ages before it got and adequate response, in human beings.’   Sensitive Lawrence seemed to sense a non-human attempt to communicate.

Mahood cites John Bradley, who has worked for decades with the Yanyuwa people. He introduces us to the Aboriginal songlines as a way of speaking to country in the language it can hear. In a recent essay ‘Can my Country hear English? – Reflections on the relationship of language to country’ he explains that it is important to counteract the tropes of menace and emptiness: To sing the country approximates bringing it into being in all its richness and complexity, and the loss of language … causes place, known, beloved and meaningful, to revert to featureless, primordial space.

Mahood was involved in setting up an exhibition Songlines – Tracking the Seven Sisters, and through this experience wondered about ‘a collective consciousness shared by the custodians of particular country, in which the landforms of their country reflect their own psychological terrain,’. She writes in some detail about this songline – it makes interesting reading.

Claire Coleman’s ’Boodjar ngan djoorla – Country, my bones’ lyrically relates her family’s sad history, a history of injustice and brutal treatment at the hands of colonial settlers. To read Claire’s work is to understand that intimate connection with country.   ‘My bones are in the soul of Country, and Country is in my bones.’

Rather than on Country, Claire seems to walk with country, as you might walk with a respected elder, and her ancestors have done so for 55,000 years. Country and people – it is hard for her to distinguish where one ends and the other begins, rather, it feels as if the two are entwined into one consciousness.

‘And I have no home but the home in my bones

And the bones of my ancestors scattered down the creek.’

 Griffith Review 63: writing the country is highly recommended for its bold assessment of the current and projected state of our country and for the scholarly, balanced presentation of the content within.

Griffith Review 63

Writing the Country

Edited by Ashley Hay

Text Publishing

ISBN   9 781925 773408

Pp295         By subscription

 

 

 

The Extraordinary Life of Malala Yousafzai By Hiba Noor Khan & The Extraordinary Life of Michelle Obama by Dr. Sheila Kanani

Reviewed by Clare Brook

Penguin Random House have initiated a series for young readers, seven years and upward, profiling the extraordinary lives of people famous for their outstanding leadership and ability.   This is a refreshing counterpoint to the cult of celebrity that surrounds children today. So far the lives of Stephen Hawking, (reviewed on this site January 2019), Malala Yousafzai and Michelle Obama have been released.

The presentation of these books delivers a light, easy-to-read narrative, supported by simple, yet evocative illustrations.   There is a one-colour theme, in various shades, for each book.   Starbursts announce little known facts and explanations of difficult vocabulary, while type faces change in size and style for dramatic affect.   This lively presentation is designed to keep the young reader involved.

The Extraordinary Life of Malala Yousafzai

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The presentation of the life story of this brave young girl is in the colour red. The Extraordinary Life of Malala Yousafzai opens with a shaded map of the World with Malala’s country of birth, Pakistan, represented in dark red.   A more detailed map of Pakistan, circled top right of the page, shows the capital Islamabad, and the Swat Valley where Malala grew up. Pakistan’s flag tops the page. This two-page illustration centres the young readers’ mind on Malala’s geographic context. There is also a lovely description of the beautiful Swat Valley detailed on page eight and nine. Following this brief geography lesson, there is an overview of Malala’s social and political context. Difficult concepts such as the ‘Taliban’, ‘injustice’ and ‘campaigning’ are explained simply and clearly.

Malala’s family life and history follows and it is apparent that she was very fortunate to have such a progressive father. Ziauddin Yousafzai was determined that his daughter would be well educated and have choices in her life, rather than following the generally proscribed route of an early marriage. Even as a young girl, Malala was aware of the poverty that existed for some people in her district and, like her father, believed that all children should be educated.

Then the narrative that made history is detailed. From 200l, when the New York Trade Centre was destroyed by al-Qaeda, until 2012 when Malala was attacked, almost fatally shot by the Taliban. This turbulent period is handled well – Malala’s courage and determination shines out from the pages. I am sure that readers will be amazed by how much Malala achieved, and continues to achieve, in her life. It sends a strong message that is very dear to Malala that education is the basis of a successful life and it should be available to all children, regardless of class or gender.

At the end of the book is a time line of events that led up to all that happened to Malala.   There is an explanation of how the Taliban came into being and how their beliefs are self-serving rather than following true Islam.

The Extraordinary Life of Malala Yousafzai works as a history lesson and as an example of how one small powerless person can make an enormous difference in the World. This must be heartening for young people facing an unstable World.

