The Books of Love: Tell Me Why by Sandi Wallace

Reviewed by LynC

Tell Me Why_1The blurb…

Picturesque Daylesford has a darker side.

Melbourne writer Georgie Harvey heads to the mineral springs region of central Victoria to look for a missing farmer. There she uncovers links between the woman’s disappearance and her dangerous preoccupation with the unsolved mystery surrounding her husband.

Maverick cop and solo dad John Franklin is working a case that’s a step up from Daylesford’s usual soft crime; a poison-pen writer whose targets are single mothers.

Georgie’s investigation stirs up long buried secrets and she attracts enemies. When she reports the missing person to the local cops, sparks fly between her and Franklin. Has he dismissed the writer too quickly?

A country cop, city writer, retired farmer and poison-pen stalker all want answers. What will they risk to get them? What will be the ultimate cost?

  • Winner of the 2015 Davitt Award Readers’ Choice
  • Shortlisted for the Davitt Award for Best Debut Crime Fiction

The review…

I wasn’t sure about this at first. I mean; a smoking protagonist who has just argued herself out of losing her licence for speeding, running away from a boyfriend who actually wants to commit to her, and bitching about her next door neighbour asking her for help, when, in her own words, Ruby and Michael would do anything for her. But she does help. And what a can of worms that opens!

Ruby’s pal Susan has gone missing. She hasn’t answered her phone for a week. Helping her neighbour takes Georgie on a spin to Daylesford, just a few hours out of Melbourne – especially at the speeds Georgie enjoys in her 1984 Alfa Romeo Spider. Georgie enjoys the trip out of town, enjoys the night away from her boyfriend, and expects to find nothing has happened to Susan. But Susan really is missing. The harder Georgie digs the more obstacles she encounters, not least of them a middle aged cop with a teenage daughter. Georgie and John take an instant dislike to each other, but as each investigates the mystery in their own way, each keeps stumbling over the other.

It is not either’s intention to combine forces, but they need each other. It all points to a car accident years ago, followed by the accidental death of Susan’s husband a few nights later. But was it an accident? Was the smear campaign which turned a good honest and kindly man into a wife bashing monster just a little too convenient?

The seemingly unconnected clues pile up and Georgie can’t help but follow them with John not far behind. Susan finds what she went looking for, but would it perhaps have been wiser to heed the advice of friends to let it go? How wise is it for Georgie to be following the same path. But with her neighbour in hospital, Georgie cannot let it go. She has to have something to tell Ruby.

From the opening and rather dismal few pages this book just got better and better. Putting it down ceased to be an option, I had to keep following Georgie and John. I had to know what came next. I cared that both came out of it safely as the tension started mounting.

There was just one minor jolt in the plot. It was written in 2013. Georgie doesn’t appear to be particularly poor, but she doesn’t own a smart phone, or a GPS. She needs local area maps to get around. In every other aspect it appears to be contemporary.

Apart from the minor discomfit the technology disconnect caused, it was a darn good read. There is a sequel due out real soon now. I want Black Saturday out yesterday so I can keep reading. That is how good I found this novel. It well deserved the Davitt Readers’ Award. Especially amazing considering it was Sandi Wallace’s first novel.

Buy Tell Me Why

About LynC

LynC is a 50-something year old widow, juggling the demands of writing Science Fiction and being a single Mum.

In the past two years LynC has had four short stories published; one of which — Nematalien — was nominated for an award in 2013. Her first novel — Nil By Mouth (Satalyte Publishing) — was launched at the Australian National Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne in June 2014. (Narrelle’s note: this is an excellent book and I recommend it highly.)

LynC resides, with her two ‘new’ adults, four cats, and two canaries, in a hidden area less than ten kilometres from the Melbourne CBD (in Australia) surrounded by creeks and wooded hills.

The Books of Love are romance book reviews of both new releases and old favourites.


On 7 November, our cat Petra passed away after unexpected kidney failure. She was affectionate to the end, and although we couldn’t save her, she didn’t suffer.

She was twelve years old and had been with us since she was a two month old kitten with big ears and confidence to match. She came home the week Tim began work as a freelancer and immediately became his valued business associate and friend.

In my life, Petra was an unjudgmental listener, a sympathetic cuddler, a circuit-breaker to remind me to live in the moment, a creature whose world overlapped with mine but had its own rhyme and reason, and a source of uncomplicated joy.

Living as a completely indoor cat, Petra was very intensely involved in our day to day lives at home. She was affectionate, playful, demanding and hilarious. She was naughty in the way cats can be – because your little rules about where they can walk and put their claws and shed their fur while they sleep are meaningless to them. You can’t berate a cat for not following an arbitrary rule it doesn’t understand, so mostly we just laughed.

PetraThe morning routine often began with her stalking up the bed, staring intently at my face, purring all the while, and coming to bump her head against me. She’d be patient while the idiot ape-creatures she flat-shared with stood in the Box Of Falling Water, but soon after she would let it be known it was Time For Scritchies. These always took place on the red carpet in front of the TV. She’d lower her shoulders, stick her backside up in the air and then purr and wriggle with ecstasy while I scritched my nails up and down her spine. This was not Tim’s job – his designated Time for Scritchies was mid-morning, when he’d returned from coffee outside. Post-shower Scritchies was my job.

