Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A Murder Unmentioned by Sulari Gentill

A Murder Unmentioned by Sulari Gentill is the sixth book in the Rowland Sinclair series of crime mysteries set in Australia in the 1930’s.
One of the author’s trademarks throughout this series, and one of its most enjoyable aspects, is the cast of historical characters she skilfully weaves into the narrative.
Kingsford Smith, Nancy Bird, Robert Menzies, along with some notorious Sydney underworld figures, are some of these characters she includes in A Murder Unmentioned, bringing to life the atmosphere of Australian life in the post-Depression years.
Historical characters of the times have been a focal point in each of her books, however, in A Murder Unmentioned the plot takes centre stage, and it’s a good one. Suspense, mystery and plenty of twists kept me glued to its pages and made this my favourite book in the series so far.

Rowland’s father, Henry Sinclair, died when Rowland was 15 years of age and throughout the series references to his authoritarian and domineering personality are made, but he is mostly kept in the background. His portrait hangs on the wall of Woodlands, Rowland’s home that he shares with his three Bohemian friends, Clyde, Milton and Edna, an imposing and disapproving presence glowering over everyone that comes within view. Frequent mention is made of Rowland’s reactions to this painting over the course of the series, and here he remarks to Edna that the reason he hung the picture in his home was because,

“My father always liked to keep an eye on me.”

Edna wondered if she had misjudged Henry Sinclair. Rowland rarely spoke of his father but that need not, of itself, mean that their relationship had been strained. Perhaps it was a silence born of loss. Perhaps, beneath the outward severity, Henry Sinclair was an artistic soul. Rowland’s talent, Edna reasoned, must have come from somewhere. “It’s a shame he didn’t live to see your work, Rowley,” she said quietly.
Rowland frowned, his jaw tightened . “It’s not a shame at all, Ed.”

In previous books we had a hazy view of Henry Sinclair, but now we learn who Henry Sinclair really was and of his harshness and cruelty to his youngest son, Rowland.
When new evidence emerges about Henry Sinclair’s death and a former employee turns up to implicate family members, Rowland and his older brother, Wilbur, have to face the past, their individual fears and their secrets.
As always, Sulari Gentill doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects, but in her delightful way she infuses some well-timed Aussie humour that takes the edge off the heavy stuff without detracting from the seriousness of it. Quite a skill!
I’m looking forward to the next book so much but I’m getting impatient for Edna to get over herself and reciprocate Rowly’s feelings!

I’m linking up with Brona’s Books for the AusReading Challenge 2017 over the month of November. Come and have a look at some of the great Aussie titles on her blog!


Monday, 13 November 2017

Announcing the Winners of the Advent & Christmas Giveaway

The winners of  Look! A Child's Guide to Advent & Christmas  by Laura Alary; illustrated by Ann Boyajian are:

Catherine & Janet

Thanks to all who entered and to Paraclete Press for the giveaway!

'During Advent we look back.
We remember people who waited for God, 
especially in times of trouble.
Every day we put a new ornament on our Jesse Tree.'

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Advent & Christmas Giveaway: Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent & Christmas by Laura Alary; Illustrated by Ann Boyajian

We’ve used various books, devotionals and other resources over the Advent & Christmas season and have some family favourites we like to revisit, but I’m always on the lookout for new additions to our collection. Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent & Christmas is a book published recently (2017) by Paraclete Press and when I saw it was written and illustrated by the same folk who collaborated on Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter, I thought it would be a worthwhile book to add to our collection.

Alary uses a similar format to her Lent & Easter book to introduce children (and adults!) to the symbolism of Advent. She uses passages from the Old & New Testaments to help us to Look Back, Look Around, and Look Ahead.
As we look back, we see that these passages from Scripture remind us that God’s people have waited expectantly through the ages for a Redeemer - from the Hebrews in Egypt, to John the Baptist - and that God comes in ways we don’t expect.

‘Sometimes we see more clearly when we look back.’

The author ties in ideas and traditions for the season of Advent such as decorating a Jesse Tree; asking ourselves ‘Where did I see God today?’ and writing our thoughts in a journal.
As we look around during Advent we try to see the things we often miss and for ways to reach out to others: food donation, Advent cards to cheer others; baking treats and taking them to neighbours.
We look ahead and think about our choices. We say yes to new things such as asking a new family to come for lunch.
We light Advent candles and wait...

Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent & Christmas is a thoughtful book that would be very helpful in both establishing some simple family traditions over Advent, and giving context and meaning to those traditions we may already have in place.
There are 32 pages in this book and the lovely pastel/coloured pencil/gouache illustrations by Ann Boyajian are soft and colourful.
This is a book to go through slowly and savour as a family and would be ideal to spread over the Advent season, especially if you follow a church liturgy.

