The Susie K Files Nos. #1 and #2 by Shamini Flint Illustrated by Sally Heinrich


Reviewed by Angela Marie

Two Susie K books.

Wanted: Two eager young readers with artistic flair and a strong sense of humour.

Introducing Harper, just 8, and Olive, 5 and three quarters.

Their mission. Read a Susie K book each and we’ll meet for a chat.

Mission accepted! With relish!!


Life of the Party! File No. # 1

“My name is Susie K and I am a problem solver.

It is a good thing I am a problem solver because, even though I am only nine years old, I have a lot of problems.

HUGE problems.

MEGA-HUGE problems.”

Interview with Harper, a voracious consumer of books:

Angela Marie: Please tell me what Life of the Party! is about.

Harper: It’s about someone who never gets invited to parties.Then she tells her mum she WAS invited to the party and she has to find a way to ACTUALLY get invited to the party. (In a nutshell.)

AM: Tell me about the main character.

H: Susie K …and Clementine. I kind of liked her (Clementine). In the book she’s called Susie K. She likes science and animals, but she’s allergic to fur. She plays the violin and people at school think she’s a weirdo.

AM: How do people at school treat Susie K?

H: Well, they make fun of her.

AM: How does she react?
H: Well, sometimes she doesn’t care. Sometimes she does. Maybe she feels angry and sad. I think that the people who were treating her not very nice, were not very nice.

AM: Did you understand everything you read in the book?

H: Yeah.
AM: Regarding the party invitation problem, does she succeed?
H: Yes.
AM: How?
H: One day she saw the person, who she has to get to invite her to the party, crying, and she was crying because she couldn’t have balloons because her mother said they’re bad for the environment when you let them go. Clementine said if you find a different thing I like instead of balloons, you can come to my party.

She (Susie K) tries lots of things and does find something Clementine likes, but accidentally sets fire to a tree. Then, at the party, when she goes, she actually does find something and they all like it.
AM: What did the book make you think about?
H: It made me think about parties cause at the end they have a party!
AM: What did you like best about the book?

H: I like it cause she’s like a problem solver. I think it’s a good way to solve it, but I think there could be a better way to solve it.
AM: Do you like the style of the story?
H: Yes, I do. I like the illustrations. They have lots of speech bubbles.

AM: Who would you recommend this book to?
H: I recommend it for people who like problem-solving books.
AM: Would you read more Susie K books?
H: Yes! (Target audience endorsement. Job well done.)

Shamini Flint, aided by the excellent illustrations of Sally Heinrich, has created a gem of a children’s book. She has captured the essence of a myriad of personality types, and is evidently a close scrutiniser of human interactions, affectations and generational angst. We meet the demanding and desperately hopeful mother and view candid portraits of both parenting and sibling behaviours. We meet the cool kids and the cool-kids-in-training. We meet George, the telepathic class goldfish and Susie K’s confidante, delivering his observations and pop culture snippets with tons of humour.

Most importantly, we meet Susie K, an amazing young (and slightly stereotypical) girl who has to learn resilience and find the key for fitting in to a situation that may not prize uniqueness. She tugs at our heart strings and we cheer for her triumphs.

Without proselytising, Shamini Flint has delivered a handbook that encourages young readers to consider people and situations in a different light.

This reader has now grasped the method to solve all problems, courtesy of Susie K. Identify the problem, analyse the problem, find a solution, test the solution and repeat until THE PROBLEM IS SOLVED!!! Thank you, Susie K.

The Susie K Files

The Life of the Party! File No.#1


By Shamini Flint

Illustrations by Sally Heinrich

Allen & Unwin

ISBN 978 1 76029 668 1

90 pp


Game Changer! File No. #2

“I can’t believe it.

I really just CANNOT BELIEVE IT….

What can’t I believe?

You’re going to be the STAR of the SCHOOL SPORTS DAY!!!”

Interview with Olive, another voracious consumer of books.

Angela Marie: In Game Changer! what is the main problem?

Olive: The problem is, well, she (Susie K) can’t find something to play for Sports Day. She can’t think of anything.

