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Sunday, January 15, 2023

'Spare' by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex audiobook (read by the author) ghost-writer, J.R. Moehringer



From the BLURB:

It was one of the most searing images of the twentieth century: two young boys, two princes, walking behind their mother's coffin as the world watched in sorrow - and horror. As Diana, Princess of Wales, was laid to rest, billions wondered what the princes must be thinking and feeling - and how their lives would play out from that point on.

For Harry, this is that story at last.

With its raw, unflinching honesty, Spare is a landmark publication full of insight, revelation, self-examination, and hard-won wisdom about the eternal power of love over grief.

Prince Harry wishes to support British charities with donations from his proceeds from Spare. The Duke of Sussex has donated $1,500,000 to Sentebale, an organisation he founded with Prince Seeiso in their mothers' legacies, which supports vulnerable children and young people in Lesotho and Botswana affected by HIV/AIDS. Prince Harry will also donate to the non-profit organisation WellChild in the amount of £300,000. WellChild, which he has been Royal patron of for fifteen years, makes it possible for children and young people with complex health needs to be cared for at home instead of hospital, wherever possible.

‘Spare’ is indeed, the sensational memoir by Prince Harry – ghost-written by Pulitzer-prize winning author and journalist, J.R. Moehringer – and which is currently the fastest-selling nonfiction book of all time (according to Guinness World Records) having sold 1.43 million copies on its first day, unseating Barack Obama’s memoir record.

With my agent hat on too; Harry's non-fiction book is also giving a good news boost to the most beleaguered bookish format of the pandemic, which desperately needed it (from 2022 roundupPublishers Weekly; "...with the largest drop coming in the industry’s biggest category, adult nonfiction, where print sales fell 10.3%.") A rising tide floats all boats, and the same way the Obama's memoirs boosted non-fiction sales the world over, so too is Harry's when the form has been floundering. Bravo, and many thanks!

I listened to the audiobook (which was a phenomenal experience in itself, highly recommend - and not just because at AUD$23 the iTunes audiobook is way cheaper than the RRP hardback at indie bookstores, a AUD$60 whopper!)

What immediately struck me about ‘Spare’ is how well-written it is. Once the Spanish translation dropped a week ahead of embargoed release, and the press (largely driven by the British media pack) started picking it apart with their teeth, they very much implied that it was a salacious piece of ‘Mommie Dearest,’-esque tat. But it’s not that. It’s ghost-written by J.R. Moehringer who is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, and it shows in evocative and haunting writing (early on there are descriptions of a childhood at Balmoral, like it’s a Highland Disneyland – full of beloved ghosts and legends – and from those evocative pages you just know you’re in very good storytelling hands.)

Moehringer also gifts ‘Spare’ with an important journalistic structure; that there is an argument and thematic through-line to the entire thing … which is; the breakdown of the 4th estate for their embedded relationship with the royal family, and the toxicity of the press – particularly the British tabloid press.

For all that people have been making fun of frozen todgers and Freudian Elizabeth Arden that’s also in the pages, it is actually a book with a lot of subtle layers and connections made throughout, and I was genuinely impressed at the literary prowess and strong argument at the heart of ‘Spare.’ And I’m also not surprised that the same press pushing the salaciousness are doing so to avoid Harry’s true grievance and message which is; a large corner of the British press, owned by Rupert Murdoch (who Harry takes repeated and named aim at), is not fit for purpose. He’s taking the angle of how this has almost become like an abusive relationship the royals have wandered into and now can’t get out of (on his father Charles’s relationship to the press; “He hated their hate, but oh - how he loved their love!”) but I read it and more see the implication that if a large cohort of the media are in bed with the royals, and can be bribed with leaks and tattle-tale from their comms teams, to swap out weighted stories for clickbait … then who is *actually* holding one of the most powerful families and institutions to account, if it’s not the 4th estate – who are seemingly bought and paid for, by the royal family?

I’m sure that’s not the actual message Harry intended people to take away – but it’s there for the taking, certainly. And this is probably closer to the real reasons the royals, their ‘true believer’ staff, and the cottage-industry of media who make money off their backs - are really disgruntled with Harry – because if you start tugging on one thread of his story, the whole institution starts to unravel with his revelations.

This happens a few times throughout, actually – Harry gets pretty close to a deeper understanding, but keeps it at the personal and somewhat surface-level and refrains from taking it out-wide into the ramifications for the monarchy.

In fact; Harry’s ongoing support for monarchy is a small mark against the book overall, in my opinion – but I understand, the same way that 13-year-old Harry recounts travelling to Africa with his father and hearing an oral historian recount the Zulu War, which Harry listens to intently and only reveres the ‘red coats’ mentioned in the battle … I get it; he’s had more conditioning and indoctrination than most, and it’ll take longer and a lot more to break those bonds that have been ingrained and sold for him as a birthright and history to be proud of. I can appreciate that he’s signalling he needs to put more work in (and he admits as much; he looks back on that memory of hearing about the Zulu war, and can now see the glitch in his thinking).

The other mark against the book for me was the war chapters (yes I'm anti-war, but I know why Harry included them for his ongoing work with veterans and mental health - which makes a very good case for inclusion in the book) ... no, it's more because I was bored listening to how a helicopter works. Total snooze-fest!