Laura Alary has a background in the Classics, theology and biblical studies and she draws upon this rich foundation in her writing. She has three children of her own and works with children in her local congregation in Toronto, Canada.
Her blog is here:

Paraclete Press have two free copies of this book to give away to my readers. If you would like a chance to win a copy, leave a comment here or on my FB page.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

AusReading Month: Come Danger, Come Darkness by Ruth Park (1978)

Ruth Park (1917-2010) was a prolific, multiple award-winning, New Zealand born Australian author. The author’s background in rural New Zealand and her later experience of the Great Depression while living in Sydney, gave her much to draw upon in her writing.
Come Danger, Come Darkness is set on Norfolk Island, about 1,000 km off the east coast of Australia. The author lived on the island for a number of years and described its natural features vividly.

Norfolk Island was discovered by Captain Cook in 1774 on his second voyage around the world. In 1788 a settlement was established on the island. This was later abandoned, but a second settlement began in 1825 and continued until 1855, and Norfolk Island came to be described as the 'Hell of the Pacific.'  The story takes place at this time in the island's history.

Thirteen-year old Otter Cannon and his seven year old brother, Paddy Paul, were brought from Ireland to Sydney by their recently widowed mother. The plan had been to join Major Daniel Cannon, her husband’s brother, and his family, in order that her boys would grow up as gentlemen and follow the family tradition of serving as officers in the army.
However, by the time the bereaved family arrived in Sydney, Major Cannon had been appointed Commandant of the prison settlement at Norfolk Island, a nineteen-day sea voyage from New South Wales, and the plan had to change.
The boys’ mother made the agonising decision to send the boys to Norfolk Island to join their Uncle and his family while she remained in Sydney.
The younger boy was excited about going to the island. His ambition was to be an army officer just as his father had been, but Otter’s greatest desire was to become a surgeon. This was frowned upon and his mother hoped that his uncle’s influence would change the boy’s mind.

The steersman skilfully inched the vessel as far as he dared towards the land, and the anchors whomped into the placid sea. Now the sounds of the land, forgotten since Sydney, drifted towards them - human voices, the freak of a windlass, the sweet splash of the cascade. In spite of himself, Otter was captivated by the scene. In full sunrise, the island looked like an illustration from a romance of kings and goblins. The steep plushy hills to the west demanded castles on their heights, of watch towers, or hermits’ ruined cells. But there were no towers except the pines, no ruins but the blocks of black stone piled on the narrow beach like wrecked masonry.

This is an exciting, action-filled story that keeps your attention until the very end. Mystery, danger, a whale hunt, escaped convicts, shipwreck; themes of loyalty, courage and justice - a great choice for a family read aloud with much to discuss and explore.

Not far away he saw a whale’s head, an old bull’s, marbled with age, water gushing out of the    downcurved mouth in torrents. Food, mostly tiny shrimps, was retained behind the black baleen that fringed the animal’s jaw...
Like an island emerging from the sea, the whale surfaced, tearing up the water, cascades foaming down its wet-leather flanks. It was over twenty metres long and nearly three metres higher than the men’s heads. It’s one visible eye, blue with a brown ring, glared in astonishment from that wall of head. Whissssht! The harpooner sent the javelin-like weapon hissing into its flank.

The whale hunt might be a little intense for a sensitive soul; a couple of times the word ‘damned’ is used and once an Irish Catholic convict cried, ”Oh, Holy Mary, they’re on to us!” Otherwise I’d say about age 10 years and up for a child to read on their own.
The book brims with the understanding, empathy and insight that Ruth Park had for her young audience and her writing style is excellent.
163 pages; out of print but available for a reasonable price at AbeBooks. I noticed many of the book sellers were in Austalia or N.Z. so check postage as it may be cheaper if you're ordering from either of those places.

Norfolk Island was self-governed for 36 years but that changed in 2015 when the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 replaced the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly.

Some Norfolk Island information is here & here.

Author information: Ruth Park, A Celebration.

Linking up with Brona's Books for the AusReading Challenge 2017

Thursday, 2 November 2017

It's that time of the year! The AusReading Month

Every November for the past five years, Brona's Books has hosted an Australian reading challenge. This is my fourth year of joining in and it's something I really look forward to. Brona has oodles of Aussie book suggestions if you need some ideas. I also have a page with links to various Aussie books, especially classics, that we've used with our children over the years - see here.
Fiction, non-fiction, essays, children's picture books, Australian classics - take your pick, write your thoughts or a review and link it here.

This year I'm reading:

* My Love Must Wait: the Story of Matthew Flinders by Ernestine Hill. I actually read this a bit earlier but I'm posting it here as it is such a great read and a forgotten Aussie classic, originally published in 1941, that deserves to be read by a new generation of readers.

* A Murder Unmentioned by Sulari Gentill - this is the sixth book in the Rowland Sinclair crime series set in the 1930's.

* Come Danger, Come Darkness by Ruth Park

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Beauty, Wonder, Keeping, Remembering...

A new find on our nature walk:

Cassinia denticulata

Beauty & Wonder...first time Uncle & Aunty

Anatomy & Physiology



Old Man Banksia Tree

Nature Notebook

Outside work 

A Latin lesson 

First rose of the season

Physics experiments

The Wonder Book of Chemistry by Jean Henri Fabre - Experiments with the Breath

The Grammar of Poetry - we've been looking at metaphors. This page has fifteen Biblical metaphors.