AM: Why is that?
O: Because she doesn’t want to do Sports Day. Because she’s not comfortable with all the people watching. She’ll probably be like 4th best player or something. She’s not very good.
AM: Why is it important to do sports?
O: It’s the rule. Her mum thinks she has to do sports. It didn’t work with netball or soccer or javelin or any sports before chess.
AM: Do you think it was important to try many sports?
O: Yes, you have to keep trying to see what you want to do or you won’t play it.
AM: Did you learn anything from reading this?
O: I already knew that you should keep trying stuff.It made me think like you SHOULD actually.
AM: What did you think about her method of solving problems?
O: You mean what did she do?
AM: Yes. Do you think it was a bad idea?
O: It was a good idea. Well, I don’t know how to describe it.They were kind of good and kind of bad. Somewhere in the middle.
AM: Is she good at chess?
O: Yes.
AM: Why is she good at chess?
O: Because she’s using her imagination.
AM: How did you think she felt when she won?
O: Proud!
AM: How would you feel?
O: Proud.
AM: Why is it called Game Changer! ?
O: Because it changes games.
AM: What do you think of the illustrations?
O: They were pretty good. They do help me understand the story a bit.
AM: What’s your favourite thing about the book?
O: That she doesn’t give up on sports that she wants to do.
AM: Do you recommend this book?

O: Yes.
AM: Who do you think would enjoy reading it?
O: Harper, Mummy and maybe Granddad. ( The love of chess plus universal appeal!))

AM: Is it serious or funny?
O: Well, it’s both of them.
AM: Would you like to read more Susie K books?
O: Yeah!! (Resounding endorsement.)

Author Shamini Flint and illustrator  Sally Heinrich have  crafted another wonderful story. Along with the recurring theme of resilience, there is an overwhelming message that, through a voyage of discovery, everyone may find their special place and talent. There are obstacles on the quest and a realisation that, although it may be hard to read others, there is great joy to be had through support and shared experiences.

As in The Life of the Party! Susie K works her problem-solving magic, and along the way problems are related to real-life events. There is a deepening communication of Susie K’s thoughts and of the pressures involved in taking a risk.

Susie K is joined on the journey by her ever-hopeful mother, her fairly-typical brother, dozens of school children delivering a multitude of messages, and George, the wonder fish. A crazy, tangled mix BUT the messages remain clear. And vitally important for parents, and for children as they navigate towards adolescence and growing independence.

Shamini Flint, the author of the popular Diary of a Soccer Star series, among others, transitioned from a career in international law to becoming a writer, a lecturer and an advocate for the environment. She writes with an infectious passion. She lives in Singapore with her husband and children.

Adelaide-based Sally Heinrich is the talented illustrator of more than forty books and receives international and national art commissions.

She also writes and illustrates her own picture books, novels and non-fiction, revealing an ability to adapt art style to genre.

The Susie K Files

Game Changer! File No.#2


By Shamini Flint

Illustrations by Sally Heinrich

Allen & Unwin

ISBN 978 1 76029 669 8

106 pp




Million Love Songs by Carole Matthews

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

‘I’d changed. Something subtle inside me had shifted while I was giving the Paris pavements a good pounding. For the first time in a long while, it was just me in charge of my own destiny’ (375).

Ruby Brown is in her forties and abandoned by her husband, in Carole Matthews novel Million Love Songs. This novel, written in the first person, follows Ruby’s life, its ups and downs, from the time her husband left to when she finds contentment within herself, having decided not to return to London after attending a Take That concert in Paris.

Two men enter her life at this time and she is torn between the two until she realises that she is an ‘OK person’ and ‘quite content’ where she is. As she says, ‘It would be nice to have a partner to share (with)..but not at any cost.’ Usually when people stop obsessing about things,  that is when good things happen. Does this happen for Ruby?

Joe is the father of two teenagers whose wife has just abandoned them for a new romance.  Ruby meets him when signing up for a diving course. Ruby really likes Joe but can feel the animosity from his children when she meets them. The timing and situation are just not right.

Mason, a few years younger than Ruby, offers the high life and excitement (sometimes too much for Ruby). He is also the boss of the busy Butcher’s Arms where Ruby works as a waitress. This is also where Ruby meets Charlie, another waitress, and they become ‘besties’. Charlie warns Ruby that Mason has been given the nickname ‘Shagger Soames’ for a good reason.

Threaded throughout the story line is reference to Gary Barlow, lead singer of the band Take That, and his music. Charlie is an obsessive fan and has been ‘a serious fangirl since they first came on the music scene. No other nineties band will fit the bill’ (13). The title of the book comes from one of the band’s songs.

A Million Love Songs, the song, highlights just how hard people find it to express their feelings:

A million love songs later
And here I am trying to tell you that I care

The main characters in this story all find it difficult to express their feelings and this leads to missed opportunities , anxiety and personal introspection especially for Ruby.

Charlie drags Ruby along with her to many of the concerts or opportunities to see her idol. She even has a cardboard cut-out of Gary Barlow in her living room and gifts one to Ruby as well.

