Monday, 28 April 2014

My Week In Books VI.....

So, yes, I've left this particular one a little late, but here it is, a quick run down of my week in books....

This week is all about getting excited for, and preparing for my favourite weekend of the year, Clunes Booktown!  "What are a book addict's preparations for such an event?" I hear you mumble with feigned interest... well, they consist mostly, in my case at least, of getting excited about my partner enforced book-buying-ban being lifted! 

This is somewhat akin to telling an alcoholic they can't have a drop to drink for a few weeks and then you're going to let them loose in a brewery, then a distillery, then take them to a winery to recover....

I've actually tried my best to simply avoid bookstores altogether, which has kept me clean... just four more days....

Reading, has, of course, not been banned! That would result in divorce!! ;-) I filled a few hours on the train this weekend, and a lunch break today, in polishing off another Penguin, The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

Now I'm not going to lie, for today's general readership tastes this little ripping yarn is very much old hat. It's plot line is stretched so thin you could see clean through it. The characters, from the hero to the villains and the ensemble of bit-players are about as believable as the average politician's expenses claim. It's got anti-semitism, it's got jingoism, it's got the most amount of ridiculous coincidences one could squeeze into just one-hundred-and-forty-eight pages! But it has something else too, it has excitement. It's fun to read. And you could probably do so in the toilet over a period of a week without extending one's usual duration of stay. One of the most bizarre things about this story is that, in the huge number of movie adaptations that have been made since it's first being published in 1915, not a single one has used the same thirty-nine steps mentioned in the title! So if you've seen any of the movies, you still don't know the book ending!
I'd suggest you give it a go, just for a little delve into a nostalgic world that I doubt ever existed outside the heads of a few middle-class members of the early twentieth century population.

"What else?" I hear you cry, accusingly, like a fork-bearded, top-hatted villain about to tie me to the railroad tracks for some inexplicable plot device.... well, 
I've spent some time putting little bits of ribbon through holes in bits of card, as part of the production line for our free bookmarks we'll be giving away to anyone who cares to take one, at Clunes this weekend. Not the usual line of work for someone who earns his real living in demolishing commercial buildings... but we each have to have a hobby:-)

Friday, 25 April 2014

More Cats With Books....

Yep, because I bought that chair for my library just for you.....

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Review: The Poisoned Island.....

I came to be reading Lloyd Shepherd's second novel, The Poisoned Island, unsurprisingly from having read his previous work, The English Monster, which I would go so far as to say was my favourite book so far this year. For some reason, I found getting hold of a copy difficult, so decided to buy the iBook version to fill my 'emergency book' slot, i.e. something on my phone, to read in case of no actual book being available. 

This, as it turned out, was my first mistake, as this became a distraction from other actual books quite quickly! As far as novels are concerned, this is still very much the early stages of Shepherd's career. His website tells us freelance journalism has been his writing arena thus far but, since the publication of The English Monster, novels have become his focus. I'm glad to hear it, because I think we have here an excellent 'new' talent in the literary world. Taking, as in his first novel, real historical characters and events and embroidering about them a convincing fog of fiction and reality, Shepherd manages to deliver just the right mix to leave one wondering where the lines between the two are, without interrupting the flow of the exciting tale he is telling.

The main characters of Harrison and Horton are once again our guides through the twists and turns of a London murder mystery that, this time, has it's roots in far off Otahiti, where the actions of a group of crew-members from the survey ship Solander has wide-reaching effects upon their return home.

With just a leavening dollop of the fantastic, this reads much more (to my satisfaction), like a work of historical fiction than a work from the fantasy genre. This is a great piece of entertaining fiction from an author I hope we get to hear much more from in future.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Review: The Mysterious Mr Quin....

As I think I may have mentioned in earlier posts, I've never taken the time to sit down and read any of the enormous canon of Agatha Christie's writings, in spite of my avid reading habits, I was merely content to enjoy immensely the TV dramatisations over the last twenty or so years.