The Extraordinary Life of Malala Yousafzai

(2019)

By Hiba Noor Khan, illustrated by Rita Petruccioli

Penguin Random House

ISBN 9-780241372753

Paperback: $16.99; 107pp

 

The Extraordinary Life of Michelle Obama

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The Extraordinary Life of Michelle Obama

Michelle’s life story is presented in differing shades of blue.   Once again a World map shows the geographical context, for Michelle it is, of course, the United States of America. Chicago, Illinois, where Michelle was born and grew up is shown in a small separate map detailing the surrounding States.

Then, following the format, an overview of her life as a young African American girl from a poor background and how with hard work and determination Michelle La Vaughn Robinson rose to be powerful in the World in her own right, and as the wife of Barack Obama, President of the United States of America from 2009-2016.

Michelle’s family history will be quite amazing for young readers, as they read about the life of Melvinia, an illiterate slave girl, who was owned and worked from the age of six for a man called David Patterson. Melvinia was the great-great-great-grand-mother of Michelle Obama.

“I wake up in a house that was built by slaves.  I watch my daughters – two beautiful, black young women – head off to school, waving goodbye the their father, The President of the United States…”

Michelle’s success story, like Malala, has its foundation in a successful education. Both Michelle and Malala were fortunate to have parents who were determined that their children would do well at school and did everything in their power to ensure their child’s success. Michelle learnt the importance of hard-work and persistence from her father, who, despite suffering from multiple sclerosis, went to work every day without fail.   Michelle was a brilliant student studying sociology at Princeton and then to Harvard to gain a law degree. She was working in Chicago as a lawyer when she met Barack Obama in 1989.

‘You too can realize your dreams,

And then your job is to reach back

And to help someone

Just like you

Do the same thing.’

Whatever career path Michelle was following she tried to help others get ahead.   She worked for the mayor of Chicago, set up the office of Public Allies, and was the associate dean of student services at the University of Chicago.   As the wife of the President, Michelle continued to speak out promoting fairness and equality.

The Extraordinary Life of Michelle Obama is an interesting and inspiring book. It teaches the importance of hard work, persistence, strong community values and how one person can make a difference.

Recommended for all young readers.

The Extraordinary Life of Michelle Obama

(2019)

by Dr. Sheila Kanani, illustrated by Sarah Walsh

Penguin Random House

ISBN 9-780241372739

Paperback: $16.99; 117pp

 

Click here for the Extraordinary Life of Stephen Hawking:

https://queenslandreviewerscollective.wordpress.com/2019/01/21/the-extraordinary-life-of-stephen-hawking-by-kate-scott/

The Haven by Simon Lelic

 

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Reviewed by Antonella Townsend

Personally, I think Charles Dickens would be chuffed to read how his 1837 novel, Oliver Twist, has been re-imagined by Simon Lelic in The Haven.

Much has changed in the intervening years. Dickens’ long descriptions of place and the poor orphan have become a fast-paced thriller, very hard to put down even for a minute. Oliver Twist is now Ollie Turner, but also an orphan. Female participation is scattered evenly – there is gang leader Felicity Fagan, Bill Sikes becomes fashionable Maddy Sikes, but still owning vicious dog Bullseye. Inclusion reigns supreme, the brainiac computer whizz is a girl in a wheelchair, poor children are responsible, creative and keen to learn, and a subtext of compassion for refugees weaves its way through the narrative.

Much remains the same, the hero and main protagonist is of course a young boy. Characters battle between good and evil, greed and selflessness, revenge and redemption.

The one page Prologue sets the tone and gives away nothing except curiosity.

The first line of the first page of chapter one and we are off – Ollie is being kidnapped and his guardian is murdered. He escapes his captors, led by Dodge, through a maze of sewers and derelict train tunnels that lie beneath London – and he is still wearing his, two-sizes-too-small, dinosaur PJs. Their destination is a sanctuary for homeless children called The Haven.

Unlike Fagin’s lair, The Haven saves homeless children from the gangs of London, with the intention of educating them and setting them up for a successful life, thus taking on a role that the authorities are neglecting. It acts as a small utopian society organized by older children and a mysterious character, who Ollie meets midway through the novel. It is a place where children are self-determining rather than being puppets of adult values. The multiple gang leaders of London, who use neglected children as foot soldiers in the drug trade and other criminal activity, play the role of the original Fagin.

