Review: The Naked Farmer by Ben Brooksby

Title: The Naked Farmer

Author: Ben Brooksby

Published: 27th October 2020, Macmillan Australia

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy PanMacmillan Australia

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My Thoughts:

Founded by Ben Brooksby on May the 12th 2017, what started as an Instagram photo posted in fun, has developed into The Naked Farmer, a worldwide social media movement aimed at breaking down the barriers, and starting conversations, about mental health, particularly amongst farmers.

Ben, a 5th generation crop/sheep farmer from St Helens Plains in Western Victoria, Australia began experiencing panic attacks in his late teens. He fought hard to manage his anxiety, and when a photo of him in the back of a grain truck, naked, with a pile of lentils covering his sensitive bits, went viral, he was inspired to use his new found fame, to benefit the agricultural community.

“By using the liberating combination of nudity and farm work, the Naked Farmer is starting conversations about mental health across Australia because at the end of the day it’s easier to talk about what’s inside once someone has bared everything on the outside.”

The campaign began in earnest when Ben organised a photo shoot and then the publication of a calendar, with the help of photographer Emma Cross, using locals from his region. Ben and Emma then decided to go on tour to raise awareness of rural mental health, meet some of his social media followers, and encourage their participation in the project. It’s largely from that tour in 2019 that the stories in this book, The Naked Farmer, are drawn.

The Naked Farmer includes personal stories from around 40 men and women of all ages, from all over Australia. These are tales of hardship and trauma, but also resilience and hope, told with courage, and a wish to inspire others to share their story, and begin their own conversations. While the contributors are all involved in agriculture, their mental health is affected by varying issues, including anxiety, injury, illness, eating disorders, depression, financial strain, and grief, just like those in the wider community, so you don’t need to be a farmer, or to get naked, to benefit from this book. You needn’t be one of the 45% of Australians to be affected by mental illness either, this book provides insight into the lives of our nation’s farmers, and makes a connection between consumers and where their food and fibre comes from,

“Above all, The Naked Farmer is a conversation starter. The stories you’re about to read are from individuals around Australia who all have one thing in common: they’ve started their conversation. I hope this book inspires you to do the same.”

You can support The Naked Farmer campaign by following them on Instagram or Facebook, or by purchasing this book, the annual calendar (2021 is available now), or making a tax deductible donation. As a non-profit organisation, all monies raised are donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service Mental Health Unit, who have dedicated mental health professionals that visit remote towns and properties to provide treatment and support, as well as education about mental health issues for individuals and communities in rural and remote areas of Australia. And you can start a conversation…

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Available from PanMacmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Booktopia I Book Depository

Review: Dr. Karl’s Surfing Through Science by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki


Title: Dr Karl’s Surfing Through Science

Author: Dr Karl Kruszelnicki

Published: 29th October 2020, ABC Books

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy BFredericksPR

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My Thoughts:

Few a Australians would be unfamiliar with the multi-talented and slightly eccentric, enthusiastic champion of science, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. With degrees in Physics and Maths, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, and Surgery, he is a media host, an author of over 30 books, and a Fellow at UTS.

Dr Karl’s Surfing Through Science is an informative, and entertaining, exploration of specific subjects within varied branches of science. With topics ranging from Coffee-Grinding the Perfect Cup, to Past Plagues and Coronavirus, from Black Holes Have No Size, to The Amazing Disappearing Anus, there is truly something for everyone.

Dr Karl’s enthusiasm for the subjects comes across, as does his ‘dad’ sense of humour, but without compromising the information. The text is well presented, providing concise explanation and details, with the minimum use of jargon. Sub headings help with organisation, and inset columns offer additional but still relevant information. The accompanying images and illustrations are clear and relevant. I found the large format paperback easy to handle, and the pages are a pleasing thickness.

Not content to wow his readers with science fact, Dr Karl has introduced science fiction into his latest book. By downloading an app and hovering over the title pages of each topic with a smartphone or tablet, a ‘hologram’ of Dr Karl appears and talks about some of the chapter’s key ideas. It’s a fun and unique element of the book that will especially appeal to primary school aged children. Question marks also appear on the screen, and tapping them leads to additional relevant information online, which will benefit teens or adults interested in further detail (I’ve included a short demonstration video below). This clever feature also allows Dr Karl to provides updates on the information in the book, if necessary. The only downside, as such, to the augmented reality feature is that it does require an internet connection and an up-to-date Apple or Android device (with minimum OS requirements) to access these interactive elements, though the book is perfectly useful and entertaining without it.

