Jan 29, 2015

Book Review – Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

moriartySherlock Holmes is Dead!

No, not really. Not unless you have been hiding under a rock since Federation. 

Holmes’ death is largely immaterial to events that play out in this novel. He doesn’t appear (or does he?) but his and Watson’s roles are taken up by the American Pinkerton agent and narrator of this tale, Frederick Chase and Athelney Jones, Scotland Yard Inspector and Holmes fanboi/stalker.

Moriarty is a Holmesian tale that occurs after the death of Moriarty and Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls.  Our narrator Chase, is on the tail of an American master criminal who he believes was attempting meet up with Moriarty to form a continent spanning criminal empire.  While at the Falls he meets with Scotland Yard Inspector, Athelney Jones who has been sent from London to inspect the body of Moriarty.  Holmes’ body isn’t found.

Chase and Jones set out to impersonate Moriarty and meet with the mysterious American mastermind so Chase will get his man. Jones is an admirable Holmes stand in, having being spurred on by his offhand treatment in Dr Watson’s narratives to become a more Holmes like detective.

The story supplies ample action and mystery for the Holmes fan and if you let yourself get drawn in you will be surprised by the resolution.  This is a good outing from Horowitz in a field so well ploughed.


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Jan 28, 2015

Book Release – Clade by James Bradley


Today is publication day for James Bradley’s Clade.  James is a well known Australian book critic and author and frequent guest on the Coode Street Podcast.  Booktopia have some signed copies for sale.  So if you are interested click here.

So what’s it about?

A provocative, urgent novel about time, family and how a changing planet might change our lives, from James Bradley, acclaimed author of The Resurrectionist and editor of The Penguin Book of the Ocean.

Compelling, challenging and resilient, over ten beautifully contained chapters, Clade canvasses three generations from the very near future to late this century. Central to the novel is the family of Adam, a scientist, and his wife Ellie, an artist. Clade opens with them wanting a child and Adam in a quandary about the wisdom of this.

Their daughter proves to be an elusive little girl and then a troubled teenager, and by now cracks have appeared in her parents' marriage. Their grandson is in turn a troubled boy, but when his character reappears as an adult he's an astronomer, one set to discover something astounding in the universe. With great skill James Bradley shifts us subtly forward through the decades, through disasters and plagues, miraculous small moments and acts of great courage. Elegant, evocative, understated and thought-provoking, it is the work of a writer in command of the major themes of our time.


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Jan 27, 2015

Book Review – Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

burial-ritesIt’s always a little difficult to read and review a book that has received a good degree of hype, deserved or not. 

I can’t help but read Burial Rites with an expectation that it be good, very good.  It has won about four awards to date and been shortlisted for almost twice that number.  Kent was rumoured to have received a six figure advance in addition to earlier prize winnings and this is her debut novel. She is a fellow South Australian and has been well supported by local media. She’s also received national coverage in the form of an Australian Story profile.

Any Australian reading Burial Rites will have to negotiate this coverage and the expectations that grow with it. They will also know to some degree the narrative, or at least its outcome.

Taking on an historical figure as a central character is always going to bring with it challenges.  Those challenges would be difficult for a writer at any stage of their career, let alone someone on debut.

So the big challenge is getting us hooked into a story we know the outcome of. Has Kent done this?  Yes and convincingly so.  She does this first, by slowly conjuring a believable and stark setting, remote Iceland in the early 1800’s.  Historical excerpts (translations of articles, poems and letters) give the work a certain verisimilitude but I think Kent’s skill, her almost poetic description of the land, the elements and the people breath life into this story.

Much of the story takes place within tight confines.  Agnes Magnusdottir has been sentenced to death for her role in the murder of two men.  She is billeted with a local farming family while awaiting the execution and it is at this farm that we begin to learn her story - the story of her life as well as the events leading up to the murders.

Part of the popularity of this story is I think that it is not particularly unique in the wider sense of the treatment of women.  Indeed the story of last woman executed in South Australia almost mirrors the events in this book.  Burial Rites’ relevance though stretches beyond that.  We can find similar examples in women currently prosecuted for murdering their husbands, despite being the victims of repeated sexual and physical abuse.  In that sense the story of a women born and executed nearly 200 years ago has direct relevance to modern lives.