Within The Haven there is an investigation team, who are caught up in solving the mystery of disappearing gang children, this leads to the quest of stopping ‘Mad Maddy’ Sikes from destroying London. Not much else can be said without using a spoiler alert, which would be unpopular with author and publisher.

The pace rarely slows; the twists and turns in the plot keep the pages turning at high speed. The ending surprises and illustrates how poverty corrupts the best of intentions.

Lelic writes at a relentless pace that holds readers attention from the first to last page.   Character rounding takes second place, although, through all the activity, he conveys a sense of place well.

Simon Lelic is a British author of thrillers and mysteries. Previously a journalist in London, he is now based in Brighton, where he lives with his wife and children. He has written adult novels: The House, The Child Who, The Facility, A Thousand Cuts, and The Rupture. He was nominated for the British Crime Writers’ Association, New Blood Dagger Award, given to first books by previously unpublished writers.

The Haven is the first young adult book Lelic has written, intended for readers 10+, nevertheless, I found it to be a compelling read, despite the fact that I fall outside the demographic by decades.

The Haven

(February 2019)

By Simon Lelic

Hachette Children’s Books

ISBN: 978-1-444-94760-1

PAPERBACK $16.99

EBOOK: $11.99

299 pp

 

 

Calm the F**k Down by Sarah Knight

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Reviewed by Dr Kathleen Huxley

Sarah Knight, the New York Times best-selling author, who is described by The Observer as ‘The anti-guru’ describes this book as ‘the friend who instead of reassuring you that ‘everything is going to be okay’, actually shows you how to make it so’. Commenting on the title of the book in her note to readers Sarah informs us that ‘this is a book about anxiety …. about problems and how to solve them’.

She lets us know that reading this book will help provide us ‘with ample calamity management tools for stressful times and clearly states that this is a layman’s approach ‘where she is ‘presenting well-intentioned, empirically proven suggestions, not medical fact’.

Together with the Introduction there are four chapters which address possible anxiety-induced behaviours and responses to them together with ‘top tips, tricks and techniques for solving the problems that are feeding your anxiety in the first place’. Advice given ‘is not intended to shame or criticize’ the reader but instead to offer motivation and encouragement.

The content of the book provides user-friendly approaches that are accessible to those of us who have no formal background in human psychology. In-keeping with the author’s nationality information is presented in a chatty American style with a littering of what might be called expletives. Short paragraphs and sections of text in capitals or bold font make the book easy and quick to read. Handy lists, charts, illustrations and presentation boxes categorise the information into bite-size chunks.

Each chapter presents us with lessons which ‘begin our education’ and are there to assist us in ‘calming the f**k down’. For example, ‘Lesson $3: To survive and thrive in these moments, you need to ACKNOWLEDGE what’s happened, ACCEPT the parts you can’t control, and ADDRESS the parts you can’. This lesson embodies the concept underlying the No Worries method recommended by the author and which she refers to as ‘mental decluttering’.

Chapter 1 advises us that we should ‘acknowledge the real problem and rein in your reaction’. Adopting a real, pragmatic and logical approach are central tenets in the guidance. Alongside anxiety, anger and sadness being considered the causes of our ‘freakouts’, meltdowns and overthinking there is also ‘avoidance (aka Ostrich mode)’. This latter reaction being more about the idea that when we are presented with a problem, we do nothing or dismiss warnings and bury our heads firmly in the sand. The ‘flipsides’ or improved responses are considered to be our ability to retain focus, prioritise, practice self-care, gain a perspective and act, these being healthier and more appropriate in problem-solving.

Chapter 4 crystallises all the advice given in the first three chapters by presenting us with a totally plausible anxiety-inducing scenario and asking us to decide how we might react and solve the potential problem using the guidance previously supplied to us. All the likely responses to the situation, on the part of the reader, are then presented and can be referenced accordingly by turning to the appropriate pages.

The epilogue presents us with an interesting situation that arose in the author’s own life ‘when a cat broke her hand’. Without the knowledge gained from writing her book, the situation could have provoked an overreaction and her actual responses are discussed and neatly explained using the techniques she has recommended earlier.

This is a self-help, self-improvement book that provides us with strategies and guiding principles for reducing anxiety and solving problems that occur in our everyday lives. Ms Knight tells us that how we approach and think about our concerns, worries and problems is key to pinpointing the solutions. A readable, light and folksy style of writing which seeks to assist us in recognising the causes of our own anxieties and puts forward proposals for dealing with them.

