Monday, 17 July 2017

Westerly Volumne 62 Issue 1 is here!

... And I am in it!
Front cover image Nina-Marie Thomas, Ten 2017. 

I'm so excited to have had a piece accepted by Western Australia's longest running literary journal, and to have my work published in the same issue as amazing writers like Susan Midalia and Caitlin Maling.

My piece is called 'Sister Madly Deeply'-- it's about the bond between two sisters, and how they cope with a family tragedy.  

You can get a copy from Westerly's website, and I think there are a few bookshops around Perth who stock it as well.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Wimmera by Mark Brandi

Hachette Australia, 2017
My copy was borrowed from the library

Wimmera by Mark Brandi | Book Review by The Incredible Rambling Elimy

Almost overnight, Wimmera by Mark Brandi became one of the most talked about Australian debuts of 2017.  With comparisons to Jasper Jones being bandied around, I couldn't help but be curious.  Wimmera is the story of Ben and Fab, who grow up in a small town in Victoria.  After the suicide of a local girl, a stranger moves in down the road from Ben, and hires Ben to do odd jobs around the house.  Years later, Fab is still living in the town, collecting trolleys at the local supermarket.  When a grisly discovery is made, it draws Fab back into the past and the events of that year, and his friendship with Ben.

Part literary novel, part courtroom drama, part mystery, part coming of age tale, Wimmera has a little something for everyone.  Brandi cleverly evokes the obsessions and preoccupations of pre-teen boys, and switches perspectives with a deft hand, as the novel is broken into several parts and perspectives.  This is a subtle book, and one which allows the reader to draw their own inferences about how the parts are all connected.  The voice of Ben in the early part of the novel is a particular strength.  Ben is a likeable character; he's tough and loyal, good at sport, but also trying to work out his place in the world.  His moral compass is definitely working-- while Ben is big and strong, he's not a bully, though he does resort to violence when it comes to defending his friend Fab.  Fab is cheeky and a source of fun for the local bullies, who call him a 'wog' and tease him mercilessly.  Not that Fab is a meek victim... he has his revenge in other ways.  The second part of the story is told from the point of view of a much older Fab-- a Fab who is going nowhere in life.  He drinks too much, has a terrible job, is in love with a married woman and is still the victim of merciless bullying.  And this time there is no Ben to back him up.

Did I love this novel?  Yes, I did, but I wanted more out of it.  In each of the sections, we see the character narrating the story clearly, but the other character is a little inscrutable.  Some of the scenes left too much up to the reader to work out, and seemed to end abruptly, such as when we're left to assume that Fab is the one who has unscrewed the front wheel on Pokey's bike, causing an accident.  And while the central intrigue of the story was cleverly built, I felt a little like the resolution was over too soon.  This was a powerful novel of friendship, of revenge, of deep hurts, and I loved every minute of it, but now that I've finished, I find I wanted more.  The author did such a fantastic job creating the world, the characters, the situation-- I was transfixed.  I wanted to stay in the world of Wimmera-- gruesome though it was-- for a lot longer.

I gave this book 4 stars.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

Headline Review, 2017
I own a copy, courtesy the publisher.

Of all of Henry the Eighth's brides, Anne Boleyn is probably the most infamous.  Mother to Elizabeth the 1st, Anne was Henry's second wife, for whom he broke with the Catholic Church and set aside his Spanish Queen, Katherine of Aragon.  Of course, she was also accused of adultery and witchcraft, and beheaded.

This is the second book in her Six Tudor Queens series, which will see a book on each of Henry's brides published one a year for six years.  Alison Weir is the one of the top-selling historians in the United Kingdom, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences, as well as an Honorary Life Patron of the Historic Royal Palaces.  She has published numerous books on the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses, both fictional and factual.  As she explains in her author's note at the end of the book, it is hard for any modern reader to really know what was going on in Anne Boleyn's head during her courtship and marriage to Henry Tudor, as most of her letters have been lost to the years.  Modern interpretations see her portrayed as ambitious, a vixen, wily-- history has not been kind to Anne Boleyn.  We've seen her portrayed by Natalie Dormer (The Tudors), Natalie Portman (The Other Boleyn Girl) and if I'm not mistaken, by Claire Foy (Wolf Hall-- which I've yet to watch, though I've read the novel).  In most portrayals, she is clever and cunning, but not likeable.  She is, in short, a villain.  But Weir's novel, Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession shows a new interpretation of Anne Boleyn.

It is a long novel, but books of this sort always are.  (I'm looking at you, Hilary Mantel...)  Much of the early parts of the book focus on Anne's early life, first at the court of Margaret of Austria, and then at the French courts of Margaret of Anjou and Queen Claude.  At these courts, where strong women abound and men are unscrupulous and brutelike (there are several accusations of rape, which seems to me a more modern term than perhaps women would have bandied about at the time), Anne learns her own mind, and comes to support some quite radical views.  While she's not a Lutheran in this book as she is in some others, she does support the philosophical underpinnings of church reform, and is also exposed to what could perhaps be seen as an early form of feminism.  Anne's strength of will and character make her a likeable heroine-- for once-- even despite the considerable overlap between this book and the earlier volume, Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, in which she is despised.

