Short story series: Wavedancer

This short story is a creative piece inspired by living in beautiful Port Douglas many moons ago. The story is told through the various times of the day to convey the sense of ‘a day in the life’ and play on the sense that some parts of the day flow quickly, while others pass more slowly. Happy reading. 


Four twenty-two.  The louvers rattle and shake, jarring me awake. Screech. A branch scrapes the side of the house. Damn, not another windy day. Glance at the window. It’s still dark. I snuggle under the blanket and let the swirling of leaves lull me back to sleep.

6:00.  The alarm bleats but I’m already awake, pulling on my togs. In the dim morning light I pick up the car keys, towel, goggles and head to the pool.

Five past.  Thirty laps today. Come on, you can do it. Don’t slacken off. One, two three, that’s it, get into the rhythm of the strokes. Best time of the day. Just me and the pool.

Half past. Legs stand at the end of my lane. A hand reaches in and taps me on the head. Nah, Mick, I’m not into pushing weights. I prefer the pool. Thanks though. Watch his ripped body stride into the gym. Definitely a ’roid boy. I smirk. Doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the view.

Seven twenty.  Long shower to wash away the chlorine. No matter how hard I scrub, the smell won’t come out.

Eight o’clock. A scream has me running. Steph? You okay? Oh, tree frog’s in the toilet again. Hang on a sec, I’ll get him out. He’s harmless you know. Chuckling, I relocate Charlie to the garden.

Breakfast.  Toast with Marmite. Steph loves the stuff. Brought loads of it with her from the UK. I hated it in the beginning, but can’t get enough of it now. Definitely better than Vegemite. Sweeter, not so salty.

Five to nine.  We’re late. Grab our beach bags, slip on sunnies and thongs, and rush out the door.

9:00.  Cut, deseed and slice a box of pawpaws. Sneak a piece. The red ones taste so good. Sneak another. Arrange the fruit platters and clean up the mess.

Nine twenty.  Change into my uniform. Pull my hair back into a ponytail. Stash my bag in the staff room below deck. Sunnies. Shit, where are they? Run back to the staff room, rifle through my bag. They’re not there. Fuck! Where are they? Dash up the stairs two at a time. Toilets! Fling open the door. Bloody things are sitting on the cistern. Right, I’m ready.

Nine thirty.  Boarding time. Tour buses spew out their hordes of the day. A huddling mass of bright, fluorescent Lyra, towels, sarongs, hats and sunglasses scuttles along the jetty and up across the gangplank.

Twenty-five to.  Tea? Coffee? With milk? ask the hostesses behind the bar in practiced lilting voices. From big kettles, they pour the requested beverages into white mugs. The platters of red and yellow pawpaw-smiles sit on a nearby bench-top. Already full hands reach for the exotic fruit. Asian tourists account for a large portion of the passengers today. Women teeter and totter about on three-inch heels, their hair stylishly gelled, faces immaculately made-up and the latest fashions cling to doll-sized frames. Out on the lower back deck chatters a group dressed in short shorts, socks and sandals—they’ve got to be German. Melbournians with stark white shoulders, arms and backs, all begging for a liberal dose of sunscreen, are trading an early winter for Port Douglas’ eternal summer. Mick and I place bets that most will be the colour of boiled mud crabs by mid-afternoon.

9:57.  At last all three hundred and fifty passengers are on board, either lounging on the outer decks or reclining in seats within the cabins.

One minute later. Glance at the marina’s flagpole. The flag flicks in the wind. Twenty to twenty-five knots today, I reckon. Better push the seasickness meds. We could be in for a rough ride, says Janice, the head hostess. People laugh at me, point to the calm water of the inlet and say they’re fine. Please take it. Once you’re sick, it’s too late, I urge. More laughter. Crazy girl, they say.

Ten o’clock.  The engines churn to life and the giant catamaran glides out of the marina to the mouth of the inlet and past the sheltered entrance. Pete, today’s Captain, propels her into high gear and with a surge we’re off. Open waters, here we come.

Half past.  It’s choppy today and the catamaran rocks and rolls beneath my feet. My toes act as anchors and balancing weights, each one gripping and flexing in response to the waves’ rise and fall. The floor drops away suddenly. My stomach lurches at a moment of ocean-induced vertigo. Toes splayed, I rock on the balls of my feet and dance down the aisles. Grey faces seek my attention. Miss, miss, I’ll have some of that seasickness medication now. Too late. It won’t work now, I tell them. Go outside, get some fresh air, it’ll help.

Quarter to eleven.  Steph passes me a handful of white paper bags, which I tuck into the back of my sarong-skirt. If things don’t ease up someone will blow, she mutters. And there he goes. Steph thrusts a bag under his nose just in time. I survey the aisle. The smell alone is enough to set off a chain reaction. Five of us scan the crowd, bags in hand, ready to run.

