WILD FIRE by Ann Cleeves

Reviewed by Angela Marie

“He knew that they weren’t all cruel people. It was the drink and the fact that they were anonymous, part of the gang, changed by the flickering light into one monstrous, shouting whole.”

Welcome to Deltaness, a small Shetland community seemingly devoid of purpose, aside from the routines of work and school. For the youth the major draw is the community hall, a place to gather your army and drink and light beachside bonfires. A place to feel a part of something. For the adults the inclusive force is gossip. Malicious gossip. Be a part of it or bear the brunt. In Deltaness gossip spreads like wild fire. Who better to focus on than newcomers? An English family have come north, looking to provide a haven for their children and themselves. Herein lies the dichotomy of the small town. As Robert Moncrieff, the local doctor, relates, “Most of our neighbours are very tolerant people. We’re used to welcoming strangers. From the Vikings on, there’ve been invaders in the islands.”

Our English family, the Flemings, have respectfully renovated and gentrified an old crofter’s cottage, Daniel being an eco-conscious architect. The crofter, Dennis Gear, has returned to his former home and hung himself from the rafters in the byre, the cowshed. The illusion of haven has now been lifted. Add to this that the Flemings have been receiving sequenced hangman drawings, meticulously plotted on graph paper. From whom? And why? And now a second suicide, or is it murder? So begins the relentless scrutiny of two families. Gossip intersects with investigation as the detectives attempt to place the puzzle pieces in order. Secrets bubble up from the shadows creating greater tensions within and without. “This is how rumours start and suspicion spreads…One woman’s death is tragedy enough, but everyone who knew her is affected. We all become victims.”

And now a third death. Unexpected. At a memorial site. Definitely murder. Is there a connection to the other deaths and can this be solved? The questions continue to mount. The finding of evidence, shoes, a bag, threatens to cloud the investigation. As this steadily plods on with the crime scene investigators, the pathologist and the uniformed police, it seems that nothing will give the results that talking will. Probing questions addressed as casual conversation. And little by little for our detectives patience pays, aided by an unforeseen ally. Ann Cleeves makes us work hard whilst trying to solve the mysteries. She forms a sizeable cast of suspects and hides the culprit well. Very well.

It is clear that the author is a keen observer of human behaviour and her characters present as flawed and mortal, sometimes capable of and sometimes lacking in introspection and judgement. We see the players perform a different dance dependent on whom the partner is. Do they lead or do they follow? Jimmy, the detective hero of the Shetland series and known for his empathetic support, caught in the doldrums when the situation is personal. Strong, compassionate and artistic Helena numbed by the disappearance of her son. Eleven-year-old Christopher, debilitated by his autistic reactions to uncomfortable and unkind stimuli, acknowledged by teachers as exceptionally clever.

The reader sees how the years of exposure and training temper responses. Entitled Belle reverting from semi-domestic goddess to publicity hound. Robert, living in the hall of the laird and resplendent in his privileged upbringing, clawing onto control. Our detective trio, Jimmy, Sandy and Willow, exercising emotional distance and detachment in the wake of suicide and murder, distracted by their personal problems and situations.

We recognise the notion that we are moulded by the actions and traits of those closest to us. Enigmatic Emma, trapped in retro beauty, and traumatised following the turmoils of her youth. Martha, the reticent teenage Goth, almost an imposition on her parents, and her brother, Charlie, the ideal and idealised son. Magnie, all his mother, Margaret, bitter and rejected, has. Lottie, her dream taken by the greed of another. Daniel, stripped of the need to take responsibility for his actions. Willow, in a conventional job, raised in the unconventional commune. Note the subtle descriptor on the cover of Wild Fire. “Those you keep closest burn most of all.”

A menacing personification is the atmospheric fog, rolling in to assist the doing of deeds, allowing us to catch glimpses of action without revealing the entirety, and slinking away to assure us that all is well. Or is it? Ann Cleeves’ skill allows her to dab just the right amount of inclement weather to support the macabre. As it does her descriptions of the pull of the islands of Shetland, a magnetic force that draws back its own. And sufficient compliment to the natural beauty of the isles to momentarily disarm us. And fire can be friend or foe. As crime fiction Wild Fire has it all; mystery, drama, suspicion, suspense, red herrings, gossip, romance, motive. And characters who may or may not be as they seem. It is a masterclass on crime fiction writing.

It was a privilege to attend a recent author talk by Ann Cleeves as she related her first-hand knowledge of the Shetland isles, her varied jobs there and her journey to becoming a writer. She is dedicated to promoting libraries and was the UK’s National Libraries Day Ambassador in 2016. I applaud her words. “We need libraries for democracy – there should be equal access to books, information and facts for everybody.” She is a passionate and generous spokesperson, and a member of Northern England’s Murder Squad ‘ – crime fiction to die for’.

Wild Fire is regrettably the last novel in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series and the first Ann Cleeves novel that this reviewer has read. As a dedicated fan of both the Shetland TV series, and Vera, based on the author’s Vera Stanhope series, that will change. Wild Fire is a great read and just about as clever and camouflaged as crime/detective fiction can get. Little wonder that in 2017 Ann Cleeves was awarded the UK’s highest acknowledgement for sustained excellence in crime writing, the CWA Diamond Dagger, as nominated by her peers. She joins the likes of Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Lee Child and John le Carre as a recognised tour de force. And has put Shetland firmly on the literary trail map.



