Thursday, 19 December 2013

Aussie Book Review: Coal Creek by Alex Miller

My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of The Reading Room
Publication Date:    October 2013
Category:               Literary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781743316986
Publisher:               Allen & Unwin
RRP:                      AU$29.99

From the Cover

“The new novel from Australia's highly acclaimed literary treasure is an extraordinarily powerful exploration of tragedy, betrayal, the true nature of friendship and the beauty of lasting love.

'Me and Ben had been mates since we was boys and if it come to it I knew I would have to be on his side.'

Bobby Blue is caught between loyalty to his only friend, Ben Tobin, and his boss, Daniel Collins, the new constable at Mount Hay. 'Ben was not a big man but he was strong and quick as a snake. He had his own breed of pony that was just like him, stocky and reliable on their feet.' Bobby understands the people and the ways of Mount Hay; Collins studies the country as an archaeologist might, bringing his coastal values to the hinterland. Bobby says, 'I do not think Daniel would have understood Ben in a million years.' Increasingly bewildered and goaded to action by his wife, Constable Collins takes up his shotgun and his Webley pistol to deal with Ben. Bobby's love for Collins' wilful young daughter Irie is exposed, leading to tragic consequences for them all.

Miller's exquisite depictions of the country of the Queensland highlands form the background of this simply told but deeply significant novel of friendship, love, loyalty and the tragic consequences of misunderstanding and mistrust. Coal Creek is a wonderfully satisfying novel with a gratifying resolution. It carries all the wisdom and emotional depth we have come to expect from Miller's richly evocative novels.”

Summary and Thoughts

They say “a picture paints a thousand words” but in the case of Alex Miller, his words paint a thousand pictures!  His evocative descriptions of the Queensland landscape bring it into such keen perspective that it almost becomes a character in the story with Bobby Blue, his main character, an uneducated man, telling us the story in the only way he knows how – in simple language that resonates with deep insight into the events leading up to that fateful day.

Our narrator, Bobby Blewitt, or as his mother called him, Bobby Blue, son of a stockman, is twenty years old.  He’s always lived in Mount Hay - in fact Mount Hay, mustering and being in the bush are the things he knows best.  With his father having recently passed on though, Bobby has been placed in a position where he needs to secure himself work so that he can survive.

"...the old days was over for us and I needed to look around and find a new way for myself to make a living.  The stations would have been happy to put me on and I might have stuck with the cattle work but the job with the new constable come up just then and I thought I would give it a go just for a short time.  I did not expect things to work out the way they did."

Daniel Collins is the new local constable.  A man who fought in Papua New Guinea and originally from the coast, he relocates to Mount Hay with his wife and two daughters, taking up residence as the local policeman.

When Bobby takes up employment with Daniel, some of the perks include him moving into a room at the watch house where he finds himself with a roof over his head and food in his belly.  Daniel's oldest daughter, Irie, teaches him to read and write, but she also awakens something deeper within him.  Uneducated or not, he is well aware that her age, as well as love between him and a girl of her social standing, would be forbidden!

Ben Tobin has been Bobby’s mate since they were youngsters, more like a brother to him than his own, but when an incident occurs in which the two young Collins’ girls disappear and it is believed that Ben has kidnapped them, Bobby finds himself torn between loyalty to his long-time friend, a sense of duty to his new boss and love like no other as he is placed in the midst of a sequence of tragic events triggered by a well-meaning man born and bred on the coast but unschooled in the ways of the bush. 

Coal Creek is the first Alex Miller book I have read and it drew me in from the first page.  Miller’s rich detailing of the landscape and the 1950's life in general brings the wild nature of outback Queensland to life but it is Bobby Blue’s distinct voice that carries this novel.  Striking in its simplicity and with the slow, easy cadence of those who have grown up in the outback, the prose is enhanced by the lack of quoted language, with this semi-literate cattleman jumping in to the telling of all the events which have brought him to this place and time.

Drawing deeply on his own experiences working in the outback, Miller has created a memorable character in Bobby Blue as he takes us to the heart of the stone country, giving us a novel overflowing with the love of family and the memories we carry with us, the limits to which friendship, honour and loyalty can be tested and last but not least, the beauty of love in all its forms.

Coal Creek is a powerful novel with great depth – one which should be savoured - and I wish to thank The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy for review.