Twelve past.  Scavenger time. I trawl the cabins and decks picking up mugs, cans, bottles and empty chip packets left on benches, under benches, on stairs, anywhere but in the bins. Poor Helen is on galley duty. Her face shines from the steam that pours out of the industrial dishwasher as she pumps through hundreds of mugs. The bins are full of food scraps, and tea and coffee dregs swirl around the sink. Gross. It’s the only place on the boat that still makes me queasy.

11:30. Arrival at the pontoon. Welcome to Agincourt Reef, everyone. As the deckhands secure the moorings, passengers gaze out over the water that surrounds us on all sides. We’re an island in this deep blue sea. Where’s the reef? asks a woman in a deep Texan drawl. Steph rolls her eyes. Out there, I point. Where? She raises a hand to shield her eyes from the sun, searching. It’s under the water, I tell her. Oh. She drops her hand. Steph laughs a little too loudly. I kick her in the ankle as the woman turns to glare at us.

11:35.  The passengers file, obedient as sheep, off the boat and onto the pontoon.

Noon. The seafood lunch buffet rouses them and soon they’re fighting like seagulls over king prawns, salads, cold cuts and more. It’s gluttony on a plate.

Twenty past.  Plastic gloves on, I weave between tables, stepping over beach bags, towels, and snorkelling equipment to clear plates littered with prawn heads and other food remnants. The snorkelling safety officers are checking equipment, and reassuring edgy passengers that sharks are not a problem. Don’t stand on the reef! shouts Mick to an Asian guy doing just that. I shake my head. Idiot. Every day there’s at least one.

12:30.  The helicopter whirs to life, then darts like a dragonfly over the reef, wheeling and turning through the air before returning to land. Its passenger alights gesticulating to his camera, a smile overtaking his face. Another satisfied customer.

One thirty.  Lunch is over.

One thirty-two.  Playtime. I change into my swimsuit, grab a set of fluro pink fins, a mask and snorkel, and plonk onto the semi-submerged snorkelling platform. Schools of fish dart around my legs; cheeky ones nibble at a freckle on my ankle. It tickles and I giggle. The water laps at me, calls to me. Kicking off from the platform, I push out into the water.

1:40.  A leak somewhere in the mask lets water trickle in, creating a second sea that sloshes at odds with the one that rocks my body up and down. I tug on the mask to stop the leak but flood it with water instead. Salt stings my eyes, burns my nose and brine trickles down the back of my throat. Yuck. Awkwardly treading water, I rip off the mask, scrape back my hair and reapply it. No leaks this time. Moments later, the reef disappears behind a humid mist. Cursing, I tread water once more, hawk back, spit into the facemask and rub the saliva over the glass. A quick rinse and I try again. At last the mask stays clear. Breathing hard, I float away from the safety of the pontoon, away from the dozens of tourists churning up the snorkelling area like paddle steamers on full tilt.

The waves lick over me, cooling the sun’s heat on my back. Below me, a rocklobster picks its way over some coral, its long, spindly antennae waving in front, leading the way. The tide is low and the coral is ablaze as the sun intensifies its colours. A school of parrotfish sail past their beak-mouths crunching on bits of coral. Awesome, a cleaning station—I’ve never seen one before. A large fish hovers in a coral valley while smaller ones clean it; others queue, waiting their turn. Fat nudibranchs, in stripes of starburst yellow, black and saffron orange, slug their way across the ocean floor. A tug on my fin. I swing around. Steph, the lusty sea nymph, has found me. She tugs on my arm. I follow as she weaves over the ribbon of reef, past coral clusters and giant clams with fat velvet lips. The reef suddenly drops off, sheer as a cliff. A blue-black nothingness races up to swallow me. My heart tattoos in my chest. Damn, it’s an illusion but the sensation of falling is real. I paddle backwards with my hands, reverse back over the reef. Cool huh, says Steph, with a wicked grin. Welcome to the edge of the Continental Shelf.

Two thirty.  Shepard the punters, tired and sunburnt, back onto the boat.

Three.  Lock the doors to the outer decks. Everyone, please stay where you are, comes the overhead announcement from Captain Pete. Head count time.

Three past three. People persist in going to the toilet and wandering around. Head count comes back wrong. We do it again. And again.

Twenty-two past. Tea? Coffee? With milk? chime the girls behind the bar once more.  Coral cuts, anyone? Ointment in hand, I scan passing limbs for cuts, scratches and nicks to the skin. Oh, it’s nothing, says a man, waving me away, not believing that coral cuts are poisonous. Septic, festering wounds are common, I warn, applying ointment to resistant body parts.