With the TV demise of Poirot recently, I finally made the effort to read one, The Mysterious Mr Quin, a series of short stories that revolve around a Mr Satterthwaite, (a rather dapper old gentleman of the upper-middle-classses much loved as a Christie social type) and his elusive (and indeed mysterious) friend, indicated in the title.

The world Mr Satterthwaite occupies is one that will be familiar to anyone who has watched the TV versions of Poirot, or fans of the popular show, Downton Abbey. A creature of the 1930's social scene so often depicted with romanticism in more modern times, he is a man who has lived life as a spectator, (in his own opinion) never playing a role in the dramas that have gone on around him, a rather stylish piece of scenery in the lives of others. As an old man he begins to regret this turn of events, and his interest in the lives of others (he is an incredibly knowledgeable person in the affairs of others...) changes direction when he is be-friended by Mr Quin. By some indefinable method, Mr Quin seems to be able, without direct interference on his own part, to draw out the skills for observation deep within Mr Satterthwaithe's own mind. This leads Mr Satterthwaite to step out of the shadows and play a crucial role in events of great import to those around him. He becomes something of a sleuth and all-round problem solver, as his friend prompts and nudges him in the right direction, before disappearing as each incident or affair is settled.

There are strong elements of Poirot in the Satterthwaite character for me, his fastidiousness, his habit of being an observer of life around him at a much greater depth than others, his role as something of an avuncular. I throughly enjoyed the book, in spite of a slightly supernatural undertone which would, in the past have put me off somewhat. The 'mise en scene' that Christie creates is wonderful. In spite of my reading a good deal about the darker side of the 1930's, I could not help but be dragged into a world of dressing for dinner, bright young things, Cannes, Monte Carlo, cocktails, cigarettes in ivory holders, masters and servants.
This was a wonderful introduction to Christie's work and I can't wait to move on to the next one!

Ten Historical Periods, Ten Great Reads....

So, within minutes of asking B.L.M. 'likers' what they'd like to see more of a couple of weeks back, I got a request for more Top 10's, so, loving lists as much as our 'liker' Nerys Webster, (to whom I humbly dedicate this one) I have got right on the case!

Now this is very much my personal niche, History, Non-Fiction. I know it's not everyone's thing, but for me, the best stories from the past are the real ones. History has been a great passion of mine for many years, so much so that around 75% of my personal book collection are history or historical biographies. I have them all lovingly arranged in chronological order.... yes, I really do!!

I apologize for the Euro-centric nature of this list, I'm English, by birth, default, and inclination (which I don't apologize for) so my interest in history tends to reflect this, (though not exclusively, and without judgement of other cultures!).

So, without further rambling and ado, here is my "Ten Historical Periods, Ten Great Reads" List!! (Chronologically, of course...)

1: Prehistory: Really, Really, Early....Prehistory by Colin Renfrew

Before written records there was.. Prehistory. This fascinating book not only delves into the development of the human mind and how it formed ideas and concepts that still motivate us today, it looks at the idea of pre-history itself and examines the way we have, in more recent times, viewed our own past. Colin Renfrew is the former Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge University in England and has been a noted figure in the development of radiocarbon dating and the prehistory of language and it's importance in the development of human culture. Whilst informative, this book is not a dry, dusty, educational work, but delivers the subject matter in a way that I found both interesting and stimulating. At only two hundred and fifty four pages, it will not scare off newcomers to the subject either.

2: 1066: etc etc.... The Year of The Conqueror by Alan Lloyd

Every English schoolchild, even if they knew nothing else about their nation's history knew about the Norman Conquest of 1066, though I'm admittedly not sure if that is still true! Considerably less would've known about the other deeply entwined events and battles that also took place in that year, arguably the most significant in Britain's early medieval history. Published in 1966, this is story of three medieval figures and their personal quests to take the throne of England for their own, Harold Godwinson, the short-lived incumbent, Harald Hardrada, the Scandinavian with an eye on expanding his personal empire and William, Duke of Normandy, determined to take the realm he sees as his by right of succession, from the usurper Harold. You may know the outcome, but the the year 1066 has much more to teach you.

