Tag Archives: Christine McGuigan

East Coast Swaggie by Ted Day

East Coast Swaggie

By Ted Day

When Jack Kelly leaves behind his prestige Sydney home and idyllic harbourside views to retrace the path his grandfather followed to Mildura as a swaggie during the Great Depression, he says goodbye to his comfortable lifestyle, respected status in the business world,  and hardest of all his loving wife Kate. If he can complete the journey in the allotted time and adhere to the strict rules set down by his sponsor, Donny, Jack stands to raise half a million dollars for a very worthy cause.

Jack initially resists the pressure of Donny’s crazy challenge to walk in his grandfather’s footsteps. But with Kate’s blessing and the knowledge that the funds raised will provide genuine help through the work of the mission sponsored, he rolls his swag and heads South on a ten month odyssey.

With the aid of his grandfather’s diary, Jack plots a replica route to revisit the towns where his grandfather sought work to send money back home to his struggling family. Jack must recreate the experience by hitching rides, carrying his swag, camping out and even wearing a swaggie ‘uniform’ so that he faithfully travels in his grandfather’s footsteps. Author Ted Day has meticulously researched the settings and route to provide authenticity to this traveller’s tale and brings the heartbreaking reality of the Depression era into sharp focus.

East Coast Swaggie is much more than a cracking yarn about the perils and pleasures of a rich man reimagining the hardships of the many thousands of Australian men who took to the road during the Great Depression. It is a Quest story, with Jack as the gallant knight who travels far from home to seek an elusive goal, accompanied only by a faithful companion- in Jack’s case a stray dog, Bluey. Along the journey he more often than not leaves a situation or town better than he finds it: he repairs and renews, rights wrongs, protects the downtrodden, takes the side of the underdog in a fight and delivers rough justice to toughs and wannabe crims. Jack faces many personal dangers along the way but through his wit, strength, skills and occasional backup from supporters he seems set to succeed in every challenge- or will he?

While Jack relies on both his brains and his fists to settle more than a few problems concerning corruption or violence, his journey is enriched by encounters with open and honest folk who restore his belief in the innate goodness of ordinary people. He has many opportunities along the road to use his raw talent without relying on his elite business identity and discovers much about himself, and his grandfather. His is an external and internal journey of discovery about his place in the world and his fellow travellers in life.

From a comfortable armchair, the reader can join Jack as he travels highways and byways, sleeping rough and doing it tough to connect with the past and face the challenges of a modern day swaggie. Carefully researched and brim full of engaging characters, East Coast Swaggie is a traveller’s tale well told and sure to entertain readers ready for a journey with a difference.

Chris McGuigan

Kensington Review

https://kensingtonbookreview.wordpress.com/

 

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Across Space and Time by Mala Naidoo

Across Time and Space

By Mala Naidoo

Be careful what you wish for…….

Meryl inhabits the world of literature, and harbours a burning desire to discover if her dormant talent can be unleashed to create literature instead of publishing the work of others. Her partner Michael is a passionate human rights lawyer, determined to eliminate injustice and alleviate suffering using the slow moving but effective machinery of law. Drifting through life together for 14 years, the creative, impulsive extrovert and the cautious, cool-headed legal-eagle have somehow not yet found the right time to discuss the important topic of commitment.

Meryl decides to change the dynamics in her life and heads to London for a three month writing sojourn. She is welcomed by her elderly Uncle Ben, who shares her love of literature and understands her need to search for her writing muse. Although distressed at her determination to initiate this ‘break’, Michael accepts Meryl’s decision to quest for her own holy grail. He concedes that with a complex and lengthy human rights case looming he will be buried in his own work for the coming months. By either skyping or telephoning they will speak to each other almost every day anyway, so what could go wrong?

At opposite ends of the globe, Meryl and Michael find unexpected opportunities to examine what is important to them and ultimately test the strength of their relationship. Each has to make a decision which will determine the direction this crossroads will take them- will it be together or alone?

Meryl taps into what seems on the surface to be a well of carefree creativity in Florence while back home Michael discovers how an indomitable spirit can triumph over adversity. Add in a mysterious Russian, a captivating and beautiful client, an isolated country villa and loss of phone contact and the pace picks up to breakneck speed.