By Ann Cleeves


ISBN 9781447278252

398pp; $29.99


Man at the Window by Robert Jeffreys

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Making up my mind just where to begin an analysis of this book was a challenge. It is the first book in a new series, it has a setting that reeks privilege with school characters who have long lost touch with the ordinary man in the street, it has an obnoxious lead detective who is indeed no fool, a fraught relationship between detective and son, and an odd relationship between the detective and his superiors who, for reasons unknown at first, are cutting him a lot of slack. Then there is the muscular prose of the writer that I like a great deal.

The book’s opening is dramatic enough. A teacher, standing at his window, is shot to death. Detective Cardilini is assigned the case, having been told that the death was an accident probably caused by roo shooters firing from an adjacent paddock. Cardilini’s immediate boss is at pains to ensure that Cardilini will bring in the expected findings. He is outspoken in telling his detective that their chief and the Deputy Commissioner both attended the school.

Detective Cardilini, whose son Paul is in trouble with the law, has an unusual relationship with his son. Paul blames his father for the death of his mother, and finds it difficult interacting in a normal way with the untidy overweight, drunken sot that is his father. We are well into the book before he realizes that his father is trying to turn his life around. In the meantime, pressure at home runs into more pressure as the school principal Dr Braun pushes for a finding of accidental death. This is where Jeffreys shows his writing skills. In situations such as these it is easy to overwrite, to make the principal more remote or powerful than he needs to be. Dr Braun did not become principal of an Ivy League school without knowing ways to handle awkward situations. Braun changes very little; it is his Deputy Principal Robson who changes from an obstructionist to become a support for Cardilini’s investigation.

There is much crammed into this novel. The characters are odd from the time the story begins. The pedophile master that nobody would speak ill of, the frightened boy who is clearly one of the pedophile’s victims, the very odd senior boy Carmody who has through means unidentified gained overwhelming influence in the school. There is a character named Salt who is attached to Cardilini’s investigation, who appears to hold the rank of sergeant, but whose real purpose is kept obscured.

The writer’s prose is clear, objective and strong. His presentation methods are downright sloppy. Chief among these is the untoward use of italic script. The expected development of the plot is not standard and, while the situations were regular enough, it was the writer’s habit of jumping all over the place that kept me on edge. This issue of structure stems, I am sure, from having too many bits of information within the storyline. The story is incident-packed and character-heavy. The characters, especially the lead players, have too much going on in their lives. To sum up, I would judge that the book is just too busy.

The author, Robert Jeffreys is an interesting man in his own right. He has knocked about a bit. Actor, teacher, builder, labourer, cleaner, real estate agent, personal security agent and playwright is a full resume in any man’s books. He has written radio plays, won awards for them, and published an anthology of original verse. Man at the Window is his first novel. With such a resume it is expected that additional titles in this series can only become more refined and structured more fluidly by a writer in control of his product.

Man at the Window


By Robert Jeffreys

Echo Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-76068-330-6

352pp; $29.99

The Other Wife by Michael Robotham


Reviewed by Angela Marie

     “I love this city. Built upon the ruins of the past, every square foot of it has been used, re-used, flattened, bombed, dismantled, rebuilt and flattened again until the layers of history are like sediments of rock that one day will be picked over by future archaeologists and treasure hunters.

        I am no different – a broken man, built upon the wreckage of my past…….                                                                             ……. Mr Parkinson is a cruel puppeteer…….making me dance to music only he can hear.”

With delicate and deliberate brush strokes, and a finesse borne of intimacy, Michael Robotham reintroduces his straight-laced protagonist, the clinical psychologist, Joe O’Loughlin,  a veteran of nine novels. Those same brush strokes invite us into the privacy of Joe’s world. We meet the furies that have shattered and shattered again Joe’s world and we meet the loving anchors that propel him forward and support his pain. We learn his layers of history.

The Other Wife  is a thriller bearing a profoundly uncomfortable premise. How well do we really know the people closest to us? Do we realise character based on what we experience or observe? Do we smooth over the cracks and form people in the image most comfortable to us, or do we disengage from realities and construct that which we prefer? Or do we ever really know another person?

For Joe O’Loughlin, already crushed by the passing of his wife and his physical ailments, life grabs him and shakes him soundly. He touches a point in life where nothing will ever seem the same again. His father, renowned retired surgeon, William O’Loughlin, has been hospitalised, the victim of a violent attack. William’s wife, sitting dutifully bedside, is not Joe’s mother as he expected.

“Who are you?”  

“I’m his wife.”  

“He’s already married.”  

“His other wife.”  

“You’re his mistress?”  


And so, for Joe, begins the psychological dissection of possibilities. Possibilities that spread like a stain until trust and belief become almost impossible to consider. And the questions. Who would want his father dead? And why? And should Joe believe that William, his tetchy, disagreeable father, could dance in the rain. With his other wife. With Olivia. And her son.

The Other Wife casts a wide net of suspects, possibly only eliminating Joe’s daughters, Emma and Charlie. Do we suspect Olivia? Her son, Ewan? Joe’s slighted mother? The faceless man bending over Dr O’Loughlin”s hospital bed? And what is the role of Kenneth, Rosie and David Passage? Old friends that have shared the passing of the years. And more. And the storyline, ever growing in complexity of plot. And yet more cast members. One is not left wondering why certain characters are included. All play their part in the final disturbing and unpredictable analysis.

And why the crime? Why the attempt on eighty-year-old William O’Loughlin’s life? As we read time and time again, follow the money. Yes, follow the money.