3: Medieval: 1154 to 1399.... The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

This is a might tome indeed, six hundred and thirty odd pages takes you through the great and the good, (and not so good) rulers of England for nearly three hundred and fifty years, the house of Plantagenet. Eight generations of this royal dynasty took rulership of the island nation from the Normans and passed it on (albeit grudgingly) to the Tudors, dragging the country kicking and screaming through the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses in the process. With a cast that includes Richard the Lionheart, Henry V, Edward I, Queen Isabella and her lover Mortimer, the story is a bloody one, of family feuds, coups, civil war, rebellion, plague, romance and revenge. This is the time period that been the inspiration for a wealth of fiction since, if you think Game of Thrones is exciting, you'll love the Plantagenets.

4: 16th Century: 1501 to 1601....  Winter King by Thomas Penn

It's all too easy, with knowledge you've acquired in school, or through TV dramas and movies, to get the idea the Tudors were all about Henry VIII, his love of a wedding and of the brave and fearless virginal Good Queen Bess, his daughter. Well, if you really want to know about the family that dominated the 16th century, at least in England, you need to go right to the patriarch, Henry VIII's father, Henry VII. The man who stole the crown from Richard III, leaving the poor old hunchback to spend the next 400 years under a Leicester car park, Henry Tudor was the man who built a realm that his son was able to rule by right. The consummate Machiavellian Prince, Henry was ruthless, with both his enemies and his own subjects as it suited his purpose. When his reign ended England breathed a collective sigh of relief.

5: 17th Century Pt 1: 1600 to 1700.... Cyrano by Ishbel Addyman

Most people today, when they think of Cyrano de Bergerac, if they know of him at all, think of a rather comic-romantic figure, Gerard Depardieu, with a large prosthetic nose. Many would not even be aware, in fact, that he was a real person. Legendary swordsman, diplomat, adventurer, poet, lover, openly critical of religion and the church, almost certainly bisexual and critical of prevailing small-minded attitudes to same-sex relationships at the time, he was all these things. Then his story was "kidnapped' as later writers parodied the legend, turning him to a figure of fun and entertainment that was to last much longer than the story of his real life. This great little book gives us a chance to glimpse the man himself once more through a piece of literary detective work. A wonderful read.

6: 17th Century Pt 2: 1600 to 1700.... Samuel Pepys The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin

Samuel Pepys diaries are undoubtedly one of the best known literary works of the 17th century. In this excellent biography Claire Tomalin reveals much more about the writer and public figure who lived through the English Civil War, the Restoration of the monarchy following Oliver Cromwell's death, the plague and the Great Fire of London. His diary is filled with accounts of great public events and the minutiae of his own private life, interspersed in a way that reveals both the man and the time. Tomalin's research expands what we know of the man and draws a revealing portrait of a not always likeable character. His story is fascinating, a fact that he would have found extremely satisfying. Pepys was nothing if not egocentric, but to consider him nothing but that would be folly. Entirely human, his story is still wonderfully engaging.

7: 18th Century: 1700 to 1800.... Citizen Lord by Stella Tillyard

Another historical biography, this time of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Irish revolutionary, the son of a Duke and heir to power and influence, he fought for the British in the American War of Independence in his youth but his youthful rebellious spirit soon saw him 'going native' and being adopted as a native Indian chief! He then moved into the sphere of influence of legendary revolutionary figure, Thomas Paine and, through contacts in revolutionary France, became active in the Irish rebellion. His story could have come straight from pages of romantic adventure novel, and sadly, so could his demise. As the bloody revolution raged around him, Fitzgerald was captured and died, raving and wounded, branded a traitor.