Mala Naidoo has spun a web of intrigue where the past entangles the present and her characters face a dangerous and uncertain future. It’s easy to be swept away by this tale of romance, adventure and mystery and a sequel is eagerly awaited!

Reviewed by Chris McGuigan, January 2017

Kensington Review

 

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Naidoo

Eliyahu’s Mistress by Roger Mendelson

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Tantalising from the opening pages, Mendelson invites the reader to step into the worlds of Steven, Frances and Eliyahu on a glorious summer’s day in 2014 and journey with them through intertwined seasons of life and love.

On one level this is the story of two worlds colliding, starting with an ordinary encounter in the world of business. Steven is a business and marketing consultant in possession of a keen sense of observation and a finely tuned ability to listen. He is a people person, easy to get to know and people warm to him readily. He also deals in details and his acute business brain trusts the evidence of his senses, what he can see, touch and hear. Steven lives a comfortable life in the city, a family man grateful for the efforts of past generations to forge a better life in Australia for his Jewish community.

Frances is a retail director of a charity organisation run by the Catholic Church and the two meet when a mutual acquaintance proposes Steven’s pro bono input on Frances’ project. Away from work Frances loves to retreat to the tranquility of her country home on the city’s edge which she shares now only with Elijah, her faithful dog. She is content in her own company and is happy to explore her nascent spirituality in the solitude of nature rather than leave her oasis to socialise. Discovering by chance that she is called ‘the Duchess’ by workers at the coal face because of her very proper manner and rather haughty demeanour, Steven suspects that while she presents as a Valkyrie on the outside a slinky, soft pussy cat may be hidden inside. Later, he will discover his expertise in awakening the Empress within who is yearning for release.

Their relationship shifts a gear while working beyond Melbourne on the project, after each reveals a little more about themselves to the other than they had intended.

Phone conversations regarding the project become regular, more relaxed and weekly events during which each gets to know the other better through wide ranging and lengthy conversations. Previously conversation has been used by Frances as a transactional tool, a means to an end, but with Steven she discovers that everything about her is of interest to him. He listens to her, an easy familiarity building between them as they continue to make progress on the project. Frances enjoys the newfound sense of freedom which conversations with Steven unleash in her. Quiescent no more, she begins to blossom, her sense of self enlivened after a long period of dormancy.

Similarly, Frances explores a side of Steven that he had not been fully aware of and which no one else had seemingly been interested in. His life to this point has been lived very much to a formula and within clearly defined rules and boundaries. Conversations and discussions with Frances intrigue and stimulate him. She unearths his spiritual side which has long lain fallow within and through her gentle ministrations Steven awakens to learn more about his deeper self.

While Frances and Steven’s initial business relationship moves hesitantly towards a lovers’ easy intimacy, their passion when eventually unleashed ignites explosively. A subtle tilt in the orbits of these polar-opposites may result in harmony of the spheres but a very real danger exists that they will instead crash and burn, leaving devastation in their wake. The course of their relationship is foreshadowed through conversation and premonition, while visual wordplay and heightened anticipation combine to raise the heart rate of the reader.

Mendelson skillfully portrays their private world, stripping them back to expose vulnerabilities and bare their souls.  Frances and Steven share the realisation that we are who we are because of those who went before us, buffeted by the impact of trauma as well as buoyed by joy. The spectres of World War 2 and the Holocaust hang over their pasts, and still cast a long shadow over the lives of the those who have been able to step into the light to ride a wave of optimism and freedom in the Lucky Country.

Autumn recurs as the turning point of sections within the book, a time for stripping bare to reveal the resilient core able to endure the harsh elements of nature. The seasons of life and love rewind and fast forward, the pages of history turn backwards and forwards, time takes its course in the human and the natural world.

Steven and Frances decide to step outside the constraints of courtship and engage in a metaphorical dance drawing inexorably towards a fiery conclusion.  The shades which colour their developing relationship are not monochrome but multihued and dazzling in their vitality, yet nuanced by trust and honesty.