Three forty-five.  Gift shop time. Eager shoppers clamour around Steph to buy DVD’s, T-shirts, sarongs, swimwear and towels; mementos to be stuffed in the back of the wardrobe upon returning home. Slip outside and make idle chitchat with some passengers. The ocean is calmer, as if she too is relaxed after a day in the sun. Not a wave or ripple to be seen. Except off our bow-wave. A pod of dolphins playfully arch through the water.

Four ten.  Lean against a railing on the top deck. Admire the view. The wind tears through my hair, streaming a blonde flag behind me.

Four fourteen.  Purple mountain ranges creep into sight. The inlet. Chill time is over.

4:30.  Goodbye. Thank you for coming. We hope you enjoyed your day. Sagging tourists trip back across the gangplank and are hustled toward the line of waiting tour buses. Mick and the other deckhands roll up mats, connect hoses and wash down the outer decks, windows and clean toilets. I polish the banisters back to a silver shine, empty bins, pick up rubbish tucked in between seat cushions and wipe face-smeared windows.

Happy hour.  Knock off drinks. We all get a freebie. I sip mine, savouring the friendly banter of the crew. Another drink? Sure, why not.

Six.  See you tomorrow, guys. Yeah, have a good night. Amble down the jetty to the sound of rigging lines clinking against metal masts as boats gently sway on the incoming tide.

Dinner.  Steph and I sit at an outdoor table next to a voracious potted plant. Beads of moisture gather like sweat on my glass of sav blanc. The herbaceous smell of freshly cut grass and gooseberries reaches up to tickle my nose. Across the road, the tiny white chapel sleeps under the setting sun and the ground’s lush grass sighs in relief. Coconut palms, with big green and mustard coloured nuts nestled high in the crown, are reduced to silhouettes. The waitress, flushed from the heat but not rushed, delivers our platter of oysters and a bowl of lemon wedges. Flocks of starlings twitter and dive as they fight for space in a nearby fig tree. Fruit bats shadow their way across the dusk sky. The air is thick, heavy with humidity and the smell of darkness. Tart morsels of minerally flesh slide down my throat. Gooseberries and grass follow not long after. Here’s to life as a hostess, in paradise, says Steph. Her fingers brush briefly over mine. I toast my glass to hers. She smiles. I smile.

7:50.  Hey girls, fancy seeing you here. Mick pulls up a chair. Steph’s fingers slide back to her side of the table.

7:52.  The waitress brings over a beer. Mick chugs half of it in one go. Blah, blah. I stop listening. Steph laughs at his story. Her green eyes sparkle. More white noise. So, what do you reckon, Mel? Huh? ‘Drinks at the Iron Bar?’ I look over at Steph. She’s already reaching for her bag.

Eight ten.  Strobe lights. They’re new. I squint against them. For a small bar, they sure pack ’em in. Popular place this one. Must be the staff. Buff boys with cheery good looks and trim, tanned Barbie dolls pump out drinks.

Three past nine.  Order another Margarita. With a side shot of José Cuervo. Out on the dance floor, Steph’s hips gyrate in time to the music. Mick moves in closer. Letch.

Four past. Scull the tequila shot. Fire burns a trail down my throat. Yeah, that’s what I need.

Five past.  Hey, you’re that chick from the boat. Great, a punter from today’s tour. Nod. He’s not bad looking. Smile. Nice face, shame about the body. Glad you had a good time. Uh huh. Yep. Just keep nodding. I’m here with a friend. Point to the dance floor. What are we drinking? Frozen margarita for me, mango daiquiri for her.

9:15.  Come dance with me, a voice breathes in my ear as fingers find mine. Weave unsteadily through the crowd onto the dance floor. Pulsing, sweaty bodies push us closer together. I close my eyes, surrender to the music.

Later. Outside. The dull echo of music in my ears. A breeze blows across the thin film of sweat on my skin. Ah, that’s so good. Gentle hands cup my face as soft, mango-flavoured lips explore mine. Now this is paradise.

THE GOOD PEOPLE by Hannah Kent


thegoodpeopleSimply brilliant. That’s how I’d describe this book. Evocative and touching with simmering darkness, Hannah Kent’s The Good People is a fabulous piece of historical fiction inspired by true events.

I’ve heard many good things about Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, which I haven’t yet read, and so I came to read The Good People as a first time reader of Kent’s work. I have to say, the rave reviews touting her writing style are totally justified.

The year is 1825 and in a small village near Killarney, in Ireland, Nance Roche is the village “handy women” or “keener”, a healing woman who aside from being the town midwife also works with natural remedies to heal all manner of ailments.

She was the gatekeeper at the edge of the world. The final human hymn before all fell to wind and shadow and the strange creaking of starts. She was a pagan chorus. An older song.