8: 19th Century Pt 1: 1800 to 1900.... The Maul And The Pear Tree by P.D.James & T.A.Critchley

Before Jack the Ripper's reign of terror on Whitechapel's streets in the late 19th century, the most famous true crime horror story in Britain was that of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders in 1811. The brutal murders of two families, including the clubbing to death of a young mother and her baby, had the dark streets of the poverty-stricken east-end swinging between fear and a desire for revenge on anyone who might fit the bill. The ineptitude of the justice system of the time comes into stark relief, as they settle on a suspect, who is tried and executed in indecent haste, but this work uses numerous sources to bring the conviction into question. P.D. James is more famously known for crime fiction but this is a story worthy of any mystery thriller that will leave you wanting more.

9: 19th Century: Pt 2: 1800 to 1900.... The Sydney Assassins by Leicester Cotton

Possibly the most difficult to find a copy of on this list, I'm pretty sure it's out of print and only likely to crop up at second-hand book stores in Australia. Another murder mystery, this time in 1870s Sydney. Two bodies are dragged, at separate times from the Paramatta river, trussed up and beaten to death. The local populace are in fear for their lives until the perpetrators are apparently apprehended, but again, modern research sheds new light on the crimes, including the bizarre fact that both of the supposed victims do not, on closer examination, appear to be who they were thought to be! Evidence indicates both of them are seen after the time of their murders! A great mystery story.

10: 20th Century: 1900 to 2000.... The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

One of the most well known books of the 20th century, you'll obviously have no trouble getting hold of a copy of this book. there are a number of editions around, with varying degrees of editing, partly, in earlier versions, due to Anne's father Otto Frank's insistence on removing some material he saw as inappropriate. I'd be surprised if anyone reading this blog had not read this book, but if you haven't, it's a 'must read'. Putting the writings of a child into context, when read from the perspective of knowing how she met her end in a Nazi concentration camp, makes this a somewhat harrowing experience but an entirely essential one. We do often seem to be doomed to repeat history, but that might just be less likely if we force ourselves to read books like this.

So there you go, ten books to get a bit of history in your life. far and away my favourite genre, for me, truth is almost always more interesting than fiction.  Happy reading.


Saturday, 12 April 2014

My Week In Books V....

Hello again,

I'd like to start this week by mentioning the sad death of Sue Townsend author of the 1980's Adrian Mole series of books. I thoroughly enjoyed the books in my teenage years and Sue was a great talent
that will be sadly missed.

In other news, I've spent some of this week distributing our bookmarks and cards to some of my favourite bookstores so keep your eyes open for them when you're out and about shopping for your next read!

I've also made some updates to our Bookstore Listings page, with an extra half-dozen stores now listed, including the first store dedicated to kids books, The Little Bookroom, and the first listing of a cookery book store, Books For Cooks. Never let it be said I don't step out of my own favourite fields!

I also took a trip down to Federation Square to visit the weekly book fair there, in the Atrium. It's a great opportunity to fossick through a variety of stalls, all out of the rain! Make sure you visit Andrew & Ludmila Barnes' stall for a great selection of books and a very friendly chat!

Of course, there have been some new additions to my personal library this week, including this little lot above, and a trio of Graham Greene novels from Andrew and Ludmila mentioned above, on Andrew's personal recommendation. In fact Andrew declared Greene to be, in his opinion the most underrated writer of the 20th century! So I've now got Penguin editions of The Human Factor, England Made Me and The Third Man/The Fallen Idol, to work through.
Finally, for reading matter this week, I've finished my 'emergency iBook', The Poisoned Island, and my first ever Agatha Christie, The Mysterious Mr Quin, both of which I'll review as soon as I can for you. I've replaced them with The Mysterious Affair At Styles, my second Christie, and Claud Cockburn's The Devil's Decade

That's it for this week, happy reading!

Stevie at B.L.M.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Guest Review: Top 10 Agatha Christie Novels

So, here it is,  our very first guest article on Book Lovers Melbourne! Our subject this time around is the work of Agatha Christie, more specifically her novels. Listed as the best selling novelist of all time by The Guinness Book of Records, Christie's work has touched on almost everyone, if not in written, then in movie and TV formats. We've invited Babu Roy, one of our readers with a particular passion for Agatha Christie to give us his Top Ten of the queen of crime's works. Babu's interest in crime fiction as a genre developed early, when, in the 1970's as a child, he discovered Christie's works almost by accident. Beginning his adventures with Poirot, in the story Hickory Dickory Dock, (which he recalls as being inviting because it sounded like a nursery rhyme!)  and the relationship grew from there. Babu has, he tells us enthusiastically, re-read the Christie canon many times, so we can't think of a better person to bring you the first.....