The title invites the reader to speculate about who Eliyahu is, why he has a mistress and who she is. On the surface the answer is that her handsome hound, a Cavalier King Charles, is besotted by Frances. Named by her after Mendelssohn’s haunting piece of music Elijah, his name changes after Frances learns more about this biblical figure from Steven and the role his namesake Eliyahu plays in the Passover Seder ritual.

Echoes of the importance of changing a name to signify a change in destiny are buried deep with the religious DNA of both Jews and Christians. In Genesis 17, Abram becomes Abraham and his wife Sarai becomes Sarah, both are destined for life changing events on a grand scale. The biblical Elijah raised the dead, restoring life after all hope was gone – is there to be a renewal of life through the presence of another Elijah in Frances’ previously dormant existence?

Mendelssohn’s Elijah is dramatic and messianic, heralding hope and a beautiful world ahead. In concert with his namesake, Mendelson harmonises the point and counterpoint of Frances and Steven’s individual and shared journeys into a life-affirming story about love, loss and gaining the ultimate prize.

Reviewed March 2017

Chris McGuigan

https://kensingtonbookreview.wordpress.com/

http://kensingtonreview.net

kensingtonreview2017@gmail.com

The Extraordinary Adventure of Clancy MacTaggart by Brett Hallam

clancy-mctaggartGoing to work with mum or dad when you are a preteen is usually restricted to those occasions when school is closed or supervision is not available and staying home alone is not an option. But when Clancy’s dad Mac unexpectedly suggests that he join him at work instead of going to school Clancy can hardly believe his luck. Little does he suspect when he climbs into the family car beside his dad that this red desert road in South Australia will take Clancy towards the ride of his life!

Mac wants Clancy to witness history in the making, however the chain of unforeseen events which will ricochet into Woomera are about to unravel Mac’s carefully ordered world on a cosmic scale. Clancy is thrust into the hot seat to valiantly attempt to save the day, and perhaps humanity. But can he save himself? Clancy discovers that he is cool beyond his years, surprisingly calm in the face of danger, and accepts challenges beyond anything he has ever experienced in the school playground.

Readers will happily suspend disbelief to join Clancy on a Boys’ Own adventure that is sure to excite the imagination of any teen/young reading enthusiast. The twists and turns of the fast paced plot take the reader along on a rollicking adventure, sharing the highs and lows of this extraordinary journey with likeable characters and intriguing scenarios.

In the vein of John Marsden and Matthew Riley, Hallam has conjured a captivating tale about an excellent adventure which grips the imagination and catapults the reader into Clancy’s extraordinary adventure.

Reviewed by Christine McGuigan May 2016

Kensington Review

Available from Sid Harta Publishers http://sidharta.com/title/The_Extraordinary_Adventure_of_Clancy_McTaggart

All that I am by Anna Funder

Books-All-that-I-am“All we are not stares back at all that we are”.

This is the lament of the acclaimed English poet W.A.Auden, making a cameo appearance in the 2012 Miles Franklin Award winner, “All that I Am” by Anna Funder. Reaching beyond the era of her enthusiastically received first publication “Stasiland”, Funder brings into sharp focus elusive stories of courage shown by those who attempted to resist the relentless pursuit of power by Hitler and his supporters.

Anna Funder skilfully recreates the world of writers and political activists in Germany between the wars, incongruously juxtaposed with Bondi Junction in the present. “All that I Am”, cannot be placed firmly in a single genre. This absorbing novel is part thriller, part romance, and part historical recreation. Real people have inspired the author to open the blinds in a dim corner of the 20th century which is worthy of illumination and remembrance.

Central to the novel are five intertwined figures presented through the alternating narratives of playwright Ernst Toller in New York in 1939, and photographer Ruth Becker in Bondi Junction almost 70 years later. Both narrators ultimately face the naked truth behind bravery and betrayal, love and loss, courage and confusion in the face of an overwhelming power which shatters their security. “All that I Am” reminds us that we all have the capacity for self deception; for not seeing what stares back at us in the mirror, for ignoring the inconvenient truths around us. Chilling parallels exist between Toller’s vicarious ‘voyage of the damned’, when refugees from Nazi Germany aboard the SS St Louis in 1939 were turned back from ports in Cuba, America and Canada, and the turbulent voyages that continue to feature in the news today.

