None Shall Sleep

 New York Times bestseller! Go, Ellie Marney! One of Australia's very best YA authors, Marney produced a ripping mystery trilogy with her Every series, which I absolutely gulped down, and None Shall Sleep raises her bar still higher.

This book came out in 2020 but I must confess I was put off by the cover, which I think is... not great? But the words inside are brilliant. Marney acknowledges being a Mindhunter fan, and I also really loved the Netflix series and was hugely disappointed to learn that it hadn't been renewed after two seasons. Mindhunter was set in the earliest days of the Behavioural Science Unit of the FBI, when psychologists were first being employed to track 'multiple murders', better known now as serial killers. None Shall Sleep takes us into the FBI a few years later, to 1982, with a YA twist -- two teenagers, both survivors of trauma at the hands of a killer, are recruited to help the FBI gain some insight into young serial murderers.

I keep saying that I don't like horror, I don't like gore, and yet I seem to keep reading gory horror stories... None Shall Sleep gripped me from start to finish. There are shades of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling's relationship in Emma and Simon's interactions, but they are very much their own characters. Marney is careful not to slip into horror porn with her descriptions of the repugnant actions of her killers -- the scenes are clearly horrific, but never explicit. Still, squeamish me wouldn't like to see any of this stuff on screen! The cover tagline reads 'a captivating and chilling psychological thriller' so I can't say I wasn't warned.

Gee, this was good.


Better Late Than Never

Last week, quite by chance, I found myself reading books by three authors with eerily similar names: Emily Gale, Emma Mahony and Ellie Marney. There's no significance to this coincidence, just weird!

Emma Mahony's Better Late Than Never, part self-help manual, part memoir, is subtitled Understand, Survive and Thrive Midlife ADHD Diagnosis, and I borrowed it from the library because my elder daughter has a theory that her father might have ADHD tendencies, which does seem to be a possibility (in fact, his whole family definitely lean that way, now it's been pointed out). However, Mahony's book focuses primarily on the experience of women with later life diagnosis, which is something unfortunately not indicated in the title or on the cover. (The title is clever because ADHDers often struggle with punctuality!)

I found this a really interesting read, not least because of Mahony's unflinching honesty in looking back over her own life with the benefit of hindsight and seeing where her own ADHD has pushed her off track, ruined relationships, and blinded her to her son's own difficulties at school. But it's not all bad: ADHD has also given her gifts which have helped her to thrive in her career(s) and filled her life with variety and richness. 

The three main characteristics of ADHD are restlessness, impulsivity and distractability, which Mahony reframes as creativity, energy and spontaneity, all of which can be invaluable traits if managed properly. Much of Better Late Than Never is a plea for greater understanding, especially of school children, which her mid-life career change to teaching has enabled her to see particularly clearly, though interestingly she often butts heads with authority in trying to help her fellow ADHDers. Published in the UK, the book's specific advice won't always apply to an Australian setting, but it's an insightful and fascinating glimpse into the condition.


How To Spell Catastrophe


I already knew that Fiona Wood was an author of superb young adult fiction (see Cloudwish, Six Impossible Things, Wildlife etc) and a really lovely human being (she once sought me out in an airport to invite me to sit with her in the Qantas lounge), but it turns out she can also write superlative novels for middle grade, too. * shakes fist at the sky* Damn you, Fiona Wood! Is there anything you can't do??

How To Spell Catastrophe is smart, warm, funny, subtle children's literature. Nell is in her final year of primary, that complicated time, half itching to move forward into the big new world of high school and the future, half clinging to the safety of the familiar, as she's torn between her old friends and the excitement of lawless new girl Plum. Nell's family is changing, too, when her mum proposes melding their cosy dyad with her boyfriend Ted and his younger daughter Amelia -- an idea which horrifies Nell. To cap it all off, Nell is a worrier, and jots down plans for dealing with any and all possible emergency situations. (I liked the way Nell's therapy sessions are discussed with a matter-of-fact lack of drama, as just another part of her life.) But climate change is such a big worry that it won't even fit into Nell's notebook --

There is so much to love about this book. Wood's writing is top notch, as you'd expect, and she is especially good on the dynamics of friendships. In a lesser novel, Plum might be a 'bad' person -- and she is problematic, encouraging Nell into reckless and irresponsible behaviour, being a bit mean sometimes -- but in Wood's hands the reader sees that Plum has her own issues to deal with, and perhaps what she really needs is a stable, cautious friend like Nell. Change is scary, and How To Spell Catastrophe handles the need to balance courage, careful planning, boldness and prudence in a really beautiful way.

(Ironically I managed to misspell 'catastrophe' twice while writing this post.)




I found out about Matthew Green's Shadowlands through Susan Green's blog. We have very similar taste, and if she ever gives up blogging about the books she reads, I think I will, too, because at this point I am pretty much blogging purely for book recs...