Dr Karl’s Surfing Through Science would be a stellar gift for a budding scientist, or really anyone with a curious mind who might wonder are Murder Hornets – Lethal But Tasty?

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Available from ABC Books and HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Consolation by Garry Disher

Title: Consolation {Paul Hirschhausen #3}

Author: Garry Disher

Published: 3rd November 2020, Text Publishing

Status: Read October 2020 courtesy Text Publishing/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Consolation is the third excellent, compelling crime novel by Garry Disher to feature Constable Paul Hirschhausen, a country copper in rural South Australia.

It’s winter in Tiverton, there is frost on the ground and snow on Razorback ridge and as Hirsch patrols the quiet streets in the freezing Wednesday dawn he is ruminating on the behaviour of the ‘snow dropper’ stealing the underthings of elderly women from clothesline’s all over the district. Arriving at the one-man police station that is barely warmer inside than out, a request for a welfare check first leads Hirsch to discover a severely neglected young girl, next he is called to calm an irate parent at the local primary school, and then made aware of gossip that suggests a local big shot is in financial trouble. Thursday, Hirsch’s regular long range westerly patrol is interrupted by an environmental control officer wanting an escort to inspect a local property, and an accusation is made regarding the exertion of undue influence against an elderly lady. On Friday, everything goes to hell, and Paul finds himself dealing with a manhunt, a stalker, a missing man, Irish conmen, a dead woman, all while managing two stations, and his relationship.

There is a lot happening in Consolation but Disher manages the multiple threads skilfully, connecting seemingly disparate people and events in a manner that feels credible where any single disturbance can create a ripple effect within a small community. There’s plenty of well timed action that drives the story at a fast pace but without sacrificing suspense, or emotion.

A country copper is more than just an enforcer of the law, Paul is often called upon to act, among other things, as a mediator, a counselor, a confessor, and a jack-of-all-trades. The various events in Consolation requires Hirsch to draw on all his skills to keep the peace within his community, and he is often worried he won’t be able to do it right, despite evidence to the contrary. Paul’s humility and integrity contrast with that of several of the visiting officers in the novel who are variously ego-driven or indifferent.

The setting is recognisably Australian, Disher’s prose effortlessly evokes the environment, character, and residents of Tiverton and surrounds. The laconic dialogue and dry wit is familiar and authentic.

This series has become a firm favourite of mine, Consolation is as deserving of five stars as its predecessors Bitter Wash Road (US title: Hell To Pay) and Peace. If I was pressed to recommend just one Australian rural crime series, this would be it.

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Available from Text Publishing

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Review: Honeybee by Craig Silvey


Title: Honeybee

Author: Craig Silvey

Published: 29th September 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

‘Find out who you are, and live that life.’

Honeybee is a tender, poignant, and profound coming of age story from Craig Silvey, author of Jasper Jones.

Poised to jump from an overpass, fourteen year old Sam Watson locks eyes with an elderly man who appears to be contemplating the same fate. When Vic saves Sam’s life, Sam vows to save his in return and an unlikely bond forms between the two. Vic is the first person Sam has met who seems willing to accept him for he he is, even though Sam is not really sure who that is.

A character driven novel unfolding from the first person perspective, Honeybee explores the themes of family, friendship and self, as Sam struggles with his gender identity. Neglected by his mother, bullied by his peers, and beaten by his stepfather, Sam’s self-loathing is heart breaking as he he grapples with feelings of confusion, rejection, frustration, and isolation. Silvey’s portrayal of Sam is nuanced and compelling, thoughtfully expressing his complex thoughts and feelings.

Vic’s unexpected kindness becomes a lifeline for Sam, and introduces him to Aggie, and Peter, who in turn provide him with sorely needed support, even though he is often determined to refuse it. Self doubt leads to repeated self sabotage, and Sam makes a number of poor decisions, which puts both himself and Vic at risk.

Despite all the angst, and drama, there is also humour and joy to be found in the novel. Ultimately Honeybee is an extraordinary story of transcendence, of hope, of triumph, as Honeybee becomes she.