Grief is the other big theme of this book – and love. Those two, always together and entwined. Harry really sadly speaks of being in his early 20s and certain he’ll be a “young dad” – marry young and start a family. It’s pretty clear that his own family is not close and overly-affectionate and he wants to start that for himself, have that and build it. But he’s constantly thwarted – girlfriends are scared off by the media and he’s lonely. That also rings very, hurtfully, true. He’s a lonely kid who grows up to be a lonely young man, wayward and a little lost most of the time. Especially after the media also help in cutting-short his army career (leaks mean his position in Iraq and Afghanistan are signalled to the enemy - an Australian woman's magazine is actually the first to break an embargo and print his whereabouts - putting him and many around him in danger. FFS, it happens so often throughout - he's utterly warranted in hating them, the bogeymen of his childhood grown to being his adult tormentors).

It's why the Meghan chapters feel like a turning-point in so many ways - because what is absolutely undoubted is how much he loves her. He's absolutely head-over-heels, and frankly I get it. She's *gorgeous* and charming, intelligent and thoughtful ... a real "ohhhhhh," moment comes early in their relationship, when Harry recounts a small argument they had, inconsequential - but he responds with too much rage and tone that the situation does not call for. Meghan calmly slips away, Harry goes to find her once he's also more centred and she says - in no uncertain terms - that she won't be spoken to that way, ever, and this will not be how they go about arguing (with rage). Harry sheepishly apologises, and Meghan asks him if there's a reason he thinks that's the way adults settle arguments (this is also when she gently asks him if he's ever had therapy - to which Harry says he tried, but it didn't work. Meghan probably saves his life when she says, "try again.")

I see a lot of people mocking his constant references to “mummy,” and the many times he looks for spiritual connections and signs from her (at one point even speaking to a spirit-medium, which he’s pretty sure is bunk, but is also desperate enough for connection to at least give it a go.)

I’m very happy for the people who’ve never lost a loved one, making fun of all this stuff in the memoir and trying to push Freudian connections. Congratulations to them. I just read it as a deep well of grief that keeps painfully contracting and expanding. Listening to this on audiobook, it was a wholly wrenching and wonderful listening experience – not least because deep missing and love for Diana rings through his voice, as does his grief. Harry is at once self-deprecating and serious when he details what he believes to be signs from Diana, and it’s hard to fault him on this when - for instance - Tyler Perry even surprisingly says the reason he offered to help Harry and Meghan settle in America, is Diana (his late mum was a fan) or Archie fixating on an old-looking painting at Perry’s house, which upon closer-inspection has a plaque stating that it is a depiction of goddess Diana – on the hunt. I do get it, the spiritual medium stuff *is* odd, but it’s also … grief. I’ve patiently listened to family who’ve detailed signs they’ve received from our loved ones who passed, and I believe that they believe it because they need to. That’s all.

The big thing that surprised me in this book was, I came away with a better opinion of William and Kate Middleton (I KNOW! Who'd have thunk?) For all that the press have glommed onto they physical altercations and intimidation between the Heir and the Spare, I think Harry actually highlights a few realities of royal life I was unaware of and works to show the ways that his whole family - but maybe his older brother especially - are trapped by this cycle that Charles and Camilla in particular, welcomed into the royal roster (that is; the hiring of ex-Government and media spin-doctors in comms teams, a precedent of leaking against each other and an unhealthy obsession with tracking their popularity as catalogued by the media ...) The fact that the only other person around who can understand William's unique and difficult position is his own father, who is obsessed with one-upping his son as the next in line to the throne. I genuinely got the impression that William is stuck, and lashing out because of it - and has little to no interest in the Crown whatsoever, but is playing the part he's been assigned.

What's missing from 'Spare' seems to be a surprising amount. Namely to do with the Queen and Prince Philip who are both really missing from its pages ... I'd suggest that might have been a decision after both their deaths, and in respect to the fact that they couldn't respond to any of Harry's claims. There's a part of me - personally - that wonders if a big thread that was cut out, is whether or not the Queen in her later-years was not as "with it" when it came to these machinations with the press and day-to-day decisions of her office? I'd say that's likely, and I would not be surprised if royal employees (like the Bee, Wasp and Fly who Harry aliases from her comms teams) and maybe under permission of Charles & Co. over-stepped, lied, and did as they thought best, knowing the Queen wasn't as hands-on as she'd previously been. “Is he in the room with you, granny?” Harry asks his grandmother at one point, after he's been thwarted in seeing her by one of her courtiers (after she'd encouraged him only the day before, to come and see her since she had the whole day free.)

Mmmmm. I think it’s possible that what was left out of ‘Spare’ could have been questions about the Queen’s capacities in her final years, and maybe how some people in her circle took advantage of her diminished health …

'Spare' has been made out to be a bit of a circus. It's not that. It's Harry, I think, providing his own historic record and ensuring that one primary product of the press (stories about him, and his wife) are depleted by him, and him alone (yes, for profit - which is another revenge against those who've been profiting off their story and tragedy for years.)

He's taking all the air out of his own tale, so that it is devalued for those people who've plagued him - and his family - their whole lives. In doing so he's also taking a considerable amount of shine off the Crown jewels, for sure. Showing that at the end of the day, they're just people - as dysfunctional as most others.