ANYWAY, Shadowlands is creepy and eerie and poetic and melancholy. Apparently Green was going through some personal upheaval at the time he was writing and researching this book (the death of a parent, the breakdown of a marriage) and it shows. Shadowlands is partly a physical exploration of these abandoned settlements (buried Neolithic houses, plague villages, victims of coastal erosion, areas taken over for military simulations) and partly a history of Britain. The book is arranged in chronological order, so it serves as an eclectic timeline of Britain's crises and disasters, mostly wars and epidemics, to end with Green's gloomy reflection that there are probably towns and villages in Britain today just waiting to be deserted for whatever reason -- perhaps a nuclear disaster, or another epidemic, or most likely victims of climate change. 

I do believe most of what Green tells us, but I have to point out that his account of St Kilda, the bayside suburb of Melbourne, being founded by refugees from the Scottish island of St Kilda, is unfortunately just plain wrong -- it was named after a steamship moored offshore (which admittedly was itself named after the island). So perhaps it's kind of true?

Shadowlands seems particularly poignant and timely as Victoria, having endured catastrophic bushfires a couple of summers ago, is currently in the middle of a slow flood calamity as one town after another waits for the rivers to peak and subside. This was a beautiful but sobering read.


The Prisoner


Jane Caro cited Kerry Tucker's memoir, The Prisoner, as a helpful source when she was researching her novel, The Mother, which I also read recently. The Prisoner was an absolutely fascinating and enlightening glimpse into a world which I know very little about. Kerry Tucker was an ordinary suburban mum (albeit with a painful personal history of sexual abuse) who fell into an ever-deeper spiral of debt and fraud, until she was finally convicted and received a fourteen year sentence, longer than some women who were convicted of murder (she was out a lot earlier on parole).

Yet again in my recenr reading, there were women in Kerry's prison who had killed abusive partners. She mixed with women from Melbourne's gangster underground, drug addicts, tough women and vulnerable women, women with intellectual disabilities (who shouldn't have been in prison at all), women with mental illness. There were kind prison officers and brutal prison officers. Kerry's descriptions of her experience are straightforward and unflinching; prison is no luxury resort, and the greatest punishment is separation from loved ones. Kerry finds being parted from her two young daughters especially painful.

And yet her account of her own years in prison is definitely positive. For the first time in her life she finds a clear purpose and place to belong, writing parole letters for her fellow inmates and eventually working as a peer support officer -- a counsellor, liaison with authority, problem solver, trouble shooter, go-between, legal and life adviser. As a middle class and articulate woman, she could offer gifts of practical common sense and language, and for once in her life, found herself indispensable. She should have been moved to a low security facility, but she was so useful that she was kept where she was.

The Prisoner does not gloss over the pain and trauma of incarceration, but Tucker maintains that 'prison works.' Maybe, if you have someone like her by your side... I'm not so sure. Still, I learned a lot from this book.


Never Forget You

I ordered Never Forget You as a birthday present for myself after reading a review in The Guardian and thinking, ooh, this sounds just up my alley. To my shame, I've never read any of Jamila Gavin's books before and had never even heard of her until my mate Kirsty Murray told me all about her at book group.

Never Forget You is yet another WWII story (I seem to be on a bit of a binge at the moment!), but this novel focuses on four women, school friends who end up following very different paths through the war -- from working in the French Resistance in Paris, to flying planes, to infiltrating fascist groups within England itself. One of the characters is a real person, Noor Inayat Khan, though Gavin fictionalises aspects of her life. Inspired by reading this novel, I went on to watch the movie A Call to Spy on Netflix, which also features Noor's experiences (warning: it's pretty sad).

Unlike The Castle on the Hill, Never Forget You doesn't pull its punches -- not all the friends make it safely through the war. With her links to India, Gavin was obviously drawn tothe figure of Noor, and describes this novel as a 'tribute' to her. I must admit I did struggle a little with Noor's encounters with the fairies, which sat rather oddly in an otherwise bitterly realist story, though it does chime with her parallel career as a children's writer. But overall Never Forget You is absorbing and moving, and it definitely sent me down a rabbit hole of spies and resistance fighters.


The Twelfth Day of July


When venerable children's and young adult author Joan Lingard died earlier this year, I realised to my dismay that I had never read any of her work. A quick search on Brotherhood Books turned up The Twelfth Day of July, from 1970, the first in a series of five books about a young Belfast couple, one Catholic and one Protestant, who meet and (I guess, in later books?) fall in love across the sectarian divide.

In The Twelfth Day of July, Kevin and Sadie are young teens who become caught up in an escalating series of dares, raids into each other's territory, in the lead-up to the Protestants' big celebration and march on the 12th July. With their friends and siblings egging them on, they daub paint on enemy walls, break into each other's houses, hide out in enemy backyards, and confront each other in the streets to hurl insults, and finally, fists.

