Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. Honestly, I wish this hadn’t been published. It’s surrounded by controversy but that is not so much the problem. The problem for me is that it demolishes a hero – Atticus Finch. Some accounts say that this book was the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird and that it was discarded. I feel it reads like a draft and is in need of some serious editing. I didn’t like the pace of this book and I thought the dialogue (more like speeches) would often go on and on. Rambling. Written in the mid-1950s, Scout is now called Jean Louise and is 26 years old. She returns to Maycomb from living in New York and discovers her father is now old and crotchety. Worse: he is a racist and a segregationist.

Set 20 years after Mockingbird, I found it very difficult not to read it as a sequel. You could say that Mockingbird is a book of hope (and one that white people feel comfortable with) and Watchman is the reality of race relations in a small Southern town. You could also say that Watchman shows us that our childhood heroes often fall from grace. Did Harper Lee really want it to be published? I doubt it.

Tyringham Park by Rosemary McLoughlin. A sweeping family saga set in Ireland. Centres on the psychological life of Charlotte Blackshaw, whose father is Lord at Tyringham Park, a grand country estate in WWI Ireland. She can never escape Tyringham Park and, frankly, you’d like to throttle Charlotte half the time. It’s a rather depressing story of egos and psychological abuse. Borders on the melodramatic with often wooden characterisation. I really wanted to like this book but I found some of the characters cliched (e.g. evil Nurse Dixon) or some scenes just unbelievable (such as a 10 year old being shoved onto a huge horse and participating in a frenzied hunting event). 

The ending was abrupt and I’m not sure the author managed to capture the social mores and life of a big Edwardian country estate. Meh!

The Umbrian Supper Club by Marlena de Blasi. Got half way through and couldn’t finish. Too wordy; too clunky; too purple prose. A story that seemed to be going nowhere for me. The book revolves around food and a group of people telling their stories during shared dinners but this became tiresome. I did learn something about olive oil (olives from different groves are often mixed up and sent to some central location and passed off as extra virgin). The author’s love of Italy, food and traditional ways is very apparent and did lend the book an element of passion. Certainly, there were mouthwatering descriptions of food. It’s a story about womanhood and the female characters are aged between 52 and 80-something. There are recipes at the back of the book, which is a bonus.

The Heat of Betrayal by Douglas Kennedy. I’m a great fan of Douglas Kennedy and this is suspense at its best. Slowish start but it then picks up dramatically. Robin accompanies her husband, Paul, to Morocco where he vanishes and Robin sets off on a desperate hunt to find him. Kennedy excels at the fast-paced plot and his descriptions of Morocco and the cast of sub-characters is well-crafted. Kindness and brutality are themes in this book. I continue to be amazed at Kennedy’s ability to tell a narrative from the female perspective.

Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale. Set in a place I know very well – the Hydro Majestic hotel in Medlow Bath (Blue Mountains, Australia). In this book, the hotel is called the Palace and the narrative is clearly based on the life and history of Mark Foy, who opened the Hydro Majestic in the early 1900s.

This is a sweeping family saga that really captures the more genteel times of early 20th Century social mores and fashion. It is well-written and well-paced. I enjoyed the very accurate descriptions of the Blue Mountains landscape at is most unforgiving. An interesting aspect to this novel was the internment of Australian-born citizens of German ancestry during WWII and eventual deportation to Germany – this is a dark underbelly of Australian history. Enjoyable historical fiction.

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase. A well-written book about a dysfunctional family. Set in Cornwall in a dusty, old rambling house, the narrative alternates between the 1960s and now. Lorna sets her heart on Black Rabbit Hall as a wedding venue but discovers secrets and betrayals aplenty. There are shades of Daphne Du Maurier in this book and, ultimately, it’s a story of the survival of a family. Enjoyed it – the only aspect I didn’t like was the stereotypical evil step-mother character.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight. Powerhouse debut novel! A woman starts reading a novel and realises it’s about her. The action gets going from this point and doesn’t relent. A tight plot and well-paced. There are shades of Gone Girl with a husband and wife who keep secrets from each other. I was irritated by the purple prose at times though e.g. “Death. Always leaving its predatory stench, like a lusty tomcat long after it has left the scene.”

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman. Gave up on this book after about 80 pages. Couldn’t warm to the character of a 90-year old woman who bathes naked in a Cornish lake and lives in a Gypsy-style caravan in 1947. Slow start and I just couldn’t get into the writing style, although I admit the prose was often beautiful. Seemed to be about an unlikely friendship that formed between Drake, a troubled soldier, and Marvellous. Also a book that combined the literal and the metaphorical. An awful lot of memories are contained in dialogue but it was sometimes hard to tell what was dialogue as there was an annoying lack of speech marks. Maybe I missed the point of this book……

The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jeffries. I really enjoyed Jeffries’ debut novel, The Separation, and reviewed it here. I didn’t found The Tea Planter’s Wife as good and often found it a tad melodramatic and meandering. However, Jeffries excels at capturing the ambiance of colonial times, in this case Ceylon. The novel explores colonial prejudice very well through the eyes of Gwen, who has been thrust into a new life on a tea plantation with an older husband, Lawrence. Jeffries explores the tensions building in colonial Ceylon whilst offering a very tender characterisation of a young woman forced to choose between her duty as a wife and her instinct as a mother. A good read.