A drawing narration from a chapter of The Once & Future King - Morgan le Fay's Castle Chariot which was made of food:

'It rose from its lake of milk in a mystic light of its own - in a greasy, buttery glow...'


Moozle continues with scrapbooking, stamping and cardmaking. She made a photo album for her older sister's baby but I forgot to get a photo - she gets ideas from Jennifer McGuire Ink & Sweet Bio Design. Today she made a whole stack of various cards - birthday, Christmas, Get Well etc and yesterday she made this desk calendar:

Picture Study

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) is the artist we're currently studying. I didn't know anything about him and would have overlooked his work completely but I saw he was on the Ambleside Online artist's rotation and so decided to have a look at his work. A German Romantic artist, his work is atmospheric and moody, and we're enjoying spending some time studying his lovely art. We're doing some of the pictures AO recommends and adding in others we like:

 Wanderer Above the Mist, 1817-1818

 Cross in the Mountains, (detail) 1808

The Monk by the Sea, 1808-1810

On Board a Sailing Ship, 1819

Woman at the Window, 1822

Chalk Cliffs on Rugen, 1818-19

Morning, 1820-21

Linking up at Keeping Company

Friday, 27 October 2017

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey (1949)

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey was written a year after The Franchise Affair and is a mystery without a detective. I've mentioned before that Josephine Tey's books are very original, and Brat Farrar is no exception. Tey's detective, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, doesn't even get a mention in this book, and in fact, it's the criminal who stumbles upon the mystery and is instrumental in solving it.

The five Ashby children are orphaned when their parents are killed in a plane crash eight years before the story commences. Twin boys, Patrick and Simon, their sister Eleanor, and the younger twins, Jane and Ruth, are placed under the guardianship of their Aunt Bee after the tragedy, but about a year later, thirteen year old Patrick disappears. All the evidence points to suicide by drowning.

The story begins as Simon, now twenty-one years of age, is preparing for his 'coming of age,' the time when he will inherit the family fortune. A stranger (introduced to the reader earlier as Brat Farrar) arrives claiming to be Patrick, the firstborn of the twins, and therefore the legal heir.

Tey uses an intriguing approach with this story and it was not at all what I was expecting. The reader knows from the start that Farrar is an impostor. We are privy to his chance meeting with Alec Loding, a young actor who knew the family intimately and who had been astounded by Farrar's uncanny resemblance to Simon; we learn about Farrar's life up until this point, the scheme Loding presents to him, the objections he raises and what causes him to finally acquiesce.

Well, there was no going back now, whether he wanted to or not. That insistent voice that had talked to him in the dark of his room had fought for its head and got it. All he could do was sit in the saddle and hope for the best. But at least it would be a breath-taking ride; a unique, heart-stopping ride. Danger to life and limb he was used to; but far more exciting was this new mental danger, this pitting of wits.
This danger to his immortal soul...But he had never believed in his immortal soul.

Tey reveals more of Farrar's personality as he moves into the Ashby family home, and before long the reader begins to feel an empathy with the young man. But how was this going to work out? Tey wouldn't let an impostor get away with his crime, would she?
Apparently Tey was an accomplished gymnast and I think her physical agility was mirrored in her mental ability (see this article for an example).

Tey's insight and shrewd understanding of the human personality oozes out of her writing and in this case she explores what it means to belong. I love how she handles this.

Bee drank the remains of her coffee. 'Come on, Brat!' she said, putting out her hand and pulling him to his feet...
She led Brat out of the room, laughing at him, and still hand in hand with him. The warm friendliness of her clasp sent a rush of emotion through him that he could not identify. It was nothing like he had so far experienced in life.

Another aspect of Tey's writing that I've enjoyed in all her books so far is her humour. I thought this a delightful little vignette - Brat comes upon a young woman who has been trying to get Simon's attention by feigning an interest in horse riding:

'I suppose you wouldn’t put in a good word for me with Simon? It would be such a pity to waste all the agony I’ve gone through trying to interest him.'
'You don’t suppose I endure hours on those horrible quadrupeds just for fun, do you?...I suppose you’ve ridden horses since you could crawl, so you have no idea what it is like to be bumped about on a great shapeless mountain of a thing that’s far too high from the ground and has nothing to hold on to. It looks so easy when Simon does it. The horse looks so nice and narrow when you’re standing on the ground. You think you could ride it the way you ride a bicycle. It’s only when you get up you find that its back is simply acres across and you can make no impression on it at all. You just sit there and are bumped about, and your legs slip backwards and forwards instead of staying still like Simon’s, and you get large blisters and can’t sit down in the bath for weeks.'

Need I say I highly recommend this book??

Brat Farrar was reprinted in the USA as Come and Kill Me.
Tey's books are free online: see https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tey/josephine/or Gutenberg
An informative website about this very private author.