*Allen & Unwin are delighted to report that Coal Creek (along with two of their other titles) has been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2014.  These Awards were inaugurated by The Hon. John Cain, Premier of Victoria in 1985, to mark the centenary of the births of Vance and Nettie Palmer and to honour and reward literary achievement by Australian writers.  Winners will be announced on the 28th January 2014, but in the meantime, you may go along and cast your vote in the People’s Choice Award here.

A Little About the Author

Alex Miller is twice winner of Australia's premier literary prize, The Miles Franklin Literary Award, first in 1993 for The Ancestor Game and again in 2003 for Journey to the Stone Country. He is also an overall winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, in 1993 for The Ancestor Game.

His fifth novel, Conditions of Faith, won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the 2001 New South Wales Premier's Awards. In 2011 he won this award a second time with his novel Lovesong.  Lovesong also won the People's Choice Award in the NSW Premier's Awards, the Age Book of the Year Award and the Age Fiction Prize for 2011.

In 2007 Landscape of Farewell was published to wide critical acclaim and in 2008 won the Chinese Annual Foreign Novels 21st Century Award for Best Novel and the Manning Clark Medal for an outstanding contribution to Australian cultural life. It was also shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, the ALS Gold Medal and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

Alex is published internationally and widely in translation and is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Aussie Book Review: Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia
Publication Date:    1 October 2013
Category:               Modern and Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781741621204
Publisher:               Pan Macmillan Australia
Imprint:                   Macmillan Australia
RRP:                      AU$29.99

The Blurb

“’Tallulah de Longland’, she said slowly, letting all the Ls in my name loll about lazily in her mouth before passing judgment.  ‘That’, she announce, ‘is a seriously glamorgeous name.’

From the day Annabelle Andrews sashays into her classroom, Tallulah “Lulu” de Longland is bewitched: by Annabelle, by her family, and their sprawling, crumbling house tumbling down to the river.

Their unlikely friendship intensifies through a secret language where they share confidences about their unusual mothers, first loves, and growing up in the small, coastal town of Juniper Bay.  Their lives become as entwined as Annabelle’s initials engraved beneath the de Longland kitchen table.

But the euphoria of youth rarely lasts, and the implosion that destroys their friendship leaves lasting scars and a legacy of self-doubt that haunts Lulu into adulthood.

Years later, Lulu is presented with a choice: remain the perpetual good girl who misses out, or finally step out from the shadows and do something extraordinary.  And possibly unforgiveable."

Summary and Thoughts

It’s been quite a few weeks since I read this book and one of the things that struck me is how, when I pulled it out to prepare this review, just the beautiful cover brought it all back - for me, it evokes a sense of freedom and ridding yourself of all your shackles!

The story opens with Lulu having just done something inconceivable and out of character for her, but as we continue reading, and she takes us on a nostalgic journey through her childhood to adulthood, we become privy to all the events leading up to that moment she decided to ‘step out from the shadows’.  In her own words - “I did it because I was tired of being the girl who brought the ships home to shore”

Lulu and Annabelle have been friends since the first time they met at their Catholic school, St Rita’s, and their friendship grows from that day forward.  They even develop an affinity to speaking a language all their own, joining words such as precisely/exactly to form “presactly” and glamorous/gorgeous to form “glamorgeous”.

Neither girls’ home life is perfect, with Lulu’s father, Harry, "plumbing the depths of excellence", he relies heavily on her to look after her brothers when her mother, Rose, who suffers with debilitating depressive episodes, is unable to do so and Annabelle’s parents, Annie and Frank, who are artists, are eccentric to say the least.  But together it seems they can overcome all life’s hurdles.

When Lulu meets Joshua Keaton shortly after her sixteenth birthday, things couldn’t be more perfect, but as the three of them begin to get closer to one another during that summer, everyone else can see that having a third wheel could only lead to disaster – except for Lulu.

As the story continues, Lulu has grown up and pursued her own career when she finds herself working for the unconventional and flamboyant Duncan McAllister - it is her growing friendship with him, along with his blatant honesty and unconditional love that will finally allow her to discover who she really is.

Brisbane journalist Frances Whiting has captured the essence of teenage friendship, along with all of its ups and downs by portraying her characters with sympathy and a depth of understanding that pulls you into the immediacy of their lives.  With only 334 pages, Frances has conveyed so much emotional depth using so few words and quirkily blended humour, nostalgia and warmth which had me roaring with laughter one minute and reaching for the Kleenex the next.

