Book Launch of Charlatan by Catherine Jinks

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I don’t think I’ve ever waxed lyrical about a book I haven’t read yet, but there’s a first time for everything right?

If you’ve heard of Catherine Jinks, it’s probably for her Evil Genius YA books. I first came across her work when I was studying to be a high school teacher. Pagan’s Crusade was a breath of fresh air into the YA field at the time. The main character’s voice was smart and so very sassy and unique. 

Fast forward a number of years (I’m going to make you work for that date) and a hefty writing career that has spanned children’s, YA, adult fiction and non fiction, Jinks’s new book Charlatan has just been released, and it looks like a ton of fun. We attended the book launch at Avid Reader book store (the indie store that took on a bunch of ‘men’s rights activists’ and won) this week, where Jinks spoke about her new baby with Rob Barclay from Radio National.

Charlatan is about a 19th century guy by the name of Thomas Guthrie Carr and charges raised against him by Eliza Gray, who accused him of mesmerising and raping her.  (Gray likened Carr to the Mad Dentist of Wynyard . I’ve put in a handy link for you. I’ll wait.)

After having burned his bridges in the UK, Carr came to Australia to try his luck here. Carr dealt in mesmerism and phrenology (the ‘science’ of determining a person’s personality by feeling the bumps on their head) and was essentially a showman. Jinks described him as ‘a fraud, a narcissist and a shameless self-promoter’. There were very few personal documents to be uncovered in her research, but Jinks said she was able to put together such a full picture of Carr due to his predilection to write up every little thing he did and put it in the paper.  Jinks said that she could count on Carr to never do the right thing, and she spent most of her time researching thinking ‘you’ve got to be kidding!’ as she uncovered each new indiscretion.

Charlatan is a true crime book, exploring the trial of Carr for the mesmerism and rape of Eliza Gray.  But if we know that mesmerism is a sham, what actually happened? 

By all counts merticularly researched (as Jinks’s work always is, and the 40 odd pages of reference materials certainly indicates it to be), I’m really looking forward to reading this one. You won’t regret adding this to your TBR.

 

Avid Reader’s Big Breakfast with Dr Anita Heiss

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I’ve mentioned Avid Reader multiple times on the blog – it’s my favourite indie bookstore in Brisbane. This morning, a number of us braved the heat and humidity for the very special opportunity of hearing Dr Anita Heiss speak about her latest release: Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms.

Dr Heiss is a member of the Wiradjuri nation, and writes all manner of books, articles and poetry. She lectures on Indigenous Literature is a Lifetime Ambassador of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, is an Advocate for the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence and is an Ambassador of Worowa Aboriginal College. She is also an Adjunct Professor with the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, UTS.

The talk was hosted by Fiona from Avid Reader, who always asks wonderful questions.

With regards to creating a new story, Dr Heiss said that she had written a lot of books about Country, but none about Cowra. She was nervous about telling the story of her family both because everyone would think it was about them, and because of responsibility that she feels for getting it right. She had been struggling for a plot and flew to Hawaii, and ended up visiting Pearl Habour. While there, she became very conscious of the many Japanese tourists in Pearl Harbour, and the way they reacted to the rhetoric around the Pearl Harbour memorial, written by the US victors. While the Japanese tourists appeared very calm, Dr Heiss wondered what they were thinking.

The Aussie view of history is also a particular one – in writings about Cowra it has never been acknowledged that 4.5 miles from Cowra there was another camp with prisoners in worse conditions. (The Japanese POWs were kept in conditions in line with the Geneva convention. The Aboriginal people in the local mission were not.) Dr Heiss wanted to write a story acknowledging the other encampment, and romance would be the tool to link the two, and to draw an audience.

Dr Heiss also talked about the lengths of the reconciliation effort in Cowra – with the Japanese, not the Aboriginal people.

Research is very important to Dr Heiss, and she described sourcing stories from the Cowra community as well as checking her facts with author Graham Apthorpe (author of A Town at War: Stories from Cowra in WWII) and her meetings with an Extraordinary Professor in Japan who teaches about the Cowra breakout. Dr Heiss obtained feedback from many sources on her drafts to ensure she was telling the story accurately.  She loosely based  Mary on her mother, and Banjo on her grandfather, and was aware that she needed to acknowledge the community Elders of the Coe, Williams and Murray families. Dr Heiss would have liked Mary to fall pregnant in the story, but her mum objected that she wouldn’t have even kissed him during this amount of time. This was backed up by Dr Heiss’ Japanese expert, who confirmed that at that time a Japanese man would not have been that familiar with a Western woman. Dr Heiss explained that as war is an extraordinary time, she felt comfortable with Hiroshi’s familiarity with Mary as long as he was aware it was an extraordinary situation.

When asked why she had chosen fiction, Dr Heiss responded that she wanted to compliment the work that already existed, and draw a wider audience. She wants people to realise that Australian history can’t be discussed without also discussing the Aboriginal people.

We learned a little about Dr Heiss’ background – her Austrian father couldn’t speak English when he met her mother, but they shared strong family values and work ethic, as well as  great love for each other. Dr Heiss  said that their relationship had made her a romantic, which meant that she could believe in the relationship between Mary and Hiroshi and see the bigger picture.

Dr Heiss is hopeful that the book will be picked up for the school curriculum. From my own point of view, it would be a great tool in an English classroom. I mentioned in my review that the book provides a clear but accessible understanding of the laws of the time and the impact on the people. 

Dr Anita Heiss has a new book due out in May (yay!).

You can read my review of Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms here.


