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Latest Reviews

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A kindness cup / Thea Astley ; introduced by Kate Grenville.
Author: Astley, Thea, 1925-2004, author. -- Grenville, Kate, 1950-, author of introduction.
Publisher: Melbourne, Australia : The Text Publishing Company, 2018. -- �1974.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 19/11/2022 11:37:07 AM
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Thea Astley was a woman ahead of her time. Writing in the 1960s, she could perceive the denial and whitewash that writers of history (ie. European invaders) had imposed on their troubled relationship with the native inhabitants of Australia. This whitewash forms the theme for A Kindness Cup.

Set in the pioneering cane fields of north Queensland, the story begins in the 1860s with a massacre of the local Aboriginals by some white vigilantes accompanied by the police lieutenant. A few whites try unsuccessfully to prevent it. An official inquiry exposes the injustice of English-based justice.

Twenty years later the town decides to celebrate its early years. The most strident objector to the earlier massacre returns after a long absence to try to make the town face up to its murderous past. Tensions rise to fever pitch culminating in brutal consequences.

Thea Astley develops a range of characters to widely represent the varied, idiosyncratic and complex attitudes in those days towards Aboriginals. History books tell us of massacres, mainly bare facts and statistics. Astley tells it with personalised detail.
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The multiple effects of rainshadow / Thea Astley ; introduced by Chloe Hooper.
Author: Astley, Thea, 1925-2004, author. -- Hooper, Chloe, 1973-, author of introduction.
Publisher: Melbourne, Australia : The Text Publishing Company, 2018. -- �1996.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 12/11/2022 11:51:42 AM
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Thea Astley was an Australian author writing in the second half of the 20th century. She was known for her sensitivity to black-white relations in Australia.

The story takes place on Doebin, a fictional island off the coast of north Queensland modelled on Palm Island. Although not exactly a prison, it was a place where difficult, diseased and misfit Aboriginals were sent. Events are modelled on true events that occurred in the 1930s when the Superintendent ran wild with a gun and burnt buildings. The Aboriginal police boys are armed by the other white residents and ordered to shoot to kill. This is exactly what one of them does.

There is a kaleidoscope of whites on the island - all misfits and eccentrics as would be expected in such a remote posting. The story is retold and expanded through the broader perspective of each of their lives...reflective of the multiple effects contained in the novel's title. It is as much a story about their motives and fate as it is about the tragic event.

If you want a window into 1930s interracial and social norms and mores, Thea Astley's novel gives you more than a peek.
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Sons of thunder / Giles Kristian.
Author: Kristian, Giles.
Publisher: New York : Bantam, 2012 -- New York : Bantam, 2012. -- ©2010
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 3/11/2022 12:54:04 PM
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Our intrepid, invincible heroes return in this second book in Giles Kristian's Raven series. At the end of the first book Raven Blood Eye, the Norse wolfpack, have been betrayed by an English earl who has stolen one of their longboats as well as a priceless Holy book. These Viking raiders-cum-traders pursue this earl to the coast of France - then the domain of Charlemagne the Great. Having caught their prey their adventures are only beginning.

The principle character in this series, Osric, now known as Raven, has a lady-friend who is the daughter of the very earl who has betrayed his Viking lord and partners. Cynethryth is both an asset and a liability. Towards the end of the novel she has to be rescued - another adventure!

There is not as much swash-buckling in this novel as there was in the first book in the series. One battle and two duels. But to satisfy their lust for silver this wolfpack resorts to trade rather than raid. This requires brain rather than brawn guile rather than bombast. But this is a tension-building adventure none the less.

For its genre, an historical novel set in the Dark Ages of European history, this book fits the bill. I look forward to the third book in the series Odins Wolves.
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The Penguin historical atlas of ancient civilizations.
Author: Haywood, John, 1956-
Publisher: London : Penguin, 2005.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 3/11/2022 12:52:16 PM
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I was seeking a book that would give me a concise overview of all the ancient societies that sprouted and died in the cradle of civilisation in the Near East. This book did more. It spanned the entire globe dedicating sections to the Near East, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

Definitions and parameters are set early on. Where to begin? What defines civilisation? This establishes the historical starting point - essentially the beginning of urbanisation and the notions of some sort of kingship. Of course, an intensification of agriculture had to precede this to provide a surplus to support all these status-seeking parasites.

The end point in time differs depending on the region. For the Near East and Europe this was the beginning of the Roman Republic in the middle of the first millennium BC. But for the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Pacific it was the coming of the Europeans building their overseas empires.

Although called an atlas, most of this book is text with a couple of pages for each civilisation. However, the maps provided are essential for orientation in BOTH space AND time. I wanted something concise to give me a generalised overview. My knowledge of ancient civilisations is so much clearer thanks to this book.
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Blood eye / Giles Kristian
Author: Kristian, Giles.
Publisher: Long Preston : Magna, 2010.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 15/10/2022 12:07:02 PM
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England, AD 802, about a decade into the Viking-raiding era in English history. Our hero, Osric, is a 15 year old youth without a past, living an uneasy existence in a small village on the south coast of England. A visit by Norse "traders" goes awry, leading to the decimation of the village and Osric being taken prisoner on the Viking longships. He quickly blends in with the crew, not least because of the quasi-supernatural nature of his blood-red eye. Renamed "Raven" by the Viking leader, he shares in their adventures which litter this novel.