Once this historic family of Harry's held onto their divine right by blood and battle - now the battlefield has changed to the press and social media, but there's still a war being raged and if nothing else, Harry is taking himself and his family off the chess-board once and for all. A spare pawn, no more.

4.5/5


Monday, January 9, 2023

'Olympus, Texas' by Stacey Swann

 


From the BLURB: 

A bighearted debut with technicolor characters, plenty of Texas swagger, and a powder keg of a plot in which marriages struggle, rivalries flare, and secrets explode, all with a clever wink toward classical mythology. 

When March Briscoe returns to East Texas two years after he was caught having an affair with his brother's wife, the Briscoe family becomes once again the talk of the small town of Olympus. His mother, June, hardly welcomes him back with open arms. Her husband's own past affairs have made her tired of being the long-suffering spouse. Is it, perhaps, time for a change? Within days of March's arrival, someone is dead, marriages are upended, and even the strongest of alliances are shattered. In the end, the ties that hold them together might be exactly what drag them all down.


'Olympus, Texas' by Stacey Swann came out in 2021, and I’ve had the book (kindly sent to me by Hachette Australia at the time) on my TBR ever since.

It’s the second week of 2023 and I think I’ve already had one of my best reading experiences, and a new fave book.

The way I’d describe it is … if ‘One Tree Hill’ had been developed by HBO. This would be it. ‘Olympus, Texas’ is basically southern gothic, Greek myth, soap-opera. If you liked ‘Early Morning Riser’ by Katherine Heiny, you’ll dig this. And yes there's obviously Greek Mythology inspo throughout, but look me in the eye and tell me Mount Olympus wasn't just the first Coronation Street, Dallas, or Summer Bay ...

It’s all about the Briscoe family of Olympus whose patriarch Peter (the Zeus-esque character) had three children out of wedlock, on top of the three he had in his marriage to matriarch, June (or, Hera). And all the kids were raised in small town Olympus; one with the secret of their paternity, while twins of Peter’s mistress were welcomed into the Briscoe family fold.

When we meet this twisty family - the stars of small-town gossip - it’s spanning a couple of tumultuous weeks in their lives, kicked off when Peter and June’s middle son March returns home after two years of exile, for sleeping with his brother’s wife.

Everything is a powder-keg ready to explode as this family and the people who orbit them keep repeating generational traumas and mistakes. It’s delicious. I gasped, I laughed, I cried.

Of course people are going to come to this and read more of the Greek Myth overtones - Peter's mistress was Lee who had twins called Artie and Arlo that were permitted to be half-siblings to the "official" Briscoe children; which is the Leto being seduced by Zeus and giving birth to Apollo and Artemis thread. March - the troubled brother who slept with his sister-in-law - is Hades, cast out of the family for his indiscretions and temper, returned when the story begins (with two big dogs in tow, veritable Cerberus). That's totally cool if you want to connect-the-dots with all the wonderful Greek Myth keynotes, but I got a lot of enjoyment out of the book by not going too hard-eyed into that side, I really took it at face-value as Soap Opera (which is all the Geek Myths are anyway, lol - Aphrodite cheated on Hephaestus with Ares, you what!)

Ultimately this is a really beautifully-written book, so compelling as to feel like you’re reading a tightly-choreographed dance, or the entirety of a first season of prestige television … it’s that southern charm with gothic undertones, stories about people using each other as weapons to make themselves feel better and how we all play certain characters to appease our families and communities.

Whew. I’m gonna be thinking about this one for a LONG time, and recommending it far and wide!

5/5

Monday, January 2, 2023

'The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner: A memoir' by Grace Tame

Received from the publisher 
 

From the BLURB; 

Grace Tame has never walked on middle ground. 

From a young age, her life was defined by uncertainty - by trauma and strength, sadness and hope, terrible lows and wondrous highs. As a teenager she found the courage to speak up after experiencing awful and ongoing child sexual abuse. This fight to find her voice would not be her last. 

In 2021 Grace stepped squarely into the public eye as the Australian of the Year, and was the catalyst for a tidal wave of conversation and action. Australians from all walks of life were inspired and moved by her fire and passion. She was using her voice and encouraging others to use theirs too. 

The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner is Grace's story, in Grace's words, on Grace's terms. Here she returns, again and again, to the things that have driven and saved her: love, connection and radical, unwavering honesty. Like Grace, this book is sharply intelligent, deeply felt, wildly unexpected and often blisteringly funny. And, as with all her work, it offers a constructive and optimistic vision for a better future for all of us.

I spent the day reading ‘The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner: A memoir’ by Grace Tame - kindly gifted by PanMacmillan.

*Deep breath*

I found this to be both pulverising and illuminating.

As a memoir it stretches and reverberates. Grace jumps around in her own timeline, sometimes - and she can give a long-eyed gaze over her lifetime, and then snap it short when she pleases. This is her right, and it makes it sound more like *her* - and the way her actually autistic mind works.

In reading, I was relieved to discover that I didn’t actually know a lot about the trial relating to Grace Tame as the survivor of ongoing childhood sexual abuse. I had more knowledge of her work post-trial in which her abuser was convicted, and she became an activist (and Australian of the Year) speaking out on behalf of victims and campaigning for better respect for them, particularly by and in the media.