There is also a lot of food for thought in this novel with more than one serious issue at its heart, such as terminal illness and Rose’s depression.  Of course, writing about any form of mental or terminal illness is fraught with danger, but Frances has balanced this out brilliantly with her lightness of tone and the comic relief which comes in the form of Rose naming all of her dresses, and dear old Duncan with all his moral ambiguities and complexities.  All of this combines to make her characters’ situations real and poignant as she takes you on a memorable trip which will keep you engaged to the last page, whilst wishing that you could linger a little longer!

Beautifully written, this is a multi-layered debut which explores the fragility of friendship, the complicated nature of families, the exhilaration of first love and all the ties that bind to create lasting impressions on our lives.

A truly memorable novel with something for everyone, I have no doubt that it will be enjoyed by many and I wish to thank Pan MacMillan Australia for providing me with a hard copy for review.

A Little About the Author

Frances Whiting is Queensland's favourite and best-known female columnist. For over a decade, her weekly column in the Sunday Mail has engaged her readers in the highs, lows and unique absurdities of life. She is also Associate Editor of the Sunday Mail and Senior Feature writer for Q Weekend in the Courier-Mail. 

Married with two children, when she gets the time, Frances plays the guitar (badly) and surfs (also badly).

She has published two collections of her columns, Oh To Be A Marching Girl, and That's A Home Run, Tiger! Walking on Trampolines is Frances's first novel.

Aussie Book Review: The Perfect Wife by Katherine Scholes

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of The Reading Room
Publication Date:    25 September 2013
Category:               Modern and Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781921901706
Publisher:               Penguin Australia
Imprint:                   Michael Joseph
RRP:                      AU$29.99

The Blurb

“Kitty Hamilton arrives in Tanganyika with high hopes for her new life. An exciting adventure halfway across the world could be just what she and Theo need to recover from the scandal that almost tore them apart.  

She is determined to play the role of the perfect wife, but her dreams soon begin to unravel. Theo is distracted with his important British government post, and while Kitty had imagined doing valuable work of her own, she finds that choosing the right frock to wear to the club is the biggest challenge of her day.

In this wild and foreign land, where very different powers prevail, the head can't always rule the heart. As old wounds resurface and new passions ignite, Kitty and Theo confront emotions that push them beyond the boundaries of all that they know and believe in.

The Perfect Wife is a breathtaking story about the struggle between duty and desire, jealousy and love, commitment and freedom.  And the need to follow the call of your heart, wherever it may lead you ..."

Summary and Thoughts

"The Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme was a project of the British Government who planned to cultivate tracts of land in the British protectorate of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) with peanuts.  It was abandoned in 1951 at considerable cost to the taxpayers when it did not become profitable."

It is against this backdrop and, drawing on her parents’ own real memories of the failed Groundnut Scheme as well as her own recollections of life in Tanzania, that Katherine Scholes has written this fabulous novel of the inner struggle of a girl born in Australia.

Following an inheritance from her grandmother which allows her the opportunity to travel and study in England, Kitty eschews her homeland for England where she meets her husband Theo, a man from a class way above her upbringing in Wattle Creek.  When a scandal erupts, she is forced to flee.

The book opens with Kitty finally on her way to reunite with Theo in Tanganyika where he took up a position with the Groundnut Scheme two years before.  She is hopeful that this new land will present more opportunities and allow her and Theo to overcome the cracks in their marriage after the scandal in which she was involved brought shame upon his family.

Living on Millionaire Row and being the wife of the Groundnut Scheme manager comes with perks of course, such as socialising at the Club with all the other wives and basically being a lady of leisure, which Theo is adamant she do - but Kitty wants more.  Unable to pursue a constructive outlet, she’s bored, and the wives aren’t particularly friendly.

Kitty goes out of her way to be “the perfect wife”, attempting to do whatever it takes to restore Theo’s faith in her and eventually win back his love, but this proves difficult with a husband still suffering the effects of the War.  He spends an inordinate amount of time at work and when he is at home, he constantly tries to control and mould her into someone she is not.

Afforded the opportunity to do some work at the Christian Mission under the pretext of helping one of the wives she has finally befriended, she beings to feel empowered – until Theo “puts in her place” again.  After tragedy strikes when a beekeeping project run by the Scheme goes wrong, will Kitty find it in herself to be true to who she really is? 

I love novels based in Africa and this one is no exception as it called to mind some of my own memories of the African bush.