The characters’ performances in the novel are not choreographed by Toller and Ruth – or Funder. These individuals are not fictional creations but authentic historical figures and their actions as presented may be verified with a few mouse clicks. Auden, Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Thomas Mann are names readily recognised by the reader, and while others may be unfamiliar, Funder breathes life back into their existence as the plot unfolds towards its finale – set not in Auschwitz but in the safe haven of bustling Bondi Junction. The source of much of the novel’s content is the real Ruth, with the characters enlivened and conversations reconstructed through Funder’s intelligent instinct, mastery of language and skill in presenting the theatre of life.

The judges of the Miles Franklin award have recognised the timeless value of this novel, a Pandora’s box presenting the woes of the world as well as hope emerging from a forgotten archive to be dusted off and re-examined in the blinding sunshine of Bondi Beach. It is a reminder of “all that we are individually, collectively and globally…..”

Reviewed by Christine McGuigan

Kensington Review

The Rarest Thing by Deborah O’Brien

Sometimes beauties rich and rare are out of reach, sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. To see them all you need to do is focus…..

the-rarest-thing-by-deborah-obrienPalaeontology in 2016 conjures up images of Walking with Dinosaurs, Jurassic World and David Attenborough but in this 1966 setting the term has not been buffed by Hollywood to be readily recognised. Dr Katharine Wynter – Scaredy Kat to her two younger sisters – has found an academic niche in which to retreat for the past eight years, safe in the realm of extinct creatures. She prefers her solitary existence to the social whirl of her sisters and shrinks away from males, except perhaps her heroes on the silver screen.

Her father once fossicked for fossils, sparking Katharine’s childhood interest in unlocking the secrets of the past and launching her academic career in palaeontology. Katharine is self-effacing at home and at work, filled with doubt about her worth and forced into subjugation at the university. Her ‘ivory tower’ is ruled by the old boys’ club of wealth, privilege and patriarchy. She is a rarity, and well aware of the precarious position of women who secure academic roles. Her outstanding research on the long extinct snaggle-tooth possum, Burramys, has resulted in employment but not brought the sense of security she craves.

Katharine has a lively imagination, with her interior world much more glamorous than her fibro home in Belmore would suggest. She sometimes thinks of herself as Ella Cinders, helpless and dirty at the mercy of her stepmother, waiting for Prince Charming to arrive.

Life in the turbulent times of the Vietnam War and ‘All the Way with LBJ’ is passing her by. Around her, university students are responding to calls for a better world and ignite activism to achieve it. On campus and at home Katharine quells sparks of unrest falling all around her although the times they are indeed ‘a-changing’. She is determined to remain inconspicuous, safe below the radar – until a photograph arrives of a tiny possum found inside the Melbourne University ski lodge at Mount Hotham. Burramys is extant, not extinct, and Katharine is ecstatic!

As Katharine embarks on a scientific quest to investigate the unlikely existence of an ‘extinct’ possum in the rugged High Country of Victoria, she also begins her own journey of self-discovery. The hidden beauty of the Burramys is revealed through a combination of patience and risk taking and parallels the emergence of Katharine from her chrysalis.

Scott King is the professional wildlife photographer who captures images of the rescued Burramys and is in turn captivated by the quest to locate the tiny possum in the wild. From their first meeting Katharine regards him as too good to be true but agrees to join him on a scientific expedition to Mount Hotham. Scott has movie-star good looks and charm (Chris Hemsworth is perfect for this role on the big screen!), affects no airs or graces, and appears to be oblivious to the effect he has on girls. Katharine anticipates that she will be disappointed in the real Scott King but is unprepared for the aftermath of his return to the High Country town of his childhood.