There are several tension building episodes, usually resolved in battle. Kristian reminds us that the Viking raiders didn't always have it their own way. The Anglo-Saxons were a warrior race too. Add to that the untamed Welsh. In one confrontation, the Norse band would have been wiped out if not for accepting a difficult mission for the local Anglo-Saxon chief, viz. the retrieval of a priceless Holy Book from a neighbouring rival kingdom.

This book is full of shifting alliances. Enemies become uneasy allies, and members of one's in-group become deadly renegades. Betrayals abound. Ruthlessness reigns. The novel ends with a key mission only partly completed. Looks like I'll have to read book II in this Raven series ("Sons of Thunder") to see if they have better luck.
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The biology book.
Author: Dorling Kindersley (corp)
Publisher: London, UK Dorling Kindersley 2021. -- London : Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2021. -- ©2021
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 15/10/2022 12:05:08 PM
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Biology is a vast and diverse field of science. If you want to revise or expand your knowledge, and want a book that is all encompassing while remaining concise and succinct, you would find it hard to beat this book in the DK series.

"The Biology Book" divides its task into nine overarching themes viz. Life (what, actually is it?; Food & Energy; Transport & Regulation (how nutrients are transported and regulated); Brain & Behaviour; Health & Disease; Growth and Reproduction; Inheritance (plenty on genetics and DNA in these last two); Evolution and Diversity of Life; and Ecology (the relationships of organisms in their home environments). There are multiple topics within each theme.

The selling point of "The Biology Book" is in its organisation, its layout and its presentation.
Each topic is dedicated two to four pages. These pages are full of diagrams, time lines, illustrations and inserts, all of which offer alternative means and assistance to textual explanations. There are also short biographies of the key figures involved. This book is packed with history as well as scientific fact. What I found particularly interesting was the methodology used by early "biologists" i.e. how they set up their experiments, how they collected their data, then how they made their conclusions.

For a field as large, diverse and multifaceted as biology, this book gives an ideal layman's overview.
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His name was Walter / Emily Rodda.
Author: Rodda, Emily, 1948-, author.
Publisher: Pymble, NSW HarperCollins Australia 2018. -- Sydney, N.S.W. : Angus & Robertson, 2018.
Review by: McAlpine, Elle  on: 11/10/2022 7:53:02 PM
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I've never had one favourite book, I've always had at least a few but now I can definitely tell which is my favourite. His name was Walter is an amazing book and I love how the book was always taking unexpected turns and keeping you on the edge of your seat!
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The ashes of London / Andrew Taylor
Author: Taylor, Andrew.
Publisher: London : HarperCollins, 2016. -- �2016 -- London HarperCollins, 2016.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 6/10/2022 11:29:29 AM
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1666. The monarchy is restored under King Charles II. But restoration England remains divided by religion (Protestant vs Puritan vs Catholic) and politics (monarchist vs republican vs 5th monarchist). Reeling from the plague that now seems will be alleviated by an all-consuming inferno (the Great Fire of London). An atmosphere ideal for murder and political intrigue.

There are two protagonists in this novel.

James Marwood is in the employ of the under-secretary for the Southern Region. He is at his boss's beck and call but seems to double as a murder investigator and government spy. Two suspicious deaths occur early in the story and they may have links to underground opposition to the monarchy.

Cat (Catherine) is a rebellious 18 year old living an uncomfortable existence in the household of the husband of her late aunt. This man also happens to be one of the wealthiest men in London and holds an influential position in its government. In an act of revenge, Cat almost murders her cousin after he rapes her. She goes into hiding, not knowing that the blame for the assault was subsequently placed on her former, faithful servant. Later in the story, Cat makes a second attempt on her rapist's life, only to dig herself deeper into a hole.

As the story progresses, Cat's story and that of James Marwood are drawn together. The link is their fathers, former antimonarchist co-conspirators. While Marwood's father is now deranged and no longer a threat, Cat's father is still well and active. Marwood finds himself with multiple masters, each with slightly different agendas, but with a prime purpose that he use his family name to track down Cat's father.

It is inevitable that Cat's and Marwood's paths would cross. As the story approaches its end, the tension mounts as Marwood rushes to save Cat.

This novel is a mix of genres. It starts as crime, morphs into political intrigue, then ends as a thriller. And then there is a twist in the tale at the tail of the story, so you need to read the last couple of chapters, even if you think the drama is over. Some chapters are told by Cat, some by Marwood, and some in the third person. An all-round sound historical fiction.
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How the mind changed : a human history of our evolving brain / Joseph Jebelli.
Author: Jebelli, Joseph, author.
Publisher: [S.l.] : Little, Brown Spark, 2022. -- New York : Little, Brown Spark, 2022.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 24/09/2022 11:40:03 AM
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Is it arrogant to claim that the brain of Homo sapiens represents the pinnacle of evolution for this organ? True, other species have many abilities that aid their survival ... abilities that humans do not share. But as far as our brain goes, its advanced anatomy, its size, its myriad functions, its capacity for abstraction, self-consciousness, introspection and planning ... it would be hard to refute this lofty claim.

