THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS by Michael Robotham

Reviewed by Angela Marie

“Take care…the value of a secret depends upon whom you’re trying to keep it from. You may think it’s worth a lot. I may think it’s worthless. Someone always has to pay.”

In Michael Robotham’s latest cliffhanger, the key title word, “secrets”, conjures an immediacy of need to know. Is the reader entering a net of thoughtfulness or gossip, a world of intrigue, blackmail, opportunism, or shame and despair? Will the act of keeping secrets be honourable or will it be devious? Kind or cruel?

Why do you keep a secret? Is it because you have shared someone else’s burden and pledged the loyalty of your friendship? Is it because you care for those who may be wounded by the reveal? Is it because of personal power and the timing of disclosure? It would be rare to meet someone who does not have a secret tucked up their sleeve or strapped across their heart. A secret does not have to be shadowy or dark, but efficiently we are given an inkling of what is to come. In THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS, the cover design draws the reader in with the teaser, “The life she wanted wasn’t hers….”. Economical and enigmatic.

THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is a novel crafted with slow and deliberate care. There are liberal sprinkles of pop culture to anchor the time as contemporary. The author is meticulous with character development,  introducing us to Agatha and to Meghan in a turn-by-turn dual narrative. In this seamless transition there is never a doubt as to whose voice we are hearing. Other characters enter the tale; Meghan’s husband, Jack, his good friend, Simon, Agatha’s absent boyfriend, Hayden, her neighbour, Jules, and people from the past . All have a purposeful and intricate part to play, however all our energy becomes focussed on the interplay of Agatha and Meghan.

Meghan has it all. She is a blogger on parenting, and has children, a husband, a home, and a yoga-and-cafe-society lifestyle. And she is pregnant again. And unaware of Agatha. Agatha is a part-time convenience store employee, pregnant and alone and lonely, and devouring all things Meghan. Agatha expresses admiration of Meghan’s seemingly perfect world. “Now we’re both in our third trimester with only six weeks to go and Meg has become my role model because she makes marriage and motherhood look so easy.” Destined not to meet until their worlds touch in a chance encounter in the store, earning Agatha Meghan’s absolute gratitude. Unknown to one, their sole commonality will set in motion events that are too horrible and desperate to contemplate.

Agatha has her secrets. So too does Meghan. Both will go to calculated lengths to protect these. Enter The Lie, the partner of Secret in the literary dance. And lies cover lies until the truth is somehow nestled safe inside. As a character reveals, solely to the reader, “Lying comes very naturally to me, while the truth is awkward and uncomfortable like ill-fitting shoes. It’s not that I set out to be manipulative or cunning; and the lies I tell others are nothing compared to the ones I tell myself.”

There develops an outreaching of trust and friendship between Meghan and Agatha, seemingly fostered by coincidence, and yet birthed in elaborate design and the most meticulous planning. Who is manipulated and who is the manipulator? The warning signs continue to flash. Beware whom you befriend. How chance is a chance meeting? Who is watching whom? To reveal more would remove the element of surprise.

As we come to understand  Agatha and Meghan, and absorb the microscopic examination of human desperation, the plot begins to quicken and the elements fall dramatically and solidly, yet not predictably, into place. We are led from city to town to countryside and back. We experience a seesawing of emotion between  empathy, sympathy and abhorrence, joy and shock, and reaffirm that childhood neglect and abuse are catalysts that construct the adult psyche.The sheer evil of human intent leaves behind a trail of the walking wounded. As past events unfold, we are stunned by what we are reading. This is an intimate account and we become drawn into it.The reader sees into the mind of evil but is powerless to intercede, and can only read on as what we fear comes to pass.

Will the anguish of a new mother be quelled and calmed as all is restored to what it should be, or will there be eternal heartbreak? Will this be the perfect crime? Others almost were. It seems that all bases have been covered, or have they? Will there be a single thread to allow the unravelling of the deception? Inevitably there will be a winner and a loser. Or winners and losers.

Herein lies one of the strongest reasons why we may have a preference for the genre of psychological crime fiction. We relish the thrill of being jolted out of our comfort zones and dragged to dark places, knowing we are able to rise and draw breath. Strap yourself in for an excellent read that is truly hard to put down. Hold onto the sides as the plot twists and turns. And marvel at the craft that allows essential details to be slipped in and layered, and that manifests itself into a watertight unit.

That Sydney-based Michael Robotham was an investigative journalist prior to becoming a writer is no surprise. His attention to detail is superb. His ability to plot out plausible psychological responses and situations has been honed by working alongside clinical and forensic psychologists as they assisted police investigations. He has written more than a dozen novels. His 2004 debut novel, THE SUSPECT, was a million seller. His 2015 novel, LIFE OR DEATH, won the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award. Among crime writers Michael Robotham is a heavyweight with deserving kudos from established and familiar authors including Stephen King and David Baldacci. This reader looks forward to meeting more of his work, having now slipped into his legion of fans.

THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS

(2017)

BY Michael Robotham

Hachette

ISBN 978 0 7336 38015 (pbk)

436pp

$29.99

 

 

 

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The Guilty Wife by Elle Croft

Reviewed by Antonella Townsend

Elle Croft’s debut novel, The Guilty Wife, is (cliché alert) a page-turner with a mind-bending plot.   No time to stop for coffee, solving the mystery of who killed Calum Bradley becomes paramount.  Easy to dismiss the obvious ‘red herring’, really it could only be …  but then it wasn’t.   Then maybe it was …  But then it wasn’t.   At this point the advantages of speed-reading become apparent.

Bethany Retson has everything, a kind and thoughtful husband, Jason, and her own photographic studio.  Business is going well, in fact, celebrity billionaire Calum Bradley, has commissioned her to photograph him in working mode.  This expands to taking personal shots for a coffee table book that will compliment his new television reality show.  And, this expands to an affair with Calum Bradley.  It is imperative that no one knows.  Calum is concerned about negative publicity – a previous affair had resulted in acid being thrown in his lover’s face.  Bethany is equally keen to avoid this.

Loving two men at the same time is not a sustainable state of affairs, so Bethany has a few hard choices to make.  But, before she can settle into a decision, Calum is murdered.  Closet grieving isn’t easy; Bethany can only appear as distressed as if a client, and not someone she loved, had died.  Furthermore, Bethany is really worried about her birthday gift to Calum, namely, revealing photographs of them both enjoying ‘down time’.   Her life would become complicated on so many levels if their affair became public knowledge, not least of all, she might be considered a suspect in the fatal stabbing.

Unfortunately for Bethany, Calum’s demise happened minutes after a rather emotional meeting.  CCTV image could place her at the scene if anyone recognized her unusual hat. Threatening messages and dead flowers appear in her apartment, clearly someone knows about the connection. The messages warned her not to contact the police. Discriminating photos appear on her social media pages.  Fear is now part of every hour, of every day.  In this state she confides in her girlfriend, divorce lawyer, Alex, and eventually tells Jason.   Together they are all determined to solve the crime before Bethany becomes number one suspect.

The pace and prose rockets along, no one, least of all the reader, has time for in depth character analysis, the circumstances speak for themselves.   Elle Croft is successful in passing Bethany’s psychological state and cluelessness on to the reader, so the read is a heart thumping experience.

A well crafted novel and a great debut novel!

The Guilty Wife

By

Elle Croft

(2017)

HACHETTE

Paperback:    ISBN:  9781409175421  –   $19.99

309 pp

 

Roger Rogerson by Duncan McNab

Edited by E.B. Heath

Roger Rogerson once described as: a talented and capable detective, a natural leader and communicator, good father, helpful neighbour, mesmerizingly charming, and an all round good bloke.  Duncan McNab’s latest book, Roger Rogerson, presents Rogerson as an ego driven, corrupt and greedy detective, a murderer – an all round evil man. McNab gives a thorough account of how Rogerson morphed from good to very bad cop, and it is interesting.

In 2016 Roger Rogerson received a life sentence for murder.  The evidence that damned him was irrefutable.  CCTV footage clearly showed Rogerson, recognizable by his crab like gait, and looking like a novice actor on a two-bit film set, furtively entering the warehouse where drug dealer Jamie Gao was shot twice in the chest.  Rogerson and his accomplice, Glen McNamara, had been celebrated detectives, and one wonders how did they ever get to this point.

McNab details the environment that seventeen-year-old Rogerson entered when he joined the N.S.W. Police Force in 1958. Remembering the old adage, ‘it takes a village to rear a child’, it becomes clear that a very corrupt ‘village’ educated the young cadet.  Rather than ‘a few bad apples’, corruption prevailed within the Brotherhood of the Police.  Those who did not wish to participate had to keep their head down and say nothing.  Bullying comments like, ‘we know where you live’, along with threats of remote postings, ensured the activities of the Brotherhood remained concealed.  Law bending and breaking, rather than enforcing, ranged widely, from some uniform police eating for free, the armed robbery division skimming a cut from the proceeds, bribes taken for turning a blind eye to illegal trading, and later, taking a slice of the action from drug distribution.  It seems, in those days, the criminals and the police shared the same murky pond.  McNab quotes, from U.S. academic, Alfred McCoy’s Drug Traffic: Narcotics and Organized Crime in Australia:

… no city in the world could rival Sydney’s tolerance for organized crime.  During the eleven years from 1965 to 1976, with the Liberal-Country Party in power, the State endured a period of police and political corruption unparalleled in its modern history.

It was within this context that teenage Rogerson learnt how to be a member of the police force and capable Rogerson could keep up with the best of them, excelling in all ‘aspects’ of policing.