PC030164She had all kinds of routines during the day, from the rounds where she inspected the cupboards (to ensure, one supposes, there were no Cat Enemies abroad) to the 4pm Cuddle Me Now Lovefest she visited on whoever was at home. She would rush to the door when we came home, whether from breakfast out or a week travelling, mew a greeting and demand her due of pats, play and cuddles.

At the end of each day, when I sat up in bed reading aloud to Tim – usually from Wodehouse – Petra would come from wherever she was conducting Cat Business to sit on my lap and listen to the Girl Ape droning on in that pleasantish way. (The only objection she ever raised was my attempt to make a proper Empress of Blandings pig noise. She objected by fleeing in terror. I never tried that again.)

Petra loved wash day, and would curl up in the middle of the dry washing to make it nicely tortoiseshell coloured, which she clearly felt was a superior colour scheme.

She thought it was bloody Christmas if the humans opted for an afternoon nap – ALL THE FAMILY NAPPING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY! AWESOME! KITTY PILE!! and would purr her head off while finding the best place to settle on or between us. She had a habit of slotting herself between us anyway, lying on her back with her happily flexing paws in the air as we both rubbed her belly at the same time.

Periodically, we’d find that Petra had seized one of her many half-chewed mouse toys and dragged it proudly off to drop in her food bowl, as if to say, “Behold! I am a Mighty Hunter!”. I once saw her actually dragging a toy on the end of a string which was itself attached to a little stick, trotting across the carpet with her kill dragging between her legs, a tiny little lion of the living room savannah.

Petra loved playing chasey – red dot, bits of string, just dashing about the flat determined not to be caught by the humans who would scoop her up for a cuddle. She knew it was play, we could tell, by the chirpy little trills she made, by the way she’d feint and hide and pounce when she had the chance.

She was a fairly chatty cat. Petra had a range of vocalisations for play, for mealtimes, for when she had just come back from the cat hotel, or we had just come back from a travelling, for when she was half asleep but would greet us as we walked past. When we called the cat hotel while we travelled to see how she was doing, there was always some variation of, ‘Oh, Petra! The talky torty! Oh yes, she’s doing well.’  She always did like people more than she liked other cats and chatted to them constantly.

I used to read my stories aloud to her – it felt marginally less stupid than reading them to empty air – when I wanted to hear the flow of the text and listen for edits that needed to be made. She was a nicely nonjudgemental listener, though she did sometimes wander off in the middle of the exciting parts.

Petra was my company when Tim was travelling. She was the circuit-breaker when we got caught up in stresses of the workday and the outside world. Why should she care about those external things, for which she had no context for understanding? How could she care about things that made no sense in her world?  So she may not have cared about that cranky customer or too many impending deadlines, but that didn’t mean she didn’t respond to us emotionally, on her own terms. She reminded us that the world didn’t revolve around our little slice of the universe, even if it was because she thought it revolved around hers. And why not? In her experience, it was a fair summary, and we were happy to have it so.

There are a million things she did that made us laugh, and only a few things that made us cross (but we laughed anyway) and one thing that she was. She was a friend. A little alien friend, maybe, with whom I communicated clearly enough but simply with sound and tone and gesture, but we connected despite the lack of common speech. We played together and showed love and affection to each other and made sure we weren’t lonely when our boy was away.

Our little home is very quiet now. It’s very still. There’s not a place I sit or walk or lie down that doesn’t come attached to a fond memory.

Waking up without her is hard. Coming home without her greeting me at the door is hard. Going to bed and reading without her purring on my lap as she listens is hard.

There is a Petra-shaped stillness everywhere I look. There’s a Petra-well of silence where she would talk to us.

I miss my friend.

IMG_1145But for all the sorrow I feel right now, I’m glad we three had each other for all those happy years. I’m glad to have given a home to a little cat who enjoyed her life so much, and who enriched my life in so many ways.

There’s a Petra-shaped gap in my home, but at the same time, there’s a Petra-shaped warmth curled up on a pile of metaphorical clean washing in my heart and memory – mewing a greeting when I think of her, and shedding tortoiseshell hair in that snug space.

Everything’s better when it’s torty-coloured.


Review: Hamlet at the Barbican, London

hamlet toy soldierShakespeare’s Hamlet is one of those plays so dense with ideas that you can easily see a dozen of them and get a different experience each time. Should Hamlet be young? He’s still at university, after all. Ah, but the gravedigger says of Yorick, “this skull has lain in the earth three and twenty years”, and Hamlet remembers the jester from when he was a boy – so he must be almost thirty, at least?

That’s a prosaic question among many. Is Hamlet mad, feigning madness or something in between? Did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ever understand their role or deserve their fate? Was Claudius merely a greedy, self-indulgent opportunist or a cold-hearted, manipulative bastard who was out to rob Hamlets Senior and Junior of the kingship from the start? How implicated is Gertrude and does Ophelia have any agency at all, when her death is reduced to her brother and her boyfriend having a graveyard pissing contest over who loved her more, when nobody loved her enough to care about her opinions or fate when she was alive?

hamlet 2I’ve seen a lot of Hamlets, on stage and screen, adapted and in Shakespeare’s original texts (and there are a couple of different versions of those). I’ve seen them edited down, done with the whole shebang, performed in modern dress, in period dress, in mixed costuming, though not yet nude. (Give it time, though, give it time.)

