There is so much to love about this story, and if I may be a bit geeky, the title is one of those things. It’s so clever, because while the title as a whole makes sense, each word in the title is also the name of a character.
Beth Teller is the first character we meet. She’s a ghost. She was killed in a car accident, and is hanging around because she doesn’t want to leave her father alone (her mother died when she was a baby). Her father is the only person who can see and hear her.
Beth’s father is a police officer, and together they are visiting a small town. A children’s home has burnt down and while all the children escaped, there is a dead body inside the building. It seems like a case of faulty wiring and bad luck, but as they delve deeper they find there is far more to the case than first meets the eye.
Isobel Catching is the other main character in this story. She was found wandering the river after the fire, and is considered to be a witness. Beth and her father try talking to Isobel, who tells them a strange strange story, about almost dying, and crossing into another world and having all her colours stolen.
Crow is a girl who Isobel meets in this other world, and who helps Isobel escape back into this world.
But there is far more to this story than meets the eye, and when everything clicks into place you realise exactly all the awful things that have been happening to Isobel, and exactly how it fits in to the fire in the children’s home, and the dead body inside.
On the surface, this is a crime/mystery, but underneath it is so much more. This is a story about stories, and how telling those stories, how being heard, can strengthen a person, and help in the healing process.
Set in the 1300’s in England, this is a story of witchcraft.
It’s filled with a cast of characters: there’s a wool merchant, his wife, two sons, and their two servants. There’s a wealthy widow and her adult son and young daughter, and their servant. There’s a boatman and his wife and children. And there’s a ghost, and his pet ferret, popping in to the story here and there to give his opinion of events.
When the wool merchant’s wife falls sick, it’s the widow who steps in to nurse her. Though the servant suspects foul play, everyone else has only praise for the selflessness of the widow. No one bats an eyelid when, only a few short weeks later, the wool merchant announces he is to marry the widow. Only the merchant’s sons speak up about it, and when the oldest one turns up dead shortly thereafter it’s believed he’s been murdered by theives who’ve been stealing from the family business.
But the household’s ill luck doesn’t stop there. When the servant declares her suspicions of the new mistress of the house, she’s declared and mad and sent to live with the nuns who torture her with terrible ‘remedies’ supposed to cure madness – like a bath of ice, for example.
One thing after another goes wrong, and all the while it’s a mystery as to who is actually at fault – is it the widow, what about her daughter, who seems to know a little too well how to curse those who irritate her? And when it comes out that the widow’s servant is actually her mother… well, what was the purpose of that deception?
This is a bit different to my usual read. I don’t usually read memoir, but I’ve heard Tony talk about his book a couple of times now, and he read a section of his book out at the Little Laneway Festival, in November last year, and I had to read more.
The story is heartbreaking. Tony and his wife Sue are travelling through South America when Sue suffers from a brain aneurysm while they’re in Bolivia. Bolivia is a poor country, and so of course it’s hospitals are not equipped as well as the hospitals Tony is used to, here in Australia.
Even when Tony manages to break through the language barriers and make it understood that his wife needs a hospital, it takes time to get her there, and as the weeks drag on it’s uncertain whether she will ever leave.
From the start, Tony’s writing propels the reader back to that terrifying moment when his wife has a seizure in the bed beside him, and carries the reader back and forward through his and Sue’s history, and the painfully long 14 weeks before Sue can finally come home, now suffering from a condition very much like dementia, putting Tony in a new role of carer.
Extremely well written, I highly recommend this story.
For someone who prefers to be a hermit and hide away at home this year has pushed me miles outside my comfort zone!
I’ve home schooled my children through grades 4 and 6, and started sporadic lessons a lot earlier than planned for my 4 year old who is insistent that she be taught how to read and write, NOW! While this is mostly, obviously, at home, we’ve done excursions to all sorts of places, visiting a whole bunch of different historical sites, bushwalking, swimming, getting lost in mazes, attending theatre productions, experiencing our local Indigenous culture at the Naidoc week celebrations, visiting Writers Festivals and Sustainable Living Expos, and so many other things!
I’ve chauffered the above mentioned children to a bajillion activities (no… I don’t know if bajillion is a real word, and yes it certainly felt like there were that many!) – dance,drama and music – lessons,rehearsals and performances. I spent a good deal of the year sitting in the car reading/writing while waiting for said children, or doing laps around our beautiful river.
I’ve made hundreds of Tasmanian beeswax candles; melting and colouring and pouring and levelling and packaging to send off to the handful of shops who stock the candles my husband and I make (with the children’s help, when they are feeling particularly keen).