Calm the F**k Down by Sarah Knight

(2018)

Imprint: Hachette Australia

ISBN: 9781787476202

AUD$29.99; 281pp

 

 

 

 

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

a spark of light781760110512

Reviewed by Angela Marie

‘Joy shook her head. ” Do you think I wanted this? Do you think anyone wakes up and says, I think I’ll get an abortion this morning? This is the last stop. This is the place you go when you run through all the scenarios…But that doesn’t mean I won’t think about it every day of my life.” (141)’

A Spark of Light draws us into a dark and desperate place – the sole remaining Women’s Health Centre in Mississippi whose workers, clients and visitors are being held at gunpoint by an angry man. Angry that his daughter, Lil, has terminated her pregnancy. Angry that this could happen. Angry with the world. And determined to change the status quo. Around him people are dead. Around him people are bleeding and frightened but hanging onto the thread of courage.

Outside, flanked by the SWAT team, is Hugh McElroy, the police negotiator. The stakes have been raised and George, the shooter, knows this. McElroy’s teenage daughter, Wren, is inside. Why did she go there? What could she not tell him? Knowledge withheld to protect the people you love.

When the roulette wheel of life was spun, what brought everyone to that fated spot on that fated day? Is Izzy, in her nurse’s uniform, a worker at the centre? Why is gentle, middle-aged Olive now lying dead? Clinic owner Vonita also. Joy has come to terminate. Janine undercover for pro-life. Will they find a middle ground? Doctor Louie performing abortions from a perspective of faith. Aunt Bex there to support Wren. And George, battle weary in more ways than one.

Jodie Picoult has used reverse chronology to tell A Spark of Light. On reading the first chapter we know the casualties and the losses. We know the outcome for all hostages except Wren. Then we begin an hour-by-hour count back, time spinning backwards, until George, weapon concealed, enters the clinic through a breach of protocol. The tale will have to play out before we will know if Wren will be safe or not. Along the way our understanding of needs and motives is deepened as we connect with everyone’s younger selves, hear their secrets and their shames.

Reverse chronology, though not commonly used, gives a slow reveal of the characters’ innermost complexities and as a device generates a different type of perspective, enhancing our attention to detail and connection.

As she delves deeper into the individual back-stories, Jodie Picoult stirs the pot and tangles lives in an unforeseen way. Who would guess the complex interrelationships the reader becomes privy to? And this is life; full of flawed, broken people, hopeful and naive people, positive and loving people, and the scarred and reclusive. Not inherently good or evil but moulded by generations of experience, race and gender. Are we the people that others think we are?

Everyone has a back-story and a reason for being there and may pay with their life. Every one of the hostages has had to walk the line past pro-lifers intent on changing decisions. They all thought that would be the toughest part of their day.

Are the minor players minor after all? Where does teenage Beth, handcuffed to a hospital bed and under police guard, fit in? And the judge, effectively delaying legal abortion by taking a vacation with his wife. Deliberate or not? Part of a political machine in the land of the free.

At its core A Spark of Light is a battle zone. Battles between the rights of women and the rights of the unborn. Battles between conscience and necessity. Battles between the state and the individual. The paradox of committing violence in the name of love.

Jodie Picoult does not unduly influence the reader. She is telling an age-old story from varied perspectives. A story which, in all likelihood, will not go away, but be manipulated by the forever-shifting legislative goalposts. And a compelling and powerful read.

This reviewer is in awe of Jodie Picoult’s work and work ethic. I would encourage the reader to take a breather after finishing A Spark of Light, but to remember to read the author’s note and also the acknowledgements at a later point. These will illustrate both the homage Jodie Picoult has paid to those she interviewed from the opposing sides of the abortion issue and the extent to which she commits herself in research. Of particular interest was the rebuttal of legislation as a panacea for society’s ills and the recognition of financial standing as a contributing factor. As she writes, ” Laws are black and white. The lives of women are a thousand shades of gray.”

Recently I was asked what I was currently reading. When I said that it was the latest Jodie Picoult novel, my friend assumed that this was romantic fiction. Far from it. Jodie Picoult tackles society’s ethical dilemmas and delivers a good read at the same time. The subject might be race and white supremacists, end-of-life decisions, organ donation from the living, paedophilia or access to frozen embryos to cite a few. All are well researched, and predicting the ending is challenging.