I did not feel positively about this book as for me it appeared  very depressing, using much drink binging and sex as an antidote to unhappiness. However at the end, when Ruby seemed to come to her senses, I could appreciate how this might be exactly how individuals feel when set adrift from being part of a couple. Indeed, on reflection it reads very much like an autobiography.

On returning to London from her stay in Paris, Ruby finds a new job and contentment. Maybe in time love will find her.

Carole Matthews has written over thirty novels, including several best sellers, and was awarded the RNA Outstanding Achievement Award in 2015. Those who have read her Chocolate Lovers novels will be familiar with this writer.

Million Love Songs


By Carole Matthews


ISBN: 978-0-7515-7093-9

$29.99; 400pp

Over 60, Living Life to the Full Edited by Joy Noble and David Bennett

Over 60

Reviewed by Dr Kathleen Huxley

This small and highly readable book, edited by Joy Noble and David Bennett, is composed of a collection of personal anecdotes and stories of living a full life after 60. The editors themselves are 60 so have an intimate insight into the issues and are aiming ‘to live life to the full’. The compilation comes with a foreword and endorsement from Ian Yates the Chief Executive of COTA Australia which ‘represents the interests of older people to a wide range of government and community organisations’. Ian describes this book as being ‘about people who are doing things they didn’t expect to be doing, and it’s working well for them…it’s about people living their lives in much the same way as they always have, but now with more insight – wisdom even – leading to a deeper meaning and contribution’. Yates believes we are seeing a paradigm shift from the traditional view of what people’s lives looked like when they were over sixty and ‘on the slippery slope’ to the actual lives many people are leading today which include, amongst other things learning, contribution, challenge and joy.

Composed of twenty-five individuals ‘stories’ with a variety of titles ranging from ‘Busily taking it slowly’, Seventy-Two and still going Strong ‘and ‘The first Sixty Years are a Warm Up’ to ‘The Third Stage’, this is a collection of short personal accounts.  The reports describe diverse experiences going from restoring a historic ruin, singing in Sydney Opera House, searching for opals, volunteering in a museum or bike riding in the French Alps, and many more, and they  illustrate the incredible range of potential opportunities that are out there for older people.

Particular narratives expound the theory that in later life, despite maybe having travelled extensively in a working life, the art of travel takes on an even more prominent role. A quote from the Travel Editor of the Weekend Australian tells us that ‘travel helps us to celebrate differentness and it tests our level of tolerance and self-awareness. By giving you greater understanding, travel expands your brain’. Jonathan Anderson who, in his contribution to this book entitled ‘Travel and Technology are good for our brains in the last third of our lives’ feels that its ‘not the amount of travel that is critical but the ways travel helps keep one’s brain active and invigorated’. His travels give him great delight when they enable him ‘to do or experience’ completely out of the ordinary encounters and occurrences. He considers embracing new technologies keeps us in touch with the younger generation whilst shaping the way we receive and work with information.

As Gavin Scrimegeour, a retired secondary teacher, discloses to us in his ‘Past, Present and Future’ a love of history has revealed to him that ‘it is often the extraordinary experiences of ordinary people caught up in events of their own or other making’, and this interests him greatly.  With increased time on his hands the pursuit of remarkable ‘stories’ has allowed him to indulge himself in tracing his family history and conducting family history projects that allow him to record memories of ancestors for their descendants. He feels connections to his previous working life have helped him to move into his retired life but have by no means been the essential factor ‘in making a transition to retirement’.

This is a book which, whilst only taking a couple of hours or so to read, has an overriding and upbeat message for anyone approaching their sixties and beyond with trepidation. It expounds the idea that life is there to be lived to its fullest regardless of advancing years and continued learning experiences are not the property of the young as these accounts exemplify. Acknowledging that an active interesting life is available to all if they are open to new encounters, opportunities and experiences is an uplifting idea that deserves promulgation!

Over 60 – Living life to the full


By Dr Kathleen Huxley

Wakefield Press

ISBN: 9781743054796

AUD$29.95; 144 pages


When to Jump by Mike Lewis

When to Jump: If the Job You Have Isn't the Life You Want

Reviewed by E.B. Heath

There is a singular optimism that shimmers from the page when reading a good ‘self-help’ or ‘finding your self’ genre.   Mike Lewis’s When to Jump is one of those books.   This book’s strength is in its honesty.   Being your authentic self does not always lead to riches, a life of abundance, or an easy life, but it does seem to lead to a rare commodity – fulfilment.   So, perhaps, an abundance of self-fulfilment!   But, like most voyages chartering unknown territory, rigorous planning is required.  Leaps of pure faith, featuring jumping into deep water without knowing how to swim, do not feature in this book.   Lewis’s book details personal histories of the thinking man/women’s ‘jump’.