Nora has unexpectedly lost her husband and, after the death of her daughter a year previously, is forced to raise her four-year-old grandson alone. Only Micheal isn’t like other children; he is weak, he cannot walk, he does not speak and he cries all the time. Nora is certain that something, a changeling, has taken over her grandson’s health and that with the right remedy he can be restored to his former health. She enlists Nance’s help to heal the boy. Nance is convinced that Micheal has been taken by the fairies, and she conceives of ways to “put the fairy out of him”. The path the Nora and Nance embark upon is fraught with peril and ultimately they must pay a price for their actions.

Through this engrossing tale, Kent explores 19th century Irish fairy lore and how folk lore formed a deep part of village life belief systems as did the use of herbal medicines. Kent has the ability to draw the reader into the world that she has created and keep you there until the very last page. Her characters are well crafted and although I could sense that tragedy was coming, I still felt compassion for Nance, who believed she was doing the right thing to dispel the fairy that had taken over Micheal’s body. She has the gift of healing and her intentions are pure. Nora, consumed by grief at the loss of her husband and daughter, and afraid of village gossip, will do anything to have her grandson returned to her. Therein lies the conflict between belief and madness and how far someone will go to be with the ones they love.

A truly touching, evocative story written by a truly talented author. I highly recommend you put this book on your reading list. The Good People has been short-listed for the Indie Book Awards 2017.

Rating: 5/5



The Good People by Hannah Kent (Pan Macmillan Australia 2016)

EPUB format: 9781925483789

To find out more about Hannah Kent’s new title, or her previous titles, visit her website.

Other ways to connect with Hannah Kent:



THE MISSING WIFE by Sheila O’Flanagan


Under the pretext of going to France for a business trip, Imogen plans her disappearance. She needs to vanish without a leaving a trail, otherwise he’ll find her. Vince, the devoted husband, is distraught at Imogen’s disappearance. Or so it seems. Underneath his calm but concerned demeanour, Vince is seething. He is determined to find his wife and bring her back home where she belongs. With him. Imogen is his. And so begins the search for Imogen.

Meanwhile, Imogen has planted some misdirects in Paris, in the hopes that, should Vince come to France, he will end up far from her actual destination. She’s hiding out in her childhood seaside town, a time and place she never told Vince about. There are good and bad memories in Hendaye and Imogen confronts the ghosts of her past while the devil of her present stalks her.

The missing wife delves into the territory of bad marriages and controlling spouses. It’s not an easy topic to cover and O’Flanagan portrays well the subtle destruction of self confidence and resulting fear, and the shift to confidence once out of her husband’s reach. Imogen’s character is well developed, and there is a good sense of connecting with her. I thought Vince was a bit wooden at the start, but he becomes more menacing as the story unfolds. At times I felt there was too much telling of emotions and feelings through internal dialogue. A certain amount is needed to convey the turmoil that Imogen feels, but I wondered if perhaps some of her fear and insecurities could be shown rather than told. Overall, a good solid read, and perfect if you’re planning some lazy holiday lounging.

Rating:           3.5/5


The missing wife by Sheila O’Flanagan (Hatchette Australia, 2016)

ISBN: 9781472210777

NOTE: I received my copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


To find out more about Sheila O’Flanagan’s new title, or her previous titles, visit her website

Twitter @sheilaoflanagan



This book took me by surprise. Who knew that a story about a man and his dog could be so good? Not me, that’s for sure. It was funny, endearing, heartfelt and filled with lots of special moments that all pet owners will no doubt relate to. Lily and the Octopus was a genuinely delightful read.

Ted’s best friend is Lily, a rambunctious dachshund now in her older years. Ted and Lily do everything together – they have movie nights, eat pizza, talk about guys, play Monopoly, take walks around the neighbourhood, go for drives and eat ice-cream. After his break up with his boyfriend, Ted spends more and more time with Lily, and then one night he notices something odd: Lily has an octopus on her head. Perched over one eye, it clings to her, and refuses to leave, despite Ted’s numerous threats and pleading.

Ted’s friend, therapist and vet all join in calling the new arrival an octopus, and are duly sympathetic to the octopus’s grip on Lily and its vindictive attack on her health – she has seizures, and once the octopus inks her, she can no longer see. Ted, enraged by the the octopus and its refusal to leave, resorts to drastic measures in a bid to chase it away: he brings home another octopus and dismembers it, feeding chunks to the excited Lily. The octopus flees, but Ted isn’t satisfied. He knows in his heart that if he doesn’t track down the octopus and destroy it that it will return and take his beloved Lily from him. Ted simply won’t let that happen. He’s going to take a stand and fight for her life. And so the adventure begins, with Ted and Lily on the high seas in a fishing trawler, hunting the evil octopus. It’s an epic adventure that pushes them to the edge, and bonds them in new ways.

