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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Groove Books - Three great books from Publishers Austin MacCauley

The wonderful people at  Austin MacCauley have sent me three books to review.

An Artifact of Interest by Steve Rogers

The ploy on this one is fast and furious, perfect for a long train ride or a plane trip.  Summer hols are coming so get this one on your readership list.

The body of a young female anthropologist is found in the Australian outback.  Initially it was thought that it was an accident but it's not long before suspicions are aroused.  A murder investigation ensues and it transpires that the scientist has come across a mysterious artefact, on the evening before her death.  Could this item be the fatal cause? Because of the cleverly interwoven story, it would be unfair to break out the plot synopsis.  Spoilers are never tolerated.   But let's just say that  the twists and turns in this one are a little different to your average PD James.

This is not an Indiana Jones movie book.  On the surface, it does all seems like a Lara Croft game plot but I have to admit Rogers can really suck you in.  And so I must agree with others when I say this is a  'can't put down' read.  I was held to attention, just like an epic film until the last pages.

Click below for more and reviews on 'Praying For Strawberries' by Gail Simpkins and 'Downside Up' by Ron Prehn Palmer.

It is apt that Western Australian author Steve Rogers' novel is so cinematic.  If you've ever been in that part of the country then you'll know how 'epic' the skyline is.  It's huge.  So huge it can swallow you up.  Nothing but read horizon and blue heavens.  His book is set in the Kimberleys, near the little-known Bradshaw cave paintings.  I love books that introduce me to new territory.  These are definitely off the beaten track. The story hints at aboriginal magic but doesn't patronize or discount it but trying to create some kind of witch doctor mambo jumbo.  This is not Daktari or Zulu Warrior.

In a way the book has some overtones of the famous Picnic at Hanging Rock, with it's ghostly references and a strong employ of unspoken evil.  Rogers novel is another retelling of the bush: A young city man on a rural adventure; a mysterious death; an anthropological mystery; an unlikely romance. It's the style that conveys the mood, with Rogers employing present tense and a relaxed regard for point of view, which results in a feel of spontaneity and authenticity of place. Short chapters, suggestions rather than conclusions - these yield a laconic and fluent narrative that leads us through the plot rather than shoving and dragging us. You can almost spot the dissolve between chapters.

His bush imagery is well painted and if you're familiar with painter Margaret Preston's Western Australian gum blossoms pictures then you can imagine much of the scenery.  This is a nice take, from a Kiwi experience, at least, to see a different part of the Outback that isn't crawling with dingos, dust, flying doctors or red dust.  That alone makes it far more appealing.

Steve Rogers graduated from agricultural college in Western Australia before embarking on his diverse career as a jackaroo, farmer, broadcaster, retailer, journalist, teacher/technician and TV presenter. Thirty years ago he established a video production company, which has taken him to remote locations throughout Australia, South East Asia and Africa. He lives in Fremantle, is married, and has a daughter and two grandsons.

Downside Up by Ron Prehn Palmer

"You must treat your men as men, not as creatures of a lower grade. You must not be afraid to be unpopular. I would sooner command a hundred men with their tails up than a thousand men with their tails down." Major General Leslie Morshead, Australian Infantry Forces, 1947

As the country's largest form of government income, mining revenue is keeping Australia out of international debt. So, it's catastrophic when Australia's biggest mining company, Arangnulla, announces its impending financial collapse. There are two potential mine sites that could prevent receivership, both located in unknown territories near Aboriginal and African indigenous tribes. The ventures are a huge gamble, the risks astronomical and the cost gigantic. But the company's board has no choice but to move forward with the projects, and quickly.
Arangnulla chair Shayne Ballantine has not led on projects of this scale before. He trusts his instincts when, despite receiving contrary advice, he decides to train and employ indigenous people to work the mines. This pays dividends, and not just for Arangnulla. Shayne's faith in these people plays a significant role in dispelling a millennium of hatred and mistrust between indigenous and white people, both in Australia and overseas.

I have to admit, this book was something of a struggle for me.  Length can be a challenge if the words don't flow.  Perhaps it was the detailed associations and references to the Australian financial markets or the unfamiliarity with the places.  Either way, I kept getting lost.  I found it interesting that mining was substituted for the usual oil or gold or stocks scenarios that feature in most of the Wolf of Wall Street style books.  I did enjoy the juxtaposition between the indigenous concepts of wealth and the 'white' man economic values of success.  And I get the feeling that books like this one are starting to open the eyes of Australians to their own denials to indigenous land inequality and their own dark history.  I New Zealand we have become smug about our progress on iwi land rights and the place tangata whenua, so we have little tolerance for any injustices to first nations peoples.  And I wish this aspect had been better explored.

