*Please note: I choose not to give memoirs a star rating*
At the age of 30, Tanya Saad tested positive for BRCA1, a hereditary gene that greatly increa...more *Please note: I choose not to give memoirs a star rating*
At the age of 30, Tanya Saad tested positive for BRCA1, a hereditary gene that greatly increases the risk of its carrier developing aggressive breast and/or ovarian cancer, forcing her to make difficult choices in order to preserve her health. From the Feet Up is the story of Tanya's journey from childhood to a woman facing up to an uncertain future.
The eldest of three girls, Tanya was born and raised in the small New South Wales country town of Taree by her immigrant Lebanese parents, next door to her fraternal grandparents. Athletic and talented, Tanya, and her sisters, were involved in competitive swimming with Olympian dreams and Eisteddfods (playing piano) in between working at the family's shoe store chain and helping out on their grandparent's small cattle and fruit & vegetable farm. The most significant childhood event for Tanya was a three month holiday to Lebanon taken just months after the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990 to visit relatives. Bullied in part because of her heritage during primary school, high school provided some relief but Tanya gratefully escaped the region after graduation, returning only for family occasions and holidays.
Tanya's memories of her childhood experiences weave in and out of her adult narrative. In the period before her diagnosis, Tanya was living in Canberra enjoying a high pressure career in politics while developing a competitive edge in road cycling. She maintained close ties to her parents and her two sisters, Vivian and Paula, now living in Sydney, and undertook the genetic testing as part of Hereditary Cancer project after it was discovered her father was a carrier of the faulty gene, their family history having revealed several generations of women who died of breast or ovarian cancer, some only in their early twenties. Both Tanya and Paula were found to have inherited the BRCA1 gene.
With strength, grace and courage Tanya shares her thoughts and emotions as she wrestles with the hand fate has dealt her. Still single and childless, the preventative options for sufferers of the BRCA1 gene including a bilateral mastectomy and a complete, or partial salpingo-oophorectomy (the removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes), could permanently affect Tanya's chances of pregnancy, but decrease her risk of developing cancer by as much as 90%. Tanya must weigh the risks and benefits and make a decision about her future.
From The Feet Up is a poignant, articulate and ultimately uplifting memoir sure to give hope to women facing a similarly confronting diagnosis and raise awareness of the risks associated with the BRCA1 gene.
* I should disclose that Tanya's family home, as described in her memoir, is just around the corner from where I live. We have never met though, I'm not a 'local', only having lived in the town for a decade, but I have shopped at the family's shoe store in town.(less)
The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook is much more than just a compilation of prize winning recipes and cooking tips, it is also a wonderful collection...more The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook is much more than just a compilation of prize winning recipes and cooking tips, it is also a wonderful collection of heart-warming personal stories laced with Australian agricultural show nostalgia.
Agricultural shows have been a staple of Australian society for 200 years and around 580 are held across the country each year in cities, regional towns and small rural communities. While the noisy battle for first place in events like sheep shearing and wood chopping draws the crowds to the main show ring, an equally fierce but quieter competition is being fought in the grounds pavilions where cakes, biscuits, slices, pastries, jams and relishes are laid out on trestle tables being judged on strict criteria in relation to appearance, consistency, taste and smell.
Within the pages of The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook you can find award winning recipes for entries such as Eileen's Apple Jelly, Charlie's Rosella Cake and Rod's Bloody Hot Tomato Sauce as well as classics like scones, pikelets and sausage rolls, teamed with the personal stories of their maker and the histories of the shows they compete in.
This recipe book is as much a pleasure to read as to cook from. The only disappointing element is the lack of photographs showing the winning recipes, though the pages are illustrated with reproductions of show ephemera, winners portraits and scenes from past and present shows.
I'm too slapdash a cook to ever enter in a show competition where the standards are close to perfection but I'm looking forward to trying several of the recipes in The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook. (less)
The future of the 'The Tea Chest', a boutique chain offering gourmet and custom tea blends, is in doubt after Simone Taylor's sudden death. Judy, Simo...more The future of the 'The Tea Chest', a boutique chain offering gourmet and custom tea blends, is in doubt after Simone Taylor's sudden death. Judy, Simone's step-sister and part owner, is desperate to sell but Kate Fullerton, who inherited Simone's share of the business, is determined to follow through on her mentor's vision and launch a new store in London. It's a huge undertaking, a scary financial risk, and means leaving her husband and young sons behind in Australia for months, but if it succeeds, Kate's wildest dreams could come true.