There is a magic to this book that slips in and surrounds you as you read. Lily is perfectly portrayed – she’s stubborn, has a big personality for a dog with short little legs, and enjoys life to the fullest. I had a dachshund when I was a kid, and he was just as excitable and cheeky as Lily. What I really enjoyed about this book was the relationship between Ted and Lily, the humanising of that bond and the depth of the emotions that tie them together. Highly recommend you put it on your reading list.

Rating:           5/5

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (Simon & Schuster 2016)

Web link:

NOTE: I received my copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Author website: Steven Rowley – Lily and the Octopus

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins


I thought I’d start the new year with a bang, and review Paula Hawkins’ thriller The Girl on the Train, which I read over the Christmas break. This is a book that has received a lot of press and deservedly so – it’s intense with a slow burn and building tension that hooks you in right from the start.

Rachel catches the train into London every morning on her way to work, or so she’s been telling her flatmate. On the daily commute she’s watches the backyards that face the rail line and has fixated on the residents of one particular residence. She names them ‘Jess and Jason’ and based on the snippets of their interactions that she sees as the train slows and stops for a minute each day, she fabricates a fantasy life for the couple. Then, one day, Rachel witnesses Megan (aka ‘Jess’) with another man, and not long after Jess goes missing. She is certain that she has seen something important, that she can help find Megan.

Rachel has problems of her own. She’s a divorced, jobless alcoholic who is pretending to go to work every day, and can’t quite seem to let go of her ex-husband, Tom, who has married Anna, and now has a baby. The one thing Rachel wanted but couldn’t have was a baby. Her ex-husband lives a few doors down from ‘Jess and Jason’, and Rachel has on occasion paid Anna and Tom a visit, but can’t always remember what happened because she’s so drunk she has blackouts.

Rachel’s desire to feel important, to be needed, lead her to involve herself in the investigation surrounding Megan’s disappearance. Along the way she is forced to confront her own actions and she wrestles with her inner demons and desires to reach for a drink at every moment. She’s unreliable, desperate, and despite her best intentions she gets herself into a deeper and deeper mess with her ex, her flatmate and the police. Rachel’s alcoholism makes her an unreliable witness to her own life, and the frustration that she feels at not being able to remember events is palpable. She’s sure that she saw something important, if only she could remember that night at the train station. She just needs to somehow regain those lost moments so that she can help find Megan.

Narrated by three different characters, all as unreliable as each other, all with secrets of their own to hide, this is a thriller that does not disappoint. But, don’t expect it to be a big, bold in-your-face action thriller. The Girl on a Train travels at a slower pace, circling and escalating that tension. There is a clever layering and intertwining of lives and events that snake around each other, revealing little by little clues to Megan’s disappearance. Addictive reading at it’s best. Once you start it, you won’t want to put it down.

Rating: 5/5

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Transworld Publishers 2015)

eISBN: 9781448171682

Author website:

Author FB page:


DAYS OF AWE by Lauren Fox

Days of AweApologies, dear readers, for the lapse in posting regular book reviews. I’m sporting a wrist injury that makes typing unwieldy and I’m supposed to be resting it, but I couldn’t stand it any longer. I have a couple of books that I finished reading some time ago, and I just needed to post at least one review before starting a new book.

The exploration of death through the lens of friendship as opposed to an intimate family member is a concept that really appealed, and I feel isn’t a perspective that is oft portrayed. The premise and plot of Days of Awe are sound – the death of her best friend leaves Isabel feeling adrift, lost and unable to reconcile the gawping emptiness in her life, and she seeks desperately find an answer as to why her friend was taken from her. Was it really just an accident? Or was there something more sinister behind Josie’s death?

Throughout the book there is a constant play on the theme of accident versus sinister actions, which drives the narrative forward and provides a good deal of tension. It succeeds in keeping the reader guessing, wanting to discover the answer, but when the answer is finally revealed, I found it to be anticlimactic. Rather than sizzle, I felt somewhat deflated and let down.

Days of Awe has a strong and powerful back blurb that unfortunately the story itself doesn’t quite live up to. Lauren Fox is a good writer, and there are some really great moments of creative writing and colourful expressions such as a ‘the herd of wild minivans’ and ‘Her rusty 11-year-old Toyota skidded off the slick road like a can of soup rolling across a supermarket aisle.’

However, this is often this is clouded by overwriting and long rambling sections that slow the book down causing it to lose momentum in places. For example, in one part Isabel contemplates dating a much older man, and in the spur of the moment she suggests that they should go back to his place. Whilst in the kitchen she toys with the idea of whether or not she will go through with her invitation of shagging her senior date and there is a delicious to-fro moment where she considers that fact that he is so much older, what the repercussions would be on her marriage (despite the fact that her husband has moved out) when the story segues into a flashback that goes on and on and on. The flashback provides a good deal of backstory about Isabel’s life and events from the past, but it goes on for pages and pages, that by the time we are flipped back into the kitchen I’d completely forgotten that Isabel was deciding whether or not to fall into bed with her new older friend.