“And I’m not wrong, I’m me. And I don’t want to be invisible anymore. I want people to see who I am.”

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Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$32.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman


Title: Anxious People

Author: Fredrik Backman (Translated by Neil Smith)

Published: 8th September 2020, Atria Books

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Atria Books/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

I don’t know how it is that Fredrik Backman can write such wildly divergent stories with unique characters that nevertheless have all managed to make me both laugh and cry. Backman’s debut novel, A Man Called Ove was a favourite book in 2014, and My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry in 2015. Anxious People may well be a favourite of 2020.

“This is a story about a bank robbery, an apartment viewing, and a hostage drama. But even more it’s a story about idiots. But perhaps not only that.”

Definitely not ‘only that’. Backman later adds this is also a story about bridges, rabbits, and love, about all of us doing the best we can, but really, truly, Anxious People is a story about humanity.

Life is messy, sometimes we make mistakes. In Anxious People, the bank robber’s first mistake is trying to rob a bank, and the second is (unintentionally) taking a bunch of people in an apartment hostage, though perhaps, as things go, that was not a mistake as such.

“The bank robber looked at each of them in turn for a long time. Then… whispered gratefully: “Worst hostages ever.”

The hostages are a motley, quirky collection of characters that initially perhaps present as irritating idiots but whom, by the time they are released, are endearing idiots, much as our first impression of the bank robber is of a dangerous idiot, but in the end is simply an overwhelmed idiot.

“They may not have had much in common, but they all knew what it was like to make a mistake.”

Anxious People is both wise and insightful, absurd and poignant. It explores a variety of themes including desperation, grief, compassion, relationships, capitalism, regret, connection and hope. It raises issues like divorce, parenting, religion, and suicide.

“We do our best. We save those we can.”

Anxious People is a comedy, a tragedy, a mystery and a wonderfully told story.

“The truth? The truth about all this? The truth is that this was a story about many different things…”

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Available from Simon & Schuster US

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound I HiveUK

 

Also by Fredrik Backman reviewed at Book’d Out 

 

 

 

 

Review: In the Clearing by J.P. Pomare

 

Title: In the Clearing

Author: J.P Pomare

Published: July 23rd 2020, Hodder & Staughton

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Hodder & Staughton/NetgalleyUK

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My Thoughts:

In the Clearing is an intense and unnerving read from J.P. Pomare, whose debut novel, Call Me Evie, won the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award for best first novel.

Divided into six parts and unfolding from two shifting perspectives we are introduced to Amy, a young teenage girl who knows only life in The Clearing, a tiny isolated community led by the charismatic ‘Queen’, ‘Mother’ and ‘Deity’ Adrienne; and single mother Freya, who is determined to provide love and security for her young son, Billy, in their riverside home on the outskirts of Melbourne, but is haunted by her past mistakes.

Examining the role of nature vs nurture in a manner that suggests we may never truly escape our past, Pomare draws inspiration from the doomsday cult known as ‘The Family’, active in Australia for roughly twenty years in the 70’s and 80’s. In the Clearing he presents a complex and unpredictable plot that is skillfully crafted and insidiously compulsive. From the novel’s first pages the author grows a sense of unease which intensifies as the story progresses. Though the pace is measured, Pomare builds to shocking twists, and yet never quite allays our anxiety.

I’m loathe to spoil the experience for readers, but it seems responsible to warn that In the Clearing has its dark moments, alluding to the abhorrent abuse of children, and the occasional explicit, but not gratuitous, description of violence.

Provocative, clever, and powerful, In the Clearing is a stunning and devastating novel which will be difficult to forget.

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Available from Hodder & Staughton UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Indiebound

Review: Radio Girl by David Dufty

Title: Radio Girl: The Story of the Extraordinary Mrs Mac, Pioneering Engineer and Wartime Legend

Author: David Dufty

Published: 28th April 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Radio Girl by David Dufty is, as the tag line says, the story of the extraordinary Mrs Mac, pioneering engineer and wartime legend.

(Florence) Violet McKenzie née Wallace, who later came to be known affectionately to many as Mrs. Mac, was born in Melbourne in 1890, married in 1924, and died in 1982. While her childhood in Austinmeer, south of Sydney, was largely unremarkable she went on to make an outstanding contribution to Australian society over her lifetime.