The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner. Debut novel by an Australian author and I read an advanced reading copy. Rebecca Wilding is an archaeology professor at Coastal University in Australia, which seems to be a hotbed of backstabbing bitches. Accused of fraud, she heads off on holiday to Greece and Italy with her economist husband, Stephen. He disappears on the Amalfi Coast. Rebecca freaks out and imagines him having an affair with someone back at the University.

I’m not a great lover of this book to be honest. It took way too long to get into the action – it was well over half way through the novel before Stephen vanished. Often meandering with a bizarre scene between Rebecca; a kangaroo and its joey; and Rebecca’s dog.

There was a loooooong build-up to Stephen’s disappearance, then….there’s a rushed ending and we’re left wondering what happened to Stephen (although the title gives it away I guess). Stephen is kind of shoved under the carpet after the novel has spent a huge amount of effort setting him up as some kind of duplicitous scoundrel. Massive let down really. I often found descriptive scenes very purple prose and I spent the first part of the novel wondering what the point is. There were heavy, over-worked descriptions of University disputes and mediation in the first part of the book – nearly turned me off!

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Zeph was often wondering what was the point of the novel!

I regaled you in my last post with a photo of me at around 17 years old. The stand-out in that photo was the weird white jumpsuit I was wearing. I know it’s a jumpsuit because the next photo in the album (below) is of me with my Dad. Probably taken the same day I’d guess and, from the setting, I can tell it was snapped at the bottom of the front steps leading to the house (but facing towards the house). Guessing my mother took it and I’m talking about the house in Sydney where I grew up.

I was always running around with a camera from about the age of 10 or 12 years and so was Dad. He was a keen amateur photographer and, since he’s in the photo below with me, it must have been taken by Mum. She knew zilch about photography and wasn’t interested but she could point and shoot.

I haven’t seen this photo in YEARS and it’s one of the few I have of me with Dad. Happier times in many ways. Whoever said that school days and the young years are the best days of your life got that 100% right. Didn’t have to worry about elderly parents; having a mortgage; finding a job; or dealing with all the lunatics out there!

If I had my way, I’d get in a time capsule and return to when I was about 8 years of age. Happy, happy times. Doesn’t mean to say I’m not happy now but there is something carefree about your childhood and teenage years that can never be recaptured. But the photo below does capture so much for me; I can remember it like it was yesterday!!

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I was going through some old photo albums. Might have been better if I hadn’t because I found this photo of me when I was 17 or 18 years old. So that was about 100 years ago LOL.

I’ve never been one for smiling in photos. HATE my photo taken and will do anything to avoid it. Hence, the grumpy look on my chops. I went through a phase of highlighting my hair because I wanted blonde hair. Clearly, that’s what’s going on in this photo.

I cannot account for the bad fashion sense though. The fashion police didn’t exist way back then :-) I am pretty sure that’s a white jumpsuit I’m wearing, along with a red plastic choker thingo and bangles. Funny, I never wear necklaces now; haven’t for years. So looking back on this photo, it’s interesting to see how your personal taste can change over the years.

I think I am leaning on the family Datsun, which was orange with a black roof. I was probably off to pick up my grandparents and drive them back to our house for lunch. They shifted from Avalon to Hornsby when my grandmother had a stroke at 84 or 85 years old and they used to have lunch with us on Sundays at our family home in Pymble. So that was about a 25 min drive up to Hornsby and then back.

When I passed by driver’s licence, Dad used to let me drive to my grandparent’s place to get them. Not sure if my grandparents lived in fear of my driving – they never said a word – but I do remember them sitting in the car very quietly LOL.

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Regular readers know that, every year, I look forward to the cherry blossom in our front yard bursting into Spring bloom. This happens around October, although stirrings of life can happen in September – all depends on the warmth of the weather.

During Winter, it’s usually looking pretty sad with all its bare branches. The other day though, after the snow, I thought it looked rather magical and camera-worthy!

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We heard earlier this week that some sort of Polar blast was going to hit us. It was only two weeks ago that the last Polar freeze swooped on through. Local weather forecasts predicted snow to sea level. We are at around 250 metres (or 823ft) and so we were pretty sure we’d get the white stuff again.

We’re always prepared for being snowed in. We have large bottles of water and tinned food in the pantry and we needed to resort to that two weeks ago because there was a power outage for 24 hours.

Zeph and Zsa Zsa are more confident in the snow these days. Zsa Zsa seems to love running and leaping in the snow. Zeph isn’t so sure: sometimes he runs through it, other times he just sits. No idea why.

This polar blast is only supposed to hang around for a few days. Sure hoping so!

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Zeph decides it’s best to run and keep warm.

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For some odd reason, Zeph often sits in the snow.

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Zsa Zsa frolics!

I often see Zeph just sitting. Anywhere. Any time. He sits in the house. He sits staring at the fire. He sits staring at his food. He sits staring straight ahead.

Wonder what he is thinking? Or is he doing some dog meditation?!

I found him the other day near the stables. Just sitting, staring, staring, staring. Maybe it’s a male Pointer thing.

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How’s this for a beautiful horse? This is Miss Rosie, my gorgeous Shire TBx (or Shire Thoroughbred cross). All saddled up and ready to ride.

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