Guest Top Ten....

When I thought of compiling a list of my top 10 Agatha Christie books, honestly, the first thing that I did was use Google, for two reasons - one: for a complete list of the books, and two: to see what others had rated as their top ten. Thankfully my order of ten doesn't match what I found on the net and so I'm happy. This really is MY personal Top 10!

10.  The Sittaford Mystery (1931)

Published in the US as ‘The Murder At Hazelmoor’, The Sittaford Mystery gives Christie an opportunity to indulge her passion for the paranormal with a story that links characters, through a seance, to the opening murder. Our main investigator in this story is amateur sleuth Emily Trefusis, working alongside inspector Narracott from the police. Red herrings abound as the plot unfolds.

9. Endless Night (1967)

Written later in her career, some people believe this to be one of Christie’s finest works which shows a slightly tougher style of writing emerging. She was intrigued by Gypsies, something that led to their inclusion in this twisting story, of which it is almost impossible to offer a summary without giving away too much of a spoiler!

8. Three Act Tragedy (1934)

The first appearance of Hercule Poirot in my list. A dinner party by an actor. Guests at the table. One of the guest is Poirot. A guest dies. No poison is found, so death by natural causes is declared. The actor is upset and confides so in Poirot.
Another party. The actor and Poirot are not there. The host suddenly dies. No poison is found at the scene but the coroner finds poison in the body but is puzzled as to how it was introduced. The first body is exhumed and poison is found there too. Assisted by the actor, Sir Charles Cartwright, Poirot gets in on the act himself.A great story in which it’s difficult to figure out the murderer before the end, but strangely in the American publication, the murderer’s motive is changed!

7. The Murder on the Links (1922)

A very early work, the novel features Poirot’s long-term friend and associate Arthur Hastings. Ok, I don’t really go for the romantic novels, but a touch of romance is always welcome for some. As well as our regular dose of murder, Christie sub-plots a love interest for Hastings. Set in France, Poirot is also given a suitable difficult rival in the French police. This was an enjoyable read and a book that I want to read again (it’s been years since I read it last).

6. ABC Murders (1936)

The Times Literary Supplement of 11 January 1936 concluded with a note of admiration for the plot that, "If Mrs. Christie ever deserts fiction for crime, she will be very dangerous: no one but Poirot will catch her."
Poirot finds himself on the trail of a serial killer with an eye for the railway timetable! A wonderfully clever twist in the tale, as always, as Christie leads us down the garden path once more. 

5. Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (1975)

This is another shocker. The end is a dazzler, as the title might suggest. This was, incidentally not the last Poirot written, but it was held back from publication for almost thirty years, so has no mention of Poirot's cases that took place in the intervening decades. 
Poirot and his friend Hastings have aged considerably from the earlier novels. Hastings, now a widower, and Poirot are drawn once again to the house at Styles where they solved their first case together. A series of earlier murders are linked to events at the house, which first Poirot, then, when the aged detective dies, Hastings, are drawn to solving, with the help of his old friend from the grave.

4. A Murder is Announced (1950)

The first Miss Marple story in the top ten, the tale begins with a notice in the newspaper announcing that a murder will take place. The intriguing plot revolves around "Little Paddocks" whose owner, Letitia Blacklock, decides to take the odd announcement in her stride. Of course, curious friends and neighbours find excuses to attend at the announced hour, when indeed, a murder does occur. By chance Miss Marple is staying at the hotel where the murder victim previously worked, so she manages to winkle her way into the investigation in her own wonderful style.