So I’m glad that I really only have Grace’s account, but I - of course! - still found her writing about the schoolteacher who groomed and abused her to be horrific. It’s hard to read. Of course it is. But she writes it at once with such clear-eyed memory, intricately layered with tender context and knowledge of how abuse looks, feels and how predators work. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to recount - alongside her abuse as a child too, and her anorexia as a result of ongoing trauma. But I found her recounting to be necessarily forthright, while still retaining a tender sadness for the girl she was. I also thought the way she kept survivors front of mind in the narrative was subtle but hugely powerful.

And then I was deeply disturbed (but not surprised) by the many ways Grace was failed. Particularly by her school - who have since had many more survivors come forward with accusations against that rock spider of a creeper teacher, Nicolaas Bester.

Even recently, Grace recalls how she was vilified for refusing to smile in photographs with then Prime Minister Scott Morrison - who failed survivors at every turn of his Prime Ministership. She isn’t unaware of the fact that she did everything “right” - her abuser even boasted of his crimes and was convicted - but she is still hated and disbelieved. Because she lives in the light. Because she has challenged institutions and powerful individuals, and always will.

At one point, Grace writes that she feels certain she’ll write more books than just this one. She talks about her life lived with art (and indeed, she illustrated the incredible front cover!) - some of her sentences and thoughts within are so prickly and perfect (“That sticky, sticky voice.”) and I too feel certain that she is just beginning. I know she is. It’s all ahead of her - but even knowing that, I was grateful for the balm of this book, and Grace showing people what survivorship can look like. Imperfect. Chaotic. Messy. Unrelenting. Ongoing.

Grace doesn’t owe the public anything. But I am glad for a generous spirit and decision to share her story many times over. She keeps reaching out in the dark, and I feel very strongly that those who need to - will keep finding her. This book is just another beacon.

5/5

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

'Scattered Showers' by Rainbow Rowell

 


'Scattered Showers' is an Anthology collection of nine Rainbow Rowell short-stories, five of which are brand-new created for this collection.

Many have appeared elsewhere; like the first story 'Midnights' from the 2014 Stephanie Perkins edited YA anthology collection 'My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories', which is about two friends who we first meet at a 2014 New Years Eve party and then follow through many NYE parties right through to their first year home after college.

'Midnights' also appeared in a hardcover gift 'Almost Midnight: Two Festive Short Stories' alongside the second story in the new 'Scattered Showers' collection, 'Kindred Spirits' - which is about unacquainted teenagers in 2015 waiting in line across 4 days, for the new Star Wars movie 'The Force Awakens.'

These two stories really set the pace of the whole collection, and Rainbow Rowell's biggest theme throughout all her works which is; duos. Sets. Two people, soulmates or mates for right now ... truly her biggest thread through all Rowell stories from 'Simon Snow' to the 'Pumpkinheads' graphic novel is the dyadic - a focus on two people. For this reason I really wish they'd called this collection 'Double Rainbow,' but I understand a quite literal Rainbow/Rainbow may have been confusing over-kill.

We have the new short-story 'Winter Songs for Summer' - about a girl getting over a break-up, and her downstairs college neighbour who helps her grief maturate with mix-tapes.

'The Snow Ball' is another newbie, a very Taylor Swift-feeling short about a guy friend getting ready to attend a school dance with a girl who is not his best female friend, and the ways they talk circles around one another to figure out how they both feel about that.

'If the Fates Allow' is a 'Fangirl' prequel which did release as an Amazon Original Story in 2021, and features the character of Reagan home for the first times during Covid and having back-porch chats with her neighbour during uncertain times.

'The Prince and the Troll' is another original and the weirdest one in this collection, to me - it's a fantastical allegorical (I want to say climate-fiction?) short story that felt a little like it wants to be 2017 film 'The Shape of Water' but mostly reads like a commercial for Starbucks?

'Mixed Messages' made it up to me though, as it's a short-story featuring the characters from Rowell's debut (and my fave!) novel, the 2011 'Attachments'! It's a real-time glimpse into where these characters ended up, and I delighted in it! I also think it's a great prompt for anyone that isn't aware of Rowell's debut novel, to go back and discover it!

'Snow for Christmas' is a 'Simon Snow' short story, which I did not read because I haven't yet been able to get into that series. I'm sorry! I will, eventually - one day!

And finally, another fave for me was 'In Waiting' ... which is a delightfully trippy and heartfelt meta short-story which felt very much like the 2006 Will Ferrell movie, 'Stranger than Fiction.' It's about quite literally a new character called James, who has been dropped into the between-place where (presumably) Rainbow Rowell's ideas hang out, her not-quite-yet fully-formed and outlined characters hang in limbo until she knows what to do with them ...

He got excited when he realized they were both from Nebraska.
"That's nothing," she said. "We're all from Nebraska. It's like how Stephen King's characters are all from Maine."


... and the longest-serving character in this stable is Anna, who has grown up in this place and who Rowell seemingly can't let go of, but won't slot her into a novel yet either (God Forbid she be used in a short-story though.) This one was a little 'The Good Place' too and I absolutely loved it.