And I spent some time volunteering – transcribing convict records. That was a fantastic experience – there was a new, fascinating, real-life story at every turn, some of which I hope to share with you all next year.
As for my own writing, 2018 has been a huge year for me.
I’m not sure if I’ve written about this before, but for the last few years I’ve had a goal to submit on average one piece of writing each and every week. Now, I need to specify that I don’t necessarily mean one new piece of writing per week. Most of my submissions are older short stories that haven’t found a home yet. However, some of my stories are brand new, and this year, amongst the 56 submissions I made 18 of them were new stories, written just this year.
It started last year, really, with the invitation in December to submit my work to The People’s Library. That resulted in the editing and polishing of my novella ‘What the Tide Brings’, to bring it up to scratch, followed by months of checking and re-checking emails as news on the project dripped in – dates, covers, and most importantly – edits, while myself, Pearl and Isabel (two other members of my writers group who were also invited to include their stories) planned events to make sure we made the most of this fantastic opportunity!
When September hit, it seemed everything happened all at once.
I had a drabble (a story that is exactly 100 words) published on September 1st, and then on the 7th writers from all over the state made their way to Hobart for the opening of the library – what must have been the biggest book launch ever as 113 books were launched.
That was just the beginning. This reading was the first of three public readings, the next held a fortnight later in Deloraine (although I had lost my voice, so Isabel did my reading for me), and another approximately 6 weeks after that, at the Little Laneway Festival, also in Deloraine.
Throughout the year I’ve also been posting regular stories on my rarely mentioned Patreon Page. While most of these stories have been published before, most are not easily available – if at all, and I’ve started branching out into some newer, only-available-on-Patreon short stories. (If you’re interested to see what I’ve written, there are some free stories on the page, and for $1 you’ll have access to the entire backlog of stories for a whole month.)
And my year has ended with the acceptance of another of my flash-fiction pieces ‘Tea with Grandma’ on a new Australian website – Lite Lit One. This story was written for a ‘Zine’ my local writers group planned, but which unfortunately fell through, so I’m so glad to find it a home!
I don’t think I’ve managed to post even one book review this year, though I’ve read so many fantastic books. So here’s a list of my favourites. (Note: this is not necessarily a list of books published this year, but rather a list of my favourites of the books I read this year.)
The first has got to be ‘Flames’ by Robbie Arnott. I loved every bit of this bizarre and wonderful story – from the mother who temporarily returns from the dead with bits of landscape sprouting from her body, to the animism present in every aspect of the story – everything has a spirit and a consciousness, from the river rat swimming in the Tamar right up to the rain cloud hanging over Ben Lomond.
The second is actually a children’s picture book, ‘Old Hu-Hu’ by Kyle Mewburn. Kyle read this story aloud during her session at the Tamar Valley Writers Festival, and I have to admit I was blinking back tears. Old Hu-Hu has died, you see, and little Hu-Hu-Tu wants to know where he’s gone. It’s such a beautiful story I ordered a copy as soon as I got home.
‘The Kiss Quotient’ by Helen Hoang is next. Stella Lane is on the spectrum and struggles with relationships, so she hires a male escort to help her out. This was such a fun story, and I’ve never met a protagonist I related to so much! This is definitely for 18+ though, it contains sex scenes that don’t hold back on the description!
‘The Secrets We Keep’ by Shirley Patton is a wonderful story by a fellow Tasmanian author. Aimee is a social worker freshly arrived in Kalgoorlie, who has made one difficult choice already in her past, and soon faces another. One of the reasons I loved this story so much was the character of Agnes, who reads people’s futures in tea leaves, and explores the more spiritual aspects of life.
I discovered ‘Darker Shade of Magic’ by VE Schwab after watching her Tolkien Lecture, which in turn was recommended at the Tamar Valley Writers Festival. It’s a story of portals to other worlds, where things are similar, but also vastly different. I absolutely loved it!
‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi is a book I came across on Twitter. I read The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas last year, and she (among others) recommended this amazing fantasy of a world in which magic has been suppressed until young Zelie is thrust into an adventure to return it. It’s brilliant.
I bought ‘Nevermoor’ by Jessica Townsend for my kids, and my son devoured it in a day and thrust it under my nose with a ‘You have to read this!” I had soon devoured it too, and we’re eagerly awaiting the sequel. (Yes, I know, it’s out already – it’s on our ‘To Buy’ list!)