3. Crooked House (1948)

This was regarded by Agatha Christie as one of her two favourites. narrated in the first person by the character Charles Hayward, it tells a tale of inter-family intrigue in the family Leonides, a member of which Charles is due to marry. Being the son of the Police Commissioner, he takes it upon himself to investigate the deadly goings-on that ensue. As befits one of the author's favourites, the ending is suitably twisted, complicate and surprising in equal measure.

2. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)

Don’t take anything for granted. This was the message that the Queen of Crime wanted to give when she wrote this book. Poirot is retired and has a cottage where he has a garden and just wants to avoid anything to do with his previous career. However, of course, this is not to be. First a widow dies, then a suitor of hers, Roger Ackroyd, who knew something about the death is himself killed. Poirot, against his better judgement, is pulled in to solve the murders. He is assisted by Doctor James Sheppard who, as well as fulfilling the role of Poirot's assistant, is also the narrator of the story.  

1: And Then There Were None (1939)

Published initially as Ten Little Niggers, I myself read two different titles And Then There Were None and Red HerringMany a times, being a reader for whom English is a second language, I had wondered what the fish had to do with the tale until I discovered that it meant a false clue!

This is what I would call the ultimate mystery story. Eight people are invited to an island (either for employment or to meet friends). They are greeted by a couple who work as a butler and cook. All have been hired or invited by the couple, Mr. and Mrs. Owen.
As the day and night progress the characters start dying one by one. Someone or something is killing the people on the island, from which the people discover they cannot escape until the ferry returns in two days!
After 2 days, based on a note received, the police arrive and discover all ten people on the island, dead.
Who killed whom and why? well you'll vhave to read the book for yourself to discover the truth behind the mystery!

This is one book I would probably want to write a thesis on. That is the number of times I have read it.

Thanks for reading,

Babu Roy

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Book Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

There are very few times in life when you read a book and feel like you have unearthed a hidden treasure that you did not know even existed! Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir "Fun Home" is one such book for me.

For those not familiar with Alison's work, she is the woman behind the now famous "Bechdel Test" for testing if a movie or book is gender biased, the one that checks if it features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Author of a long running comic strip "Dykes To Watch Out For", her 2006 work "Fun Home" brought her critical and commercial international success. It has since been adopted into an off-Broadway musical.

"Fun Home" is a memoir, an illustrated memoir in graphic novel format. It talks of Alison's childhood and her relationship with her father. She grew up in a Gothic revival house that her father, Bruce, spent his days restoring. Bruce is "an alchemist of appearance, a savant of surface,  a daedalus of decor".  Astral lamps, girandoles and hepplewhite suite chairs abound in the house. When someone cannot find the scissors, they are told to go look in the chippendale. But if other children called the house a mansion, Alison did not like it. She resented the implication that her family is unusual in any way.

But unusual is what her family is, and her relationship with her father is complex. You get an inkling when, alluding to the Greek Mythology of Icarus and Daedalus she wonders "Was Daedalus really stricken with grief when Icarus fell into the sea? Or just disappointed by the design failure?"

Much of the beauty of this memoir is from Alison's mastery in weaving literary magic into her writing and the strength of the graphics that go with it. Her story is built recursively, telling and retelling the same event, each time revealing something more - not unlike a careful excavation by a passionate archaeologist. Rich literary allusion adds layers to the tale, evoking the perfect imagery and emotion to bring these very human relationships to life. Her personal experience impacts the way she interprets literature and literature impacts the way she interprets life. And the graphics - the detail, the thought that went into it, the way they tell their own story... the Raegan/Bush campaign, Watergate, Anita Bryant's homophobic campaign, the Seeker's hit song Georgy Girl, TV show Bewitched - all make their appearances in the graphics, in newspapers, on slogans or posters on walls, on TV, from a radio. There is a reason this book took 7 years to complete!

This book would be perfect material for high school or college English. (Although a South Carolina college has had its budget slashed for assigning Fun Home to its students) The number of allusions could literally form a "How many have you read" quiz! Enriching debates could be had on Alison's interpretations of Greek mythology, classic literature, even children's novels, fairy tales and magazines.  If like me however, you are past your English lesson days - read this to provoke your thoughts, to be amazed by the beauty of language, to be swept away by the emotions and heartbreak of this haunting graphic memoir.