Michael Robotham is a meticulous writer, attending to detail and comfortably sustaining the device of relating in the first person. The plot moves from steady and calm to frenetic acceleration and back seamlessly. One moment Joe may be introspectively considering his history with his father, the next ducking to evade a plummeting fist. Through Joe’s musings, we view society’s shortcomings and woes, underpinned by pop culture references. We do see things according to our mood. Joe is not alone, yet lonely. Hope for salve, however, teeters on the horizon.

Although The Other Wife is the ninth in the Joe O’Loughlin series, it can be comfortably read as a stand-alone work. Michael Robotham allows his past characters to slip back in effortlessly, granting sufficient back story to gauge relationships. Vincent Ruiz, ex-police officer, is a case in point. As Joe’s best buddy and foil, we feel the warmth and commitment of their relationship, and the extent to which they will support each other.

This reviewer had the privilege of attending a recent author talk by Michael Robotham where he spoke of his fascination with secrets and secret lives, the idea of simultaneous double lives, and the growing belief that the keeping of secrets is an evolutionary survival tool embedded in our DNA. As readers, we devour a good secret, whether it be that we are in the know, or poring through the clues to unravel and uncover that which it is. Or perhaps the secret is a red herring, cleverly diverting us away from the truth. Or perhaps there are secrets within secrets.

The Other Wife is a compelling read. Although fictitious it delivers food for thought. Look more carefully around you. Are you sure all is as it seems?

Michael Robotham, having honed his craft as an investigative journalist, does not give us more of the same. Consider the author’s last novel, The Secrets She Keeps, a rivetting page turner. Both novels share the device of the secret however the similarity ends there. Little wonder that the author has sold multi-million copies of his books and won the highly-coveted Gold Dagger Award, bestowed by the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association.

This reviewer appreciated the nods within the story to other esteemed crime writers and also sadly notes that this is supposedly the last Joe O’Loughlin novel. With respect, how can this be?

The Other Wife


By Michael Robotham


ISBN 978 0 7336 3793 3 (pbk)

384pp; $32.99

A Keeper by Graham Norton

A Keeper

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

The Review section of The Times in September 2018 had the heading: Review: A Keeper by Graham Norton — a celebrity who can actually write. So who is this celebrity and why this statement?

Graham Norton (born Graham William Walker) is a well-known Irish television and radio presenter, comedian and actor based in the United Kingdom. He is a five-time BAFTA TV Award winner for his comedy chat show The Graham Norton Show. He presents on BBC radio and is the BBC television commentator of the Eurovision Song Contest. His usual style of presentation includes innuendo-laden dialogue and flamboyance, so it was quite a surprise that his first work of fiction Holding published in 2016 was such a commercial and critical success, winning him the Irish Independent Popular Fiction award in that year. This is not the first published work produced by this author but it is for this genre.

His second novel A Keeper, is also generating positive feedback. Both books are set in Ireland where people love a good story. This is where he took inspiration to produce his novels. His books contain incidents and descriptions of the environment that highlight the quirkiness of Ireland.

A Keeper is the story of two women, a generation apart and each story-line is clearly separated at the beginning of their respective chapters with the words THEN and NOW. Elizabeth Keane returns to Ireland after her mother’s death. She has been working as a university lecturer in New York and lives with her seventeen year old son since her marriage broke up.

As she sets about clearing out her mother’s house she comes across a bundles of letters which were written to her mother from the man who Elizabeth believes would be her father and about whom she and the community in which her mother lived know absolutely nothing. This sets Elizabeth on a course to find out more about this mystery man, Edward Foley.

Norton takes the reader through the lives of both women as the mystery is solved. For both of them their journey, as described in this novel, starts with the death of their mothers. Elizabeth’s mother, Patricia, is talked into answering an ad in a lonely hearts column. She believes that this will be her only chance of forming a relationship as having been her mother’s carer for so long she has been left a spinster. To the townspeople’s surprise, she begins dating a mysterious man from out of town. She does not return for some time and it is believed she has married. Approximately two years later she returns to settle down in her mother’s home with a baby. No explanation is ever given to their speculation.

Elizabeth eventually is able to discover the truth from a few people still surviving in the area where Edward Foley lived. At the same time she is trying to cope with problems in her own family that have arisen while she has been away. The characterisation of the people she meets on her quest is beautifully done and adds humour to the story which has its more sinister side. As the author, himself, says when asked about his second novel, A Keeper, ‘This twisted tale of family secrets and ill-fated romances is both darker and funnier than my first book’.

The book, A Keeper, is full of unexpected surprises and the reader cannot but help to empathise with the characters who take centre stage. Even when one should be feeling anger for actions taken, one can understand the feelings and fears that beset the characters.

Norton shows great understanding about the dynamics of relationships and the inherent fears that people can harbour. The loneliness experienced by the two women is delicately portrayed and their role as single parents both in 1970 Ireland and 21st Century America is sensitively handled.

The Title of the book intrigued me and I am still not completely sure who or what it actually refers to although there was a clue where the term was used in the book. I have my own ideas about who this refers to but I am not sure if this gels with the original intention.

I found it an interesting story which incorporated issues that were clearly plausible. I do not hesitate to recommend this author to readers who enjoy a mystery and who love to follow the interplay of emotions and actions arising in relationships.


