2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge + Forgotten Rebels of Eureka review

Well!
I've certainly set myself a decent challenge with this one, proposing to devour 20+ books before years end and review them all.
I've had a good start this year with Dr. Clare Wright's latest offing The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka - go buy it!

Seriously, it is a bloody ripper read with so many facts and figures thrown at you but encased in the background of the goldfields painted so clearly for the reader it would be a perfect text for upper high school history students to read, as well as being enjoyed by any adult.
You can hear the wheels of carts crunching over the gravel as the horses do their daily work all over the goldfields, with loud shouts between miners, women working just as hard and kids laughing and playing - the sounds you'd hear today but it's a fragment of Oz history that is as clear as day under a microscope of research.
How much has the Eureka Rebellion been twisted for various individuals and purposes other than it was first intended?
That is up to the reader to conclude after the book is finished and we're furnished with the facts - the REAL facts - of just who was there and what roles they played, how they influenced the outcome and why the chickybabes have been airbrushed out of the picture...shades of playing down the early suffragettes perhaps?
Fear that the manly men didn't appear too manly with the girls in the picture?
Who knows why it happened but now is the time to overturn the misconceptions of what the rebellion was really all about and who was present in the midst of the great mess it became.

Biggles and The Boundary Riders!

I popped off to the local op shops with the other half this morning and got a couple of surprises.
Good surprises.
The first one was a Biggles book that is based in Australia, titled Biggles Works It Out (and, no I shant hear any jokes about Biggles, a pencil and constipation) and another which is actually a game book called Biggles Adventure Game of The Secret Night Flyer (based on Capt. WE Johns' book Biggles and The Dark Intruder).

I have a fondness for the Biggles books, even though they're not strictly Australian.

A 3rd surprise I found was the crowning moment of op shop hunting; since grade 4 when my teacher read it out to us students stuck indoors each lunchtime due to highly inclement weather I have been hunting for my own copy of this book.
And now I have it in my hot little hand.
The Boundary Riders by Joan Phipson.

I almost feel like making myself crunchy peanut butter sangas on super soft white bread to eat while reading it just like I did all those years ago!

Goose in The Pond by Earlene Fowler

Goose in The Pond is actually a quilting pattern; each of the Benni Harper mysteries has a title which is that of a quilting pattern.
The real Goose in the pond pattern is available HERE.
Now that we've sorted out the dedicated quilters, let's get on with the review.
This is book 4 in the series - yes, another one I've picked up without reading the preceeding novels but it matters not - and this time there is a storytelling festival as the background plot.
Not enough storytelling these days, in festival form or otherwise.
Anywho, there's murder galore; both the real murders and the one Benni would like to perpetrate upon her varied relatives who've swooped in to stay sans invites.
Well written, kept me guessing, kept me peddling on the exercise bike (which is its main purpose) and I enjoyed it.
Will happily seek out the many others in the series, check them out at Earlene Fowler's website HERE.

Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries by Carola Dunn

So far, I've enjoyed two of the Daisy Dalrymple tales; The Winter Garden Mystery and Damsel in Distress, both which I've read completely independent of the first, not needing to (but wanting to!) find the introductory story of Daisy Dalrymple.

They are similar to the Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood but sufficiently different to be an entity in their own right.
 While Phryne Fisher is the daughter of a Lord who's unexpected ascendancy to the title came about through the deaths of so many during WW1who were in line to inherit a vast estate thus rescuing her from a life of squallor, Daisy Dalrymple is the daughter of a Lord who's son (and heir to the estate) perished in The Great War leaving her to work as a writer based in a share house in Chelsea, solving mysteries as they come her way while her mother dwells in the Dower House of their former family home.
The two characters are book ends; each representing the other side of the coin of how WW1left its stain on the world.

Daisy's brother and fiancee were killed in battle, she worked in a VAD hospital caring for the wounded while many family friends who returned from the war were changed, which is often acknowledged throughout the storylines by Carola Dunn.
The effects of the war and the deadly Spanish Influenza epidemic following is often remarked upon, as it was at the time, a social measuring stick for all who'd survived.

The mysteries are well written and enjoyable, there is nothing far-fetched about them and they also retain subtle humour and secondary storylines running throughout to paint a very realistic picture of life in England in the 1920s.
Can highly recommend this series!