Overall I think Rowell's short-story talent is on display here; certainly the stories that she maybe had more time to develop (like those previously published) are the strongest, while her forays into genre-fiction and metaphor fell flat for me, except in the Rainbow Rowell metaverse of character limbo 'In Waiting.'

I do love that all of these short stories collected in one beautiful, hardcover place (with illustrations by Jim Tierney) - and how they solidified for me, Rowell's ongoing obsession with duality and soul-mates, two peas in a pod and the dyad of it all.

I'm glad I own this, because I am a fan ('Attachments' remains my fave, followed closely by 'Pumpkinheads' graphic novel, and 'Fangirl' - but the 'Midnights' short-story is also up there) and I do think I'll keep coming back to this collection and these little tasters of growing up, coming-of-age, friction and fragility, connection and love ... one example of this is a line in 'Midnights,' when a group of friends have re-gathered at their annual NYE basement party the first year they've (mostly) all returned home from first-year at college;

"Is it weird being in Omaha?" Simini asked her. "Now that everybody's left?"
"It's like walking through the mall after it closes," Mags said. "I miss you guys so much."

4/5

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

'Soul Taken' Mercy Thompson Book 13 by Patricia Briggs


 From the BLURB: 

The vampire Wulfe is missing. Since he's deadly, possibly insane, and his current idea of "fun" is stalking Mercy, some may see it as no great loss. But when he disappears, the Tri-Cities pack is blamed. The mistress of the vampire seethe informs Mercy that the pack must produce Wulfe to prove their innocence, or the loose alliance between the local vampires and werewolves is over.

So Mercy goes out to find her stalker - and discovers more than just Wulfe have disappeared. Someone is taking people from locked rooms, from the aisles of stores, and even from crowded parties. And these are not just ordinary people but supernatural beings. Until Wulfe vanished, all of them were powerless loners, many of whom quietly moved to the Tri-Cities in the hope that the safety promised by Mercy and Adam's pack would extend to them as well.

Who is taking them? As Mercy investigates, she learns of the legend of the Harvester, who travels by less-trodden paths and reaps the souls that are ripe with a great black scythe . . .

'Soul Taken' is the 13th book in Patricia Briggs' urban fantasy 'Mercy Thompson' series (which was recently optioned by Amazon Prime!)

So this book literally picks up where we last left off, following the events of 'Smoke Bitten' and what went down with the witch Elizaveta ... it also ties together the most recent instalments concerning a kidnapping to Italy, new treaties with the Gray Lords and Underhill, and Mercy & Adam's Columbia Basin Pack breaking with the Marrok to form their own little national of werewolves.

'Soul Taken' actually goes pretty intense into the most recent backstory, and while Briggs does helpfully fill out the background and provide a refresher on context, it is still *quite* overwhelming and I was just never sure where to look in this plot. Are ... are we meant to be focusing on the Gray Lords treaties? Is the break with the Marrok the thing here? Is it the uneasy alliances between wolves, goblins, witches, and vampires - oh my! And here's the thing; it's kinda ALL OF IT. Which is slightly chaotic messy overwhelming to read. It's also a little hard to follow because a lot of those involve machinations of diplomacy and there's a lot of ~talking~ and planning and thinking. Not necessarily a whole lot of action.

I will say; there's a really interesting development with the new werewolf Sherwood. This seems promising. Dare I say; I would potentially even like a novella, short-story or spin-off for Sherwood? Maybe in the same way we got Charles & Anna in 'Alpha & Omega'? At various times in this series I've been desperate for an Asil spin-off, and before his disappointing mate Ariana came on the scene (I'm SORRY, but that was a cop-out of a plot-point) I'd hoped for Samuel to get his own story-focus too. I wonder if Sherwood could fill that hole I have to further explore the werewolf world? I'd be down for it, 100%! Especially if he got some sort of HEA out of it.

Speaking of Samuel; something was established in the last 'Alpha & Omega' book 'Wild Sign' that I said would probably crossover into Mercy's world ... and it looks like it *might* but not in an overly big way. HOWEVER: the mention of it in 'Soul Taken' suggests it'll be the focus of Anna & Charles's next book. Keen!

Final thoughts on 'Soul Taken' are ... I like that we're seeing Adam & Mercy as a strong unit. And actually, this book reminds us that the Columbia Basin Pack are as strong as they are, as independent as they are, because Mercy has always had ties and been willing to treatise and compromise with all supernatural (from fae to vampires, humans and anyone in-between) we're now seeing the wider implications and benefits of that playing out within the politics of this world. And it just goes to show how much reach Mercy has had, and how much Adam benefited from it - is better because of it, and her. It's really nice and a surprisingly lovely way to get a bird's eye view of this series that's been going since 2006(!!!!!)

Adam & Mercy remain the absolute best, and I always love coming back to them in their books. Fingers-crossed for a TV series! I also can't wait for Anna & Charles' new book, but Adam & Mercy still just .... hit the right spot!

3/5

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

'So Far, So Good: On connection, loss, laughter and the Torres Strait' by Aaron Fa'Aoso, with Michelle Scott Tucker



From the BLURB: 

‘I am a descendant of the Samu and Koedal clans of Sabai Island. My people are warriors, but we are storytellers too.’