The structure of this slim book is deceptively simple, a fable of provocation and gradually escalating violence where the protagonists also slowly develop a growing respect and admiration for each other's guts and daring, ending in a satisfying truce where both sides boycott the 'Twelfth' for a day at the seaside, in neutral territory, just hanging out as young people together. 

I'd be interested to see how the story develops across the next four books. The Twelfth Day of July is an engaging introduction to the Belfast Troubles, with quite low stakes at this stage, though I'm sure as the series progresses things will become more serious. It's hard to believe this book is over 50 years old -- though the period detail has dated, the characters and action are as fresh and lively as anything written today.


The Castle on the Hill

Goodreads describes The Castle on the Hill as 'Elizabeth Goudge at her best.' Hm, I'm afraid I disagree. It's certainly Elizabeth Goudge, with many of the familiar ingredients of a Goudge story -- a fresh blonde heroine, a damaged artist, a kindly older man, a self-sacrificing older woman, a brave young soldier, a tortured idealist, and a couple of charming children to provide lightness and comic relief. However, there's a rather strained quality to this novel that prevents it from reaching the heights Goudge can be capable of.

This is another Coronet edition with a terrible cover -- absolutely no idea who these two are supposed to be. The woman has to be Miss Brown, she's not young or pretty or blonde enough to be Prunella. But who is the bloke? Presumably Jo Isaacson? But their whole pose is wrong, and oh my god, the hat and stripy shirt, the white suit, not to mention the woman's wraparound skirt and flowery blouse -- did I mention this book is set in 1940?? I despair!

The Castle on the Hill was published in 1942 and set a couple of years before, in the darkest days of the early war, Dunkirk and the Blitz, and I think this accounts for the slightly breathless tone in which it's written. It swerves uncomfortably close to being pure wartime propaganda, and it pulls too many of its punches to be really successful. The young pacifist finds an 'out' by performing courageous ambulance service in London; when a young woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock, the baby conveniently dies. There are pompous patriotic speeches and lyrical descriptions of 'this England' which 'we're' fighting for. For a Goudge novel, there is a surprisingly high body count, but hey, that's war I guess. I did enjoy the slightly more subtle spiritual thread that weaves through several characters and the thorn tree in the wood, and even that is not really that subtle!

I'm glad to add The Castle on the Hill to my collection but I don't think I'll revisit it as often as the Torminster books or the books about the Eliot family.


The Believer


Sarah Krasnostein is an incredible writer, and her previous book, The Trauma Cleaner, won just about every award it was eligible for. The Believer is a more diffuse project than Trauma Cleaner, but it's just as wonderful to read and ponder. Trauma Cleaner was focused on one woman's extraordinary life story; The Believer encounters six different individuals or groups, who all have one thing in common -- they all have faith in something. Krasnostein spends time with a 'death doula' and one of her clients at the very end of life; a group investigating paranormal phenomena; some creationists; a woman who spent 35 years in jail after killing her abusive husband (it was quite startling to come across this story so soon after reading The Mother, but it was a total coincidence...); a family of Mennonites; and believers in UFOs.

The UFO section centres on the disappearance of Frederick Valentich, a 20 year old pilot who vanished over Bass Strait but reported seeing mysterious lights and an inexplicable craft moving above him before he went missing. My father was also based at Moorabin Airport at the time, and I can remember discussions about this incident in my childhood; Dad always believed that Valentich was unknowingly flying upside down.

In every encounter, even where Krasnostein seems completely sceptical about her subjects' beliefs (particularly with the Mennonites and the creationists), her gentle but rigorous attention is notable. She is motivated by a desire to understand, not to judge, and even where it's impossible for her to see any way across the divide, she tries her utmost to reach out a hand. In these days when we are all so quick to pronounce and condemn, this book is a salutary corrrective. The Believer may not provide the most scholarly or coherent narrative, but it's definitely a fascinating and absorbing journey.


The Mother


The Mother is a terrific, informative, gripping and chilling novel which held me enthralled to the final page. I'd heard good things about this book and there was a long reserve list at the library, which is usually a good sign, but The Mother exceeded expectations.

It's a fantastic premise for a story. Miriam is a middle aged mother who is at first thrilled that her adult daughter has settled down at last with such an attentive partner. He's romantic, thoughtful, a loving father. And yet there are subtle hints that all is not well. Why install a security system that points at the front door? Why discourage Miriam from visiting to help with the babies? Gradually, to her horror, Miriam learns just how toxic Ally's marriage really is, and that's where the tension really ramps up.