The Foreword written by Sheryl Sandberg, a second cousin of the author, tells the reader how moving to greener pastures is part of their family history, how America gave them the opportunity to live free from persecution.   This is followed by the Introduction and Mike’s personal ‘jump’ history.

Mike’s story introduces the reader to how a major change in career direction might take shape. Before making enormous changes in his own life he consulted many others who had already navigated themselves along the ‘jump curve’, a guiding framework of things to consider before and during the ‘jump’. Mike moved, in well-orchestrated sequences, from a corporate whizz kid, at Bain Capital, to professional squash player.  It was hard just reading about leaving such a lucrative career for the not-so-bright lights of a minor sport, such as squash.  He tells his story, and details other histories, within a framework of: Listen to the little voice; Make a plan; Let yourself be lucky; Don’t look back. The personal histories are grouped under these headings.

Listening to the little voice is really an exercise in being aware of the real you, the authentic you, the wise you.   The ‘you’ that most people ignore before proceeding along the road most travelled.  The histories in this section illustrate how to become aware of one’s inner voice.

Jeff Arch jumped from cameraman, to failed writer, to karate black belt and starting a karate school, and circling back to writing, which resulted in the script for the movie Sleepless in Seatle.  Impressive!

Teresa Marie Williams went from nurse to doctor in her fifties – also impressive – considering she was told as a teenager that ‘you do not come from a family that goes to college’.  At thirty-nine, she said good-bye to her son as he left for college; she was pleased for him but grieving for her own lack of opportunity.  It was then that the ‘still, small voice’ piped up “You’re going to go to medical school”.   Proving that timing isn’t everything, at fifty she successfully applied to the Mayo Clinic for residency.

In the section ‘Make a Plan’, Mike underscores three vital steps that should precede all ‘jumps’:  financial planning, pre jump practice, and, safety net.   In spending time to adequately plan each step Mike increased his chance of success.   The histories in this section illustrate that meticulous planning creates success, and also give a template on how to plan and also have a ‘plan B’.

The stories in the section ‘let yourself be lucky’ are about a good attitude and positioning, which naturally flows to ‘don’t look back’, commit to the jump when all the hard planning is done.

When to Jump is a compilation of forty-four short histories of people who have changed their lives by making a carefully planned career change.   Every story is different but all follow a similar trajectory of being their authentic self, careful planning and commitment.  This book is an inspiring and sensible guide for making life-changing decisions.

Mike Lewis has been awarded the Goldman Sachs ‘100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs’ in 2017.

When to Jump:  If the Job You Have Isn’t the Life You Want

By Mike Lewis



Paperback   ISBN  –  9781473653627   –   $32.99

E-Book        ISBN  –  9781473653634   –   $16.99

The Art of Persuasion by Susan Midalia

The Art of Persuasion

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Twenty-five year old Hazel is reading the classics, starting with ‘A’. It’s one way to pass the time when you’ve quit your job and lost your way.

The Art of Persuasion is the first novel, but not the first published work, by Western Australian author, Susan Midalia. At first reading, it is a story of how an intelligent teacher, Hazel, unemployed and disillusioned, eventually finds the job she is craving and also discovers a fulfilling relationship with an older man. She first meets Adam on the train where they get into a conversation about the books they are both carrying. This leads to Hazel volunteering to join Adam’s group of door-knockers for the Greens. From these activities a mutual attraction is generated and eventually acted upon.

I was happy that Hazel was able to achieve her goals but was also frustrated by some of her less flattering characteristics, namely her continual introspection, her references to the many books she has read and her often talkativeness about inconsequential things when out of her comfort zone. Accompanying Adam to a wine bar she prattles on “about growing up in Perth but hating the summer heat and the hedonistic worship of the sun…how she loved the yellow leaves and the cooler weather”. The “doof doof atavistic music, crowds of beautiful people shouting to be heard, heaps of stick-insect girls with pneumatic breasts who made Hazel want to hide in the shadows” (35) also highlighted her limited social skills.

As the story comes to its conclusion the reader is left dis-satisfied. What was the significance of the title? The Art of Persuasion suggests an ability to influence people. So is this book about trying to persuade, mostly apathetic voters, to embrace a particular political ideology; or to convince Adam that the age difference, or the fact that he already had a child and could not have more was not an impediment to their relationship; or was it about persuading young minds to think and express their own ideas?