On his long path to success – from aspiring professional footballer to actor, director and producer – for every opportunity Aaron Fa’Aoso had, there were setbacks and heartache.

He was six when his father and grandfather both died. His fiercely proud mother and even fiercer grandmother dug deep to raise Aaron and his brothers. Belief in himself as a warrior – literally and metaphorically – made him into a fighter, for better and for worse.


A month into Aaron’s second marriage, and just as his acting career was flourishing, his new wife took her own life. In the dark years that followed, Aaron eventually found strength and meaning in his family and in his beloved Torres Strait community.


In So Far, So Good, he talks frankly about love, pain, making mistakes and finding happiness again, as well as the impacts of racism and the challenges of remote communities. A rich and vivid reflection on life told with generosity, humour, emotion and optimism.


⦿⦿⦿


Let me tell you; I am so proud of this book. In a career of highlights (which tends to happen when you get to work with books!) — seeing this memoir out in the world is a stand-out for me.
So Far, So Good: On connection, loss, laughter and the Torres Strait by Aaron Fa'Aoso, with Michelle Scott Tucker. 

Jacinta (di Mase) and I met Aaron many moons ago, we sat before him and basically said - we want your story. It took a while, but eventually he came around and once glorious Michelle Scott Tucker signed up to do the telling, the project ignited.

It’s the first memoir by a Torres Strait Islander to be released by a commercial publisher, in Pantera Press. They have also generously donated to Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network and the Indigenous Literacy Foundation via their Pantera Press Foundation, in the book’s honour.
So Far, So Good absolutely undid me. It’s such a generous story - and in fact, Michelle Scott Tucker on her blog recently wrote about Aaron’s internal fight to reach inside himself for this story and his truth. I love this memory Michelle shares, when speaking with Aaron as he really decided and committed to unearthing his life for the page; “One thing I’ve learnt,” Aaron continued, “is that if you tell the truth, it remains in your past. Tell a lie, and it’s always going to haunt your future. And I have enough ghosts in my life already.”
That’s all here. His grief at a young age, losing his father and grandfather and being raised by the women in his life. The ways early pathways and cultures tried to shape him - like the football career he took initially, and then the media once he decided to become an actor - only to be cast as a villain, a bikie, a thug and criminal, constantly … until he decided to change things himself, write his own screenplays. The way grief followed him. His commitments now to telling the history of his family and the Strait, and that they are on the frontline of climate catastrophe.

For teachers & librarians, I'd also say this is a very good text for older teens. For a history of the Torres Strait. A look at the frontlines of climate catastrophe. And for someone of Aaron’s stature to have a really honest talk with young men in particular, about the paths they choose.

That's all in the book. And, I cannot even begin to tell you how much more is here, and what reading it will do to you - open in you. You have to read it for yourself. It’s a beautiful and bruising story, a groundbreaking one too.

It's out now. And the audiobook (which Aaron narrates) will be out on October 1.


My heart is exceptionally full of this book, and I hope it will fill you up too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

'Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone' Outlander #9 by Diana Gabaldon


From the BLURB: 

Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall were torn apart by the Jacobite Rising of 1745, and it took them twenty years to find each other again. Now the American Revolution threatens to do the same.

It is 1779 and Claire and Jamie are at last reunited with their daughter, Brianna, her husband, Roger, and their children on Fraser's Ridge. Having the family together is a dream the Frasers had thought impossible.

Yet even in the North Carolina backcountry, the effects of war are being felt. Tensions in the Colonies are great and local feelings run hot enough to boil Hell's tea-kettle. Jamie knows loyalties among his own tenants are split and the war is on his doorstep. It's only a matter of time before the shooting starts.

Not so far away, young William Ransom is still coming to terms with the discovery of his true father's identity - and thus his own. Lord John Grey also has reconciliations to make and dangers to meet . . . on his son's behalf, and his own.

Meanwhile, the Southern Colonies blaze, and the Revolution creeps ever closer to Fraser's Ridge. And Claire, the physician, wonders how much of the blood to be spilt will belong to those she loves.

***

‘Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone’ is the 2021 and ninth book in Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ epic series – of romance, time-travelling, historic novels that have moved us from the Jacobite uprising in Scotland, to the American Revolutionary War unfolding … the last time we joined these characters was in ‘Written in My Own Heart's Blood’ from 2013, so it’s been very welcome indeed to finally be back with the Fraser’s, Murray’s, Grey’s and assorted others after eight odd years absence. 

However; at 902-pages I was quite intimidated (and too weak-wristed, literally sitting up in bed with this thing! … and yes, I know audiobook and ebook exist but I started this series as a 19-year-old uni student in paperback and I intend to finish that way darn it!) to jump into this book when it released in November 2021. I did start out strong and flew through a good 200-pages, but then I flagged and set it aside and only got back into a rhythm to finish it in August 2022 (despite being very keen and excited to know what was happening to some of my favourite characters in a favourite series of mine, that I’ve been reading since I was 19!) 

But finished I have! And I did make notes and collected my thoughts as I read, which I shall now present to you in sub-headers because otherwise I don’t quite know how to articulate my feelings about this sprawling EPIC. 