Radio Girl is a fascinating tribute to an amazing woman who deserves far more recognition than she has ever been given. I was quickly absorbed in the tale of Mrs Mac’s life, inspired by all she achieved, and frankly annoyed that I’ve never heard of her.

Some of Violet’s many accomplishments included becoming Australia’s first woman to earn a diploma in electrical engineering, owning and operating a successful store, the ‘Wireless Shop’, catering to amateur radio enthusiasts, and establishing the Electrical Association for Women.

However Violet’s most significant achievement was her contribution to the war effort. In 1939 Mrs Mac, as she was by then commonly called, created the Women’s Emergency Signalling Corps, ultimately training around 3000 women in Morse code. She became the driving force behind the creation of the Women’s Royal Australian Navy Service in 1941, which employed as many as a third of ‘her girls’ during WWII, and also trained thousands of enlisted and civilian men, from more than half a dozen countries, in signalling.

Suitable for the general reader, as well as those with specific interest in Australian military history or womens history, Dufty’s narrative reads well, it’s detailed without being dry, and informal in tone. Progressing chronologically through Violet’s lifetime, Dufty includes a dozen or so photographs, which I always appreciate. While it is unfortunate though that Violet could not directly contribute to this biography as I‘d be interested in the addition of a more personal perspective, the story of the Radio Girl and her achievements is nevertheless fascinating.

Radio Girl is interesting and informative and I’d like to thank David Dufty for ensuring Mrs Mac, and her admirable accomplishments are recognised in the present day, and recorded for history.

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Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Also available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Southern Cross Crime by Craig Sisterson

Title: Southern Cross Crime: The Pocket Essential Guide to the Crime Fiction, Film & TV of Australia and New Zealand

Author: Craig Sisterson

Published: April 23rd 2020, Oldcastle Books

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Oldcastle Books/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

I excitedly leapt at the opportunity to explore Southern Cross Crime, a long overdue guide to the crime fiction, film and television of Australia and New Zealand. Written by Kiwi Craig Sisterson, whose blog Crime Watch I’ve been following for close to a decade, Southern Cross Crime presents a comprehensive listing of authors, movies and TV shows from the last quarter of a century, with the inaugural Ned Kelly Awards as his starting point.

In the first section of Southern Cross Crime, Sisterson introduces authors whose settings range across the cities, suburbs and rural areas of not only Australia and New Zealand, but also international locales from Antarctica to Iceland. Long being a fan of crime fiction, I expected to be familiar with all but a few of the authors introduced by Sisterson, but just a few pages in I had a list of three author’s names to look up, and eventually added dozens more based on his succinct and tantalising descriptions of their work. You’ll not only find reference in Southern Cross Crime to internationally renowned author’s such as Michael Robotham (who also provides the Foreward), Jane Harper and Paul Cleave, but many others that may have slipped under your radar, as they did mine.

In the past year I’ve binge watched Blue Heelers, Water Rats, Rush, Murder Call, City Homicide and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (and none for the first time), which are a handful of the television series highlighted in the second section of Southern Cross Crime exploring some of the Antipodean produced and set crime on-screen TV and film over the past 25 years. Sisterson provides a short synopsis for each series or film, many of which are available to watch on various streaming services for both local and international audiences. Of those Sisterson has not mentioned I’d like to recommend Harrow (2018 – ), a TV drama featuring forensic pathologist Dr. Daniel Harrow, played by Ioan Gruffudd, and Stingers (1998-2004) which chronicled the cases of a deep undercover unit of the Victoria police.

The final section of Southern Cross Crime features thirteen well-known crime fiction authors whom Sisterson has interviewed, or reported on, in the last decade or so. This includes Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award winner Peter Corris, newcomer Emma Viskic, ‘The Kiwi Godfather’ Paul Thomas, and Sisters in Crime co-founder and President, Lindy Cameron. I very much enjoyed this section, learning a little more about the author’s I admire, and of whose work I have read.

I’ve been pleased to witness the growing popularity of Australian & New Zealand crime fiction over the last few years, and I’m thrilled that Craig Sisterson has taken the initiative to develop this essential guide which will further promote the genre both within our two countries, and on the international stage. Southern Cross Crime is a valuable and Illuminative resource for crime fiction fans everywhere.