Katharine’s imagination suggests that Scott’s glossy exterior harbours dark secrets within. Does he hide behind the camera lens and travel the world to outpace demons, or is he the genuine knight in shining armour Katharine never thought would enter her life? She fancifully compares their journey to that of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn aboard the African Queen, but the reality is far from a Hollywood formula. Locating the elusive Burramys in the wild begins instead to take on aspects of a grail quest, with the ski lodge standing in for the Chapel Perilous and Scott as Percival. Katharine must put aside her pre-conceived ideas about Scott and focus on combining their complementary skills if the unlikely duo are to achieve their goal.

Inspired by an historical event, O’Brien has woven a fictional tale around the rediscovery of the Burramys which breathes life into what might have been another scientific curiosity. The story unfolds in Sydney, Melbourne, and the High Country of Victoria where each setting provides a sense of place, power or purpose for the characters of the novel.

The possum is the focus of the story, yet appears so rarely, acting as a poignant reminder of the fragility of life. In pursuit of the possum Katharine faces challenges she would rather retreat from, but begins to see herself through a different lens. Scott’s journey towards trust reveals layers of complexity which he has worked hard to conceal. The lyric beauty and devastating power of the High Country permeates the narrative and functions as an additional character bearing an abundance of nature’s gifts. Wild, wonderful, evocative and full of surprises the landscape is presented by O’Brien through a painter’s perceptive eye and photographer’s skilful use of light and focus.

O’Brien’s meticulous attention to detail through painstaking research adds to the authenticity and enjoyment of the experience of stepping back into the 1960s. Social commentary concerning the changes within Australian society in the decades after the Second World War is cleverly woven into the fabric of the narrative. Glimpses of the fashions, transport, politics and ephemera of the time are nostalgic yet a reminder of constant change amid constancy. Analogue television and AM radio shows, music on vinyls, hair curlers and Carnaby Street–style white boots propel the reader into a vibrant world on the edge of the Age of Aquarius.

The continuity of traditions privileging the establishment and patriarchy, the resultant imbalance of power and structural inequities of Australia in the 1960s provide the backdrop to Katharine’s world. Her academic exploitation is a powerful example of women being viewed at the time as lesser citizens, students, employees and researchers where an expectation of underachievement compared to males prevails. Katharine’s character is locked into this world. She lacks agency and exudes a sense of loss, of a future already laid down stratum by stratum. Until the Burramys appears on centre stage!

Skilful use of flashback casts light into the shadowy corners of Katharine’s past, gradually assembling the scattered shards of memory into a quarry which she can look squarely in the eye and face on equal terms. Through this technique Katharine’s past is gradually revealed and the reader challenged to solve the puzzle until all the pieces fall into place. Or do they?

The title of the book tantalises the reader – what is the rarest thing? The Burramys who acts as the catalyst for the story is indeed a rare creature, and may act as a different metaphor for each reader. O’Brien includes an aphorism by Oscar Wilde in the opening pages of the book:

‘To live is the rarest thing in the world.

Most people exist, that is all.’

The Rarest Thing intrigues, entertains and invites the reader to ponder where their own life journey may take them. Dive into this latest book from internationally acclaimed author Deborah O’Brien and join Dr Katharine Wynter and Scott King as they quest for hidden beauties, rich and rare.                                                               

Reviewed by Chris McGuigan October 2016

Kensington Review

‘The Rarest Thing’ (signed gift edition paperback or ebook) available direct from Lomandra Press: http://www.lomandrapress.com.au/ from 1 November 2016.

Visit Deborah O’Brien’s  website www.deborahobrien.com.au

 

Welcome to Kensington Review!

We’re excited to share our reviews with you and can’t wait to let you know what we’ve been reading!

the-rarest-thing-by-deborah-obrien

It’s a privilege to start the Blog Tour of ‘The Rarest Thing’ by Deborah O’Brien and we hope you enjoy reading this Victorian High Country love story as much as we did. We suggest you go straight to our review and then order your signed gift edition or ebook from  Lomandra Press www.lomandrapress.com.au (available 1 November 2016)

Let us know how we’re going with our reviews- we look forward to receiving your comments.

Happy Reading!

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You might also like to reacquaint yourself with Deborah’s heartwarming story ‘The Trivia Man’ by reading the review in Favourites