A Keeper


By Graham Norton

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 978-1-473-66498-2


RRP paperback $32.99
RRP eBook $14.99


By Sea & Stars by Trent Dalton

Cover image - By Sea & Stars: The Story of the First Fleet

Reviewed by Rod McLary

It is now almost 231 years since the First Fleet sailed into what is now known as Sydney Harbour on 26 January 1788 to claim the east coast of New Holland for Great Britain – and to establish a penal colony to take the overflow from the British penal system.

The First Fleet comprised eleven ships carrying 1420 people of whom 778 were convicts including 200 women convicts.  Led by Captain-General Arthur Phillip, who was at the same time commissioned as Governor of the new colony of New South Wales, the fleet departed Portsmouth on 13 May 1787 and landed in ‘Sydney Cove’ on 26 January 1788 – some eight months and thirteen days later.  It was without question a courageous journey and a world-changing one – not least of all for the Indigenous people of this country.

Even though many indigenous people – and not a few non-Indigenous people – believe that 26 January would be more appropriately named Invasion Day, invasion or subjugation was not the intention of King George III.  As the King said in his instructions to Captain-General Phillip –

You are to endeavour, by every possible means, to open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them.  And if any of our subjects shall wantonly destroy them … you do cause such offenders to be brought to punishment [23].

In writing this book, Trent Dalton accessed primary sources to bring the story of the journey to life through the voices of the men and women – and some children – who found themselves part of the journey.

Drawing on existing First Fleet journal manuscripts held in the State Library of New South Wales, Trent Dalton has created an often-moving first-hand account of the journey.  Part of the account is told by means of excerpts from letters written by officers of the Fleet.  One officer often quoted is Lieutenant Ralph Clark on the Friendship.  Lieutenant Clark badly missed his wife Alicia left at home in Portsmouth.  He writes –

Capt. Walton has given me a puppy.  Have called it Efford after the dear sweet place where I first came acquainted with my Alicia, my virtuous wife.  [57].

For all his protestations of love, Lieutenant Clark – once on shore at Sydney Cove – succumbed all too easily to the charms of 17-year-old Mary Branham.  In July 1791, Mary gave birth to their child whom they named Alicia.

Of course, many had no say in whether or not they joined the Fleet.  Their participation was compulsory and due to their criminal behaviour.  The youngest convict on board the Fleet was John Hudson who was nine when he was imprisoned in the floating prison hulk Dunkirk awaiting transportation to Botany Bay.  His crime – apart from being impoverished – was to steal a linen shirt, five silk stockings, two aprons and a pistol.  It was three long years later before he joined the Fleet to be transported to ‘where the earth ends and a little further south’ [11].

The Fleet’s first landing in New Holland was not, of course, in Sydney Cove but what they called Botany Bay.  Botany Bay was considered inadequate.  Captain-General Phillip says in his journal that ‘the greater part of the bay being so shallow that ships … are exposed to a heavy sea that rolls in when it blows hard from the eastward’ [98].  Further exploration led them to Port Jackson which was described as ‘the first port in the world’ due to the ‘safety and extent of this harbour’ and its ‘picturesque appearance which has a pleasing effect’ [117-118].

Young John Hudson – the now thirteen-year-old boy sentenced to seven years transportation – survived the journey and was present when Arthur Phillip made a speech reflecting on the previous night which had given rise to ‘an impulsive night of unbridled passion between landed sailors and female convicts’ [126].  The night of passion is explained away as the ‘purging of eight months of collective fear and tension’ [126] brought about by the journey.

To mitigate against such a night re-occurring, Phillip encouraged the convicts to marry and settle down to raise their children.

The references to individual convicts, sailors and officers on board the Fleet add much to the reader’s understanding of the huge task undertaken by Arthur Phillip in steering the Fleet across the world: a huge task shared by the sailors and officers on board the eleven ships and endured by the convicts below decks.  By any standards, it is a ‘story of courage and perseverance’.

The genesis of By Sea & Stars was a series of articles written by Trent Dalton for The Australian earlier this year.  The articles brought together in this book are intended to describe ‘the story of Arthur Phillip and his central role in the creation of modern Australia’ [xv] – an intention which is clearly achieved.  His writing credentials are beautifully realised in this short but valuable book.  It is both easy to read and informative – not always a common combination in history books.

Trent Dalton is an award-winning journalist having twice won the Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism, four-time winner of a Kennedy Award for Excellence in NSW Journalism, and four-time winner of the national News Awards Features Journalist of the Year.


By Sea & Stars


by Trent Dalton

Fourth Estate/HarperCollins

ISBN 978 1 4607 5743 3

137 pp; $24.99

Christina Rossetti Poetry in Art by Susan Owens and Nicholas Tromans (eds)

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

The editors of this book have generated a hard cover, handsome publication of 200-odd pages that is fit to grace the shelves of prince or pauper. It sports a dust cover featuring Christina’s likeness while the text in five chapters appears on very high quality paper supported by lush coloured photographs, most of paintings but some of Christina herself. We are introduced fairly quickly to the concept of artworks illustrating verses or themes. Wending my way through the book I am struck by the succinctness of the writing and the crispness of the images. What’s more, the common fault of locating an image distant from its corresponding text has been avoided in this publication. The book is well finished with extensive notes and bibliography, a section called Sources of Epigraphs, an index, and a valuable list of picture credits.