All is by way of saying that I have a lot of Hamlets under my belt, and this production at the Barbican, directed with confidence and a grand vision by Lyndsey Turner, was one of the very best I’ve ever seen.

The production itself closed on 31 October and will in a week or two come to cinema screens as part of the National Theatre Live program. If you don’t want spoilers about the production or my musings on the text (which may still be spoilerific for some – after all, everyone sees it for the first time some time) you might want to bookmark this for later.

First up is the astonishing set, which reveals itself in stages and then becomes a canvas for the set and lighting design to splash the fate of Denmark upon it. The first thing we see, actually, is Hamlet sitting on the floor in front of a dropped flat. He’s listening to Nature Boy on a record player, going through possessions in old tea chests and experience a small, private moment of loss. In that small moment we meet a grieving son. Soon after, that curtain rises and we are greeted with the vast hall of a royal mansion: two storeys high with a massive staircase, ballustrades, great doors and almost cavernous. You wonder how on earth that space can be filled.

It’s a sudden shift from the individual to the wider world, and of course the royal hall is more than just the palace of Elsinore – that space is Denmark, bounded in a nutshell and the director and her cast have no trouble filling it at all. In face, after the banquet scene, the back of it opens up so that it become still larger yet! And never once is there a sense that the actors are swimming in emptiness (unless, of course, that is the point of the scene). Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet makes particularly good use of this ‘little Denmark’ – his energy in racing from point to point is beautifully contrasted each time he stops and becomes a still centre for thought and introspection.

At key points, the lighting paints decay on the walls – the something rotten in the state of Denmark clearly something emanating from the palace.

claudiusAnd that something, it is eventually proven, is Claudius himself. I’ve enjoyed Ciaran Hinds’ work immensely in the past – he combines fantastic gravitas (he was Julius Caesar in the Rome series) with very human flaws. I’ve seen so many versions of Claudius where he is a bit on the soft side, an apparently affable man who let ambition overtake his duty and now he can’t believe his luck that he got a kingdom and a deliciously saucy wife to boot. When the truth is uncovered at last, this kind of Claudius makes desperate plans to protect himself.

Hinds’ Claudius is a planmaker, all right, but he’s no weaker younger brother who took an oppportunity and ran with it. This Claudius’s true colours are pretty much black to the bone – genuinely dangerous, genuinely threatening and, as a result, a  brilliantly dark and, for me, refreshing take on a character I thought was familiar. At the end of the first half of the play, the palace explodes with black confetti, as though Claudius’s determination to ensure Hamlet is killed is the bursting of a particularly nasty foulness – and it infects the whole set. The second half is a scorched Elsinore, a blackened battlefield of a Denmark, ruined long before Fortinbras arrives. This is a Denmark deeply infected by corruption from the top, and when Hamlet returns, apparently relieved of his almost feverish madness, it’s only to find everyone else fretful with rage and their own kind of fevered wildness.

OPheliaSian Brooke’s Ophelia is also a treat. The character never has much agency and is pushed around or ignored by pretty much everyone, even after she dies. This Ophelia is nervy, sweet but socially awkward, looking at the world through the filter of her camera. Strangely, although she seems to keep an arm’s length away from people with that intervening camera, it also means that she sees more than others do, too. Her mad scene is played to convey that extremely well, and it is only then that Claudius really pays attention to her – when she says something that indicates she knows what he’s done. Soon after this, when Gertrude realises what Ophelia has buried in her delirium-fed funeral for her murdered father, Ophelia’s distress and her imminent fate hit chillingly hard.

Then, of course, there’s Cumberbatch as Hamlet. Given the hype surrounding his casting and the speed with which tickets sold out for the run, a year in advance, it was always going to be a challenge for him to live up to the expectations.

hamlet 3Fortunately, he not only lived up to them, but exceeded them. His Hamlet is complex and moving, from that first moment we see him as a grieving son to his last breath of a man finally embracing the ‘felicity’ of escaping what is to him an malevolent world. In between, he is melancholy, funny, sly, furious, bemused, child-like, unreasonable, wounded, heartbroken and enraged. He uses every inch of the stage when it’s right to use it, and commands stillness when stillness best tells Hamlet’s tale. He has an incredible physicality and grace – whether clambering all over the banquet table for a soliloquy or waltzing with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as he accuses them of playing him like a pipe.  With Lyndsey Turner’s direction, Cumberbatch wrings every conflict and every contradiction out of the role, and delivers a superbly textured, engaging, comedic and deeply tragic prince.

For all I sing his praises, the fact is he is supported by a truly excellent cast. Along with those already mentioned, there’s Rosencrantz (Matthew Steer) and Guildenstern (Rudi Dharmalingam) who really do feel like they’ve known him from childhood; Laertes (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) who personifies being the opposite in every way of Hamlet as a son; and a Gertrude (Anastasia Hille) who seems happy to turn a blind eye as long as she still has a nice frock. Karl Johnson even does a marvellous job at being an opposite of himself as both the Ghost and the Gravedigger – as grim and disturbing in the former as he is wickedly funny in the latter.