I did feel very much confined in the reading of this book, as if I were in the room or claustrophobic baðstofa with the family.  Quite a feat if you consider I was seated in a room with fourteen foot ceilings in the midst of an Australian summer.  It is an indication of Kent’s skill in weaving a believable story.

Kent has also delivered a character who is easy to like.  Agnes is intelligent, inquisitive and a hard worker. She’s also an archetypal underdog who bears most injustices resolutely and never quite presents as the victim.  That she ultimately dies in this story doesn’t diminish her.

Try to ignore the hype, come to Burial Rites in the expectation of a moving, well executed story. A story that might cause you some reflection but that will definitely deliver you to another time and place. 


This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.aww-badge-2015

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

aww-badge-2015 So as it became apparent in my roundup post for the AWWC 2014, I still need to read more women.  I did exceed my personal challenge of 17 women read and reviewed but that still wasn’t enough to hit my wider target of 60% women reviewed in a year.

So this year I am aiming for a 20/20 challenge – 20 Australian women read and 20 women reviewed.




This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

Jan 26, 2015

The Expanse

I can’t remember if I knew this was happening and forgot or that its just slipped by.  But here is a preview of a new show from Syfy based on SA Corey’s Expanse series.  I reviewed Leviathan Wakes back in 2011 and remember being impressed.  But check out the trailer below":

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Jan 16, 2015

Book Review – old stone: haiku, senryu & haibun by ashley capes


Ashley Capes continues to impress me.  I have previously reviewed his poetry collection Stepping Over Seasons and have also had the pleasure of reviewing his debut fantasy novel, City of Masks.  His ability to straddle such diverse genre spaces would have me jealous if I hadn’t come to know him as such a generous and warm hearted author and poet.

As the title of the book forewarns, old stone is a 45 page collection of Japanese form poetry.  Now, some poets and readers might look down their nose at Haiku and Senryu as perhaps childish or unchallenging.  Indeed Peter Sansom in Writing Poems, was particularly (and entertainingly) cutting in his summation of the form and the peculiarity of some of the poets who like to specialise in it. Being a writer of Haiku and Senryu myself I have a difference of opinion.

Haiku and Senryu in my experience are similar to a game like chess.  It’s easy to learn the rules but can take a lifetime to master or in the case of poetry produce something lasting.  If you are still of the opinion that Haiku are just seventeen syllable poems, it might be worth learning a bit more about them.  I suggest and introductory text by Jane Reichhold.

The challenge with Haiku, especially Haiku divorced from its cultural roots is to take what is a simple form and produce something startling, something memorable (see my post Translations).

But that’s enough about Haiku and Senryu in general and on to Capes works in particular.

Some of these works I had the pleasure of reading prior to publication, either in other publications or in some correspondence with Ashley.  A number of the works appear to be themed or relate to his travel in Italy, but they are not so tied to place that one can’t appreciate them.  Indeed we get to be voyeurs and vicarious participants of place and mood at a fraction of the cost of a plane ticket. The power of Haiku is that of the moment.  If you are doing it well the reader is getting an image, a sense of a place.

shuffling over old stone

the echo

of tour guides


Senryu are Haiku not bound by certain strictures involving seasonal words(a basic definition), they are often humorous, witty or risqué.  One of my favourites is

re runs-

the police chief

is always balding

What I really enjoyed about the collection was the Haibun – a combination of prose poetry observation and a complimentary Haiku.  It’s a form that I haven’t attempted and I like the considered observations written by Ashley and his choice of Haiku to accompany them:

Roman Forum (1)

the spot where Caesar’s body was burnt seems to scare our guide. she does not look at the flowers, a sheen of sweat on her face as the sun works its centuries-slow destruction on pillars in the Forum

uneven footing
horns from
the imperial road

up where the Vestal Virgins had their garden, rose beds breathe easy. green pools might once have hidden tears or swallowed sighs. of the many statues, only two have heads and their creamy robes are mute. people rest before them, hands on hips

posing for photos
other tourists
fill the frame


To appreciate Haiku and Haibun it pays to have a little understanding of the restrictions/guidelines that contemporary Haiku poets use.  Almost anyone can appreciate and delight in a straight reading of the above but familiarity with the form will add to the experience.