Slick Sisters Motorcycle Club by Michael Joseph Stanton

I borrowed this from the library and wanted to like it, I really did.
Slick Sisters Motorcycle Club sounded like it had all the elements including reincarnation....
But.
I struggled to get my head around a main character who had not only the smarts to become a surgeon but took on penny-pinching hospital admin... only to then read how she impulsively created a female motorcycle club without realising the dangers involved, how she didn't anticipate a police raid after they'd attacked a randy male, how the other members (who'd previously been painted as strong individuals) turned to water when trouble loomed, making the club house a safe house for abused women and children was just plain dumb and the whole theme was how badly done by females were by men.
Hmm.
I got as far as about 1/3 into the book before I gave it up.
Did not finish, can not recommend.

Rotten to The Core by Sheila Connolly

Rotten to The Core was another good read, a decent mystery which kept me guessing until about 10 pages from the end of the book, while a romance featuring the main character subtly burbled away in the background, adding to the storyline without overwhelming it or distracting the reader away from the main plot.

Again, it's another that is part of a mystery series by the same author but I found it easy enough to delve straight into the story without wondering who was who, why, what or how anything about the characters; they were deftly dealt with, their backgrounds and previous tales clearly explained.

Check out The Orchard Mysteries by Sheila Connolly, she's brought to life not only the history of fruit growing and the ancient methods and tools used in the past but has managed to make managing an orchard interesting to a layperson who has done nothing more than shove a Granny Smith sapling into the ground and water it.
Recommended!

Blood in the Cotswolds by Rebecca Tope

Blood in the Cotswolds is, apparently, the fifth in a series of books but I found it quite easy to pick up and get straight into the story without having known the characters or their previous storylines.
Rebecca Tope is a damn good writer; she combines intrigue with descriptions of a beautiful countryside to make you drool even while reading about a grisly discovery under a tree.
The characters are written as very believeable - a relationship where people are still finding their footing, differing opinions, tastes and slipped discs clashing at inopportune moments, and finding family members of partners a pain in the neck to deal with.
The Cotswolds are gloriously painted here albeit as background for murder, attempted murder, justifiable homicide and house-sitting an escaping snake.
Looking forward to reading more in this series and from Rebecca Tope!

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Mariana was a good read; a little on the predictable side but with a few twists and turns to keep it interesting.
The style of the author was similar to that of others in the genre - a romance that is never straight forward with historical context both social and national thrown in for background colour.
It was good, not great but a decent book to while away the hours and keep one's brain from turning to sludge.
I look forward to reading more from Susanna Kearsley.

The Lighthorseman's Daughter by David Crookes

Yes, there is a thread of romance running through The Lighthorseman's Daughter but it covers politics and historical events both here in Australia and overseas through what could be seen as an ugly period of time.
 Looking back there was much sorrow and pain through the Great Depression leading up to the Spanish Civil War; so many were left homeless, without work, harsh measures were used on a daily basis from police on the street up through the corridores of politics and power.

Yet, there is a great deal to recommend both this book and the period of time - people struggled and got through, friendships were forged while marriages broke down under the weight of greed.
This is a good read, driving home the petty little details that greased the wheels of those who would play at being king, those who could have been the victims but refused to lay down and play dead and it shows there was a basic goodness in most people, despite the strictures of the times and laws of the time.

While it is described as a romantic novel the romance is very few and far between, if anything it is better placed in the historical novel genre and, although it does paint the desperation of the Great Depression in Sydney the only fly in the ointment of the tale is the unrealistic part of the financial security in the background.
Overall, it was a nice read.

The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton

Like her other novel I recently read Kate Morton's The Shifting Fog keeps the reader spellbound til the end.
The delicious descripions of each character and their setting of the early 1900s drips with enough reality as to draw them clearly before you.
The dresses, hair fashions and styles of the mad flapper 20s, the starchy black uniforms of the servants, them below stairs knowing their place and keeping their place, it is a rich tapestry woven by a clever wordsmith for us.
Several mysteries are sown throughout the tale; several tangled stories to unravel and connect loose ends, told from the other end of a long life that finishes but not before the tale is done and the secrets are divulged to the next generation.
I'm really enjoying the quality of Kate Morton's work; each novel is a mystery wrapped up in a delicate illusion of a past age with enough talent for painting the past as to make of her an artist with a sumptuious palette and a historian for the extensive research she has gathered.
Next on the list is her more recently published book The Distant Hours.