From the 1960s to the early-1980s Rogerson’s career trajectory soared.  He was unapologetically as ruthless as the crooks, being involved in the deaths of several criminals in the line of duty, but his style of policing was catching up with him, albeit slowly.  He was a defendant in court cases but managed to escape conviction, in fact he received a few awards.  However, times were changing.  McNab gives an account of Rogerson’s dismissal from the Force in 1986, his time in jail from 1990 to 1995, and time in prison from 2005 to 2006.

When released from Kirkconnell Correctional Centre in 2006, McNab writes that he expected Rogerson, now in his 70s, to fade into obscurity and a stress free retirement.   However, that was not to be the case, and McNab’s main focus in this book is an account of the events of 2014, the death of Jamie Gao, and the subsequent court case, which saw Rogerson back in jail for the rest of his life, along with his co-conspirator McNamara.

McNamara’s story is perhaps harder to understand.  A younger man than Rogerson, he was a dedicated crusader against drug and paedophile activity.  He offered to act as under-cover agent in order to expose corrupt policing, but was not at all satisfied with the outcome of his efforts; the main focus was reserved for corrupt police, rather than both paedophiles and police.  Although readers might wonder why both issues could not be dealt with at the same time, particularly given the extent of alleged paedophile networks.  McNamara might have thought corruption beyond the police force was still in place to protect high profile pederasts and little was being done to protect the children.  He felt the need to leave the force, for the sake of his family’s safety, and retired to the south coast of Sydney to write a book, Dirty Work:  When Police are Protecting Drug Dealers and Paeophiles Someone has to Act:  A True Story.  Later returning to Sydney to be a private investigator.  McNab’s account makes it clear McNamara was an embittered man feeling the system had let him down, which it did!

McNab is an ex-detective with the N.S.W. Police Force, so he writes from a personal perspective.  He leaves the reader in no doubt that Rogerson was a dangerous man, although not a lone wolf.  Rogerson, corrupt, greedy and violent, was enabled and trained by institutional corruption and greed that prevailed at the time.

Roger Rogerson

By

Duncan McNab

(2017)

Hachette Australia

Paperback:  ISBN:  9780733639357

328PP  –   $19.99

 

Stealth Raiders: A Few Daring Men in 1918 by Lucas Jordan

Reviewed by Rod McLary

The sub-title of this book immediately provides two clues to its subject.  The year is the last year of World War I and ‘daring men’ suggests courage and risk-taking.  This book offers a radical reappraisal of the Australian infantrymen and challenges the ‘historical neglect’ they have experienced since the great War historian Charles Bean ceased writing in 1942.

At the beginning of 1918, the Australian Imperial Force [AIF] was facing a major problem with maintaining adequate strength in the field.  Australian casualties in 1917 rose to 76,386 with a further 89,084 in non-battle losses – the attempts in Australia to introduce conscription had failed – the numbers of volunteers were falling.  Yet, paradoxically, the morale and confidence of the AIF in France was high.  Australian soldiers knew in their hearts ‘who is the superior fighter … and the Fritzies know it in their own hearts too’.  Trench warfare had finished and there was now open or semi-open warfare which contributed to the rise of the ‘Stealth Raiders’.

Stealth Raiders were Australian soldiers [usually non-commissioned] who – on their own volition – set out from their posts in daylight and searched the deserted trenches for isolated German posts.  When the Raiders found such a post, the German soldiers were either killed or captured and whatever weapons held by the Germans were brought back to the Australian lines.  One of the first such raids took place in April 1918 and over 200 soldiers were involved in raids from then until September 1918.

The success of the early raids encouraged other battalions to also deploy raids as it was evident at the time that formal raids and night fighting patrols did not succeed.  After one stealth raid, a Lance Corporal described what happened.

The Huns were brought in like sheep from shell holes in No Man’s Land & from their outposts in broad daylight – yes, daylight raids.  Jove but it was funny – yes and thrilling too!

But not only did the raids capture German soldiers, but later when the Australian soldiers ‘mixed freely’ with the Germans, valuable tactical information was obtained.

This book – with remarkable scholarship – examines the questions – who were the Stealth Raiders; why did they initiate the raids; and how significant were their actions?

The author Lucas Jordan has delved deeply into the diaries, letters and memoirs of ‘men of the lowest ranks’ who were there in 1918 to answer these questions.  The book contains many direct quotes from these documents and from personal interviews with the soldiers.  These first-hand and sometimes intensely personal reflections add much to the value and interest of the book.

One soldier Dalton Neville – who was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Mentioned in Dispatches – recalls one incident when he led his stealth raiders across No Man’s Land:

The outpost was only about 35 yards from the main German trenches … I shot him again, this time through the back, and he dropped on his hands and knees and started crawling forward, and I had to shoot him twice again in the back before he stopped. [p49].