GertrudeI am so familiar with this play, but so much of this production felt fresh, its approach highlighting aspects of character and text in new ways.Benedict Cumberbatch is part of an ensemble of excellence, from the whole cast and the director to every backdrop, every soundscape, every costume and every line. Lyndsey Turner and her team should be rightly proud of themselves for bringing their grand vision to life in ways still so emotionally direct and personal.

This may not be the definitive Hamlet – with a play this layered, I don’t know that there will ever be such a thing – but it is a consummate Hamlet and well worth the seeing. Which I’m going to do again, in the National Theatre Live screening next week.

See more about the Barbican’s Hamlet:

Read my review of Richard III starring Martin Freeman (2014)

This is my post about visiting Stratford Upon Avon

Check out my Shakespeare-inspired Redbubble designs, including Claudius’s “sorry/not sorry”.

My very great thanks to Wendy C Fries who bought tickets for this production for me in 2014, on the off-chance I’d make it back to London in 2015. You’re a champion!

Review: Draculiza by Bianca Bagatourian (story) and Seitu Hayden (art)

Draculiza cover“Why…why…why can’t I be a princess?” asked Draculiza quietly.

“Because…my dear, you don’t have rosy cheeks or long golden hair. And I’m afraid you are entirely too short to be a princess,” said Draculiza’s mother gently.

“Pointy ears! Pointy ears!” added the wise Spike.


Cedar Grove Books is a new US press producing children’s and Young Adult books, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mysteries and even some graphic novels. They’ve got some cool looking stuff out already, and more on the way – including this entertaining little gem, Draculiza.

For starters, I loved the idea of a little vampire who wants to be a princess, and then is told she can’t be one because she doesn’t look right for the part. She determines to apply to the Fairy Tale Association anyway, puts on a disguise and sets about doing what she can to become a princess. (“This is not right. Everybody has a little princess inside them, and mine wants to come out now.”)

Draculiza bedtimeThe most fun is had with Draculiza in her disguises getting into all the fairytales and making a mess of them – I admit I wish there was more of that – but of course, fairy tales have strict rules and things really aren’t working out. After spreading havoc far and wide – and being cheered up by her faithful little bat Spike – she has an epiphany of sorts. (At least for now.)

It’s a simple idea and a sweet story, with charming art, about knowing who you are and being really good at that.

The book is available as an ebook and as a hardcover.

Draculiza and SpikeBuy Draculiza

Read more about Draculiza

Review: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

resurrection-bayI love a good yarn set in my hometown. I love books that are deft and go at a cracking pace and offer twists that are seem so natural just moments after you’ve gone WTF? I love books that reflect diverse characters with great depth and texture. I love books that portray experiences outside my own. I love books that finish with a sense of satisfaction and yet as though the characters and their lives will go on after I’ve put the book down.

It’s hardly a wonder then, that I loved Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay so completely. I got so excited by developments when I was a quarter of the way through it, in fact, that I started sending tweets to the author along the lines of [engage allcaps] HOLY MOTHER OF HADES THIS BIT, THIS BIT, THIS BIT RIGHT HERE, OH. MY. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!!!!

Fortunately, the author seemed to respond well to my gleeful flailing over a few days.

So now, dear reader, I will flail gleefully at YOU.

We meet Caleb Zelic holding the blood-soaked corpse of his childhood friend, Gary, a policeman who was doing some work for Caleb’s security business on the side. It’s a few pages before we realise that Caleb’s difficulty communicating with emergency services isn’t only due to shock – Caleb is deaf, though he doesn’t like to draw attention to the fact.

From this distressing beginning, things just get worse and worse for Caleb. Filled with guilt for the death of his friend, suspected by the police and desperate to not be one of the bodies that is starting to pile up, Caleb and his partner Frankie seem always a step behind. It soon becomes clear that it’s not certain who they can trust. Is Caleb’s drug addict brother part of this awful mess? Who is Scott, who is implicated but whom no-one seems to know?

The action takes place around Melbourne and the coastal town of Resurrection Bay, where Caleb grew up. At one stage I was on the #86 tram, reading, when one of the characters was also on the tram. (And yes, reader, I did have an idle look around for him. Just in case. But he wasn’t actually there. Under the circumstances, this was probably a Good Thing.)

Caleb is a terrific lead character – likeable and capable, but flawed. His stubbornness can be admirable at times, but it’s also the thing that leaves the people he loves just a little outside. Because he relies on more than his “hearing” (via fallible hearing aid and lip-reading), he sometime sees more than he wants to say. He sometimes turns away so he doesn’t have to read things he doesn’t want to know. He tends to keep a distance between himself and other people. But you live in his world while you read – the anxiety of not always catching what people are saying, the patronising way people can be when they realise he’s deaf, and, oh hell yes, the strangely silent world of fighting for your life when one of your senses is barred to you. (Viskic notes in her afterword that she worked closely with people in the Deaf community to ensure Caleb’s sensory experiences were accurately reflected.)

Frankie, his partner, is a woman with challenges of her own, as an alcoholic ex-cop, and Caleb’s ex-wife, Kat, is a fabulously strong, dynamic character – a Koori woman, an artist, who is not impressed with his sometimes selective communications.These two very different and very textured women are an excellent foil to Caleb’s strengths and failings.