These meandering sections aside, Fox does convincingly portray the stages of grief, the hole that is left behind when a loved one dies, how it lingers and refuses to go away when others have long moved on. She paints an all-to-real picture of the relationship between a mother and almost-teenage daughter, the scathing pre-teen disdain, and the tensions that arise out of separating from a partner and the change in family dynamics. She throws into this emotional mix moments of humour, my favourite being where Isabel purposely drags her oil-smeared fingers along the silk scarf of one of Josie’s work colleagues, who has now also moved into Josie’s husband’s bed, leaving a trail of oily fingerprints in retribution.

While I wouldn’t say that Days of Awe was ‘daring’, ‘dazzling’ or ‘luminous’ – I think the copywriter was a little too enthusiastic, this doesn’t match the theme of the book and it’s suggestive of fun and frivolity that simply isn’t a part of the story. I would say that it is confronting, that the book manages to portray the deep despair and grief that accompanies death, and that Fox tempers this with moments of joy, wicked snippets of humour, of revealing the multifaceted nature of people and no matter how well you think you know someone they can still surprise you.

Note: I received a my copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Days of Awe by Lauren Fox (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 2015)


TheColdRoomKaren meets Joel as she is recovering from a personal tragedy and trying to get her life back on track. A burst water pipe in mid-winter sees Karen moving in with Joel, into his ranch house. Karen starts hearing things go bump in the night and has spectral visions of a little blonde girl with killer green eyes. This is not your average ghost story. It is more poltergeist-with-malice than your typical haunting.

Karen is accustomed to her independence and she’s not sure that moving in with Joel is the right thing to do; it’s a little too soon for her liking but the burst water pipe and needing place to live in the middle of winter trumps following her gut instincts. Joel isn’t quite the intellectual stud that she’d hoped for but he’s good looking, caring and the sex is good. Then things start getting a little hinky. Karen starts seeing an apparition of a little girl with vivid green eyes, wearing a white dress; the spare bedroom, Joel’s storage room, has an icy chill about it; and Joel has created an unnerving collection of paintings and sketches of the girl in the white dress. Even more unnerving, and weird, is Joel’s refusal to admit to Karen that he knows about the green-eyed ghost, or that the ghost was responsible for the death of his wife.

It’s at this point that I think the story looses credibility. I just couldn’t believe that a man who lost his wife due to the evil machinations of a demon spirit would then pretend that the spirit didn’t exist, or would put the new woman he loves in danger. There is no resistance or fight in Joel. He’s flat and has a blancmange personality. One other odd inclusion that I struggled to understand was the cat. There are chapters throughout the book that are told through the eyes of Joel’s cat. Now, this would be fine if it served some purpose, if the cat somehow gave us additional insights but it doesn’t. Rather than add to the mystery of the story, they were disjointing, and distracting. I kept asking myself, ‘Why, why are these cat inserts here?’

Karen ultimately feels challenged: she has to take a stand to protect her man, and herself, from the evil ghost in the white dress. She starts doing some research and finds that the little girl has been haunting Joel’s family for several generations. It’s at this point that The Cold Room introduces references to Native American history and early settlers, which presumably is where the inspiration from actual events comes from. The timeline of events are actually really interesting and give the haunting a solid basis and substance.

The tension slowly builds throughout the story and finally reaches a gruesome, violent climax. Personally, I think the level of violence is excessive and unnecessary. I think that the tension, menace and fear could have been instilled in the reader with less graphic depiction of events. It was a bit like watching an action scene that went on for too long, with too much firepower, and too many bullets, which creates a rift and breaks you out of your engagement with the scene.

While this book was entertaining, I did struggle with it at times. It’s the sort of book that is good for a beach read, but there were times where I lost interest with it. The characters were well developed in places but Joel is flat, lacks depth. He was more like eye-candy, a himbo. The demon-girl gains her strength through Joel’s paintings of her, and Karen and Janet, Joel’s mother, tell Joel to destroy the paintings to prevent the girl from hurting anyone else, since she has already killed Joel’s first wife. Joel lies about burning the paining’s and instead hides them in the barn. Given the life-or-death threat associated with the ghost-girl, I found that Karen and Janet neglected to convincingly convey the urgency and danger of the situation to Joel. It was obviously a means of introducing the final crescendo of the showdown between Karen and the demon-ghost-girl, but it could have been better executed.