Much like Australia, the landscape can be pretty uncompromising and brutal at times for those trying to make a living off it.  In this novel, Katherine Scholes brings this issue into vivid reality as she relates the story of the failed Groundnut Scheme, giving an account of a post-war Colonial frontier in all its glory and juxtaposing the beauty with the harshness of the landscape.  They say that Africa beats to the rhythm of its own drum and this certainly comes through in Katherine’s descriptions of the people of Londoni, the indigenous tribes and the missionaries, giving it an almost mystical quality as subtle religious elements shine through the narrative, without being over-powering.

The beautiful cover matches the tone of the book, perfectly encapsulating Kitty’s longing and soul-searching and it is through her internal dialogue that Katherine allows us to see the turmoil within - her desire to be an artist is strong, yet her loyalty and duty to her somewhat controlling husband takes precedence, dampening the desires of her heart.

It is the past that is a mystery in this fabulous novel and one that will keep you turning the pages until you discover Kitty's full back-story along with the exact reasons why she needed to flee the claustrophobic confines of Theo’s aristocratic family, and it is amongst these pages that Katherine presents a strong portrait of an anguished young woman attempting to discover who she really is and find the stability she longs for.

This is a passionate and moving story of one woman's resilience and her pursuit for happiness and I wish to thank Anna at The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy for review.

A Little About the Author

Katherine Scholes was born in Tanzania, East Africa, the daughter of a missionary doctor and an artist.  She has fond memories of travelling with her parents and siblings on long safaris to remote areas where her father operated a clinic from his Land Rover.  When she was ten, the family left Tanzania going first to England and then settling in Tasmania.

As an adult Katherine moved to Melbourne with her film-maker husband.  After working there for many years, writing books and making films, they returned with their two sons to live in Tasmania.

Katherine is the author of the international bestsellers The Rain Queen, Make Me An Idol, The Stone Angel, The Hunter’s Wife and The Lioness.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Blog Tour: Kate by Kevin Burgemeestre - Author Interview & Giveaway

Today I wish to extend a very warm welcome to Kevin Burgemeestre who has recently turned his hand to writing. Released in November, Kate, his debut novel, was completed as part of the Copyright Agency residency at the University of New England in 2012.

Kevin is no stranger to readers.  As an artist and illustrator with more than 25 years’ experience, he has a list of over 60 published books that contain his illustrations.  Kate contains 5 illustrations which were exhibited at the Stonnington Literature Alive exhibition earlier in 2013.

Based in Melbourne, Australia, he is well known for his enthusiastic, informative and humorous approach to workshops with children and adults, as a children’s book illustrator, editorial writer and an illustration lecturer.

Kevin is also available for book signings and workshops and you can contact for bookings.

Before we get down to the nitty gritty, I wish to thank Morris Publishing Australia, particularly Elaine Ouston, without whom this interview and giveaway would not have been possible.

Please feel free to tag along and, at the end of the Q & A, you will have a chance to go into the draw to win a copy of Kate.

“Kate is a story of growth and mistakes.

Kate is struggling to deal with her best friend leaving, a school bully and with the death of her mother. She believes that life is hard. Then a chance encounter with a battered, heroic hound she rescues from the streets, and Mal, a troubled young man with a dark past, leads Kate into more danger and excitement than she could have wished for. 

She wonders about her unusual friendship with this damaged young man, but when things go really wrong, they’ll need each other ... and they’ll have to run!”

Welcome to Book Muster Down Under Kevin.  First of all, I wish to congratulate you on the publication of Kate and let you know that it’s an absolute pleasure to have you over to answer some questions.

Hey Marcia.  Thanks for letting me pop in.  Happy to answer your questions.

How did you become a writer?

What do you mean? I'm a writer? How do I get out of here? Do you know what we get paid?

Seriously, when I did the final edit for Kate I was picking up some folders that I was going to file when a story outline fell out, it was a three page synopsis I had written over 20 years ago. It was pretty well the outline for Kate.

My mum was also an awesome storyteller. I always knew the power of a well-told tale.

Did you have to do much research for this book?

Yeah, lucky I have 12 research assistants. Not! You always do research. It gets your mind going and clarifies ideas. For this one I needed to get into some teenage heads. Lucky I was conducting drawing classes for high school kids at the time. You would be surprised how little adults listen to teenagers. They told me all sorts of things about their day, and the things that bothered or delighted them. It really helped shape some of the attitudes of the main characters. Jess is loosely based on a college friend who often surprised me with her courage socially.