A charming debut novel from Josephine Moon, The Tea Chest is a story about self belief, friendship, love and tea.
As a tea designer, with no experience in running a business, Kate knows she needs help and during the process of readying the store recruits Leila Morton, and sisters Elizabeth Clancy and Victoria Plimsworth. All four women, have something to prove, to themselves and others, and need to work together to launch The Tea Chest on time, and on budget, but their path is strewn with obstacles, both personal and professional.
A third person narrative shifts between the perspectives of the four women, providing individual back story while moving the story forward, and an additional narrative begins about a third of the way into the book to share Judy's story. To be honest I found this thread a bit distracting as it seems so removed from the main action, though ultimately it explains Judy's motivation for selling.
The technicalities of tea making didn't really interest me, as I don't drink tea (or coffee) but Moon infuses Kate's passion for blending with a romanticism and glamour that is appealing, and I'd certainly be tempted to stop and browse in The Tea Chest should I pass it on the street.
I thought The Tea Chest was a light, easy read with a lovely message about trusting yourself and reaching for a happy ending.(less)
Fleur McDonald's fifth novel to combine her love of rural Australia and her farming experience with drama and romance, Crimson Dawn is an engaging sto...more Fleur McDonald's fifth novel to combine her love of rural Australia and her farming experience with drama and romance, Crimson Dawn is an engaging story of betrayal, resilience, and family secrets.
Reeling from betrayal and tragedy, Laura Murphy throws herself into the management of Nambina, the family sheep station which now belongs to her. Eight years later, Laura is proud of what she has achieved including developing prize winning Merino rams and setting up a successful farm school that teaches young women the basics of managing a property but then things slowly begin to wrong, one of her rams is poisoned, she suspects one of her students is doing drugs and then her neighbour, and former best friend, announces she has a claim on Nambina, and threatens to take away everything she loves.
There are several tangled plot lines in this story which ultimately reveal unexpected connections, including Meghan's claim on Nambina, the identity of Laura's mother, a drug and sex party ring and most significantly, the parallel narrative within the novel which tells the story of a young boy, who left his abusive home in the 1930's, as he grows into a man. McDonald does well to draw these and other minor threads together in a manner that is plausible, though not entirely probable.
The story did feel a little disjointed to me, especially to begin with, as the contemporary chapters move quite quickly from 2000 to 2001 to 2003 before finally settling in 2008, while the parallel historical timeline makes similar leaps. I personally would have preferred for the contemporary story to have been grounded in a single time period.
Laura is a likeable heroine, her own hard work and determination has seen her build a successful property and business and she is satisfied with the life she has created for herself. But she has been unable to move on from the shocking betrayal of Meghan and Josh, once her best friend and fiance respectively, and has become emotionally closed off from all but family. When Nambina is threatened, McDonald gently guides Laura into the realisation that she doesn't have to face this latest betrayal alone and introduces Tim, the local vet with whom Laura forms a tentative, and ultimately lovely relationship.
While I do think the storyline was just a bit too ambitious and the flow of the narrative suffered as a result, I did enjoy Crimson Dawn. Laura is a protagonist I can admire and I always appreciate the authentic details McDonald provides about everyday life on rural properties. (less)
From the first pages of her fifth novel, Safe Harbour, award-winning Australian author Helene Young draws the reader into an exciting tale of action,...more From the first pages of her fifth novel, Safe Harbour, award-winning Australian author Helene Young draws the reader into an exciting tale of action, intrigue and romance.
When Darcy Fletcher and Noah Moreton are called upon to rescue a man from his stricken yacht in wild seas, they are not prepared for the tsunami of danger that swamps Banksia Cove in his wake. The stranger's presence exposes long held secrets and lies, sparking betrayal and violence that threatens to destroy them, and everyone, they love.
Fast paced and gripping, the suspense plot of Safe Harbour delves into family secrets, financial conspiracy and organised crime. The stranger, eventually identified as accountant Conor Stein, proves to be an unexpected link between Darcy's estranged father, ex-football star turned club manager, Stirling, and the Russian mafia. With evidence of their joint criminal practices, Conor is a target and in helping him, Darcy too is hunted by the ruthless men sent to quiet him at any cost.
Having saved Conor's life, Darcy feels some responsibility towards him, especially as in the immediate aftermath of the accident he is suffering from amnesia. Darcy's motivation for helping Conor is altruistic, though tangled with residual guilt involving a tragic event in her past, but quickly becomes personal when her friends are targeted and her father's involvement in the situation is revealed. The author has created a capable and likeable protagonist in Darcy, whose vulnerabilities - Grant's death, her father's abandonment, her mother's illness and the loss of her restaurant - are also a source of strength.