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable collection that is rewarded by subsequent re-readings. old stone can be purchased through independent Adelaide publisher  - Ginniderra Press (click here and scroll down).  I won this copy.

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Jan 15, 2015

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 Roundup

awwbadge_2014 For 2014 I created the Franklin Plus personal challenge of 15 books read and reviewed. (For more information about the challenge go here). 

The results were: 17 books read and reviewed of Australian Women Writers.  I varied the genres this time reading,  poetry, contemporary fiction and speculative fiction.  So the challenge was exceeded yet I still failed to hit my Gender reading targets of 60% women read.

Ah well, this means I must endeavour to keep participating in the challenge. Perhaps you could join me.

You can sign up here.




This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

2014 Gender Audit

graphSo yes a little late considering that we are midway through January.  (The inspiration for Gender audits can be found here.)

However here are the results. 

Note these figures are based entirely on books received for review and don’t include any reading done for Aurealis.  I haven’t included anthologies with more than two authors in the count (this rules out two anthologies that were mostly, if not solely female). 

So, total number of books read excluding these anthologies is 53.  Where books featured a male and female author I have awarded a tally to each (there were two volumes with mixed authorship so I tallied one book for each gender).

Female Authors Read = 24

Male Authors Read = 29


Hmmm so much for my target of 60/40 female to male reading. I realised upon compiling this audit that I hadn’t done one for the end of 2013 either.  So applying the same rules as per anthologies…last year was much better.

graph (1) 

In 2012 I included mixed works in the final graph but as you can see there appears to have been a steady decline from 60% in 2012 to 44% female authors read in 2014. 


genderaudit2012There are a number of factors that probably feed into the results this year.  I read a number of nonfiction books in 2014 and if you exclude poetry, all the non-fiction books were authored by men. I admit aside from the Australian Women Writers Challenge I have not had a deliberate focus on women ie I have not sat down and considered whether or not I should read a book based on gender.

Perhaps that is a requirement if I want to hit that 60/40 target.  The results confirm my suspicions that without a deliberate, structured approach to redressing a reading imbalance I will tend to read more men.


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Jan 4, 2015

eBook Review – Writing Poems by Peter Sansom

writing-poemsPart of my poetry practice last year and this year was reading more poetry and reading more about poetry. Peter Sansom is a noted English poet and teacher of poetry. His Writing Poems was published in the mid nineties, making this book 20 years old and you may well question the relevance of a text two decades out of date. 

Thankfully, much of what Sansom has to say is relevant to an emerging poet today.  It’s relevance and applicability no doubt contributed to Bloodaxe Books decision to create it in ebook from in 2011.

Writing Poems is approachable, conversational in tone; a read enjoyable outside the information and opinion it attempts to pass on.  How relevant it is to the poet seeking to refine their craft will depend on individual experience.  I found the first three chapters full of timely reminders for myself, the later chapters on forms less relevant - the information here is widely available, though Sansom’s observations are entertaining and informative.

Looking back over the table of contents Writing Poems seems to break into two parts.  The first half deals with why we write poetry and how we should approach the writing of poetry, the later part focuses on mechanics. 

What I take away from the work is a focus on discernment, increasing my own experience through reading and writing - building a sense of knowing what might be good about my own work.  Building the capability to recognise whether a poem is being knocked back from publication because it doesn’t fit, or because the poem is lacking.

The information on the technical aspects of both form poetry and free verse are helpful, though I still find Stephen Fry’s Ode Less Travelled the best text I have read for getting iambic pentameter drumming in your ear.

Could a beginner pick this up and enjoy it?  Yes I think so, the tone is approachable and the technical details supported by a variety of modern examples.  I also think there’s a good deal of value for those, like myself who have had some small success and struggle with refining their work and producing something of more lasting value.

I borrowed my copy from the SA Library but you can purchase both the paperback and ebook through Booktopia.

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