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Southern Cross Crime is currently available as an ebook, with the publication of the paperback delayed because of Covid-19

To pre-order the print edition -available in September 2020

Oldcastle Books I Book Depository I Hive UK I via Booko

To purchase an ebook now

Oldcastle Books or your preferred retailer Amazon I Apple I Kobo

 

Review: Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

Title: Code Name Hélène

Author: Ariel Lawhon

Published: March 31st 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Read: March 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia

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My Thoughts:

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon is an exciting and absorbing novel of historical fiction based on the extraordinary wartime experiences of Nancy Wake.

The story unfolds from Nancy’s first person perspective over two timelines. The first, beginning in 1936, focuses on her life in Paris as a journalist, as a newlywed, and as a people and document smuggler known as Lucienne Carlier, which earns her the moniker of ‘The White Mouse’ with a bounty of five million francs in her head. The second timeline reveals her incredible role with the Maquis in southern France as a British Special Operations Executive where she is known as Madam André, code name Hélène, and leads a Resistance force of thousands during the last months of World War II.

Lawhon takes only minor liberties with the facts to tell Nancy’s amazing story whose courageous actions earned her a dozen wartime medals from four countries. Nancy, who died in 2011 aged 98, was an intelligent, attractive, and feisty woman who wore Victory Red lipstick as armour and a cyanide pill on her cuff. She could drink like a fish, and swear like a sailor, or sip cocktails and make polite conversation in a spine revealing cocktail dress. She was a friend, a smuggler, a wife, a spy, a fighter, a leader, she was, and remains, a hero.

All but one of the major characters in Code Name Hélène were real people, from Nancy’s contacts in the Resistance, to her beloved husband. She married wealthy industrialist Henri Fiocca just before Germany invaded France but they were soon separated when he was sent to the border to fight and again, when shortly after his return, Nancy’s actions attracted the attention of the Gestapo and she was forced to flee Paris. Their relationship is a significant and moving element of the novel.

I was completely caught up in Code Name Hélène from its first pages. I thought it very well paced as it moved between timelines, both of which built a sense of anticipatory tension, though there is more outright action during Nancy’s tenure with the Maquis.

Code Name Hélène is not just a story of adventure and romance, but also one of friendship, courage, tragedy, and hope. Until now I’ve known nothing of Nancy Wake, but I have every intention of tracking down a copy of her autobiography to learn more. Nancy Wake was an extraordinary woman, and Lawhon has written an extraordinary story which honours her.

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Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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Review: Truganini by Cassandra Pybus

Title: Truganini: Journey Through the Apocalypse

Author: Cassandra Pybus

Published: March 3rd 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Inspired by her ancestors connection to the woman known as the ‘last Tasmanian Aborigine’, Truganini by Cassandra Pybus, is a stunning historical biography.

Born around 1812 on Bruny Island, Truganini survived the capture, forced relocation, attempted assimilation and sanctioned extermination of the First Nations population of Tasmania, before dying in 1876. Drawing on a number of historical sources, including personal journals, oral histories, government records, and newspaper archives, Pybus pieces together the story of Truganini’s extraordinary life.

Placed under the ‘protection’ of Christian missionary George Robinson as a teenager she was induced to behave as his emissary/guide aiding in his self-appointed task to ‘save’ the indigenous peoples, by leading them Into exile. She was to spend more than a decade with Robinson, accompanying him to ‘New Holland’, before fleeing his patronage, only to be accused of murder and be sent into exile on Flinders Island, and later Oyster Cove. Even in death she was denied self-determination, her wish to be cremated and her ashes spread over the D’Entrecasteaux Channel ignored for over a hundred years.

Honestly I have no words to communicate the deep sorrow I feel for the fate of Truganini and all of the indigenous peoples. This harrowing narrative reveals a spirited and courageous woman who suffered unimaginable losses – the annihilation of her country, her culture, her kin, and her identity. Pybus’s account is rendered with honesty and empathy, shedding light on the shameful history Australia is yet to reconcile.

Profound, poignant, and perceptive, Truganini should be required reading for all Australian’s to aid in our understanding of, and acknowledgement of, our past.

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Available from Allen & Unwin. RRP AUD $32.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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