Darcy also draws strength from Noah, Banksia Cove's community police officer and childhood friend. Young develops a romance between the two that has been simmering for a decade or more, but is complicated by both the secrets of the past and the present.
Safe Harbour is a first-rate, absorbing romantic suspense novel, balancing a dramatic story with strong characters and an engaging romance. I expect that Helene will adding another ARRA trophy to her case in 2015, I know I will be voting for Safe Harbour to win.
Beached is the second book in Ros Baxter's Aegira Chronicles, a fantasy trilogy with a creative twist on Norse legend. The first, Fish Out of Water, i...more Beached is the second book in Ros Baxter's Aegira Chronicles, a fantasy trilogy with a creative twist on Norse legend. The first, Fish Out of Water, introduced Rania Aqualina, deputy sheriff of small town Dirtwater, and half mermaid. Her investigation into the discovery of a dead blonde with a fish tattoo on Main Street leads Rania to uncover a plot which could mean the end of her underwater home, Aegira, and her own life, at the hands of a crazed sorcerer, Manos.
In Beached, the focus of the story shifts to Rania's sister, Princess Lecanora whom the Queen has sent to Land to find support for the battle against the Sorcerer from none other than the Presidential candidate. Lecanora, while struggling to adjust to the ways of the Land, joins her sister, mother and their allies to gain the candidates favour while dodging over zealous bodyguards, Manos's army and saving two worlds.
The action is fast paced, as Manos launches his attack, determined to take Lecanora as his bride so he can rule over Aegira, and destroy any chance of the prophecy of 'the Three' thwarting him by killing Rania. The fight moves between land and sea, finally culminating in an epic battle in Aegira.
As in Fish Out of Water, there is a strong romantic element within the story and it's Rania's ex, Doug, who leaves Lecanora breathless. Peace loving Lecanora is baffled by her attraction to the gun toting, ex special forces, bad ass and the strange feelings he evokes. It's insta-love of a sort, but not too badly done.
I enjoyed the humour which came from Rania's snark, and Lecanora's naïveté. Baxter writes well, with snappy dialogue and descriptive prose. I'd recommend reading Fish Out of Water before Beached though it's not strictly necessary, Baxter provides enough back story to orient a reader new to the trilogy.
Beached, like Fish Out of Water, is a fun book, combining action, fantasy, humour and romance, which I really enjoyed. I'm looking forward to reading the final adventure in the Aegira Chronicles. (less)
Kylie Kaden's compelling debut novel, Losing Kate, is an absorbing contemporary story of secrets, betrayal, love and redemption.
On the night that seve...more Kylie Kaden's compelling debut novel, Losing Kate, is an absorbing contemporary story of secrets, betrayal, love and redemption.
On the night that seventeen year old Kate disappeared while celebrating 'schoolies', Francesca lost both the best friend she adored and the boy, Jack, who held her heart. Thirteen years later, Frankie is stunned to discover Jack has bought the vacant block of land bordering her cottage. Their unexpected reunion revives memories and emotions neither are prepared for, and to move forward they need to learn the truth about what happened to the girl they both loved.
The first person narrative shifts between the past and present as it traces Jack, Kate's and Frankie's teenage relationship, the events on the night Kate went missing, and Frankie's and Jack's reunion after 13 years. Though Frankie and Jack quickly reestablish the intimacy of their childhood friendship, Kate always stands between them. Guilt, regret and lies are irredeemably tangled with loyalty, truth and love. The situation is complicated further by Jack's current relationship.
The mystery of Kate's fate is what primarily drives the tension throughout the novel. The flashbacks slowly reveal what Frankie remembers of the night and how those memories fit with what she is learning in the present day. Frankie just can't let go of Kate and her desire for closure. Suspicions rise and fall as the truth is pieced together, and the swirling ambiguity kept me guessing.
Despite the pop culture references (to bands like Powder Finger), elements of the story, including the oppressive summer weather, Francesca's crumbling cottage, fire and illness, give the story a contemporary gothic feel. The doomed teenage romance between Kate and Jack also plays into this, as does Frankie and Jack's unrequited love.
Set amongst the streets of suburban Queensland, Losing Kate is a gripping novel of suspense, drama and romance. An impressive debut, I really enjoyed Losing Kate and I'm looking forward to more from Kylie Kaden. (less)
Tiddas is Anita Heiss's fifth novel, an engaging story of friendship, life, love and five strong women.