In their Introduction Susan Owens and Nicholas Tromans claim that Christina Rossetti is among the greatest of Victorian poets, a point of view they might have trouble defending. Mention Goblin Market and Other Poems or The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems to educated readers and few will identify the poet without further prompting. Christina’s brother Dante Gabriel is marginally better known. This is not to cast aspersions on the quality of the verse Christina did write. Owens and Tromans are correct in my view when they write, “Her colloquial style of address and musical clarity speak directly to us today, while her enigmatic words and striking imagery have inspired – perhaps even haunted – artists since poetry first began to be published” (9).

The degree of impact of Christina Rossetti on reading audiences today may have been overstated. However if we confine our discussion to contemporary Victorian audiences we find a receptive readership of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood literature and art that re-shaped current thinking. The Pre-Raphaelites formed an avant garde movement in 1848 with the aim of bringing a new sincerity to art and to place literature at the heart of their concerns.  Commencing with the artistic and literary wealth of Rossetti’s family background and proceeding through a whole stream of factors, Owens and Tromans are able to show that hers was a creative life “in which literature was the warp and visual art the weft” (12).

Additional information that I would classify as ‘useful’ is Rossetti as a mature woman with principles not much, if at all, divorced from Victorian society of her day. Noteworthy is a rigid application of diverse principles such as her valuing intellectual depth and symbolism in art, and her sharp criticism of paintings that did not reach her standards. There is a suggestion of repressed emotional expression in Rossetti’s work.

Owens and Tromans take a specific focus in their book. They address the wide, visual context of Rossetti’s life and poetry, “her complicated attitude” (13). Their book is a vehicle in which they claim to offer “a new perspective on a poet whose intense vision continues to captivate us today” (13. I remain unconvinced. Outside of confined areas of academia I see little recognition and no interest in the Rossettis and their Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The authors explain that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the later Aesthetic Movement attempted to forge a closer relationship between visual art and poetry. I accept the doctrine that a poem and a painting may share a common inspiration but remain essentially independent of one another. That is almost a commonplace. It should also be remembered that this avant garde movement was developing alongside a boisterous commercial market, and to be recognized as a poet was a prerequisite for advancement in this environment. Owens and Tromans make that point quite clearly. Christina’s public recognition came with a poem in Macmillan Magazine in 1861 and her collection Goblin Market in the following year. It was then that painters began to explore her verse.

While George Chapman’s sensuous depiction of the human figure drew Christina’s ire, it was Arthur Hughes who became the most prolific interpreter of her work. These details this particular book that we’re discussing covers more than adequately.

Christina Rossetti Poetry in Art is a worthy book to hold for reference purposes. I found it illuminating.

Christina Rossetti Poetry in Art


By Susan Owens and Nicholas Tromans (editors)

Yale UP

ISBN: 978-0-300-234862

$56.99; 192pp


To order a copy of Christina Rossetti: Poetry in Art at the Footprint Books Website with a 15% discount click here  or visit www.footprint.com.au


Please use discount voucher code BCLUB18 at the checkout to apply the discount.


Kensington Palace: Art, Architecture and Society by Olivia Fryman (editor)

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Kensington Palace: Art, Architecture and Society is a hard covered book approximately 25 x 29cm in size and 3 cm thick. It weighs around 2.35kg, designating it to become a coffee table book, and is encased in a paper jacket which contains a brief history of Kensington Palace which is renowned for its architecture, historic interiors, internationally important collections and its many royal residents.

The reader is taken over 300 years of almost continuous royal occupation through this home of some of the most influential members of the Royal family and scenes of great events. The Doomsday Book records in 1086 describe the manor of Kensington as ‘land for 10 ploughs, meadow, woodland, pasture, 200 pigs and 3 ‘arpents’ of vines’ (11). Kensington Palace was dramatically rebuilt by Christopher Wren for the newly crowned monarchs, William III and Mary II, and then became the favourite home of five sovereigns. Over the years it survived fires, partial collapse, bombings and periods of neglect requiring continuing structural work and refurbishment. Henry VIII had the idea for a hunting park which resulted in the creation of Hyde Park. Queen Caroline, wife of George II, had the gardens recast to become one of the nation’s ‘earliest naturalistic landscape parks’ (1). Queen Victoria recognized the national significance of her birthplace and childhood home, turning the palace into her own memorial as well as a home for members of her extended family and their descendants.

In 1899 the State Apartments were opened up to the nation and, since then, the palace has served as a historic visitor attraction in one form or another.  It became the home of the London Museum until 1975 and today houses the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. After the death of Princess Diana this collection became world-renowned and today attracts over 600,000 visitors a year. Since the year 2000 the collection has been renewed yearly. An ambitious program of presentations, exhibitions, and conservation work has been planned for future years which should ensure that Kensington’s history – both as a visitor’s attraction and a living palace – will continue to evolve for many years to come.

The book has been set out beautifully with clearly marked segments making it easy for the reader to spend short periods of time perusing the contents on many occasions.

The title page is followed by an appropriate double page photograph of Kensington Palace.  Following pages acknowledge the six writers of the various chapters, the editor and the writer of the Foreword. The book is dedicated to the memory of Deirdre Murphy 1975-2018, internationally renowned expert on the early life of Queen Victoria and senior curator at Kensington Palace who organized a number of high profile exhibitions and representations. She contributed much to this book through her knowledge and her involvement in four of the chapters presented.

After the Foreword, Acknowledgement and Introduction the book is divided into 5 parts, containing two to four chapters. Each new chapter commences on an odd number page and is accompanied by a full-page picture to its left whereas each new part has a title page only with its opposite page a blank sheet. The titles pages for each section have wording in upper case letters with the first letter being in a large flowing font.