And, look, because this is the ninth book in a series that began in 1991 … expect that there are spoilers ahead (especially as I post this in August 2022 for a book that came out in November 2021!) I’m going to be delving into where these characters have come from and are going, so if you’re unfamiliar with the series (or, on the flipside, if you don’t want speculations on what might be coming!) this is probably not the review for you; 

Character Motivations 


I am in two minds about this. ‘Bees’ begins in 1779, and ends in 1781. The American Revolutionary War ends in 1783. A big part of me just wants everyone to stay safe on Fraser’s Ridge and not move until the war is over. And at times reading this evoked the same feelings as watching a horror movie where you just want to scream WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! STAY TOGETHER! NO – NO! DO NOT GO UP THE STAIRS ALONE! Because of course, in a 902-page novel, nobody is staying put and nobody is playing it safe in the lead-up to war because *of course not* this is fiction and it needs tension and drama. 

That being said – I do think Gabaldon found good character motivations for everyone to, at times, get off the Ridge and venture out into the great (and much more dangerous!) unknown. I think of all the motivations however, Young Ian Murray had the best – when he gets word from Indian friends that his ex-wife Emily was involved in a massacre and her husband killed but they don’t know of her whereabouts or health, nor those of her three children (one of whom is likely Ian’s own son). Given that Ian’s Quaker wife Rachel has just given birth (to placeholder-named ‘Oggy’) and she’s not thrilled with the idea of him traipsing off to check on his ex and the child they had together (benevolent as she is as a Quaker, she has her limits), so she insists on going with him. And since Jamie Fraser’s sister Jenny has come to the Americas and is living with Ian and Rachel and she doesn’t intend to see her grandson go off without her – she’ll tag along too. That’s a good motivation, I can definitely see Ian being compelled to check on his kin and people (no matter that Emily ‘put him out,’ and left him) and it’s a nice full-circle moment for him. 

Brianna, Roger and their children Jem and Manda also have pretty decent impetus in the form of a painting commission that Lord John Grey orchestrates for Brianna … which will conveniently take her to Savannah where Lord John Grey and his adopted son (Brianna’s half-brother, Jamie’s illegitimate son) William is also stationed. John Grey and William (though he recently handed in his officer’s commission) are part of the British army, Jamie and Claire knowing what’s coming think it’s a good idea for Brianna to see her brother before the war escalates … and if she can do some surreptitious gun-running and fund-raising while in Savannah, the better! Also if Roger can finally be officially ordained as a minister – it becomes a right old family affair! 

These are all good motivations, I still just wanted to tie everyone up in cotton-wool but, alas!, it’s a book and that will not do.  

The Hubris of Time Travellers


Partly why we believe these people are willing to take risks throughout the novel – even knowing what’s coming on the horizon of history! – is indeed that (false?) sense of security the time-travellers amongst them have, and have given. Brianna in particular is the daughter of a historian, married another, was raised with an American education recounting the war of independence and she assures herself that she knows the big players and moments in time. So when she goes to Savannah just as it’s about to be under siege, she constantly comforts everyone around her that she knows it will not fall. It will hold. 

Gabaldon makes a very clever couple of villains much clearer in this novel especially; one of them being everyone’s hubris, which is delightfully manifested also in the form of a history book written by Claire’s late first husband, and Brianna’s adoptive father, Frank Randall that Roger and Bri smuggled back with them through the stones. Frank (rather knowingly) made a name for himself studying the history of Scots in America, and particularly during the Revolutionary War. 

Jamie Fraser is convinced that this novel Frank wrote about exactly that, is talking to him specifically. He thinks Frank knew that Jamie lived, and that Bri and Claire would go back to him, so he made it his mission to study the history they’d be stepping into … ah. But; will Frank tell them the truth? Or is he hurt and bitter at the thought of his wife and adopted child returning to the man who – seemingly – took everything from Frank? 

OR; can history be altered? Is it set in stone? 


The True Villain is Time … or is it? 


I also think the reappearance of Frank has been cleverly done, where he looms like a spectre in the form of a history book he wrote and which Jamie is certain was written for him. Ah, we’re back to; “is Frank Randall friend or foe?” And I always think it’s worthwhile remembering that a big theme of the whole series is ~Legacy~ it creeps into everything (even the POV chapters we read — it’s Jamie and Claire’s blood-relations. ‘Blood of my blood.’) Even Frank; we first meet him when he’s tracking down his ancestors who fought for Queen & Country after he himself did the same in the Second World War. But we also know that Frank can’t father children. The line ends with him. How does he feel that Jamie has more left an imprint on history - world and family? - than Frank ever will? Is he bitter? Vengeful? How much of the Randall has been passed down … blood of my blood?

These are great, wispy, conceptual villains pottered throughout the novel. As a history nerd myself, I loved them and I loved wondering how I would be in the past … cocky and cock-sure of my place in time and ability to manipulate and read those tea-leaves? Would that be my downfall? Who knows? But I love how the Battle of Culloden playing out exactly as history remembered it, is now giving everyone a false sense of security about history always being stagnate and fixed.