Jodie Picoult demonstrates outstanding commitment to her craft, graduating in creative writing at Princeton and later a master’s degree in education from Harvard. Among her varied roles she has edited textbooks, taught eighth grade English and been the writer for D C Comics’ Wonder Woman. Nineteen Minutes, published in 2007, was her first book to debut at number one on the New York Times Best Seller list, a feat that has been replicated.

Jodie Picoult advocates for those whose voices are marginalised, having associations with Vida: Women in Literary Arts, Positive Tracks and the New Hampshire Coalition Against the Death Penalty, among others, and was a speaker in support of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. She and her family live in New Hampshire.

Her books have been translated into 34 languages and sales estimates exceed 14 million. She has garnered many literary awards, including Waterstone’s Author of the Year, and has been named as Our Most Influential Alumni by Princeton University.

A SPARK OF LIGHT 

(2018)

By Jodi Picoult

Allen & Unwin

ISBN 978 1 76011 051 2 (pb)
ISBN 978 1 76011 052 9 (hb)

384pp

$32.99 (paperback)

$49.99 (hardback)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Orchardist’s Daughter By Karen Viggers

orchardist daughter

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Miki stepped into the bed of ashes and debris…Her mind skidded in and out of her body, remembering a different ruin and comparing it with this one…. In less than two years, she had completed a circle – twice now, finishing up with nothing except the clothes she is standing in.

She had been denied Freedom, Choice, Friendship, Self-determination and Courage, first by her parents and later by her brother, Kurt.

But she wasn’t the same person now, she was older and stronger, she had friends, new knowledge, more confidence. She knew she could start over. She knew that the important things in life couldn’t be seen or burned.

This story by Karen Viggers is about how Miki comes to the realisation that isolation wasn’t healthy and that people needed each other and they needed an opportunity to make their own choices and mistakes. But realising this and acting on it are two different things.

By following the two years in Miki’s life as she discovers this wisdom, Viggers touches on issues in domestic life that people like to hide. This is a story about bullying. Miki experiences bullying; Max, a young boy experiences bullying; several wives experience bullying as does Leon, the young park ranger who has just moved into a logging town in Tasmania. The setting of this book raises the issue of logging where families rely on this occupation to put food on the table for their families and where others are concerned with the indiscriminate logging of old forests and the destruction of habitat for the wildlife. Viggers also manages to weave into her story the plight of the Tasmanian Devils.

This is a story of the disconnect between parents and their children and the close community dynamics which are slow to allow others to be integrated into their midst. Leon has finally left home, believing that his mother no longer needed his protection from his father. This allows him the opportunity to re-connect with his grandfather enriching both of their lives. To try to fit into the town, he joins the local footy team where most of the players are brawny loggers, and view him as the enemy.

Max is still going to school but is being bullied by one of the bigger lads and coerced into stealing. His Dad, one of the loggers, is always yelling at him so he is drawn to Leon who is renting the house next door. His dog, Rosie, has had pups which disappeared and she is about to have pups again. Max has been told that Rosie was a bad mother so Max is doing all he can to ensure that the next lot of pups are kept safe.

Although this book has the title The Orchardist’s Daughter, the lives of these three characters are closely interwoven as Viggers creates her tale of friendship and determination which will eventually see Miki free to explore her own world and Leon to fit into and become accepted in this tiny town. I wondered about the title as only once in the book is there any mention of an orchard and then it is about Miki’s past, not part of her present journey.

Karen Viggers says “The Orchardist’s Daughter grew out of a sense of being an outsider – not necessarily being lonely or troubled, but just someone who can sometimes feel a little bit different…….” She says that this book is for anyone who, like her, has ever felt a little bit different or separate from anyone else or who has struggled to find their place in life.  But it’s also for anyone who has an affinity with nature and feels humbled by forests, mountains and the wild and wishes to hold onto the majestic trees from the old forests.   Other books by this author, also set in Australia, are the Stranding, The Lightkeeper’s wife and The Grass Castle.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Although life does not always seem fair, it is good to be reminded that we are responsible for our own path through life, and that we have the strength inside us to overcome most of the difficulties life throws at us if we would only reach out to others and accept their support. Karen Vigger’s characters do just this. This author writes an interesting story which has a deeper impact on the reader than just being a way to fill in a few hours. This is a book that a reader will remember.