Part 1 – KENSINGTON BEFORE THE PALACE is made up of two chapters, the first Kensington before 1600 which is followed by The Making of a London Suburb.

Part 2 – A ROYAL HOME contains chapters 3-5 with titles of: ‘A Patch’d Building, but …a very sweet villa’, which is about Sir Christopher Wren and the building of Kensington; ‘Very Noble tho not greate’, which focusses on the making of the new court for William, Mary and Anne and ‘All the elegancies of art’, the Baroque Garden.

Part 3 – This section is about GEORGIAN KENSINGTON with chapter 6 covering George I at Kensington from personal rule to parliamentary politics. The following chapters in this section address The Hub of Fashionable Society; ‘The good air, the gardens and the fine prospect’ – the landscape gardens and ‘For his Majesties service’ which looks at the household below stairs 1689 – 1760.

Part 4 – THE AUNT HEAP (home for homeless royals) – the term used to describe the palace by Edward III – is divided into three chapters which comprise Apartments for the Royal Family – 1790 -1848; ‘I like this poor Palace’ which covers Victoria’s childhood; and ‘Kensington to the core’ covering the Palace Community from 1860 – 1940.

Part 5 – PUBLIC ATTRACTION AND PRIVATE HOME looks at Neglect and Restoration, addressing the state apartments and gardens 1760 – 1899; Modern Royals at Home and ‘A pleasing contrast of intimacy and stateliness’ which looks at Kensington as a Heritage Attraction.

The information found in this book owes much to the work done by Professor Peter Gaunt and Caroline Knight in their great body of unpublished research for Historic Royal Palaces, ‘Kensington Palace: A History’ (1988 – 9). Their information, analysis and useful insights were an important starting point for further research. The story revealed in this book is a tale of three palaces: Westminster, Whitehall, and Kensington. Because of the impact of fire and politics the first two were abandoned leaving Kensington as the residence of the monarch with a much reduced court. The history of the two earlier palaces has been documented and is ‘well understood’ (xi). This book now completes the story.

The contents of this book are well presented on high quality white paper. As well as the clear designation of time periods, each page of text is broken up by clear photographs of paintings, portraits, maps, diagrams, lists, tables, statues, furniture and architectural devices (there was even a photograph of an iron stamp on timber indicating it had been imported from Sweden which apparently was common after the Great Fire). These visuals are presented in various sizes both colour and black and white. (I was intrigued by the picture of Princess Victoria’s favourite pet on page 211 as it appeared to me that the dog is levitating).

With 450 illustrations, including specifically commissioned reconstructions and historic plans, this volume explores British and European royal taste and fashions over three centuries. Kensington Palace provides a new and illuminating social and architectural history of one of Britain’s most important royal buildings.

I believe this beautiful, easy to read, volume of history is a book anyone would love to own and will be of interest to families and visitors alike. It is also a book that readers will come back to time and time again. I know I certainly will.

Kensington Palace: Art, Architecture and Society


by Tracy Borman, Sebastian Edwards, Olivia Fryman, Joanna Marschner, Deirdre Murphy and Lee Prosser

Edited by Olivia Fryman

Yale UP

ISBN: 978-0-300-23653-8

392pp; $105.00

To order a copy of Kensington Palace: Art, Architecture and Society at the Footprint Books Website with a 15% discount click here  or visit www.footprint.com.au

Please use discount voucher code BCLUB18 at the checkout to apply the discount.


Smoky the Brave by Damien Lewis

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

The book Smoky the Brave is another biography about war dogs, by Damien Lewis a British author and film maker who spent over twenty years reporting from conflict zones throughout the world. He has produced about twenty films and more than fifteen books which are now read worldwide. He became an author largely by accident when a British publisher asked him if he’d be willing to turn a TV documentary he was working on into a book. Since then he has written many military books and man-and-dog at war true stories based on what he has researched and seen over the years. His war victim memoirs, Slave and Tears of the Desert, have won many awards and were top international sellers. He has also branched out into writing thrillers as well as creating a computer game.

The storyline for Smoky the Brave, The World’s Smallest Dog, The World’s Biggest Heart, involves the US, 5th Air Force’s 26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron and specifically twenty-one year old Corporal William ‘Bill’ Wynne, whose unit was based in Papua New Guinea during 1944. The story follows these men as the allies manage to rout the Japanese and drive them back to Japan. Of course the book is also about the specific role played by a little dog, the breed of which the Americans had never seen before. This information was only discovered well after she had endeared herself to all, and become the mascot for the group.

This scraggy, undernourished, tiny canine was revealed later to be a Yorkshire Terrier, a breed little known outside of the UK. How she came to be found in an abandoned foxhole in the steamy jungle of New Guinea remained a mystery. The bravery and morale-boosting qualities of this small canine, combined with the essential, very dangerous work done by the squadron who adopted her, form the basis of this story.

With the group Smoky travels from one air base to the next, from Nadzab to Biak Island, ‘a war blasted chunk of white coral that roasted under the remorseless tropical sun’ (114) and on to the Philippines, sometimes travelling by air and at other times by boat.

Before being sent to the front line, professional war dogs of the Second World War underwent intense training to accustom them to the noise of explosions and gunfire. Smoky did not have this training but she coped well, often sensing the alarm before it became obvious to the men. Several times she saved Bill’s life. ‘One thing was for sure on Biak Island: If Smoky started yelping her signature bark…it was time to run hell for leather for the shelters’ (117).