If you’re looking for an easy read, with the thrill of a ghost story mixed with a bit of romance, historical fact, and a clash-to-the-death between good and evil, then this is the book for you.

The Cold Room by J.N LaVelle (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013)                                                                                                                          ISBN: 9781494281700


isabelle_cover_grandeIt’s a Monday morning and the train is thick with lassitude. Wherever you look heads loll onto shoulders and eyes are glazed. Only a young woman in the middle carriage seems immune to the warm treacle atmosphere. She sits, straight-backed, intent on the scene scrolling by. It is high summer. The sky is candy-hard and cloudless with the roofs of the houses cut stark against it. The lines are so sharp you might slice your finger if you traced them on the window. She breathes in the lavender and fresh laundry scent of her home town in January and smiles.”

From the moment I read this opening paragraph, I was irresistibly drawn into this remarkable novel written by S.A Jones. The descriptions of places and events are well-crafted resulting in vivid imagery that accompanies a bold and beautiful story about love, relationships, pain, confusion, and what it takes to face the dark places of depression.

Isabelle of the Moon and Stars tells the story of Isabelle, a young woman who works in mundane government position as a data analyst where, after the ‘incident’, she is relegated to making statistical reports that no one ever reads. She knows this because she has started substituting ridiculous material into her reports such as “Sucking up to management: good or bad for building ventilation?” and “ Gonorrhoea and P3: a comparative analysis” and Jack, her boss, hasn’t mentioned a thing about it. Out of boredom and meaningless direction, Isabelle starts ignoring her work and using work time for her own personal projects, namely to plan an Australia Day party on the rooftop of her apartment complex, and to research her favourite topic: Prague.

The unspoken ‘incident’ was an anxiety attack that lead to a serious bout of depression, during which time Isabelle’s boyfriend Karl heartlessly ditched her for another woman. This pushed Isabelle to the darkest of places and almost to the edge of her life. Isabelle hates the words ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’. They are ‘blank, nothing words’ that do nothing to describe the pain, the fear, and torture that she feels when The Black Place comes for her. She loathes that her torment and trauma is diminished to terms such as ‘the incident’ and wishes that her Black Place could come with a splint or cast to prove how real her pain is.

It is only because of her best friend Evan’s support and love that Isabelle managed to claw her way back to sanity and control. Evan is celibate, having made a promise to God to cherish his virginity but has neglected to set a reason or time as to when he can be released from this promise. Isabelle has gone to great lengths to control her life and keep The Dark Place at bay. But things start to unravel when she develops a sexual attraction for her middle-aged boss Jack, and Evan confesses his desires for Isabelle herself. Jack’s wife, Kate, is not going to give him up without a fight. She is well aware that her husband has a wandering eye but she’s no pushover and has a few tricks up her sleeve to tempt him back. In the midst of this chaos Isabelle is preparing to throw an Australia Day party, something she has never done before, and has invited all of the people in her apartment block, many of whom she doesn’t even know, to attend. This gesture brings her into the life of her dear, sweet, elderly neighbour, Mrs Graham, and the relationship that develops between them is one of gentle tenderness and deep affection.

The tension within the novel builds to a sizzling point, and as the summer heat escalates so does the risky game that Isabelle is playing with Jack. Frictions overflow, and a moment of unrestrained passion sees Isabelle doing what she does best: running away. To Prague. Running from Evan, running from her own demons.

I was first heard about Isabelle of the Moon and Stars through an interview with the author, S.A Jones, which featured on Amanda Curtin’s blog, looking up/looking down. The concept of a story that attempts to express through its main character a realistic look at how depression and anxiety are experienced intrigued me. Jones mentioned that she was inspired by ‘a dissatisfaction with the way mental illness is often portrayed in popular culture’. Depression is often still very much misunderstood with sufferers enduring a ‘get over it’ attitude by people in their lives, and society at large. It is a difficult topic to base a novel around but Jones has managed to not only construct a convincing narrative, she has created a main character that is so life-like, so engaging and flawed that I cared deeply for Isabelle, felt her pain acutely.

Jones doesn’t stereotype Isabelle. Instead we are given an insight into the daily struggle that Isabelle faces in trying to keep the threads of her life together, keep the façade of wellness in place while desperately fearful of failure, of her world falling apart, of losing the fight to keep The Dark Place from consuming her. Isabelle experiences intense panic attacks, which are her Dark Place. The intensity of these attacks, the sense of being at the mercy of her own body and mind, which seem to have conspired to kill her, are scenes that have been composed with skill and grace, they are raw and confronting, completely believable, and reflect real depressive experiences.