The Orchardist’s Daughter

(2018)

Allen & Unwin

ISBN:9781760630584

$29.99; 400pp

Call Me Evie by J.P.Pomare

call me evie

Reviewed by Rod McLary

The 1944 film Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer introduced the term ‘gaslighting’ to the world. In the film, Ingrid Bergman plays a woman whose husband [Charles Boyer] is attempting to convince her that she is going insane by creating various inexplicable events such as the gas lights dimming for no apparent reason [hence the term ‘gaslighting’], footsteps in the attic, items going missing and reappearing, and so on. Ultimately, he is unsuccessful primarily due to the intervention of a third person [played by Joseph Cotton].

‘Gaslighting’ is now a part of the urban vernacular and, in particular, is frequently used in social media. Essentially, it means attempting to make another person feel confused and uncertain by presenting false information to the victim, making them doubt their own memory, perception and quite often, their sanity.

Call me Evie is in some ways a novel which has ‘gaslighting’ as its subtext. In common with the film, a young woman is persuaded that her memories and perceptions are unreliable and in their place another version of certain key events is given to her. When she challenges these false memories fed to her by someone she should be able to trust, she is accused of being ‘unwell’, not herself or confused.

Evie [not her real name as the reader discovers further in the story] – now seventeen years old – is taken by Jim to a small town in New Zealand’s north island. Neither Evie nor the reader knows who Jim is or how he knows Evie or, indeed, what their relationship is. What is known is that Evie has been taken from her home town Melbourne because of some terrible thing she is supposed to have done there. Although Jim assures her that she is in New Zealand for her own safety, Evie is essentially a prisoner in the isolated beach house to which she is taken. Locked in her bedroom at night and under constant surveillance by security cameras which provide live feeds to Jim’s mobile phone, there is little that she can do that is not immediately known to Jim.

There are two key questions facing the reader – what is this terrible thing that Evie is supposed to have done; and who is telling the truth? The answers to these questions are gradually revealed through the course of the book.

The book is divided into five parts – each with an evocative title such as ‘Shadow and Heat’ and ‘Out of its Misery’. Interestingly, each part also has a question for the reader which seems straight out of Psychology 1 such as this one from Part One –

In the past month, how much time have you spent thinking you will not live a long life?

0 – none; 1 – a little; 2 – some; 3 – much; 4 – most

The reader may find in the title of the part and its question a hint of what can be expected in that part.

Chapters are entitled alternately ‘Before’ and ‘After’ – that is, before and after the terrible event. The ‘before’ chapters provide information about Evie and her early life. The reader is introduced to her childhood, the loss of her mother, her school friendships and later her relationship with Thom – who turns out to be a key character in Evie’s story. But even her first memory – that of a traumatic event when she was a toddler – is not really her memory but one imposed on her by her father.

The fragility of memory is a constant theme through the book. As Evie says in relation to her memory of a particular event –

The memory is like something physical, a scab I can worry, something I can make bleed again [396].

The ‘after’ chapters focus on Evie’s experiences in New Zealand and her attempts to recreate the events which led to her being there. She takes whatever opportunities she is given to reach out to the local people for their help for her to escape. They, however, seem to be convinced that she is confused and disturbed and, in the end, they are of no help to her. Dazed and confused, she is taken back to Melbourne where the true nature of the terrible thing she is supposed to have done is revealed. But, is it? There is more than one twist to Evie’s real story.

Altogether, Call me Evie is a thriller in the same vein as Girl on the Train and in both the truth is gradually revealed. There are one or two twists which are not foreseeable and these add a frisson of real tension and shock to a book which starts off slowly but gradually builds tension as Evie – and the reader – move towards the final dénouement. Call me Evie is a reasonably enjoyable book and it will be interesting to see further books from the author.

JP Pomare is an award-winning writer whose articles have been published in Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Takahe and Mascara Literary Review. He was born in New Zealand but now lives in Melbourne. Call me Evie is his first novel.

Call me Evie

[2018]

by JP Pomare

Hachette Australia

ISBN 978 0 7336 4023 0

396pp; $29.99

The Leap Year by Jane Delahay

leap yearuntitled

Reviewed by Norrie Sanders

Chris O’Brien AO was a surgeon and Director of the Sydney Cancer Centre at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. He won public fame for his empathic bedside manner in the television medical reality series RPA. Many people thought that if they had cancer, Chris would be the doctor of choice. Part way through the series, Chris himself was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour.