Where the book lagged a little was in the latter parts of the narrative, where she was in favour and out of favour, over and over, and came to be pregnant time and time again to no result.  Unfortunately, this is the trouble with writing about true events-- you cannot bend the narrative to your will unless the history supports it.  As Anne grew more frustrated with Henry's treatment of her, she became less strong in her character, though her final scenes in the Tower of London do give me more respect for this woman and the way in which this fictional version of her met her end.

I loved this book and I can't wait for the next one.  Though I've never been interested in Jane Seymour over much, I am fascinated to see what sort of person she may have been, under the tutelage of the ever-capable Alison Weir.

Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession is available now.

Four stars.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies by Jackie French

Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies
Jackie French
Angus and Robertson Publishing, 2017

Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies| Book Review at
I have long been a big fan of Jackie French's writing-- I still remember taking a copy of Somewhere Around the Corner out of our local library and inhaling it in a matter of hours.  Perhaps that was even my first encounter with historical fiction, a genre which remains my favourite to this day.  So to discover that Jackie French was releasing historical fiction for adults this year was very exciting for me.  I was not disappointed.  Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies had everything I could have asked for.  It combined the lost world of society drawing rooms, ala  Downton Abbey with the meticulous historical research and fresh interpretation of a Philippa Gregory novel, and this book too, I read quickly and compulsively.  Though it is not a short book (500+ pages), I read it in a matter of three days.

It is the story of Sophie Higgs, the daughter of Australia's largest producer of corned beef, who has money but no 'position' in society.  When she looks to make an ill-advised match with the son of a local politician, her father suggests she first spend some time abroad, with the cousin of his business associate, the Earl of Shillings.  This cousin is the eponymous Miss Lily, a woman whose influence seems to be everywhere, yet her name appears nowhere in Debrett's.  Sophie is charmed by Miss Lily, and soon becomes one of her 'lovely ladies'-- young women who are 'finished' at Shillings and prepared for a London Season during which they will charm and delight, and hopefully, make suitable matches.  But there is more to Miss Lily's students than meets the eye, which is entirely the point.  Using the skills that they have learned at Miss Lily's knee, the young ladies embark on missions of utmost importance, learning and passing information, and using their influence wherever they can in an effort to ensure that a war with Germany which seems inevitable, never comes.

I usually prefer to read novels set during World War Two, but this was a novel which brought the world of World War One vividly to life for me-- not only the horrific scenes of the battlefields at Ypres, but also of the home front, and of the convalescent hospitals fashioned from old country manors.  These hospitals become a lifeline for Sophie Higgs when war is declared.  Cut off from her friends and family, she finds a purpose in caring for others, and turns her keen organisational mind to ensuring that the wounded soldiers under her care are looked after.

Much happens over the course of this book.  There is heartbreak, and there is triumph, but regardless of how the story turns out, Sophie is a heroine to cheer for.  Hers is a tumultuous life, and she takes it all as it comes and weathers it as only one of Miss Lily's students could.  These characters felt as if they could be real people to me, and I enjoyed spending time in their world.  Imagine my joy at discovering there will be two more books.

Jackie French has captivated me again.

Five stars.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

The Love of a Bad Man 
Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Scribe Publishing 2016

The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett- Book Review by The Incredible Rambling Elimy
The Love of a Bad Man is the first collection of short stories from former Voiceworks editor, Laura Elizabeth Woollett.  It consists of twelve thematically linked pieces, each one told from the imagined point of view of a real female character who was the wife, girlfriend or lover of a notorious 'bad' man.  In this context, bad men generally tend to be killers, and the host of notorious names on the pages of this book range from Adolf Hitler, to Jim Jones, to Charles Manson, and -- closer to home, to Western Australia, where Woollett is originally from-- David Birnie.

This is a chilling collection, but in the most fantastic way.  From page one, Woollett shows that she is skilled at getting inside the heads of different characters.  Each narrative, told in the first person, has its own unique voice, and in many cases, it feels like you are being spoken to directly by the woman in question.  These women were after thoughts or offsiders in the original media reporting of most of these cases, at most, an interesting footnote in the case, or a sidekick to the man who was the brains behind it all.  But Woollett tells their stories in a way which gives them back agency, helping us as readers understand what may have motivated some of these women.  While each story is an interpretation and a fictionalisation, the stories have been meticulously researched and are written in such a way that makes them feel real.  The outcomes vary.  In some pieces, we see the women as victims, such as poor Janice, the girlfriend of Cameron Baker.  In others, they are perpetrators, just as sick and predatory as the men they claim to love, such as Veronica, the young playwright writing letters to Kenneth Bianchi, who was one half of the 'Hillside Stranglers' duo.  By giving them back this agency, Woollett turns the narratives of these women's lives on their heads.

The only story which fell flat for me was the last one, about Wanda Barzee.  It lacked some of the punch of the earlier stories, though I can't seem to put my finger on why.  Highlights of the collection were 'Blanche', which opened the collection, telling the story of Bonnie and Clyde, but also of Buck Barrow (Clyde's brother) and his wife, Blanche, and 'Martha'.  Though I wasn't familiar with every case in the book, it didn't affect my enjoyment of the pieces, and I was able to flick back to the glossary in order to look up who the narrator was and what they may have done.  It would perhaps have been useful to have these descriptions at the end of each piece, but that was only a very minor thing.

I loved this collection as much as someone can love a book about killers.  The writing was fresh and exciting and the characters were unlike any others I'd ever come across.  After a few weeks of reading some fairly average things, it was my absolute pleasure to give this book five out of five stars.