But, not all the quotes refer to battles.  The following quote from a West Australian digger describes his Captain – one of the most experienced patrollers – Captain Don McLeod.

He could always be seen doing the work of two men, keeping his men well under control, giving orders with his broad Scotch accent, and on all occasions personally leading his men with the full conviction that they were following him to a man.  [p59].

Such candour offers the reader intimate glimpses into the hearts and minds of the soldiers on the French battlefields in 1918.

Lucas Jordan argues that the majority of the stealth raiders came from rural or bush backgrounds and that their bush skills gave the raiders an edge in the more open terrain of the Somme.  In addition, and perhaps more relevantly, the lower ranks ‘championed personal freedoms over entitlement’.  That along with a sense of independence and initiative provided a motivation for the raiders to consider other options of attack rather than the more formal method of attack favoured by the army hierarchy.

This book builds on a PhD thesis written by the author.  He states that he was encouraged ‘to bore into’ the subject – which is exactly what he has done.  The depth and breadth of information he has obtained through research into many hundreds of documents – letters, diaries, memoirs as well the more academic material – along with personal interviews of soldiers who were stealth raiders offer a rare insight into a piece of Australian war history.

While the origins of the book are never far away, there is no sense of academia overwhelming the personal.  The author is well able to maintain the focus on the individual soldiers and their shared experiences.  For a reader who wants to broaden his/her knowledge of Australia’s history, Stealth Raiders is an excellent place to start.

The author ends his book with thanks to the ‘men of 1918 who recorded their thoughts and feelings’.  It is a sentiment that we can only share.

Lucas Jordan has a Masters Degree in Aboriginal Studies which led to more than ten years research and teaching in the Kimberley and central Australia.  This gave him a deep respect for the Australian bush and its people.  He is currently a history teacher at Western English Language School in Melbourne.  Stealth Raiders is his first book.

Stealth Raiders: A Few Daring Men in 1918

[2017]

by Lucas Jordan

Vintage Australia

ISBN 978 0 14 378663 4

303pp; $34.99

 

Simplissime Light – The Easiest Cookbook in the World by Jean Francois Mallet

Reviewed by Amy Welsh

The title of Jean-François Mallet’s wonderful new cookbook, Simplissime Light – The Easiest Cookbook in the World, does not lie; it is perhaps the clearest, most user-friendly, cookbook currently available.

The graphic layout of Simplissime Light makes every aspect of the contents abundantly clear at a glance.  Each recipe is clearly detailed on one page, in large typeface, including the calorie count per serve, along with a description of the type of dish i.e. vegetarian/gluten free/lactose free/steam.  The ingredients, no more than three to five, appears with a photograph.  The instructions for preparation are between three to five points.  A photo of the finished dish appears on the opposite page. A ten-year old child could follow the steps in many of these recipes with ease, while acquiring good eating habits.  The recipes are designed for healthy living, combating expanding waistlines, as well as being tasty and varied.

Jean-François begins with a ‘How to use this book’ section, listing the equipment needed and basic pantry ingredients.   He suggests buying a steamer if necessary, other pieces of equipment are fairly standard to a modern kitchen. He emphasises the advantages of steaming, dismissing ideas that this technique produces dull insipid food.  A few helpful techniques are listed, e.g. when beating egg whites, he suggests adding a pinch of salt, using electric beaters gradually increasing speed and keeping in one direction to prevent whites from becoming grainy.

A Contents list appears at the back of the book, grouped as: appetizers, salads, soups and bouillons, sauces, fish, vegetarian etc. Following this list with an Index, Jean-Francois continues his practice of providing page numbers for every item mentioned in the book.

I might mention that an ingredient needed for some recipes, ‘fromage frais’, is not readily found in Australia.  It is a fresh low-fat curd cheese made from cows’ milk, similar to cottage cheese.  It is used to add a creamy texture and taste to dishes, a healthier alternative to sour cream.  The nearest commercial alternative is a product called ‘quarq’.  Or, use equal parts cottage cheese blended with plain yoghurt until smooth.  Or, use thick, unsweetened Greek yoghurt.

As for the recipes, Jean- François refers to them as ‘everyday dishes’, but they are also perfect for special occasions.  And, so very delicious, some quite unique! Jean- François is a talented man.

There are so many recipes, (one hundred and eighty-three or thereabouts), so many choices, that it becomes difficult to choose which might be of most interest to readers.   I might try to limit myself and sample one from each section.

Well, the first recipe is for bread sticks, and that’s the last you’ll hear of bread. These are made from buckwheat and ground almonds.  Such a lovely flavour!  Served with avocados…if they make it to the table!  In the same section, yes I know I said one from each, but seriously, parsnip hummus with coriander, cannot go without mention.  This is a distinctive flavour for a hommus, and, I suspect, healthier, especially for those who can’t tolerate chick peas.