Smoky often went on photo recce and air-sea rescues with Bill. Although the 26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron were often continuously flying then developing photos taken (in October 1944 the squadron ‘executed 122 reconnaissance sorties, shooting 6,776 photos from which 94,707 prints would be made’ (146)), Bill still found time to train his little charge to do tricks. Over the course of their relationship Bill put together a show kit for Smoky which included a slippery slide, tightrope walk, rolling drum and tiny scooter.

In one of her more memorable exploits Smoky ran a cable through a seventy-foot pipe under the airfield, no wider than four inches in places, to enable telephone lines to be taken to the other side. This saved hundreds of ground-crew from being exposed to enemy bombing. She won many awards for her heroics among which was the PDSA’s Certificate for Animal Bravery or Devotion in 2011, a new class of PDSA Award. Bill’s squadron also received special praise for the work that they did. Sometimes the photo lab was singled out for their outstanding work which, the commentator believed, ‘contributed much to the success of the Philippines Campaign and reflects great credit to your organization as a whole’ (232).

Both Smoky and Bill survived being caught in a sea-rescue flying sea-plane inside a tropical storm where ‘after four hours entombed within that terrifying force of nature, the Catalina (in which they were flying) finally shook herself free’ (157). They survived the Battle of the Philippine Sea and kamikaze alley. The Japanese had vowed to attack the Allied invasion forces with kamikaze aircraft and pilots, rocket bombs and fast submarine torpedoes with 1550 kg war heads, from land, sea and air.  And they survived a deadly, mysterious plague which unfortunately took the life of Smoky’s surprise pup who was only 6 months old.

Smoky had the ability to make the stressed and traumatized smile when there was little to smile about so she and Bill were often asked to perform for patients in hospitals. On one such visit into Manila, Bill was asked if Smoky could be featured in the Weekly Red Cross radio show which broadcast across the US. Smoky the ‘wonder dog’ was becoming well known far beyond her squadron and servicemen often received letters from home mentioning her.

In August 1945 Smoky and Bill found themselves on a beach in Okinawa, having endured a harrowing trip as part of the convoy. At the same time the US dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For the men of the 26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, the war was over but for one man and his dog many trials and tribulations were only just beginning.

This novel is an interesting story for military buffs, dog lovers or those just wanting a good read. I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through this book so ably told by Damien Lewis who is a strong supporter of the Bravehound and Canine Partners charities.

If readers wish to learn more about the world’s smallest dog, Smoky the Brave, they may like to seek out two other novels: Smoky the War Dog by Nigel Allsopp, 2003 and Yorkie Doodle Dandy by William A Wynne (Smoky War Dog LLC, 1996).

Smoky the Brave


By Damien Lewis



$32.99; 320pp


You Are Awesome by Matthew Syed

Reviewed by Clare Brook

Since the early twentieth century self-help books for adults have been busy steering millions of people to the path of success, helping them overcome damaging experiences, to understand negative patterns of thought and behaviour.    So, at last, it is wonderful that Matthew Syed has written a book that will help children to have a positive mind set, to understand the plasticity and potential of their wonderful brain and how to fulfill their dreams.

Matthew Syed, educated at Balliol College Oxford, is a British journalist, author and leader in the science of high performance.  His previous books for adults, Bounce and Black Box Thinking, had a big impact on innovative business, challenging the prevailing wisdom of the importance of talent, rather than hard work, practice and a positive mindset.

In his latest book, You Are Awesome, Syed delivers a profoundly life-changing message for young readers – and makes it funny!   It is written in a light, amusing and accessible style that will appeal to children.  The layout is semi-comic book style, using different styles of bold, crazy typeface, in black, grey and bright yellow.  There is not one dull page in these eight chapters.

Syed starts by explaining to his readers what he means by ‘Awesomeness’ and how everyone can be awesome in their chosen field should they go about it the right way.  Syed ends this section:

“Oh, and by the way, … that great maths result, or the amazing piano performance … They were lying if they said they didn’t practise …”

Chapter 1,  ‘From kid average to kid awesome’ here Syed gives an amusing account from his own life and what it took for him to become an ace table tennis champion.  It was all grit not glamour, persistent practice not talent!  He ends the chapter by challenging his readers to choose how they want to be awesome – he gives examples from becoming Prime Minister to skateboarding and much in-between.

Chapter 2, ‘What’s holding me back?’ Syed explains how worry and anxiety can be overcome and everyone can be ‘Ready. Prepped. Confident. On Fire!’’  He quotes Michael Jordan, who he describes as ‘Uber-successful former basketball player who is never put off by failure’.   He lists common hurdles in the mind: fear of looking foolish, thinking everyone is better, hard work is for other people, crisis of confidence, and, not knowing who you are.   These are ‘fixed mindsets’ and Syed asks his readers to ‘Say hello to the GROWTH MINDSET’.   Developing a growth mindset is the theme of the book, a message that benefits adult and child alike.  He quotes Edison ‘I haven’t failed I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.’ and Steve Jobs naming perseverance as most important quality in successful entrepreneurs.   This is a long but illuminating chapter and leads naturally to another equally enlightening subject, Chapter 3,’Your fantastic elastic (& plastic) brain’.  Here Syed gives his readers some interesting facts about the brain and the relatively new research of neuro plasticity.   This cutting edge research has discovered that the brain, like a muscle, can be strengthened, improving its capacity with continuous effort, despite a deficit of talent.  This is a heartening message.