Is there a more distant link to the novels of Jane Austen? The first of the classic authors Hazel has set herself to read is Austen and she did write a novel called Persuasion. There are also many references to Austen’s books in this story. The wording on the book cover says that this book “is a rarity: a witty and tender comedy of manners that also has a political bite” and I agree that the story does have some of the key elements of this genre, however for me this story was an indictment on modern day society. What shines through is the inappropriateness of our education system to prepare people for real life. Too many educated people cannot find jobs in their particular fields and too many young people in schools could have said about them- “It was always an effort to get him to lift a goddamn pen” (190).

This story also shows the reader that individual attitudes to a particular situation can determine the type of life we lead.  Hazel describes what her life in these words:

”I meet up with friends and we talk about work, study, relationships…the usual stuff. And sometimes I go to parties, although I’m getting too old for parties, they’re mostly very superficial” (41), while her flat-mate Beth, also a university graduate tries for advertised positions and has the same misfortunes as her friend, the difference being that she can get by without brooding. “Six o’clock. My alcohol gene just kicked in…I have to fill in my Newstart form after dinner” (49).

The author, Susan Midalia, who was shortlisted for major literary awards for her three collections of short stories, in her first novel, may not have given the reader a thoroughly feel good love story but she has certainly given us much to ponder.

The Art of Persuasion


By Susan Midalia

Fremantle Press

ISBN: 9-781925-591033

248pp; $24.99



Royal Murder by Sandra Winter-Dewhirst

A Royal Murder

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Royal Murder is the second book in the Rebecca Keith Mysteries by Sandra Winter-Dewhirst. The first book The Popeye Murder introduces journalist Rebecca Keith, her boyfriend Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jarvie, as well as the landscape and lifestyle in and around Adelaide. Murder in the earlier book and in this one is the theme on which both books are built.

These stories have a lot in common with the Miss Fisher Murders. There is a strong female protagonist who appears to be well off if her wardrobe and socialising calendar are to be accepted. The female leads take on the role of super sleuth and have a romantic interest who is a senior policeman. Both series have their settings in key Australian towns, though the Keith Mysteries are set in modern times. Again, murder is the theme but, in both series, there is much that is light-hearted.

Sandra Winter-Dewhirst’s writing skills, no doubt, are a result of studies at two South Australian Universities, in Arts and Journalism and her role as journalist for over thirty years. She has also spent ten years as the state director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in South Australia as well as holding a seat on a range of arts boards and media advisory councils.

The heroine in the series is Rebecca Keith,  who reports for the local Advertiser. Her key role for the paper is as a food and wine correspondent, however, as happened in the first book, she soon finds herself at the same location of a death, and her coverage for the paper soon turns to an investigation into the crime.  In the process, as an inquisitive, assertive person she soon finds herself at the scene of other deaths and herself in a situation of danger. Her relationship with Chief Inspector Gary Jarvie can only progress slowly as both are involved with the murders, for their own reasons, and while she can share her findings with him, he is not able to reciprocate.

The first body is that of American golfer, Pixie Browning, in Adelaide for the Women’s Australian Open Golf tournament. Her body is hit by the train which traverses the golf course. However it is soon obvious that what is in the expensive embossed bag was dead before the train arrived. The Chinese calligraphy on this red container plus white lotus leaves left on the scene suggest Chinese Triad involvement.

Rebecca has a group of close friends who are her confidants and social partners as she visits high-end restaurants in search of information. Each has specific skills and knowledge which help Rebecca in her quest to uncover the truth. Although she is impulsive and quick to blame, she eventually finds her man and, (surprise!) she seems to always be the one on hand to get involved with any rescue. She plays golf, is at home in any social setting, is not afraid to venture into danger and can fight to protect others and herself. (Sounds like Miss Fisher)

It is obvious that the author Sandra Winter-Dewhirst loves South Australia. This shines through in her vivid, detailed descriptions of the countryside through which her travels take her- from the Adelaide Hills where the harsh sun created a shimmering glare like ‘looking through a wine bottle’ and ‘resembling a Hans Heysen painting’(79), to the Barossa Valley with its ‘limestone and corrugated-iron buildings and immaculate gardens (81) and the topography and animal life found on Kangaroo Island off the coast. This same detail applies to the venues she visits – ‘the great room was dotted with a mixture of white and grey leather chairs and sofas, matched with blonde wood tables’ (174). There is also the deft handling of sardonic humour in Winter-Dewhirst’s writings that puts her ahead of the pack.

It was decadent and wasteful to spend the equivalent to a family’s weekly grocery shopping bill on one meal. But she knew the guilt would quickly dissolve as soon as the first glass of bubbly and amuse-bouche touched her mauve lips (77).