The tiddas (sisters) are lifelong friends havin...more Tiddas is Anita Heiss's fifth novel, an engaging story of friendship, life, love and five strong women.
The tiddas (sisters) are lifelong friends having grown up together in Mudgee. Now approaching midlife, each lives in and around Brisbane providing each other with support, love and friendship. Over a period of a year we are witness to their lives, their relationships with one another, and with themselves and with others, as they each journey towards a personal epiphany about what they value in each other and themselves.
These are women we can likely relate to in one way or another, smart, savvy, socially aware, they are varyingly wives, mothers, daughters, cousins, in law's and of course tiddas. Each of the friends are distinct characters, struggling with their own issues, Xanthe is crushed by her inability to fall pregnant, her obsession placing strain on her marriage and her friendships. Izzy, on the verge of becoming Australia's 'Oprah' and who has never expressed a desire for a child, is horrified to discover she is unexpectedly pregnant. Veronica's self esteem has crumbled in the wake of her husband's desertion for a younger woman and Ellen, who has always been content to play the field, is questioning her aversion to commitment. Finally best selling author, Nadine is drinking far too much, alienating her tiddas and her extraordinarily patient husband with drunken tirades she barely remembers the next morning. They variously evoke admiration, sympathy and laughter and I thought their personal journeys, and their sisterhood, to be portrayed realistically.
Three of the women, Izzy, Xanthe and Ellen are Aboriginal and their cultural heritage plays a large part in the novel. I did sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by Heiss's socio-political agenda, the emphasis on Aboriginal issues is integrated in some contexts, such as the women's book club discussions and the way in which the women related to their family and their mob, but I thought it came across as intrusive, even preachy, in some instances.
Tiddas is a slight departure from Anita Heiss's chicklit backlist, including Manhattan Dreaming and Avoiding Mr Right, that each focused on a twenty something single woman searching for love. I personally appreciate the maturity of the characters, and their conflicts, in Tiddas.
An engaging, warm and amiable novel this is a lovely novel. I enjoyed spending time with the Tiddas, just as I do with my own friends.(less)
Intrigued by her friend's appointment as the head of production for Afghanistan's largest and most successful television broadcaster, Sydney based pro...more Intrigued by her friend's appointment as the head of production for Afghanistan's largest and most successful television broadcaster, Sydney based producer and actress Trudi-Ann Tierney promised to join him if the opportunity ever arose. Barely six months later, in early 2009, Trudi-Ann found herself navigating the heavily armed guards at the airport and IDE strewn roads to Kabul for a four week stint managing 'The Den', a bar catering to 'Knuckle Draggers' (western private security contractors) in the hope that once in-country she could pick up some work with the Moby Media Group.
Making Soapies in Kabul is Trudi-Ann Tierney's fascinating account of her three and a half years in Afghanistan producing local television. Working long hours with few resources, inexperienced staff and hampered by language and cultural barriers she nevertheless produced the country's most popular television soapies, Salam and Secrets of This House as well as a police drama, Eagle Four.
Established in 2003 after the fall of the Taliban, Moby Media's programming was a mix of self-devised television funded by advertising and 'projects' financed by interested parties. Nominated the head of drama Trudi-Ann was also required to facilitate PSYOPS, 'Psychological Operations' which targeted Afghani viewers with messages designed to influence behaviour and attitudes, ranging from promoting trust in police to informing on the Taliban.
Filming largely on location, Trudi-Ann shares the trials of producing television as a foreigner in an Islamic war-zone, smuggling actresses in from Pakistan, negotiating with the military and local law enforcement, and bribing the cast to last the day of filming. Often twice the age of her young staff, Trudi-Ann's goal is to teach them all she knows so that they can carry on when the time comes for her to leave.
Despite being trailed by personal security guards 24/7 and the backdrop of military activity, gunfire and explosions Trudi-Ann rarely thinks of the risks she takes by living in a war-zone aside from devising a hiding place and escape strategy from the various compounds in which she lives. Yet the intensity of the setting fosters a sense of recklessness that expresses itself in drug-taking, excessive drinking and promiscuity.
Written in a conversational tone with honesty, humour and heart, Making Soapies in Kabul is a compelling read offering personal insight into Afghanistan and its people, the thriving ex-pat community and Trudi-Ann's experiences producing television drama in the midst of real conflict. (less)