Review: Beyond the Orchard

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Lucy Briar has returned to Melbourne after five years abroad in England. She has received a mysterious letter from her grandfather which has drawn her back to her home town. It contains a promise from her grandfather that he will be able to ‘explain everything’ and Lucy hopes that finally the nightmares that have haunted her from her childhood will be put to rest. However Lucy receives the news of her grandfathers death shortly after her return. This coincides with her father breaking a hip, so it is up to her to go and sort through the old family home of Bitterwood and all its secrets.


This is an ambitious novel sweeping across the tragic lives of three generations of the Briar family, and to me it felt a little squished inside its mere 460 ish pages. The story is told from multiple third person points of view, and also includes one of Lucy’s father’s fairy tale retellings. The story is well told, the sections referring to the 1920s and 1930s were particularly  atmospheric. 

The narrative tool of the multiple points of view was the sticking point for me. Five narrators were too many for a book of this size, and a couple of them added nothing to the story that wasn’t also dealt with by other methods. 

The ending was also a little too neat for my tastes, especially given the tragedies that had touched each of the three generations of the family. 

If you enjoy some sweeping family drama then this one is for you.

3 out of 5 buried family secrets.

Review: Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms

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Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is a fictional retelling of the Cowra Breakout – on August 5 1944 approximately 1000 Japanese prisoners of war attempted to break out from the No 12 prison camp. This resulted in hundreds of deaths, both from guns of the Australian soldiers and at the hands of the Japanese prisoners themselves as many killed themselves and others to put an end to the ongoing shame of their situation.


In this book Anita Heiss focuses on a fictional situation – Hiroshi escapes from the camp and hides in the local Aboriginal mission of Erambie. He is discovered by Banjo Williams, who talks his extended family into giving Hiroshima refuge and hiding him from the white mission manager and the rest of the mission’s population. Banjo’s 17 year old daughter is entrusted with taking Hiroshi the little food they can spare. 

Hiroshi and Mary share their cultures and eventually their hearts, but their love is not just dangerous, it’s illegal and there is no chance they will have a happy ending.

Heiss doesn’t disappoint with this sad story of life on the mission during the war, and the falling in love of two people from vastly different backgrounds. It is awful to note that the Aboriginal people on the mission were less well treated than the prisoners of war, who were treated according to the Geneva convention. Think about that for a moment. Also consider that this time is still within living memory.

As the two love birds share more information with each other, we are also treated to and accessible discussion of the Aborigines Protection Act, which rules Aboriginal life and treatment at this point in history. I was not aware of this piece of legislation and the conditions that went with it. There is also a discussion of Aboriginal soldiers who participated in the First World War and their  ill treatment which is another sad reflection on the history of this country.

Apart from the central story, there is a wide cast of characters who I really enjoyed getting to know and add wonderful layers to the story.  Marj the gossip was so delightfully obnoxious I couldn’t help but love her.

Mary was also delightful, and while her story was sad, it wasn’t without hope.

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is both a lovely and an important read. 

5 out of 5 reasons to #change the date.

Dr Anita Heiss is currently visiting bookshops around the country to talk about this one. If you are in Brisbane, she will be at Avid Reader on Feb 5.

24 in 48 update – 4 hours down

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20 to go!!

Dreadnought was so good! I really enjoyed it – it gave me all the feels. I’ll put up a full review in the next couple of weeks.

This baby is next.


Anita Heiss is a well known Wiradjuri author. She and a number of others are currently warming up for their Swim for the Reef challenge to raise money for the Environmental Defenders Office of Qld. (Our stupid government keeps wanting to build things like ‘mega ports’ outside the world heritage area of the Great Barrier Reef which could be incredibly damaging.) You can find out more (and donate if you wish) here.

This also ticks boxes for my Litsy A to Z,  Reading Around the World and AWW challenges.

I ventured outside to take this shot – and nearly melted. It’s 32 (C) and 90% humidity out there! I’m very grateful for air conditioning. 

How is your challenge travelling?

Review: Resistance (Divided Elements Book 1)

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Optor is a post apocalyptic city where the people are separated into elemental classes based on their strengths. Anaiya is a fire elemental, meaning that she works as a Peacekeeper. She is good at her job and doesn’t hesitate to take down people not abiding to the Orthodoxy. When a pocket of resistance is believed to be located amongst the Air Elementals, Anaiya is chosen to be reprogrammed to go undercover into the Air sector to find the miscreants. Having her brain reprogrammed brings a lot more with it than she expected. Suddenly she experiences emotions, music makes sense and she starts to find joy in everyday experiences in a way she hadn’t previously. Despite this, Anaiya is determined not to let these new aspects of her personality sabotage her mission. If she fails in her mission, or can’t be converted back to a fire alignment, her life is at stake.


Resistance is a stunning debut. The world building is very unique and goes right down to the language used. The book starts with an execution, so we know what is at stake for Anaiya when we learn that the man whose execution we witnessed was her mentor, and that she was under suspicion of having been influenced by him. 

Anaiya is a great character, ready to take risks and generally kick arse. Moving from the Peacekeepers to the Air Element allows her to get a different view of how other sectors experience the Fire Elementals, and you can feel her beginning to doubt the world view she has held up until this point. Anaiya is not entirely sure what she should do about this or if there is anything she can do.

 There is a romance element, but Anaiya doesn’t completely lose herself to that relationship and still focuses on her mission, although her feelings – something she isn’t used to – do end up clouding her judgement in a realistic way.

Intense, imaginative and gripping, if you like dystopian fiction, you will want to read this book. I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

5 out of 5.