You would think that as a highly experienced doctor with a large staff and patient list, he would thoroughly understand the patient experience and there would be few surprises for him:

“I think I’ve learnt a bit about uncertainty. With my particular tumour, for example, there is no expert, no one place that deals with brain cancers at a world-class level. There are a couple of good surgeons, there are a couple of good oncologists, but they’re not necessarily at the same hospital. That’s the way things are set up – we don’t have a system that encourages people to collaborate.”

Even before diagnosis, he had wanted to create “a world-class comprehensive cancer centre” which was integrated and multi-disciplinary and “the most important thing is that people get good care and they are treated kindly and professionally”.

The Leap Year is Jane Delahay’s experience of a health care system that is sometimes a long way short of world class. The book has two related elements – the treatment process for her cancer and her subsequent walk in Italy to raise money for the Breast Cancer Network Australia. The combination of medical treatment, inner strength and support of others, turns out to be her recipe – but there are many twists and turns along the way.

After her diagnosis, this shocked mother of two teenage girls is suddenly plunged into a world of industrial scale treatments. The early days after diagnosis were fraught with thoughts of many possible futures: “Stay in the now. I was telling myself, all the while my brain had other ideas. It was filling up fast with the thoughts of a mad woman. I had become a stranger in my own head”.

There is no manual for surviving cancer – everyone is different. In any case, Jane is determined to work out her own pathways to good health:

“I decided to read the Cancer Council website information on breast cancer; I downloaded all 120 pages of it……. It’s so much commitment to read all that information when you are in denial anyway. Usually an avid reader, it sent me into a spin…. “

Jane retains sense of proportion and is unwilling to brook bad behaviour from specialists: “How does someone who charges $480 an hour have holes in his clothes?” Setting that aside, this first visit did not improve: “I spent the rest of that appointment clutching my handbag and staring out of the window”. She never goes back. Another is chronically late. Fortunately, by Chapter 5 she has found one she likes – both organised and punctual.

When chemotherapy begins, she decides to undertake a complementary procedure – scalp cooling – designed to prevent massive hair loss. It also requires marathon five hours sessions. Disrupting the sessions for a toilet break is a major event because it involves disentangling from all the apparatus and parading around the hospital in a less than fashionable cap and gown. Dignity is usurped by comfort: “I seriously wanted to use an adult nappy because I hated the whole toilet thing”.

The radiology was particularly bad. The specialist told her that radiation treatment is just like a “bit of sunburn”, but to Jane with her sensitive skin, it feels like a second degree burn. The treatment is in an unwelcoming basement with seemingly indifferent staff (with one notable exception). Not an environment to raise the spirits of someone with a dangerous illness.

But that’s not to say that Jane is ungenerous about the medical system and the staff that she meets. She regularly refers to “angels” and they impart some of the most important advice and comfort.

The treatment is only one side of the first year. The other is about Jane’s search for complementary ways of dealing with her illness and its emotional impacts – from yoga to traditional Chinese medicine. She has close friends and family who also provide support and her way of involving some of them and hiding her cancer from others provides engaging reading.

After a year of relentless treatment, she goes on a journey, raising over $7000 for BCNA by walking 100km from Florence to Siena with nineteen other women. For Jane, the joys of the Tuscan landscape and the medieval villages, not to mention the world’s best gelato, are complemented by meeting others who have stories to tell – whether about cancer or about their lives. Jane sees the best in people and seems to make friends easily, all of which helps her healing. The Italian journey leads to a new phase:

“Who would have thought that I would be sitting in the most exquisite place only twelve months after my cancer diagnosis? My life had changed immeasurably in that time, to the point where my former life was unrecognisable to me. I had weathered the storm and come out the other end. I have surprised myself really. Who would ever have thought that I was capable of such inner strength?”

This is an intensely personal book and Jane is prepared to share a lot about her most embarrassing moments as well as her beliefs and values. Her voice is sometimes strident, sometimes naïve, sometimes funny, but she is always prepared to speak her mind. The reader is constantly stimulated to think – what would I do in this situation?

This book should be of interest to people who have/are experiencing cancer directly or through others. For me, as one who has been close to women who have been treated for breast cancer, the detail about the treatments and their effects was shocking. None of the people I know shared in this way.

It is also a book about resilience in the face of adversity. It demonstrates the power of the human spirit to not only face up to a horrible situation, but also to find renewal and a better life. For those reasons, The Leap Year has much wider appeal.

The Leap Year

(December 2017)

By Jane Delahay

Accentia Design

ISBN: 9780648007067

194pp

$19.99 (paperback)