Warm carrots with saffron sauce…a lovely take on mayonnaise…the easiest chicken and prawn terrine possible…veal with blueberries…iced dessert with berries..cherry clafoutis.

Thank you Jean-François Mallet! Your book is highly recommended!

Simplissime Light – The Easiest Cookbook in the World

(2017)

By Jean-François Mallet

Hachette

ISBN:  9780600634768

$32.99; 382PP

$39.99   Hardback

 

 

 

The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York by Anne de Courcy

Reviewed by Dr Kathleen Huxley

Anne de Courcy is a best-selling writer, journalist and book reviewer who has received critical acclaim for her works depicting the rich social history of past eras. Her well-received, serialised for TV, biographies discuss the impact of prevailing financial and social conditions, contemporary attitudes and moral codes on her subjects’ lives. In this latest book she examines the invasion of the ‘husband-hunters’ from the US into the British peerage. This phenomenon occurred in the latter end of the nineteenth century in to the first years of the twentieth century and describes the girls, rich American heiresses and often more fittingly their mothers, who desired marriage with gentlemen from the British aristocracy. Popularly known as cash-for-coronets, the marriages the wives brought extensive and well-needed funds from the US, in return for a place in upper class society. These unions were often considered highly undesirable by many Americans who felt that life in England ‘once the first glamour has worn off, with its wretched climate, its lack of home comforts, the isolation of country life and a husband who spent the new wife’s money … resulted in disillusionment, misery, and a determination somehow to escape’.

De Courcy reports that the clash between matriarchal American society and patriarchal English society often came as a great shock to the young women involved who found themselves far from their familiar US home and its attendant comforts. The notion that the main motivation for the marriages was money is considered by the author to be too simplistic. She considers that the role of the mother of an American ‘marriageable girl’ was key to the trend with the mother being the ‘true husband-hunter’. The reasons she puts forward for this, which result from her extensive research on the matter, are concerned with the idea that whilst love was desirable, more important factors included ‘family, background, money and probity’ which provided an entry into society for the mother as well as the daughter.

Nonetheless, we are told that it was not all doom and gloom for these transcontinental partnerships and some of the marriages were of course successful and ‘extremely happy’, particularly those where the bride was in her mid-twenties rather than her teens and where love, as opposed to ambition had been the reason for the marriage. Still, adapting to life in a country where climate, attitudes, behaviour and general habits and traditions were so different to the ones they had left behind was a challenge for all American girls who married into the peerage.

In late 2017 there has been a great deal of interest in this book and it has been extensively referred to in the popular press. The reason being the recent announcement of an American fiancée for Prince Harry. De Courcy reveals that Meghan Markle is far from the first American connection in his family tree. She tells us that Harry’s great-great grandmother Frances (‘Fannie’) Ellen Work, whose life reads like a Downton Abbey storyline, was described as a ‘Dollar Princess’. Born in 1857 and married in 1880 to the English-born James (‘Jim’) Boothby Burke Roche, the son of Irish politician Edmund Burke Roche, 1st Baron Fermoy Fannie was said to have ‘spent lavishly, enjoying parties and the excitement of being admired in beautiful clothes … she was very well read, spoke French fluently, and took a great interest in paintings and furniture’. However, despite her apparent social mobility into the aristocracy her father – the self-made millionaire Frank Work – was not impressed and quoted as saying ‘I have only contempt for these helpless, hopeless, lifeless men that cross the ocean to carry off the very flower of our womanhood … if I had anything to say about the matter I’d make international marriage a hanging offence’. In reality as Frank knew Fannie’s husband ‘led a life far beyond that which he could actually afford’ and the marriage ended in divorce in 1891 following the birth of four children and Fannie returned to the USA. One of her children Edmund Maurice Burke Roche was Princess Diana’s grandfather.

Society, albeit slowly, does change and barriers are brought down alongside changes in attitudes and traditions. As time progressed entry into ‘society’ in either country did not require marriage and ‘new’ money conferred its own acknowledgements on its offspring. As different ways of life emerged ideas of female emancipation, education and freedom changed the consciousness of both nations.   The current Royal Family’s approval of Harry’s engagement is a sign of how far British social attitudes have progressed in recent years and hopefully precludes Frank’s recommendations being implemented for Meghan!

De Courcy describes the aim of this book as ‘to examine the reasons behind the social phenomenon and its lasting impact on British life’. This is admirably achieved by the author who traces the stories and histories of girls, their mothers and the important figures in their backgrounds. Her descriptions of what she calls these Gilded Age brides are rich in historical detail and manage to conjure up, for the reader, a fascinating insight into the domestic details of their lives and times.