Joseph Jebelli, a neuroscientist, takes us on a journey, both historical (covering seven million years of evolution) and scientifically analytical of the organ itself.

Jebelli begins with the evolutionally history of our ancestor species' brains. He explores theories as to why our ancestors' brains continued to grow in size and sophistication, including one centred on a weakening of our jaw muscles, and another on our discovery of cooking. By the time we get to Homo sapiens we have an organ that, while occupying only 2% of our body weight, accounts for over 20% (I have read up to 50%) of our energy consumption.

The discussion of the emotional brain focuses on depression. Why did such a destructive process evolve? What is its neurological basis? Could it have had some evolutionary advantages? Then there is its flipside, viz. happiness.

Our species would never have attained its elevated position if it were not for our ability to organise ourselves into large, complex, cooperative groups. Hence the social brain that allows us to create webs of mutual relationships with complete strangers. Concepts of empathy and fair play deserve special attention.

Memory is a multifaceted function of our brains. Jebelli explains seven types of memory and gives examples of how they integrate on a typical day. He also illustrates how it is shaped by culture and how it can be influenced by social factors.

Jebelli also links culture and environment to that hard to define concept of intelligence. There are quite a few interesting revelations, although, if you follow his logic closely, you may find one or two seeming inconsistencies. Some you should find inspiring ... at the very least hopeful for the ageing brain.
Next is that mental faculty that gave us the leading edge on all other species ... perhaps why we are the only surviving species of Hominin today ... viz. language. Why did language evolve? Don't dismiss the story-telling theory. What happens to our brain when we learn language? What is the contribution of genes verses that of culture and environment?

The nature of consciousness (and the concept of "self") remains elusive. Is it separate from mind, something akin to the religious concept of soul? Or is it merely neurons firing in the brain? A related issue is whether free will, actually exists as we commonly think. Plenty of food for thought in this chapter.

While exploring the diversity of minds out there, Jebelli expounds upon autism and savants. He also reveals his own personal passion for a greater acceptance and inclusivity of what he regards is an important evolutionary niche for autism.

In the last chapter, Jebelli takes a peek into the (near?) future. We are already growing brain tissue outside the body (possibly for replacement of brain parts?) We are experimenting with stimulating the brain's own repair system. But the greater part of this chapter focuses on computer-brain interfaces and the field of cybernetics. Are the cybernauts of Dr Who to become something of the real future rather than merely Sci Fi?

This is not a big book ... only 222 pages. This limits Jebelli to a layman's overview. He does not have the space to bog down in scientific detail that would take a PhD to comprehend. It is an ideal book to fuel your brain with a greater knowledge about itself.
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The wounds of war / by Gary Blinco.
Author: Blinco, Gary.
Publisher: Burleigh, Qld. : Zeus Publications, c2005.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 17/09/2022 11:45:31 AM
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I have read Gary Blinco’s autobiography of his childhood in the bush in Southern Queensland, and his early adulthood when he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. It was an enjoyable and somewhat nostalgic trip through the 1950s and 1960s. (My review for this book appears in the library catalogue). It was with this biography that I was motivated to read one of his novels, obviously reflecting his experiences in Vietnam.

Gary Blinco's protagonist is Gary Bishop, a junior NCO who, on return from his first tour of Vietnam volunteers for a second tour in an attempt to erase some of the demons haunting him from the first. He leaves behind a wife, Leanne, whom he had only married a month earlier after a three month, whirlwind courtship. As I read of Gary Bishop's family background, I see a thinly veiled image of the author himself (revealed in his autobiography). Although Gary Blinco's autobiography finished after only one tour in Vietnam, I do know that he remained with the army for many years. I therefore suspect that this novel also reflects more of the author's experiences in Vietnam, thus adding to its authenticity.

Gary Bishop, now a sergeant on his second tour is assigned to a small multinational taskforce with a highly politically sensitive mission ... they are to gather irrefutable intelligence on the North Vietnamese channelling of arms and troops from the north to the south through supposedly neutral Laos and Cambodia. Once on the mission they will be on their own, living off their wits and their own initiative. Needless to say, things do not go smoothly. There are some mighty sticky spots. Is there a traitor in this multinational taskforce?

Back home in Australia, Leanne, having had little time to adjust to married life, finds a conflict of loyalties. What will be the fate of their roller-coaster marriage? Again, I wonder how much of Gary Blinco's real life experiences are reflected in this subsidiary plotline.

An OK war story with credible realism and sufficient doses of tension. Even the home scene with Gary's wife, Leanne, drew interest from an unromantic like me. An all-round well written and conceived story by an Australian author.
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