With these great characters, the Victorian location, and the punchy writing, you’ve got it all – crime, danger, love, heartbreak, betrayal, murder, hope, violence, and enough surprises to keep you wolfing down the words right to the very end.

I look forward to more from Emma Viskic in future, and, I hope, more of Caleb Zelic.

Buy Resurrection Bay:


Resurrection Bay (Five Mile Press)

Resurrection Bay (Booktopia)

Resurrection Bay (Readings)


Resurrection Bay (Kobo)

Resurrection Bay (Caleb Zelic Book 1) (Amazon)

Resurrection Bay (iBooks)



And Then… : Support a new anthology from Clan Destine Press

and then...Clan Destine Press is putting together a new two-volume anthology of adventure stories! And Then… the Great Big Book of Awesome Adventure Tales is exactly what it says on the tin. A big book full of tales of derring do, swash and buckle, rockets and railroads, guns and swords, action and heroics and ALL THE EXCITING ADVENTUROUS THINGS!

My story, Virgin Soil – set in Melbourne in 1851 and full of dark magic, strange family, gold fever and a shapeshifter who can’t remember if he started as a man or a rat – has been accepted to the anthology!

I’m there in excellent company. Other great Australian writers appearing include Kerry Greenwood, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Alan Baxter, Mary Borsellino, Jason Franks, Jason Nahrung, Jack Dann, Amanda Pillar, Sophie Masson, Lindy Cameron, Jane Clifton, and Peter M Ball – for starters!

All the stories have some kind of Australian/New Zealand connection, and it promises to be two volumes of a rollicking good time. The stories will be illustrated by Vicky Pratt, whose art for one of the stories appears above.

Clan Destine Press is running an Indiegogo campaign to fund costs for author fees and illustrations – and it would be so wonderful if you could be part of that.

You can support the project for as little as $2, and there are a few stages (including rewards of 50% off the books) before the first where you are guaranteed an e-copy of the book at $20.

Of course there are higher levels of pledges too, which include choosing other Clan Destine titles, getting the And Then... volumes in paperback, getting And Then... merchandise, and for the highest levels – And Then… in hardcover, and special writing tutorials from writers like Alan Baxter, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Jason Nahrung, Kelly Gardiner and me!

Please support this great project – and the writers and artist included in it – with your love but also, if you can, your dollars. You’ll get something amazing in return. I promise.

You can find out more about the writers for the anthology, how funds raised will be used and all the different levels at which you can support the project at Indiegogo – just follow the link.

Support And Then… at Indiegogo

And thank you in advance for supporting Australian writers, artists and publishers (or at least thinking about it!

The Books of Love: Unnaturals by Dean J Anderson

Reviewed by LynC

unnaturalsThe blurb…

Unnaturals tried to kill Mason Douglas and his family.

Big mistake.

He became The Butcher, a cold relentless Hunter with a vendetta that took him across the world.

And now, on his return home to Australia – to mend his heart, soul and family – his destiny collides with a millennia-old struggle between strange Gods.

Their prize is Earth. Their warriors are warring races of Unnaturals: the Bloodells and the Darkells.

As an unlikely alliance forms between Natural and Unnatural – between the Douglas clan and the Darkells – Mason’s family grows in unexpected ways… not all of whom are human.

Sparks fly, lust inspires, and love ignores all the boundaries as the very definition of family changes.

Prepare to push your boundaries.

The review…

For some reason the Bloodells are in Europe and the Darkells are only in Australia, though some of the origins of the two races are only hinted at. The Bloodells, as the name implies, are bloodthirsty vampiric-like creatures with a specific vendetta against Mason Douglas’ family. The Darkells show a much gentler aspect to humanity while being quite brutal to each other. They also target Mason and his family, but not to kill. They wish to enlist his help because the Bloodells have finally come south.

Then there are another group. They have sent a representative to Earth, who is also targeting Mason. They are desperate for his help. Their representative arrives with the Bloodells, but is not of them, although Mason and the Darkells, and indeed the Bloodells, are not aware of this.

Given that he is ‘The Butcher’, it is strange the number of peoples who believe he can save them. But the Butcher is so-named in London.

In Australia, he has the sweetest, most loving, most giving of women waiting for him. And he will do anything for her, even understanding and accepting that she can love him just as much and still have love left over for others.  In Australia, he is a big man with a lot of love to give, but when push comes to shove, ‘The Butcher’ can still do what has to be done to protect his family and friends.

I found elements of this complex story a tad arbitrary and confusing. There are rules within the Darkell society which made no sense, and they are every bit as brutal as the Bloodells toward each other, but we are supposed to accept that they are the ‘good’ Unnaturals. At one point Mason’s son says he wished things wouldn’t keep changing, and, as the reader, I wholeheartedly agreed. It often felt like the author was making things up on the fly, especially those rules of the Darkell society. They weren’t all even necessary to move the plot along or explain how relationships worked. They were just plucked out of the air, dealt with, in a few hundred words, and then disappeared.

And the sex? It was good sex but it just kept happening at the flimsiest of excuses and in heaps of different configurations and for a long time. And it kept happening. And happening. It’s a wonder anything else, like fighting, got done.