Chapter 4, ‘Practice makes awesome’, but not all practice is equal; tackling the hard stuff really generates improvement.  Syed suggests how to challenge yourself in various areas: sport, presentations to the class, maths, learning a language and revising for exams.   He quotes people whose determination and continual practice made them successful:

‘All highly competent people, continually search for ways to keep learning, growing, and improving.’ (Benjamin Franklin).

In Chapter 5, ‘Genius or what?’ and Chapter 6 ‘Small steps and giant leaps’ Syed tells his readers that to build a Growth Mindset it is important to embrace opportunity, try out new skills and find out exactly how different leaders became awesome.   It is essential to resist the fixed mindset, believing that successful people are just born accomplished, rather than having the faith that if hard work is embraced success will eventually follow.  Syed encourages readers to have a plan, keep a good attitude, be patient understand that many marginal gains add up to a massive gain.

‘I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall.’  (Serena Williams)

Chapter 7 and 8, Syed refers back to his own history and how he became a star table tennis champion – handling the pressure and how to avoid choking when success or defeat is close.  He leaves his readers with the message:

‘Take a risk dare to fail and give it your ALL.

Just aim to be the very best that you can be at all times.

And I know you’ll get there, because … YOU ARE AWESOME.’

Adults reading this book will wish that they had read it as a child.

You Are Awesome is a book that parents need to buy, that schools need to teach, and that all children need to read.

Highly recommended.

You Are Awesome

By Matthew Syed



ISBN:    978-1-5263-6115-8

RRP: $19.99; 155pp


Catch a Falling Star by Katie M. Little

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Even moreso than Ray Martin or Mike Walsh, Paul Hogan or Dame Edna Everidge, the name Jeanne Little is recognized worldwide. Mention her name and a certain look appears in your conversationalist’s eyes and you wait for an interpretation of Jeanne’s voice that always falls far beneath par or, perhaps there’s an anecdote. There is always an anecdote.

The biography of this wonderful icon, written by her daughter, takes up the story from when Katie M Little was old enough to form part of her mother’s life. If there is a downside to the biography it is that we have precious little knowledge of Katie’s Mum as a young girl growing into a woman. Fortunately, there are women around who knew Jeanne in those years who could supply that information to Katie. Jeanne’s daughter did not set out to write that book and cannot be condemned for its nonappearance.

But what a book she has written! Comprehensive and so full of facts and stories that one wonders how she ever found the energy to succeed at such an enterprise. From the Contents list one could expect a compendium rather than a memoir. A compendium is probably the correct word to use in a situation where, like the cluttered bedrooms that Katie describes and the incessant noise whose solution stymied the housekeeper Mrs Cairo, the Table of Contents, the bedrooms and the lifestyle are all one. Each feeds off the other. She is her mother’s daughter after all.

The book is enriched by memories of Jeanne’s high points and low, her extreme happiness and her depression as deep as it gets. Never once does the telling slip into slapstick or maudlin narration. Katie has had many enriching experiences with Jeanne as a Mum, but she has also had to cope with emotions out of the ordinary. With her mother now deeply immersed in Alzheimer’s clasp, she has a load that is exceptional. But the book does not show any sign of her breaking. She may be bruised and bent but she is as tough as the mother who bore her. And when her thinking goes a little off-track she has friends like Marcia Hines to gently show the way.

The book provides many, many snapshots of men in positions of power, of men whose egos did not succumb readily to the ribbing that Jeanne’s quick wit supplied. I remember Katie describing Mike Walsh in the barber’s chair. The one time that every hair dresser went about her work in total silence. This state of affairs came about because Mike Walsh demanded the exclusion of all extraneous noise so that the girls could concentrate while ever his hair was being attended to. The primitive conditions under which Jeanne Little practised and developed her artistry ring true. She had to compromise, to tackle an issue as she saw it. She was a woman, and a woman was more of an appendage whose elegant beauty made men look good. Somehow I cannot see Jeanne in that role for very long.

The subject of our story is portrayed by her daughter as a product that is specifically defined by her nation of birth, the same nation her family adopted when they reached Australia’s shores. Katie is reflective of her mother. When she lived in England there were the tales of a lot of teasing being directed at Katie’s accent and her mother’s work. A sour faced member of the school staff enquired about Jeanne’s unusual career, and asked what she was currently doing. “Making garbage bags,” was the quick response that was never questioned since this was a Colonial that the British woman servant was listening to. It was accepted as the sort of thing an Orstralian would be doing. In fact Jeanne’s idea of making wedding or ball-gowns out of garbage bags became all the rage once. Milk bottle tops got a look in too.

It is a fine feeling to skim-read a book and never feel the presence of evil or deceit among the characters who lead happy and fruitful lives in a world they make their own. I’ve not finished a close reading as this is a book that won’t allow me to do that. I have to read and stop and enjoy what is coming to me off the pages. I have to laugh out loud at the tale of the tapeworm. I had to think about Katie’s father with one in the basement and one in the bedroom. I know that heartache will come before the last chapter has been read, but somehow I know that these people have the fortitude to carry on anyway. Would Jeanne ever ask for anything different? This is a book about normal people – if I can stretch that label immensely – going about their lives and having a pretty good time while they’re about it. Highly recommended. (I’m never going to finish this book).

Catch a Falling Star


By Katie M. Little

New Holland Publishers

ISBN: 9781760790578

$29.99; 312pp

Catch a Falling Star, New Holland Publishers RRP $29.99 available from good bookstores or online http://www.newhollandpublishers.com