Inside Sydney’s Secret Garden

In the beginning it really was a secret garden, existing first in the mind and then through the passionate manual efforts of artist Wendy Whiteley. To everyone else it was just an ugly swathe of derelict land in Sydney’s Lavender Bay. Abandoned by the railway, its potential was hidden under heaps broken…

Finalists announced for National Book Award

FINALISTS for the American National Book Awards have just been announced and the fiction list looks one of the strongest for years. The short-list is : Chris Bachelder “The Throwback Special,” about a group of male friends who gather every year to re-enact a 1985 football game battling with the realities of fatherhood and middle…

Walking England’s beautiful Norfolk Coast Path

img_8745Norfolk, on England’s northeast coast, is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled counties. Much of its coastline is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, incorporating an environmental jewel box of saltmarshes, grazing marsh, intertidal floodplains, shingle and sand, providing a perfect backdrop for walkers. Cliffs, dramatic and precarious, reveal the impact of centuries of coastal erosion. In the past, whole communities have been moved to avoid tumbling into the sea. What nature gave, nature is also slowly taking back. Today sophisticated buttressing and vast expanses of wooden groynes have been installed to ameliorate the sea’s onslaught. Talk to locals and the conversation frequently ends on an air of inevitability. What nature gave, nature is also slowly taking back.

Dark Town by Thomas Mullen: a confronting insight into the early days of black cops

darktownIt’s 1948 and Atlanta is a city divided by race, teetering on the cusp of change. Dark Town, the subject of a new book by Thomas Mullen, is the city’s black area, defined by poverty, unemployment and violent crime.

When the mayor decides to set up a black police force, Lucius Boggs, son of an influential preacher, and Tommy Smith, a war hero decorated for bravery, are among the eight selected. Right from the start it’s a poisoned chalice. The white police force is overtly antagonistic, often violently so. Unwanted at the main police station their headquarters is instead the dilapidated basement of the local YMCA. Their powers are

Review: Black Night Falling by Rod Reynolds

One of my favourite crime books last year was The Dark Inside, the debut novel by blacknight
British writer Rod Reynolds. It was set in 1946 and Reynolds had managed to capture the all-pervasive fog of casual menace and violence that makes shows like True Detective so compelling. Now comes the sequel, Black Night Falling. It’s just a few months after The Dark Inside. Journalist Charlie Yates, bruised and bloodied, has left Texarkana hoping to pick up the jagged pieces of his life in the more benign atmosphere of America’s west coast. But a desperate phone call from a former colleague, Jimmy Robinson, pushes all the right buttons: “Dead girls. Unfinished business. The right thing.”

Yates heads for Hot Springs, Arkansas, and from his first footsteps on the airport tarmac

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad gives a striking take on history’s brutal past

ColsonAmerican author Colton Whitehead has already garnered a swag of accolades for his work – a Guggenheim and Whiting “genius” awards plus being short-listed for the Pulitzer – making his new novel, The Underground Railroad, highly anticipated. An excerpt was published in a special lift-out in The New York Times. But it was the book’s selection as the subject of Oprah’s Book Club that lit the “destination stratosphere” fuse.

His subject isn’t new. The underground railroad was the metaphorical name for the loose network of people and secret routes that helped slaves escape the antebellum south to the more benign northern states. First operational in the early 19th Century it was most active in the 1850s and early 1860s, and has been the subject of countless fiction (perhaps most notably Toni Morrison’s Beloved) and non-fiction, films, documentaries and scholarly research. What Whitehead does is give the railway an architectural structure,

Ian McGuire’s The North Water: a vivid, compelling journey into the darkest of places

an90737989the-north-waterRug up when you settle down to read The North Water, or strongly defend your spot in front of a blazing fire. Author Ian McGuire has created a world so physically, emotionally and psychologically bleak that, from the first few pages, you know you’re going to be in for a chilling time.

It is the 1850s and former army surgeon Patrick Sumner has signed up for a six-month voyage on a whaler, The Volunteer, out of Hull, a town on England’s north east coast that was once the heart of a booming whaling industry. But Volunteer is putting to see, heading into the treacherous Arctic waters in the twilight of an industry overtaken by new fuels like coal oil and paraffin.

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