Depression is often viewed as a dark topic but that doesn’t mean that Isabelle of the Moon and Stars is a dark, depressing novel. The opposite in fact. It is a novel that explores what it means to have depression with sensitivity and insight coupled with humour, strength, courage, resolve, love and friendship. There are wonderful moments of tenderness and developing trust in Isabelle’s friendship with Mrs Graham; there is passion, desire, disappointment and mortification in her relationship with Jack; there is a deep solid friendship and blossoming love with Evan; and there is reflection and unification within herself.

Isabelle of the Moon and Stars was a joyous book to read. The prose was beautiful, heartfelt and kept a steady pace. I was immediately drawn into Isabelle’s life from the first delightfully written paragraph right through to the last. It is an immensely satisfying novel from a very talented Australian author, and I highly recommend you put it on your reading list for 2015.


Isabelle of the Moon and Stars (UWA Publishing 2014)                                                                    ISBN: 9781742586038

LOOK WHO’S BACK by Timur Vermes

Look whos BackLook Who’s Back tackles the difficult subject of Hitler in an entirely new light. The plot line is fresh and unique casting Hilter forward in time to Berlin, in the summer of 2011, and mixes Hilter’s outlooks with modern technologies and satire to create an entertaining and engaging read.

Hitler wakes up in a barren part of Berlin and ends up making friends with a newspaper kiosk owner, who offers him a place to stay in the kiosk. Hitler is confused and astonished to discover that Germany has survived and flourished, and is governed by a woman. He is perplexed by people who walk their dogs and stop to pick up the dog poo and labels them as imbeciles. Discovered by some TV producers, who presume that he is a hard-core method acting impersonator, he is thrust into the media spotlight and becomes a YouTube sensation.

Despite the fame, Hitler struggles with modern technologies and it is these fumbling moments, the acute portrayals of how someone unfamiliar with mobiles phones, computers, email and flat screen televisions that add depth and colour to the character. Written in the first person, the reader gains access to Hitler’s own musings, his confusion and frustrations, which Timur Vermes has written with skill. There are many smart, comic moments, such as the scene involving Hiltler taking his soldier’s suit to Yilmar’s Blitz Cleaners and then later his rant at the TV producers about knowing where his uniform was at all times, which made me laugh out loud.

Timur Vermes has succeeded in creating a personality and voice for Hitler, through the use of language and writing style, which all serve to create a believable and, dare I say it, somewhat endearing character, rants aside. Vermes’s Hitler shows confusion, vulnerability at being in this new world and is even concerned about his assistant, which serves to humanise the character. Ther e is a strong political slant that at times was a little boring. I’m not a huge fan of politics, and so that could be due to my lack of political interest rather than a reflection on the writing. Underneath the satire and the comedy, the reader is also faced with the machinations of the man who actively was supported by the public, the horrors that he committed, and how easy it is for a personality to gain a following by different publics in our media-saturated world.

Overall, I found the storyline to be an interesting reinvention of Hitler and how the use of social media and what constitutes comedy can turn a dark historical figure into one of comedic relief.

Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes (MacLehose Press 2014)

Originally published in Germany with the title Er is wieder da by Eichborn, a division of Bastei Lubbe Publishing Group, 2012.

THE WHITE TIGER by Aravind Adiga

TheWhiteTigerCoverBalram Halwai, is an Indian servant from the ‘Darkness’—poor countryside India—who has escaped his destiny of being a sweet-seller. Balram is more than just a servant; a philosopher, entrepreneur and murderer he calls himself the ‘White Tiger’.

Adiga takes the reader on a journey through the twists and turns of Balram’s life and, with expert satirical commentary, points out the harsh realities of life in India. Portrayed through an intriguing narrative of letters directed at the Premier of China, which are never sent, this novel is engaging, the writing clipped and direct, and trots along at a jaunty pace. I found this an engrossing tale with intricate attention to detail that created vivid images of the characters, culture and country.

An example of the voice and writing style is:

‘Apparently, sir, you Chinese are far ahead of us in every respect, except that you don’t have entrepreneurs. And our nation, though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewerage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, does have entrepreneurs. Thousands and thousands of them.’ (p. 4)

The plot has unexpected deviations. It exposes the weaknesses of human nature, and our innate desire to survive, all of which are revealed through the central characters. While Balram commits many sins along his path to freedom—culminating in murder—I felt such affinity for him that the urge to see him punished was replaced by the desire for him to succeed in hauling himself out of soul-destroying poverty.

Adiga’s writing is descriptive and it was with ease that I was able visualise the slums of India in certain passages and people in rich opulent surroundings in others. This novel doesn’t gloss over the poverty in India, and it was received with quite some controversy when first released. The White Tiger portrays a society wracked by corruption, ruled by a caste system, and highlights the levels of poverty experienced by a great proportion of the people.

This is a novel well worth reading. The White Tiger is Adiga’s debut novel and won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, the same year that it was published.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Atlantic Books 2008)