I bought The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland while visiting family in WA earlier this year. It’s such a beautiful story, of a girl who loses her family to a devastating fire, and is thrust into the collected family of a grandmother she never knew.
During this same trip I also bought ‘Taboo’ by Kim Scott. It’s the story of Tilly, daughter of an Indigenous man who she barely knows, and her reconnection with her community and their shared ancestors. It is devastating in so many ways, and yet also full of hope for the future.
A couple of years ago I saw Kathryn Lomer in conversation with Cate Kennedy, a fantastic conversation about writing that encouraged me to buy at least one book by each of these fantastic authors. I bought ‘talk under water’by Kathryn, and loved it, so I was really looking forward to reading this one, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The Spare Room is a beautiful story. Nineteen year old Akira has ben sent to Australia by his very stern, (an as Akira puts it himself) ‘very Japanese’ father. The plan is that Akira will learn English and will then be able to take over the international arm of his father’s company. But Akira has desires and plans of his own, and his time in Australia shows him that he can have a life outside of his father’s plans.
But there is another story here too. Akira has lost his closest friend, Satoshi, who could not take the pressure of his own father’s expectations. In Australia, there is something off about Akira’s host family. As time goes on Akira learns that they too have suffered their own loss, and to begin with at least, Akira’s presence is not helping the situation.
I love the way Kathryn expresses the struggle of learning a foreign language:
“You often want to say something entirely different but you are limited to the vocabulary you know and you have to try and construct something from the little that you have. A bit like trying to make a salad when you only have braising vegetables, or trying to build a boat using nails. You get kind of warped into the shape of the words you know. There is a big gap between what you think and what you say. It would be a long time before I felt that the real me, the one with ideas and opinions and funny stories to tell, could find his way out again. For a while that person was trapped inside a new language.”
(Sometimes I feel this way with English too… except English is my first language.)
This is a lovely story, of how complete strangers can help each other heal, and how facing our fears often helps us overcome them.
This post is a few weeks late, I know. The last fortnight I’ve had a run of sick children, my son, then my daughters, then my son again, then me and hubby. I haven’t read a lot over this time, though I do still have a couple of books that I’ve read, but haven’t yet reviewed, that I need to type up and post in the coming weeks, but they all require a little more brain power than I’m capable of giving at the moment.
Instead I thought I’d share with you our book week activity. As a homeschooler, I still try to incorporate all the awesome things the kids loved about school, and Book Week is definitely one of them. After searching out some ideas online, this year we sat down and made a list of all the characters we could think of for each letter of the alphabet. We tried to focus on books by Australian Authors, though you’ll see that a few non-Australian characters have snuck in there as well.
A – Ash (Mapmaker Chronicles by AL Tait), Ashala Wolf (The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina), Andy (The Treehouse Series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton), Alfonso (Cat’s Ahoy by Peter Bentley)
B – Blinky Bill (Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall), Booger Boy (Captain Underpants by Dav Pilky), Bilbo (The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien)
C – Cuddlepie (Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs), Cleaver (Mapmaker Chronicles by AL Tait)
D – Damon (Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody)
E – Elspeth (Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody) and Ellie (Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden)
F – Figgy (Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu), Frodo (Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien)
G – Grandma Poss (Possum Magic by Mem Fox)
H – Hush (Possum Magic by Mem Fox), Harry Potter (Harry Potter by J K Rowling
I – Isabeau (Witches of Eileanan by Kate Forsyth)
J – Jericho (Mapmaker Chronicles by AL Tait), Jill (The Treehouse Series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton)
K – Koala Lou (Koala Lou by Mem Fox)
M – Mary, Margaret (Who Am I by Anita Heiss), Marly (Meet Marly by Alice Pung)
N – Nana (Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu), Nell (Sail Away, The Ballad of Skip and Nell by Mem Fox)
Q – Quinn (Mapmaker Chronicles by AL Tait)
R – Rushton (Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody)
S – Skip (Sail Away, The Ballad of Skip and Nell by Mem Fox), Snugglepot (Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs)
T – Terry (The Treehouse Series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton)
V – Very Hungry Caterpillar (The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle)
W – Wilfred Gordon Macdonald Partridge (Wilfred Gordon Macdonald Partridge by Mem Fox)
Y – Yousra (Marly’s Business by Alice Pung)
Z – Zain (Mapmaker’s Chronicles by AL Tait), Zaza (Zaza’s Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins)
Though we tried our best, we couldn’t come up with a character for every letter.
Can you think of any children’s book characters for the letters we missed?