The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York

(2017)

By Anne De Courcy

Weidenfeld & Nicolson

ISBN: 9781474601443

UK£20; 320 pages

Whipbird by Robert Drewe

Reviewed by Clare Brook

In his latest novel, Whipbird, Robert Drewe has created a satirical portrait of Australia through the lives and circumstances of the Cleary Clan.  The Clearys are gathered at Hugh Cleary’s vineyard outside Ballarat, to celebrate the 160th anniversary of Conor Cleary’s arrival, from Ireland, to the shores of Australia in 1854.  Numbering 1193, the bloodlines from Conor’s many children are delineated by coloured T-shirts, although some have chosen a theme, so a cohort of pirates can be identified weaving through the throng.   En masses they proceed to barbecue and drink themselves into a jovial group haze,

The narrative proceeds via individual vignettes, mostly from Mick Cleary’s branch of the family, a fourth-generation descendant of Conor.  Mick is father to Hugh, the host; to Thea, a vegetarian doctor working with Medecins sans Frontieres; and, Simon (Sly), an ex, drug addled, rock musician.  Sly suffers from Cotard’s Delusion, so believes he is already dead, and needs to be chaperoned by his daughter Willow.   Sly witnesses the proceedings from the peripheries like an emaciated scarecrow.  It is through this shell of a man that, ingeniously, Drewe reincarnates Conor Cleary.  Sly’s demented and vacant state allows the spirit of Conor to inhabit his mind, to see what he sees and readers become acquainted with Conor’s point of view.  His cameo appearances are comical, adding a unique historical dimension, to the narrative.

The reader learns a lot about the patriarch, Mick.   He is an ex bank manager, retrenched before retirement age, due to changes promoted by the ‘two-tone-shirted, Windsor-knotted head-office boy’, a similar type to his cousin Doug.  Everything about Doug irritates Mick; and dialogue between them becomes a commentary on new business models that might touch a raw nerve for some readers.  Mick also battles with Doug regarding Muslims and immigrants.   He is fond of his niece, Craig Cleary’s wife Rani, an Indonesian from Aceh; to Mick she represents a whole cohort of Asian people that he is determined to defend. Verbal jibes ensue over the weekend and slowly escalate into a drunken punch.   Mick’s interaction with his vegetarian daughter, Thea, and his perspective on modern Australia is funny and, sometimes, sad.

Mick’s son, Hugh, a barrister yearning to be a QC, and the host of this enormous gathering, is coping with one dilemma after another.  The appearance of a potential Chinese investor that Hugh is desperate to impress does not go well.  His wife, Christine, is distracted by a secret that will change their lives, and which she will, at some point, have to reveal.  His twin teenage daughters keep disappearing with distant cousins, who clearly are not harbouring cousin-like thoughts; and then his irresponsible teenage son gets himself and Hugh in a spot of bother with the police.

The characters stack-up.  There is Father Ryan Cleary, recently deployed from Afghanistan.  A mysterious boy floats around the narrative, mingling facetiously with the guests, none of whom can quite remember where he fits into the ever-sprouting family tree.  Younger Clearys are evangelising the benefits of a vegetarian life. And various Asian husbands and wives, and their Australian/Asian children, widen the ethnic spread of the Cleary mob.  In short, Drewe has provided the reader with an amusing portrait of inter-generational, multi-ethnic Australian.

Robert Drewe has been writing all his life, from editor of the school magazine to being a well-known columnist, winning the Walkley Award for journalism.  He began writing fiction in his twenties, and has since received various literary prizes.

Whipbird is yet another Robert Drewe novel to be treasured.

Whipbird

(2017)

By Robert Drewe

Penguin Random House

ISBN:  9780670070619

$32.99 ppbk

308 pp

 

The Classic Yoga Bible by Christina Brown

Reviewed by Clare Brook

Yoga is learning to come back to yourself. It’s finding your limits, expanding your boundaries and being able to truly relax into who you are.

The introduction to The Classic Yoga Bible, by Christina Brown, gives an explanation of yoga, and its intended benefits.   Often, yoga is misrepresented as only a set of exercises to aid balance, strength and suppleness, all of which it does, but there is so much more to understand about this ancient art.   In the Yoga-sutra, written 2500 years ago, Patanjali defined yoga as ‘the cessation of the turnings of the mind’, or bringing the self to a harmonious state.   The mind tends to be a chattering, jumpy organ, forever roaming in all directions, not completely concentrating on the present moment.  Christina explains that in trying to achieve a yoga posture, a tangible goal of controlling the body, it becomes easier to move on to the intangible stillness of the mind.

Christina covers the less publicized ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’ dealing with moral aspects, some of which are: ‘yama’ moral restraint controlling actions, thoughts and speech, ‘ahimsa’, non-violence and compassion for all that is living, ‘satya’, truthfulness, and, ‘asteya’, covetousness and non-materialism.   It becomes clear that yoga, as understood in the East, is a complete guide to living.

The benefits of the ‘asanas’, or postures, are made clear with explanations on breathing techniques, how often to practice, an the intensity to aim for, and how to start off, slowly increasing the challenge of each posture.