The same detail the author expends on her descriptions of the countryside are to be found in her descriptions of her own attire.

She was wearing a khaki-coloured safari dress accessorised with a wide deep-brown leather belt, tan-coloured leopard print scarf, and leather sandals (78).

A lot of explanation is provided about things relevant to South Australia; how this Australian State came to have the oldest shiraz and cabernet vines in the world (80), how a particular part of the country looks ‘like something out of the Middle East’, with its two thousand date palms, and the difference between seals and sea lions found on Kangaroo Island. Although I enjoyed reading this interesting information there may be other readers who feel that there was too much of this information and that it took away from the murder mystery itself.

In my view – a murder mystery that sparkles like a top South Australian shiraz.

Royal Murder


By Sandra Winter-Dewhirst

Wakefield Press

ISBN: 978-1-74305-524-3

240pp; $29.95

The Letters of Sylvia Plath: Volume I: 1940 to 1956 eds. Peter K Steinberg and Karen V Kuhl

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Arguably, Sylvia Plath is better known for the manner of her death than for her poetry and her only published novel The Bell Jar.  However, the novel and her posthumously published collection of poems Ariel eventually ensured that her poetic reputation achieved the ascendancy.

This beautifully bound first volume of letters includes all extant letters from Plath to her family, friends and colleagues.  In all, more than 1390 letters to over 140 recipients are included beginning with a letter to her father dated 19 February 1940 when Plath was seven.  The final letter in this volume, written to Peter Davidson of the Atlantic Monthly Press, is dated 23 October 1956 – a few short months after her marriage to the poet Ted Hughes.

Plath was born in Boston on 27 October 1932 and died by suicide on 11 February 1963 aged just over 30 years.  She was the daughter of a German immigrant college professor – Otto Plath – and one of his students Aurelia Schober.  The family with her young brother Warren [born in 1935] lived in Boston near the sea but in November 1940 her father died suddenly of complications caused by the amputation of his gangrenous leg.  His death dramatically altered the family’s circumstances and for financial reasons the family moved to Wellesley where Aurelia Plath taught at the Boston University.

Plath was a prolific letter writer and her style is described in the Preface as –

… vivid, powerful, and complex as her poetry, prose and journal writing.  … her letters often dig out the caves behind each character and situation in her life.  [xix]

It is also said that ‘Plath kept the interests of her addressees in mind as she crafted her letters’.  This is perhaps a polite way of saying that her letters were written to present a particular view of herself to the addressee.  This view can be supported by a perusal of letters to her mother which tend to be rather ‘gushing’ and those to her friends which are often intelligent and insightful.

A potential constraint on the level of general interest in the publication of all Plath’s letters is that many of them [in this volume] were written when she was a child.  While a few include juvenile attempts at poetry, many simply speak of her daily activities and are essentially of little interest to the average reader.  By contrast, the letters which were written towards the end of her high school years and during her first year at Smith and beyond are of more interest.  It is in those letters – at least in this volume – where her personality and intelligence are becoming apparent.  An added interest in the later letters is that they offer a sociological view of the social and emotional experience of school and college from the perspective of a young woman in the 1950s and 1960s.

However, there is a darkness to some of the letters from 1953 on.  For example, in a letter to her brother dated 21 June 1953, Plath describes herself as ‘a soot-stained, grubby, weary, wise, ex-managing director’ [she had won a Guest Editor competition at Mademoiselle magazine] and says she will let him know ‘what train my coffin will come in on’.  Perhaps this is an indication of the degree of exhaustion Plath experienced in July of that year which led to ‘poorly administered outpatient electro-convulsive shock treatments’ – the psychiatric treatment of choice in the 1950s and 1960s.  Plath writes in a letter dated 28 December 1953 that she ‘underwent a rather brief and traumatic experience of badly-given shock treatments.  Pretty soon, the only doubt in my mind was the precise time and method of committing suicide’.  [655].  The letter goes on to describe in detail how she attempted suicide in the basement of her home and was not found for three days.  Her brief disappearance was reported in over 200 newspapers across the United States.

Her experiences of psychiatric treatment later became the basis for her novel The Bell Jar.

The interest rises further when Plath’s letter to her mother of 3 March 1956 is read.  She has recently met Ted Hughes for the first time and describes the occasion:

Met, by the way, a brilliant ex-Cambridge poet at the wild St Botolph’s Review party last week; will probably never see him again … but wrote my best poem about him afterwards: the only man I’ve met yet here who’d be strong enough to be equal with … [1120]

In a later letter to her mother dated 17 April 1956, Plath reports:

I have fallen terribly in love, which can only lead to great hurt.  …  Such a torment and pain to love him. [1161].