Monday, 7 April 2014

My Week In Books IV....

So, this week I have been mostly busy trying to get used to my first ever Mac, having used PC all my life, so it's been somewhat of a distraction. But, I have managed to do some Book Lovers Melbourne work, when, on saturday night, Baju came over for our first ever B.L.M. working bee, both in the same location, as opposed to communicating online! It was very useful, her technical input dramatically decreasing the number of times I threw a technophobe based hissy fit! We also ironed out a few technical issues with the website and made a few minor alterations to the look whilst the three resident cats tried their best to climb all over the keyboards....

As always, there has been some book buying this week on my part, this time all new, from two great bookstores at the top of Bourke Street in the CBD, Hill of Content and The Paperback, (three books from each, which is, of course, two more from each than I had planned).

We have two new 'Top Ten' lists coming up in the near future, one from one of our readers, on Agatha Christie, and one from my own favourite field, historical non-fiction. Both are in the development phase so please bear with us!

That's it for this week's My Week In Books, happy reading!!


Saturday, 5 April 2014

Welcome to Book Lovers Melbourne!
We are an entirely independent site, whose aim is to help the many book lovers in Melbourne find their way around the wonderful varied array of bookshops that are scattered around Victoria’s capital city and its suburbs.

We are focused on independent book stores selling both new and second-hand books and also support independent book sellers at Melbourne’s markets, as well as occasionally looking at other slightly further afield parts of the state.
Our listings section gives you a simple to use directory and mapping tool, for those days off when visiting just one book shop is not enough! Why not set up a mini-tour? 

Our list is by no means comprehensive, but we will be gradually building up our database, updating as often as possible and featuring local book shop profiles periodically in our accompanying blog.
If you have anything you might wish to contribute to our site feel free to drop us a line to or ‘like’ us at
We hope you enjoy the site!
Stevie and Baju.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Book Review: Elianne by Judy Nunn and the "Asian nannies" solution

As far as Australian authors go, Judy Nunn is one of my favourites. Her greatest strength, to me, is her uncanny knack and skill in bringing the history of this country back to life, in full technicolour! Through much of my travels through this country, I remember her books and the cities they are based on - the characters, the lives and the livelihoods, the history and the historical events, the struggles and the hopes of common men and women...

I spent most of last week devouring her latest work, Elianne, (Random House Australia, published October 2013). And now I've got a terrible case of 'book hangover'. The book relates a sweeping saga of the Durham family, from the 1880s era of blackbirding right through to the 'free love' and Vietnam War 1960s. 'Elianne' is the young French wife of British Australian soldier Big Jim. To show his love for his wife, Jim builds a grand estate around his sugarcane plantation and mill in Bundaberg, Queensland and names it "Elianne".

Bundaberg's early sugar industry was the result of semi-slave labour by the "Kanaka"s 'recruited' from Pacific islands such as Vanuatu. (In fact, Vanuatu has recently called upon Australia to officially apologise for blackbirding). Elianne traces the relationship between White Durhams and their Kanaka labour as the laws of the land change, make the practice illegal and deport most of the Islander labour from Australia in the early 1900s even as the "White Australia Policy" started with the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901.

Fast forward to the 1950s and 60s, Elianne's great grand children are now adults and have caught on to the catchphrase of the decade: Freedom. Freedom to love, to rock 'n' roll, to go on the Pill, to fight for their own rights... Australia vows to go 'All the way with LBJ' in the Vietnam War.. Indigenous rights become an important issue for the Australian young, including protagonist Kate. Cars and roads become more commonplace and Elianne's employees start moving into the city rather than live on the estate. Mechanisation changes the character of the sugar mill. Change is the constant here, in Elianne and in Australian life through these decades. Not all members of the Durham family and their employees deal with change well, especially as dark and distant secrets start to surface.