Ron Prehn Palmer was born in Port Lincoln, South Australia. He gained a medical degree at the University of Melbourne and served an internship at the Royal Hobart Hospital, Tasmania, and later achieved a specialist qualification from Flinders University, Adelaide, in 1994.Ron is married to Dianne and they reside at Cashmere, outer suburb of Brisbane, Queensland. They have two children: Zane, a Quantity Surveyor and Lauren, a Podiatrist. Ron's early medical career involved research, helping to develop the initial antivenin for Cubomedusae Fleckeri with Dr Jack Barnes; he became the first to administer this treatment in a patient. With Dr Barnes, he discovered Irukandji, Cubomedusae Barnesi, the world's most toxic creature.  During working on the Bass Strait offshore oil fields in Victoria, he was the first person to use ‘Oxygen Washout Therapy' for the diver's bends. He has published 76 medical papers and was editor of three international medical journals, the first published book was a medical text, Guidelines to Neurological Rehabilitation. Ron lectured at Brisbane University and Flinders University, and was elected as vice-president to the International Federation of Musculoskeletal/Manual Medicine in 1998, and as Secretary/General in 2002. He retired from active medicine in 2006.Current activities include yachting, golf, hunting and writing. Ron has competed in five Brisbane/Gladstone yacht races. He is also a former Himalayan mountaineer and marathon competitor, achieving second three times in the Gold Coast Marathon veteran division.

Praying For Strawberries by Gail Simpkins

Here's something a little out of the ordinary.  Have you ever wondered what an Autism Assistance Dog does? Or about the unique perspective of a person living with autism?
Through his mother's diary, follow nine-year-old Lachlan's journey with his new friend "Itsal" the Labrador, as they navigate the world together, with Lachlan achieving one of his many dreams and goals - learning to surf! Read about the fantastic improvements Itsal makes to Lachlan's life, and how he strengthens and supports Lachlan and his family.

I really liked this story.  It was quirky and different.  A remarkable take on what, for most of us, is a pretty ordinary way existence - the daily grind.  But this one, is real.  A story of the daily, real-life events of a mother, a child and a family as they navigate their way through life.  Recently, in the news we've had a few stories about autism.  The media doesn't always paint the picture well.  They don't mean to, because talking about autism is a challenging this.  Every one is different and everyone thinks and speaks about it in different ways.

I came across this first hand with a Wellington teacher Julie Hannify.  In her forties, Hanify was diagnosed first with ADHD and then with traits of autism, shedding light on a life full of both terror and achievement – as a musician, parent and teacher.  She chose to write about her experiences in her book Small Blue Thing . The book was drafted as part of a master’s degree at the creative writing school at Victoria University of Wellington and is  a beautiful piece of writing.   A Small Blue Thing is a memoir that bursts with the fireball energy and creativity of its author, and explores a way forward for those whose gifts to the world are not what we expect."

“I decided to go teaching because I had been so unhappy during my own school years and I wanted children to be happy to come to school. I wanted them to meet teachers who treated them with understanding and love. I had the love all along, but have had to develop the understanding over my thirty years of teaching.”

As a teacher she is drawn to working with children with special education needs. Her approaches work and it’s these stories of success in the classroom that anchor and re-frame the challenges.

Praying for Strawberries and Small Blue Thing have a lot in common.  I draw comfort in knowing that more and more people are opening up and sharing their experiences about autism.   This is not a 'normalising' exercise.  It's more about simply giving the subject some air and educating people.  The cool thing about Autism, claims Josef Schovanec, a recent visitor to Wellington, and polygot (who is also a former Autism Advocate to the French Prime Minister) is that great things can come from being different and seeing the world in such unique ways.  He gives the example of Peyo's Smurfs.  Originally, they were all blue little men. Blue, for autistic people is a calming colour.  No women, because in Peyo's world, women were disruptive characters.  The all had individual traits (and names to suit).  Papa Smurf - the leader; Jokey Smurf; Artist Smurf; Builder Smurf, etc.  Even when introduced, Smurfette had no specific trait or talent.  The unique thing, he argues, is the way autism can compartmentalize and review and relabel, re-purpose everything.  

Check out more books at Austin MacCauley

These books are available on or check the publisher's website.

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