I do seem to have been reading an awful lot of books about violence against women lately, but The Mother is a cracker. The dawning realisation that Miriam and Ally are totally helpless against Ally's husband is totally chilling and, unfortunately, absolutely realistic. Caro has obviously done her research, and while the police are sympathetic to Miriam and Ally, the legal system is stacked against them. Miriam ultimately decides to take drastic action, and she is not excused from the consequences of that decision.

Caro acknowledges Jess Hill's See What You Made Me Do both within the novel and in the author's notes, and I would bet that The Mother will reach an even wider audience than Hill's outstanding work. Let's hope it helps.



 Madeline Miller's Circe was recommended by my book group ladies, and I reserved it from the library on the spot. I ended up reading most of it in the Glen Waverley library, waiting for my husband's eye surgery to finish, and it transported me far, far away, in space and time, to the Ancient Greek Age of Heroes.

I knew Circe vaguely as the sorceress who turned Odysseus' sailors into swine, but Miller's novel does a magnificent job of filling out her back story and incorporating the other aspects of her legend: daughter of Helios, the Sun; magic worker; spurned lover, creator of her own craft and happiness; mother of potions and herbal magic. This novel is beautifully written, vivid, absorbing. 

Circe is one of the most enjoyable adult novels I've read this year, and a perfect way to while away a five hour wait.


Jungle Doctor Attacks Witchcraft

This is how I remember the shelf of Jungle Doctor books in the Mt Hagen library: low down, to the right of the window, almost at the end of the alphabet. They were written by Paul White, an Australian doctor and missionary who managed to spin his two years in Africa into dozens of books, all with an evangelical message.

I read loads of these as a child, though I didn't remember much about them, and the spines jumped off the shelf at me when I came across them in City Basement Books a few weeks ago. For the sake of my childhood, I selected just one, Jungle Doctor Attacks Witchcraft, and expected it to be hideously racist. It was certainly patronising, but it wasn't too bad on the racism scale. What I'd totally forgotten was the heavy-handed Christian messaging -- every case who crosses Jungle Doctor's path (he is ever named, except as 'Bwana') can be turned into a parable, usually delivered not by Bwana himself, but by his African sidekick Daudi (who seems to do a lot of the leg work around the mission station).

"H-e-e-e-e," said Daudi, "you may pull out the plant, but you cannot get rid of the results of it. Behold, indeed, this plant is like sin. You may do your best to destroy it, but you cannot get away from its effects. The Bible says truly: 'The soul that sinneth it shall die.'"

The books are short, just over a hundred pages, and generously illustrated (the illustrations are pretty racist, so I won't reproduce one here). I guess as a child I could see a few parallels between Jungle Doctor's life in Tanganika Territory (now Tanzania) and our lives in Papua New Guinea; and the evangelical content was similar to what I was imbibing every day from our neighbours, my friends at school and their missionary parents. Another trip down memory lane, but this time it's not one I'm eager to repeat.


Nowhere To Hide


It's hard to believe that six years have passed since that glorious day in 2016 when the Western Bulldogs won the AFL Premiership for the first time in 62 years. Tom Boyd was an integral part of that victory, playing perhaps the best game of his life, scoring three goals, including the breathtaking kick that sealed the game and resulted in this iconic image, with teammate Toby McLean jumping on his back, the very personification of joy and triumph:

Image: Fox Sports

Bulldogs supporters claim that in that single moment, Tom Boyd justified his enormous contract, at the time the biggest ever awarded to a player -- he was worth every penny. But that moment, and the huge contract deal, came at a tremendous personal cost to Boyd. Nowhere To Hide is the story of his football career, and more importantly, his personal journey through hell and out the other side.

Reading this book, combined with the recent appalling allegations of racism emerging from Hawthorn, and the long and sorry history of racism, misogyny and other scandals, have done a lot to put me off the whole sport of football. Correction, it's not a sport -- it's an industry. And like any business where there is far too much money sloshing around, common decency toward individuals, let alone empathy and compassion, seem to get lost in the mix.

On the surface, Tom Boyd seemed to have it all -- a young, white, privileged male, gifted with athletic talent, smart, articulate, good-looking, a number one draft pick -- surely he was living the dream? And he copped a huge amount of abuse for this very reason. If anything went wrong, he felt ungrateful, and he felt the pressure of everyone's expectations. When it sunk in for me that when he made the decision to leave GWS to come to the Western Bulldogs, he was younger than my daughter is now, I was horrified. He was a twenty year old kid, prone to injury, suffering from anxiety and insomnia, not sure who to trust, reluctant to admit he was struggling, because he felt as if he was letting everyone down.

After reading Nowhere To Hide, I don't think I will ever voice a criticism of a footballer again, even in the privacy of my own living room. I feel ashamed of the casual insults I've voiced aloud, telling myself it's all part of the theatre of the game. No, these are vulnerable young men, many of them just kids, trying their hardest, and suffering demons in their heads that we know nothing about. Shame on us all.