Volume I concludes on an optimistic note expressed in her letter to a former boyfriend dated 23 October 1956 – ‘I look most forward to coming back home [from Cambridge] next June’ [1330].

Perhaps, the purpose of the publication of these letters is best expressed in the Foreword written by Plath’s daughter Frieda:

Through publication of her poems, prose, diaries, and now her collected letters, my mother continues to exist.  She is best explained in her own words.  [xvii].

A thorough reading of the letters will certainly explain the nature of Plath.  Her emotional struggles as well as her intelligence and insight are amply displayed in the adult letters – and there is [with the benefit of hindsight] a foreshadowing of the trials ahead for her.

Included in this volume is an extensive index with numerous cross references as well as a considerable number of footnotes.  The use of the volume as a basis for further study of Plath’s early life and a gaining of a sense of the era in which she lived is well served by the quality of the publication.


The Letters of Sylvia Plath: Volume I: 1940 to 1956

Edited by Peter K Steinberg and Karen V Kuhl


Faber & Faber Ltd

ISBN 978 0 571 32899 4

1388pp; $US38.37




The Popeye Murder by Sandra Winter-Dewhirst

The Popeye Murder

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Sandra Winter-Dewhirst has begun writing a series of novels of which The Popeye Murder is the first. It was re-released (I believe with a new cover) in conjunction with the launch of her second novel in the series A Royal Murder. A third novel, A Festival of Murders, will be published in due course.

As well as being a great story, The Popeye Murder clearly shows the author’s passion for food, wine and all things South Australia, especially Adelaide. This is a story of a journalist, Rebecca Keith, who is the protagonist in both stories in the series so far, finding herself right in the middle of the murders on which she is reporting. Readers are introduced in a non- dramatic way to the main characters so that we know them before the real drama begins. As the editor of Taste in the Advertiser Rebecca joins a select group of journalists and food industry celebrities on the ferry Popeye for a cruise on the Torrens River to promote Nick Picorino’s  Australian Food Festival. After his welcome speech Nick grabs the handle of one of the pewter cloches and lifts it with a theatrical swish (38) to reveal a gruesome sight – the head of the chef, Leong Chew.  Thus develops a tale similar to The Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries or Midsomer Murders television dramas. Indeed, the Life & Style Magazine spoke of the novel , The Popeye Murder, as ‘Midsomer Murders comes to Adelaide’.

Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jarvie, who runs the police inquiry into the Leong Chew murder, is also attracted to Rebecca and is worried he might have a conflict of interest if he continues with this case. His superintendent lays his fears to rest. Much to Jarvie’s dismay, Rebecca takes a deep interest in the case. However, several of the clues she uncovers help in eventually unmasking the killer but at the same time put her in his sights. Despite the threat of danger, as a journalist, she believes that the public have a right to know the facts. She strides a fine line between this belief and doing something that might jeopardise the case for the detectives.

While the story is not a page turner and does little to persuade anyone that its content is original, the writing styles, which vary according to character or circumstance, keep readers interested. This is one of the strengths of the book. This is light-hearted story, highlighting South Australia’s olive groves, greyhound racing, wineries, markets and newspaper industries, takes the reader on a tour of Adelaide and its environs. Even non-Australian readers, through Winter-Dewhirst’s detailed descriptions, would see these settings come to life. I particularly liked to see an Afterword in the book which gave even more of South Australia’s history that contributes so much to the life-style described in the novel.

Sandra Winter-Dewhurst has been named in the top five best sellers for Wakefield Press (Google+), and in 2008 in Adelaide’s premier daily paper one of South Australia’s fifty most influential people. Her background is in journalism and management and she spent over thirty years working in media including ten years as State Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, overseeing over 350 people across television, radio and online production. She holds a Bachelor Degree in English and Politics from the University of Adelaide as well as a Bachelor Degree in Journalism from the University of South Australia.

This was a very easy book to read and I look forward to reading more of the adventures of the intrepid journalist Rebecca Keith and watch her relationship with the dashing Chief Inspector progress. A good quality romp through the pages in the context of murder is well worth a read.

The Popeye Murder


By Sandra Winter-Dewhirst

Wakefield Press

ISBN: 978-1-74305-523-6

$29.95; 224pp

Promise Not to Tell by Jayne Ann Krentz

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

This gripping story begins with a woman, who paints nightmarish visions, running in terror. She believes her pursuer to be the man who led a cult that almost destroyed her when she was a child. Rather than let him get his hands on her she throws herself from a cliff into the sea. However, her secrets have not all disappeared with her.