Aforementioned 


Gabaldon keeps great time in this book (I say, with one eyebrow raised at the behemoth 902-pages of it all!) but truly … I think it’s been very well done — time — Gabaldon has the Fraser’s in particular reminding us of the ticking timer (“two years until Yorktown,” as well as Jem and Germain’s ages - as though that will save them from the frontlines) it’s a very subtle and clever device to remind us where the goal-posts and finish line are right now. Especially guessing as we all have been, that Herself (Gabaldon) probably intends to wrap this series up with the next and tenth book. We’re all waiting for that moment that will surely signal the end – Jamie’s ghost below Claire’s window. When will it come, and what will it mean – who knows? 

I also appreciated that since the last book came out, ‘Hamilton’ the Musical has given me a mini-history lesson and every time I saw ‘Yorktown’ written down, I heard the line ‘battle of Yorktown …’ in the back of my mind. 

Oh, William


William Ransom is the secret illegitimate son of Geneva Dunsany and Jamie Fraser. And just as he’s pretty much been from the jump … he remains a bit of a wet-blanket. Definitely the weak-link in the series. And in more ways than one does William really miss out here.

His chapters are such a bore - something about being tasked with finding his cousins’ body after he’s reportedly dead? I barely paid attention. He’s the descendant I care the least about and I only worry that I think his purpose is to set him on a collision course with Jamie during this war … I was partly looking forward to reading William get a love-interest (after loving his little triangle with Ian and Rachel Hunter) and feeling majorly bummed that he fell for prostitute Jane who sadly took her own life in the last book (bummed because she dies, not because she’s a prostitute – to be clear!) 

William kinda gets a love-interest in ‘Bees’. The bad news is; it also sucks. Her name is Amaranthus (thanks, I hate it) I wish he got to be more dashing and suave and have an epic love story like everyone else got, but … I guess William is a walking, talking case-study in Nature vs. Nurture? 

Lord John Grey and his brother Hal also take up a lot of William’s chapters and I literally only cared when he and Brianna’s stories converged. BUT – there’s a glimmer of hope in the cliff-hanger ending for William. 

The MVPs, The Murray’s! 


Rachel Hunter and Ian remain my faves (that aren’t Jamie and Claire!). I just love them; Young Ian is one of my favourite characters in any book of all time EVER and I continue to crave as much of him and Rachel Hunter as possible! We got a fairly good chunk here, *however* I was frustrated that the storyline of Ian taking his family to go and find Emily (and his son) really had Rachel questioning a few things about them and their relationship (which she believes in, of course she does!) but I wanted some outward declarations from Ian and I reckon he’s more perceptive and attuned to Rachel than he is here, where he left a lot unsaid. And I wanted more sexy times for them. 

I also felt like the focus on their story ended rather abruptly, probably because it’ll be revisited in the next book – but I really felt like in the last quarter they were barely mentioned, after having a fairly exciting and exhilarating journey that carried a lot of the middle of ‘Bees’. 

But, look, I recognise that because they’re my faves I will always want more, more, more. 

Comedic Timing 


Totally random; but I did not think I’d get such a laugh out of a prolapsed uterus and hand-crafted pessary scene. Which … hats-off to you, Gabaldon. That was gold. 

All Filler? 


I’ve glanced at a few YouTube reviews of ‘Bees’ where I can see people’s biggest complaint is that it is rather ‘boring’ and not a lot happens. And, look, yeah. Like I said – Gabaldon is keeping time in this book and wanting to give us that impending joy (or doom?) that the war is nearly at its end. Two years. Two years. Two years. But in the interim we have – this. A book in which she moves all the players where they need to be on the board, but we get very much a sense that the game hasn’t yet started in earnest. And that feeling permeates ‘Bees,’ … I wonder if Avengers: Endgame and Infinity War have conditioned all of us to brace for the worst in the one *before* The End, that I think we went into ‘Bees’ expecting more heightened stakes and drama to carry us through to the likely finale tenth instalment? But we really don’t get that here. We get a lot of … moving around on that chess-board. We get a lot of set-up and it is somewhat toothless. Case-in-point is the literal last 50-pages or so is a Hail Mary! reminder of threats from previous books who are now coming home to roost. But I feel like my memory was not sufficiently jogged for them and I got whiplash from being forced to see them as high-stakes danger. 

Finale 


Look, I think a lot of ‘Bees’ hinges on how the next book is looking … I think the more conceptual ‘villains’ of this book being time (and Frank Randall’s documenting of it?) are going to be the tricky aspects that upon re-reading when the series is properly concluded, will most impress readers for the groundwork Herself was laying. But for now; it is a somewhat placid instalment in one of my (still) favourite series. 

I am still sorry that I was so long to get around to reading, but – therein lies the rub! – I’ve changed a lot since ‘Written in my Own Heart’s Blood’ came out and even more since I was that uni student reading a second-hand copy of ‘Outlander’ for the first time. When ‘Own Heart’s Blood’ came out I wasn’t yet a published author or even working as a literary agent. Now, I am. My time is more finite … I wish I could have spent a fortnight lounging around in a Melbourne summer to read this behemoth book when it first came out, the way I used to, but – the passage of time is a funny thing, I feel like I don’t have as much of it anymore. 

But it is nice to know that when I do find my reading-groove with this series (and a comfortable reading position!) I can fall into this story and these characters so easily. Like I’ve never been away, and they’ve always been right there – waiting for me to return. 

3.5/5



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