To cover such a long span of time, Judy employs an interesting technique of Kate (in the 1960s) learning more about her great grandmother Elianne through her diaries. The story shifts back and forth between the 1880s/90s to the 1950s/60s making the contrasts stark....

Elianne ends in 1974, showing the remaining characters (and presumably Australia) having transformed into a more tolerant version of themselves. I have to wonder though, what Judy would write if she continued to write about today. When the Prime Minister claims victory for having 100 days without boats! And an NGO focused on promoting Indonesia-Australia relations wants us to employ Asian nannies for $200/week. To compare, a typical shared childcare facility in the CBD is >$100/day. Childcare workers get paid between $20 - $35/hour depending on qualifications, experience and how many children they have under watch.

There are some protectionist reactions of course, just like in 1890s Elianne - ".. they will come here and take away all our jobs.." but to me, even worse are the so-called I-feel-so-much-for-them do-gooders - ".. to be given the opportunity to earn comparatively good money and have their children cared for, to them, would be a vastly better situation than that of their native country". So let me get this straight:

  • You pay someone way below the minimum wages of this country
  • You completely disregard experience, qualifications, market rates and go only by nationality and skin colour to decide on a "fair" wage
  • You actually feel good about it saying at least they are better than in their native country

Huh, I must be back in the 1890s. And to think of the nightmare of managing and enforcing this double market. Oh you look Asian, so you'll charge $200/wk right? What do you mean you are Australian, you look Asian enough to me! Oh - do I have to check passports now before employing nannies. And have to vet the agency, just in case they are exploiting foreign labour even more than the law allows them to! Urgghh!! Social change is the mantra in Elianne, but I wish the change stopped in Elianne's version of 1974. Where this country - collectively and individually - is tolerant, free of prejudices and poised to lead the world in modern times.

B.L.M. Needs You!...

So 'likers', it's time for some input from you! What would you like to see on B.L.M? Any book-related ideas are welcome, more top tens? More book reviews? Interviews with bookstore owners? Guest top tens or articles from those who have interests in genres other our own favourites? You decide! 

Obviously there's nothing more sad than a request for input that goes unanswered (and I had to slave over Photoshop to make this image) don't leave us in the lurch here!

Washing The Dishes For Creativity.....

I was extremely pleased to find this in my letterbox when I got home today...

Much as I love to promote buying books from independent Melbourne bookstores, it would be a lie if I said I didn't also make a fair few online purchases. AbeBooks is an excellent source of hit for anyone's bookish addictions. There are millions of bargains out there for you to collect, and whilst one can never replicate the joys of fossicking through a real-world bookstore, there's also a wonderful buzz to coming home to a little gem sitting in your letterbox!

I have to quote the Author's Foreword here, a lovely little insight into the mind of one of the twentieth centuries most prolific crime writers....

Poirot's Christian name made the writing of this series of short stories quiet irresistible. I started on it in a fine frenzy of enthusiasm - damped down in a short while by the unforeseen difficulties. Some stories wrote themselves - The Nemean Lion, for instance and The Lernean Hydra. The Cretan Bull, too, worked out in the most natural manner. But some of the Labours were a real challenge to ingenuity. The Erymanthian Boar defeated me for a long time - so did The Girdle of Hippolyta. Over the final Capture of Cerberus I gave way completely to despair. I could not think of a suitable exposition of the title. The whole thing had, indeed, to be put away for six months. And then, suddenly, one day, coming up the escalator of the Tube, the idea came. Thinking excitedly about it, I went up and down on the escalator about eight times and was nearly run over by a bus on the way home! The really safe and satisfactory place to work out a story is when you are washing up. The purely mechanical labour helps the flow of ideas and how delightful to find your domestic task finished with no actual remembrance of having done it! I strongly recommend domestic routine for all those engaged in creative thinking. This does not include cooking, for cooking is itself creative - and actually much more fun than writing but alas, not so well paid.


I can hear the sound of all those with a desire to be considered a classicist diving for Wikipedia to look up those titles already....Who could have known what a loss the invention of the dishwasher was to be to the literary world?