The cult also interfered in the lives of Virginia Troy and Cabot Sutter who have subsequently spent years fighting the demons that stem from their childhoods. Fire eventually destroyed the cult but took the life of Virginia’s mother. Virginia now owns a gallery in Seattle, and is wrestling with the fact that one of her artists is dead but before suiciding, sent a last picture: a painting that makes the gallery owner doubt everything about the so-called suicide – and her own past. She calls on private investigator Cabot Sutter to help her unravel the clues in the painting.

It immediately becomes clear that someone thinks Virginia knows more than she does and that she must be stopped. Complicating the whole affair is the mutual desire growing between the two protagonists, but slowly and surely they move closer to the source of their shared memories. Having known for years that the man who led the cult and had done so much damage, was dead, they are faced with question of who is behind the current spate of deadly troubles.

This is a suspenseful novel with lots of twists and turns that will keep the heart pumping for many days.

Until recently I had not heard the name Jayne Ann Krentz, which she uses for contemporary romantic suspense. She is often asked why she use a variety of pen names.  It is so that readers always know which of her three worlds they will be entering when they pick up one of her books. Promise Not to Tell is a contemporary romantic suspense thriller. According to its author, it fits a class of books that celebrate women’s heroic virtues and values:  courage, honor, determination and a belief in the healing power of love.

In addition to her fiction writing, Ms Krentz is the editor of, and a contributor to, a non-fiction essay collection, Dangerous Men And Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Now, about the novel itself. There is no doubt that it was written by an accomplished author who had long ago learned how to tell a story to make it interesting and convincing. Little things tell a good writer from one not so good. There is an example on page 41 where the topic under discussion is self-defence. There are no slick sophisticated moves in her description. Simply, run if you can because it’s hard to hit a moving target or else fight dirty. Go for the eyes and think of every object around you as a weapon. Simple, practical advice.

What impresses me about this particular writer’s style is that she knows how to vary her sentence length. When it’s time to get information across, he language is clipped, the sentences short.

Technically, she resigned. But, yes, she was forced out. It’s not exactly a state secret. I’ve already told the cops (143),

But when there is no need for action, she favours the long relaxed sentence as in

She had been surprised to discover that she was taking an unfamiliar satisfaction in the knowledge that she had such a concerned circle of family and friends (299).

Of course when everybody is relaxed and thinks all the drama is finished…it isn’t, and there is a development as there often is in this style of writing that suggests a sequel.

A very well written, exciting and suspenseful book, promising lots of enjoyable reading.

Promise Not to Tell


By Jayne Ann Krentz

Piatkus/Penguin Random House

ISBN: 978-0-349-41591-8

$29.99; 336pp

Global Strike by Chris Ryan


Reviewed by Ian Lipke

This is the third in Chris Ryan’s Strike Back series and maintains the level of the other two. The plot is not much different. In this case, a washed-up middle-aged man renews a friendship with an ex-colleague for the purpose of monetary gain. He has an explosive document that purports to show the newly elected president of the United States partying too well with girls far too young for him.

But then a Russian snatch squad or were they Chechen(?) or maybe American (?) set out to capture Charles Street, the man whose career ended on a sour note but who now holds the explosive material. Two characters John Porter and a rather obnoxious but heroic soldier John Bald are recruited to save the day. The bullets fly at an incredible rate but only the baddies, whose numbers never seem to lessen, get killed.

That’s basically what the story is about …but I was forgetting the heroic sacrifice one of our heroes makes when he, with back-breaking effort, drives a nuclear bomb into a rather damp place.

The story was always meant to entertain. It is very well told and the excitement mounts as the events appear on the page. It is a tired story but one that is useful to fill in time on a bus or plane or, if you are really into action yarns, then know that you have an exciting one here. And you have just the man to write it. A former SAS corporal Chris Ryan fought in Iraq, becoming the only member of a four man squad to escape with his life from a particularly dangerous mission. For this he was decorated. He uses his war time experiences to assist with the plots of his novels…and, would you believe, he also writes children’s stories.

While it does not appear to be a difficult book to write, once one tries to replicate the excitement and word power of a Chris Ryan, one soon learns how difficult it really is. I’m talking not just about maintaining excitement and giving the reader satisfaction, I’m referring also to the fact that this is one of a series, each book of which must contribute as much as the other. There is some skill involved and Chris Ryan has it. The book is excellent escape reading.

Global Strike


By Chris Ryan

Hodder & Stoughton/Hachette Aust

ISBN: 9781444783827

$29.99; 352pp