But eventually everyone stops snogging (or not – with angst) and the configurations sort themselves out, and they all get on with the job of defeating the Bloodells. Or at least thwarting them, and sending them back to Europe.

Oh, and did I mention there are Werewolves? They are surfer dudes with the hots for one of the Darkells. They can’t have her though; she is Mason’s, so they distract themselves by throwing their might into the fray against the Bloodells too.

Even with a god on their side, what hope did the invaders have against the locals?

If I were into giving stars, I’d give this three. It is interesting at times, a complex storyline and what feels like hundreds of players, but the sex dragged the story down.

And the open marriage thing which is supposed to shock? Maybe forty, even twenty years ago. It is a fully consensual arrangement by all parties. That is all it needs to be. But then, I’m an author who writes about whole societies where polygamy is essential, so maybe I’m just too open minded already to be shocked. Or was it the relationships between humans and aliens that were supposed to shock? Well, I write about that too, so maybe I wasn’t the target audience for the shock aspect. :)

Buy Unnaturals

About LynC

LynCLynC is a 50-something year old widow, juggling the demands of writing Science Fiction and being a single Mum.

In the past two years LynC has had four short stories published; one of which — Nematalien — was nominated for an award in 2013. Her first novel — Nil By Mouth (Satalyte Publishing) — was launched at the Australian National Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne in June 2014. (Narrelle’s note: this is an excellent book and I recommend it highly.)

LynC resides, with her two ‘new’ adults, four cats, and two canaries, in a hidden area less than ten kilometres from the Melbourne CBD (in Australia) surrounded by creeks and wooded hills.

The Books of Love are romance book reviews of both new releases and old favourites.

The Lady Novelist Contemplates the Bard

Will DuckspeareStratford Upon Avon. Birthplace of the Bard. The village where William Shakespeare’s relatively humble origins lead some to believe (rather snobbily, I think) that a fellow with a fairly ordinary education could not possibly have written plays which still resonated with audiences 400 years later (as though all, or even the best, education happens in schoolrooms).

After several trips to the UK I finally made it to this English town, wanting to pay my respects to a writer who has lasted so long in our minds and imaginations, and whose explorations of the complex state of being human still have us talking today.

My concerns that Stratford would turn out to be a kind of DisneyShakespeareland were mostly unfounded – Stratford Upon Avon is not wall-to-wall Elizabethan Fun Park, although the township is obviously proud of their famous son and their heritage. The houses that are related to Shakespeare’s life – the house in which he was born; the one in which his daughter and her husband, a doctor, lived, and more – are well preserved, well signed and have guides in period costume to explain elements of everyday Tudor life.

On one window of the upstairs bedroom of Shakespeare’s birthplace, names have been scratched into glass (that wouldn’t even have been there in Shakespeare’s time) – including that of Henry Irving, the great Shakespearean actor of the 19th century.  A picture of the panel in question is in the gallery below.

At Shakespeare’s birthplace, a roving performer even did soliloquies on request. He first delivered Richard III’s opening speech, but then he said he remembered Margaret’s speech, having once done the role, and he let me film it.

Of course shops abound, filled with Shakespearean tat (say hello to William Duckspeare, above) as well as higher quality souvenirs. But the architecure is genuinely interesting – especially to an Australian. All the Tudor-style stuff we see here is obviously fake, from the 1960s and 70s I think.

IMG_0770Among other things, I learned that the expression ‘sleep tight’ relates to the way mattresses once rested on a kind of rope sling, and that the ropes would have to be regularly tightened to make sure sleepers didn’t eventually sag onto the floor!

The Shakespeare Centre next to the house is wonderful too, full of art and audio and souvenirs-through-the-ages, including a display copy of a first folio open at the first page of The Tragedy of Richard III!

IMG_0823Naturally I took the opportunity to see the Royal Shakespeare Company in action! Their Henry V was excellent, with some new takes on familiar scenes. Henry addressing the troops was also addressing us, and when he pleads for assistance with his French in wooing the princess, I couldn’t help feeling that a Globe Theatre audience would have thrown some suggestions his way.

Visiting Shakespeare’s grave was a fascinating moment. Buried in Trinity Church, a pretty little place near the river, dear old Will continues to attract pilgrims. I’m not necessarily a keen tourist of Places Famous People Have Been, but there was something about sitting in a pew a little way down from his grave and the plea to leave his bones undisturbed that is carved into the stone that was quietly moving.


I suppose that we all want to be remembered somehow – and Will has managed that more effectively than most. The thing is, I don’t believe in an afterlife. I believe that any immortality we have, such as it is, is in our deeds. Our names may not be remembered at all, in fact, but the things we do, how we treated people, how we engaged with our world – those are things that have ripple effects, in ways large and small. Perhaps a word I speak today, or a sentence I write, will mean something to someone one day. Perhaps something in my actions or words will prompt someone to think in a new direction (hopefully a more positive one) and that slight change now will mean something to someone else down the line. I get feedback on my work sometimes that leads me to hope this is so, even in small ways.

And here lies a man whose wit, compassion, subtlety and poetry, expressed through his words, has meant a huge amount to generations of readers and audiences. His characters and stories have opened up minds to many different facets of being human – that villains can have their better moments; that heroes can be flawed. That we are all made up of multiple motivations, and perhaps that ‘nothing is either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so’.