The country stuff I picked up during two residencies in country New South Wales. I rode the roads and tracks on my pushie and figured out where my characters would run. The paddock car was based on a Toyota we punted over some dirt roads when I was young.

I went and photographed farm cars, and researched forest, farm buildings and sheds, till I hit on something that had a resonance with me, something I wanted to see again. I also asked a number of teacher how they would deal with the scenarios I proposed in the book.

Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?

Not fair, I love Kate!  Yeah but it does bug me when she doesn't tell others about simple things. Like Mal! Tell them he rescued you! Tell the police he rescued you! And she doesn't. I kind of like that tension when I'm writing her and she doesn't quite do what I want her to. I do like her courage and her ability to get into action. She's a nerdy kid who copes well when things are falling to pieces. Seriously, we love Kate.

Mal worries me, every time I write about him. He's such a damaged character that he can be unpredictable. If Mal can stay focused and survive he's the sort of friend you would have for life.

I have respect for Steven, Kate's dad, who is trying desperately to balance his concern for his daughter with making sure she understands what bone-headed nonsense she's getting herself into. He works hard at their relationship.

But sincerely, we do love Kate.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

Only that it's about 18 % better than most, doesn't contain fat or gluten, and reading it in a lovely shaded place could save you from skin cancer. You would have to agree that these things together make it pretty awesome.

Kevin, it’s been an absolute pleasure hosting you on my blog.  Thanks again for coming and I wish you all the best for your future as a writer.

For more interviews, reviews, writing tips and articles, head on over to the other fabulous blogs taking part in the Kate blog tour:

Tuesday 3rd Dec - 10 Writing Tips -

Wednesday 4th Dec - Interview -

Thursday 5th Dec - Interview -

Friday 6th Dec - Article -

Saturday 7th Dec - Interview -

Monday 9th Dec - Interview -

Monday 9th Dec - Interview -

Tuesday 10th Dec - Review -

Wednesday 11th Dec - Review -

Thursday 12th Dec - Interview -

Saturday 14th Dec - Article -

Monday 16th Dec - Interview -

Tuesday 17th Dec - Interview -

How to Enter the Competition:

As part of this Blog Tour, Morris Publishing Australia are giving away a copy of Kate.

To be in that draw, simply comment on this post and send an email of your comment to with the subject "Kate competition".

Competition closes at midnight AEST on the 17th December.  Best of Luck! 

Kate is also available for purchase from these fine websites:

Morris Publishing Australia –
Dennis Jones and Associates –
James Bennett library suppliers –
Nile Bookshop –

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Blog Tour Schedule - Kate by Kevin Burgermeestre

The Young Adult novel Kate, written by debut novelist Kevin Burgermeestre, released in November 2013, will be on a two week Blog Tour from Tuesday, 3rd December 2013 to Tuesday, 17th December 2013. With around 60 books that bear his name, many authors know Kevin as an illustrator of children’s books. He has now turned his skills to writing and this exciting novel is the result.

Please join me and my fellow bloggers for this fabulous tour in which Kevin will be sharing his knowledge by giving writing tips and interviews.  There will also be some great book reviews and articles coming out of the tour.

About the Book

"Kate is a story of growth and mistakes. 

Kate is struggling to deal with her best friend leaving, a school bully and with the death of her mother. She believes that life is hard. Then a chance encounter with a battered, heroic hound she rescues from the streets, and Mal, a troubled young man with a dark past, leads Kate into more danger and excitement than she could have wished for. 

She wonders about her unusual friendship with this damaged young man, but when things go really wrong, they’ll need each other ... and they’ll have to run!”

The Tour Schedule

Dee from DeeScribewriting Blog has headed off this tour today with 10 Writing Tips from Kevin, so head on over to her website, by clicking the link above.

Buzz Words Magazine, a twice monthly e-mag for writers and illustrators, will be hosting an interview with Kevin tomorrow, 4th December 2013.

The remainder of the Tour Schedule is set as follows:

Monday, 9th Dec -

Wednesday, 11th Dec -

Tuesday, 17th Dec -

Kevin and I look forward to seeing you here on Saturday, the 7th December, when he’ll be telling us more about Kate in his Interview with me, after which you will have the opportunity to go into a draw to win a copy of this debut novel.