Part Two, ‘The Practice’, is a comprehensive run down on the different postures, 150 of them.  For beginners there is a guide on how to achieve each pose.  There are also postures for those ready to be challenged to attempt higher levels.  Perhaps the beginner might need more detailed help on how to get into a pose and how to develop smooth transition from one posture to another.

In this section there are also chapters on: relaxation, pranayama – breath, life, and energy, gazes and the mudras, intended to cause an alteration in the body’s vital force, to harness the life force.

Part Three, ‘Yoga With a Special Focus’, gives postures that are best for de-stressing, healing, along with various types of meditation.

Part Four, ‘Finding Your Yoga’, lists the nine braches of yoga.   Whereas in the West Hatha yoga is most commonly taught, Christina names other forms and explains each branch listing its benefits.

The Classic Yoga Bible, is a chunky little book, easy to transport to the gym to use as a reference, a most useful tool for those who have attended a few classes but want to continue now at their own speed.  It is a comprehensive guide to the whole practice of yoga not always understood in the West.

Christina Brown is a well-qualified, long-time yoga and complementary medicine practitioner.  She has been practising Yoga since 1989 and teaching for over two decades.  In 1999, Christina also trained to teach Pilates.  She runs Yoga Source in Sydney, where she also conducts workshops on Ayurveda and Anti-Aging Facial Yoga.  She believes:

‘If your practice gives you a sense of expansion and joy, then it’s the right practice for you.’

The Classic Yoga Bible

(2009)

By Christina Brown

Hachette UK

ISBN    978-1-84181-368-4

$17- $20 ppbk

400 pp

 

Everless by Sara Holland

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Nice one, Sarah Holland. A fantasy novel aimed at younger teenagers with enough deadly intent, magic, and romance to suit both girls and boys. The story is open-ended, allowing for at least one more volume. Minnesota born and bred, Sara Holland grew up in a small town where reading was a regular practice. In Minnesota when howling winds and deep snow arrive to tell everyone to stay indoors because it’s winter there’s not much one can do but read. Sara is a graduate of Wesleyan University, who worked at several low key jobs before heading to New York to seek a career in publishing. This is her debut novel.

We meet Jules Ember, the heroine of this story, when she is on her way to try to explain why she and her father cannot meet the heavy taxes that the evil queen levies on her people.  Everless is the estate that is owned by the Gerling family, the sons Liam and Roan former childhood friends of Jules. The Gerling family collect blood-iron, coins forged from blood, each equating to increments of time that can be added to a life span. Jules is desperate to find work at Everless so that she can pay their back taxes and save her father from being drained of his blood. With a royal wedding looming, there is a lot of work to be done and, therefore, work to be had on the estate.

Lord Roan Gerling, Jules’ childhood friend, is attractive enough still to send her heart racing. But he is about to marry the queen’s ward, the beautiful Ina Gold. Then there is Roan’s brother Liam, who may not be the bully he appears to be, and a whole host of servants and nobles and soldiers whose numbers should confuse us but who somehow retain their individual identities throughout. Hidden among all these people lurks the Sorceress and her mortal enemy the Alchemist.

Jules’ father does all in his power to stop his daughter from going to Everless. He warns her to stay clear of the queen. When Jules swears that she will obey, but then immediately turns around and breaks her promise, my reading paused. This is a book for young people, yet we have a key character breaking a promise and nobody voices disapproval. I felt that was not the right message.

Jules sets out to find a connection between the Gerlings and her family and the story grows in excitement. Along with the story the characters grow too. Often a young writer will place her characters in situations where their role is cramped. They are locked in with no chance to develop. This does not happen with Sara Holland. She is an inventive, creative writer who can dream up fantasy with little apparent effort but with a devastating result.

Sara Holland will continue to produce sales, assisted by the graphic artist who designed the book cover. The design shows less rather than more, – the usual tendency is to lash out and place on the cover all sorts of flashy fantasy with text busily hogging what space there is left to be cribbed. Everless is much more restrained, the only blemish in the art work being the garish font chosen for the title of the book.

Good story. Beware – this could become addictive.

Everless

(2018)

By Sara Holland

Hachette UK

ISBN: 978-1-40835-362-2

368pp;

Void: the Strange Physics of Nothing by James Owen Weatherall

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Jim Weatherall has taken possibly the most arid word in use on the planet and written a book that is scientifically precise, rich in history and cultural endeavour, and at all times, engaging. That word is nothing. Take all your molecules, atoms, electrons, quarks and gluons – such old hat science is all about something. Weatherall seeks a challenge and gives us Void: the Strange Physics of Nothing. This is a little book of big ideas written in lively, stimulating prose.