So Vale, Mr Shakespeare. You taught me a lot about writing, about humanity, and theatre and even myself.

Thank you.


The Lady Novelist Enjoys an Outre Museum

IMG_0716Bury St Edmunds is a lovely little market town in Suffolk. Well, that’s one thing it is. It’s also a lot of other things. It’s the place where an Anglo Saxon hamlet stood, and where a monastery was established, and where, in the early 10th century, the remains of Edmund, King of East Anglia (martyred and sainted in the 9th century) were reinterred.

The monastery became and abbey, and the abbey became the excuse for the barons to make a pilgrimage to visit the sainted bones of Edmund, but really to nut out the basics of the Magna Carta (a treasonous act).

The town and the abbey did booming business until Henry VIII was having all that marriage trouble and did that whole reformation/tearing down abbeys thing. His daughter Mary went about burning Protestants here as well. And then things trundled on a bit, the way they do, and some murders were committed, and trials and executions had, some with odd footnotes, and then a science fiction convention was held.

IMG_0624So, our lovely little market town of Bury St Edmunds (the ‘Bury’ is a corruption of ‘borough’ – the town name is not a command) has a long and fascinating history – and nearly all of it is represented in some fashion or other in its marvellous (and sometimes very gruesome) Moyse’s Hall Museum.

IMG_0628To begin with, ground floor of this Norman-era building (so even the stones of this museum are soaked through with history) has remnant stonework and artefacts from the old abbey. They’re also displaying some art from the Wolf Trail (the miracles of Edmund that lead to the sainthood include a very helpful wolf) and a wolf skull.

Among its historical treasures is a broken sword from the nearby battle of Fornham in 1173. The silver inlaid inscription translates as ‘Be thou blessed’ on one side and ‘In the name of the Lord’ on the other.


IMG_0662Naturally, human nature being what it is, not all the mayhem and bloodshed is confined to the field of battle. Two displays from notorious murders are in the Hall’s Justice and Punishment section. The hall was for a time a police station, and among the displays are the mid-19th century truncheons issued to contstables for the exercise of their duties. The truncheons are decorated with arms and the crown demonstrating the officer’s authority – hence, one assumes (and certainly the signage does), the use of the verb ‘to crown’ meaning ‘to hit on the head’.

IMG_0711Rob Murrell, the knowledgable front of house person on the day, also showed me (once we’d fallen into animated conversation) grooves in the stonework that early policeman had worn in through sharpening their cutlasses (as the earliest river police carried) before a busy night of policing.

IMG_0639Most notoriously, the museum has on display a gibbet – that is, an iron cage, in which the bodies of the executed were displayed to dissuade more unsociable behaviour. The very gibbet was used for this purpose n 1794. One John Nichols and his son Nathan murdered Sarah Nichols – daughter and sister to the pair. Nathan’s fate was execution and dissection. John’s was execution and display in the gibbet. The gibbet was found in 1938, buried near the site of the murder, with his skeleton intact inside it.

And there it hangs at Moyse’s Hall Museum, looking like  a prop from a theatre restaurant. But it really, really isn’t.

But that’s not the most gruesome artefact. The other relates to the Red Barn Murder of 1827. William Corder was tried and hanged for the murder of Maria Marten, and his body was used for anatomical research: his skeleton was used to teach anatomy, his skull to advance research on that dodgy science of phrenology. But also, for reasons best known to himself, the dissecting doctor also tanned part of Corder’s scalp and skin, using the latter to bind a copy of the trial records. And these are also on display. (To tell the truth, this is the first thing I’d ever learned about this museum, from The Morbid Anatomy Anthology essay collection, and my prurient curiosity was the main reason I’d wanted to visit.) I’m not going to display pictures of body parts all unexpected here, but click the link to see the image here.

IMG_0645And thus we move trippingly along to displays of items of witchcraft, or to protect oneself from witchcraft (the region notoriosly burned a lot of ‘witches’.) Old shoes were buried inside walls a lot (sadly, along with cats, from time to time) to ward off evil spells. Most of the collection here was found inside one chimney. Along with many shoes, it includes a few mummified cats, some wands and a witch pot.

IMG_0668On the second floor is a display of the region’s proud military history, and the third has a beautiful clock room, filled with timepieces that tick-tock-tick, all on slightly different times, partly due to aging mechanisms affecting accuracy, and partly so that you get a chance to hear each particular tick and chime. It was a surprisingly soothing place to sit, feeling time measuring itself on in delicate ticks, chunky tocks, sudden chirpy songs of the quarter hours – providing a sense that time does not simply march on. Sometimes it skips and dances, sometimes it limps, but it sings to celebrate too. Time moves, and we with it, and it doesn’t have to be a dreadful thing.

There’s the added attraction that it feels like the Doctor is going to show up with his TARDIS at any moment!


IMG_0678One or two more random things appear as well – musical instruments among them. The strangest, and therefore my favourite, was called the Horse Head Violin, named for the shape of the scroll, but it is in fact made mainly of a cow skull, elements of it stoppered up to obtain the appropriate resonance.

