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“You're a boy who gets hit, Bill; you're not a boy who hits.”

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“Only now did the two girls look at each other’s faces in wonder at what they had made. A totem, it could be a ghost. It could be a warrior, voodoo doll, goddess, corpse.”

Henry enjoying the great outdoors. Peron Dunes, St Helens Point, Tasmania. July 2021. The Natural Way of Things  by Charlotte Wood This is a rather odd little novel that I couldn't quite figure out. As an exercise in delivering a brutal reality check on the misogeny ingrained in Australian culture, the decidedly odd setting, bizarre ambience and hypnagogic pacing tended to confuse things. I felt that while the brusque and violent opening was very effective, the drift into a dreamlike meandering through the final two-thirds of the book diluted the initial intensity. The exploration of the shifting loyalties and relations of the imprisoned women seemed plausible, but there's no depth to any of the characters bar two, and even then I was never wholly convinced. I can understand from an intellectual level the messages around institutional abuse, gendered violence, weakness versus power and the tenuous threads of 'civilisation' and I can see what Wood is trying to do. Unfort

“The printing presses of the state treasuries cranked out reams of paper currency- showing wise kinds and blissful martyrs- while bankers wept and peasants starved.”

  A new dawn. Cosy Corner, Bay of Fires, Tasmania. July 2021. Night Soldiers by Alan Furst Look, I could have done without the "kind-hearted, ingenious and well-intentioned but naive Americans" sub-plot. I felt that Furst could have dropped this completely, and he would have produced a tauter, stronger novel. After investing some much time and effort in establish the world facing Khristo Stoianev, the abrupt shift to a ra ra yankee doodle dandy sub-plot of "middling ad-copywriter turns masterful guerrilla leader in the French Resistance". If the issue was appealing to American readers, he'd already jammed in the clunky female American volunteer in the Spanish Civil War (although I still haven't worked out the character's motivation for being there). All up, I enjoyed the sections in Bulgaria, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and the journey east at the end of the book. I found the period of Stoianev's time in Spain through to the heavy-handed and cl

“People to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too.”

  Wave on rock. Sloop Reef, Bay of Fires, Tasmania. July 2021. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner Wow. Wow, but not in a good way. That was underwhelming. I generally have no real problem with an author employing an internal stream of conscious narrative or multiple viewpoints, but I found this one so unbearably  dull . I think that this confirms that I am more a Steinbeck kind of guy when it comes to an understanding of the failures of American society. ⭐ 1/2

“Grave robbing was still viewed as socially inappropriate, and doing it when the sun was up was generally viewed as unwise.”

Enjoying the falls. St Columba Falls, Pyngana. July 2021. Beneath the Sugar Sky  by Seanan McGuire I enjoyed the third instalment of this entertaining series of fantasy novels very much. Given that it is largely set in a 'nonsense' world, it is decidedly lighter in tone than the second book. That said, McGuire doesn't flinch from the grimmer side of life, and I remain impressed at the way she uses the fantasy setting to explore fundamental human problems and those of young people in particular. One of the joys of this setting is how the author can bend and shape the contours of previous choices in the series to pursue closed-off plotlines. In this way, Yumi - murdered in the first book - returns as we journey with our ragtag bunch of misfits into the world of candy on a mission to save the daughter that was never born to their friend. As with the previous books,  Beneath the Sugar Sky  features an inclusive, diverse group that never feels preachy or fake, with the setting a

“Ah, the confidence of the mediocre white man.”

  Ezra leads the way. Binalong Bay, Bay of Fires. July 2021. The End of Men  by Christina Sweeney-Baird An interesting premise. I found it interesting when PD James used it in  The Children of Men . Unfortunately, it is wasted by pedestrian writing, far too many awkwardly composed narrative voices, an embarrassing grasp of medical science and a decidedly dubious moral compass. Let me start with the latter. Sweeney-Baird goes to great pains to critique patriarchy, the treacherous power dynamics of a craven civil service, and global capitalism's failures that are leads humanity to its (almost) destruction. So far, so good. The criticism is reasonable, and there's an internal logic to the narrative arc, initially at least. Despite the crowded field of voices, there is a convergence towards an inevitable global capitalism and craven civil service that the first third of the book goes to great pains to stress has led to the disaster confronting humanity. I would not have a problem w

“Montana seems to me to be what a small boy would think Texas is like from hearing Texans.”

  Leaves. St Columba Falls, Pyngana, Tasmania. July 2021. Montana  by Gwen Florio Hard-boiled  private dick   combat veteran   cop  foreign correspondent Lola Wicks finds herself thrust back into civilian life only to discover that her oldest (only?) friend has been brutally and mysteriously murdered in the lonely Montana Badlands. Far be it from me to suggest that Gwen Florio’s  Montana  is formulaic, but it treads familiar ground. While I enjoyed the remote setting, the story felt rushed, and many of the characters insufficiently fleshed out. Most apparent is the subplot involving the Johnny Running Wolf, which seems incredibly implausible and emphasised the casual treatment of the Blackfoot, who appeared more as props than authentic and substantive people. Still, if you are prepared to go with the flow and not dwell on the many implausible facets, it is a pacey read and does not outstay its welcome. I will no doubt give the follow-up a read, which says enough, I suppose. ⭐ ⭐ 1/2