Weatherall builds on the philosophies of the past and takes us rapidly through the centuries to the cutting edge science of today. He describes Newtonian mechanics, Maxwell’s electromagnetism, relativity theory and quantum field theory, and presents ideas about what the world would be like if there were nothing around; he then describes what nothing might mean.

Perhaps you’re thinking by now that Weatherall is not for you, that science is just too unexciting. I can assure you that Weatherall’s language and the decisions he makes to present his ideas combine to make an engaging and colourful treatise. The book includes sophisticated argument but the explanations are clear and the arguments cogent. This is more than a book, it is a Hollywood extravaganza in the restrained garb of a dignified British thriller. It leaves its readers clamouring for more as the beauty of fact overwhelms and satisfies at humanity’s deepest levels.

In Newtonian physics a universe with nothing is thought of in terms of an infinite container into which stuff could be placed or removed without affecting the structure of space itself. This is empty space and time. But space-time has a structure that is, geometrically speaking, fixed and immutable. Questions invoking general relativity about a world with no matter present can be shown to possess a space-time geometry that is rich and dynamic.

Then Maxwell’s ideas on electromagnetism led the way to electromagnetic field theory and what it would mean for a region of the universe to be empty. If electromagnetic radiation e.g. light is all that is present in the region, then it is not empty at all. Since scientists measure how much of the electromagnetic field is present in a region by a quantity known as field strength,  knowing what field strength is present is a way of describing how the electromagnetic field is configured.

Determining there is “nothing” in a region of space and time means that “nothing is not the absence of stuff; instead it is just one possible configuration of stuff” (65). Here is the first subtle difference between what scientists and the man in the street mean by nothing.

Einstein’s theory of general relativity was a massive blow to conventional thought. Curvature of space-time replaces what we used to think of as gravitational force. Objects are not accelerating towards each other, they are not accelerating at all; “they are both moving along the straightest lines they can, in a space-time in which no lines are truly straight” (71). The geometry of space-time is partially determined by the matter in the universe, and partly determined by the geometry of the rest of space-time.

“No stuff” does not guarantee “no curvature”. Hence in general relativity thought, “empty” space puts the spotlight directly on “empty”.

Weatherall now mentions another attribute of the “nothing-space” idea.  Maxwell’s equations describe electromagnetic radiation – waves that travel from one place to another and oscillate. Einstein realised that general relativity permitted something very similar. It allowed gravitational waves, oscillations in the geometry of space-time i.e. when a gravitational wave passes through some region of space-time,.then the ‘straightest’ lines in that region will oscillate. Further, since “gravitational waves are possible even in empty universes, Einstein realised that they are not themselves a kind of stuff, in the same sense that a black hole is not a kind of stuff. Gravitational waves are also possible in universes where there is matter – but, in those cases, too, they don’t count as being matter themselves” (79).

A gravitational wave can produce energy, perhaps as light or heat or motion i.e. stuff in the ordinary sense. In other words, general relativity tells us that it is possible to make something out of nothing. You might well ask why there are black holes rather than nothing. It turns out black holes are just a variant of nothingness.

This is getting more and more weird. Who has seen a gravitational wave anyway? Where’s the evidence? Funny you should ask. Check what Weatherall relates concerning LIGO and September 14, 2015, when a signal was recorded and found to be two black holes colliding more than a billion years ago. This is powerful evidence for general relativity – “including the rich, dynamic structure of empty space-time the theory describes” (85).

All theories we’ve dealt with so far have in common a state of affairs – a configuration of physical objects at an instant or over time – by imagining bodies, with more or less defined boundaries, located somewhere in space (and time). This is one interpretation of ‘state’.

However, a quantum state encodes probabilities about what you might find if you were to try to measure some physical quantity. Particle-like behaviour is characteristic of quantum fields, but “particle” no longer has its Newtonian label; in quantum physics it describes a particular configuration of a quantum field. This distinction is very important.

In a quantum state we encounter some really strange ideas. The idea of a world of particles strongly suggests that there are stretches of empty space between particles.

Quantum field theory allows no such thing.

In a quantum state you would expect to find any number of particles. But there are cases where it is certain that there is exactly one particle or two and so on in the universe. In some cases it is absolutely certain that there are no particles in the universe. These are vacuum states – royalty in weirdness.

In quantum field theory, a vacuum state is just another state of matter – it just represents the field configuration where we minimise the particle-like phenomena. Other states are usually vacuum states plus particles. But vacuum states are even stranger than you might imagine. “Something” and “nothing” are not mutually exclusive.

A pleasure for a non-scientist to read, told in an exciting manner, captivating even science educators. A book about nothing that has a whole lot of something to say.

Void: the Strange Physics of Nothing

(2016)

By James Owen Weatherall

Yale UP

ISBN: 978-0-300-23073-4

$26.00; 224pp

 

To order a copy of Void: The Strange Physics of Nothing at the Footprint Books Website with a 15% discount click here  or visit www.footprint.com.au

 

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