IMG_0675I spoke with Ron Murrell about this extraordinary violin later – I would love to hear it played – and he told me of a conversation with a visitor who had been doing up her Georgian era house and its period music room. They’d taken up the flooring to deal with a water leak, and found the base floor spaces between the joists filled with cow skulls. It turns out this was quite a thing for getting good accoustics in those rooms. Ron mentioned that in the Tudor period, nuts and nutshells were used in flooring to deaden echoes from wooden floors as well.

Wandering past old pub signs, some portraits and various other elements of town history, I passed a video playing on a loop – narrated by a very familiar voice! No credits appeared, however, so before leaving I spoke to Ron (and this is how we ended up having our very long conversation) and asked – “Is that Paul Darrow doing the narration of your video for the Hall?”

“Why, yes!” said Ron (or something very like it but less like a character from a not-very-good play, “He was here one year for our regular science fiction convention. What a lovely man!”

(Darrow, for those who don’t know or don’t remember, played Kerr Avon in the British SF show, Blake’s Seven, 35-odd years ago).

It turns out that, along with poetry readings (Ron does some of those), ghost walks and history walks, Bury St Edmunds has a regular SF and action film exhibition and convention, for which they encourage cosplay! Past guests have included Dave Prowse (the man in the Darth Vader suit).

This year, the event – which goes from 24th October to 15th November 2015 – will include  a few Star Wars villains and some props from Star Trek, including a costume once worn by Leonard Nimoy.

It seems that Bury St Edmunds isn’t contented to be part of the past. It’s angling to be part of the future as well!


The Lady Novelist and Surprising London

IMG_0515One of the great joys for me being in London is not checking off things from a ‘must-do, must-see’ list: it’s simply wandering around the streets of this great city, preferably in the company of good friends who love this place as much as I do.

Yesterday was one such joyful day. London gave us one of it’s warm, sunny days – blue sky, a little humid but generally perfect for a meander. Fellow Improbable Presser, Wendy, and I met a delightful friend of hers at the National Theatre cafe for breakfast. (Here’s a London secret for you – the NT does a terrific breakfast and the coffee is pretty good). After a long chinwag with Alexina about feminism, rage, swearing and theatre, our friend Sara joined our table. Alexina had to be on her way, but the NT continued to be a happy meeting place and Wendy, Sara and I stayed on.

Eventually, having spent hours in happy, boisterous, passionate, ridiculous and earnest conversation in turn, the three of us left to walk through London.

London, like any great city, is full of the unexpected. Sometimes the surprises are small and subtle. Sometimes they’re grand and gobsmacking. Sometimes they’re just a fabulous melange of what-the-hellery that both puzzles and engages.

Well, that’s how the Dancing Bubble Sherlock Holmes struck us, anyway.

IMG_0492As we left the NT, one of us spotted a familiar figure in travelling coat and deerstalker hat at the embankment by the Thames. We also noticed glistening bubbles floating in profusion through the air. The three of us being enthusiastic Sherlockians, we naturally went closer to find the meaning of this Strange Affair.

We found a rather zen-like Holmes, impassive of expression yet graceful of motion, using a rope contraption to send cascades of bubbles into the air while he danced, a simple, elegant curve of motion. It was like he was trying to be as graceful as those huge rainbow-gilt bubbles he was sending to the sky.

Charmingly, he was surrounded by children, all squealing and running and trying to catch the bubbles. One baby boy smiled and laughed so hard he seemed about to float up into the air himself with the simple joy of it. Dancing Bubble Sherlock was sweet with the kids, making sure he let loose bubbles they could chase, without ever losing that self-contained serenity of his persona.

It was all very strange, and very beautiful, and very perfect.

IMG_0499We eventually dragged ourselves away from that seen of happiness, only to come across a small group of Morris Dancers, jingling away and inciting an audience member to kiss a prostrate dancer, for only the kiss of a virgin would save his life. A volunteer was handily found, and one he was revived, the rest of the troupe came over with a small case of Death, and had to be revived each in turn, so she gave each man a little peck and they jingled to their feet.

As we moved on, we kept encountering more and more Morris Dancers crossing the Millennium Bridge and converging on the embankment in front of the Thames. Some were in almost warlike face paint, though it was hard to feel threatened when they jingled merrily with every step. Of course, that didn’t stop me from hoping they were going to clash in a giant Morris Dancing Rumble, a fight to the finish to see who had the best bells and hankies.

We moved on, however, to cross the Millennium Bridge with the Tate at one end and St Paul’s at the other. But London had tiny wonders yet to reveal, and Wendy pointed down and said, ‘Look at these little pictures! I’ve seen the guy who does them lying on his stomach up here, painting them!’

So down we looked, and there they were, painted between the metal grooves of the bridge, these cartoony little pictures. Scattered all across the bridge – little buildings, odd machines, people, an insouciant frog reclining on the grooves, a yellow cat. Names and dates and bright, bright colours.

And it turns out, they’re all painted on the squished remains of discarded chewing gum by a man named Ben Wilson.

It’s really every bit as strange and wonderful as Dancing Bubble Sherlock or the Morris Dancer Thameside Dance-off.

So it seems that even when you are not that interested in the Changing of the Guard, you’ve already seen Hampton Court and the National Portrait Gallery holds no sway over you – London will give you unexpected history, wonders, strangeness and delight, even when you’re just taking the time to walk her streets and look.


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